Friday, August 30, 2013

Ore in Old World Bountiful (Howlers # 20)

Although the territory is one that in expanse is comparable to that portion of the United States lying between the Mississippi River and the Atlantic Ocean, yet in all that range of territory there has been no metal discovered that would be suitable for ship construction, except in the central part of the Sinaitic peninsula, either of which is hundreds of miles distant from the reputed spot where the vessel was built. And this fact goes far to strengthen the oft repeated assertion that the `author and proprietor’ of the Book of Mormon was illiterate.

     Samuel Traum, Mormonism Against Itself, 1910, 98.

Nephi indicates that after his family's arrival at Bountiful that the Lord commanded him to build a ship. "And I said: Lord, whither shall I go that I may find ore to molten, that I may make tools to construct the ship after the manner which thou hast shown unto me. And it came to pass that the Lord told me wither I should go to find ore, that I might make tools (1 Nephi 17:9-10).

I love the example of Nephi's faith. He does not ask the Lord to do that which he could do himself. Nephi is willing to work and make tools if he can only find the materials to do so.

The passage suggests that ore resources may not have been abundant, but that they were available nearby. This appears to fit the the Dhofar region in southern Oman, the proposed region for Old World Bountiful. Research, sponsored by Brigham Young university and FARMS over the last two decades has yielded evidence for iron ore that could have been used to make Nephi's tools, which you can read about here and here.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Another Preview of Mormon's Codex

The Maxwell Institute Blog has provided another brief preview from John L. Sorenson's forthcoming book, Mormon's Codex: An Ancient American Book on the subject of Wine in the Book of Mormon which readers can access here.

Monday, August 26, 2013

Hyrum and Lucy Mack Smith1838 Testimonies of the Book of Mormon Plates and the Breastplate (Historical Documents)

I have not heard but one sermon since we have been in the place, and that by hyrum Smith as he was moving to Missouri [.] he tarried with us a little while [.] his discourse was beautiful [.] we was talking about the Book of Mormon which he is one of the witnesses [.] he said he had but too [two] hands and too [two] eyes [.] he said he had seene the plates with his eyes and handled them with his hands and he saw a brest plate and he told how it wass maid [.] it was fixed for the brest of a man with a holer [hollow or concave] stomack and too [two] pieces upon eatch side with a hole throu them to put in a string to tye <it> on but that wass not so good gold as the plates for they was pure [.] why i write this is because they dispute the Book so much. I lived by his Mother and and [she] was wone [one] of the finest of wimen [.] always helping them that stood in need [.] she told me the [w]hole story [.] the plates wass in the house and some times in the woods for eight months and on account of people trying to get them [.] they had to hide them [.] wonce [once] they had these under the hearth [.] they took up the brick and put them in and put the brick back [.] the old lady told me this hur self with tears in hur eyes, and they ran down her cheeks too [.] she put hur hand upon her stomack and said she [ha]s the peace of god that rested upon us all that time [.] she said it wass a heaven below [.] I axter [asked her] if she saw the plates [.] she said no it wass not for hur to see them but she hefted and handled them and I believed all she said for I lived by hur eight months and she was wone [one] of the best of wimen [.]

[From Sally Parker to John Kempton, 26 August, 1838, In Private Possession, Microfilm in LDS Family History Library, Salt Lake City].

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Popularity Statistics

Based on conference talks of the last several decades, the following are the most popular, that is most cited, chapters in the Book of Mormon:

2 Nephi 2 (522 citations)
Moroni 10 (400 citations)
Moroni 7 (399 citations)
3 Nephi 11 (369 citations)
2 Nephi 9 (339 citations)
Alma 34 (332 citations)
Alma 5 (330 citations)
3 Nephi 27 (314 citations)
Mosiah 3 (305 citations)
Mosiah 4 (301 citations)
2 Nephi 31 (281 citations)
2 Nephi 28 (244 citations)
Mosiah 18 (233 citations)
Mosiah 2 (227 citations)
Ether 12 (220 citations)
Alma 42 (209 citations)

If, looking over the list, you cannot remember why a particular chapter is on this list, perhaps it is time to refresh your memory.

