Tuesday, May 26, 2015

A Note on Archaeology

From the archaeologists Michael Shanks and Christopher Tilley, in their 1992 volume Re-Constructing Archeology: Theory and Practice.
Archaeology, we contend, is an interpretative practice, an active intervention engaging in a critical process of theoretical labor relating the past and present. It is entirely misleading to pose the problem of understanding and explaining the past in terms of either a purely factual representation tied to the past and purged of subjective 'bias,' or a presentist quest for liberation from the dogmatic burden of the archaeological record through unrestrained fictionalization and mythologizing. Interpretation is an act that cannot be reduced to merely subjective. Any archaeological account involves the creation of a past in a present and its understanding. Archaeology in this sense is a performative and transformative endeavor, a transformation of the past in terms of the present. This process is not free or creative in a fictional sense but involves the translation of the past in a delimited and specific manner. The facts of the case become facts only in relation to convictions, ideas and values. However, archaeology would amount to an exercise in narcissistic infatuation if it only amounted to a deliberate projection of present concerns onto the past. The archaeological record itself may challenge what we say as being inadequate in one manner or another. In other words, data represents a network of resistances to theoretical appropriation. We are involved in a discourse mediating past and present and this is a two-way affair.
(Michael Shanks and Christopher Tilley, Re-Constructing Archeology: Theory and Practice, 2nd ed. [London: Routledge, 1992], 103–104.)

Shanks and Tilley conclude their study thusly:
Archaeology is primarily a critical contemporary discussion on the past (or the present) which has no logical end. Archaeology is historical and history has no end. A unitary and monolithic past is an illusion. What is required is a radical pluralism, a pluralism which recognizes that there are multiple pasts produced actively in accordance with ethnic, cultural, social and political views, orientations and beliefs. Asserting a crude scientism in the discipline merely fragments concerns and will never be productive. (245)
There is an important caveat to consider, however. "We do not mean to suggest that all pasts are equal," they write. "Clearly, some pasts are inferior to others, especially those which are a non-reflective mirror of the present" (245–246). Nevertheless:
We cannot stand outside of history and arrest the past and present. What is important is that archaeology recognizes its temporality and fragility, recognizes itself as a contemporary practice in which men and women engage in discussions and debates and establish positions which need to be criticized and transcended. (246)
With this in mind, one should be skeptical about the uninformed dogmatism of such authors as Phillip Jenkins.

Monday, May 25, 2015

A Note on Apologetics

One of the first exercises I was given when I began learning Greek was to practice my pronunciation by reading aloud the opening lines of Plato's Apology of Socrates.
How you, O Athenians, have been affected by my accusers, I cannot tell; but I know that they almost made me forget who I was—so persuasively did they speak; and yet they have hardly uttered a word of truth. But of the many falsehoods told by them, there was one which quite amazed me;—I mean when they said that you should be upon your guard and not allow yourselves to be deceived by the force of my eloquence. To say this, when they were certain to be detected as soon as I opened my lips and proved myself to be anything but a great speaker, did indeed appear to me most shameless—unless by the force of eloquence they mean the force of truth; for is such is their meaning, I admit that I am eloquent. But in how different a way from theirs! Well, as I was saying, they have scarcely spoken the truth at all; but from me you shall hear the whole truth: not, however, delivered after their manner in a set oration duly ornamented with words and phrases. No, by heaven! but I shall use the words and arguments which occur to me at the moment; for I am confident in the justice of my cause (Or, I am certain that I am right in taking this course.): at my time of life I ought not to be appearing before you, O men of Athens, in the character of a juvenile orator—let no one expect it of me. And I must beg of you to grant me a favour:—If I defend myself in my accustomed manner, and you hear me using the words which I have been in the habit of using in the agora, at the tables of the money-changers, or anywhere else, I would ask you not to be surprised, and not to interrupt me on this account. For I am more than seventy years of age, and appearing now for the first time in a court of law, I am quite a stranger to the language of the place; and therefore I would have you regard me as if I were really a stranger, whom you would excuse if he spoke in his native tongue, and after the fashion of his country:—Am I making an unfair request of you? Never mind the manner, which may or may not be good; but think only of the truth of my words, and give heed to that: let the speaker speak truly and the judge decide justly. 
Thus (reportedly) begins Socrates in his defense before his Athenian audience. True to his Greek form, Socrates' opening is long and verbose, but also clever. 

