Category Archives: Book of Mormon

“…even in a dream…” (1 Nephi 2:1)

Book of Mormon scholars (starting with Noel Reynolds, I believe) have long pointed out that Nephi used his small plates — written 30 to 40 years after leaving Jerusalem — to make his case to be Lehi’s rightful heir, both temporally and spiritually (see my own observations here). Part of making that case is to portray Lehi himself as a true prophet of God, something Laman and Lemuel repeatedly disputed.

1 Nephi 2:1 starts as follows:

For behold, it came to pass that the Lord spake unto my father, yeah, even in a dream….

We know that Nephi had the brass plates, and that

…they did contain the five books of Moses, which gave an account of the creation of the world, and also of Adam and Eve, who were our first parents;  and also a record of the Jews from the beginning, even down to the commencement of the reign of Zedekiah, king of Judah;  and also the prophecies of the holy prophets, from the beginning, even down to the commencement of the reign of Zedekiah; and also many prophecies which have been spoken by the mouth of Jeremiah.

And it came to pass that my father, Lehi, also found upon the plates of brass a genealogy of his fathers; wherefore he knew that he was a descendant of Joseph, yea, even that Joseph who was the son of Jacob… (1 Nephi 5:11-14)

So, what do the five books of Moses have to say about dreams and those who receive them? Four things, really.

First, we have this pronouncement by God to Moses, rebuking Aaron and Miriam who claimed that God had spoken to them:

And he said, Hear now my words: If there be a prophet among you, I the Lord will make myself known unto him in a vision, and will speak unto him in a dream. (Numbers 12:6)

Nephi likely very much had this verse in mind, since within the first (original divisions) chapter of his book, he has Lehi being “carried away in a vision” and seeing God (1 Nephi 1:7-15) and then has God speak to him in a dream (cited above).

Second, we see that both Jacob and Joseph — of whom Lehi is a descendant — had prophetic dreams. Jacob, on his way to Haran to find a wife, has a dream of a ramp or stairway ascending to heaven, with angels coming and going. He meets God face to face at an entrance or doorway at the top of the ramp, and God covenants with him to give him land and bless his posterity. (Genesis 28:10-22)

After serving Laban for 20 years, Jacob receives another dream, telling him to take his family and his possessions and go back to his promised land, Canaan. (Genesis 31:3-13) Note that Jacob suffers afflictions for following his dreams — Laban is an unfair taskmaster and father-in-law on several levels and is quite angry when Jacob leaves unannounced — but receives a dream of his own telling him to let Jacob leave in peace. (Genesis 31:24)

Joseph, Jacob’s favorite son and Lehi’s ancestor, also famously has prophetic dreams and interprets the dreams of others. Joseph’s two dreams of his older brothers and even his parents paying obeisance to him (Genesis 37:5-11) lead his brothers to “hate him yet the more”, and they famously sell him into Egypt. While in prison there, he interprets — correctly — the dreams of Pharaoh’s chief butler and baker. (Genesis 40:5-23) This, in turn, leads to Pharoah calling upon him to interpret his own dreams, which Joseph does and ends up becoming Pharaoh’s vizar. (Genesis 41:1-45) It is in that role that his older brothers come to him to beg for grain and — not recognizing him — fulfill Joseph’s original dreams.

Third, we see the Lord giving prophetic or warning dreams to non-prophets, but they always either a caution to leave a prophet alone or require the interpretation of a prophet to understand. Thus we have Abimelech (Genesis 20:3-6) warned to leave Sarah, Abraham’s wife, alone; and Laban (as per above) warned to let Jacob leave with his family and flocks.

Fourth, in the statutes and judgments given to Israel in Deuteronomy is this caution:

If there arise among you a prophet, or a dreamer of dreams, and giveth thee a sign or a wonder,  and the sign or the wonder come to pass, whereof he spake unto thee, saying, Let us go after other gods, which thou hast not known, and let us serve them;  thou shalt not hearken unto the words of that prophet, or that dreamer of dreams: for the Lord your God proveth you, to know whether ye love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul.

Ye shall walk after the Lord your God, and fear him, and keep his commandments, and obey his voice, and ye shall serve him, and cleave unto him. (Deuteronomy 13:1-4)

Nephi, of course, goes to great pains to show that Lehi is not leading his family away to “go after other gods” but to serve the true and living God, and thus is a true prophet.

