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

Friday, March 20, 2015

Great Literature You May Have Missed: Joseph Smith's First Vision, Explained by Dr. Arthur Henry King

One of the most impressive figures on the BYU campus when I was a student was Dr. Arthur Henry King (1910-2000). He was a graduate of Cambridge in 1931 and then earned a  Doctor of Literature in stylistics from the University of Lund in Sweden. He taught English and English literature for fourteen years at the universities in Lund and Stockholm and was for many years on the British Council, which deals with educational and cultural affairs for the British government. He was twice decorated by Queen Elizabeth II for this work. He also served as Assistant Director-General in charge of Education in England.

With his deep foundation in literature, you may be surprised to learn that it was the literary power of Joseph Smith's First Vision account that captured his attention when he encountered the Church. This happened when he was as a mature, respected, active man with a lot to lose by joining the Church, as he did in 1966. Five years later, he would join the faculty of Brigham Young University, where he fascinated, challenged and sometimes overwhelmed many students.

Mormon Scholars Testify has an entry from him. I'd like to share a portion of that as he discusses his reaction to a piece of great literature whose literary value we Mormons often overlook. I'm glad he was paying attention and had the skills to recognize its value.

When I was first brought to read Joseph Smith’s story, I was deeply impressed. I wasn’t inclined to be impressed. As a stylistician, I have spent my life being disinclined to be impressed. So when I read his story, I thought to myself, this is an extraordinary thing. This is an astonishingly matter-of-fact and cool account. This man is not trying to persuade me of anything. He doesn’t feel the need to. He is stating what happened to him, and he is stating it, not enthusiastically, but in quite a matter-of-fact way. He is not trying to make me cry or feel ecstatic. That struck me, and that began to build my testimony, for I could see that this man was telling the truth.

Joseph Smith begins his story in his matter-of-fact way, setting out carefully the reason that he is writing this history and the facts about his birth and family. Then he moves from the matter-of-fact to the ironical, even the satirical, as he describes the state of religion at the time—the behavior of the New England clergy in trying to draw people into their congregations. He tells about reading the Epistle of James. He doesn’t try to express his feelings. He gives a description of his feelings instead, which is a very different thing. Look at verse 12:
Never did any passage of scripture come with more power to the heart of man than this did at this time to mine. It seemed to enter with great force into every feeling of my heart. I reflected on it again and again, knowing that if any person needed wisdom from God, I did; for how to act I did not know, and unless I could get more wisdom than I then had, I would never know; for the teachers of religion of the different sects understood the same passages of scripture so differently as to destroy all confidence in settling the question by an appeal to the Bible. (JS—H 1:12)
I am not good enough to write a passage as good as that. That is beautiful, well-balanced prose. And it isn’t the prose of someone who is trying to work it out and make it nice. It is the prose of someone who is trying to tell it like it is, who is bending all his faculties to expressing the truth and not thinking about anything else—and above all, though writing about Joseph Smith, not thinking about Joseph Smith, not thinking about the effect he is going to have on others, not posturing, not posing, but just being himself. The passage continues as follows:
At length I came to the conclusion that I must either remain in darkness and confusion, or else I must do as James directs, that is, ask of God. (JS—H 1:13)
Notice the coolness: “At length I came to the conclusion.”
I at length came to the determination to “ask of God,” concluding that if he gave wisdom to them that lacked wisdom, and would give liberally, and not upbraid, I might venture. (JS—H 1:13)
Notice the rationality of it, the humility of it, the perfectly good manners of it.
So, in accordance with this, my determination to ask of God, I retired to the woods to make the attempt. (JS—H 1:14)
Just imagine what a TV commentator would make of this sort of thing.
It was on the morning of a beautiful, clear day, early in the spring of eighteen hundred and twenty. It was the first time in my life that I had made such an attempt, for amidst all my anxieties I had never as yet made the attempt to pray vocally. (JS—H 1:14)
Do you see how the tone is kept down, how matter-of-fact it is? Notice the effect of a phrase like “to pray vocally.”
After I had retired to the place where I had previously designed to go, having looked around me, and finding myself alone, I kneeled down and began to offer up the desires of my heart to God. (JS—H 1:15)
Plain, matter-of-fact, truthful, simple statements in well-mannered prose. This is no posture. We are not thinking of Joseph Smith; we are just waiting, waiting, waiting to hear. Do you see how beautifully this is built up, how the tension is built up by his being so modest, so well mannered?
I had scarcely done so, when immediately I was seized upon by some power which entirely overcame me, and had such an astonishing influence over me as to bind my tongue so that I could not speak. (JS—H 1:15)
He is telling us about something terrible. But he is not trying to make us feel HOW TERRIBLE THIS IS. He is telling us that it happened.
Thick darkness gathered around me, and it seemed to me for a time as if I were doomed to sudden destruction. (JS—H 1:15)
He felt he was going to be killed. But there is no excitement, no hysteria about this. He just tells us. Notice in particular the coolness of the phrase “for a time.”
But, exerting all my powers to call upon God to deliver me out of the power of this enemy which had seized upon me, and at the very moment when I was ready to sink into despair and abandon myself to destruction—not to an imaginary ruin, but to the power of some actual being from the unseen world, who had such marvelous power as I had never before felt in any being—just at this moment of great alarm . . . (JS—H 1:16)
Notice the expression “of great alarm.” What would a posing sensationalist do with that? What kind of explosion would he devise, I wonder?
I saw a pillar of light exactly over my head, above the brightness of the sun, which descended gradually until it fell upon me. (JS—H 1:16)
“A pillar of light exactly over my head,” “above the brightness of the sun,” “descended gradually”—note the modifiers, the exactness. What he is trying to do is tell us what happened. He goes on in the same tone. He doesn’t get ecstatic. He doesn’t run over. He just goes on telling us just what happened in this astonishingly cool, and at the same time reverential, way. This is a visit of God the Father and God the Son to a boy of fourteen. But he is not in undue awe. He doesn’t stare. He is not frightened. He was perhaps terrorized by what happened before, but he is not frightened of this. He doesn’t lose his self-confidence, and at the same time, he is modest.
And then the humor: he returns home, leans up against the fireplace, and his mother asks him what is wrong. He answers, “I have learned for myself that Presbyterianism is not true” (JS—H 1:20). We have to remember that his mother had joined the Presbyterian Church shortly before this. How do you assess that as a conversation between a fourteen-year-old and his mother? All mothers know that sort of thing really happens to them with their teenagers.
As a former teenager, as a parent of four former teenagers, and in my roles as a leader over teenagers, that incredible understatement is so hilarious and yet natural, and speaks to the simple sincerity of Joseph's account.

Dr. King goes on to further assess what Joseph gave us, and classifies it as great literature.

Thank you, Dr. King, for helping us to better appreciate the power and pure sincerity of what Joseph Smith wrote to describe his scared experience. It is truly an example of great literature.

Saturday, March 14, 2015

Did the Exodus Happen? A Case Where Evidence of "Plagiarism" May Be Evidence of Authenticity in the Biblical Record

Here's a case in which evidence of "plagiarism" in the Bible may actually be evidence for the authenticity of the record of the Exodus. Fascinating story. See Joshua Berman, "Was There an Exodus?," Mosaic, March 2, 2015, at Mosaicmagazine.com.

Given the "sustained absence of evidence" for the biblical Exodus (no Egyptian records confirming it, no obvious evidence from the Sinai, etc.), many scholars now question whether it ever really happened. But as Berman points out, once we recognize that the translation of numbers in the Old Testament pose many opportunities for inflation, the absence of evidence is less problematic. Why would the Egyptians advertize the fact that they failed to control a batch of slaves who escaped?

Berman also notes that there are some lines of evidence that support the plausibility of several parts of the account, but still, we have been without clear, direct evidence for the Exodus itself. However, Berman offers new evidence for the authenticity of the Exodus account, based on what one might call evidence of plagiarism from an Egyptian account, the Kadesh poem about Ramses II. The Hebrew text appears to incorporate numerous unique elements from the Egpytian source, but using it to tell the story of God's victory rather than Pharaoh's. Incorporating these details required knowledge of Egyptian lore and culture that would not likely have been accessible to a later Hebrew author. With these newly recognized details before us, the origins of the Exodus account are consistent with Hebrews in captivity in Egypt who came to Israel. Berman sums it up this way:
[T]he evidence adduced here can be reasonably taken as indicating that the poem was transmitted during the period of its greatest diffusion, which is the only period when anyone in Egypt seems to have paid much attention to it: namely, during the reign of Ramesses II himself. In my view, the evidence suggests that the Exodus text preserves the memory of a moment when the earliest Israelites reached for language with which to extol the mighty virtues of God, and found the raw material in the terms and tropes of an Egyptian text well-known to them. In appropriating and “transvaluing” that material, they put forward the claim that the God of Israel had far outdone the greatest achievement of the greatest earthly potentate.
When Jews around the world gather on the night of Passover to celebrate the exodus and liberation from Egyptian oppression, they can speak the words of the Haggadah, “We were slaves to a pharaoh in Egypt,” with confidence and integrity, without recourse to an enormous leap of faith and with no need to construe those words as mere metaphor. A plausible reading of the evidence is on their side.
Berman properly recognizes that parallels can occur in many unrelated works, something we see frequently among critics trying to find evidence of Book of Mormon plagiarism from a list of sources that grows longer every few months. However, Berman points to a totality of many unique details that make a strong case for a relationship between the Exodus account and Egyptian sources. This is a case where apparent "plagiarism" in a scriptural text actually provides evidence supporting its authenticity. With Passover nearing, this is food for thought as we contemplate the Exodus and its intricate role in the Bible and the Book of Mormon. It's a story that I believe goes beyond metaphor, but is reflected in ancient reality.

