Discussions of Mormons and Mormon life, Book of Mormon issues and evidences, and other Latter-day Saint (LDS) topics.

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Its … It's So Easy to Overlook--Another Test Related to Language in the Original Book of Mormon

In my previous post, I looked at the use of the word be in the earliest text of the Book of Mormon in a test to look for unique elements of New England dialect that might account for some of the non-KJV grammar that is non-standard today. My findings appears to be consistent with the views of Carmack and Skousen regarding Early Modern English (EModE) influence in the text, and showed no readily discernible signs of post-EModE New England dialect in the usage of be. However, in exploring this topic, I ran into an interesting issue that offers another possible test to identify early vs. late English influences. The results may pose a challenge to models of Book of Mormon translation based on EModE as the dominant or sole influence (though I don't think anyone is arguing that it's the sole influence).

In "Grammar in Early Modern English" by Edmund Weiner, deputy chief editor of the Oxford English Dictionary, I read that the word its, the ubiquitous English third-person possessive of the pronoun it, is a relatively recent innovation that first appeared in print in 1590 and then rapidly took off. Before that precious invention came along, people would use other terms like thereof or his. While Carmack has pointed out that the text is not monolithic and not strictly confined to any one period in time, still, if the Book of Mormon text is primarily influenced by EModE from before the KJV era, then we might expect its to be less common in the BOM than in the KJV. However, the opposite is found. The word its occurs over 40 times in the Earliest Text, but only once in the KJV (Lev. 25:5).

The problem was ameliorated by looking in the OED itself (see OED Online entry on Its) and seeing that its is actually attested even earlier than 1590: 1577 R. Robinson Certain Select Hist. Christian Recreations sig. B.vii, There stands a bedde, its death to tell.

1598 J. Florio Worlde of Wordes Spontaneamente, willingly,..of himselfe, of his free will, for its owne sake [1611 of free will or of it's owne sake].

1599 Shakespeare Romeo & Juliet ii. v. 12 The sweetest honey Is loathsome in its owne deliciousnesse.

1603 J. Florio in tr. Montaigne Ess. i. Ep. Ded. sig. A3v, My weaknesse you might bidde doe it's best.
Finding its in print in 1577 gives us more leeway for its use as a legitimate pre-KJV EModE word. Note also that the Book of Mormon still uses thereof much more than its, about four times as often. I suspect that this ratio may be uncharacteristically low for EModE and may represent the intrusion of more modern English into the translation process. Carmack does not argue that the BOM is pure EModE, but argues that it is a complex, non-monolithic mix with a little modern English and a good deal of Early Modern English (see Stanford Carmack, "Why the Oxford English Dictionary (and not Webster’s 1828)," Interpreter: A Journal of Mormon Scripture 15 (2015): 65-77).

The paucity of its in the KJV is surprising to me. Of course, one could ask why, if the Book of Mormon is based on slavishly imitating KJV language, does it use its at all? But of course, careful analysis of the text has already shown it often departs strongly from the KJV language in many ways. While those departures often include authentic Early Modern English, there are elements of modern English and even a touch of Middle English, as Carmack demonstrates. It is not a simple, monolithic text. As for the word its, its presence could theoretically be consistent with the EModE era but could also be an intrusion of modern English in the text.

Personally, I can accept the idea that there was a base translation of some kind that could be accessed by Joseph Smith in preparing the translation. But since he was obviously willing to make corrections to the dictated text, I suppose he could have used some of his own phrasing at times in the dictation as well. To me, it's impossible to remove human influence in this effort. We see the human influence in the original manuscript, the printer's manuscript, the printed text, and the many revisions to the text that we have today. Why assume the human influence wasn't there as the text was being dictated, even though there was a divine engine driving the whole project? We really don't know how the translation process worked, and need to be open to many difference possibilities as we dig more deeply into the language and other evidences that help highlight the complex origins of a fascinating and divine text that, like all scripture, has gone through many human hands (and lips).

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Update on Early Modern English in the Book of Mormon: One Potential Test to Identify the Possible Influence of New England Dialect on the Dictated Text

Executive Summary:

I remain impressed with the detailed, data-rich work of Carmack and Skousen regarding Early Modern English (EModE) influence in the original text of the Book of Mormon. However, I've wondered if English dialects that Joseph knew and spoke could account for a significant portion of the observed EModE elements in the BOM. In exploring this issue, I have found a study on the use of the verb "be" in New England dialect showing characteristic non-standard forms that evolved after the EModE among immigrants in the United States. The article is "Invariant Be In New England Folk Speech: Colonial And Postcolonial Evidence" by Adrian Pablé and Radosław Dylewski, American Speech, Vol. 82, No. 2 (2007)151-184 (a full text PDF is available). This suggested a test to consider: Does the original text of the BOM use New England-style patterns of the verb be that distinguishes it from EModE, or are the patterns consistent with Carmack and Skousen's work?

Given that Joseph Smith lived in New England (Vermont) until age 8 and was raised by New England parents from Vermont and New Hampshire, a fair assumption about his personal dialect is that it was strongly influenced by New England dialects.

My analysis is not yet complete, and I would appreciate input from competent linguists (including Stanford Carmack if time permits!), but so far, after examining every occurrence of be in the Book of Mormon and looking for usages relevant to Pablé and Dylewski's study, the relevant instances of invariant be appear to be consistent with EModE and do not point to uniquely New England influence.

Note: To best understand the Book of Mormon text as dictated by Joseph Smith, it is vital to use Royal Skousen's The Book of Mormon: The Earliest Text(New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 2009), hereafter The Earliest Text.


Much of the non-standard, awkward grammar in the Book of Mormon as dictated by Joseph turns out to be characteristic of Early Modern English (EModE) several decades before the King James Bible was written. This puzzling discovery was first made by Dr. Royal Skousen, the man whose lifetime of work in pursuing the Book of Mormon Critical Text Project has resulted in the Earliest Text of the Book of Mormon, giving us the arguably best available estimate of what Joseph dictated to his scribes.

EModE can be said to begin around 1470 and to extend to perhaps 1670 or so. The KJV, first published in 1611, fits squarely in this period, yet has some distinct differences from the EModE of earlier decades. Finding EModE elements that pre-date KJV English or that do not occur in the KJV was not driven by an apologetic agenda, but was a completely counterintuitive and controversial find that was simply driven by the data. Apologetic arguments have evolved, but the case for the authenticity of the Book of Mormon in no way depends upon them. If the language of the Book of Mormon as dictated by Joseph Smith was standard Yankee dialect or just Joseph's own bad grammar, as many of us have long assumed, that fits the idea of revelation being given to people in their own tongue and language. It's quite a paradigm shift to consider that the language Joseph was dictating might not just be his own language loosely draped in KJV verbiage but often reflected some kind of tight linguistic control to yield archaic scriptural language that was surprisingly standard or acceptable in an era slightly before the KJV was translated. Why and how is still a matter for speculation and debate. But the data is there and demands to be considered, explored, and tested.

One man taking up that challenge is a linguist, Dr. Stanford Carmack, who has further explored the strange occurrence of archaic EModE from several angles in great detail. Carmack more fully demonstrates that the Book of Mormon provides extensive and accurate EModE usage and grammar in ways that cannot be explained by copying the KJV. Such laughable blunders as “in them days,” “I had smote,” and “they was yet wroth” turn out to be consistent with EModE patterns. The analysis shows that much of what we thought was bad grammar is quite acceptable EMoDE, sometimes showing a sophisticated mastery of EModE.

The findings are puzzling indeed, but his work is rich with facts and data that again demand attention. The four articles Dr. Carmack has contributed to the Mormon Interpreter are worthy of note. I am especially impressed with the broad information and analysis presented in his "A Look at Some 'Nonstandard' Book of Mormon Grammar," which I just re-read today after doing a two-hour seminar in Shanghai last week on the topic of the subjunctive mood in English grammar (the crazy things I get involved with here!). Digging into some of the mysteries of the English subjunctive prepared me to much better appreciate some of the powerful points Carmack makes in that work. His analysis deserves much more attention and contemplation.

Royal Skousen and Carmack Stanford feel strongly that the abundance of EModE elements in the BOM is evidence of divine tight control in text somehow given to Joseph Smith to dictate, and that it is perhaps a fingerprint of divine origins in the text. However, some skeptics have wondered if it can be explained by residual EModE influence in Joseph's dialect of English. Some of the "hick language" found in regional dialects preserves elements of English that have long since become obsolete in modern English, so such a thing could be possible to some degree.

I think Carmack and Skousen would argue that the level of EModE is so strong and often so appropriate to the 1500s that it would be hard for so many elements to survive in the United States. But I feel we need more work to analyze regional dialects that could have influenced Joseph Smith to see if the strange characteristics of the language in the earliest text could be explained as a natural result of Joseph naturally expressing revealed concepts in his own language.