Besides the dream command Lehi to flee into the wilderness with his family, Nephi cites two more dreams of his father. One is for Nephi and his brothers to go back and get the plates of brass from Laban (1 Nephi 3:2-5); the other is Lehi’s dream of the Tree of Life (1 Nephi 8). Thus, with these three dreams, we see Nephi laying out patterns drawn directly from the brass plates:

  • Taking his family  and fleeing into the wilderness toward a promised land (cf. Jacob fleeing Haran unannounced, or the Exodus itself)
  • Receiving an engraved copy of the Torah (cf. Moses receiving the stone tablets with the Law on Sinai)
  • Elevating the youngest son over the older brothers (Joseph’s initial dreams)

Book of Mormon scholars have long noted how strongly Nephi uses Exodus motifs in putting together his historical section (1 Nephi and 2 Nephi 1-5). But I believe he also ties Lehi back to Jacob and Joseph through his dreams, as a second witness to Lehi’s calling as a prophet.

Did Laban have right of ownership to the brass plates?

I just started a recent re-read of the Book of Mormon (separate from the nightly out-loud readings that my wife and I do) and noted (as usual) that Laban was given two chances to “do the right thing” with regards to the brass plates. I was also struck that Laban’s reaction the first two requests is disproportional to the request being made. Let’s look at this for a minute.

And we cast lots—who of us should go in unto the house of Laban. And it came to pass that the lot fell upon Laman; and Laman went in unto the house of Laban, and he talked with him as he sat in his house. And he desired of Laban the records which were engraven upon the plates of brass, which contained the genealogy of my father. And behold, it came to pass that Laban was angry, and thrust him out from his presence; and he would not that he should have the records. Wherefore, he said unto him: Behold thou art a robber, and I will slay thee. (1 Nephi 3:11-13)

Let’s make a few reasonable assumptions. Laban most likely knew who Lehi was — because they were related, because of Lehi’s wealth, and because of Lehi’s preaching. Laban, therefore, would have at least some idea who Laman was (Lehi’s oldest son and therefore heir). If Laban had a clear and indisputable right to the plates, he simply could have said “No” and sent Laman on his way, or he could have demanded some form of payment. Instead, he threatens to have Laman killed — just for asking about the plates.

The second attempt, based on Nephi’s idea, doesn’t go well, either.

And it came to pass that we went down to the land of our inheritance, and we did gather together our gold, and our silver, and our precious things. And after we had gathered these things together, we went up again unto the house of Laban.

And it came to pass that we went in unto Laban, and desired him that he would give unto us the records which were engraven upon the plates of brass, for which we would give unto him our gold, and our silver, and all our precious things. And it came to pass that when Laban saw our property, and that it was exceedingly great, he did lust after it, insomuch that he thrust us out, and sent his servants to slay us, that he might obtain our property. And it came to pass that we did flee before the servants of Laban, and we were obliged to leave behind our property, and it fell into the hands of Laban. And it came to pass that we fled into the wilderness, and the servants of Laban did not overtake us, and we hid ourselves in the cavity of a rock. (1 Nephi 3:24-28)

Again, Laban could have simply said “No” or he could have bargained for a greater payment than the sons of Lehi were offering  (such as Lehi’s “land of inheritance”, which appears to be an estate somewhere outside of Jerusalem itself). Instead, he actively sends his servants to kill the sons of Lehi, while retaining the “gold, silver, and precious things” that the sons had brought.

In both cases, Laban does not act like a man who simply owns something precious (to him) and is unwilling to part with it; instead, he threatens murder the first time and clearly tries to carry it out the second time. (He may have tried to carry it out the first time as well, but that’s less clear from the text.)  This suggests, at least, that Laban may have gained possession of the plates through unsavory means, and possibly that Lehi may have actually had a better claim to ownership (though we have no way of knowing that).

This also underscores that Laban had both a chance to do the right thing for the right reason and a chance to do the right thing for a less honorable reason. His violent reaction instead set up the circumstances by which he lost his own life.