Special thanks to Jared A. (twitter.com/JaredAllebest) for calling this article to my attention.

Thursday, March 12, 2015

BYU Event on Saturday, March 14, Exploring Early Modern English and Other Complexities in Book of Mormon Language

Wish I could be in Provo Saturday for an interesting event on some of the complex and controversial aspects of the English language in the Book of Mormon text, especially the original text. The event is "Exploring the Complexities in the English Language of the Book of Mormon," sponsored by BYU Studies and the Interpreter Foundation.

By the way, if you think it's valuable to have this kind of discussion and enjoy the insights coming from the Interpreter Foundation, why not make a donation to keep their work moving along?

Here is the program, quoting from the announcement at MormonInterpreter.com:

On Saturday, March 14, 2015, a conference will be held in 251 Tanner Building on the BYU Campus in Provo, Utah, to report and discuss the latest investigations into a wide range of linguistic elements in the Book of Mormon, including expressions that do not appear to have been in use in the nineteenth century. As a result of twenty-seven years of investigations by Royal Skousen into the original English-language text of the Book of Mormon, these curiously archaic expressions have raised fascinating questions and discussions regarding the origins of this wondrous scripture.

The program will run from 9:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. The public is invited and admission is free.

The conference will be filmed, and videos of the presentations will be made available online in the weeks following.

This conference is sponsored by BYU Studies and the Interpreter Foundation.

9 a.m.

Welcome by Daniel C. Peterson, Professor of Arabic and Islamic Studies, BYU; and President of the Interpreter Foundation

9:15 a.m.
Stanford Carmack, JD, Stanford University; PhD, University of California at Santa Barbara (historical syntax); independent scholar

Exploding the Myth of Unruly Book of Mormon Grammar: A Look at the Excellent Match with Early Modern English
The grammar of the Book of Mormon has been naively criticized since its publication in 1830. The supposedly bad grammar is a match with language found in the Early Modern English textual record. Syntactic usage, especially past tense with did and the command construction, points only to that era. Book of Mormon language exhibits well-formed variation typical of the 16th and 17th centuries.
10 a.m.
Jan J. Martin, Assistant Visiting Professor of Ancient Scripture, BYU

Charity, Priest, and Church versus Love, Elder, and Congregation: The Book of Mormon’s connection to the debate between William Tyndale and Thomas More
Thomas More and William Tyndale were staunch opponents but they did agree on two things: (1) that language and theology were inseparable, and (2) that errors of language could lead to serious errors in theology. These two commonalities fueled their famous debate about Tyndale’s translation of the Greek words presbuteros, ekklēsia, and agapē into English as elder, congregation, and love. Though three centuries separate the Book of Mormon from More and Tyndale, that gap will be closed as the Book of Mormon’s use of charity/love, priest/elder, and congregation/church are analyzed within a sixteenth-century context.
10:45 a.m. 15-minute break

11:00 a.m.

Nick Frederick, Assistant Professor of Ancient Scripture, BYU

“Full of grace, mercy, and truth”: Exploring the Complexities of the Presence of the New Testament within the Book of Mormon
While it has often been observed that the language of the New Testament plays a key role in the English text of the Book of Mormon, how the New Testament appears in the Book of Mormon has not been thoroughly explored. This presentation will offer some preliminary suggestions on how we can adequately identify New Testament passages within the Book of Mormon, as well as examining the variety of ways the New Testament text is woven throughout the pages of the Book of Mormon.
11:45 a.m.

Royal Skousen, Professor of Linguistics and English Language, BYU; and editor of the Book of Mormon critical text project, 1988 – present
“A theory! A theory! We have already got a theory, and there cannot be any more theories!”
Three common views regarding the translation of the Book of Mormon, still held by some, can be summarized as follows: (1) as Joseph Smith translated, ideas came to his mind and he expressed those ideas in his own language and phraseology; (2) as a result, the original English language of the Book of Mormon is based on Joseph’s upstate New York dialect, intermixed with his own style of biblical English; and (3) the Book of Mormon deals with the religious and political issues of Joseph’s own time. In this paper I will draw upon the work of the Book of Mormon critical text project to argue that all of these views are essentially misguided and are based on a firm determination to hold to preconceived notions, no matter what the evidence.
12:45 p.m.

Concluding remarks by John W. Welch, Robert K. Thomas University Professor of Law, BYU; and Editor in Chief, BYU Studies

Sunday, March 08, 2015

From The Truth, The Way, and the Life: The Truth About the Way B.H. Roberts Viewed the Book of Mormon at the End of His Life



Critics often claim that a famous LDS General Authority, intellectual, and prolific defender of the faith, B.H. Roberts, lost his testimony of the Book of Mormon after investigating its weaknesses, including evidence that it was a modern creation based on other works available in Joseph Smith's day. This conclusion is based on writings from the early 1920s in which he explored the arguments that critics might make. Though incisively written and developed at length, he clearly explained that this was a case of playing devil's advocate to help the Church prepare for future challenges and did not reflect his personal beliefs:
Let me say once and for all, so as to avoid what might otherwise call for repeated explanation, that what is herein set forth does not represent any conclusions of mine. This report herewith submitted is what it purports to be, namely a ‘study of Book of Mormon origins’ for the information of those who ought to know everything about it pro et con, as well as that which has been produced against it, and that which may be produced against it. I am taking the position that our faith is not only unshaken but unshakable in the Book of Mormon, and therefore we can look without fear upon all that can be said against it.  (Letter to President Heber J. Grant dated March 15, 1922, as cited by McKay V. Jones, "Evasive Ignorance: Anti-Mormon Claims that B.H. Roberts Lost His Testimony," FAIRMormon.org, emphasis by M.V. Jones.)
His personal beliefs after that exercise can most accurately be gauged by his magnum opus, The Truth, The Way, the Life, a book which he spent many years preparing and which summarized his lifetime of learning and experience in matters of faith and theology. This book was unpublished at his death because he refused to tone down some sections related to evolution (the existence of "pre-Adamites") that worried other leaders in the Church.

Now that the book has been published, though, we can evaluate where he stood on the Book of Mormon, and the result is unquestionable and undeniable: he firmly believed it was an ancient record of a real people in the ancient Americas, preserved on gold plates, delivered to Joseph Smith through the ministry of an angel, and translated by the power of God by a true and living prophet. The Book of Mormon in his view was a powerful witness of the reality of Jesus Christ and contained a powerful, "thrilling" account of his visit to the ancient Americas. Those who claim B.H. Roberts secretly lost his testimony do not know B.H. Roberts and have ignored his statements about his devil's advocate Studies of the Book of Mormon, and more importantly, have ignored his subsequent magnum opus. To perpetuate the claim that he lost his testimony is now inexcusable.

Here are some excerpts from Robert's crowning work, The Truth, The Way, The Life: An Elementary Treatise on Theology, ed. John W. Welch, 2nd ed. (Provo, UT: BYU Studies, 1996). From my perch here in China, I only have access to the Kindle edition and so my reference to page numbers is problematic. Where page numbers are given, I have found statements from others citing the passages; please let me know if any are in error.