Over the weekend I read the French existentialist philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre's fascinating lecture "Existentialism is a Humanism." It was interesting reading, to say the least, but I couldn't help but notice how Sartre began his lecture. It's one sentence, but it sets the tone for the entire discourse.
My purpose here is to defend existentialism against some charges that have been brought against it.
Thus Carol Macomber translates Sartre's opening line in the 2007 Yale edition of his text. But Sartre does more to begin than merely saying he's going to defend existentialism. He then immediately describes specific criticisms of existentialism that he's encountered from both philosophical and religious opponents. The rest of the lecture is then spent by Sartre answering these objections and further explaining his ideas.

So, we have two famous and important philosophical discourses some 2000 years apart that both begin with the speaker basically saying, "I am here today because I feel obliged to defend my ideas from criticism."

For reasons best explained by Daniel C. Peterson, I think Latter-day Saints should also not be reticent to defend their beliefs.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Clothed in the Black Robes of a False Priesthood

Back in 1983 Hugh Nibley, the virtual patron saint of my major, gave the unforgettable commencement speech "Leaders and Managers." Here are the memorable opening lines of Nibley's famous speech:
Twenty-three years ago on this same occasion, I gave the opening prayer, in which I said: “We have met here today clothed in the black robes of a false priesthood.” Many have asked me since whether I really said such a shocking thing, but nobody has ever asked what I meant by it. Why not? Well, some knew the answer already, and as for the rest, we do not question things at the BYU.

As of April 23, 2015, I, Stephen Owen Smoot, am now a proud member of this false priesthood, having donned my black blue robes and having received my Bachelor of Arts degree from Brigham Young University in Ancient Near Eastern Studies (Cum Laude). (I also received a secondary Bachelor of Arts degree in German Studies, but, for whatever lame reason, wasn't granted a second diploma. Oh well. You'll just have to believe me, I guess.)

Thousands of dollars and almost four years later, and all I got was this piece of paper.
With fellow Ancient Near Eastern Studies graduates, striking an Egyptian smiting scene pose on Jasmine, our stoic execration ritual victim. 
With Professor Eric D. Huntsman, associate professor of Ancient Scripture and coordinator of Ancient Near Eastern Studies at BYU. Professor Huntsman presented me my diploma at my college's convocation.
Nothing says sexy like a degree in Ancient Near Eastern Studies.
As I reflect on my time at BYU, I'm not sure where to start in summarizing my experience. I guess first and foremost I need to thank my family, and in particular my loving parents, who supported me emotionally, financially, and spiritually while I was at BYU. Because of their sacrifice, I was able to focus on my schoolwork, research projects, and work for peanuts as a Teaching Assistant/Research Assistant for cool professors, as opposed to being forced to put my nose to the grindstone working two jobs cleaning dishes and bussing tables. I will forever be grateful for their love and support.

Next, I need to thank my friends. I have made many great friends while at BYU. There are too many to name here, but to all of them, I am very grateful for your kindness, support, insight, and friendship. Thank you for laughing at my stupid jokes, for putting up with my edgy and awkward sense of humor, and for pretending like you were interested while I rambled on about this or that.