Friday, August 23, 2013

Limitations of Human Knowledge

I am often reminded of King Benjamin's counsel to his people which is a reminder to me of the limitation and imperfections of human knowledge:

Believe in God; believe that he is, and that he created all things, both in heaven and in earth; believe that he has all wisdom, and all power, both in heaven and in earth; believe that man doth not comprehend all things which the Lord can comprehend (Mosiah 4:9).

Robert Jastrow in his interesting book, God and the Astronomers observes:

When an astronomer writes about God, his colleagues assume he is either over the hill or going bonkers. In my case it should be understood from the start that I am an agnostic in religious matters. However, I am fascinated by some strange developments going on in astronomy--partly because of their religious implications . . . . Consider the enormity of the problem. Science has proven that the Universe exploded into being at a certain moment. It asks, What cause produced this effect? Who or what put the matter and energy into the universe? Was the Universe created out of nothing, or was it gathered together out of pre-existing materials? And science cannot answer these questions, because, according to the astronomers, in the first moments of its existence the Universe was compressed  to an extraordinary degree, and consumed by the heat of a fire beyond human imagination . . . . The scientist's pursuit of the past ends in the moment of creation. This is an exceedingly strange development . . . . For the scientist who has lived by his faith in the power of reason, the story ends like a bad dream. He has scaled the mountains of ignorance; he is about to conquer the highest peak; as he pulls himself over the final rock, he is greeted by a band of theologians who have been sitting there for centuries [From Robert Jastrow, God and the Astronomers, 1978, 11, 114-16].

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Perceptions of Early Christians, Mormons, and the Book of Mormon

[From Joseph  J. Walsh, "On Christian Atheism," Vigiliae Christianae 45 (1991): 255-77].

Joseph Walsh discusses the accusation that early Christians were atheists, an accusation that may puzzle many Christians today. Much of this, he writes can be attributed to simple ignorance. He writes:

Clearly there was a lack of accurate information concerning Christianity, and many pagans had not yet made the fundamental distinctions about the Christians. But as the number of Christians grew and proselytization constantly brought Christianity to the attention of the pagan population, the Roman world became better acquainted with Christian beliefs and practices. Eventually everyone knew some Christians and apostates who could testify in word and deed to the falsehood of the scurrilous accusations. Non-Christians would discover that exotic libertine sects (to the extent that they existed) formed a small minority and were execrated more by mainstream Christians than by the pagan community. The tenacity of these charges, current long after they ought to have been dispelled, testifies to their significance and to the power of our second factor: pagan hatred for the Christians (Walsh, 265).

Walsh also writes:

Some Americans who have never read the Book of Mormon and have virtually no knowledge of Mormon theology nurse a powerful hatred towards the religion. Perceptions and impressions of Mormon abstemiousness, proselytizing, prosperity, self-righteousness, cliquishness, political conservatism, and bigamy arouse this animosity. So too loathing of Christians is to be explained  by a melange of characteristics which irritated and affronted pagans, although many of Christianity's enemies had little knowledge of the new sect's message (Walsh, 268).

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Howler's Index

An index to the various howlers has been posted as a separate page. It is organized both alphabetically by subject and by book in the Book of Mormon.

Finding Answers to Book of Mormon Questions: An Anecdote on John L. Sorenson

[From Truman G. Madsen Lecture, FARMS Evening of Excellence” Dinner, August 24, 1990, Provo, Utah].

I don’t want to embarrass John Sorenson, who is here tonight, but some years ago, a friend of ours who is in Arizona called and said “I’m bringing a fire-breathing non-Mormon up to campus, having promised him that he can talk to you.” That’s fine. So they came. This man, it turned out, had his own anti-Mormon bookstore. And it was massive, almost like a pornography factory, and as you came in, it was absolutely loaded with anti-Mormon literature. They also had booths where if a Mormon came in, they would take you in and debrief you. I’ve never known a more antagonistic personality, but one of the troubles was that he was also radically misinformed. As Josh Billings said, “It wasn’t his ignorance, it was all the things he knew that weren’t true.” To be very candid, I got no where with him, we just did not communicate, but he had heard some hearsay about one John Sorenson, and after a futile evening, he asked if he could meet him. That was arranged. Now, I’ll condense, but John took the trouble, later, after really a very favorable conversation, to answer a whole list of objections that this man had, not just to the Book of Mormon, but to a whole variety of other things. John took the time to take them, one by one, and on a tape, responded in his careful, objective way. Well, the man will never be a Mormon, I predict, in the foreseeable future: but he closed down his anti-Mormon store, and said of John, “There is one guy I can talk to.” What John did there, in part, is now part of a book, and the book was published by FARMS [An Ancient American Setting for the Book of Mormon. Deseret Book and FARMS, 1985], and I cannot describe to you how important such things are.