Excerpts from B.H. Roberts, The Truth, The Way, The Life

In Chapter 47, "Renewal of 'The Way," Roberts examines various witnesses, ancient and modern, of the Restoration. He treats the Book of Mormon as a genuine witness from an ancient people, with no hint of a decayed testimony. (On Kindle, this section begins about 64% through the book; p. 469 ff.)
The second vision of the New Dispensation: The Book of Mormon revealed. Three years after this first revelation an angel of God named Moroni was sent to the Prophet to reveal the existence of an ancient volume of scripture known as the Book of Mormon, a book which gives an account of the hand-dealings of God with the people whom he brought to the continents of America from what we now call the “Old World.”
(a) The Jaredites. The first colony came from the tower of Babel at the time of the dispersion of the people from the Euphrates Valley; they were called Jaredites, after their leader, named Jared. They occupied the land located in the southern part of Central America and founded a nation which existed for about sixteen centuries, and then were overwhelmed at last in a series of wars which ended in their complete destruction, on account of their great wickedness. This about 600 b.c.
(b) The Nephite colony. It was about the time of the destruction of the Jaredites that a small colony was led from Jerusalem, under divine guidance, to the western continents, where they too developed into a great people and into national life. This colony was made up of Israelites of the tribes of Ephraim and Manasseh, and later augmented by a second small colony made up of Jews. They continued in occupancy of the land—chiefly in North America—until about 400 a.d. Then came their destruction because of their rebellion and wickedness against God. They lost touch with faith and righteousness until their civilization was overthrown, and they survived only in the tribal relations such as existed at the advent of the Europeans.
(c) Summary of the book and its translation. This record discloses the hand-dealings of God with these ancient people through the prophets and teachers God sent unto them, and also gives the account of the visits of the risen Christ to them, the introduction of the fulness of the gospel by his ministry, which established a true church of Christ in the western world, with all the principles and the ordinances of the gospel necessary to salvation. Therefore it contains the fulness of the gospel. In this record God has brought forth a new witness to the truth of the things whereof the Hebrew scriptures, the Old Testament and the New also bear witness. Thus an angel came bringing the everlasting gospel which is to be preached to every nation, kindred, tongue, and people. This American volume of scripture, God’s new witness to the old truths of the everlasting gospel, Joseph Smith was commanded to translate, and was given the power and means by which he could translate the unknown language of these ancient American peoples. The “means” provided was a “Urim and Thummim.” This consisted of two transparent stones set in the rim of a bow, a divine instrument used in ancient times for obtaining knowledge from God. This instrument for translation was found with the gold plates on which the above record was engraven. Joseph Smith translated the Book of Mormon, and through a century now, it has been published to the world. In It is translated into fifteen of the world’s languages.
Here Roberts is unequivocal. There is no struggle to find faithful words to spin something he doesn't believe in. There is no trace of vague statements about what Joseph "felt" or "imagined" his writings might reflect, no suggestion that he applied his imagination to craft inspiring stories, no equivocation about finding uplifting power in inspired fiction. Joseph was visited by a real angel, was given a genuine record from an ancient people, and was given divine power to translate. The result is scripture, authentic ancient scripture from ancient prophets and a powerful witness of Christ.

Earlier in the text, Roberts has this to say about the Boo of Mormon's witness of Christ (about 54% through, according to Kindle; p. 395):
The testimony of the Book of Mormon. Also in the Book of Mormon is given a most dramatic and soul-thrilling testimony to the resurrection of the Christ by the appearance of the risen Redeemer to a multitude of people in America, shortly after the resurrection of the Christ; for to the people of America, no less than to the people of the Eastern hemisphere, did God give assurances through their ancient prophets from time to time of the existence of his gospel and of its power unto salvation; and lastly the risen Christ came to them to assure them of the verities of the plan of salvation and especially of this feature of it, the resurrection from the dead, by his own glorious appearance among them, and his quite extended ministry among them. Here the resurrected Christ according to the Nephite record, descended out of heaven and appeared to the multitude, proclaiming himself to be the Son of God, the Redeemer of the world; and the multitude blessed the name of “the Most High God,” “And they did fall down at the feet of Jesus, and did worship him” (3 Ne. 11:17).
Assurance of the resurrection. No incident in the gospel history is more emphatically proven than this great truth, the resurrection of the Son of God, and the promise of the resurrection of all men.
The Nephite record is part of the evidence that makes the resurrection of Christ one of the most "emphatically proven" truths in the scriptures. This is not the thing that a closet doubter would write, especially a frank and strong-willed man like B.H. Roberts.

Other statements from Roberts again support his appreciation of the Book of Mormon. For example, regarding the sacrament prayers in the Book of Mormon, he writes (53% through the book):
These prayers of consecration, are the most perfect forms of sacred literature to be found. So perfect they are that one may not add to them or take ought from them without marring them.
He then explores at length the meaning and the power of the sacrament prayers. Clearly, he finds the literary value of these items in the Book of Mormon to be extraordinary. His previous ramblings about the weak-minded author of the poorly crafter Book of Mormon fraud have no place in his personal beliefs. This is a man who finds intellectually satisfying beauty in the Book of Mormon, a man who shows no doubt when he declares: "More consistent is it with right reason --which is but intelligence in action--to accept the light-giving and inspiring thought of the ancient American Scripture--the Book of Mormon..." (23% through; p. 165).

Further insights can be found in the editor's remarks from John W. Welch (emphasis mine):
Indeed, not knowing what we as editors would encounter in the manuscripts of TWL [The Truth, the Way, the Life], I was surprised to find that TWL pointedly and repeatedly asserts the antiquity of the Book of Mormon. While such affirmative statements may seem unremarkable, it is precisely their routine orthodoxy that makes them so notable. Coming from one of the great intellects of the Church, whose views about the Book of Mormon supposedly became more intellectually sophisticated in his last years, these unequivocal statements will disappoint anyone who has imagined Roberts as a closet doubter or late-in-life skeptic. TWL especially reveals how Roberts felt about the Book of Mormon after he wrote his “Book of Mormon Study” in 1922. That work identified several Book of Mormon problems and called urgently for further study. Some have seen “Book of Mormon Study” as evidence that Roberts had changed his views on the historicity of the Book of Mormon, but readers can now determine that Roberts did not waver in his belief because of that study. In TWL, Roberts describes the miraculous coming forth of the Book of Mormon in strong, straightforward, traditional terms. For example, he says:
Three years after this first revelation an angel of God named Moroni was sent to the prophet to reveal the existence of an ancient volume of scripture known as the Book of Mormon, a book which gives an account of the hand-dealings of God with the people whom he brought to the continents of America from what we now call the “Old World.” (469)
In addition Roberts affirms that “Joseph Smith was commanded to translate, and was given the power and means by which he could translate the unknown language of these ancient American peoples” (470). TWL contains several statements that necessarily assume the antiquity and literal truthfulness of this ancient American scripture. For example, Roberts speaks literally of the words that the resurrected Jesus spoke “to the assembled Nephites to whom he appeared on the Western Continent” (482–83; compare 388, 389). Indeed, Roberts believed that “no incident in the gospel history is more emphatically proven than this great truth, the resurrection of the Son of God” (395), and he used as his key witness the appearance of the resurrected Christ to the Nephites (395).
TWL often identifies Book of Mormon prophets by the centuries in which they lived. Lehi, Roberts says, lived “before the birth of Christ, early in the fifth [sic] century, b.c.” (401). Roberts identifies a prophecy in the book of Alma as “one written near the close of the second century b.c.” (401). Moreover, Roberts goes out of his way to describe the book’s authors as “ancient.” He calls Lehi “an ancient American Prophet” (75). He cites “revelations of God to the ancient inhabitants of America” (275). He calls the book “the American volume of Scripture,” written by “the old prophets of the ancient American race” (259; see also 21, 152, 263, 275, 427, 445). He also treats many Book of Mormon passages as the unique, authoritative source of revealed knowledge on important topics. He takes joy in drawing attention to doctrines “derived almost wholly from the teachings of the Book of Mormon” (444). He extols it as a masterful work. Of a Book of Mormon reading he exclaims, “how beautifully clear this principle of purity in thought is set forth” (501).
There is more to say about the relevance of Ethan Smith as a modern source for the Book of Mormon and the other arguments that Roberts considered, but there is one thing we can say with confidence: he did not lose his testimony of the Restoration and the Book of Mormon through his brief investigation into areas of potential weakness in the test.

However, in 1933, Wesley P. Lloyd met with B.H. Roberts, who was Lloyd's former mission president, and then wrote a lengthy journal entry that critics use to argue that Roberts felt the Book of Mormon was not historic and that the plates were just a "subjective" creation of Joseph Smith. The critics' use of this journal entry is unjustified, as McKay V. Jones explains in detail in "Evasive Ignorance: Anti-Mormon Claims that B.H. Roberts Lost His Testimony," FAIRMormon.org.

The Wesley Lloyd Journal entry appears to be summarizing what Roberts had argued in playing devil's advocate, calling attention to weaknesses in need of more buttressing. Roberts had expressly rejected the subjective theory before and there is no evidence that he had now been swayed by it. If Roberts actually mentioned it in that conversation, it would have been in the context of restating the challenges yet to be faced in defending the Book of Mormon--and his position was clearly and long had been that of one that believed in Joseph Smith as a prophet.

Lloyd shows no indication then or later of worrying that Roberts had lost his testimony. Roberts, like many of us apologists, recognized that there are weaknesses and points of attack that demand attention and defense. Calling for further research, analysis, and even revelation to resolve a current apparent problem is not the same as abandoning faith. Roberts certainly did not abandon the Book of Mormon, and turned to it as an authentic ancient record translated by a real prophet of God when he prepared his great final work on theology, The Truth, the Way, the Life.

Friday, February 27, 2015

How Did Joseph Do What He Did in Translating the Book of Mormon? Further Evidence for Early Modern English Influence

The mystery of Early Modern English (EModE) grammar in the original text of the Book of Mormon just became more interesting with Stanford Carmack's latest in-depth analysis, "The Implications of Past-Tense Syntax in the Book of Mormon" at MormonInterpreter.com.

