New Scholarship Coming to Mormon Lessons

For more than a century, Mormons have been telling a straightforward story of their movement's miraculous founding, prophetic leadership and heroic believers.

During the past few years, however, they have been confronted with a dramatic, almost revolutionary, retelling, with fresh details, context and examples of human foibles fleshing out — and sometimes debunking — the familiar facts they have always believed.

By these new accounts — spelled out in 11 scholarly essays posted on the church's website — the first LDS prophet, Joseph Smith, used a "seer stone" in a hat, not gold plates on the table, to translate the Book of Mormon, the faith's signature scripture. The church's long-standing ban on blacks in the priesthood was born more from societal racism than divine revelation. Plural marriage was messier and more painful than the typical tale of jealousy-free "sister" wives.

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