Now, twenty-eight years after the publication of An Ancient American Setting, in September, Deseret Book and the Neal A. Maxwell Institute for Religious Scholarship will publish Mormon's Codex: An Ancient American Book, which represents the culmination of decades of research on the Book of Mormon as an ancient Mesoamerican record.

The Maxwell Institute Blog has a teaser on this. Mormon's Codex will prove to be a benchmark in Book of Mormon scholarship for many years to come.

Monday, August 19, 2013

“It’s Still Not Too Late”: The Book of Mormon Awaits!

[From Hugh Nibley to La Mar Peterson, 17 July, 1961. Courtesy of Boyd Peterson].

Dear La Mar,

That name rings bells – my earliest childhood memory, listening to La Mar play his Andantino; he died in wretched poverty – was he a great organist? Anyway it’s lucky your wrote me when you did. It is still not too late; the Lord has extended the day of our probation: you would be insane to waste this priceless reprieve & you could still be one of the few really happy men on the earth, but you’ll have to stop being a damned fool. I could find as many faults as you do without ½ trying, but a committee of characters like us couldn’t produce the B. of Mormon in 140 years. Why do you worry so much about what other people think? They don’t know anything about it. Ask the Lord for a change!

Yours Truly
H. Nibley

Sunday, August 18, 2013

It Came to Pass in Moroni

Years ago I read an observation that Moroni never uses the phrase "it came to pass." The individual seemed to think that it was not part of Moroni's style. This is not quite true.

The phrase "it came to pass" never appears in the book of Moroni, but Moroni uses it elsewhere in his writings, in Mormon 8:2 for example.

In the Book of Mormon, the phrase "it came to pass" appears only in historical contexts. The phrase "it shall come to pass" occurs only in prophetic contexts. By the time that the book of Moroni comes, Moroni has narrated all the history he cares to. The wars of the wicked who are not his people are no longer of much concern. Instead he tells about various facets of the Nephite church and how it worked and what the ordinances were like. Then he includes a sermon and two letters from his father, and finally concludes with some observations for a future day. These require no historical narrative and present no reason to use the phrase "it came to pass." That, and not some idiosyncrasy of Moroni's style accounts for its absence in the book of Moroni.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Feminized Courage and other Gender Ideas from the Book of Mormon

[The following is cross posted with permission from Morgan Dean].

In one of my more sarcastic moments I thought I should write some sort of feminist study of the Book of Mormon. But the more I started thinking about the topic the more I realized how fruitful it could be.

Whore Imagery:

In both Nephi’s visions (1 Nephi 14:12) and in a talk from Alma the Younger to his son there is a discussion of whores and harlots.(Alma 39: 3, 11) The sexual impurity contrasts with the laws of purity that described by John Welch.[1] He cites scriptures in the Law of Moses about being ritually pure (Deuteronomy 23:9; Joshua 3:5) and Book of Mormon verses with related concepts. These include Captain Moroni insisting that his soldiers not “fall into transgression,” (Alma 46:22) and the exceeding faith and purity of the Stripling Warriors. (Alma 53:21; 57:26) One of the central promises of the Book of Mormon concerns those that prosper for keeping commandments. Hence sexual impurity would stand as a significant loss of virtue and strength.

A Women’s Tale:

In the very beginning of the story, in Mosiah 9:2 Zeniff has to relate the sad tale of civil war and strife to the new widows. Before facing battle Zeniff hid his women and children in the wilderness. (Mosiah 10:9) Underlining the importance of sexual purity and honoring covenants, one of the first things King Noah does is begin take many wives and concubines. ( Mosiah 11:2) The soldiers of King Noah were forced to leave behind their women and children. (Mosiah 19:11) These soldiers were so angry they rebelled and burned King Noah at the stake. (Mosiah 19:19-20) The remaining soldiers that didn’t flee with King Noah put their women in front of their army to mollify the Lamanite force. (Mosiah, 19:13) (That tactic worked which raises all sorts of questions.) In Mosiah 20:1-5 the priests of King Noah abduct Lamanite daughters. (In chapter two of my book I suggest this is an early version of bride stealing- see also Helaman 11:33.) The people of Limhi are blamed and then attacked and they fought with extra vigor for their women and children. (Mosiah 20: 11) (This of course, predates the famous Title of Liberty, and also underscores the same tactic used by Mormon, Mormon 2:23-24) And towards the end of the story in Mosiah 21:17 we find so many widows that the remaining men had to support them.