Here Stanford explores the pervasive and archaic use of "did" in the Book of Mormon, particularly the "affirmative declarative periphrastic" did, or ADP did. Brace yourselves for some intense grammar and loads of intriguing data showing that the unusual usage of this grammatical form in the Book of Mormon strongly differs from the King James Bible and other books available to Joseph Smith, and differs strongly from the English of Joseph Smith's day, but is consistent with EModE patterns a few decades before the KJV was produced. There is a remarkable fingerprint in the Book of Mormon that defies common efforts to ascribe the Book of Mormon to Joseph Smith's authorship.

Here is Stanford's abstract:
Abstract: In the middle of the 16th century there was a short-lived surge in the use of the auxiliary did to express the affirmative past tense in English, as in Moroni «did arrive» with his army to the land of Bountiful (Alma 52:18). The 1829 Book of Mormon contains nearly 2,000 instances of this particular syntax, using it 27% of the time in past-tense contexts. The 1611 King James Bible — which borrowed heavily from Tyndale’s biblical translations of the 1520s and ’30s — employs this syntax less than 2% of the time. While the Book of Mormon’s rate is significantly higher than the Bible’s, it is close to what is found in other English-language texts written mainly in the mid- to late 1500s. And the usage died out in the 1700s. So the Book of Mormon is unique for its time — this is especially apparent when features of adjacency, inversion, and intervening adverbial use are considered. Textual evidence and syntactic analysis argue strongly against both 19th-century composition and an imitative effort based on King James English. Book of Mormon past-tense syntax could have been achieved only by following the use of largely inaccessible 16th-century writings. But mimicry of lost syntax is difficult if not impossible, and so later writers who consciously sought to imitate biblical style failed to match its did-usage at a deep, systematic level. This includes Ethan Smith who in 1823 wrote View of the Hebrews, a text very different from both the Bible and the Book of Mormon in this respect. The same may be said about Hunt’s The Late War and Snowden’s The American Revolution.
The fingerprint of EModE in the original text is fascinating and ably documented in this and Carmack's other works, and yet there are times when the translation may have been loose. See Brant Gardner’s 2011 book, The Gift and the Power. Gardner’s work on this topic has some weaknesses, as David Bokovoy has pointed out, but one example I find especially interesting is the reference to the “five Books of Moses” in the BOM text, which most likely were not a set of five books in Nephi’s day. I think the original text may have made a reference to the Torah or the books of Moses, and Joseph modified it in the translation process to refer to the five books of Moses as we know them. That’s a moment of loose translation.

I think the debate over tight and loose translation is a bit like the tension between the wave and particle properties of matter. Perhaps the translation process involves both to varying degrees, with the delivery of information to Joseph being provided with initial tight control that he then sometimes adjusted in his role as translator, resulting at times in loose control. When I see translations of Chinese, there are often parts where I feel there is "tight control" and parts where things are rather loose. I can imagine both occurring for a variety of reasons in a divinely inspired Book of Mormon with a tightly controlled pre-translation being available for Joseph to access and apply. But that's just my speculation.

I’d love to have a day-long panel discussion with Stanford Carmack, Brant Gardner, Royal Skousen, David Bokovoy, and maybe someone like Daniel Peterson, John Tvedtnes, and Bill Hamblin, etc., to discuss the ins and outs of tight vs. loose control and the implications of EModE. Who else would you like to see on such a panel?

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Connecting Some Scattered Book of Mormon Dots

Those who enjoy puzzles, mysteries, and conspiracy theories might find some aspects of the Book of Mormon to be more rewarding than The Da Vinci Code or other modern thrillers. With a complex web of internal and external clues to decode, the mystery of Book of Mormon evidences can yield impressive results when one does the work to connect the many dots before us.
Here's an example of some recent random dots mostly linked to Alma 17-19 that I considered recently. There may be interesting connections, though not all of the leads end up being meaningful.

Let me begin with an exciting breakthrough just announced at the Book of Mormon Archaelogical Forum, BMAF.org. See "Excerpts from the 400-page book Exploring the Explanatory Power of Egyptian and Semitic in Uto-Aztecan." Linguist Brian Stubbs has greatly extended his early work that identified connections between Hebrew and Uto-Aztecan languages, a family of New World languages that extend from the Western United States down into southern Mexico and El Salvador (Mayan, by the way, is not part of that family). Now Stubbs has produced a new book with numerous correlations between Uto-Aztecan and three Old World languages, Hebrew, Aramaic, and Egyptian. (The book will be available on Amazon shortly.) For each of these languages, he offers several hundred correlations.

While false cognates can occur between any two languages just due to chance, significant numbers of apparently related words can be used by linguists (not necessarily amateurs) to identify language groups. Stubbs points out that many Native American language groups were established with around 100 or so correlations, so the finding of 400 to 700 correlations each for three Old World languages in Stubbs' latest work should merit attention. Stubbs recognizes that some of the proposed correlations may be a stretch, but the majority appear noteworthy.

The linkage to three different Semitic languages could have come from two or more infusions from the Old World, such as one migration from Israel with speakers of a Phoenician-like Northwest Semitic and an Aramaic-like Northwest Semitic, with one or both groups of speakers also bringing some knowledge of Egyptian. If Stubbs' work withstands further scrutiny and leads to even more insights and solved mysteries when applied by other scholars, it could prove to be a monumental advance in Book of Mormon studies. Of course, demonstrating strong Middle Eastern influences in New World languages does not prove anything divine in the Book of Mormon, but rather increases the case for plausibility and may help overcome some common objections.

Stubbs' earlier work has received the attention of other non-LDS scholars. For example, Roger Williams Westcott, Professor Emeritus of Anthropology and Linguistics at Drew University, New Jersey (Ph.D. in linguistics from Princeton, a Rhodes scholar, founder of Drew's anthropology program and author of 500 publications, including 40 books, and past president of the Linguistic Association of Canada and the United States) speaks positively of Stubbs' work in his article, "Early Eurasian Linguistic Links with North America" in Across Before Columbus?, ed. by Donald Y. Gilmore and Linda S. McElroy, Laconia, New Hampshire: New England Antiquities Research Association (NEARA), 1998, pp. 193-197. Dr. Westcott writes:
Perhaps the most surprising of all Eurasian-American linguistic connections, at least in geographic terms, is that proposed by Brian Stubbs: a strong link between the Uto-Aztecan and Afro-Asiatic (or Hamito-Semitic) languages. The Uto-Aztecan languages are, or have been, spoken in western North America from Idaho to El Salvador. One would expect that, if Semites or their linguistic kinsmen from northern Africa were to reach the New World by water, their route would be trans-Altantic. Indeed, what graphonomic evidence there is indicates exactly that: Canaanite inscriptions are found in Georgia and Tennessee as well as in Brazil; and Mediterranean coins, some Hebrew and Moroccan Arabic, are found in Kentucky as well as Venezuela [citing Cyrus Gordon].

But we must follow the evidence wherever it leads. And lexically, at least, it points to the Pacific rather than the Atlantic coast. Stubbs finds Semitic and (more rarely) Egyptian vocabulary in about 20 of 25 extant Uto-Aztecan languages. Of the word-bases in these vernaculars, he finds about 40 percent to be derivable from nearly 500 triliteral Semitic stems. Despite this striking proportion, however, he does not regard Uto-Aztecan as a branch of Semitic or Afro-Asiatic. Indeed, he treats Uto-Aztecan Semitisms as borrowings. But, because these borrowings are at once so numerous and so well "nativized," he prefers to regard them as an example of linguistic creolization - that is, of massive lexical adaptation of one language group to another. (By way of analogy, . . . historical linguists regard the heavy importation of French vocabulary into Middle English as a process of creolization.)

Of the various Afro-Asiatic languages represented in Uto-Aztecan vocabulary, the following occur in descending order of frequency:
  1. Canaanite (cited in its Hebrew form)
  2. Aramaic
  3. Arabic
  4. Ethiopic
  5. Akkadian (usually in its Assyrian form)
  6. Ancient Egyptian
Among the many Semitic loan-words in Uto-Aztecan, the following, listed by Stubbs, seems unexceptionable as regards both form and meaning:

Hebrewbaraqlightning> Papagoberoklightning
Aramaickatpashoulder> Papagokotvashoulder
Hebrewhiskalbe prudent> Nahuaiskalbe prudent
Hebrewyesïvähsitting> Hopiyesivacamp

Lest sceptics should attribute these correspondences to coincidence, however, Stubbs takes care to note that there are systematic sound-shifts, analogous to those covered in Indo-European by Grimm's Law, which recur consistently in loans from Afro-Asiatic to Uto-Aztecan. One of these is the unvoicing of voiced stops in the more southerly receiving languages. Another is the velarization of voiced labial stops and glides in the same languages.
One of the examples showing possible links to Egyptian involves the crocodile: Egyptian sbk / *subak "crocodile" appears related to Uto-Atecan *supak / *sipak "crocodile." (The asterisk "marks a proto-form or original sound or word as reconstructed by linguists.) This example follows a pattern seen in many apparent Hebrew-UA connections in which the Hebrew b is changed to a p in UA). Many of you seeing Egyptian sbk/subak might immediately think of the Egyptian crocodile god Sobek, which I discussed in my previous post "Of Crocodiles and Kings."