A natural language hypothesis can be consistent with either a fabricated text or a divinely transmitted text based on real ancient writings on golden plates. Indeed, a translation process using Joseph's own language and dialect, complete with bad grammar and other linguistic warts, is what some faithful LDS thinkers have long assumed. But Carmack and Skousen offer a surprisingly different explanation for the flaws in the original text: not bad grammar, but a divinely transmitted English text with heavy dose of reasonably good Early Modern English provided with the consistency, subtlety, variety, sophistication, and naturalness of an native EModE speaker, making the linguistic fingerprint of the Book of Mormon impossible to explain as a derivative of the KJV, though it also draws heavily upon that text. If BOM language is not simply the language of the KJV, could it be in part the language of Joseph's local dialect, or is something more miraculous required?

There She Be: One Possible Test for New England Dialect

To explore the hypothesis that Joseph's own regional dialect simply preserved EModE elements in ways that can account for all or much of the original text of the BOM, some additional tests are needed. While the Book of Mormon was dictated in upstate New York, it's reasonable to assume that New England dialect may have been a strong influence in Joseph's language. He was born in Vermont and lived there until age 8, and continued to be raised by his thoroughly New Englander parents, with a father from New Hampshire and a mother from Vermont.

In searching for information on New England dialect, I found an interesting study that may be useful in framing a test that can differentiate the influence of New England dialect from EModE on some non-standard elements in the original text of the Book of Mormon. The reference is Adrian Pablé and Radosław Dylewski, "Invariant Be In New England Folk Speech: Colonial And Postcolonial Evidence," American Speech, Vol. 82, No. 2 (2007)151-184 (a full text PDF is available).

Pablé and Dylewski explore a widely recognized feature of New England dialect, the tendency to use the finite "be" in indicative cases that would normally require conjugated forms like "is" or "are" in standard modern English. For the third person plural, both New England dialect and EModE sometimes use finite be, as in "they be there." But a distinguishing feature is the use of invariant befor the third person singular indicative, as in "he be here", a pattern which is well known in New England dialect but not characteristic of EModE. New England dialect also shows first and second person singular invariant be in indicative cases, beginning apparently early in the eighteenth century and unattested in the seventeen century, apparently sprouting up in the United States, diverging from Early Modern English and the English of England:

Based on the evidence at our disposal, we feel justified to claim that by the late seventeenth century, be in colonial varieties of English was diffusing to grammatical contexts typical of postcolonial New England folk speech, but atypical of Early Modern British English, namely to the first- and second-person singular context. It may well be that the questions just cited constitute the earliest “American” attestations of nonsubjunctive be with the singular. The historical dictionaries of American English offer no analogous attestations of be dating back to the seventeenth century. The earliest reference work featuring singular indicative be in a declarative clause is the Dictionary of American English on Historical Principles (1938–44), which quotes from Cotton Mather’s Magnalia Christi Americana, published in 1702: “I been’t afraid! I thank God I been’t afraid!”

Interestingly, the New Englanders using be as a singular indicative form (i.e., Ann Carr-Putnam, the magistrates John Hathorne/Jonathan Corwin, Cotton Mather) were all American-born, which underpins the “domestic origin” hypothesis of singular indicative be.

Postcolonial and Early-twentieth-century New England. While invariant be in colonial American English has not yet been studied in any systematic way, grammarians and dialectologists devoted some attention to it once it had become recurrent in the speech of the “common people” living in a particular area. In fact, a social and regional connotation inherent in be was noticed by contemporary observers already at the end of the eighteenth century—in Noah Webster’s (1789) Dissertations on the English Language, he included be as a typical feature of “the common discourse of the New England yeomanry”: “The verb be, in the indicative, present tense, which Lowth observes is almost obsolete in England, is still used after the ancient manner, I be, we be, you be, they be” (385).

Grammarians writing in the first decades of the nineteenth century also commented on the regional concentration of invariant be usage. Thus, John Pickering wrote in his 1816 Vocabulary that finite be “was formerly much used in New England instead of am and are, in phrases of this kind: Be you ready? Be you going? I be, &c” (46). In his English Grammar, Samuel Kirkham (1834, 206), in a chapter dedicated to “provincialisms,” cited two examples of be supposedly typical of “New England or New York,” with be appearing in independent direct statements (“I be goin”; “the keows be gone”); Kirkham also adduced examples of be as a main verb in direct questions and short answers—as Pickering had done (“Be you from Berkshire?” “I be”)—and cited the negative form (“You bain’t from the Jarseys, be ye?”). In Kirkham’s opinion, the latter three cases represented only “New England” usage.
(pp. 167-168)

The authors also observe that New England dialect tends to rarely use invariant be with the third person plural, though this was part of EModE and surely was part of the early colonists' dialect. For example,
The collocation there be/they be for ‘there/they is/are’ was not recorded as occurring in the speech of any LANE informants [LANE is the Linguistic Atlas of New England]. Notably, map 678 of the Atlas investigates the existential clause on the basis of the construction There are a lot of people who think so. As it turns out, Type I informants [less educated descendants of old local families, whose speech might best preserve old forms from New England’s preindustrial era] were reported to have said They’s many folks think(s) so and There’s many folks think(s) so, not They/there be many folks . . . , probably because contraction between the existential and the copula is always possible (i.e., grammatical), irrespective of whether the context is singular or plural (i.e., they’s, they’re, and there’s). Thus, plural existentials in postcolonial nonstandard varieties of English no longer find themselves in syntactically “strong” contexts. (p. 170)

On the whole, however, be in postcolonial New England folk speech does not seem to have been a form associated with the “old” subjunctive of Early Modern English but was primarily an indicative form (i.e., occurring respectively in direct questions and sentence-finally). (p. 172)

In discussing negative forms of be, the authors note the prominence of ain't as a feature of New England dialect (less commonly, hain't was also used; see p. 171). In the first half of the nineteenth century (Joseph's era), two other negative forms were also common in New England dialect: ben't and bain't, contractions of be not (p. 171). None of these negative forms are found in the Book of Mormon. None of these negative forms occur in Early Modern English (p. 173).

Based on my understanding of this study, a characteristic trait of New England dialect was the development of invariant be usage beyond the third person plural known in EModE. Finding it in other cases in the dictated text of the Book of Mormon would be one way to differentiate New England dialect from EModE.

Some of those forms began to appear humorous or dated even to New Englanders by the 1930s when the Linguistic Atlas of New England was compiled, as Pablé and Dylewski report:
Atwood (1953, 27) confirms that informants using be as part of their sociolect in LANE belonged exclusively to the “Type I” category, that is, those born in the mid-nineteenth century, which suggests that be had become a relic form, no longer actively used by informants born in the first decades of the twentieth century. In fact, some field-workers of LANE noticed that the expressions How be ye? and . . . than I be were associated with “humorous usage” by younger speakers, which seems to indicate that such phrases were sociolinguistically marked in the 1930s and may have served for stereotyping.
There is no shortage of humorous grammar, at least for modern ears, in the earliest text of the Book of Mormon, much of which has been cleaned up and standardized. Funny-sounding first- and second-person forms of invariant be might just the thing to look for.

I have not found any such forms in the Earliest Text, apart from acceptable subjunctive phrases that are appropriate in EModE and somewhat less often in modern English (e.g., the subjunctive phrase "if it so be" which abound in the Book of Mormon is relatively obsolete today but well attested in EModE). The lack of first- and second-person indicative forms of invariant be is interesting and to some degree weighs against New England dialect as the source of Book of Mormon grammar , but that is not the end of the story.

Though rare, LANE does offer third-person singular examples of invariant be, including "How be it?" "How be it" does occur in the Original Text of the Book of Mormon, which I'll discuss below. It's usage is subjunctive, not indicative, though I suggest it is not consistent with EModE usage of that term.

To explore the possible influence of New England dialect on invariant be in the Book of Mormon, we should also consider third-person singular cases.

Relevant BOM Cases of Invariant Be: It Begins with the Title Page

Using my Kindle version of the Earliest Text to search for "be" poses several problems. Searching for "be" also returns hits for "being," and searches text at the beginning and end of the book that is not part of scripture. Among the roughly 2800 hits for be/being in the Book of Mormon, I estimate that pure "be" occurs about 2500 times. Of those numerous instances, only a handful are noteworthy. If you have better search tools, I welcome your input.

The vast majority are the infinitive "to be" or "be" following a modal verb (can, could, will, shall, shalt, may, might, must and must needs, etc.). There are many subjunctive forms, especially "if it so be", a phrase not found in the KJV but characteristic of EModE, as Carmack has shown and as you may verify by exploring works of Caxton, for example. A few examples of subjunctive instances will be shown below.

Regarding potential uses invariant be that might reflect New England or other folks dialects, the relevant examples of invariant be to consider begin right on the title page.

Title Page: And now if there be fault, it be the mistake of men.

This sentence is one of the most interesting examples of invariant be in the Book of Mormon, and I wish to address it before looking at the remaining cases of note because it will assist in understanding additional cases.

The title page statement is similar to Mormon 8:17: "If there be faults, they be the faults of a man…" which has finite be in both clauses, but differs in using the plural faults and thus "they be" instead of "it be."