One last note:

And after I had done this, I went forth unto the treasury of Laban. And as I went forth towards the treasury of Laban, behold, I saw the servant of Laban who had the keys of the treasury. And I commanded him in the voice of Laban, that he should go with me into the treasury. … And I also spake unto him that I should carry the engravings, which were upon the plates of brass, to my elder brethren, who were without the walls. (1 Nephi 3:20, 24)

Chances are that the “gold, silver, and precious things” of Lehi’s family that “fell into the hands of Laban” were in that same treasury as the brass plates. There is no indication that Nephi took a single item of that back, or anything else in Laban’s treasury, but only the brass plates. It’s unclear that Laman or Lemuel would have done the same thing; they were still longing after their “possessions” back in Jerusalem many years later (cf. 1 Nephi 17:21) and might well have felt the need to fill their pockets or a sack to get some of their own belonging back. But by not doing that, Nephi completed the transaction that he and his brothers had offered to Laban on the second visit and avoided becoming in fact the “robber” that Laban accused him and his brothers of being.

Gospel Doctrine 2016: Lessons 2 and 4 (Book of Mormon)

For the past few years, I’ve been honored to participate in the Interpreter Foundation Scripture Roundtable podcasts (videocasts, actually) as they cover each year’s Gospel Doctrine lessons. These roundtables are meant to act as aids for Gospel Doctrine teachers, their students, and frankly anyone else studying the scriptures.

We typically record them a few months in advance, so we have already recorded lessons 1-5 for the Book of Mormon course of study. Here are links to the two in which I’ve participated so far:

Lesson 2: All Things According to His Will (1 Nephi 1-5, 7)

Lesson 4: The Things Which I Saw While I Was Carried Away in the Spirit (1 Nephi 12-14).

Sources for the story of Amalakiah (Alma 46-52)

A close reading of the Book of Mormon shows a sophisticated restraint in its narrative approach, namely an absence of descriptions of events, conversations, and actions outside of the observation and knowledge of its claimed authors, contributors, and participants. Consider all the things that are not included in the Book of Mormon narrative and yet have a direct bearing on that narrative:

  • Any statements or actions by Laban outside of the presence of Nephi1 or his brethren.
  • Any descriptions of events at Jerusalem after Lehi and his family depart.
  • Any private conversations or actions between Laman and Lemuel outside of the presence of Nephi1 and/or Lehi.
  • Any description of events, conversations, or actions among the Lamanites during those periods of separation and tension (with a major exception that is the topic of this post).
  • Any description of events, conversations, or actions among “Gadianton’s robbers and murderers”, except for some details at its founding, at which time it had been infiltrated by one of Helaman2‘s servants (Helaman 2).

And so on.

Contrast this with various stories in the Old Testament, where we are given details outside of the scope of any reasonable narrator. A good example is the whole story of Balak and Balaam in the book of Exodus (unless one presumes Balaam was somehow interviewed about these events or wrote down a separate manuscript that came into the hands of the Israelites). There are similar out-of-view events and details in Judges, Samuel/Kings, Esther, and Daniel. One can argue that these are natural attempts to fill in narrative gaps or offer obvious explanations, but that makes the restraint in the Book of Mormon all the more remarkable.

However, as alluded to above, there is one apparent major exception: the detailed story of Amalakiah, which is covered in Alma 46 through 52.

As explained in Alma 46, Amalakiah is a powerful Nephite figure who seeks to be made king by force over the Nephites, replacing the system of judges established by Mosiah2 roughly 20 years earlier. Moroni1, military leader of the Nephites, rallies the Nephites who oppose this change. Moroni1‘s forces significantly outnumber Amalakiah’s forces; Amalakiah and his followers seek to flee to the land of Nephi to join up with the Lamanites; Moroni1 heads them off, but Amalakiah and “a small number of his men” escape to Lamanite territory, while the remainder of his followers are forced to either acknowledge the current government or be put to death (“and there were but few who denied the covenant of freedom”).

At this point, following standard Book of Mormon narration, we would expect to hear no more about Amalakiah except and unless he were to return to battle against the Lamanites. Compare, for example, the story of Zarahemna found in Alma 44, who after his defeat at the hands of Moroni1 swears an oath not to come to battle against the Nephites again, returns to the land of Nephi, and is never heard of after that.

But that’s not what happens. Instead, over the next few chapters, starting in Alma 47, we get a detailed inside look of how Amalakiah cleverly and ruthlessly works his way into being king over all the Lamanites. it really is a remarkable and very credible tale of sophisticated political intrigue; one seeking a naturalistic explanation for the Book of Mormon has to account how a 23-year-old farm boy with little education would think up such an approach, one that would likely earn a nod of appreciation from Greek playwrights and Roman historians, if not Machiavelli himself.