Sobek is of interest in the Book of Abraham since Joseph Smith's identification of a crocodile in Facs. 1 as the "idolatrous god of Pharaoh" can be considered as one of the many interesting evidences of authenticity for that work. When I saw that this Egyptian root had a cognate in UA, I wondered if the name Sebus in the Book of Mormon, as in the waters of Sebus, might be related to the crocodile. Could there have been a crocodile infested watering hole? But that conjecture is easy to dismiss since the final "s" really doesn't fit the "k" of Sobek and I don't think final "k" sounds are likely to morph into aspirants.

Though the crocodile-Sebus hypothesis was a false lead, my question led me to a new tangent and more dots to connect as I reviewed review some valuable work from others related to the place named the waters of Sebus.

By way of background, one of my favorite scenes in the Book of Mormon involves Ammon defending a Lamanite king's flocks at the waters of Sebus. The king's name is Lamoni, a name which corresponds well (yes, here's another tangent) with one of the few ancient place names in Mesoamerica whose ancient pronunciation has survived. Most ancient sites in the region are known by Spanish names like La Venta, with little to go on regarding how the name was known anciently. But in Belize, the ancient place name Lamanai has been preserved. This is an ancient city with impressive fortifications around it, similar to those described in the Book of Mormon.

You can learn more about the ancient Mayan city of Lamanai in a Youtube video. You might also enjoy the video that refers to the ancient Mayan city Pan cha'lib', which literally means "Bountiful." This may be a coincidence, but it's possible that the city was named after the ancient New World place called Bountiful in the Book of Mormon (which may have been named after the Old World Bountiful discussed above). Watch the text call-outs on the video in the first couple of minutes. The video is a re-enactment of an ancient ritual related to one that told of a warrior who visited Bountiful (Pan cha'lib').

The name Sebus is somewhat unusual for both Book of Mormon and Hebrew names, which usually don't begin and end with the same letter. It's the only example of such a name in the Book of Mormon. Paul Hoskisson in "What’s in a Name? Sebus" in the Maxwell Institute's Insights, vol. 32, no. 1 (2012), p. 3, explores some possible Semitic connections. He finds a plausible fit with an ancient Semitic root that could give this word the meaning of "to be gathered," which would be an appropriate name for a watering hole where animals are gathered. The potential for Semitic wordplay is then present in Alma 17:26, where we learn that Sebus is where the Lamanites drove their flocks (i.e., gathered or assembled them). Naturally, there is the contrast with the scattering that routinely occurred there as Lamanite troublemakers scattered the king's flocks--and seemed to get away with it time and again. Relying on divine power and some great combat skills, Ammon tells his fellow servants not to lose heart regarding the scattered flocks, for "we will gather them together and bring them back unto the place of water" (Alma 17:31). The waters of Sebus is mentioned twice more in Alma 19, verses 20 and 21, and in both cases that name is juxtaposed with the word "scattered."

It's fascinating how many times Semitic wordplays occur in the Book of Mormon. Not bad for a book allegedly fabricated by an unschooled conman years before he had a chance to actually study Hebrew.

One of the most recently discovered apparent wordplays involves the name Abish, a Lamanite servant woman who plays a role in the aftermath of Ammon's victory and successful gathering (both of flocks and arms) at the waters of Sebus, which resulted in the gathering in of many Lamanites to the fold of believers. See Matthew Bowen, "Father is a Man: The Remarkable Mention of the name Abish in Alma 19:16 and Its Narrative Context," Interpreter: A Journal of Mormon Scripture, 14 (2015): 77-93. And brace yourself for another tangent.

In a text that rarely reports woman's names, rarely reports Lamanite names, and almost never reports the names of servants, to have the name of a female Lamanite servant given is highly unusual. Yet Bowen points out how well the name fits the context and reinforces important themes in addition to providing a classic Hebrew wordplay. The name can be interpreted as Hebrew for "Father is a man," which relates well to Abish's status as a believer in God due to a "a remarkable vision of her father" (Alma 19:16). Bowen's abstract suffices for this tangent, but his case is greatly strengthened by the details he explores in his thorough article:
As a Hebrew/Lehite name, “Abish” suggests the meaning “Father is a man,” the midrashic components ʾab- (“father”) and ʾîš(“man”) being phonologically evident. Thus, the immediate juxtaposition of the name “Abish” with the terms “her father” and “women” raises the possibility of wordplay on her name in the underlying text. Since ʾab-names were frequently theophoric — i.e., they had reference to a divine Father (or could be so understood) — the mention of “Abish” (“Father is a man”) takes on additional theological significance in the context of Lamoni’s vision of the Redeemer being “born of a woman and … redeem[ing] all mankind” (Alma 19:13). The wordplay on “Abish” thus contributes thematically to the narrative’s presentation of Ammon’s typological ministrations among the Lamanites as a “man” endowed with great power, which helped the Lamanites understand the concept of “the Great Spirit” (Yahweh) becoming “man.” Moreover, this wordplay accords with the consistent Book of Mormon doctrine that the “very Eternal Father” would (and did) condescend to become “man” and Suffering Servant.
OK, the potential Semitic wordplay is cool, but what's going on with a king who couldn't stop a persistent threat at the waters of Sebus? And how can several of the surviving bad guys, drawn in by news from Abish in her attempt to get others to be witnesses of the miracle taking place with Ammon, the king, and the queen, dare to show up in the king's court and even attempt to slay the unconscious Ammon (see Alma 19)? It's the kind of security gap and cluelessness that might be par for the course for certain modern governments, but would seem to be a stretch in the presumably more sane ancient world. Brant Gardner has shown that the many seemingly ridiculous elements in the story of Ammon become quite plausible once we important Mesoamerican culture into the background. See his presentation at the 2004 FAIRMormon Conference, "The Case for Historicity: Discerning the Book of Mormon’s Production Culture."

Gardner explains that we may be looking at a family feud in which one Mesoamerican family is at odds with another powerful group, and can't simply kill off the trouble makers who roam his courts and slay his animals. To save face, he makes servants take the blame, and to upset the balance of power, he cleverly throws in a Nephite wild card with surprising results. This is one of many examples in the Book of Mormon where a knowledge of Mesoamerica helps fill in mysteries in the text. (Also see the related discussion of Gardner's hypothesis at Book of Mormon Notes, Feb. 2010).

Looking to Mesoamerica culture helps us appreciate what's happening in the Book of Mormon.

Interestingly, at least part of Abish's name, the Hebrew word for man, may be found in Uto-Aztecan. One of the finds reported by Brian Stubbs in his latest work, is correlation #572: Hebrew ’iiš "man, person" > UA *wïsi "person". But I'm not aware of "ab" or "abba" from Hebrew being proposed as a source for anything in UA. If Brother Stubbs sees this, perhaps he might have something more to say on the topic of possible linkages between Old World and New World names.

Coming back to the waters of Sebus, we've looked at the name Sebus and its role in a possible Semitic wordplay, the ensuing court scene and the whole scenario as a Mesoamerican intrigue, and interesting linguistic issues involving the name Abish. Now what about the "waters" aspect of the waters of Sebus?

The Book of Mormon Resources blog examines the many uses of the term "waters" in the Book of Mormon, and finds remarkable consistency with the way that term was used in--here we go again--Early Modern English (EModE).

By way of background, one of the most perplexing but data-rich and evidence-driven discoveries about the original Book of Mormon text is that much of what we thought was just bad grammar or imitation of KJV language is actually good English that predates the KJV substantially. There appears to be a strong current of obsolete grammatical patterns in the Book of Mormon that derive from roughly a century before the KJV was begun, adding a perplexing factor to Book of Mormon studies that at least helps us demonstrate that the Book of Mormon cannot be readily explained as a product based on copying KJV language and plagiarizing from contemporary sources or even relying on secret teams of contemporary writers trying to imitate KJV language. It's not clear why this would be the case and what mechanism would lead to the results, but the data demand to be considered and not just dismissed with an eye roll, or with mere assumptions about pockets of archaic grammar persisting as the frontier language of Joseph Smith's community. Something more than just bad grammar from Joseph himself is going on here, and Carmack offers abundant data to support that claim.