Is "it be" a case of third-person singular invariant be that might be due influence from New England dialect? I don't think so, because this sentence can readily be explained as a case of the subjunctive mood. What is interesting, though, is that the subjunctive mood persists in the second clause after being introduced in the first, when modern speakers might prefer the second clause to be in the indicative mood. Indeed, this sentence was awkward enough that Joseph Smith changed in the 1837 edition of the Book of Mormon to what we have today:

And now, if there are faults, they are the mistakes of men;…

Not only has the double subjunctive been dropped, the subjunctive mood has been completely removed (the related sentence in Moroni 8:17 has not been "fixed"). Further, the singular "fault" that seems odd to modern ears must have bothered Joseph's ear as well and has been replaced with the more standard "faults," a change we'll return to in a moment.

For the moment, I'll use the term "persistent subjunctive" mood or "double subjunctive" to describe a sentence that maintains the subjunctive mood introduced in an early clause. (I'm sure there is a better grammatical term --let me know, please!) This feature, interestingly, is attested in Early Modern English. For example, see William Caxton's printing of Sir Thomas Malory's Morte Darthur (first printed in 1485). In Book 7, Chapter 31, we find:
When Sir Gareth saw that torch-light he cried on high: Whether thou be lord or lady, giant or champion, I take no force so that I may have harbour this night; and if it so be that I must needs fight, spare me not to-morn when I have rested me, for both I and mine horse be weary.
Here a subjunctive mood in "if it so be" seems to be maintained in "I and mine horse be weary." On the other hand, this could just be an old plural form of the verb and not a subjunctive, so a few further examples will be shown where I think the subjunctive is intended. First, though, note that the spelling has been modernized. The original spelling of this passage, for purposes of comparison, follows:
whan sir Gareth sawe that torche lyghte he cryed on hyhe whether thou be lord or lady gyaunt or champyon I take no force so that I may haue herberowe this nyghte / & yf hit so be that I must nedes fyghte / spare me not to morne when I haue restyd me for bothe I and myn hors ben wery
Other examples from Morte Darthur:
Sir knight, said the page, here be within this castle thirty ladies, and all they be widows, for here is a knight that waiteth daily upon this castle, and his name is the brown knight without pity, and he is the most perilous knight that now liveth. [Original spelling here]

And if so be that he be a wedded man, …

By my head, said Sir Gawaine, if it be so, that the good knight be so sore hurt, it is great damage and pity to all this land

Sir, said she, ye must make good cheer, and if ye be such a knight as it is said ye be, I shall tell you more to-morn by prime of the day. [This is also an example of mixing ye and you in the same sentence, as happens in the Book of Mormon.]

so be it that thou be not he I will lightly accord with thee,…
Here is an example from Chaucer's "The Tale of Melibius" (section 25, p. 213):
 And eek, if it so be that it be inpossible, or may nat goodly be parfourned or kept.
 Another comes from his "Complaint to My Lode-Sterre":
 Whether it be that I be nigh or ferre, ....
This "persistent subjunctive" sense continues to occur in the Book of Mormon, frequently in cases where today we might prefer to use indicative or a modal verb + be in the second phrase, or even lose the subjunctive mood entirely. Examples:

1 Nephi 19:6 - save it be that I think it be sacred

2 Nephi 2:13 - If ye shall say there is no sin, there is no righteousness. And if there be no righteousness, there be no happiness. And if there be no righteousness nor happiness, there be no punishment nor misery. And if these things are not, there is no God.

Note that this verse a sentence with double indicative, followed by two sentence with double subjunctive, and then concludes with a sentence having double indicative again: is + is, be + be, be + be, is + is. (Sort of a chiasmus.)

2 Nephi 5:32 - If my people be pleased with the things of God, they be pleased with mine engravings which are upon these plates.

That sounds awkward to modern ears. The text now has lost the subjunctive mood entirely: And if my people are pleased with the things of God they will be pleased with mine engravings which are upon these plates.

A Little Fault Finding

The awkward singular fault on the title page, now a comfortable plural, actually appears to be attested in early English, as one can find by searching EEBO (Early English Books Online) at http://quod.lib.umich.edu.

Some examples:
  1. … for the others if there be fault in them, let them be sent for, and punished.

Title: A breife narration of the possession, dispossession, and, repossession of William Sommers and of some proceedings against Mr Iohn Dorrell preacher, with aunsweres to such obiections as are made to prove the pretended counterfeiting of the said Sommers. Together with certaine depositions taken at Nottingham concerning the said matter. [LINK]
Publication Info: [Amsterdam? : S.n.], Anno M. D. XCVIII [1598]

  1. Concerning rites and ceremonies, there may be fault, either in the kinde, or in the number and multitude of them.

Title: Of the lavves of ecclesiasticall politie eight bookes. By Richard Hooker. [LINK]
Author: Hooker, Richard, 1553 or 4-1600.
Publication Info: Printed at London : By Iohn Windet, dwelling at the signe of the Crosse-keyes neare Paules wharffe, and are there to be solde, 1604.
The fourth Booke: Concerning their third assertion, that our forme of Church-politie is corrupted with popish orders, rites and ceremo∣nies, banished out of certaine reformed Churches, whose example therein we ought to haue followed.

Note that sometimes "fault" appears to mean "found" in early English documents, accounting for some of the strange cases you may encounter.

The relevant invariant be example on the title page of the Earliest Text sets the stage for what follows. Namely, every case of the "interesting" or "relevant" instances of invariant be (based on searching for "be" used with first, second, or third person cases) turn out to be reasonable subjunctive cases consistent with Early Modern English usage, including the use of the "persistent subjunctive" discussed above, along with specific phrases not found in the KJV but attested in EModE. If there is unique New England influence in Book of Mormon usage of invariant be, I've been unable to find any trace of it.

Further Relevant Examples of Invariant Be

As mentioned above, many cases of "be" involve an obvious subjunctive mood. Examples include:
  • 1 Nephi 15:33 - And if they be filthy, ….
  • 1 Nephi 17:46 - cause that rough places be made smooth
  • Numerous examples of the phrase "if it so be"
  • Many instances following save or lest, such as 1 Nephi 19:6 - save it be that I think it be sacred (mentioned above)
  • 1 Nephi 21:5 - though Israel be not gathered, yet shall I be glorious in the eyes of the Lord

"If it so be" occurs 42 times in the Earliest Text of the Book of Mormon, almost always as "if it so be that." This phrase is rather common in the Book of Mormon but completely absent from the KJV. Carmack's work highlights it as an interesting example of EModE influence in the Book of Mormon that cannot be explained by borrowing from the King James Bible. It's found in many classic sources of EModE, such as Canterbury Tales and in the writings of Thomas More. Though obsolete in modern English, did it survive to be common in Joseph Smith's dialect? It's a possibility, but I have not yet found clear evidence of that.

A Twist on If It So Be

After seeing "if it so be" so consistently and frequently in my search results related to be, I was genuinely surprised to stumble across an even more complex variation: If it should so be. This occurs in two places:

Enos 1:13 - that if it should so be that my people the Nephites should fall into transgression … (interestingly, followed by another if it so be that later in the verse).

3 Nephi 26:9 - and if it should so be that they shall believe these things….

This phrase is also found in EModE, such as in the 1562 work of John Jewel, The Apology of the Church of England, originally written in Latin and translated into English in 1564 by the mother of Francis Bacon:

For if it should so be, as they seek to have it, that Christ should be commanded to keep silence…

The phrase without "that" occurs in English much later, including in a 1732 sermon of Jonathan Edward, "Christian Charity," which uses "if it should so be" as an entire clause that ends a sentence, unlike Book of Mormon usage where it is followed by "that" plus another clause.

More relevant may be an 1824 legal trial in Rhode Island that discusses a will written in 1772 having the phrase: "but if it should so be that my son John Shrieve depart this life, leaving no male heir lawfully begotten…" This certainly raises the possibility that this phrase was known in New England near Joseph's day and could have seemed natural in formal writing.

Further Cases of Interest:

2 Nephi 10:4 - For should the mighty miracles be wrought among other nations, they would repent and know that he be their God.

"For should" acts as "if" and creates a subjunctive mood that persists with "they would … know that he be their God."

The next verse, 2 Nephi 10:5, contrasts the unrealized repentance with the future reality, noting that "they at Jerusalem will stiffen their necks against him, that he be crucified." Though not counterfactual, it is a future event where the indicative would not be as fitting. This is not an artifact of New England dialect.

"How be it," as previously mentioned, poses more of a challenge.

3 Nephi 23:11 - And Jesus said unto them: How be it that ye have not written this thing?

3 Nephi 27:8 - And how be it my church save it be called in my name?

"How be it" is an interrogatory phrase in the subjunctive mood expressing incredulity or alarm that is not found in the KJV. The phrase "how be it" is common in EModE, though often with a different meaning. That meaning seems to overlap the meaning of the combined word "howbeit" that appears to have evolved from "how be it." The combined form occurs 64 times in the KJV. One of these verses, Isaiah 11:7, is quoted almost verbatim in 2 Nephi 20:7, using howbeit.

"How be it" with the typical EModE meaning does occur in the Earliest Text in Ether 2:25, which is how the Printer's Manuscript showed it. But when it was typeset, it became "howbeit" in the 1830 Book of Mormon, and then was removed in the 1920 edition and is still gone in our recent editions.

