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

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?

Monday, January 12, 2015

Another Classic Example of Misleading LDS Apologetics: The Gospel of Philip and Temple Marriage

In the comments to a previous post about LDS garments at Mormanity, I've just been called out for an egregious blunder on my part. I am genuinely grateful to Alvin for this barbed and instructive comment:
Because of my dayjob, I can’t really check all the references used by apologists, and apparently neither can anyone else, including Mormanity. Brother Ostler’s paper “Clothed Upon” was written in 1982, before it became easy to find some of his sources on the internet. I spot checked this claim from the third paragraph: “In some accounts, one must be married in the Holy of Holies of the temple in order to obtain the highest of three degrees of glory.”

The reference he gives for this claim is the Gnostic Gospel of Philip. There’s a translation on the web by Wesley Isenberg. There’s no mention in the document of “three degrees of glory.” It most definitely does not say that people must be married in the Holy of Holies in order to obtain the highest. It does compare the Holy of Holies in the temple at Jerusalem (no longer extant at the time the gospel was written) to the “bridal chamber.” The bridal chamber is a place where marriages are consummated, not where the ceremony takes place, in case there’s any confusion. The meaning of the “bridal chamber” in gnostic Christianity is a subject of debate among scholars, but there is absolutely nothing in the Gospel of Philip to back up Ostler’s claim. If you’re looking for an example of how misleading apologetics can be, this is a great one, and Mormanity uncritically propagates it to defend the faith.
Sadly, I have to admit my guilt and sloppiness: I cited a paper from a journal without carefully checking the references. Because I trusted the author and the publisher, my guard was down and I felt comfortable pointing people to Blake Ostler's 1982 paper, "Clothed Upon: A Unique Aspect of Christian Antiquity" in BYU Studies without taking the time required (maybe a day or two in the States, or maybe a week or more here in China with the slow and often blocked Internet) for basic checking of Ostler's 79 footnotes. Mea culpa. I assure you, it won't fail to happen again. (Yes, that's a double negative.)

The controversy arises over a sentence from Ostler's paper that refers to marriage. It's the sentence in bold below (my emphasis):
The ritual action of putting on a sacred garment is properly termed an “endowment.” The word garment is, in fact, representative of ordinances found in ancient texts. The Greek word enduma [Ostler uses Greek terms instead of transliterations] that means “garment” or endumai “to clothe upon” was used to represent sacramental, baptismal, and sealing ordinances in the Clementine Recognitions, an extremely important and ancient Christian (Ebionite) work. [1] The Latin induere, meaning “to clothe," and inducere, “to lead or initiate,” are the roots for our English word endowment. All connote temple ordinances. [2]

The endowment, the complex of ordinances associated with the donning of sacred vestments, contained in ancient Judeo-Christian texts, provides a framework for symbolic interpretation. The doctrine of the preexistence, for example, appears frequently in the Dead Sea Scrolls, the pseudepigrapha, and the Nag Hammadi texts. [3] The soul must journey to the earth in order to prove itself as part of God’s plan set down before the foundation of the world. [4] In order for the soul to return to the presence of God, certain ordinances are necessary. Among these ordinances are baptism, washings, anointings, special garments, and signs as seals and passwords to pass by the angels who guard the gate to God’s kingdom. [5] In some accounts, one must be married in the Holy of Holies of the temple in order to obtain the highest of the three degrees of glory. [6] Thus, the plurality of the heavens is among the most universal of ancient doctrines, with special glories represented by the moon, stars, and sun. [7] Those who could not receive all the necessary ordinances regarding the gnosis, or required knowledge in this life, could receive them beyond the grave. [8] The account of Christ's descensus ad infernos, or his journey to the spirit world after his death to preach the gospel, is another doctrine common to many manuscripts. [9] Christ does not go to the wicked, however; he goes to his former prophets to organize an ecclesia....
When I read this, I was comfortable with the basis for most of these statements based on previous reading I have done, but the statement that raised my eyebrows the most was the sentence in question. I scanned the footnotes and noticed that the intriguing #6 did not seem easy to look at right away. Curious but lacking time, I finished my blog post, and now finally am checking up on this statement, urged on by Alvin's pointed comment.

After some review, at the moment I would say that Ostler's phrasing is too strongly slanted toward the LDS position, yet has a plausible basis. If he happens upon this post and has anything further to say, I would welcome that input.

So does Ostler's footnote #6 support the statement that "In some accounts, one must be married in the Holy of Holies of the temple in order to obtain the highest of the three degrees of glory"? Here is the footnote:
6. Eric Segelberg, "The Coptic Gospel according to Philip and Its Sacramental System," Numen 7 (1960): 198-199; "The Holy of Holy Ones Is the Bridal Chamber" (Gospel of Philip 117.24-5). "The Woman is united to her husband in the Bridal Chamber" (Gospel of Philip 119.17-29). Cf. Gospel of Philip. 4-8 and 124.6ff.
Does the Gospel of Philip, a document dating perhaps to the 3rd century with obvious gnostic influences, really say that you have to be married in the temple to obtain the highest of three degrees of glory? I would like to say, "See for yourself!" by simply pointing you to a translation of the Gospel of Philip such as the one of Wesley Isenberg mentioned by Alvin, found at http://www.gnosis.org/naghamm/gop.html, but without some explanation, you might have the same reaction as Alvin.

First let me say that the Gospel of Philip strikes me as a text somewhat like a typical modern statement from the Chairman of the Federal Reserve Bank. When you first read it or hear it, it is puzzling and doesn't seem to say much of anything meaningful. But those with ears to hear can pick it apart, using the proper lens to elucidate its rich meaning so that they can respond appropriately, usually by panicking.

As I understand it, when the Gospel of Philip was written, the temple was long gone. But sacred rituals and teachings rooted in the temple continued among some parts of Judaism and Christianity. Temple imagery in the Gospel of Philip should not be taken as a literal description of what happened in the non-existent temple of that day. It might be better to take it as a collection of doctrines in one branch of Christianity rooted in temple lore and mysticism. Perhaps the sacraments were done in that day in imitation of or in memory of the old ways of the temple, perhaps using churches or private rooms in the absence of the temple they longed for.

Some of the Gospel of Philip's discussion is clearly symbolic or allegorical. But references to the rituals and to places like the Holy of Holies are not necessarily merely allegorical, in spite of the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem. Matthew Brown points out the potential for real ordinances with temple themes persisting among the early Christians.  In his 2008 presentation,  "The Israelite Temple and the Early Christians," Brown states:
[W]e can now turn to a large collection of early Christian initiation texts that was updated in 2003 by Dr. Maxwell Johnson of Notre Dame University. This collection is called Documents of the Baptismal Liturgy. Throughout these texts are references to temple terms such as laver, altar, sacrifice, incense, priest, Levite, and high priest. There are even statements in these documents that initiates are going to enter into the temple of God to receive certain ordinances and also enter into the Holy of Holies (the Liturgy of Jerusalem—from about 350 A.D.—uses both of these terms—temple and Holy of Holies—to describe the building where the liturgy takes place).
But however literal or symbolic its temple elements are, I suggest that the Gospel of Philip is a valuable text showing what some ancient Christians believed regarding marriage and other vital sacraments.

If you scan the text of the Gospel of Philip at Gnosis.org looking for statements related to marriage, you might find these passages:
Great is the mystery of marriage! For without it, the world would not exist....

Truth did not come into the world naked, but it came in types and images. The world will not receive truth in any other way. There is a rebirth and an image of rebirth. It is certainly necessary to be born again through the image. Which one? Resurrection. The image must rise again through the image. The bridal chamber and the image must enter through the image into the truth: this is the restoration. Not only must those who produce the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, do so, but have produced them for you. If one does not acquire them, the name ("Christian") will also be taken from him. But one receives the unction of the [...] of the power of the cross. This power the apostles called "the right and the left." For this person is no longer a Christian but a Christ.

