Category Archives: Book of Mormon

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 zhongwen.com/bingfa.htm, chapter 7, 3rd block, 5th line, characters 5-8 from the left]

Translations:

  • 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

godandhell

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..

1 Nephi 22:7: “a mighty nation” = the Spanish Empire?

SpanishEmpire

Listening to the Book of Mormon on my iPhone while driving the other day, the following passage came up:

And it meaneth that the time cometh that after all the house of Israel have been scattered and confounded, that the Lord God will raise up a mighty nation among the Gentiles, yea, even upon the face of this land; and by them shall our seed be scattered. (1 Nephi 22:7)

Now, here in the States, we Mormons hear “a mighty nation among the Gentiles” and start chanting “USA! USA!” But I don’t think Nephi is referring to the US at all. I think in this particular passage he is referring instead to the Spanish Empire. Here’s why:

  • The US really didn’t become a “mighty nation” until the late 19th or early 20th Century. Spain, on the other hand, established a global empire pretty much coinciding with the discovery (by Spain) of North and South America at the end of the 15th Century, and it remained a mighty nation well into the 19th Century.
  • Spain conquered and claimed half of North America, all of Central America, and most of South America, in the process killing, enslaving, and scattering many of the native American inhabitants. The US, at the time of publication of the Book of Mormon, occupied less than half of its current extent and really hadn’t done much “scattering” of native Americans compared to what Spain had done for the previous 240 years.
  • For that matter, much of the “scattering” of native Americans that happened in the eastern half of the United States happened under British rule (see “British Territory” on the map above), before the US was founded.
  • And, somewhat redundantly, the US never occupied Mesoamerica, which is where Book of Mormon events most likely occurred.

I’m certain this isn’t a novel thought, and I suspect that Latter-day Saints in Latin America have always assumed that 1 Nephi 22:7 referred to Spain; it would be obvious to them. Some might point to the phrase “raise up…upon the face of this land” as meaning the mighty nation has to originate in the Americas, but I don’t know that this carries a lot of weight. What made the Spanish Empire mighty was not the resources within the borders of Spain over in Europe, it was the tremendous wealth and resources that Spain extracted from the Americas. After all, if you saw the map below (Spanish Empire in 1800) without knowing any historical geography, would you assume that the Empire in red sprang from the small red area near the middle of the map, as opposed to the massive red areas near the left side of the map? Food for thought.

 

Shades of Zarahemla

Over the past several years, I have been struck by something each time I read King Benjamin’s speech in Mosiah 2-6 to the combined Mulekites[1] and Nephites. Benjamin begins his speech with a long list of negatives, that is, things that he has not done during his reign as king. These include (Mosiah 2:10-16):

  • causing the people to fear him
  • presenting himself as “more than a mortal man”
  • seeking gold, silver, or “any manner of riches” from the people
  • confining them in dungeons
  • allowing them to make slaves of one another
  • allowing them to murder, plunder, steal, and commit adultery
  • levying taxes upon them
  • boasting of his own accomplishments
  • accusing the people of their own alleged failings.

Let’s look at the context of these comments. Benjamin’s father, Mosiah1, led the Nephites who would follow him out of the land of Nephi and ultimately into the land of Zarahemla, which was already occupied by the Mulekites and ruled over by a man named Zarahemla. There were only about half as many Nephites as there were Mulekites, and the two groups did not share a common language, yet Mosiah1 was made ruler over the combined people, and we hear no more about Zarahemla (though one of his descendants, Ammon, leads the group that goes to the land of Lehi-Nephi to see what happened to Zeniff’s party).

I have come to wonder if Benjamin, in preparing to extend his family’s dynasty by proclaiming his son Mosiah2 as the third successive Nephite king over the combined factions (in which the Nephites were still a minority), was drawing a contrast between how he (and presumably his father) had ruled vs. how the Mulekite kings (or, at least, Zarahemla) had ruled. After all, if neither Benjamin nor Mosiah1 had done any of these things — the rule of these two kings covering a period of what appears to be at least a few decades — why would Benjamin have felt compelled to start off his address with these reminders? So I think that Benjamin was reminding the combined people, and the Mulekites in particular, how much better things were under the Nephite kings than their previous ruler(s).

One could reasonably argue that Benjamin was instead drawing a contrast between himself and whomever was ruling over the Nephites in the land of (Lehi-)Nephi up until the time when Mosiah1 led a faction of the Nephites away from there over to Zarahemla, and that could well be true. But that comparison would have no real meaning for the Mulekites, who made up roughly 2/3rds of the population, while the Nephite portion of the population were all individuals (or descendants thereof) who had chosen to follow Mosiah1 away from those rulers.