I am also grateful for my professors. I am grateful for my Ancient Near Eastern Studies professors, who instilled in me a passion for studying the Bible and other Restoration scriptures, and have been inspiring examples of true disciple-scholars. They not only taught me Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek, but also taught me how to read the Bible, so that I, like Joseph Smith, could "delight in reading the word of the Lord in the original." I am likewise grateful for my German professors, who turned me into a total German nerd and helped me fall in love with the inspired and beautiful works of Lessing, Goethe, Heine, Eichendorff, Kafka, Hoffmansthal, and others. Again, I can't name all of them, but I can at least name those professors whom I worked for as a TA or RA, including Mark Wright, Paul Hoskisson, Talita Osman, Bill Hamblin, and David Seely. 

I can truthfully say that I am grateful for my opportunity to have studied at BYU. Yes, there are plenty of lame cultural things about Provo that I could do without, and BYU is by no means perfect in every regard, academically or otherwise. But at BYU I was blessed to receive an education that strove to capture the mandate found in the Prophet's 1832 "olive leaf" revelation: "And as all have not faith, seek ye diligently and teach one another words of wisdom; yea, seek ye out of the best books words of wisdom; seek learning, even by study and also by faith." (Doctrine and Covenants 88:118). Also found in this revelation is what has become my favorite scripture, which was quoted on the program of my college's convocation:
Teach ye diligently and my grace shall attend you, that you may be instructed more perfectly in theory, in principle, in doctrine, in the law of the gospel, in all things that pertain unto the kingdom of God, that are expedient for you to understand; 
Of things both in heaven and in the earth, and under the earth; things which have been, things which are, things which must shortly come to pass; things which are at home, things which are abroad; the wars and the perplexities of the nations, and the judgments which are on the land; and a knowledge also of countries and of kingdoms— 
That ye may be prepared in all things when I shall send you again to magnify the calling whereunto I have called you, and the mission with which I have commissioned you. (D&C 88:78–80)
What is this mission and calling? To what end did I pursue an education at BYU? I personally believe that, for me, this calling is, to use the words of BYU's mission statement, "not only [to] be capable of meeting personal challenge and change but [to] also bring strength to others in the tasks of home and family life, social relationships, civic duty, and service to mankind." My education, I therefore hope, was more than merely accumulating knowledge for the sake of earning a degree, but also to help better myself and those around me. President David O. McKay said it best:
Character is the aim of true education; and science, history, and literature are but means used to accomplish the desired end. Character is not the result of chance work but of continuous right thinking and right acting. True education seeks, then, to make men and women not only good mathematicians, proficient linguists, profound scientists, or brilliant literary lights, but also honest men, combined with virtue, temperance, and brotherly love–––men and women who prize truth, justice, wisdom, benevolence, and self-control as the choicest acquisitions of a successful life. (Gospel Ideals, 440)
I hope that BYU continues its mission to provide an education that not only helps men and women become great scholars, tradesmen, and artists, but also an education that "assist[s] individuals in their quest for perfection and eternal life." As such, I hope BYU will never lose or compromise its unique character as a religious school in the rising tide of modern secularism. I therefore heartily endorse with the words given by Robert P. George at the commencement ceremony of my graduating class.

Where do I go from here? Well, for now I have my eye on some graduate schools, where (against my better judgement) I will go for my Master's and PhD degrees in some field related to Ancient Near Eastern Studies. Hopefully, if Aquarius and Jupiter align and the career gods take pity on me, I will go on to land a professorship at some institution once I have a PhD. (I would be more than a little elated if that institution was, ultimately, BYU.) Of course, one never knows exactly what the future holds, but for now that's my plan.

But I'll cross the grad school bridge once I arrive at it. In the mean time, it's work, writing, reading, blogging, spending time with family, and lots more Xbox One and Netflix.  For now, I can let out a deep sigh of relief and say . . .

Saturday, May 9, 2015

A Plurality of Gods in Genesis?

Over at his blog Scriptural Mormonism, Robert Boylan has a brief post exploring Genesis 20:13. 