The Lord did everything in a mystery, a baptism and a chrism and a eucharist and a redemption and a bridal chamber. [...] he said, "I came to make the things below like the things above, and the things outside like those inside. I came to unite them in the place." [...] here through types [...]and images. …

A bridal chamber is not for the animals, nor is it for the slaves, nor for defiled women; but it is for free men and virgins.

Through the Holy Spirit we are indeed begotten again, but we are begotten through Christ in the two. We are anointed through the Spirit. When we were begotten, we were united. None can see himself either in water or in a mirror without light. Nor again can you see in light without mirror or water. For this reason, it is fitting to baptize in the two, in the light and the water. Now the light is the chrism.

There were three buildings specifically for sacrifice in Jerusalem. The one facing the west was called "The Holy". Another, facing south, was called "The Holy of the Holy". The third, facing east, was called "The Holy of the Holies", the place where only the high priest enters. Baptism is "the Holy" building. Redemption is the "Holy of the Holy". "The Holy of the Holies" is the bridal chamber. Baptism includes the resurrection and the redemption; the redemption (takes place) in the bridal chamber. But the bridal chamber is in that which is superior to [...] you will not find [...] are those who pray [...] Jerusalem who [...] Jerusalem, [...] those called the "Holy of the Holies" [...] the veil was rent, [...] bridal chamber except the image [...] above. Because of this, its veil was rent from top to bottom. For it was fitting for some from below to go upward.

The powers do not see those who are clothed in the perfect light, and consequently are not able to detain them. One will clothe himself in this light sacramentally in the union.

If the woman had not separated from the man, she should not die with the man. His separation became the beginning of death. Because of this, Christ came to repair the separation, which was from the beginning, and again unite the two, and to give life to those who died as a result of the separation, and unite them. But the woman is united to her husband in the bridal chamber. Indeed, those who have united in the bridal chamber will no longer be separated. Thus Eve separated from Adam because it was not in the bridal chamber that she united with him....

In this world, the slaves serve the free. In the Kingdom of Heaven, the free will minister to the slaves: the children of the bridal chamber will minister to the children of the marriage. The children of the bridal chamber have just one name: rest. Altogether, they need take no other form, because they have contemplation, [...]. They are numerous [...] in the things [...] the glories [...].
I was uneasy after reading this, especially the part about the slaves serving the free, but before I panicked I remembered that this was NOT a Federal Reserve statement. Just an ancient Christian document. Whew.

First note that Ostler does cite two sentences from the Gospel of Philip which are actually there in the text: "The Holy of Holy Ones Is the Bridal Chamber" and "The Woman is united to her husband in the Bridal Chamber." In Isenberg's translation these become "'The Holy of the Holies' is the bridal chamber" and "But the woman is united to her husband in the bridal chamber." Close enough for me.

So what these two sentences and the associated passages appear to be saying is that one of the essential sacraments for salvation, perhaps the highest one of all, is sacrament of marriage, and that this union of man and woman takes place in the Holy of Holies (also called the bridal chamber, which, earlier in the text, is said to be mirrored, which is also intriguing). This sacrament appears to be essential for the full blessings of the Gospel in the Kingdom of Heaven. However, the concept of the three degrees of glory does not appear to be present in these passages, and that is the primary basis of the complaint posted at Mormanity. Did Ostler overreach or casually conflate the Gospel of Philip with other early Christian references that do more clearly speak of three degrees of glory?

Let's look at the first citation given in footnote 6, the Segelberg reference from the journal Numen. Initial searching took me to its JSTOR publisher, where I was planning to buy a copy of the article but could not because of a server problem at JSTOR. Later I found a Scribd version of the Numen volume where I could read the entire Segelberg reference. Segelberg gives special emphasis to the sentence translated above as "The Lord did everything in a mystery, a baptism and a chrism and a eucharist and a redemption and a bridal chamber." He sees this as a list of 5 sacraments, including nymphon (involving the bridal chamber).
The number of sacraments in the Gnostic system reflected in EP should then be five. They appear to be mentioned in their order of importance in the sacramental system. Baptism is of least importance...; the bride-chamber, finally, is the fulfillment which perhaps forms, as it were the conclusion of the rites of death. (p. 198)
Segelberg then addresses the three chambers of the temple which "should be thought as representing baptism, chrism, and nymphon [pertaining to the bride-chamber] in this order. 'Baptism contains the resurrection and the redemption, in order to flee into the bride-chamber'. The bride chamber is superior to the baptism and the chrism." (p. 199)

So perhaps if the progress from the first through the last of the three chambers of the temple is taken to represent the three heavens or three degrees of glory, then one could infer that the highest of the sacraments, associated with the highest and holiest of the three chambers of the temple mentioned in the Gospel of Philip, is essential for reaching the highest of the three degrees of glory. But Segelberg does not make that point expressly.

In other words, I assume that Ostler, in the context of other Christian sources (not the least of which is 1 Cor. 15:40-42 and Paul's reference to a third heaven), saw the Gospel of Philip's treatment of the three chambers of the temple, clearly symbolic of entering the presence of God, as a symbolic reference to three heavens. The most vital sacrament, marriage, is associated with the highest degree of holiness in those three chambers. But neither Segelberg nor the Gospel of Philip expressly refer to "three degrees of glory" for humans in heaven. (Interestingly, another scholar, Avril DeConick, uses the term "degree of holiness" to describe what each of the three chambers represent in the Gospel of Philip. I discuss her work in final section of this post.)

From an LDS perspective, it's possible to connect the dots and paraphrase the Gospel of Philip as Ostler did, but I think his one-sentence statement could have been expressed without directly invoking LDS terminology about the three degrees of glory. More explanation in that sentence would have been helpful. However, Ostler's whole passage is a telegraphic delivery of rather sensational but supported highlights from early Christianity that are relevant to the LDS temple tradition, briefly mentioned as background leading to the core of his discussion on the issue of sacred vestments. The wording in the sentence mentioning the degrees of glory could have been toned down or the footnote amplified with further references (see below), but this is a minor gap. There is actually serious content worth considering behind Ostler's brief statement and useful footnote.

Alvin, the commenter at Mormanity who complained about my endorsement of Ostler's work, may actually be right: "If you’re looking for an example of how misleading apologetics can be, this is a great one." Agreed, but I hope it's an example that won't just make you fume, but might make you ponder as well. There's often much more to LDS claims than just smoke and mirrored bridal chambers. 

Yes, LDS apologists do make mistakes. If you feel Ostler made a mistake with inadequate documentation and overreaching, let me help correct that by filling in some blanks. For starters, take a look at Barry Bickmore's book, Restoring the Ancient Church: Joseph Smith and Early Christianity, especially the chapter "Salvation History and Requirements" which has a section on the three degrees of glory and connections to early Christian teachings. That section was the basis for FairMormon.org's page on the three degrees of glory, which lists a variety of ancient Christian sources giving support for that concept.

Whoops! Never mind. I just noticed that there are numerous footnotes on that web page and especially in Barry's book, and unfortunately, I haven't checked them all yet. Sigh. That's why I also can't mention, by way of further interesting background, John A. Tvedtnes' 1999 presentation, "Early Christian and Jewish Rituals Related to Temple Practices." Another 50 footnotes? Forget it. Ditto for Matthew Brown's presentation, "The Israelite Temple and the Early Christians" with 47 mostly unchecked footnotes. Someday I'll be able to mention it in good faith, but not today.

Do you have some favorite temple-related sources whose footnotes you've carefully checked that we can share here?

Further Information:

For those interested in better understanding how the controversial gnostic document, the Gospel of Philip, links LDS concepts with some early Christian threads (mingled with questionable content, of course), there's another scholarly article I found helpful. It comes several decades after Segelberg's initial examination of the Gospel of Philip and challenges part of Segelberg's interpretation. I refer to April D. DeConick, "The True Mysteries: Sacramentalism in the 'Gospel of Philip,'" Vigiliae Christianae, Vol. 55, No. 3 (2001), pp. 225-261, http://www.jstor.org/stable/1584809, with the full text available for free at Rice.edu.