The meaning in Ether 2:25 appears to be similar to "behold" or "verily":
And behold, I prepare you against these things; for how be it, ye cannot cross this great deep save I prepare you against the waves of the sea and the winds which have gone forth and the floods which shall come….
Note also the switch from you to ye in the same sentence, a characteristic often found in EModE, as Carmack has shown.

In William Caxton's writings and many other EModE sources, "how be it" abounds but not in the sense of "how can it be?" Rather, it seems to have a range of meanings such as nevertheless, in any case, even if, yet, etc. Examples:

Le Morte Darthur, Book 7, Chapter 23:
Notwithstanding I will assay him better, how be it I am most beholding to him of any earthly man, for he hath had great labour for my love, and passed many a dangerous passage.
Le Morte Darthur, Book 7, Chapter 7:
That may be, said the black knight, how be it as ye say that he be no man of worship,…

That last sentence may again illustrate the persistent subjunctive following its introduction via "how be it," though the subjunctive in the following clause seems fairly natural a quotation of that kind.

An early English use of "how be it that" that might express incredulity and concern is found in John Gough Nichols' Chronicle of the Rebellion in Lincolnshire, 1470. I may be wrong on this, for it seems that the usage here could more closely resemble something like "and it came to pass." The Chronicle opens with this:
First, how be it that our saide souveraigne lorde, as a prince enclined to shew his mercy and pite [pity] to his subgettes [subjects], raither then rigure and straitenesse of his lawes, pardonned of late to his saide rebelles all tresons and felones, trespasses and offences committed and doon by theym ayeinst [against] his highenese afore the fest of Cristenraes last past, trusting that therby he shuld have coraged, caused, and induced theym from that tyme furthe to have been of good, kynd, and lovyng demeaning [loving demeanor] ayeinst his highenesse ; yit [yet] they unnaturally and unkyndly, withoute cause or occacion yeven [given] to theym by our saide soveraigne lorde, falsly compassed, conspired, and ymagened [imagined, perhaps meaning plotted] the final destruccion of his most roiall personne, and of his true subgettes taking parte with him in assisting his highnesse, …
Is he saying, "How could it be that our prince, after forgiving rebellious subjects and showing them great kindness, was the subject of a conspiracy to overthrow him?" I'm not sure. Be that as it may, I still see the two instances of interrogatory "how be it" in the Book of Mormon as more modern English and not from EModE or even from the KJV.

A discussion of "howbeit" is included in a 1997 article by Rfal Molencki on the evolution of "albeit" and may be useful in considering this phrase.

Third-person plural invariant be does occur in the Book of Mormon, as it does in EModE and New England dialect. An example is Alma 7:7: "For behold, I say unto you, there be many things to come." The KJV also has this in Eccl. 6:11: "there be many things…"

I'll share further cases as I update this article.

For now, the case for New England influence in the use of "be" in the Book of Mormon is coming up negative. The negative "ain't" of New England dialect is also a negative for the Book of Mormon, in a positive way: it ain't there.

There's much more to say as I update this or add related material, but for now, in light of one proposed test based on the use of "be" in New England dialect and Early Modern English, the puzzling archaic English of the Book of Mormon as dictated by Joseph Smith is not handily explained an appeal to New England dialect nor by influence from the KJV Bible. There is more data to consider and many more tests to be conducted as we try to better understand Book of Mormon language and origins. I look forward to your thoughts and contributions!

Saturday, July 18, 2015

Dark Matter and Joseph Smith's Statement on the Material Nature of Spirit

My latest post over at the Nauvoo Times (Orson Scott Card's LDS project with a good variety of writers) is "Mystery of the Hidden Cosmos: Something Big is Missing from Our Everything," wherein I use a recent cover story from Scientific American to speculate a bit. I've discussed dark matter and dark energy a couple of times here at Mormanity, but recent analysis of dark matter is making things even more interesting as the possibility of complex forms of dark matter become more plausible. Your feedback is welcome here or there.

Mysterious, invisible dark matter and dark energy both appear needed to explain the strange attributes of the cosmos. We know so little about the universe, but thanks to the steady progress of science, each big discovery seems to help us know even less. Or rather, to better appreciate how much we don't yet know. The cosmos is such a marvelous mystery, and so filled with evidence of miraculous intervention to make all this possible--but that's another story.

I really love Joseph Smith's statement in Doctrine & Covenants 131:7-8 about the materiality of spirit, insisting that it is actually a form of matter that is "finer" than the ordinary matter we know and invisible to us, but still real and physical. That seems at least compatible with the surprising finds of scientists in recent years poiting to the existence of much more "dark matter" than the ordinary matter we know. In fact, the ordinary matter (and energy) that we thought was pretty much all there was turns out to only account for about 4 or 5% of the universe. To me, that's stunning and even humbling.

By the way, I hope you're a regular reader at NauvooTimes.com, where many interesting topics are raised each week in areas such as history, movies, literature, and many aspects of LDS life.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

From Hope to Despair and Back Again: The Mysterious Power of Complaining

I have newfound respect for the marvelous power of complaining after an instructive experience in which I feel blessed and instructed by the hand of the Lord. Or call it dumb luck, if you will, for I was certainly lucky and somewhat stupid. I hope my experiences might help some of you in dealing with your frustrations, including those you may have with the Church or its leaders.

I've set a goal recently to not complain about my work situation. Honestly, I have a wonderful job with opportunities, fun, and visibility beyond anything I've experienced before. They treat me well and I have so much to be grateful for, including a spectacularly beautiful headquarters in one of Shanghai's nicest and most convenient locations (the Shanghai Arch in Hongqiao) where I have an office on the top (32nd) floor with a view of Shanghai that is so beautiful it is often distracting. And it's just a 16 minute walk or 8 minute bike-ride from home. What a dream! But as with almost all jobs in real life, and almost all mortal organizations, there are some frustrations.

Some of those issues arise from the large cultural differences between the West and the East. The way a large corporation works in Wisconsin, for example, can be radically different from the way an Asian company operates. Business in China can sometimes be remarkably efficient, rapid, and flexible, much more than what is normal in the West, but in some situations it's more complicated. Learning to deal with these differences can be tough for foreigners, myself included.

Recently, while dealing with a complicated, frustrating issue on Topic X, I had a surprise email from an acquaintance from France who happened to be an expert on Topic X. He was in town that day and wanted to know if he could come by and visit me at work to discuss his business and their services. I knew I wouldn't have time, but did want to see him, so after checking with my wife, asked if he would like to join us for dinner. He accepted, and we had a fun Thai meal (one of the numerous great places to eat at the Shanghai Arch).

As we were helping him find a taxi afterwards, Topic X came up, and having a sympathetic ear who would understand my frustrations, I stupidly abandoned my goal to shun complaining and shared my rather whiny story as I expressed multiple frustrations. As I did so, I increasingly dwelt on those frustrations and began to feel irritated and unhappy with my situation. I went from hope to anger. When I returned home, I dwelled on my complaints as I pondered my job and felt increasingly discouraged. In fact, I think I felt something approaching depression. I was surprised at how fatigued I felt, how sapped and unhappy, and how I didn't want to eat, drink, or do anything except just crawl into a cave. My body and psyche felt drained.

For those who struggle with real depression, I apologize for using that word to describe my simple, momentary state, and recognize that the burdens you face are much more real and consuming that my little trouble. At the same time, the way some have described their symptoms to me resonated with what I was feeling, as if I were having the tiniest taste of what many live with every day due to deep-rooted physiological and other factors beyond my comprehension, but which are as real as a broken leg is, not something to just be shaken off easily. I was truly surprised at just how bad and hopeless I felt for a while. But for me, it was something I would be able to shake off, unlike the real health problems many face.

I went to sleep with a prayer for help, still surprised and curious at how I felt both emotionally and physically. I think I was experiencing the magical power of complaining. This is dark magic with innumerable spells that anyone can utter, spells that can turn day into night, joy into sorrow, blessings into curses, and good food into bad.

I awoke that Saturday morning feeling a little better but still with a prayer in my heart for power to drop that shroud of darkness from soul that was still there. As I prayed, I remembered some of the last words my European friend had said before he got into the taxi. He mentioned the way his company handles one aspect of Topic X, and now I suddenly realized he had given me a key, a best practice I could explain to management that would give us a chance to revisit my main frustration on Topic X and find a better resolution. I came up with plan, made a call to my boss, and began a conversation that would result in a compromise approach that removed one of my major pain points and greatly improved the situation that had tempted me to complain so much.

The mysterious European who showed up out of the blue came at exactly the right time to help me in several ways. He had come on the very day that a new burden was given to me that could be painful and ugly. Through my interactions him, including my personal failure, I would better recognize the dangers of dwelling on my frustrations. I would better understand the potent power of complaining to change how I feel and how I see things. But he also helped me directly in one of the most important work-related matters of my four years here in China. Out of the blue, a blessing, tailored for my needs. Thanks to the information he gave me and the help of the Lord in seeing things from a different angle, I was able not only to go from despair to hope, but also to make a big improvement in a matter of great importance to me. And I learned to think twice before chanting any of the endless spells from the dark magic of complaining.

