Thursday, July 23, 2015

"The learned shall not read them" (2 Nephi 27:20)

One morning, several years ago, I had to acquire some materials for a research project I was working on. In company with two friends, I visited a small Salt Lake City bookstore operated by a well-known anti-Mormon couple. The woman, and co-proprietor of this establishment, was friendly and helpful. While there, I had the opportunity to witness and also participate in a most interesting conversation with this woman. During our conversation the question arose as to what, in her view, would constitute acceptable evidence in support of the Book of Mormon. She struggled with this question for several minutes, so we asked if some kind of ancient inscription would do. This would depend, she said. One of my companions then gave her a hypothetical scenario: Let’s suppose non-Mormon archaeologists found an inscription in highland Guatemala dating to the early sixth century B.C. with the name Nephi written in Reformed Egyptian. If verified, would such a find then constitute evidence for the Book of Mormon? Yet our kind host was unwilling to grant that even this would constitute such evidence, allowing only that, “it might be a topic of discussion.” as I left her store it was unclear what if anything would constitute such evidence.

In reflecting on this experience over the years I am reminded of the the Lord's words to a young Joseph Smith. No doubt eager to share the excitement of early sacred experiences with others, the Lord warned, 

“Behold, if they will not believe my words, they would not believe you, my servant Joseph, if it were possible that you should show them all these things which I have committed unto you” (D&C 5:7).

The Scriptures compare Jesus Christ to a stone. For some, that stone is a "sanctuary"--a reliable source of  peace and light to guide and protect those willing to follow the only reliable but narrow way. For others Christ and his teachings become a "stone of stumbling" or even a "rock of offense" (Isaiah 8:14; Matthew 21:42-44). 

Today, the Book of Mormon  fulfills a similar role. It too is a rock--a precious jewel that reflects the light of our Redeemer to the humble seeker of peace in a dark, confused, and troubled world. But it is a rock of offense and stumbling to the self-important, proud, and impatient.The world hates the Book of Mormon, as it hated Christ, because it forces all who learn of it to make a choice. It freely invites and even challenges us to do so.

"And if they are not the words of Christ, judge ye--for Christ will show unto you, with power and great glory, that they are his words, at the last day; and you and I shall stand face to face before his bar; and ye shall know that I have been commanded of him to write these things, notwithstanding my weakness" (2 Nephi 33:11). 

Our reactions to the Book of Mormon manifest what is in our hearts and that which we vainly seek to keep others from knowing. But in the end we can hide nothing from ourselves or from the Lord.

"And whoso knocketh, to him will he open; and the wise, and the learned, and they that are rich, who are puffed up because of their learning, and their wisdom, and their riches--yea they are they whom he despiseth; and save they shall cast these things away, and consider themselves fools before God, and come down in the depths of humility, he will not open unto them. But the things of the wise and the prudent shall be hid from them forever--yea, that happiness which is prepared for the Saints" (2 Nephi 9:42-43).

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Hugh Nibley on John Sorenson's Book

In 1998 John Sorenson's book, Images of Ancient America : Visualizing the Book of Mormon was published by FARMS. This book, now out of print, provides a beautifully illustrated and systematic  treatment of ancient life in Central America (Mesoamerica) and likely connections to the Book of Mormon. 

On January 14, 1999, Hugh Nibley wrote a brief note about this book which was sent to John Sorenson, a hard copy of which I have in my files. "This is the best book I have ever seen on the Book of Mormon," wrote Nibley.  "John Sorenson's book `Images of America' must remain the indispensable handbook for students of the Book of Mormon. The only book of its kind - enlightening and convincing. Who else will ever bring such diligence, knowledge and honesty to the task?

Hugh Nibley 1/14/99

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Scholars are People Too: Attitudes, Assumptions, and Perspectives

“It is a vulgar superstition, now, fortunately being dispelled, that archaeology is an empirical discipline . . . archaeological interpretations are a function not only of the evidence at hand, but also of the ideas and assumptions . . . that the interpreter carries about with him.”