DeConick challenges Segelberg's view that the five sacraments listed in the Gospel of Philip are limited to five specific rituals, and raises that possibility that some sacraments transcend rites but, like marriage itself, involve life extensive experiences that bring us closer to God. I see that as a valuable perspective on marriage and sacraments that need not do away with the importance of the rites that launch those life experiences.

DeConick opens with an important review of Jewish traditions about the ascent into the presence of God, wherein temple rituals were to be transformative, providing secret knowledge of the ways of God and bringing one into God's presence. This again puts the LDS temple concept on solid ancient ground. She then speaks of the three temple shrines in the Gospel of Philip. She sees the Gospel of Philip as having a "celestial Temple tradition" that parallels the Jewish temple tradition.
It is plausible that these sacraments are understood on the spiritual level to represent the three rooms of the previously destroyed Temple: the ulam or vestibule, the hekhal or central room, and the devir or inner sanctum. Just as each of these rooms represents a greater degree of holiness within the Temple, so does each sacrament in Philip. Each stage in the ascent through the rooms of the heavenly Temple bring the believer closer to the devir, the Holy of Holies where the Presence of God dwells, seated upon the merkavah. As the believer moves through each Temple shrine, he is progressively transformed. For the Christian Gnostic, this ascent culminates in an eschatological experience at the much-anticipated End, where the believer is finally able to enter the Holy of Holies and gaze upon the Father, fully transformed. (pp. 230-231)
There is much more in DeConick's article that readers may find intriguing, such as "the association of baptism and chrism with the priesthood and admittance to the heavenly Temple" (p. 235), the important role of sacred garments mentioned in several places, anointing with oil, the significance of the sacrament and its link to the temple, and the powerful link between marriage and the Holy of Holies. On the latter point, DeConick observes that Hebrew words for marriage, consecration, temple and Holy of Holies are related (p. 246). Thus,
It seems then that the expression "Bridal Chamber" is really equivalent to the "Holy of Holies" when one understands how these words functioned in Hebrew!

So it should not be surprising to find that, in the Gospel of Philip, marriage is associated with the third shrine of the heavenly Temple, the Holy of Holies. On one level, Philip talks about marriage as a sacrament in terms of its human institution. On another level, it is understood to be the great eschatological event, the Bridal Chamber, when the cleansed and transformed spirit finally enters the Holy of Holies, marries his angel, and is granted to see the Father face to face. (p. 246)
Some of that certainly resonates with LDS concepts. Though parts of it confuse me, I agree with the Gospel of Philip on several points, including this one: "Great is the mystery of marriage!" I am also grateful to have married my sweet angel, and look forward to the future blessings the Gospel can bring.

Thursday, January 08, 2015

New Twists in the Debate Over Book of Mormon Origins

The Book of Mormon has long been a controversial book to the world, but we must also recognize that it is increasingly controversial within the Church. The debate over its origins — is it an authentic ancient document or modern fiction concocted by Joseph Smith? — occurs not just between Mormons and non-Mormons, or between the faithful and those losing their faith, but has also extended among the ranks of those who consider themselves faithful Mormons.

There are some who respect the Book of Mormon yet feel it is not derived from an ancient text but somehow stems from Joseph Smith's mind and his environment. That may seem bizarre to many faithful Mormons, but especially among academics, there are strong pressures to humanize the roots of our religion and the "keystone" thereof, seeing such things from a purely naturalistic perspective.

However inspiring and "truthy" the Book of Mormon may be, from that perspective it must ultimately be fiction. It is a perspective I reject and find inconsistent with my personal experience and with abundant evidence, beginning with the witnesses of the gold plates and the extensive evidences from the text itself and beyond.

But I feel it is vital to understand the debate if only to avoid being blind-sided and caught off guard when one finds occasional fellow Mormons teaching something quite surprising.

Two recent publications give insights into the ongoing debate over the origins of the Book of Mormon. One of these comes from the Mormon Interpreter, the publication edited by Daniel Peterson that is a leading source for scholarly investigation into LDS issues pertaining to our scriptures.

In apparent contrast comes an article from BYU's Maxwell Institute, once the banner carrier for LDS apologetics, which has gone through significant shape-shifting since casting out Dr. Peterson and distancing itself from apologetics. (However, the controversy over this article may be unnecessary, as I observe in an update below.)

The first article is "What Command Syntax Tells Us About Book of Mormon Authorship" by Stanford Carmack in Interpreter: A Journal of Mormon Scripture 13 (2015): 175-217. This is a highly technical and challenging article, but one that adds important new evidence to previous recent scholarly observations showing that the English language dictated by Joseph Smith during the translation of the Book of Mormon was not simply derived from the language of the King James Bible nor the English of Joseph's day.

Rather, there is a compelling case that the translation was somehow given in language predating the KJV by roughly a century or more. I mentioned this in my previous Nauvoo Times post, "The Debate Over Book of Mormon Translation: Loose or Tight?" Brother Carmack's latest contribution looks at the complex ways in which the verb "command" is used in the Book of Mormon, and multiple issues point to usage patterns that are surprisingly close to English around 1500, and significantly different from the statistical patterns of the KJV.

However this was done and why, it severely undercuts any theory that relies on Joseph Smith as the source of the translation. Carmack offers plausible reasons why these long-unnoticed characteristics of the original English point to a process outside of Joseph's abilities — in other words, evidence for detailed divine intervention in at least some aspects of the translation.

The controversial Maxwell Institute article comes from an LDS scholar who apparently embraces Mormonism but appears to be has been viewed  as casting at least some doubt on the historicity of the Book of Mormon. The article is "The Book of Mormon and Early America’s Political and Intellectual Tradition" by Benjamin E. Park, Journal of Book of Mormon Studies, 23 (2014): 167–75. Dr. Park, an associate editor of the Maxwell Institute’s Mormon Studies Review (the successor of the FARMS Review that Dr. Peterson edited from 1988 through June 2012) reviews David F. Holland, Sacred Borders: Continuing Revelation and Canonical Restraint in Early America (2011), and Eran Shalev, American Zion: The Old Testament as a Political Text from the Revolution to the Civil War (2013).

In his essay, Dr. Park appears [at first glance, anyway] to endorse the notion that the Book of Mormon is a product of Joseph Smith's environment and not a truly unique and miraculous book, as would seem to be required for any ancient New World text translated by divine power. He approvingly observes that the academic works he reviews help to "chop away at Mormonism’s distinctive message” and shed the “shackles” of “Mormon historiography’s exclusive nature.”

Update, Jan. 10: Dr. Park has made a statement at Times and Seasons that I just saw which seeks to address the controversy that has ensued. Here is part of his statement:
When I spoke of the methodological limitations of past discourse, I did not mean that viewing the Book of Mormon as an ancient text is a mistake. I simply meant that the important scholarly work on questions of central importance to an internal, predominantly Mormon audience has paved the way for a broader scholarly conversation about ways that Joseph Smith and his religion connected with other streams of nineteenth-century thought. I in no way expect or want scholarship that explores an ancient setting for the Book of Mormon and other questions of vital importance to Mormons to cease—indeed, the very first page of my review notes that these past discussions are both important and should continue. There is nothing about this new work that precludes continued attention to questions surrounding the text’s ancient origins. I was pleased to see that the very issue of the Journal of Book of Mormon Studies in which my review appeared featured several articles that explored the Book of Mormon’s ancient setting, a form of scholarship that the Maxwell Institute continues to support. I regret that the talk surrounding my emphasis on the nineteenth-century context has overshadowed the primary point of the last few pages of my review: that even the contextual frameworks ably provided by Holland and Shalev don’t fully capture the breadth and depth of the Book of Mormon, as the book continues to elude narrow categories of contemporary analysis.
This is a helpful statement, but I don't think this removes the controversy or eliminates the grounds for debate. I am glad to see that Park does not reject the ancient roots of the Book of Mormon. Perhaps Dr. Park in his role as a scholar addressing a broad audience did not realize how his words would be taken as undermining the authenticity of the Book of Mormon as an ancient book. And perhaps some readers like myself fail to fully appreciate the value of contextualizing the Book of Mormon and the roots of Mormon religion in light of related nineteenth century trends using modern scholarly tools and paradigms.