We all have plenty to complain about, whether it's our work, our spouse, our family, our church, our friends, or those around us. But beware how the act of complaining can reinforce our focus on the worst, while making the good things around us seem invisible or irrelevant. When it comes to the good that can be so easily shrouded, no cloak of invisibility is so broad and rapid as the magic of complaining.

There's a reason why the Lord says "in patience possess ye your souls" (Luke 21:19). Faith, hope, charity, and especially patience are the shields to complaining's potent power.

I think this is also why the Lord warns us against "speaking evil" of our Church leaders, even though we all know they are mortals capable of numerous human errors. There can be plenty to complain about in some cases, but we are asked to patiently support them and seek to help, not to mock or tear down with our complaints. To dwell on those errors and complain vocally about it can dramatically change how we see the Church and how we feel about it, obscuring the good and magnifying the flaws. Be patient and charitable in what you say to others. It can be a healthy way to handle our frustrations.

Sunday, July 05, 2015

Hannah Ronning, Missionary to China

I recently discussed a book that continues to inspire me, China Mission: A Personal History from the Last Imperial Dynasty to the People's Republic (Louisiana State Univ. Press, 2013) that deals with the life and work of Reverend Halvor Ronning (1862-1950) and his family. I discussed some aspects of his life recently, and now wish to discuss his wife, Hannah Ronning, who is a great example of Christian love and of a Westerner falling in love with China.
She was born in 1871 as Hannah Rorem to Anna and Torgrim Rorem, immigrants from Norway who settled in the prairielands of Iowa. Hannah grew up as a restless soul who loved to ride horses and explore the outdoors. One night during a fierce Midwestern thunderstorm, she was exhilarated with the beauty of the raging lighting and went outside to see it more fully, standing beneath a large maple tree with her arms outspread as she soaked in the beauty and wonder. She nearly took in much more. Her brother Tom saw her and yelled to call her back to safety, but it was too late. An instant later a blast of lightning struck and a ball of fire came rolling right toward her. The next thing she knew she was rolling in the grass, covered with wet leaves but unharmed. She had been struck by lightning, it appeared, but had survived. Her father sobbed, the first time she had heard him cry.

As she came out of her daze, she felt regret for her irresponsible actions and felt a need to pray, asking God to forgive her and help her find herself. As she prayed out loud, she didn't realize her father had entered her room and was listening. She broke into tears. "Oh, Papa, I don't understand myself." He comforted her with these words: "It's all right, Hannah…. It's all right now." This sent a flood of comforting warmth into her soul.

A week later, her father would die from influenza. His last words to his wife, Anna, were these: "Do not worry, Anna. I have prayed to God that all my children will come to Jesus and be saved and He told me that my prayers would be answered … so you see it's all right …" With this loss, restless Hannah turned more fully to God. She gave herself to the Lord, not knowing how she could be useful to Him and where He might take her, but she was ready and willing to do His will. (p. 152)

Two months later, a handsome missionary came to town. Halvor Ronning and his sister Thea were preparing to go to China. Hannah felt her prayer was answered. She would go with them to China as Thea's companion, fall in love with Halvor, and in China become his companion and wife. It's not quite the way we do missions, but it worked for them.

God bless Hannah for going to China. There she would rescue girls from the tragedy of foot binding, where feet are deliberately broken and distorted to make feet appear dainty--supposedly essential for a woman to have any prospects in marriage in that era. She would be a pioneer in bringing education to women. She would rescue numerous abandoned female babies that otherwise would have been eaten by dogs. She started an orphanage, loved and taught, rescued and blessed, raised her own children, and sacrifice so much of her life to serve that God who she had given herself to. For this, for nine years of love and service, her life would be in danger as one of the foreign devils driven out by the secret society of the Boxers.

Though driven out of China, after a brief visit to Norway and then to her family in the US, she could could not stay in a setting of such comfort when there were so many suffering people in China who needed her love. China was in her blood and she yearned to return. They came back at the first opportunity, in 1901, right after the anti-foreigner violence died down. Their work prospered, and by 1903 they have 240 children in their school. What they founded then is now the largest high school in Hubei province with over 4,000 students and a museum named in honor of Reverent Ronning.

They had come at time of great change in China. Revolution was in the air and Dr. Sun Yat Sen and other leaders were inspiring many with a vision of a new China. They had also come just in time for a terrible famine in Hubei Province where they lived. This famine would take a great toll on Hannah, who was recovering from a serious illness she contracted on this second visit. With proper nutrition, her recovery might have been complete. Unfortunately, she grew weaker and died at the age of 36.

Famine is ugly. Few of us modern folks have any idea of how desperate human society can become when people are starving. Few of us are properly prepared for the hardships that can strike when there is famine in the land. Reading that the Ronnings experienced during a time of famine motivated me to beef up my food storage and better prepare for troubled times in the future. It was an ugly drought, not even recognized in the capital, with thousands of refugees from the hardest-hit areas crowding into Fancheng, the city where Hannah and Halvor had created a mission.

Anti-foreign sentiment readily returned as mystical rainmakers marched through the countryside proclaiming that rain would not come again until foreign blood was spilt.
Hannah and Halvor were sickened to think that after all the progress they had made, they would still be blamed for natural catastrophes. They were moved to almost unbearable fear and despair. The potatoes and tomatoes that Halvor brought from America thrived, but the missionaries had barely enough food to feed the mission workers and students. They began storing rice and river water in barrels. At the beginning of the drought, Halvor and Himle [a missionary doctor] had gone into the streets to distribute relief, they were mobbed and forced to run for their lives. It was not long before the refugees gathered in front of the mission. They huddled in dreadful, trembling hordes against the walls, banging on the gates with wooden bowls, begging for food. The missionaries knew they were endangering their own lives but felt they had no choice. They cooked some of their precious fruit and vegetables with rice and potatoes in large cauldrons and distributed what they could to the starving people. Hannah made sure that all the mission children had adequate food, but her own food turned to ashes in her mouth. Halvor appealed to the civil mandarin, who sent some rice, but there was never enough to ease the hunger.

One old man collapsed at the mission gate. Halvor and Himle carried him into the already-overflowing hospital. After he sipped some warm broth, incoherent words began to tumble out of him. Halvor later wrote:

His name is Lin. His eyes were wild and haunted and his body so emaciated that he could hardly walk. He was a farmer and the only survivor of a family of fourteen that had started from a town 100 miles north. He talked in a whisper because he had not the strength to speak louder: "They fell by the roadside until there was only five of us left. I could not bear to see my children suffer anymore, out of mercy I smothered three of them in the snow. Some others saw me and they dug them out and carried them away. My wife screamed because they knew they would eat them. I tried to drag them back but it was hopeless. When they were gone my wife made a hole in the ice and drowned the baby. Then she went in the water herself, begging me to cover the hole so no one would find them." When he finished the terrible story Hannah was in tears. I comforted Old Lin as best I could. He looked at me with half-crazed eyes, and said, "What kind of people are you that will weep for strangers?" I told him that we were children of God just like he was. He has since grown stronger and helps us in the vegetable garden. Food is the most urgent problem in China. Famines and floods have been the scourge of China for centuries. Cities crumble but somehow the people go on. Untold millions have died of starvation and no government has taken steps to prevent it. There must be a way even if it means revolution! (p. 189-190)
They would have some relief as a foreign gunboat brought food for the mission to distribute, but crowds rushed onto the dock and fought to take the supplies. Neighbor fought against neighbor, even mother against child, in the crazed struggle for food. Eventually rain came again and the famine ended.

Today famine is a distant memory in China, though many of the older generation have experienced it. When faced with famine, the norms of civilization can be shattered. Some have experience the horror of a community that begins turning to cannibalism to survive, though this is a topic we don't discuss. I pray that China will be spared from its long history of famines in the past. The prosperity it now enjoys is remarkable, and numerous measures have been taken by the government to reduce that risk. May that horror not return, but may each of us, in whatever land we are in, diligently prepare for the possibility of famine or even temporary disruptions to our food supply. It can happen in so many ways: wars, disease, earthquake, hurricane, a trucker strike, cyber attacks on the supply chain or other forms of economic chaos. The convenience of modern grocery stores stocked with food is the result of many cogs in complex economic machinery working in unison. When some vital part breaks down, the shelves can become empty overnight. Please be prepared. Don't let the years of comfort you may have experienced create the illusion that this will persist forever and that someone else will be there to take care of you if problems arise. Hunger is an ugly thing.

Though she survived the famine, Hannah became ill shortly after it ended, apparently due to inadequate nutrition. Her husband, Halvor, took her to a mountain retreat and she was on her way to recovery when news came that their son Chester was ill with diphtheria. Halvor wanted to keep her there longer but she insisted on returning immediately to care for her son. When she saw him struggling for breath, she had Doctor Himle perform an emergency tracheotomy.

Her son was still delirious with fever. The doctor said there was nothing more to be done, but she disagreed and with incredibly renewed energy spent the next ten days caring for him day and night, bringing him back to health. Chester Ronning would later become Canada's ambassador to China and would have close personal relationships with some key people in Chinese history. His mother had brought a dying son back to life, but at a terrible price. She had a relapse and on Feb. 9, 1907, died at the age of 36.