Instead, I believe that the contrast — if that was in fact what Benjamin was doing — was with the prior Mulekite regime. In other words, I think the list above was a not-so-subtle reminder from Benjamin of how things had been for the Mulekites prior to Mosiah1‘s arrival and how they might be again if Mosiah2‘s coronation is not accepted.

If this does reflect how things were under Mulekite rule, it helps explain why the Mulekites, or a sufficiently large segment thereof, were willing to have Mosiah1 — accompanied by a smaller group of foreign people speaking a foreign tongue and practicing a foreign religion — show up and rule over them, without any apparent military conquest.

It also explains, or at least provides context for, the subsequent problems and wars over the next 160 years. Most of those problems/wars are caused by “Nephite dissenters” (many of whom I suspect are Mulekites) who work and fight constantly to (re)establish an authoritarian and self-indulgent kingship, in contrast to the Christ-like reign of the Mosiah1 lineage, followed by the reign of the judges. In other words, Benjamin may well have been warning the people, Mulekites and Nephites combined, against the temptation of such a regime. And it will be his successor, Mosiah2, who will abolish the Nephite kingship entirely, in part I believe in reaction to Alma and Limhi leading their respective groups into Zarahemla and telling the tale of King Noah — but likely also due to the “king men” faction present in the Mulekite/Nephite population.

———————
[1] The term “Mulekites,” of course, never appears in the Book of Mormon text itself, but it is useful shorthand for “the people living in Zarahemla (and relevant outlying regions) at the time Mosiah and his Nephite followers happened upon them .”

Royal Skousen lectures on the Book of Mormon [UPDATED]

UPDATE [2/13]: I received word from Dr. Skousen tonight that attendance at the lectures may be quite high due to large numbers of BYU students attending. He strongly recommends that you arrive no later than 6:30 pm. Frankly, I’d recommend 6 pm and bring a good book (or an iPad).

ORIGINAL POST:

Yes, yes, I know, I haven’t posted much here in ages. I burned out a bit on blogging last year, but I may be starting up again.

In the meantime, Royal Skousen — and if you don’t know who he is, you should — is giving a series of lectures on the Book of Mormon, based on his work of over two decades in creating a critical text for the Book of Mormon. The lectures are on the topic “25 Years of Research: What We Have Learned about the Book of Mormon Text”, and here’s the schedule (covering three successive Tuesday evenings):

  • February 26: The Original and Printer’s Manuscripts
  • March 5: The Printed Editions
  • March 12: The Nature of the Original Text

All three lectures are being held at the Gordon B. Hinckley Center on the campus of Brigham Young University; they are free and open to the public. I actually hope to make the first lecture myself, since business will have me in Utah that week. As someone who has read most of what Skousen has published to date on the Book of Mormon critical text project, I highly recommend these lectures.  ..bruce..

 

The Book of Mormon and elections: a brief observation

First, let’s start by acknowledging that the ‘reign of the judges’ described in the Book of Mormon bears almost no resemblance to a constitutional democracy or republic. There is no separation of powers, the office of chief judge (or governor, as it is sometimes called) is most often passed from father to son, the office of chief judge does not require periodic re-election and changes only when the chief judge dies or resigns, and so on. The “voice of the people” only appears to come into play in certain circumstances:

  • choosing lower or lesser judges (cf. Mosiah 29:39; note that this process is only mentioned once, at the initial selection of lesser judges);
  • when there are multiple replacement candidates for the dead/retiring chief judge (cf. Helaman 1:1-5)
  • the occasional national referendum, such as whether to change the form of government back to a monarchy (cf. Alma 2:7), or deciding whether and where to allow the people of Ammon (Anti-Nephi-Lehis) to settle in Nephite territory (cf. Alma 27:21-22).
  • ratification of the chief captain over the Nephite armies (see Alma 46:34) and granting him broad powers (cf. Alma 51:15-16).

Nothing terribly new here; this has all been discussed many times by better scholars. But here’s my point: how often in all this — or, for that matter, through the entire Book of Mormon history — does God intervene to ensure that a particular leader is chosen?

Answer: never.

To be a touch more accurate, there are a few instances when God chooses a leader — Lehi, Nephi, Mosiah1 — but those are in critical (and rare) circumstances where people must choose to follow that leader physically out of the current civilization and into wilderness. There are no cases where God Himself takes a hand in changing who ends up being the leader in a ‘voice of the people’ setting, or even in a monarchy; remember that Mosiah2 dissolved the monarchy precisely because of the risk of ending up with a ‘wicked king’, as happened with Zeniff’s son and successor, Noah (cf. Mosiah 29:16-25).

One of the dominant themes of the Book of Mormon is agency and its consequences, and that is applied to government as well, whether it be monarchy or judgeship. We are accountable for the government (and leaders) we choose and the results thereof; we cannot attribute the outcome to the Lord, only to ourselves.

Something to remember, whatever the results of tomorrow’s election here in the United States.  ..bruce..