Saturday, June 20, 2015

"Without anything wherewith to steer her" (Mormon 5:18)

George Q. Cannon, having witnessed more than fifty years of Church History offered the following reflections:

Our pathway from the beginning, it may be said, is lined with the graves of those who have lost their faith, who were buried before they died, having lost faith and remained behind. They thought the work of God could not stand the pressure, that his promises could not be fulfilled. They felt as though they must save themselves or they would be destroyed, and they sought safety in apostasy, in denying God, and in breaking loose from their brothers and sisters. What has been the result? You who have had friends, relatives and acquaintances in this condition know what the result has been. Would you exchange your circumstances today with theirs? . . . .

The man that loves God; the man that maintains his virtue, and refrains from committing any sin that will grieve the Spirit of God . . . or other habits that destroy the faith that God has planted in our hearts, will continue to prosper, and will continue to live. They may not live in the flesh, but they will live hereafter. They will live with the blessed, they will live with those whom they love and with whom they can associate; and while they do live upon the earth they will live in the enjoyment of the Spirit of God, they will have peace at night, and through the night, and peace through the day. It is true they may suffer, but God will be with them. His angels will be around them to sustain them; and he will not only bless and prosper them but bless their children after them, for they will sow seed the fruit of which their children will gather in years to come.

God does not forget his faithful people. He loves the righteous and he loves the courageous. He loves the true; but traitors–those who betray their brethren–He–I was going to say–despises them; at any rate they fall under His displeasure; they become like wrecks, castaways stripped of their former power, bereft of the Spirit and blessing that attended them in former times. Some of you have no doubt seen fine vessels that have done good service stranded and wrecked, with nothing much besides the ribs and keel left; those who become darkened lose the Spirit and their faith, and thus become human wrecks, remind me of such unfortunate vessels.

[George Q. Cannon, 23 February, 1890, Collected Discourses 2:17-18].

Friday, June 12, 2015

Right on Target: Gidgiddoni

There are generally two approaches to Book of Mormon names. One of them searches for plausible etymologies for Book of Mormon names; the other looks at whether the name is actually attested. If it is attested it does not matter much whether or not we can figure out an etymology for the name (that is, whether we can determine what the name originally meant). Both of these approaches are useful and have their merits.

The Book of Mormon name Gidgiddoni can now be added to the list of names that are attested.

Gidgiddoni, it will be remembered, was "great commander of all the armies of the Nephites" (3 Nephi 3:18) during the reign of Lachoneus. He is first mentioned during events of "the sixteenth year from the coming of Christ" (3 Nephi 3:1), and is last mentioned ten years later (3 Nephi 6:6).

The name Gidgiddoni, with its reduplication and doubled consonant, is unusual for a Hebrew name. We now know that it is not. It is a well attested name in Neo-Assyrian records. It comes from the same Assyrian empire that is discussed so extensively in the works of Isaiah. The name is mentioned many times in Assyrian records, covering a number of individuals. It is spelled a number of ways:
  • Gíd-gi-da-nu (SAA 1: 152:6) 

  • Gíd-gi-da-a-n[i] (SAA 1: 152 r 9) 

  • [Gíd-g]i-da-a-[ni] (SAA 1: 152 r 6) 

  • [Gí]d-gi-da-a-[ni] (SAA 1: 39 :4) 

  • Gíd-gi-da-a-nu (SAA 6: 31 r 23) 

  • Gíd-gíd-da-nu (SAA 11: 123 ii 13) 

  • Gíd-gíd-da-[nu] (SAA 12: 51 r 12)
The variety of cuneiform spellings demonstrates the following points about the Assyrian name.
  1. The second d is doubled. (see Gíd-gíd-da-nu).

  2. The a is long. (see Gíd-gi-da-a-nu). This is important because Assyrian (Akkadian) long a goes to an o in Hebrew. Cuneiform does not have an o sound and uses a variety of strategies to reproduce it.

  3. The form of the name borrowed into Hebrew is the oblique case. Hebrew does not have case endings but does have names ending in -i.
The form of the name borrowed into Hebrew must have been taken from the oblique case, which may have been the form of the name they heard most often. Hebrew often changes foreign names when it adopts them (think Marduk-apil-iddina becoming Merodach-Baladan).

The following individuals bearing the name are known from Neo-Assyrian records:
  1. An individual working in Dur-Sharrukin during the reign of Sargon II.

  2. A man from Kalhu listed in as a member of the chariotry during the reign of Sargon II.

  3. A tailor to the governor of Kalhu during the reign of Sargon II.

  4. A temple carpenter from Assur during the reign of Esarhaddon.

  5. A man from Assur during the reign of Assurbanipal.

  6. A man mentioned during the reign of Assur-etel-ilani.
(The Prosopography of the Neo-Assyrian Empire [Helsinki: The Neo-Assyrian Text Corpus Project, 1999], 1.2:422-23.)
The simplest explanation is that an Assyrian individual with the name Gidgiddanu was mentioned in the brass plates. This was then the source of the name for this particular military leader several centuries later.

Interestingly, the Neo-Assyrian Text Corpus Project was not able to determine an etymology or meaning for this name.

Thus the number of attested non-biblical names in the Book of Mormon has just increased by one.