Alice Landahl, a missionary who married the Carl Landahl, the husband of Halvor's sister Thea before she died, wrote an article giving some details about Hannah's last words.
Just before she died, she spoke to us with a clear strong voice to tell us how God had revealed himself to her in such a merciful and wonderful way that she was fully resigned to his will, and all anxiety for herself and her own left her fully. I will never forget her last, touching words: "I am so glad you have all come," she told us with a weak smile. "I want to tell you what an unusual experience that God has given me. It is wonderful! There are no words to describe it. I have like Paul been in Seventh Heaven and seen unutterable things. I saw Jesus in all his glory and he came so near to me. I just rejoiced in His nearness. I couldn't believe that such a poor human being as myself could contain such grace and holiness. O my dears! God has been so good to me. He fills me with joy and peace--it is so blessed and sweet to rest in Him. When they prayed and anointed me, the Lord did such a remarkable thing for me. He came right to me and His love poured over my whole being. I could feel it go right through me. All my pain left. Since then I have rested so sweetly. I have endured pain. I know what it is to suffer. But the Lord took it away in the blink of an eye.

"Oh I am so fortunate! And I love all of you so much. I have never loved the Chinese like I do now. When we come nearer to God we learn to love. The nearer we come to God, the nearer we come to each other. There is no difference, We are all one in Christ." (p. 207)
Inspiring words from a remarkable woman. I look forward to meeting Hannah someday and learning more of what she experienced in China.

Monday, June 29, 2015

A Beautiful Ukrainian Perspective: How Can I Be Useful to the Lord?

Sunday I attended church in Hangzhou where we had a wonderful sacrament meeting that included a young couple from Ukraine who were the concluding speakers.

The talk by the young Ukrainian woman was uplifting and beautiful. My favorite part was her story of an LDS man in her congregation in Ukraine who was born with some severe physical problems that made it difficult for him to walk. In fact, she told me after the talk, the doctors had said that he would never walk, but as his faith grew while still a young child be believed that he could and needed to, and taught himself to walk around age five (I may have details wrong here--will try to check later). His physical limitations were still so severe, though, that it seemed unlikely that he could serve on a regular mission, but he really wanted to serve and applied to serve anyway.

If I understood correctly, it would require special permission from Salt Lake, and he was elated when it came and his application to serve was accepted. He served in Russia, as I recall, and inspired everyone by being one of the hardest working missionaries. He helped bring people into the Church and inspired members and missionaries in his mission and at home. He continues to inspire others today. She asked the man why he wanted to sacrifice so much to go serve a mission. His answer: "I want to be useful to the Lord."

Those words struck me deeply. Many times I finding myself struggling with the wrong goals, struggling to know which direction to pursue. I think that Ukrainian perspective could help bring more clarity by asking, "How can I be more useful to the Lord?"

I was also inspired by her husband's talk. I had spoken with him before the sacrament meeting and was impressed with how kind and friendly he was. But I knew he was uneasy with English. His English is excellent, but sometimes he struggles. As he began speaking, it was clear that the pressure of speaking to a group added to his burden. After a couple of minutes, he turned to a woman on the front row and said something to her. I was surprised to see her jump up, hand a baby to her husband who was on the stand, and stand next to the speaker.

I had met the woman before and had recently seen her and her husband in a video that a non-LDS Chinese man is making to help bring lessons from their positive example of parenting and family love to strengthen other families in China. From that video, I knew she could speak Chinese pretty well in addition to her native English. But then the Ukrainian man began speaking in Russian, and she translated into English. Suddenly a good talk became much more interesting. Subtle points and emotion were more easily conveyed. She even choked up at part of his talk, and so did I. Yes, she had served a Russian-speaking mission in Georgia, near Chechnya. Her Russian is still pretty good, it seems.

When I talked to her afterwards, I learned that I was not the only one who had a prayer in their heart for this good man as he spoke. She had been praying in her heart for him, for she knew of his fears and nervousness. She prayed that his message might be conveyed, that people might understand and be touched. As with many prayers on behalf of others, those offering the prayer frequently become part of the miracle.

Many thanks to the beautiful Latter-day Saints of Ukraine. May we all pray for Ukraine. May we pray for others around us as well. Imagine what life would be like if the people next to us on the subway, in the halls at school, on the streets, in our homes, and in our congregations were more likely to be praying for us than ignoring, mocking, or criticizing us.

Monday, June 22, 2015

Halvor and Hannah Ronning: Inspiring Missionaries to China

One of my favorite books on China portrays Chinese history in the past 120 years through the experiences of a remarkable family. The book, China Mission: A Personal History from the Last Imperial Dynasty to the People's Republic (Louisiana State Univ. Press, 2013) begins and primarily focuses on the life and work of Reverend Halvor Ronning, a Norwegian immigrant to the United States who was inspired to become a missionary in the interior of China. In 1891, the tall minister, his sister Thea, and fellow missionary Hannah Rorem boldly enter a land of sorrow and tragedy coupled with charm and wonder, where their work of service, faith, and love is sorely needed. They found a Lutheran mission and school in Hubei province and put their lives at risk in many ways to serve God and bless China.
The story of their lives and the lives of their descendants reveals much about China and the role it now plays in the world. Many will benefit from the account of the Ronning clan, though toward the end of the book when the rise of Mao is described, some may be offended by the author's biases which result in a not-very nuanced account with Communists being described as rather saintly while the Nationalists are nothing but villains. But regardless of where you stand on such matters, the personal experiences of the Ronnings around the turn of the century present an amazingly gritty and touching portrayal of a life of faith in China during some of its most pivotal moments.

The book has much to say on matters of faith and the cause of Christianity in China. I will have more to say about that later. For now, I wish to focus on the remarkable example of Halvor Ronning in his life of faith, seeking to love the people of China even when they made life difficult for him. An account that especially touched and surprised me happened as he and his family had to flee China during the Boxer rebellion that began in 1898.

The Boxers were a secret society, or a coalition of many secret societies that had spread across China. A key theme of the Boxers was blaming the ills of China on foreigners. They were certainly right in some ways. The great evil of opium and the many concessions forced upon China by the British and other nations were outrages. Unfortunately, the Boxers were not interested in distinguishing between helpful and vile foreign elements. Their approach ultimately became rather one-dimensional: "Kill the foreign devils." The source of so much of China's troubles, the Empress Dowager, a concubine of the former emperor who through murder, conspiracy, and brutality had seized power of China, exploited the Boxers to maintain power and echoed the Boxers' call with an official government decree: "Kill the foreign devils." It was an extermination order, China style.

Many foreigners would be killed. The Lutheran missionary and his family had to flee their home and mission in Fancheng, China. Friends apparently bribed members of a related secret society, the Red Spears, who brought a boat to bring the family down the river on the way to Hankou, from whence they would reach Shanghai and then return to Norway and then the U.S., before coming back to China when it seemed safe again.

As the family was getting into the boat during the night, a group of Boxers came running to attack. Halvor had the women and children go below deck to hide while he and two other missionary men tried to ward off the Boxers. About ten of them swarmed onto the tiny boat. Halvor wielded an oar and used all his might to defend his family. His wife, Hannah, grabbed a stool and came up swinging to defend her family also. But there was little hope of surviving this mob. Halvor was then hit in the chest with a stone thrown from the shore and was knocked on his back. Then a Boxer jumped on him, but Halvor intercepted the Boxer with his feet, suspending the Boxer in the air, and then with a swift kick threw the Boxer off him, tossing him overboard into the river.

Very few Chinese people could swim then or now. The man in the water let out a scream of terror as he began drowning and then went underwater. The fighting stopped as everyone looked at the hopeless scene.

At this moment, I thought, "Ah, there's the key! Knock them all into the water!" God bless him, that wonderful saint, Halvor Ronning, had a different idea that shows me who he really was. He was not a Viking seeking to fight his enemies, but a man of God who loved even those who wanted to ill him. Instead of pushing more Chinese men into the river as the turned to watch, he dived into the him and went below, seeking for the dying man who moments earlier had tried to kill him. Eventually he came up, dragging the unconscious Boxer with him.

He brought the man to shore, and his fellow missionary, Dr. Thorstein Himle, jumped to shore to help resuscitate the man. There was no response. The Boxers all gathered around. As resuscitation efforts were applied, the Boxers cried out that the foreigners were trying to kill the man. But they waited and watched. They began talking about the best ways to kill these foreigners. Should they roast them? Flay them? Halvor knew that if the man died, they would all be killed. Appealing to God for help, they continued doing all they could. Suddenly the man revived. For Halvor and the missionaries, it was a miracle from God, and they gave thanks. The Boxers claimed it was proof of their invulnerability, not recognizing the source of the miracle they had witnessed.

But with the distraction created by the revival, the missionaries were able to jump back on board and cast off, their lives spared.

What a remarkable man. Having just finished this book, I feel that Halvor and Hannah Ronning are family members. How I admire them and look forward to meeting them someday. God bless them for their service to China. They understood that every soul matters, that every human being is a son and daughter of God, not a statistic.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Where Thieves Break Through and Steal: Your Bank Account (in China or Elsewhere)

An increasing number of friends are reporting troubling cases of theft from their China bank accounts. One friend, after years of working in China and saving every penny, was preparing to return to the US, but suddenly every penny in her ICBC bank account was stolen. ICBC may be the world's largest bank. I think it is the most popular one here in China, where most of the world's money seems to be coming these days. In spite of all the great technology that ICBC must have, someone was able to take out every penny with no warning.