Indeed, it is fair to recognize that at least some aspects of the Book of Mormon, especially the language and the work of preparing a text, obviously had to be influenced in various ways by the linguistic and cultural environment of Joseph Smith. But as noted below, there may still be some serious surprises in that area that challenge all of our prior assumptions about the translation of the text. The purpose of this post is not to criticize Park but to point to some of those new but still very tentative surprises that might need to be considered in future debate, and which can be interesting areas for ongoing research.

For a publication coming from BYU's Maxwell Institute, this can easily be viewed as controversial material worthy of debate and response. Daniel Peterson briefly summarizes the controversy and challenges Park in his LDS blog at Patheos in the post, "Recovering, at long last, from the plague of Mormon exceptionalism." The comments there help reflect the depth of the controversy and the divide that can occur among LDS thinkers on both sides of the debate.

What I'd like to call attention to is the issue of the language of the Book of Mormon translation, which is an issue raised in Shalev's book and in Park's review. Here is an excerpt from Park, making reference to Shalev:
The book’s third chapter attempts to, as announced in its title, chart the “cultural origins of the Book of Mormon.” More particularly, the chapter examines the growth of what Shalev calls “pseudobiblical literature,” which used Elizabethan English and a biblical message in order to add a divine grounding to the nation’s message. During the early republic, Shalev explains, a preponderance of texts sought to imitate the Bible’s language and message while validating America’s destiny and purpose. “By imposing the Bible and its intellectual and cultural landscapes on America,” American Zion explains, “those texts placed the United States in a biblical time and frame, describing the new nation and its history as occurring in a distant, revered, and mythic dimension” (p. 100). These texts sought to collapse the distance between past and present—making both the Israelite story relevant as well as the ancient language accessible. This republicanization of the Bible possessed significant implications for American political culture. Beyond merely expanding their historical consciousness and placing America within an epic narrative of divine progress, the Old Testament added a pretext for such actions as those supposedly provoked by manifest destiny.

Ironically, the Book of Mormon appeared after the apex of this literary tradition. By the time Joseph Smith’s scriptural record was published, texts written in the Elizabethan style were on the decline, and most works were presented in a more modern, democratic style. On the one hand, this made the Book of Mormon the climax of the pseudobiblical tradition; on the other hand, the book acts as something of a puzzle. Shalev writes that the text “has been able to survive and flourish for almost two centuries not because, but in spite of, the literary ecology of the mid-nineteenth century and after” (p. 104). While this may be true—and Shalev is persuasive in showing how the Book of Mormon appeared at the most opportune time to take advantage of its linguistic flair—his framework overlooks the continued potential for creating a sacred time and message through the use of archaic language. Not only did other religious texts replicate King James verbiage throughout the nineteenth century, but so did varied authors like the antislavery writer James Branagan, who used antiquated language in order to provoke careful readings of his political pamphlets. Yet despite this potential oversight, Shalev’s use of the linguistic environment in order to contextualize the Book of Mormon is an underexplored angle that adds much to our understanding of the text.

Shalev is at his best when comparing the Book of Mormon to other pseudobiblical texts from the period, such as “The First Book of Chronicles, Chapter the 5th,” which was published in South Carolina’s Investigator only a few years before the Book of Mormon, as well as “A Fragment of the Prophecy of Tobias,” published serially in the American Mercury. The latter text is especially fascinating for Book of Mormon scholars, as the editor claims to have found this work that was hidden away in past centuries and that required a designated translator to reveal its important meaning for an American audience. These contemporary accounts are not meant to serve as potential sources for the Book of Mormon’s narrative—indeed, Shalev admits such an endeavor would be impossible—but they reaffirm the important lesson that the Book of Mormon is best seen as one of many examples that embody the same cultural strains and that its importance for American intellectual historians is best seen as part of a tapestry of scriptural voices that speak to a culture’s anxieties, hopes, and fears....

Shalev’s book offers a new context and asks new questions concerning the Book of Mormon’s linguistic and political context—issues that will certainly be taken up by future scholars
The Elizabethan language of the Book of Mormon is widely assumed by critics, non-LDS scholars, and some LDS people as evidence of Joseph Smith's authorship of the text, while those believing in the authenticity of the book have often defended that language as a reasonable stylistic choice for the divinely aided translation.

What is interesting now is that this entire debate may have been based on a faulty assumption, the assumption that the language Joseph dictated is KJV Elizabethan.

The recent work of Carmack, building on Royal Skousen's detailed analysis of the original text of the Book of Mormon, reveals a surprise that may turn the tables on the critics and some scholars: it isn't Elizabethan dating to the 1600s, but Early Modern English from a century or so before.

Why would the translation of the Book of Mormon somehow be dialed into an earlier version of English than that which Joseph knew from the KJV? I asked this question of Brother Carmack in the comments section at the Mormon Interpreter, and obtained this interesting response:
The Book of Mormon contains old, distinctive syntax that is nevertheless plain to the understanding. In view of Moses 1:39, the Lord wants us to take the Book of Mormon seriously. Many have begun to doubt the historicity of the book in part because they have decided that Joseph Smith is the author of the English-language text.

Ample syntactic evidence tells us that he could not have been the author. I am confident that the Lord knew that we would eventually find this out, and that we would learn about it at a time when we had a strong need for solid empirical evidence that the book was divinely translated, which points ineluctably to historicity.
Based on the distressing turn of events I see at the Maxwell Institute, I'd say This new evidence about the non-KJV origins of Book of Mormon English may be coming just in time. The timing, in fact, may be rather providential. But more research is needed on the linguistic relation of the original Book of Mormon text to Early Modern English and texts of Joseph's day. This could be quite interesting to see where this pursuit leads.

One thing I especially agree with in Park's essay and in Carmack's comments is the need for further scholarship in this area. It is a puzzling but intriguing vein that needs to be mined much more deeply using the tools and knowledge we now have that simply was not available a few years ago.

Sunday, January 04, 2015

"Let It Go"

Among the stories shared in General Conferences from the past few years, one of my favorites for its wisdom comes from President Boyd K. Packer, President of the Quorum of the Twelve, in the April 2011 conference. His talk, "Guided by the Holy Spirit," offers this story dealing with forgiveness:
Latter-day Saints are taught to love one another and to frankly forgive offenses.

My life was changed by a saintly patriarch. He married his sweetheart. They were deeply in love, and soon she was expecting their first child.

The night the baby was born, there were complications. The only doctor was somewhere in the countryside tending to the sick. After many hours of labor, the condition of the mother-to-be became desperate. Finally, the doctor was located. In the emergency, he acted quickly and soon the baby was born, and the crisis, it appeared, was over. But some days later, the young mother died from the very infection that the doctor had been treating at another home that night.

The young man’s world was shattered. As the weeks wore on, his grief festered. He thought of little else, and in his bitterness he became threatening. Today, no doubt, he would have been pressed to file a malpractice suit, as though money would solve anything.

One night a knock came at his door. A little girl said simply, “Daddy wants you to come over. He wants to talk to you.”

“Daddy” was the stake president. The counsel from that wise leader was simply “John, leave it alone. Nothing you do about it will bring her back. Anything you do will make it worse. John, leave it alone.”

This had been my friend’s trial. How could he leave it alone? A terrible wrong had been committed. He struggled to get hold of himself and finally determined that he should be obedient and follow the counsel of that wise stake president. He would leave it alone.