However, that is not the point. The point is that this detailed account is taking place outside of the on-going Nephite narrative context. Not only are the events taking place in the land of Nephi — at a time of hostilities with no major Nephite individuals present –but they are very intimate and secret details of Amalakiah’s intents and actions.

This appears to be a very deliberate insertion by Mormon, rather than necessarily part of the record being kept at this point by Helaman1 (see header to Alma 45). Note the introduction we get in Alma 47:1:

Now we will return in our record to Amalickiah and those who had fled with him into the wilderness….

The editorial “we” and reference to “our record” is used here and a few other places (3 Nephi 8:1, Moroni 9:33) as a indicator of either Mormon or Moroni2  speaking as editor. This suggests a narrative break from the events surrounding Amalakiah’s rebellion described in Alma 46. Furthermore, it appears that Mormon is deliberately setting up a contrast between Amalakiah’s duplicity, intrigue and murder in gaining the Lamanite kingship and Moroni1‘s personal righteousness and desire for freedom, since he follows the story of Amalakiah’s ascent immediately with the account of Moroni1‘s preparation for defense and his (Mormon’s) famous paean to Moroni1 , after whom he (Mormon) would name his own son (cf. Alma 48:16-18).

So, where did Mormon get these closely-held details? I suspect the answer is right there in Mormon’s introduction to this story: “those who fled with him in the wilderness”. These were also Nephites or, at least, of the land of Zarahemla (my personal suspicion, as some Book of Mormon scholars have speculated, is that Amalakiah and the “kingmen” followers were likely of the majority Mulekite population, unhappy at minority Nephite domination of government and religion; in any case, they were almost certainly not Lamanites).

Those who followed Amalakiah would have to be his most trusted confidants, since they are a group of Nephites deep in the heart of Lamanite territory. Furthermore, it makes the most sense that he would draw from this group the “servants” he uses to do his most dangerous and potentially damning work — first, poisoning Lehonti, the Lamanite army leader to whom Amalakiah had “surrendered”, and then slaying the Lamanite king and blaming it on the king’s own servants.

Now fast forward five or six years. Amalakiah, perhaps frustrated by the failures of his Lamanite military leaders (cf. Alma 49) and encouraged by the internal dissensions among the Nephites (cf. Alma 50), comes down in person at the head of the Lamanite armies, conquering a series of cities along the east sea (Alma 51). However, he presses his luck a bit too far, is stopped by Teancum (who is guarding Bountiful), and then is assassinated by Teancum at night, in his own tent, on the night before the first day of the new year (Alma 51:32-37). That account includes this statement: “he [Teancum] did cause the death of the king [Amalakiah] immediately that he did not awake his servants.” (v. 34)

Amalakiah’s servants are there with the Lamanite army. That army (led now by “Jacob, a Zoramite”) flees back to the city of Mulek and takes refuge there. They are subsequently lured out, engaged in battle, and defeated; those who are not killed in battle are taken captive and are put to work at hard labor, fortifying Bountiful and possibly other cities along the eastern seaboard, as well as building their own prison compound.

Among those captives are almost certainly some number of Amalakiah’s servants or close confidants, who would have detailed knowledge of Amalakiah’s actions since fleeing the land of Zarahemla. It is both credible and likely that one or more of those men would be willing to give Teancum or even Moronithe inside details about how Amalakiah had become king over all the Lamanites, likely in exchange for easier living conditions or possibly even a pardon and being sent back into Nephite society, much as many captured Lamanites were later granted to go live with the people of Ammon (cf. Alma 62:15-17). Furthermore, it is credible and likely that Moroni1 would want to know how Amalakiah had become king of the Lamanites, particularly since his brother Ammoron had become king after his death and sought to continue the conflict and hold onto currently occupied Nephite cities (cf. Alma 52:2-4).

So, as it turns out, the exception is not an exception at all, and the Book of Mormon retains its narrative consistency. While the record does not spell out exactly how the Nephites got the inside details of Amalakiah’s rise to power, it does provide the information to deduce how, why, and when they did so. Furthermore, Mormon himself introduces the narrative, suggesting that he may well have found it in a source outside of the Alma2/Helaman1 record itself, interleaving its events with that record to explain how this series of wars — which would stretch on for a full decade and cause tremendous destruction and upheaval — came to pass.

