Urim, Joseph Smith, Book of Abraham, King Follett, part 2. Polygamy and Apocalypse

The previous post (part 1) gives, more or less in facsimile, a letter from Howard Coray to one of his daughters, Martha Jane Lewis. Howard Coray converted to Mormonism in 1840. His account of meeting Henry Ward Beecher is instructive, it gives us some flavor both of Coray’s intellect and his independence in dealing with some of the religious hot-buttons of the time. Coray met and heard Joseph Smith preach at the April 1840 church conference in Nauvoo. He described this experience several times as pivotal for him.[1] The available reports for this conference are very brief and unremarkable, demonstrating again the unfortunate lack of information regarding much of Joseph Smith’s public instruction and remarks.
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Urim, Joseph Smith, Book of Abraham, King Follett, part 1.

Intersting title, huh? This is really about a letter from one of Joseph Smith’s former clerks. Written decades after Joseph’s death, it nevertheless points to something interesting regarding his use of Urim. To my knowledge, this letter has never been published. It is a gold-mine of information about a number of contemporary and historical matters. In succeeding posts, I will comment on the contents and indicate the logic of the title. I give you a typographical facsimile (as close as html will allow). Here we go:
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Charles Finney and Sermon Theater

Charles Finney:

The actor suits the action to the word, and the word to the action. His looks, his hands, his attitudes, and everything, are designed to express the full meaning of the writer. Now, this should be the aim of the preacher . . . the more theatrical the sermon is, the better.[1]

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The Infinite, part 5. Mormonism and the Infinite.

The complexities of the infinite are magnified in ordinary discourse, and doubly so in western religions because infinity and its verbal relatives like “eternal” and “forever” are used in a wide range of ways, from the metaphorical and metaphysical to the literal. “Infinite” is sometimes used as a synonym for God. In an attempt to describe the “otherness” of God, phrases like, “sits on the top of a topless throne” were commonly used. Such seemingly self-contradictory claims were eschewed in Mormonism, which eventually engaged a very material aspect in the extra-mortal.
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The Infinite, part 4. Difficulties, order.

There are many orders of infinity. With no humor intended, there are infinitely many such orders. But when dealing with large collections of things, usually these are very abstract things, you can get into trouble.
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The Infinite, part 3. Parsing infinity – ever larger

Last time we observed that in some sense, one can count infinite collections. However, so far, they were all the same size.[1] Our goal this time is to show that counting infinite collections is actually interesting: not everything infinite is the size of N.[2]
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The Infinite, part 2. Parsing infinity – In the Beginning.

In the last post, we looked a little at meanings. What do we mean by “finite”? And the answer was that it depends. If we are measuring size, it is a matter of counting: counting is just a matching exercise. Match numbers to the number of cows that pass the gate for example: one, two, three, . . . 25. 25 cows came through the gate. Our ordinary experience prepares us for such things. But when the number of objects becomes too large, the process becomes less meaningful. Scriptural accounts that suggest certain things are just too large to comprehend can be understood on several levels. Whether they entail the infinite will be examined later. Questions like “How many moons does Jupiter have?” and “How many water molecules are in a cup of water?” are not just different in scope, they are different in meaning. Abstraction and approximation are the only ways to deal with the second question. (The “answer” is *about* 8 x 1024. Ten to the 24th power is so large that we can only deal with it as an abstraction. But it is a finite number!)

Some cultures avoid counting things when they are too large in size. But the accountants won’t give us that luxury now. Budget and deficit and loss discussions bat around extraordinary figures. Our common experience does not prepare us to understand the idea of a trillion dollars and it may be impossible to do so. So we deal with these kinds of things as abstractions. Does that make you a bit nervous?
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