He said, “I was an old man before I understood and could finally see a poor country doctor—overworked, underpaid, run ragged from patient to patient, with little medicine, no hospital, few instruments, struggling to save lives, and succeeding for the most part. He had come in a moment of crisis, when two lives hung in the balance, and had acted without delay. I finally understood!” He said, “I would have ruined my life and the lives of others.”

Many times he had thanked the Lord on his knees for a wise priesthood leader who counseled simply, “John, leave it alone.”
"Let it go." Many times we need this kind of inspired counsel in our lives as we become obsessed with retribution, vengeance, or our own lofty definitions of justice. Many times our fruitless and hurtful pursuits would have been better dropped. Take a moment today to prayerfully examine some of your own grievances against others and consider whether the Lord is trying to urge you to be more wise and just let it go.

Thursday, January 01, 2015

Shanghai's Disastrous New Year's Eve Stampede: The Unintended Consequences of Giving Foolishly

Nearly 40 people died last night in a tragic stampede in Shanghai, just a short walk from the Bund Center where I work. To the right is a photo of portion of the Bund in Shanghai, near the region of the stampede. I've been to the area of the tragedy many times and have experienced the intense crowds that can form on almost any day of the week (the biggest crowds tend to be near the Peace Hotel, the building with the green pyramid on top).

The New Year's Eve crowd must have been far denser than average. As the crowds gathered at Shanghai's most popular area to celebrate the arrival of 2015, apparently someone from a bar on the 4th floor of a building overlooking the Bund tossing out what looked like American money. Initial reports say it was money, but it now appears that the paper was just a coupon advertizing the bar. The people below thought it was American money and many started grabbing the money, perhaps stooping down to pick up money, and a chain reaction of falling people may have been started in the press of the crowd. Heartbreaking, troubling, and so unnecessary in one of the safest and most pleasant large cities in the world. My sympathies to the many families and friends suffering loss.

Coupons or real cash, the tragic result of someone "giving" foolishly is a reminder of the unintended consequences that can occur when we toss out money or gifts without considering the possible results. Sometimes acts of giving can verge on the criminally irresponsible, even if there were some form of good intentions. The intentions in this case, though, may not have been all that good. If the purpose was to benefit the giver, as might have been the case, then we also have a tragic object lesson about the business model that many follow these days, including those who seek power by being irresponsibly generous with other people's money.

Sometimes giving can be callous. I saw an act of this kind recently in Shanghai when a man walking by a beggar with a severe deformity smirked as he tossed a couple of coins behind his back at the beggar and then turned to watch the man scramble a bit for the money on the sidewalk. Maybe the giver meant well, but there was an air to the act that saddened me. Much worse, I've heard of tourists on cruise ships at port tossing coins to throngs of children below to watch them scramble and struggle for the money.

In the Gospel of Jesus Christ, giving and generosity is essential, but we are taught to give out of love, not a desire for selfish gain or publicity. We are taught to minister to individuals and to seek inspiration through the Spirit of God to best tailor what we do to meet the real needs of those we help. We are taught to consider the consequences of what we do and seek carefully to do what will genuinely bless the lives of others.

We must not ignore those in need. We should be generous when possible and kind always. For those we do not know well, for situations far too complex for us to know how to best help, we often can't make a wise decision on our own, and need to be sensitive to the whisperings of the Spirit to know how to help to do real good.

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Update: When I got back to Shanghai on Jan. 2, my cabbie (usually a good source of info on current events) explained that the authorities now think that the coupons tossed from the bar were not the cause of the stampede. The place where people were being injured in the stampede was across the street from the bar, not just below it, so it's unlikely to have been the cause.

Sunday, December 28, 2014

Ezra Taft Benson and Teachings of the Presidents for 2015: Some Things You Won't Be Learning This Year

I'm glad to see that the LDS manual for Teachings of the Presidents in 2015 will cover Ezra Taft Benson, the man who was President of the Church from 1985 to 1994 and served as an Apostle beginning in 1943. Though he was often controversial for his views on government, one thing you must remember about him is that he may have more experience with government and politics than any other LDS president or apostle, having served as serving as United States Secretary of Agriculture from 1953 to 1961 under US President Dwight D. Eisenhower. He also had more to say on government than almost any other Church leader, and throughout his tenure as an Apostle frequently addressed topics such as the proper role of government, the US Constitution, threats to freedom, the existence and goals of secret combinations, etc.

Much of what he said on these topics was said during the Cold War era, so his comments and rhetoric are often directed to communism and socialism, and surely will be offensive to many in our day, especially those who consider socialism as progress. The progress of the US government in size, power, and debt generation since his day surely has been impressive, and is quite in line with some of his warnings. His frequent statements on such topics, however, strike me as thoroughly downplayed in the new manual with his teachings, which may be entirely appropriate given the potential for political divisiveness and distraction from the goals. (The manual is intended for use during adult classes on the 2nd and 3rd Sundays of the month, and is used during the 3rd hour of our 3-hour block on Sundays.) But some may interpret the relative silence on such topics in the new manual as the result an official stance that such views are discredited and irrelevant today. I don't think that's a justified assumption. On the other hand, his controversial statements while an Apostle quickly became much more toned down once he was President of the Church, though he did not become completely silent or drop his stance, as you may see from a reference I mention below.

Personally, I think much of what he had to say is worth understanding in the context of where the world was then, and in terms of the basic principles of personal liberty. We don't discuss these issues in much depth any more, I fear, though I hope we will consider these issues in our studies and have a healthy discussion in appropriate forums. The world has changed a great deal since the Cold War, but the conflict of personal liberty versus concentrated power in the hands of conspiring men (or even well meaning men) is still relevant, in my opinion, just as it was when the Constitution was framed. He saw and experienced a great deal about how government works, and I think it is foolhardy to disregard what he learned and saw without seeking to understand him. Further, for those who take the Book of Mormons seriously, it may be a fruitful exercise, regardless of your political views, to compare Book of Mormon teachings with his interpretation of its content relevant to government and secret combinations.

For a little further background regarding his views, see his 1979 General Conference address, "A Witness and a Warning." Also see his October 1988 talk given as President of the Church, "I Testify," which makes an ominous reference to Ether 8 in the Book of Mormon and the complex topic of "secret combinations." If you want to more fully see what made him so controversial and so despised by some, dig up a copy of a book he wrote before he became President, An Enemy Hath Done This.

His tenure as President was a difficult one, touched with controversy not just from his previously expressed views on politics and government, but also with his tenure while ill and incapacitated. His last couple of years were sad and frustrating ones for his family and for the Church.

May the Priesthood and Relief Society lessons in 2015 be worthwhile and helpful, without painful controversy and political divisiveness. For those who didn't like President Benson or his more controversial views, my scanning of the new manual suggests it won't be too difficult of a year for you. There is wisdom in sticking to the basics in our classes, but also much wisdom in digging deeper on our own.

Saturday, December 27, 2014

A Winter of Miracles

The past few weeks have been a winter of miracles for me, and I wish to express my wonder and gratitude. One of the top blessings was the baptism of a friend of ours who experienced a series of small miracles as she was rescued from a life of disaster with the help of a sweet LDS family. There are so many aspects to the story that led them to reach out to her at just the right time. The family felt inspired to offer their help and take on the risk and burden of bringing her across the country into their home, where her life has radically, wonderfully changed. The LDS family did not push her to attend church and offered to take her to the local congregation of her former faith, but she experienced a series of small miracles once she exercised the faith to attend with them and again when she chose to meet with some great sister missionaries. Though I could not be there, her baptism is one of the highlights of the year for me, a story of miracles, of charity, and of the power of Atonement to reach and bless those who might seem beyond hope.

Other surprise blessings occurred with a surprise trip to Atlanta, Georgia at the request of my employer in order to attend an industry-related meeting. Being in Atlanta for that meeting allowed me to attend a technical conference during the same week that led to serendipitous encounters with important new technologies and companies that have already been of great importance in making my work more fruitful and productive. I can't go into the details, but so many valuable things on different fronts came out of those few brief days in Atlanta, where I was also able to meet many good friends, make many new friends, solve pressing gadget problems, and attend the Atlanta Temple. It was a week of miracles that continues to bless my life and career.