Alma and John revisited — a brief thought

I have posted before about the parallels between Alma1 and John the Baptist, particularly with regards to (re)introducing baptism and establishing a “church of anticipation” prior to the Savior’s arrival into mortality. One of those parallels was that “the appearance of both John and Alma1 signals an abrupt break from the law of Moses/priestly tradition to a church of anticipation.”

What struck me the other day, though, was the difference in how they were received by those in charge of that priestly tradition. In the case of Alma1, we read:

And now it came to pass that when Mosiah had made an end of speaking and reading to the people, he desired that Alma should also speak to the people. (Mosiah 25:14)

And it came to pass that king Mosiah granted unto Alma that he might establish churches throughout all the land of Zarahemla; and gave him power to ordain priests and teachers over every church. (Mosiah 25:19)

Now king Mosiah had given Alma the authority over the church. . . .And [Alma] said unto the king: Behold, here are many whom we have brought before thee, who are accused of their brethren; yea, and they have been taken in divers iniquities. And they do not repent of their iniquities; therefore we have brought them before thee, that thou mayest judge them according to their crimes. But king Mosiah said unto Alma:   Behold, I judge them not; therefore I deliver them into thy hands to be judged. (Mosiah 26:8-12)

And now it came to pass that the persecutions which were inflicted on the church by the unbelievers became so great that the church began to murmur, and complain to their leaders concerning the matter; and they did complain to Alma. And Alma laid the case before their king, Mosiah. And Mosiah consulted with his priests. And it came to pass that king Mosiah sent a proclamation throughout the land round about that there should not any unbeliever persecute any of those who belonged to the church of God. (Mosiah 27:1-2)

It is important to recognize the humility and inspiration of Mosiah2 (and his priests) through all this. His grandfather, Mosiah1, led the exodus of the righteous portion of the Nephites out of the land of Nephi and into Zarahemla, where he took over rulership of both his own people and the resident Mulekites. His father, Benjamin, gave his great sermon and prophecy of the coming Messiah — received from an angel! — to the assembled nation, putting the people under covenant to take upon themselves the name of Christ, and at the same time turning both secular and religious leadership over to Mosiah2. And Mosiah2 has been ruling over the combined kingdom ever since.

But here comes Alma1 out of the the land of Nephi, a repentant-but-formerly-wicked priest of wicked King Noah, preaching and baptizing and establishing “the church of God.” What does Mosiah2 do? He basically turns most, if not all, religious leadership over to Alma1. There is no envy, no struggle for control, no dismissal and “I’ll take it from here.” He recognizes with Alma1 — as John did with Jesus — that “he must increase, but I must decrease” (John 3:30).

Now, contrast this with reaction of King Herod (Antipas), the Jewish high priest Joseph Caiaphas, and the Sanhedrin in general to John the Baptist, and imagine this: what if King Herod and his priests (starting with Caiaphas) had been righteous enough, or at least sufficiently repentant, to do for John what King Mosiah2 and his priests did for Alma1? What would have been the reception of Jesus when He started His ministry there in Palestine?

Food for thought.

Archaeological find in Israel: Jehovah’s wife?

I always treat articles like this — heck, just about any article (or, for that matter, paper) on Bible-related archaeological “findings” — with a spoonful of salt. That said, this is interesting:

Archaeologists Dr. Hamoudi Khalaily and Shua Kisilevitz, said, “The ritual building at Tel Motza is an unusual and striking find, in light of the fact that there are hardly any remains of ritual buildings of the period in Judaea at the time of the First Temple. Among other finds, the site has yielded pottery figurines of men, one of them bearded, whose significance is still unknown.”

“The iconography points to a pantheon of deities, as some scholars believe, or to two main deities, something of a duality,” says archaeology writer Julia Fridman, writing in Israeli newspaper Haaretz.

“Interestingly, there are vastly more female figurines and representations found on shrines than there are male ones. The evidence points to the worship of at least two deities. . . .

Professor Francesca Stavrakopoulou of the University of Exeter said, “There is increasing evidence that the ancient Israelites worshipped a number of gods alongside their ‘national’ patron deity, Yahweh. The goddess Asherah was among these deities.