R. B. Trigger, “The Strategy of Iroquoian Prehistory,” Ontario Archaeologist 14 (1970): 30, cited in William N. Irving, “Context and Chronology of Early Man in the Americas,” Annual Review of Anthropology 14 (1985): 529.

“Until recently, archaeologists have largely adhered to the belief that their profession is objective and free of value judgment. This idea is associated with the philosophy of positivism, according to which the physical phenomena of the universe are characterized by inherent immutable features; since the meaning of these qualities should be self-evident to the observer, it can be discovered by the scientist, regardless of his or her personal perspective or inclinations. However . . . it is generally accepted today that science depends for its ultimate authority on the attitude of the scientific community, rather than on a rule-governed method of inquiry.”

Talia Shay, “Israeli Archaeology–Ideology and Practice,” Antiquity 63 (1989): 768.

Monday, July 20, 2015

“Among the Ancestors of the American Indian”: Not a New Idea

The introduction to the Book of Mormon was not a part of the revealed translation of the Book of Mormon by Joseph Smith, but was provided to help orient the reader to the contents of this book of Latter-day scripture. The 1981 version of this introduction described the Lamanites of the Book of Mormon as “the principal ancestors of the American Indians.” In 2004 with the publication of a Doubleday edition of the Book of Mormon in cooperation with the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the introduction contained a minor, but significant revision which has since been added to current Church editions of the book. The Lamanites are now there described as “among the ancestors of the American Indians.” This corrected wording is consistent with the Book of Mormon text, which affirms that Native American peoples are heirs to covenant blessings promised to some of their forefathers, but makes no claim of exclusive or even principal ancestry.

The current wording of the introduction is actually not new, but has been used and approved by earlier Church leaders. In 1954, Elder Richard L. Evans, a member of the Council of the Twelve Apostles wrote an article entitled, “What is a Mormon?” which was published in Look, a popular religious magazine. The articles which was published in the October 5, 1954 issue read as follows:

The Book of Mormon is part of a record, both sacred and secular, of the prophets and peoples who (with some supplementary groups) were ancestors of the American “Indians.”

Richard L. Evans, “What is a Mormon?” Look (October 5, 1954): 68

On February 20, 1955, this article was published in the Wisconsin State Journal with the identical wording (Richard L. Evans, “What is a Mormon?” Wisconsin State Journal (Sunday, February 20, 1955).

In 1957, Leo Rosten, who had edited Look Magazine, published a collection of articles from different religious denominations in the United States and included Even’s article as part of that collection. The 1957 version, however contained a minor, but interesting revision

The Book of Mormon is part of a record, both sacred and secular, of the prophets and peoples who (with some supplementary groups) were among the ancestors of the American “Indians.”

Richard L. Evans, “What is a Mormon?” In Leo Rosten, ed., Religions of America (Melbourne, London, Toronto: Heinemann, 1957), 94.

The Book of Mormon is part of a record, both sacred and secular, of the prophets and peoples who (with some supplementary groups) were among the ancestors of the American “Indians.”

Elder Evans passed away on November 1, 1971.

In 1975 Rosten prepared a new edition of his collection. He requested and received permission to republish Evan’s earlier article. In the introduction he noted, “A few such changes, approved by the First Presidency of the Church, have been included in this version. Where the text is not that of Dr. Evans, the initials [TFP] (The First Presidency) identify it.” (Leo Rosten, ed., Religions of America: Ferment and Faith in An Age of Crisis: A New Guide and Almanac (New York: Simon and Schuster,1975, 186). The phrasing for the relevant passage, however remained unchanged after First Presidency review of the article and read:

The Book of Mormon is part of a record, both sacred and secular, of the prophets and peoples who (with some supplementary groups) were among the ancestors of the American “Indians.”

That wording is essentially found in the introduction to current editions of the Book of Mormon today.

Historically, the idea that Pre-Columbian peoples may have had many other ancestors in addition to those associated with the Book of Mormon has been held by many Latter-day Saints and Church leaders. For more information on this question see Matthew Roper, “Nephi’s Neighbors: Book of Mormon Peoples and Pre-Columbian Populations,” FARMS Review 15/2 (2003): 99-113.

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.