The ICBC bank officials told her that someone had a copy of her card and had taken the money out. She asked how this was possible without knowing her password. No explanation was given, except that it was somehow her fault. She spent five days arguing with them and got nowhere. They said that the thief could have been working with her to perpetuate fraud on the bank, so why should they refund her money? Her only option now is to sue, but she has to go back to the US soon and fears she won't have the ability to pursue the case. But we've encouraged her to work with a lawyer to fight this and are trying to help. She will fight and has a lawyer taking action. I hope to have good news to report sometime.

Her story has almost exactly the same set of facts that we find in a chilling account, "How I sued the world's largest bank and won" at Shanghaist.com. In that case, it was a smaller amount, 15,000 RMB that was taken from the author's ICBC account. He encountered the same consumer service policies and attitudes, and was forced also to sue for something that was clearly not his fault. He won, and it only took 7 months and some modest attorney fees to get his money back.

If you have a bank account with an ATM card, there is a real risk that one day money will begin disappearing from your account. This happened to us with our US bank. Someone in Germany was taking out $300 a day for 3 days in a row before I logged in and notice this. Because the German bank providing the ATM was not able to document that our password had been used to make the withdrawals, it was their fault and they had to refund the money into our account. But I am amazed that the money could be taken out at all without our password. It happened! Check your account frequently.

There are some very high risk factors in China for those of you here or coming here in the future:

1) The daily limit for ATM withdrawals is much higher than it is in the U.S. and Europe. A thief typically can take out 20,000 RMB a day (over $3,000), which is 5 to 10 times higher than typical US limits.

2) The daily limit may not be over a 24-hour period, but may be based on the calendar date, so if that applies to your bank, then a thief can take 20,000 RMB out at 11:55 pm, and another 20,000 RMB out at 12:05 PM.

3) Banks in China often don't have effective anti-fraud protection.

4) There are many thieves with card copying or card scanning devices who can make a duplicate of your card. If they or a small video camera can watch you enter your password, having your account number and your password leaves you defenseless.

5) Thieves can sometimes pull money out of your account without using your password. I don't know how this happens, but it has happened to multiple people in China, and it happened to us with our US bank.

6) When someone pulls money out of your account without knowing your password, it should be the bank's fault and they should reimburse you. But consumer service attitudes and policies may not be identical to those in your home country. China banks may tend to blame the customer and argue that maybe the thief was collaborating with you, so they might not cooperate unless you take them to court. You can sue and win in China, but it will take a lot of work and the help of an attorney.

Because money in the bank is so vulnerable, I suggest several best practices, some of which apply anywhere:

1) Do not keep large amounts in any single Chinese bank. Move a lot of it into US accounts without ATM cards or with two-part authentication, and keep plenty of cash.

2) Use your bank cards as little as possible. Instead, use cash to make payments when possible.

3) Do not let employees walk away with your bank card (they might run it through a card copier device of some kind). Keep your eyes on it.

4) Do not let your card be scanned in any place that seems questionable or seedy.

5) When using ATM machines, look for unusual devices, small video cameras, etc., that might have been added.

6) Keep good records of where you have been so that if the bank says it must have been you that pulled all your money out of your account in, say, Harbin, you can prove you weren't in Harbin that day.

7) Monitor your bank account frequently, and make sure you receive automatic text messages when money is taken out of your ATM.

8) When you do find a problem, document in detail who you spoke with, what you said, what they said, etc. You may needs lots of documented details if you have to sue the bank to get back missing money.

9) Avoid trusting your money to any bank that has a bad track record of protecting the money of its customers. If you know of banks that have performed well in this regard, please let me know.

These problems are not unique to China, but they seem to be a lot more frequent here and more severe, especially with the high daily minimum that thieves can take out.

If you do online banking, your risks are also high due to hackers. I suggest you use complex passwords that you change often, and only use secure computers to access your bank accounts. It's good to have a cheap computer that is never used for browsing but only for bank access, and even then keep good firewall and anti-spyware software on it, keep it updated, use more secure browsers like Chrome or Firefox, and don't use untrusted wifi networks to access your accounts. For added security, use VPN when you access your bank account. This encrypts all the information, although using the typical https connection should do that also.

Don't keep all your money in any one account, and keep a wad of cash somewhere, too. Thieves can get everything, but we shouldn't make it easy for them. That would seem to be part of a sound approach to "provident living."

Other suggestions?

Saturday, June 13, 2015

Jaredite Barges: Clearing the Air (with the Help of a Confusing Electric Piano)

I was sure the simple instructions were wrong as I assembled the frame for the Casio electric piano I purchased for my wife for Mother's Day. When it came time to add the pedal assembly, the instructions called for removing two screws holding a metal bracket in place on each of the side panels, and instead of the two screws one big screw would be put in place that was supposed to hold a bracket that could connect to the beam holding the pedals. But it made no sense, because the bracket would only just sit on top of the big metal screw and let the whole pedal beam wobble. It seemed like  the bracket was defective. My wife encouraged me to just plod ahead and stick with the instructions.

It was only at the last step, when the big metal screw was tightened, that I could see how the system worked. It pulled a part of the metal frame in tightly to compress the wobbly bracket and hold it firmly in place. The system was actually pretty clever. It was only after following the instructions through to the end that everything finally made sense. The instructions were good, though they lacked (unnecessary) explanation to allay my concerns along the way.

That experience came around the same time I was reviewing some of the typical critical complaints about the mysterious barges of the Jaredites in the Book of Ether, chapters 2, 3, and 6. As with Noah's ark, we really don't know many details and have to wonder how much of the original record has actually been preserved and interpreted correctly. In the Jaredite story, we have a record passed on from Jaredite culture to the Nephites, and then on to us in telegraphic form. There are opportunities for a lot of helpful details to be lost.

Along the way, it's fair to question the assumptions we bring to the text. Some LDS folks as well as critics have imported a number of assumptions. The idea of the ships turning upside down in the water is one that I don't think is justified. These ships were peaked at the ends and had a top and a bottom. They may have been covered with waves from time to time, but nothing requires them to go upside down, though there would be some encounters with monster waves.

Another possibly errant assumption is that modern glass windows are meant in Ether 2:23 when the Lord explains that they barges can't have windows for they would be dashed in pieces by the waves. A fair question is what exactly would be dashed to pieces, the windows or the barges themselves? I assume the windows are meant, but John Tvedtnes explains why this could refer to the barges themselves being at risk if the structure were weakened with multiple windows. In either case, glass panes are not required here. If the windows themselves are meant, as I've always assumed, other writers have noted that the warning about something being destroyed could simply refer to a window with wooden shutters. Whether wooden shutters or openings with translucent materials (fabric, parchment, etc.) were what the Jaredites understood, they would be a weak structure that would not be wise for the ships. Apparently small ports related to ventilation would be added that could be "stopped" with some kind of seal, unlike the action of shutters on a window. I'll discuss the important detail of ventilation below.

Some critics have also wondered how on earth the Jaredites would not recognize the problems of lighting and ventilation until after the barges were completed, resulted in the brother of Jared's prayer to the Lord in Ether 3 in which he presents the problem. Wouldn't experienced barge builders have noticed that right away and raised the objection early? Yes, that's a reasonable question. I don't know the answer to that, but it may be that there were several components to the barges, and the final internal situation only became clear as the parts were brought together in the final assembly. For example, there may have been top sections which were added to the main bottom section in the end, and only then did it become clear that they had a problem. As with my electric piano assembly, a lot of things might not have made sense until they acted in faith and saw, several steps later, how things worked. Maybe they were expecting the final step to resolve the problems they might have been worrying about all along. When the disappointment came, all that was left was more faith and prayer, resulting in the real final instructions that did, in fact, resolve the problems.

The instructions may have come in stages, not all at once, so there might have been no reason to worry as they constructed the ship because they expected more instructions to keep on coming until everything made sense.

Whatever the sequence of events, the Jaredites did reach what seemed like the final stage of construction and were faced with unresolved problems: no light, bad ventilation. Now what?

The result of Ether 3 is that the Jaredites received miraculous glowing stones that would provide light for the journey. Were these radioluminescent materials? We don't know, but the concept of brightly glowing materials is no longer scientifically ludicrous. Interestingly, there are ancient Jewish traditions about Noah also receiving glowing materials for the ark.

The ventilation issue is one that is especially easy to criticize. The Lord gave these instructions in Ether 2:
[18] And it came to pass that the brother of Jared cried unto the Lord, saying: O Lord, I have performed the work which thou hast commanded me, and I have made the barges according as thou hast directed me.
[19] And behold, O Lord, in them there is no light; whither shall we steer? And also we shall perish, for in them we cannot breathe, save it is the air which is in them; therefore we shall perish.
[20] And the Lord said unto the brother of Jared: Behold, thou shalt make a hole in the top, and also in the bottom; and when thou shalt suffer for air thou shalt unstop the hole and receive air. And if it be so that the water come in upon thee, behold, ye shall stop the hole, that ye may not perish in the flood.
It is commonly assumed that the hole in the bottom is a hole below the water line. Some have proposed that it could have been a moon pool, and I personally long assumed it was an opening below the water line but with impermeable sides rising above the water line defining a moon pool that did not require elevated air pressure and that could be used to dump waste or even catch fish. But how would that help with ventilation?