As I write, I am in the Midwest, spending time with family and having a marvelous Christmas time. Among the many small miracles I've experienced here has been the miracle of education as I rejoice in the advances I see in my grandchildren, thanks to the diligence of their parents in teaching them. Whatever you think you might know about home schooling could well be challenged if you were to observe the teaching done by a daughter-in-law of mine. Simply amazing what children can learn and do with sound techniques and good tutelage.

I was especially impressed with the language abilities of my 8-year-old granddaughter, who surprised me by not only being able to anticipate a pun I was setting up in one of the silly stories I like to tell, but, unlike most adults, showed remarkable intelligence and sophistication by actually laughing at my jokes.

To help you appreciate this little wonder, I'll explain that the story I was telling involves Yog the Caveman, an ancient man from roughly 100,000 years ago who now lives in Wisconsin and tries his best to cope with the modern world. In this story, my granddaughter had kindly been helping him with English, and had explained the meaning of "ex" as in ex-friend, ex-wife, and ex-employer. Something that used to be but isn't now. Then, in the story, she also helps Yog make progress with personal hygiene, and congratulates him on not being so stinky anymore. Then Yog, realizing that he used to be stinky but now isn't, suddenly quits smiling and begins to sob. As I told the story, my granddaughter started laughing vigorously at this point, and said, "Oh, he's crying because he thinks he's gone extinct. Ex-stinky, extinct." Based on a lifetime of experience telling bad puns, I was flabbergasted. She saw it coming too quickly. Most of my adult victims don't get the jokes that early, and some never do. But to go beyond just getting the joke and to actually laugh heartily, while not exactly a first, was still quite a surprise. Someone anticipated my joke and then laughed at it. Yes, this has been a month of miracles.

May you all see the occasional hand of the Lord in the small blessings and sometimes miracles that we receive from Him, even in the midst of trouble and pain. His greatest miracles began with what may seem to some to have been among the smallest and humblest of gifts, the birth of a baby in a manger 2,000 years ago. Merry Christmas!

Monday, December 15, 2014

A Beautiful and Record-Breaking Nativity Scene

Even if you have seen this already, it's worth a view. Also look at the sister video promoted the end that shows the making of this spectacular production. With beautiful music from the Piano Guys and vocalists Peter Hollens and David Archileta, a cast of over 1,000 assembles to create a brilliant nativity scene. I watched this before going to bed and had some really interesting dreams plagiarizing a few parts of the video. Might work for you, too. And unlike other dreams I've had recently, this one was completely free of commercials and blatant product placement. Are you guys getting a lot of dream spam recently or is it just me?

I love the humble, understated simplicity that is the background for the grand miracle of Christ's birth, that all-important event that brought the Creator to our mortal realm as a man to rescue all of us, if we will let Him. Ponder His birth and life as you watch this video, and be sure to pay attention to the surprise in the final seconds where the light of hundreds of angels gives added meaning. Very cool.

Merry Christmas the land of miracles, China.





Friday, December 05, 2014

More to LDS Garments Than Meets the Eye

A few days ago I discussed the new video from the Church discussing basics of the LDS garment. Today I'd like to mention some interesting connections it has to ancient religion. Our critics assume that Joseph Smith just plagiarized the concept of the Temple from pieces of Free Masonry mingled with scripture or other influences from Joseph's environment. There is no question that there are some common elements with Masonry, as I discuss on my LDSFAQ page on temples and Masonry. But for those wondering if the Temple is a modern invention, there I raise several issues there that point to  ancient roots for key aspects of the Temple.

One issue that I am adding to my previous comments on the Temple is the antiquity of the LDS concept of temple garments, including the use of some simple marks on the garments to remind us of covenants to follow God. For those interested in better understanding the ancient nature of the LDS temple and its practices, there are some outstanding and thought-provoking resources you may wish to consider.

I suggest beginning with Blake Ostler's article "Clothed Upon" in BYU Studies, 1982. Brother Ostler explains the numerous connections between the endowment and sacred garments in the ancient world. There is a reasonable case to be made that the LDS temple and LDS temple garments can be viewed as a restoration of ancient concepts that are not easily explained as elements from Joseph's environment. There are some intriguing surprises in that article for LDS people familiar with the Temple.

After reading Ostler, take a look at a later article from John W. Welch and Claire Foley, "Gammadia on Early Jewish and Christian Garments," BYU Studies, vol. 36:3 (1996–97). There you will find more interesting connections with the ancient world of Christianity and Judaism. Of course, some symbols of note such as the compass and square go back long before modern Masonry and can even be seen in the ancient Egyptian document we have in the Book of Abraham, known as Facsimile 2.

Many minor details in the LDS temple and in temple clothing can change with time, but core elements are unchanged and speak not of modern copying but very ancient roots, in ways that can enhance our respect for the temple. There is more to it (and to temple garments) than meets the eye.

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Blessed Are the Peacemakers

My remarks below are made as an observer in China, distant from the Ferguson scene and the tensions in the US, so I apologize if I am missing important parts of the story. But the call for peacemakers is one that will apply in every land and era. May there be more of them, and may we all take steps to promote peace.

I was frustrated to see the violent outbreak in Ferguson. Everyone seemed to know that there was going to be mob violence when the decision came out, regardless of what it was. So where was the National Guard? They were needed and wanted, bu they came a day late, after the rampage. Why do we send our troops all over the world to interfere with other nations in the name of security, even making preemptive strikes in nations where we have no legal authority to act, but don't take obvious steps needed to protect our own nation from harm? If we really have to have a massive domestic spying infrastructure that can listen in on our conversations and read all our texts and emails, all massive violations of personal privacy done in the name of "protecting us," why not use that information to reduce predictable mob violence aimed at burning and looting a town?

How sad to see that many of the victims of the riots were black Americans (although I detest the looting of anyone, regardless of race). Terribly, a church was burned in the rioting--the church where Michael Brown's father was baptized. The black pastor is now a victim of the lawless anger that raged in Ferguson (though this may have come from white supremacists or outside anarchists who took advantage of the situation). If there is a fund we can donate to to rebuild his church, please let us know.

The Book of Mormon reminds us that stirring up people to anger is a classic tool of evil men seeking power. From King Noah to the dissenters and Gaddianton robbers in the midst of the Nephites, conspiring, power-hungry men according to that ancient text have long taken deliberate actions to stir up anger in order to manipulate people and gain power or wealth. Anger is not always just an accident or natural response, but sometimes is fanned and guided to achieve someone's aims. Who benefits from the anger being fanned now? It's worth a discussion at least.

Most importantly, in times like these, we need peacemakers, not instigators and provocateurs who stir up anger and rekindle old grievances.

I also had hoped that if the President was going to get involved, it would be in a way that vigorously urged peace and calmness. For me, the message he delivered fell short of that. While recognizing the need to respect the law, it implied that the accused officer may have acted out of racism, and reminded people of America's legacy of racism. He told angry people that they were "understandably angry." I don't think that's good peacemaking. I wish he had told people that if the grand jury found no reason to charge the officer, Americans had no reason to become angry about this case and that any violence was absolutely unjustified and definitely not understandable. Why not say this was an event between one cop and one apparent assailant in one town, not a national problem ("an issue for America")? OK, easy to criticize--I would have probably said something really stupid unintentionally. No matter what he said, though, violence was going to happen. Wish better steps had been taken to deal with it, including sending out the National Guard promptly when requested by the mayor. Again, easy for me to criticize!

