“The Council of Fifty: What the Records Reveal About Mormon History,” is a timely book published by BYU’s Religious Studies Center. While the minutes of the council were published in their totality via the Joseph Smith Papers in 2016, they still remain somewhat inaccessible to general readers. “The Council of Fifty” contains 15 essays by leading scholars about relevant topics of interest.
A companion article to this review will appear shortly in the Deseret News under the title, “Five fascinating facts about the Council of Fifty.”
The Council of Fifty minutes include a fascinating quote on “perfect revelation,” or whether a revelation requires perfect wording to be the word of God.
The Council of Fifty was an exclusive organization founded by Joseph Smith in 1844. The minutes of the council were published by the Church Historians Press in 2016 as part of the Joseph Smith Papers Project. The minutes include a wide variety of topics ranging from spiritual teachings to discussions about Indians to desires to form a new government.
The context for the quote is a series of discussions within the Council of Fifty about drafting a new constitution. The committee was somewhat paralyzed by fear of making a mistake and thus had difficulty getting started. One of the viewpoints shared was that of Brigham Young, who commented on Joseph Smith’s prophetic authority.
John Gee is perhaps the leading Mormon commentator on the Book of Abraham – a portion of Mormon scripture that is simultaneously vital to the Mormon belief of premortal existence and heavily debated inside of academic circles. As a believing Mormon with a Ph.D. in Egyptology from Yale University, Gee brings a wonderful mix of perspectives to the discussion.
“An Introduction to the Book of Abraham” is precisely that – an introduction of the issues most important to both believers and scholars. The book is quite matter-of-fact in its tone, although there is the sense of subtle chastisement for both believers and scholars who approach the book with bias and extremism. As a result, the reader never feels compelled to come down on either side of any issue. Instead, the book serves quite nicely as an informative introduction regardless of any preconceived opinions.