The discoveries in this vein began when Royal Skousen, the scholar most familiar with the intricate details of the earliest Book of Mormon text, noted that some of the grammatical structures in the early Book of Mormon manuscripts that looked like bad grammar and often were corrected out of the Book of Mormon actually were good grammar in Early Modern English from around 1500 AD. See Royal Skousen, "The Archaic Vocabulary of the Book of Mormon," Insights 25/5 (2005). The initial discovery came after Christian Gellinek suggested to Royal Skousen in 2003 that "pleading bar" may be a good reading for the problematic "pleasing bar" in Jacob 6:13. "Pleading bar" is not found in the KJV and is obsolete in modern English, but was a term used in EModE. This surprising observation led Royal Skousen to open-mindedly examine other aspects of the text, connecting more dots and pursuing more puzzles, until he came to the conclusion that EModE somehow played an important role in the original text. (Also see "Early Modern English" at the Book of Mormon Resources blog, Sept. 2014.)

Skousen's observations and discoveries were greatly strengthened by a linguist, Stanford Carmack, who has provided extensive data and statistics for certain aspects of the Book of Mormon further strengthening the case for EModE influence in the dictated text from Joseph Smith--an impossible feat for Joseph Smith on his own or I think anyone he had access to. See "A Look at Some 'Nonstandard' Book of Mormon Grammar" in Interpreter: A Journal of Mormon Scripture, vol. 11 (2014): 209-262, and "What Command Syntax Tells Us About Book of Mormon Authorship," Interpreter: A Journal of Mormon Scripture, vol. 13 (2015): 175-217. A third article on this topic should be published any day now (possibly this Friday) at MormonInterpreter.com. I look forward to digesting that new contribution, and congratulate Stanford Carmack for his detailed analysis and investigative work. This is a vein rich in data and filled with surprises.

I think it's hard to argue that Joseph Smith was deliberately trying to add EModE elements to impress anyone (what, nearly two centuries later, when we finally noticed?) since he took pains to edit out some of the awkward sounding phraseology that resulted.

Now, coming back to the waters of Sebus, Book of Mormon Resources in Sept. 2014 had this to say about an EModE connection, after listing the many verses using the plural "waters" in the Book of Mormon:
These passages show the pervasive Book of Mormon characteristic of duality. Waters are either associated with life, peace, righteousness and deliverance or they connote death, peril, sin and captivity. All of these ideas are found commingled in the single verse 1 Nephi 4:2.

All unambiguous passages refer to either a) a salt water ocean b) a flowing stream or c) symbolic spirituality, life and healing. The OED [Oxford English Dictionary] confirms that during the Early Modern English era (see the blog article "Early Modern English") "waters" plural referred either to a) water moving in waves [the ocean], b) flowing water [rivers] or c) healing water from medicinal, thermal or therapeutic springs. In this case, the OED strikingly corroborates what we find in the text….

So, evidence from the text and the OED suggests the waters of Mormon, Sebus and Ripliancum are all streams or rivers as in Joshua 3:13. Fountains are generally considered springs as in Deuteronomy 8:7. The fountain mentioned in Mosiah 18:5 is almost certainly a spring feeding a flowing stream. Trees grow along stream beds as in Numbers 24:6 which explains the thicket near the water in Mosiah 18:5. The fountain/tree connection was part of the Nephite worldview 1 Nephi 11:25. The image of waters that flow and gush associated with the actions of a prophet is attested in the text 1 Nephi 20:21 citing Isaiah 48:21. River Jordan was the quintessential baptistery in the New Testament Matthew 3:6, Mark 1:5. The most noted baptistery in the Book of Mormon is probably a flowing stream as well. In the land of Zarahemla, Alma1 probably baptized in the river Sidon as his son did decades later Alma 4:4. Alma1's baptisms in Zarahemla were expressly "after the manner" of his iconic baptisms earlier in the waters of Mormon Mosiah 25:18.

Most LDS Mesoamericanists who deal with the Book of Mormon correlate the waters of Ripliancum with the extensive wetlands at the mouth of the Papaloapan River in Veracruz. Our analysis confirms this correlation as highly likely. [The author then explores several geographical correspondences with the Book of Mormon and offers further examples from EModE texts.]

We know the "waters of Sidon" refers to a large river. The "waters of Ripliancum" probably refers to a large river. The "many waters" in land Ramah-Cumorah probably refer to multiple rivers. This makes it likely the "waters of Mormon" refers to a flowing stream of water since as Royal Skousen frequently reminds us, the original text is very consistent in its usage patterns (See the Editor's Preface to the Yale Edition, page xxxix). In the 1981 LDS edition, Mosiah 18:8 reads "here are the waters of Mormon" which in modern English could potentially refer to any body of water. The Yale edition restores this phrase to its original "here is the waters of Mormon" which in Early Modern English implied a flowing stream.
So what of the waters of Sebus? Perhaps it was a watering hole that was part of a stream or river. Nothing too surprising there, but I do like the way Book of Mormon usage of "waters" fits well with EModE usage. However, I'm not sure that treating "waters" as a singular noun was common in EModE or signals a pre-KJV connection. While the consistency in meanings for "waters" between the Book of Mormon and early English is interesting, I don't think any of those meanings are obsolete today, making this less interesting than the highlights of Carmack's and Skousen's finds.

Finally, turning back to Brant Gardner's insights about Mesoamerican culture and royal intrigues in the story of Ammon, I am interested in the Book of Mormon insights we may obtain from examination of ancient Mesoamerican royal courts. The Book of Mormon's brief information about kings and royal households among the Lamanites in the story of Ammon and the sons of Mosiah shows a hierarchical system of kings under a top king. We also learn of royal household and courts that appear to offer broad public access. Compare that to the following information from Wikipedia's entry, "Maya Civilization" under the section on "King and Court":
A typical Classic Maya polity was a small hierarchical state (ajawil, ajawlel, or ajawlil) headed by a hereditary ruler known as an ajaw (later k’uhul ajaw). Such kingdoms were usually no more than a capital city with its neighborhood and several lesser towns, although there were greater kingdoms, which controlled larger territories and extended patronage over smaller polities. Each kingdom had a name that did not necessarily correspond to any locality within its territory. Its identity was that of a political unit associated with a particular ruling dynasty….
Mayanists have been increasingly accepting a "court paradigm" of Classic Maya societies which puts the emphasis on the centrality of the royal household and especially the person of the king. This approach focuses on Maya monumental spaces as the embodiment of the diverse activities of the royal household. It considers the role of places and spaces (including dwellings of royalty and nobles, throne rooms, temples, halls and plazas for public ceremonies) in establishing power and social hierarchy, and also in projecting aesthetic and moral values to define the wider social realm.
Spanish sources invariably describe even the largest Maya settlements as dispersed collections of dwellings grouped around the temples and palaces of the ruling dynasty and lesser nobles. None of the Classic Maya cities shows evidence of economic specialization and commerce of the scale of Mexican Tenochtitlan. Instead, Maya cities could be seen as enormous royal households, the locales of the administrative and ritual activities of the royal court. They were the places where privileged nobles could approach the holy ruler, where aesthetic values of the high culture were formulated and disseminated and where aesthetic items were consumed. They were the self-proclaimed centers and the sources of social, moral, and cosmic order. The fall of a royal court as in the well-documented cases of Piedras Negras or Copan would cause the inevitable "death" of the associated settlement.
To me, the passage of time since Joseph Smith's day has made the Book of Mormon far more plausible, when placed in a Mesoamerican setting, than it was in light of common knowledge about Native Americans in Joseph's day. Looking for Mesoamerican cultural clues, linguistic clues, and other internal and external clues in the text can point us to many rich and long-buried treasures in this precious volume. There are many more dots to connect and puzzles to solve or resolve. Keep on sleuthing!

Update, Feb. 26: As I rushed to prepare this post, I had the persistent feeling that I needed to find and add one more interesting connection to these meanderings around Alma 17, so I wondered if the Mayan word for crocodile might be relevant. That was actually the question on my mind as I awoke early this morning after returning to China from the U.S. last night, but the online resources I found did not include crocodile or alligator. Out of time, I posted this, but then moments later heard back from Kathy Kidd, editor of the Nauvoo Times where I am cross-posting this. She mentioned that a Mesoamerican tour guide had told her that Lamanai means crocodile in Mayan. OK, there's my missing connection, and it has slightly more authority than hearsay since I just noticed Wikipedia identifies the ancient place name Lamanai as meaning "submerged crocodile" in Yucatan Mayan. Of crocodiles and kings indeed!

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Friend of the Slain Muslims in North Carolina: An Example of Calmness, Courage, and Kindness in Grief

On Wednesday morning at a technical conference I attended in Miami, the female CEO of an impressive nanotech company from North Carolina gave the first presentation of the day, a departure from the printed schedule. She appeared to be Muslim since she was wearing a hijab (a traditional head wrap). The presentation had been moved up since there was an emergency that required her to fly back to North Carolina right away.

She gave one of the more interesting presentations, but was somewhat quiet and subdued, I felt. She then excused herself and left swiftly instead of taking any questions. The session chair explained that she would not have time for questions since she had to rush to the airport. Only later did I glean a hint about the nature of the emergency: three friends of hers had just been murdered. On Thursday I would see the headlines in the newspaper about the slayings of three Muslims in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. So terrible--how do I even begin to grasp what this kind of loss must feel like?