“Not only is she mentioned in the Hebrew Bible (Old Testament), but inscriptions dating to the eighth and seventh centuries BCE attest to her worship alongside Yahweh in the kingdoms of Israel and Judah. Taken together, the biblical and archaeological evidence strongly suggests that Asherah was worshipped by some Israelites as the wife of Yahweh. They were likely a divine couple at the head of the local pantheon.””

Go read the whole thing, then read Daniel Peterson’s classic, “Nephi and His Asherah“.  ..bruce..

In case anyone mentions “the Book of Mormon” and “Smithsonian” in the same breath…

…please sent them over to this post at Keepapitchinin by Ardis “Ace” Parshall, Mormon Detective:

News of the impending publication reached Salt Lake City early in November, 1936. Alarmed, Heber J. Grant “immediately sent [Kelly] a cablegram” – not a slow-boat letter, but a lightning-fast cablegram! – “not to print that letter as we have reason to believe that statements made therein are not authentic.”

“We hope that the cablegram arrived in time to prevent your publishing the article,” President Grant wrote in a follow-up letter.

At last! One wise head, at least, was not mesmerized by the sensation. “We have reason to believe that statements made therein are not authentic.” (You think?) I do not find an article after a cursory search of Der Stern, but without a more careful search I cannot yet be certain whether the cablegram arrived in time.

This particular chain was not the story’s sole transmission route, of course. When each link in this chain proved so willing – eager, even – to share the story, there can be no doubt that each person in the chain shared the story with multiple others, not just those traced here. Some of those others must have shared it with still more contacts, who shares it with yet more … The fabulous rumor escaped into the wild, where it has spread like a malignant virus from missionary to missionary, seminary teacher to seminary teacher, one credulous soul to another, discovered anew by each generation, to the embarrassment of the Church and the annoyance of the Smithsonian Institution.

This is not true! Do not teach it!

Go read the whole thing.  And remember: it is not true that the Smithsonian Institution ever used the Book of Mormon for archaeological purposes. Don’t teach it.  ..bruce w..

A few more thoughts on Sun Tzu, the Book of Mormon, and translation

About a year ago, I wrote a post on how my work with differing English translations of the same source text — Sun Tzu’s The Art of War (Suntzu pingfa) — led to some thoughts about the Book of Mormon and its translation process:

So, the underlying question is: how many different (valid) ways could there have been of translating the urtext on the plates — not just in particular word choices, but in order and connection of thoughts? By all historical accounts, Joseph was clearly receiving the translation by inspiration — leaving aside the fact that he didn’t read the Nephites’ language, his translation appears to have been entirely via the interpreters and the seer stone.

I’m currently drafting some of the introductory material to my own book (an updated edition of The Art of ‘Ware) and called out a detailed example. Here are a few extracts from that introduction:

For example, consider the following relatively simple passage as found in Chapter 7 of Suntzu pingfa:

Original Chinese:

稤 郷 分 眾
luè xiāng fēn zhòng
(plunder/loot/pillage) (countryside/village) (divide/separate/distribute)  (crowd)
[from, chapter 7, 3rd block, 5th line, characters 5-8 from the left]


  • Divide your troops to plunder the villages. [Gagliardi]
  • When you plunder the countryside, divide the wealth among your troops. [Sonshi]
  • In plundering the countryside, divide up your numbers. [Ames]
  • Invade a countryside and rule the people. [Huang]
  • When plundering the countryside, divide the multitude. [Denma]
  • When you plunder a district, divide the wealth among your troops. [Sawyer]
  • When plundering villages, divide the troops. [Zieger]
  • When pillaging villages, divide the spoils among the masses. [Mair]

I go on in my introduction to note:

Eight translators came up with at least three different meanings for this single four-character maxim. The closest to a majority translation is the idea of dividing up your troops to plunder the countryside, presumably to accomplish it more quickly. But three of the authors believe the maxim talks about spreading the looted wealth among the troops (or, at least “the masses”), presumably to keep them happy.  The Denma Group tries to have it both ways; their actual translation (“divide the multitude”) is ambiguous, while their own commentary on the maxim says, “Disperse your troops and distribute the goods among them.” The immediate context where the maxim appears mostly favors the “divide the troops” translation, since it’s talking about terrain and positioning — but this same chapter has a lot of focus on supplies and logistics and the impact of a lack thereof, so there is a strong argument for the “share the wealth” translation.