The verse in question reads:
וַיְהִ֞י כַּאֲשֶׁ֧ר הִתְע֣וּ אֹתִ֗י אֱלֹהִים֮ מִבֵּ֣ית אָבִי֒ וָאֹמַ֣ר לָ֔הּ זֶ֣ה חַסְדֵּ֔ךְ אֲשֶׁ֥ר תַּעֲשִׂ֖י עִמָּדִ֑י אֶ֤ל כָּל־הַמָּקֹום֙ אֲשֶׁ֣ר נָבֹ֣וא שָׁ֔מָּה אִמְרִי־לִ֖י אָחִ֥י הֽוּא׃
And when the gods caused me to wander from my father's house, I said to her, "This is your kindness which you should do for me–––when we enter into at any place, say concerning me, 'He is my brother.'" (My translation)
Notice that the verb תעה ("to wander," "to err," "to go astray") is conjugated as a hiphil perfect 3rd person masculine plural. If the author had אלהים as a singular subject in mind he would have (or should have) dropped the final waw to make the verb a singular. As such, אלהים is most likely meant to be read as a plural–––"gods." Our confidence in this conclusion is bolstered by the well-known fact that whenever אלהים is intended as a singular the attending verbs are conjugated in the singular, as is seen throughout Genesis and the rest of the Hebrew Bible.

Of course, it's always possible that the final waw is a scribal error. The LXX, for example, renders תעה as a 3rd person singular aorist active (ἐξήγαγέν), and provides the singular nominitive masculine definite article on אלהים (ὁ θεὸς). Notwithstanding, given the LXX's translators' proclivity towards fudging the text at times when it was theologically inconvenient, and given that there's little reason for the Masoretes to have kept a supposedly errant final waw unless they figured it was meant to be there, I think it's safe to assume no scribal aberration in the verse.

What's more, this view actually accords nicely with what James L. Kugel has written about Abraham as a supposed proto-monotheist.

Thursday, May 7, 2015

"Make yourself an ancient near easterner": Avigdor Horovitz on the Bible and the Ancient Near East

The biblical scholar Avigdor Horovitz wrote a brief email to Henrik Johnsson back in 1999 with some insightful advice on how to best study the Bible in its ancient Near Eastern context. Below is an image of the email exchange and my transcription. I got my hands on a copy of this exchange at some point during my time at BYU (from, I believe, Paul Hoskisson). 


dear Henrik,
Many years ago I heard a talk by Moshe Greenberg to some Hebrew University students in which he said that oen should "sensitize" oneself to the world in which the Bible came into being. This is the world of the Ancient Near East. The world you mention in DSS etc is a world in which the Bible already existed (that's a dangerous statement and Ihope a cold wind from Scandanavian and a barking great Dane wont attack me!). To sensitize oneself to the ANE, so Greenberg, one must expose oneself to as much ancient near eastern material as one can. Make yourself an ancient near easterner, get into the mind set, resonate with the texts, the ideas, the vocabulary, the idioms, the ideas. So if you don't know Akkadian, Egyptian, Ugaritic, Phoenecian, Aramaic, MOabite, Amonite, etc. start by reading Pritchard, Ancient Near eastern Texts and Hallo Context of Scripture and any and every ancient near eastern text you can get ahold of. But before everything, the Bible itself. It is sui generis.
Good luck,

Dear Listmembers,

thanks for the many replies to my query concerning Bible translations. Seems like I'll have to make do with a number of translations unless I learn Hebrew. On a related matter, what other texts should I investigate before beginning any studies of the Bible? The Dead Sea scrolls, the Nag Hammadi library and the pseudepigrapha, of course, but are there any other texts worth studying? And which editions of the above texts and others like them are the preferred ones?


(Click to enlarge)


A brief note or two. Horovitz's comment about "a cold wind from Scandanavian and a barking great Dane" is probably referring to biblical "minimalists" such as Niels Peter Lemche and Thomas L. Thompson of the Copenhagen School and the Englishman Philip R. Davies. The mention of "Pritchard, Ancient Near eastern Texts" is to the anthology of texts edited by James B. Pritchard. The mention of "Hallo Context of Scripture" is also clear. (Incidentally, both of these are excellent collections of texts.)