We should learn from Ferguson and from the mob violence in LDS history. The ugliness of mob violence is something Latter-day Saints should understand and abhor from our roots in Missouri and Illinois. Sadly, in the 1838 "Mormon War" in Missouri, the Mormons weren't always the good guys and victims. In response to the mob actions they had faced, some Latter-day Saints returned an eye for an eye and then some by forming a mob or two of their own and burning down some homes. Ugly and terrible. War of any kind is that way. The line between self-defense and unjustified aggression can easily be blurred, and innocent victims may abound. One of the problems in the era was a terrible speech given by Sidney Rigdon stirring up Mormon anger toward their already angry neighbors. And then we had Sampson Avard secretly stirring up and organizing the "Danites" for his own power. This made the dangerous situation in Missouri far worse. We needed more effective peacemakers then and we need them today.

Pray for peace and seek for peacemakers.

The great thing about anger, from Satan's perspective I suppose, is that it makes it so easy to manipulate a human being. What is the balance between righteous indignation and the anger in the hearts of men that comes from the Adversary? Sometimes people think their indignation is righteous when it's just good old fashioned anger and hate, the kind that lets someone else use you for their gain. I've written enough for today, so I leave that as a question for your input. How do we tell the difference between the two? Please stay calm as you respond.

Friday, November 28, 2014

Upgrading My Gadgetary Life in China: More Blessings from Frustrating Failures

Over at the Nauvoo Times, I just shared a story involving the frustrating failure of two Samsung devices that happened within the same week. Wonderfully, the failure of the camera led to new information from a Samsung technician about known trouble with Samsung's USB cables. While that was irrelevant in resolving the camera problem (that had to be shipped to a US repair center for a major overhaul), it made me wonder if the firmware upgrade disaster I had experienced with my Samsung tablet might have been due to a cable problem. When I tried the upgrade again with a 3rd party cable, the problem was overcome, allowing me to keep my main Chinese translation tool in my hands instead of losing it for a couple of months. The failure of the camera (which I don't really need anyway) was a blessing that helped me regain the use of something I really needed at the time.

Here's an update: One week ago, my 3rd Samsung device, my most important one, also failed. I was in Atlanta, Georgia for a couple of important meetings, including the AIChE Annual Meeting, when my old but essential cell phone, a Samsung Galaxy, died. The touch screen wouldn't work at all, so I couldn't send or receive calls or texts. Suddenly I was a bit isolated and vulnerable. How did Primitive Man ever survive without these things?

This phone was 3 years old and had some other problems already, like a memory issue that made it impossible to add applications. I had lost so much time fighting problems with my Samsung tablet that I resolved to buy a better device next time, even if the cost was painful.

In fact, I had been trying for a few weeks to buy an iPhone 6 Plus in China, a device that could be both a phone a replacement for my tablet, but the demand here is so high and the supply so small that it is just about impossible to buy one. You have to sort of win an online lottery held each morning around 8 AM to reserve a phone, and my efforts so far had all been in vain. Now on my last day in Atlanta, as I was wrapping up my conference and about to head back to my hotel after a little shopping, my cell phone died. I had been told by an Apple employee in China that it would be best to buy my phone in China since a US phone would be locked and might be difficult to get it working on the Chinese network. But when I went to the mall near my hotel in Atlanta, to my surprise there was an Apple store there, so I thought I should at least inquire.

In the Apple store, I learned that a Verizon-version of the iPhone had been reported to work OK in China. It might work, but they couldn't guarantee it. But they had the phone I wanted in stock, the 64 Gig 6 Plus--and in gold, the color of choice in China. Do I dare risk buying it, knowing that it might not work at all? Foolishly perhaps, it just seemed like the thing to do, and having done all I could to make this decision, chose to risk it. The full story is shared on my "Shake Well" blog about life in China, but basically it ended up being the perfect choice and the 4G SIM card from China Mobile ended up working fine, even though a China Mobile technician explained that the model Apple sold me could not possibly work in China. In fact, I have now heard that had I bought the phone in China, it would only work with a China Telecom contract and the card my company provides wouldn't fly. Not sure if that's the case, but I certainly have to be grateful for the perfect timing of another Samsung failure that helped me upgrade my gadgetary life.

The wonderfully timed failure of the Samsung cell phone gave me the impetus and courage to respond to the surprise encounter with an Apple store to get the phone I felt I needed for roles and activities that really require having a good gadget with me (Chinese translation, communication, and many other tasks). I was able to get it at just the right time, leaving me just enough time to also visit the nearby Atlanta Temple that night before taking an early flight back to Shanghai the next morning.

Sometimes failures are blessings in disguise, though the disguise was thinly veiled in this case.

Your bad luck, your trials, your pains, can sometimes lead to good that might not have been realized otherwise. So don't be overly frustrated when things around you fail, or when you look back at your own failures. Look forward to the good that come next and be grateful for each new blessing that comes your way. And for all I know, there's probably even an app for that.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

President Henry B. Eyring's Visit to the Vatican: A Gentle Call to Strengthen Marriage

President Henry B. Eyring just did something that my wife and did earlier this year: visited the Vatican. OK, our visit wasn't newsworthy. We stood in line with lots of other tourists as we explored a little of the endless art at the Vatican Museums and admired its surroundings. President Eyring was doing something more noteworthy than sightseeing. He was sharing a message from the Church about the importance of the family at an international summit at the Vatican that was opened by Pope Francis.

While some might have expected direct arguments against same-sex marriage in President Eyring's talk, he took a more indirect and gentle approach, calling for a "renaissance of happy marriages and productive families" while also reminding us of the need to strengthen (traditional) marriage through greater unselfishness. I respect what he said and how he said it, though it naturally leaves open the argument that unselfishness and growth through family relationships can happen between any two individuals regardless of gender. 

In fact, whether or not we agree with the trend of changing law and traditional institutions to recognize same-sex marriage or other non-traditional relationships, I think it's fair for us to recognize the growth, the selfless service, and the happiness that people in non-traditional relationships can experience. And yes, I also recognize that argument can also be applied to relationships that I'm especially uneasy with, such polygamous relationships or adultery dressed up in robes of love and service. So opportunities for service or feelings of growth and happiness are not the standard in determining what the law should be nor what what divine standards are, but I think in our diverse society we need to be open to what others experience and why it is so important to them, even when we disagree with their position. That said, those who believe in traditional marriage or the wisdom of having a father and a mother in the lives of children need not retreat from their principles. President Eyring's talk illustrates a reasonable effort to stand for those principles, rooted not in legal argument or statistics, but on a foundation of faith. Accepting the Proclamation on the Family is definitely a matter of faith, though one can make a variety of secular arguments for some of its points.

Here is an excerpt from the transcript of his remarks:
We must find ways to lead people to a faith that they can replace their natural self-interest with deep and lasting feelings of charity and benevolence. With that change, and only then, will people be able to make the hourly unselfish sacrifices necessary for a happy marriage and family life—and to do it with a smile.

The change that is needed is in people’s hearts more than in their minds. The most persuasive logic will not be enough unless it helps soften hearts. For instance, it is important for men and women to be faithful to a spouse and a family. But in the heat of temptation to betray their trust, only powerful feelings of love and loyalty will be enough.

That is why the following guidelines are in “The Family: A Proclamation to the World,” issued in 1995 by the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve Apostles of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints:

“Husband and wife have a solemn responsibility to love and care for each other and for their children. ‘Children are an heritage of the Lord’ (Psalm 127:3). Parents have a sacred duty to rear their children in love and righteousness, to provide for their physical and spiritual needs, and to teach them to love and serve one another, observe the commandments of God, and be law-abiding citizens wherever they live. Husbands and wives—mothers and fathers—will be held accountable before God for the discharge of these obligations.

“The family is ordained of God. Marriage between man and woman is essential to His eternal plan. Children are entitled to birth within the bonds of matrimony, and to be reared by a father and a mother who honor marital vows with complete fidelity. Happiness in family life is most likely to be achieved when founded upon the teachings of the Lord Jesus Christ. Successful marriages and families are established and maintained on principles of faith, prayer, repentance, forgiveness, respect, love, compassion, work, and wholesome recreational activities. By divine design, fathers are to preside over their families in love and righteousness and are responsible to provide the necessities of life and protection for their families. Mothers are primarily responsible for the nurture of their children. In these sacred responsibilities, fathers and mothers are obligated to help one another as equal partners. Disability, death, or other circumstances may necessitate individual adaptation. Extended families should lend support when needed.”