Perhaps the Jaredite barges had structurally distinct top and bottoms. Since they were light and floated like a fowl on the water (Ether 2:16), a portion of the bottom section could have been above the water line. If so, the port in the bottom could have assisted in ventilation while also facilitating waste removal (and maybe fishing?). Here's a rough sketch (click to enlarge):

The barges the Jaredites built for their travels before they crossed the ocean may have been similar, but without the sealed top portion. The top may have been assembled and locked into place in a final step that led to the sudden realization that they still had a serious problem.

It is also possible that both the top and bottom were crafted with sections that made it easy to add the final ports without just hacking away at the solid hull. But for both ports, when waves were high, there was the risk of water coming in, so being able to quickly stop the port was needed. They may have been hinged or completely removable.

One issue the Brother of Jared raised when he asked about lighting was steering. He wanted to see to know how to steer (Ether 2:19). Perhaps there was some mechanism for steering, such as a rudder, and so he wanted to be able to see to know how to steer. The issue of steering is not addressed after that, but perhaps it was resolved and not spelled out in the brief description we have. Maybe the upper port or both ports together provided enough visual access to guide the boats to keep them together (others have speculated that they may have been roped together, although that could be a liability when dealing with big waves and heavy storms).

OK, I really don't know, and there are still many aspects of this story that are unresolved. But my experience with a confusing electric piano reminds me that many details in instructions as well as written descriptions might not make sense at first. What we are given may not be enough to understand the details and resolve our confusion, and these simple accounts of complex ancient voyages are likely to be that way. We can give up in exasperation, or move forward with faith and patience. In the end, that worked for my piano and I think it worked for the Jaredites.

Related resources:

Wednesday, June 03, 2015

Clement of Alexandria, Temple Mysteries, and the Divine Potential of Man

One of the earliest Christian writers after the New Testament era was Clement of Alexandria, who lived from about 150 to 210 AD. While researching the concept of the "yoke of Christ" in Matthew 11:28-30, I noted that Clement makes a connection between the yoke and rites of initiation and other mysteries aimed at bringing us into the presence of God and becoming more like him.

Speaking to those caught up in pagan Greek mysteries, Clement of Alexandria in his Exhortations to the Heathen, a document believed to have been written around 195 AD), speaks of true mysteries that should replace heathen rites. He refers to the sacred rites, "expounding them after [the] fashion" of the Greeks, describing the Christian mysteries as "dramas of the truth" with a sober choral dance.(Hugh Nibley in "The Early Christian Prayer Circle" has noted the parallel between the Greek chorus/choral dance and the early Christian prayer circle.) Here is a passage from Clement's Exhortation, available at the Christian Classics Ethereal Library (ccel.org):

Come, O madman, not leaning on the thyrsus, not crowned with ivy; throw away the mitre, throw away the fawn-skin; come to thy senses. I will show thee the Word, and the mysteries of the Word, expounding them after thine own fashion. This is the mountain beloved of God, not the subject of tragedies like Cithæron, but consecrated to dramas of the truth,--a mount of sobriety, shaded with forests of purity; and there revel on it not the Mænades, the sisters of Semele, who was struck by the thunderbolt, practising in their initiatory rites unholy division of flesh, but the daughters of God, the fair lambs, who celebrate the holy rites of the Word, raising a sober choral dance. The righteous are the chorus; the music is a hymn of the King of the universe. The maidens strike the lyre, the angels praise, the prophets speak; the sound of music issues forth, they run and pursue the jubilant band; those that are called make haste, eagerly desiring to receive the Father.

Come thou also, O aged man, leaving Thebes, and casting away from thee both divination and Bacchic frenzy, allow thyself to be led to the truth. I give thee the staff [of the cross] on which to lean. Haste, Tiresias; believe, and thou wilt see. Christ, by whom the eyes of the blind recover sight, will shed on thee a light brighter than the sun; night will flee from thee, fire will fear, death will be gone; thou, old man, who saw not Thebes, shalt see the heavens. O truly sacred mysteries! O stainless light! My way is lighted with torches, and I survey the heavens and God; I become holy whilst I am initiated. The Lord is the hierophant [that which brings someone into the presence of the holy, like the keeper of the gate in 2 Nephi 9], and seals while illuminating him who is initiated, and presents to the Father him who believes, to be kept safe for ever. Such are the reveries of my mysteries. If it is thy wish, be thou also initiated; and thou shall join the choir along with angels around the unbegotten and indestructible and the only true God, the Word of God, raising the hymn with us. This Jesus, who is eternal, the one great High Priest of the one God, and of His Father, prays for and exhorts men.

“Hear, ye myriad tribes, rather whoever among men are endowed with reason, both barbarians and Greeks. I call on the whole race of men, whose Creator I am, by the will of the Father. Come to Me, that you may be put in your due rank under the one God and the one Word of God; and do not only have the advantage of the irrational creatures in the possession of reason; for to you of all mortals I grant the enjoyment of immortality. For I want, I want to impart to you this grace, bestowing on you the perfect boon of immortality; and I confer on you both the Word and the knowledge of God, My complete self. This am I, this God wills, this is symphony, this the harmony of the Father, this is the Son, this is Christ, this the Word of God, the arm of the Lord, the power of the universe, the will of the Father; of which things there were images of old, but not all adequate. I desire to restore you according to the original model, that ye may become also like Me. I anoint you with the ungent of faith, by which you throw off corruption, and show you the naked form of righteousness by which you ascend to God. Come to Me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you, and learn of Me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest to your souls. For My yoke is easy, and My burden light.”

Let us haste, let us run, my fellow-men—us, who are God-loving and God-like images of the Word. Let us haste, let us run, let us take His yoke, let us receive, to conduct us to immortality, the good charioteer of men. Let us love Christ. He led the colt with its parent; and having yoked the team of humanity to God, directs His chariot to immortality, hastening clearly to fulfil, by driving now into heaven, what He shadowed forth before by riding into Jerusalem. A spectacle most beautiful to the Father is the eternal Son crowned with victory. Let us aspire, then, after what is good; let us become God-loving men, and obtain the greatest of all things which are incapable of being harmed—God and life. Our helper is the Word; let us put confidence in Him; … There is therefore no room to doubt, the Word will say, whether it is better to be sane or insane; but holding on to truth with our teeth, we must with all our might follow God, and in the exercise of wisdom regard all things to be, as they are, His; and besides, having learned that we are the most excellent of His possessions, let us commit ourselves to God, loving the Lord God, and regarding this as our business all our life long. And if what belongs to friends be reckoned common property, and man be the friend of God—for through the mediation of the Word has he been made the friend of God—then accordingly all things become man’s, because all things are God’s, and the common property of both the friends, God and man.

It is time, then, for us to say that the pious Christian alone is rich and wise, and of noble birth, and thus call and believe him to be God’s image, and also His likeness, having become righteous and holy and wise by Jesus Christ, and so far already like God. Accordingly this grace is indicated by the prophet, when he says, “I said that ye are gods, and all sons of the Highest.” For us, yea us, He has adopted, and wishes to be called the Father of us alone, not of the unbelieving. Such is then our position who are the attendants of Christ.
There is much in Clement that resonates with LDS concepts. Many things to discuss later.

In LDS doctrine, the divine potential of mankind is linked to out divine heritage. We don't think Paul was obfuscating when he approved of the Greek poet who wrote, "We are also his offspring" (Acts 17:28). We take him seriously when he said God is our Father, even the "Father of Spirits" (Heb. 12:9-10). And we see a link between our heritage as children of God and our divine potential in what Paul taught in Romans 8:
14 For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God.
15 For ye have not received the spirit of bondage again to fear; but ye have received the Spirit of adoption, whereby we cry, Abba, Father.
16 The Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God:
17 And if children, then heirs; heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ; if so be that we suffer with him, that we may be also glorified together.
18 For I reckon that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us.
But some have argued that since Paul speaks of adoption, it means that we aren't actual, literal children of God, but rather that we are an entirely different species. Only Christ is "begotten" or descended from God, and the rest of us are entirely distinct and in need of being adopted.  [Here I delete my errant discussion based on misreading an unclear part of the text, where I thought it said "was adopted" instead of "has adopted." Oops!] But perhaps Clement of Alexandria helps us overcome that barrier to recognizing our divine inheritance, for he teaches in the last paragraph quoted above that Christ in His role as Son of God also was "adopted." Adopted for us to bring us back to God.

My guess is that the concept of adoption in this context means putting off the natural man and fully accepting God, thus being accepted of God, that we may enter into God's presence in a covenant relationship to receive His kingdom and all that He has. We are sons and daughters of God, with the potential to become true Sons and Daughters of God in His kingdom, joint heirs with Christ. Heavy material, certainly, but worth thinking about.

I'd like to know more about the mysteries that Clement knew.