I love Horovitz's advice about studying the ancient Near East, and especially his comment at the end: "But before everything, the Bible itself. It is sui generis."

A Nice Thought From Reza Aslan

Reza Aslan (1972–).
There are those who will call [No god but God] an apology [for Islam], but that is hardly a bad thing. An apology is a defense, and there is no higher calling than to defend one's faith, especially from ignorance and hate, and thus help shape the story of that faith.
(Reza Aslan, No god but God: The Origins, Evolution, and Future of Islam, updated ed. [New York: Random House, 2011], xxvi.)

Sunday, May 3, 2015

Revelations in Context

For anyone interested in the historical context behind the individual (and collective) sections of the Doctrine and Covenants, this resource provided by the Church is an excellent study aid.

Especially helpful is the "Index by Section Number" that should help in quickly finding articles to specific sections:

D&C 1William McLellin's Five Questions
D&C 2Forthcoming
D&C 3The Contributions of Martin Harris
D&C 4Joseph Smith's Support at Home
D&C 5The Contributions of Martin Harris
D&C 6Oliver Cowdery's Gift
Warren Cowdery
D&C 7Oliver Cowdery's Gift
D&C 8Oliver Cowdery's Gift
D&C 9Oliver Cowdery's Gift
D&C 10The Contributions of Martin Harris
D&C 11Joseph Smith's Support at Home
D&C 12The Knight and Whitmer Families
D&C 13Oliver Cowdery's Gift
D&C 14The Knight and Whitmer Families
D&C 15The Knight and Whitmer Families
D&C 16The Knight and Whitmer Families
D&C 17The Contributions of Martin Harris
The Experience of the Three Witnesses
D&C 18'Build Up My Church'
D&C 19The Contributions of Martin Harris
D&C 20'Build Up My Church'
D&C 21'Build Up My Church'
D&C 22'Build Up My Church'
D&C 23Joseph Smith's Support at Home
D&C 24'Thou Art an Elect Lady'
D&C 25'Thou Art an Elect Lady'
D&C 26'Thou Art an Elect Lady'
The Journey of the Colesville Branch
D&C 27'Thou Art an Elect Lady'
D&C 28A Mission to the Lamanites
All Things Must Be Done in Order
D&C 29Forthcoming
D&C 30A Mission to the Lamanites
D&C 31The Faith and Fall of Thomas Marsh
D&C 32A Mission to the Lamanites
D&C 33Ezra Thayer: From Skeptic to Believer
D&C 34Orson Pratt's Call to Serve
D&C 35'Go to the Ohio'
D&C 36'Go to the Ohio'
D&C 37'Go to the Ohio'
D&C 38'Go to the Ohio'
The Journey of the Colesville Branch
D&C 39James Covel and the 'Cares of the World'
D&C 40James Covel and the 'Cares of the World'
D&C 41'A Bishop unto the Church'
D&C 42The Law
'A Bishop unto the Church'
"I Quit Other Business": Other Missionaries
D&C 43All Things Must Be Done in Order
D&C 44Forthcoming
D&C 45Joseph Smith's Bible Translation
D&C 46Religious Enthusiasm among Early Ohio Converts
D&C 47The Book of John Whitmer
D&C 48Forthcoming
D&C 49Leman Copley and the Shakers
D&C 50Religious Enthusiasm among Early Ohio Converts
D&C 51The Journey of the Colesville Branch
A Bishop unto the Church
D&C 52The Center Place
D&C 53Forthcoming
D&C 54The Journey of the Colesville Branch
A Bishop unto the Church
D&C 55Forthcoming
D&C 56The Journey of the Colesville Branch
D&C 57A Bishop unto the Church
The Center Place
Ezra Booth and Isaac Morley
D&C 58The Center Place
Ezra Booth and Isaac Morley
D&C 59The Journey of the Colesville Branch
D&C 60Ezra Booth and Isaac Morley
D&C 61Ezra Booth and Isaac Morley
D&C 62Ezra Booth and Isaac Morley
D&C 63Ezra Booth and Isaac Morley
D&C 64Ezra Booth and Isaac Morley
D&C 65William McLellin's Five Questions
D&C 66William McLellin's Five Questions