This, I think, underscores the absolute necessity of direct and explicit divine inspiration in translating the Book of Mormon, especially if the language[1] on the plates was more logographic than alphabetic (which Mormon 9:33 seems to suggest). In other words, if someone were given the plates along with a multi-volume Nephite-English lexicon, it’s quite possible they would still come up with a translation that differed considerably from what Joseph Smith dictated to Oliver Cowdery and others — and two such translators would come up with translations that differed from each other’s. I think the Lord gave Joseph the translation that He wanted printed (though, as always, with human influences and errors along the way), and not necessarily a translation that any given ‘Nephite language scholar’ might have come up with.

For what it’s worth.  ..bruce..

[1] Or languages. We tend to assume that Nephi and Mormon/Moroni wrote using the exact same language, but that’s a bit like assuming British authors from 1000 AD and Stephen King write using the same language; heck, they don’t even use the same exact alphabet (though one evolved from the other). It’s not at all clear that Nephi and his immediate descendants could have read, unassisted, what Mormon and Moroni wrote on the plates, or even understood what they might have spoken to them out loud. In that light, it is telling that the Book of Mormon talks specifically about literacy training among the ruling families to be able to read the older records.


ADMINISTRATIVE NOTE FOR WORDPRESS BLOGGERS: early readers of this post saw that I had to use tone numbers for xiāng fēn (i.e., xiang1 fen1) because WordPress kept eating the Unicode pinyin characters for ā and ē. Searching on the web verified that the core problem was that the Fantastico installation of WordPress (by which I set up this blog) sets as its default character collation latin1_swedish_ci, whereas what I needed was utf8_unicode_ci. I used the pHpMyAdmin app available under CPanel to edit the WP databases and change the collation, but (a) they didn’t seem to be (all) changing, and (b) the pinyin characters kept getting eaten. What finally worked was the following:

  • Using phpMyAdmin, expand the list of database tables for this blog.
  • In that list, look for wp_posts; expand it, and expand Columns under it.
  • In Columns, look for post_content and click on it.
  • This brings up a set of fields for post_content, including one labeled Collation with a drop-down menu. Select utf8_unicode_ci (it was at the very end of my drop-down list) and click on the Save button on the far right.

That did the trick. I suspect it also allowed me to put in the Chinese characters I subsequently added.

Mormons and hell, revisited


Doug Gibson, the opinion editor at the [Ogden, UT] Standard Examiner, regularly touches on religious issues, usually dealing with the LDS Church. His latest post examines the concept of hell as found in much of mainstream Christianity; as usual, he pulls no punches:

The absoluteness of this doctrine is evil. If one does not accept Christ in the same manner of someone else, that individual is consigned to an eternal punishment in hell. Taken to its absurd conclusions, the vengeful God that hell-believers worship would consign to eternal torture an infinite amount of devout Mormons, Jews, Muslims, Seventh Day Adventists, Buddhists, and so on, who reject the entreaties of those who see only a narrow passage to heaven and a vengeful God punishing those who don’t “dot their i’s or cross their t’s.”

Doug has more to say, offering links to four films that actually depict the “sinners in the hands of an angry God” theology. Go read the whole thing.

As I wrote six years ago, back in the early days of this blog, Mormons actually believe in three types of hell, all successive, with almost everyone who somehow ends up there getting out after the first or second (and ending up in a kingdom of glory). The LDS doctrine of hell is both just and merciful, and it gets back to a point I made in another post over at Mormon Mentality:

[God’s] grace is not only greater than we imagine, it is greater than we can imagine. And however long or short our lives, God always has enough time to love us home.

The message of LDS doctrine is that it takes a very deliberate, determined effort to fend off God’s grace eternally; our salvation (after Christ’s atonement) results from informed choices we make, not upon chance, situation, or God’s arbitrary decisions. ..bruce..

I imagine a few heads will explode in certain corners

Dan Peterson, over at his excellent blog Sic et Non, reports the following:

A new two-volume Encyclopedia of Hebrew Language and Linguistics has just appeared from the venerable European publishing house E. J. Brill. It includes two articles requested by the editors from John A. Tvedtnes:

“Hebraisms in the Book of Mormon”

“Hebrew Names in the Book of Mormon”

The web site for this publication appears to indicate that it is actually four volumes, not just two. And here’s a link to the online version showing that it does indeed have the two articles by Tvedtnes.  Well done, John.  ..bruce..