It was thoughtful of her to share as much as she did with us before her flight. I caught her on the way out and congratulated her for a great presentation, not yet knowing that there had been a tragedy. I had missed the announcement about the reasons for the change in schedule since I had been chatting out in the lobby. Had I known, I might not have wanted to bother her at all.

Her composure and kindness to the audience while facing such terrible news about her friends was very professional, but what pain she must have been facing! I am surprised at how calm and courageous she had been. Even if the victims of the murder had not been friends, just to have fellow Muslims from one's town be murdered would have been a terribly troubling burden to face. This might be a good time for all of us to reach out in kindness to our Muslim friends as they face a trying time. They may face other cases of hatred and misunderstanding. May we help prevent such hatred and violence, and be a comfort and help to those who are at risk in our violent world. 

We Latter-day Saints often recall the stories of past discrimination and persecution, but what our ancestors  suffered many decades ago is minor compared to the pains of many in the world today. There are Muslims wishing to stand for peace who are slain by extremists. There are whole communities of Christians being driven out of their nations. There are minority religions and ethnic groups in many lands that are violently persecuted. May we not forget these brothers and sisters in their pain.

When it becomes our turn to face the wrath of bigots and madmen, may we remain calm and courageous, not seeking vengeance and not forgetting the need for charity even when there is cause for anger.

Monday, February 09, 2015

What About Those Who Can't Sing?

For some people, singing is a challenging part of worship. For those who feel they can't sing well or who fear to sing around others, music can sometimes be a barrier rather than aid to worship.

This was a challenge for me in my early days. I think part of the problem was that toward the end of my second-grade year in Boise, Idaho, my teacher worked with school officials to get me instantly promoted to third grade. They told my parents I needed to move up a grade because I was so smart. Mom and Dad were so proud of me. But there are other theories. Perhaps my sweet second-grade teacher was spared a nervous breakdown by throwing me into third grade. Whatever the cause, I skipped most of third grade, and I fully forgive all those involved. Actually, I think it was good for me and gave me opportunities later that I am grateful for, but it came at a price.

Parents, if you have children in third grade, please make sure they attend and pay great attention. Third grade, from what I can tell, is where some of life's most important skills are developed. This must be where kids become athletes, develop social graces, learn how to write legibly, and also learn how to sing. I pretty much skipped all that.

Without the benefit of a third-grade education (yes, I can see this statement being used against me), I soon found myself in fourth grade. The eager and overly confident little second grader still dwelling in me, so used to getting straight A's and being praised for minor accomplishments, was about to face a complete shock on his report card with a "D" for handwriting and a "D" for singing. The nice fourth-grade teacher I started with took time off to have a baby and was replaced with a harsh substitute for several very long weeks.

One day she announced that we needed to have a singing test, and that each of us needed to prepare by choosing a song that we would sing to her. What? This was a total surprise to me. She reminded us one day that the test would be tomorrow. Yikes. So I went home and sought help from my father, who sings beautifully, as does my mother, neither of whom bothered to pass on any musical genes to me. I had turned to the one source of vocal music I could find at home, the LDS hymnbook, and dutifully searched for a really short song. "Upon the Cross of Calvary" was the fateful choice. Another crucifixion song such as "There Is a Green Hill Far Away" would have done just as well for brevity and thematic content.

My father had me sing it, tried hard not no chuckle, and spend some time giving me helpful tips. After another try or two, he gave me some encouragement and hoped I would do OK.

I tried to imagine how the test would go. I wondered if she would bring us into her office or take us out into the hallway or some other remote room for the individual singing evaluations. When the topic of the test came up the next day, she announced that each child would stand, one at a time, and sing in front of the entire class of 30-something children (my estimate). This was to be a very public shaming, and my row was first.

I suppose that the four or five kids who sang before I did were all budding Josh Grobans and Whitney Houstons. I could hardly concentrate on what they were singing, but it sounded better than what I could do. When I finally stood to accept my fate, I tried to sing but felt it was somewhat worse than how I had sung for my father, but maybe, hopefully maybe OK. The two verses I sang were over quickly (I seem to recall she let me finish sooner than I expected, with no complaints from me) and I sat down, glad that I had survived. Well, that wasn't so bad, was it? I felt OK about it somehow, until a few weeks later when I got the report card with my first ever "D." Two of them, one of singing and one for handwriting. I don't recall, but perhaps some kind of writing test was conducted right after the singing test. Trembling does not make for a steady hand.

After that, my response to public singing became one of evasion for several years. I remember in fifth grade, now in Salt Lake City, the teacher caught me trying to hide behind the piano when it was singing time. Silly. I was a vocal and enthusiastic student for the most part, just not for vocal music. I recognized that singing was part of worship and wanted to do better, but didn't spend a lot of time at it and really felt I just lacked the talent to improve much. I can do better now and sometimes really enjoy it, but don't give me a public test, please, at least not a solo.

Fortunately, for those of who you share my awkwardness about singing, there is new hope from scholars. My favorite science news service offers this headline based on newly published research at Northwestern University: "Can't sing? Do it more often." The tagline is "Regular practice may be as crucial to singing on pitch as it is for learning an instrument." A new study published in a February volume of the journal Music Perception: An Interdisciplinary Journal offers new hope for me and others. The online information doesn't yet include the February issue, so be patient. For now, we can rely on the printed version or third-party commentary such as the report at Eurekalert.org, from which the following excerpt is taken:
Published in a special February issue of the journal Music Perception, the study compared the singing accuracy of three groups: kindergarteners, sixth graders and college-aged adults. One test asked the volunteers to listen to four repetitions of a single pitch and then sing back the sequence. Another asked them to sing back at intervals.

The three groups were scored using similar procedures for measuring singing accuracy.

The study showed considerable improvement in accuracy from kindergarten to late elementary school, when most children are receiving regular music instruction. But in the adult group, the gains were reversed -- to the point that college students performed at the level of the kindergarteners on two of the three tasks, suggesting the "use it or lose it" effect.

Singing on key is likely easier for some people than others. "But it's also a skill that can be taught and developed, and much of it has to do with using the voice regularly," Demorest said. "Our study suggests that adults who may have performed better as children lost the ability when they stopped singing."
Great news!  Science has once again given me something to sing about.

Meanwhile, I would encourage Latter-day Saints and all of us to be sensitive to the challenges that some people may face when they are shy about singing. One positive thing parents and teachers can do is encourage people to practice. All that singing in Primary and elsewhere can make a difference and help people do better.

Thursday, January 29, 2015

The Increasingly Interesting Liahona

In an earlier post here at Mormanity, I discussed an intriguing aspect of the temple that Nephi built. I am especially indebted to a chapter from Kevin Christensen, "The Temple, the Monarchy, and Wisdom: Lehi's World and the Scholarship of Margaret Barker" in the Glimpses of Lehi's Jerusalem by John Welch, David R. Seely, and Jo Ann N. Seely (Provo: Maxwell Institute, 2004), and to Don Bradley's presentation, "Piercing the Veil: Temple Worship in the Lost 116 Pages," FAIRMormon.com, 2012. In that post, I noted how these LDS scholars help us recognize that the Nephites had sacred relics for their own "ark" that have remarkable parallels to the scared relics that were in the Ark of the Covenant of Solomon's temple.

Four of the five sacred relics of the Nephites that I discussed have fairly clear parallels to their Old World counterparts: the interpreters like the Urim and Thummin, the metal plates like the stone tablets with the law, the sword of Laban as a symbol of authority like the rod of Aaron, and the Nephite breast plate like the High Priest's breastplate. The least obvious and most interesting parallel deals with the pot of manna preserved in the Ark of Solomon's temple.

A possible Nephite parallel is introduced using language that may have been crafted to serve as a parallel to the sacred manna which, according to Exodus 16:13-15, was discovered in the desert in the morning and was described as "a small round thing" which obviously astonished them, "for they wist not what it was." In parallel, it was on a morning in the desert when Lehi was also surprised with his discovery of another gift from the Lord to weary travelers seeking a promised land: "As my father arose in the morning, and went forth to the tent door, to his great astonishment he beheld upon the ground a round ball of curious workmanship" (1 Nephi 16:10). Round, like the "small round thing" that astonished the Hebrews on an earlier morning. Update, 1/30/15: As noted by a helpful commenter, the word "round" in this KJV verse doesn't appear to be supported by the Hebrew text and is not used in other translations. But the gist of the parallel still stands.

Lehi's Liahona serves as a fitting parallel to the pot of manna, a symbol of the Lord's mercy and deliverance. And like manna, it wasn't a gift to be taken for granted, but could quit functioning as a result of rebellion.

With relics to match each of the relics of the Ark of the Covenant, the Nephites could have a reasonable imitation of Solomon's temple in spirit and function, making the Holy of Holies an suitably sacred place.

