Preserving and Enlarging the Memory of the Saints

Preserving and Enlarging
the Memory of the Saints

Louis Midgley


In 1983, when my attention was first drawn to Yosef Yerushalmi’s remarkable
study of Jewish history and memory1 and then to the careful
examination of memory in ancient Israel,2
I uncovered a similar and related pattern in the Book of Mormon.
I was elated by this and closely related discoveries. I was delighted to see
the subtle and complex way in which remembrance was linked with covenants,
with blessings for obedience, and also with the very survival of the cove­nant
people of God, as well as with the dire consequences of forgetfulness, rebellion,
and failure to honor our covenants.

I felt a certain joy upon finding something in the Book of Mormon
that I had not previously noticed. The ways of remembrance had been hidden
right before my eyes. I even imagined that I might have been the first Latter-day
Saint to notice the central role of remembrance in the Book of Mormon. Although,
as I now believe, I was probably not the first, my passion has not diminished
for this crucial element in our scriptures, ancient and modern. It is also
a central, though not always fully appreciated or understood, element in our
communal worship–that is, in the renewal of our covenant with God (see
Moroni 4-5; Doctrine and Covenants 20:77, 79).

In 1984 Gary Novak and I fashioned an essay entitled “Remembrance
and the Past: Jewish and Mormon Memory and the New History,” which Novak
read at the Mormon History Association meeting that year. In this essay we
tried, among other things, to call the attention of those interested in the
Mormon past to the cautionary tale told by Yerushalmi about the impact on
Jewish identity of the revived interest in the Jewish past–an interest
that is now driven by motivations other than merely preserving the memory
and fidelity of the Jewish people. We discovered that our project was overly
ambitious; we had addressed far too many issues, and we also managed to ruffle
some feathers. Our endeavors, for various reasons, were ridiculed, and our
paper was never published. I was not deterred.

I have striven to draw attention to what I call the “ways of
remembrance” and also to the dire consequences of forgetfulness for the
covenant people of God. In addition, I have argued that the Saints live both
by and in stories and not by creeds or carefully worked-out theology, either
systematic or dogmatic.3 I have, with my colleagues, attempted
to examine in detail these and related topics in previous essays published
in the FARMS Review.

A New Zeal and Passion for the Ways of Remembrance

It very much pleases me that others have discovered and made much
of the ways of remembrance. In this number of the Review we have brought together four
essays on the ways of remembrance. I have already mentioned one of these–Novak’s
and my “Remembrance and the Past,” now edited and published for
the first time. We are also pleased to republish in a slightly edited form
a fine address given by James Faulconer in which he describes his own encounter
with the ways of remembrance and his sense of the importance and dynamics
of memory in grounding the faith of the Saints.

In the April 2007 General Conference held in the Salt Lake Tabernacle
(for the rededication of that wonderful building), Elder Marlin K. Jensen
of the Seventy delivered a powerful sermon entitled “Remember and Perish
Not,”4 in which he urged the Saints to pay close attention
to the ways of remembrance in our scriptures. He also linked the scriptural
injunctions and warnings about remembrance to our efforts to write and preserve
the history of the Church of Jesus Christ. Subsequently, Elder Jensen, who
is currently Church historian and recorder, has spelled out what he and his
associates see as the scriptural mandate grounding the massive efforts supervised
by the Church historian.5

Elder Jensen has been asked, “What is the purpose of recording
and teaching Church history?” His response is instructive:

The primary purpose of Church history is to help Church members build
faith in Jesus Christ and keep their sacred covenants. In fulfilling
this purpose, we are guided by three main considerations:

First, we seek to bear witness of and defend the foundational truths of
the Restoration.

Second, we desire to help Church members remember the great things God has done
for His children.

Third, we have a scriptural charge to help preserve the revealed order of the kingdom
of God.6

We have also included in this number of the Review an essay by Steven Olsen entitled
“The Theology of Memory.” Olsen, who is Elder Jensen’s assistant,
elaborates on the themes mentioned in the two interviews cited above.7
In addition, we have included an essay by John Murphy in which
he deals with the ways of remembrance and the role of the archivist in preserving
the record of the past–something he describes as “a sacred commission.”
The essays by Olsen and Murphy should be read in conjunction with the two
interviews with Elder Jensen.

It should also be noted that Elder Jensen’s summary of the scriptural
mandate for the massive effort to record and preserve the written and artifactual
remnants, as well as the understanding of the Mormon past, includes the key
words defend, remember, and preserve. I am pleased to be associated
with those at the Maxwell Institute who see each of these as vital to building
the kingdom. What we now call the FARMS Review has been, since its modest beginnings nearly two
decades ago, a prime vehicle for defending the faith and preserving the history
and memory of the restoration. This it does by, among other things, providing
detailed, refined, and accurate versions of the truly remarkable and wonderful
story that constitutes the shared ground and content for Latter-day Saint
faith in Jesus of Nazareth as Messiah or Christ, and hence Redeemer of otherwise
lost souls.


1. Yosef Hayim Yerushalmi, Zakhor: Jewish History and Jewish Memory,
originally published in 1982 by the University of Washington Press and subsequently
revised and republished twice. See the discussion of this book in the Book
Notes section of this number of the Review.

2. See especially Brevard S. Childs, Memory and Tradition
in Israel
(London: SCM Press, 1962). There are many publications dealing with memory, identity, and history.

3. See, for example, Louis Midgley, “Two Stories–One Faith,”
FARMS Review 19/1 (2007): 55-79.

4. Marlin K. Jensen, “Remember and Perish Not,” Ensign,
May 2007, 36-38. Others have taken up some of these matters. See, for
example, Henry B. Eyring’s address at the October 2007 General Conference
entitled “O Remember, Remember,” Ensign, November 2007, 66-69.

5 See Marlin K. Jensen, “There Shall Be a Record Kept among You,”
Ensign, December 2007, 28-33. For an even more detailed account, see Marlin K. Jensen and David F. Boone,
“A Historian by Yearning: A Conversation with Elder Marlin K. Jensen,”
Religious Educator 8/3 (2007): 1-13.

6 Jensen, “There Shall Be a Record Kept among You,” 28-29, emphasis added.

7 Steven Olsen and Elder Jensen addressed these issues in detail at the 2007 meeting of the
Mormon History Association, held in Salt Lake City on 24-27 May.