D&C 67William McLellin's Five Questions
D&C 68William McLellin's Five Questions
D&C 69The Book of John Whitmer
D&C 70Forthcoming
D&C 71Ezra Booth and Isaac Morley
D&C 72Forthcoming
D&C 73Ezra Booth and Isaac Morley
D&C 74Forthcoming
D&C 75“I Quit Other Business”: Early Missionaries
D&C 76"The Vision"
Joseph Smith's Bible Translation
D&C 77Joseph Smith's Bible Translation
D&C 78Forthcoming
D&C 79“I Quit Other Business”: Early Missionaries
D&C 80“I Quit Other Business”: Early Missionaries
D&C 81Forthcoming
D&C 82Forthcoming
D&C 83Forthcoming
D&C 84“I Quit Other Business”: Early Missionaries
D&C 85Forthcoming
D&C 86Joseph Smith's Bible Translation
D&C 87Forthcoming
D&C 88Forthcoming
D&C 89The Word of Wisdom
D&C 90Forthcoming
D&C 91Joseph Smith's Bible Translation
D&C 92-98Forthcoming
D&C 99“I Quit Other Business”: Early Missionaries
D&C 100A Mission to Canada
D&C 101Forthcoming
D&C 102Restoring the Ancient Order
D&C 103The Acceptable Offering of Zion’s Camp
D&C 104Forthcoming
D&C 105The Acceptable Offering of Zion’s Camp
D&C 106Forthcoming
D&C 107Restoring the Ancient Order
D&C 108"Wrought Upon" to Seek a Revelation
D&C 109-111Forthcoming
D&C 112The Faith and Fall of Thomas Marsh
D&C 113-114Forthcoming
D&C 115Far West and Adam-ondi-Ahman
D&C 116Far West and Adam-ondi-Ahman
D&C 117Far West and Adam-ondi-Ahman
D&C 118-120Forthcoming
D&C 121Within the Walls of Liberty Jail
D&C 122Within the Walls of Liberty Jail
D&C 123Within the Walls of Liberty Jail
D&C 124Organizing the Church in Nauvoo
D&C 125Organizing the Church in Nauvoo
D&C 126Forthcoming
D&C 127Letters on Baptism for the Dead
D&C 128Letters on Baptism for the Dead
D&C 129-131Forthcoming
D&C 132Mercy Thompson and the Revelation on Marriage
D&C 133William McLellin's Five Questions
D&C 134-135Forthcoming
D&C 136"This Shall Be Our Covenant"
D&C 137-138Forthcoming
Official Declaration I
These typically short articles are ideal resources for Sunday School or quorum lessons, seminary and institute classes, personal and family scripture study, etc. They provide enough historical information to be informative without being overbearing.

For example, the article on D&C 6, 7, 8, 9, and 13 titled "Oliver Cowdery’s Gift" mentions the following information on Oliver Cowdery's interest in and use of divining rods.
Oliver Cowdery lived in a culture steeped in biblical ideas, language and practices. The revelation’s reference to Moses likely resonated with him. The Old Testament account of Moses and his brother Aaron recounted several instances of using rods to manifest God’s will (see Ex. 7:9-12; Num. 17:8). Many Christians in Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery's day similarly believed in divining rods as instruments for revelation. Cowdery was among those who believed in and used a divining rod. 
The Lord recognized Oliver’s ability to use a rod: “thou hast another gift which is the gift of working with the rod.” Confirming the divinity of this gift, the revelation stated: “Behold there is no other power save God that can cause this thing of Nature to work in your hands for it is the work of God.” If Oliver desired, the revelation went on to say, the Lord would add the gift of translation to the revelatory gifts Oliver already possessed (D&C 8:8-11). 
This is really all the typical member needs to know about this topic, and is perfectly expressed in this passage. It's short, sweet, to-the-point, and devoid of the sensationalism often present in antagonistic treatments.