There's more to the Liahona that we should consider. Long ago I had correspondence with a man studying to become a Rabbi who was also impressed with the Book of Mormon as an authentic ancient Jewish text. He wasn't LDS and I'm not sure what became of his interest, but he offered his rough analysis of the word Liahona, opining that it was good Hebrew. He said the name (lamed-yud-hey-vav-nun-alef in Hebrew) is related to known Hebrew words with relevant meanings:
  • LIA (lamed-yud-hey), Strongs 3914: something round; a wreath
  • LAWAH (lamed-vav-hey), Strongs 3867: to bind around; to wreathe; to start or stop
  • LON (lamed-vav-nun), Strongs 3885, from LAWAH: to abide, to dwell, to remain or to continue.
That was interesting, but recently I noticed that a much more complete exploration of the name has been conducted: James Curci, "Liahona, 'The Direction of the Lord," An Etymological Explanation," Journal of Book of Mormon Studies, vol. 16, no. 2 (2007): pp. 60-67, 97-98. Curci concludes that Liahona is a word coined by Nephi and/or Lehi using Hebrew elements conveying the meaning "The Direction (Director) of YHWH" or literally "To the Lord Is the Whither." As is so often the case in the Book of Mormon, there are interesting Hebrew word plays in the text that only recently are coming to light. In this case, the use of the word "whither" in relationship to Liahona-related passages in First Nephi link to the "whither" (hona) element of the name. Here is an excerpt from the PDF of Curci's paper:

Curci has much more to say about the term Liahona and its aptness in the Book of Mormon record. Just one of many cool, ancient, and increasingly plausible elements in the Book of Mormon.
 

Monday, January 19, 2015

The Book of Mormon's Command Performance: The Late War and Other KJV-Style Texts Don't Help

Stanford Carmack's discussion of the unusual grammar in the original Book of Mormon text creates a case that the unusual English of the original Book of Mormon cannot be readily explained if Joseph just created the Book of Mormon himself. The language of the King James Bible is actually quite distinct from the English that Joseph dictated. Carmack's most recent work on the topic, as I previously discussed ("New Twists," 1/08/15; also see my earlier "Joseph Smith's Hick Language," 8/29/14), takes up the use of the verb "command" in the Book of Mormon. The Book of Mormon tends to favor archaic English constructions like "command Jeff THAT he SHOULD do something" instead of the standard modern form with "to" (the infinitive form), as in "command Jeff TO stop writing so poorly." The King James Bible mostly uses the infinitive form, not the other "finite" form, when "command" governs another verb.

A commenter in my last post guessed that we would find similar language in one of the other books that Joseph allegedly plagiarized from. OK, that's a testable hypothesis. So this week I looked at the texts of some of the leading books people have proposed as Joseph's source material to see how they use "command." I was not surprised to see that they provide no support for the Book of Mormon's command performance. Of course, it will take generations to sort through the ever growing and highly imaginative collection of Joseph's vast frontier library that nobody ever saw, Joseph included (though this could make a fun movie of the National Archive variety, complete with a huge underground Masonic temple lined with books), but this week I looked at the most popular recent "smoking guns."

First on the list is Gilbert Hunt's The late war, between the United States and Great Britain, from June 1812, to February 1815 : written in the ancient historical style. For background, see my "Another Fun Statistical Squabble," 11/07/13 and "Curious Parallels," 11/13/13, and especially see Ben McGuire's commanding "The Late War Against the Book of Mormon," Mormon Interpreter, vol. 7, 2013. Said by some critics to be the ultimate smoking gun that proves plagiarism, a delusional conclusion obtained with bogus statistical methods, this text was written in Elizabethan-style English in imitation of King James language. Occasional similarities also derive from its many scenes of war that describe the kind of things that happen in war, as the Book of Mormon does. So if this was Joseph's secret source, now uncovered with the power of Big Data, it's relationship to the unusual language structures of the Book of Mormon might be interesting, eh?

Courtesy of the remarkable online resource, Archive.org, you can see a text file with the full text of The Late War at https://archive.org/stream/latewarbetween_00hunt/latewarbetween_00hunt_djvu.txt. Other formats might be more enjoyable, such as the PDF file or the online reader. In searching, be sure to consider the occasional hyphenated form also (search for "command" as well as "com-").

My exploration shows that Hunt's use of "command" as a verb is dominated by "commanded by" in the sense of leading, as in an army or ship commanded by a captain, similar to its common use as a noun, as in "under the command of" a leader. These cases don't apply to the current discussion. The cases where "command" governs another verb are relatively few for such a long text (over 300 pages), which already is a notable difference to the Book of Mormon, where command is a frequently used verb governing other verbs. Hunt has 10 instances of command governing a verb, by my count, while the Book of Mormon has over 100. Here are the 10 from Hunt, with the finite forms in bold:
2:3 And they commanded them to go forth from their presence, for that purpose, and return again on the third day of the same month.

3:25 Therefore, I command that ye go not out to battle, but every man remain in his own house.

4:16 But they were rejoiced that power was not given unto him to command fire to come down from heaven to consume the friends of the great Sanhedrim.

7:13 William . . . commanded the valiant men of Columbia to bow down before the servants of the king.

12:11 and commanded them to go to the island of the king which is called Bermuda.

25:15 After which the men of Columbia were commanded to go in boats, down to the strong hold of Kingston, in the province of the king.

29:11 Therefore, that your blood may not be spilt in vain, we command that ye give up the strong hold into the hands of the servants of the king, and become captives.

33:6 And he called together his captains of fifties, and his squadrons, and encouraged them, and commanded them to prepare themselves for the fight.

46:3 For the Prince Regent had commanded his servants to go forth into the heart of the land of Columbia, and separate the states of the east from the rest of the country.

51:28 They commanded the vessel called the Yankee to follow after them, towards the ship of the king their master ;
Here 8 of 10 instances use the common infinitive form (command ... TO ...). The other two use command + that + verb. So 20% of Hunt's few uses are in the finite form, similar to what we see in the KJV Bible, according to Carmack, but quite unlike the high level in the Book of Mormon. None of Hunt's finite forms use an auxiliary verb like "should," which is common in the Book of Mormon. Doesn't look like Hunt explains the Book of Mormon's command patterns.

The First Book of Napoleon is another text that allegedly has statistical similarity to the Book of Mormon. Archive.org again offers the full text, a PDF, and an online reader. You will find even less support for the use of "command" in that text. I find zero instance of "command" governing another verb.

The 1822 translation of the Quran is a little more interesting and relevant, but still fails as an explanation for Joseph's unique Book of Mormon language. Archive.org provides a text file, a PDF, and an online reader. Again, some of the important instances of command are hyphenated, so include "com-" in your search if using the text file. When "command" as a verb governs another verbs, 33 times it was in the modern infinitive form and only 8 times in the finite form. That's 19.5%, very similar to the KJV and quite unlike the Book of Mormon.

One related structure in the Quran is related, but does not fit the finite usage of interest here. An example of this form is "it is also commanded us, saying, Observe the stated times of prayer." The verb "command" here does not directly govern a second verb, but introduces a quotation. So I am not counting it as a finite "layered" form equivalent to "command X that X or Y should do something."

Here are the 8 examples of command + finite verb that I found, listed by page number. Again, this is my preliminary count. I welcome comments and further analysis.
45. who also say, Surely God hath commanded us, that we should not give credit to any apostle, until one should come unto us with a sacrifice, which should be consumed by fire.

67. Wherefore we commanded the children of Israel, that he who slayeth a soul, without having slain a soul, or committed wickedness in the earth, shall be as if he had slain all mankind:

68. We have therein commanded them, that they should give life for life, and eye for eye, and nose for nose, and ear for ear, and tooth for tooth ;

100. and command thy people that they live according to the most excellent precepts thereof

144. who hath commanded that ye worship none besides him.

173. Thy Lord hath commanded that ye worship none besides him ;

269. Nay, but the crafty plot which ye devised by night and by day, occasioned our ruin; when ye commanded us that we should not believe in God, and that we should set up other gods as equals unto him.

277. Did I not command you, O sons of Adam, that ye should not worship Satan ; because he was an open enemy unto you?
Five of the eight examples use "shall" or "should" as an auxiliary verb after "that," which may make it more similar to the Book of Mormon in that regard than is the King James Bible. So in terms of the Book of Mormon's command-related language, the 1822 Quran is certainly the best of the recently touted links found by bad Big Data (or Big Bad Data?), but is still not very helpful and, of course, rather implausible.

Just for fun, I also looked at Solomon Spaulding's Manuscript Found (text file at Archive.org), which proved to be a case of relevant command language being not found. There were 9 examples of infinitive forms but none in the finite form when command governed another verb. Yawn.

But wait, what about Shakespeare? Or Sir Walter Scott? Or James Adair and dozens of other authors? Dig in and let me know what you find.

So far, Carmack's thesis stands: the archaic language of the Book of Mormon cannot be readily explained by drawing from the KJV or other books in Joseph's day. I don't really know why that early archaic English is there, but whatever the reason, it is a subtle data-rich indicator of something other than imitation and plagiarism by Joseph Smith. Or do you have a better fraud-friendly explanation?