Those are things people must do for us to have a renaissance of happy marriages and productive families. Such a renaissance will require people to try for the ideal—and to keep trying even when the happy result is slow to come and when loud voices mock the effort.

We can and must stand up and defend the institution of marriage between a man and a woman. Professor Lynn Wardle has said, “The task we face is not for summer soldiers or weekend warriors who are willing to work for a season and then quit.” A past president of our Church, Gordon B. Hinckley, offered similar counsel, as well as encouragement, saying, “We cannot effect a turnaround in a day or a month or a year. But with enough effort, we can begin a turnaround within a generation, and accomplish wonders within two generations."
What would you have said if you had a chance to speak at the Vatican on this topic?

Saturday, November 08, 2014

LDS Newsroom Releases Helpful Video on Temple Garments

The LDS Newsroom at LDS.org surprised me with the new announcement and video on the LDS temple garment. It includes views of LDS temple robes and LDS garments, the simple clothing items that our foes love to call "magic underwear" or other offensive terms. The LDS Newsroom resource should help thoughtful people better understand this aspect of our faith, and might help LDS members know how to better answer some common temple-related questions. Nicely done, IMHO.

Wednesday, November 05, 2014

Turning Flaws Into Art: Recognizing the Hand of Lord in Our Lives

During a trip to Taiwan in September, my wife and I visited the National Palace Museum in Taipei and saw one of the world's great works of art, the Jadeite Cabbage. An unknown Chinese artist apparently in the nineteenth century took a highly flawed piece of jade with uneven color, blotches, cracks and veins, and used those flaws as part of the design. The white stone became the stalk of a cabbage and the darker green regions became the leaves and a couple of magnificent insects. Cracks became delicate veins on the stalks. In the end, the work was far more beautiful and lifelike than if it had been made from flawless uniform jade. It was almost as if the jade had been designed to be a cabbage, but this was really the result of the hand of the master making the most of imperfect raw materials. What a fitting analogy for how the Lord deals with our flaws, if we'll let Him sculpt us. I was pleased to see that the Oct. 2014 Ensign has a brief article making this point (Ellen C. Jensen, "The Jadeite Cabbage").

This sculpture is the highlight of Taiwan's National Palace Museum, which contains much of the most precious art that once was in the Forbidden City in Beijing, brought to Taiwan by Chiang Kai Shek. For most visitors it is the leading attraction of that splendid museum.

There are many ways the Lord can turn our flaws into something better and even help us find good or do good in the midst of the chaos we create, when we repent and turn to Him. Sometimes the craftsmanship is so fine that we might mistake our flaws for virtues or even our sins for things there were somehow "meant to be."

On my mission, there was an outstanding elder who broke a bone while playing basketball. Our mission had a specific rule against basketball, probably because there had been so many injuries like the one that put this enthusiastic elder in the hospital for a number of weeks. While there, though, he didn't cease from sharing the Gospel, and gave some Books of Mormon to the staff, including one nurse who seemed interested in the message. Later, in a testimony meeting, that Elder shared his belief that his whole experience there in the hospital might have been divinely arranged in order to reach that nurse and maybe some others. I can understand the feeling, and in a sense, he's right--but had he kept the mission rules a little more strictly, he would not have had that injury. So was it God's will that he break a mission rule in order to reach the nurse? That might not be the right way to look at his situation. Rather, wherever we end up, there is always good to be done, and as we seek the Lord, the experiences, even our failures, will seem tailored and meaningful.

Just don't confuse a good tailor for a great physique. God is a master tailor and can craft things to fit us perfectly, even when we are in pretty bad shape.

Frankly, we are all off course, somewhere other than where we would have been had we lived perfect lives. Yet wherever we are, the Gospel tends to help us experience miracles, blessings, comfort, and meaning that makes it seems like this error-ridden path was designed and tailored for us, even intended for us all along. Alma the Younger's story would have been much different and perhaps much less interesting and less helpful to us today had he not been a rebel. The good that he was able to do after repenting does not justify the harm he did before, and surely as a mature prophet he wished that he had never departed from God in the first place, but we can praise God that such a flawed rebel was able to become such a powerful tool for good. Do not doubt the good that God can do with you now and the mess you may have already created in your life. Follow Alma's example and do all you can to let God guide you with His hand, and you will find beauty and surprise in the end.

We must repent and move forward with hope rather than beat ourselves up over the permanent departure from the imaginary state of what would have been ideal. The unwed mother, the divorced couple, the missionary sent home for some foolish error, the driver whose mistake creates tragedy--all these may be painful departures from the ideal, and yet the Lord can be there for each of these parties and bring them through the pain to find new meaning and blessings that are uniquely crafted for who and where they are.

I think there is a better way to understand what happened to the missionary brought down by basketball and what happens to all of us when we fall in some way but seek God's guidance. It's not that all our departures from God's paths were actually secret shortcuts that we were destined to follow according to God's will. Rather, God's hand guides us to experience growth, do good, and  find paths forward no matter what ditch we've driven into, no matter how deep in the mud of some no-man's land we managed to wander into. Like the GPS that continually revises the suggested route after our errors in driving, God keeps working with us to bring us forward, if we'll accept guidance from His hand.

The journey we take and the destinations we encounter may be much different that they might have been, but He is there to guide again and again and again, and along the way, we will have miracles. As we work our way back to the main road, there may be stragglers we can use a lift. Miracles, love, service, healing--these things never cease if we are willing to let God work with us. Yes, they may be designed and tailored for us, allowing us to be in the right place at the right time, even after we've wandered leagues from where we were really "supposed" to be all along.

In one sense, to recognize the hand of the Lord in all things (Doctrine & Covenants 59:21) might be to see that His hand is always there in our lives, pointing, beckoning, holding, helping, pulling, lifting, blessing, and crafting beauty out of the flawed raw material that we are. When we see the beauty and the good that come from such flaws, let us not admire the flaws, but the Craftsman.


Sunday, October 26, 2014

More on the Ebola Threat and the Need to Prepare for Deliberate Spread of the Disease

In a previous post on the Ebola threat, I reminded us of our need to be prepared for crisis when I raised the specter of terrorists deliberately spreading Ebola in the States. I suggested that our lax border security could make it way too easy for enemies to bring infectious materials and infected people into the nation. Of course, the laxness that threatens us involves not just the borders that people walk across illegally, but the borders people fly across with proper documentation.

To better appreciate the potential for mayhem here, I recommend Marc Thiessen's article in the Washington Post, "A ‘Dark Winter’ of Ebola terrorism?" He points out that the ease of access Islamic extremists have to Ebola-afflicted regions in Africa and the willingness of some to sacrifice their lives to create disaster for others could lead to abundant opportunities to spread infection in the West, infecting many before authorities knew an attack was underway. The result could rapidly overwhelm our ability to respond and lead to chaos in many regions. I hope these are crazy concerns, but to me, it's crazy not to be prepared for that kind of trouble in this age. It is possible.

In addition to food and water, basic supplies to maintain hygiene can be vital in times of crisis, including lots of soap, rags, towels, extra blankets, and abundant plastic bags. Be prepared.

There might be other agents that terrorists will choose to use besides Ebola, but is there any reason to think that they won't eventually turn to deliberately induced epidemics to spread their terror? I suspect our politicians will continue to do what politicians tend to do, namely politics, and are not going to take this problem seriously until it is too late. But you can act now to be ready just in case.

Plastic bags: have you stopped to imagine just how useful these can be in times of chaos? Very valuable for hygiene and other purposes. Paper towels, wipes, rags, face masks, etc. Imagine different scenarios and be prepared. These "small means" can be the difference between life and death when epidemics strike.

What supplies do you feel are most important?