Thursday, June 11, 2015

“For They Shall be filled with the Holy Ghost” (Howlers # 28)

In 1978 Krister Stendahl, a prominent Lutheran Leader and scholar of the New Testament was invited by Truman Madsen to read and comment on the teachings of Jesus in the Sermon at the Temple in 3 Nephi. Stendahl graciously provided an insightful discussion on the subject which was subsequently published in a collection of essays written by other non–LDS scholars entitled Reflections on Mormonism, a volume which is still of value and well worth reading. In his article, however, Stendahl did take note of 3 Nephi 12:6, which parallels Matthew 5:6, “Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness: for they shall be filled,” except that the passage in Jesus’ sermon in 3 Nephi adds the phrase “with the Holy Ghost.” Stendahl thought that the additional phrase seemed out of place:

The Greek word behind filled is chortazo, which means “fill the stomach,” as one fills the stomach of animals, not “fill up” in the sense pleroo, which is the biblical term for being filled with the Holy Spirit. it is rather unnatural to use the Greek chortazo for making the addition “with the Holy Spirit”

(Krister Stendahl, “The Sermon on the Mount and Third Nephi,” in Truman G. Madsen, ed., Reflections on Mormonism, 1978), 142.

The following is taken from John W. Welch, The Sermon At the Temple and the Sermon on the Mount (Deseret Book and FARMS, 1990, 114-15.

Krister Stendahl has suggested one such translation problem in the way the Sermon at the Temple renders the fourth Beatitude. It reads, "Blessed are all they who do hunger and thirst after righteousness, for they shall be filled with the Holy Ghost" (3 Nephi 12:6). He remarked that it seemed unnatural to associate the Greek word chortazo ("physically filled") with a spiritual filling, since the New Testament Greek usually uses a different word, pleroo, when it speaks of being filled with the Spirit and since chortazo appears in passages about actual feedings of multitudes, eating crumbs, and so on.

The problem, however, is solved when we turn to Old Testament backgrounds of the Sermon. The promise of Jesus, that those who hunger and thirst after "righteousness" (dikaiosunen) shall be filled (chortasthesontai), is closely related to the last two verses of Psalm 17 in the Greek Septuagint (the "LXX"), a rarely mentioned text that Stendahl apparently overlooked. The Psalm contrasts the filling (echortasthesan) of the stomach in uncleanliness with beholding the face of God in righteousness (dikaiosune): "I shall be satisfied [chortasthesomai] when I awake, with thy likeness" (Psalm 17:15). Here the word chortazo is used to describe one's being filled with the Spirit and being satisfied by beholding the righteousness of God.

The distinctiveness of this use of chortazo in Psalm 17 and Matthew 5:6 only increases the likelihood that Jesus' New Testament audience would have recognized his allusion to these words in the Psalm, a passage that would have been quite familiar to them. It shows that the translation in the Sermon at the Temple does well by making explicit this particular understanding of chortazo as having reference to a spiritual filling by the Holy Ghost, such as that which comes when a person beholds the face of God in righteousness

Saturday, May 9, 2015

Revelation According to Our Capacity to Recieve

In a discourse given in Filmore, Utah on September 7, 1864 which is available here, Brigham Young taught:

"I say to you, as I can to the whole world, there has not yet been a revelation given to this people from the time Joseph commenced to receive revelation but what would be [altered] provided the people were capable of receiving more. The Lord has to speak to the people according to their capacity, not according to his capacity. We are not prepared to receive all the heavens has for us. The Lord gives revelation upon revelation, here a little and there a little. Those precepts he gives we should improve upon them. . . . The Lord is laboring and has been for long time to prepare a people to receive blessings. He sent his gospel, called Joseph, gave the Book of Mormon, to prepare us to . . . receive all the blessings the earth can bestow, and the blessings of eternity. You and I believe alike with regard to the fullness of his power and goodness. He has blessings and wants bestow them on the whole human family. We believe alike. Why are we not blessed then? We are not ready to receive the blessings."

Saturday, April 11, 2015

No Pre-Columbian Writing (Howlers # 27)

According to Mormon, these native Americans could read, and write . . . but when that country first became known to Europeans, the inhabitants knew no more about letters than a four-legged animal knows the rules of logic; and not a scrap of writing was to be found.

H. Stevenson, Lecture on Mormonism . . . (1839), 12.

It is a well-known fact that the Indians had no books, and among the twenty millions, who were found scattered about through the three Americas when Columbus made his discovery four hundred years ago, none of them could read, and consequently they had no literature to transmit.

W. B. Godbey, Mormonism (1920), 1.

The evidence for Pre-Columbian writing and even books in Pre-Columbian Mesoamerican is plentiful and dates back to Pre-Classic times which would be contemporary with the Book of Mormon. John Sorenson provides a very detailed summary of the evidence for this in his essay, "The Book of Mormon as a Mesoamerican Record" in Book of Mormon Authorship Revisited (1997) 391-521. See also chapter 11, "Records and Writing Systems" in his recent work, Mormon's Codex: An Ancient American Book (2013), 184-232.

In their work, The Art of the Maya Scribe, Michael Coe and Justin Kerry suggest that such books may date back to Olmec times.

An intriguing piece of evidence  suggests such a possibility: incised on the sides of a white ware ceramic bowl in the collection of the Snite Museum at Notre Dame University are the representations of two objects which appear to be side views of codices, each bound with a ribbon or cord. Although this vessel has no archaeological context, it is identical in style to Olmec pottery made at the site of Tlapacoya, in the Valley of Mexico, during the early Pre-Classic, and is thus contemporary with the apogee of San Lorenzo. If so, then the screenfold codex made from amate barks coated with gesso may already have been present in Mesoamerican culture as early as 1200 BC. ( Coe and Kerr, The Art of the Maya Scribe, 63).

Thursday, April 2, 2015

"To be learned is good if we hearken unto the counsel of God"

Some wise Apostolic counsel for Latter-day Saint scholars from Elders Boyd K Packer, Neal A. Maxwell and  Dallin H. Oaks, courtesy of my friend and colleague John Gee.