Similarly, the article on D&C 132, "Mercy Thompson and the Revelation on Marriage," gives this brief discussion on the origin of plural marriage.
[In 1843] Joseph Smith committed section 132 to writing, dictating the revelation to his secretary William Clayton in the small office at the back of Joseph’s red brick store. Parts of the revelation had been known to Joseph long before, probably as early as 1831 while he worked on his inspired revision of the Old Testament. Why, Joseph had asked God in prayer, did He justify Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and others in “having many wives and concubines”? The answer was not immediately apparent because Joseph’s own culture and upbringing shunned plural marriage. The revelation answered simply and directly: God had “commanded” plural marriage, and because the biblical patriarchs “did none other things than that which they were commanded, they have entered into their exaltation.” 
Section 132 thus answered a question long debated within Western culture. On the one side were those who argued that God approved plural marriage among the ancients. St. Augustine thought Old Testament plural marriage was a “sacrament” that symbolized the day when churches in every nation would be subject to Christ. Martin Luther agreed: Abraham was a chaste man whose marriage to Hagar fulfilled God’s sacred promises to the patriarch. Luther hypothesized that God might sanction plural marriage in modern times under limited circumstances. It “is no longer commanded,” he observed, “but neither is it forbidden.” 
On the other side of the debate were those who argued that the Old Testament patriarchs had gone astray in practicing plural marriage. John Calvin, Luther’s 16th-century contemporary, believed that plural marriage perverted the “order of creation” established with the monogamous marriage of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. Calvin had a profound influence on early American religious attitudes. Not all Americans agreed that the biblical patriarchs had erred, but Joseph Smith’s contemporaries overwhelmingly followed Calvin in the belief that plural marriage in modern times was wrong under any circumstance. 
Section 132 stood above this debate, approving of the patriarchs’ actions in God’s own voice. Plural marriage, the revelation said, had helped fulfill the promise God had made to Abraham that his seed would “continue as innumerable as the stars.” Nevertheless, the revelation went on to take a much bolder step than vindicating the patriarchs. As the seed of Abraham, Latter-day Saints were commanded for a time to practice plural marriage. “Go ye, therefore, and do the works of Abraham.” 
Joseph Smith had been reluctant to enter plural marriage at first, fully realizing the persecution it would bring to the Church. Monogamy was then the only form of marriage legally accepted in the United States, and opposition was sure to be fierce. Joseph himself had to be convinced of the propriety of plural marriage. Three times an angel appeared to him, urging him to move forward as directed. He eventually entered plural marriage and introduced the principle to other followers in Nauvoo as early as 1841. Committing the revelation to writing allowed him to more easily spread the message of this new commandment, which was introduced cautiously and incrementally.
Here we see a commendable succinctness in how the article explains the historical context of early Mormon plural marriage and D&C 132. It's great for a seminary or Sunday School lesson on D&C 132, where the topic of plural marriage is wont to come up, or if perhaps a youth comes to his or her parents with questions about early Mormon plural marriage.

Granted, these short articles aren't meant to be exhaustive, which is why it might be wise to also include the information found in the Gospel Topics essays in any discussions of these sections, as circumstance and propriety dictate. For example, both the essays "Book of Mormon Translation" and "Plural Marriage in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints" expand upon the information in the "Revelations in Context" articles discussed above.

In any event, be sure to utilize this excellent resource provided by the Church. It'll enrich your study of early Church history and the Doctrine and Covenants.