Upon closer reflection it seems the fate of women and children are closely intertwined with the entire story of the people of Zeniff. Their inclusion accounts for motivation of many of the actors, adds pathos to the major events, and makes this one of the more inclusive and humanistic accounts in the Book of Mormon. This is so intriguing I will likely transform this into a full paper.

Masculine Courage?

The famous Stripling Warriors often give credit to their mothers for their victory. (Alma 56: 47-48) What is interesting is this feminized origin of martial bravery. Many narratives would place the origins of courage in a father based setting. Perhaps the warriors learned courage from hunting with their fathers, (see Enos 3) or from a campaign on which they accompanied their fathers as children. But here they learned battlefield courage from their mothers. This could represent the somewhat unique situation where their fathers refused to take up arms. So the Stripling Warriors had little chance to witness combat from their fathers. Or this could be an intriguing lesson from Mormon. It could act as a subversive teaching that undercuts the idea that fighting is exclusively man’s business. One of my favorite Disney songs is “Be a Man” from Mulan, since by the end of the movie the soldiers are dressed like women and following the lead of the female protagonist. The reference to mothers could also undermine the idea that people need to fight in the first place. After all, the pertinent teaching here is a trust in God, which is similar to idea of surrendering our lives, and control of our lives, to the care of Heavenly Father found in step three of the LDS recovery program. (See also Alma 61:12-13)

Token of Bravery:

In one of the last chapters of Moroni we read about the horrible treatment of women and children in probably the most graphic verses in all of scripture. The Nephite women and children are held captive by the Lamanites and forced to eat the flesh of their slain husbands or fathers. While the Lamanite women are captured, raped, and then eaten ravenously as a token of bravery. (Moroni 9:8-10) The phrase, token of bravery is interesting and makes me wonder what other tokens of bravery they had. I know for example that many of the elite Aztecs wore the bones of their dead enemy, and rather colorful clothes. The word token is also associated with the temple, so I wonder if this is some sort of perverse ceremony that took place in the corrupted Nephite temples. Sacrifices to the gods were a part of pre-battle rituals of Mesoamerica. So if the Nephites had apostatized to the God of War, and we know that a warlike cult from Teotihuacan (modern Mexico city) was spreading throughout Mesoamerica at this time, it would make sense that a brutal act of conquest against women would satisfy that false God. It would also act as almost the exact opposite of the Laws of Purification expected of God’s people. This works thematically too, since the last chapter exhorts the readers to study the book, remember God’s mercy,(Moroni 10:3) and then apply Christ’s saving power in their lives. (Moroni 10: 32-33) Much like the book Hosea in the Bible, that uses an unfaithful and whoring wife to highlight the strength of God’s covenants, the depravity of chapter nine could serve to highlight the sanctifying and saving power of Christ in chapter ten.

As you can see, a study of women and their associations with sex raise a host of interesting issues that would enhance our understanding of the Book of Mormon. These are a few preliminary ideas and essentially little more than a brainstorming session but I look forward to presenting these ideas in greater detail.


[1] John Welch, "Law and War in the Book of Mormon," in Warfare and The Book of Mormon, Stephen Ricks, William Hamblin eds. (Provo, Salt Lake City: FARMS, Deseret Book, 1991).

By Morgan Deane, cross-posted from Warfare and the Book of Mormon.

Monday, August 12, 2013

Eat This: Logistics in the Book of Mormon

[Morgan Deane hosts an excellent blog Warfare and the Book of Mormon. The following is cross posted with his permission].

Mormon doesn’t include many details in his narrative of the destruction of the Nephites, his most frequent refrain is that he doesn't want to dwell on the war they are losing; but in a letter to his son we do get an interesting tidbit. Moroni 9:16-

And again, my son, there are many widows and their daughters who remain in Sherrizah; and that part of the provisions which the Lamanites did not carry away, behold, the army of Zenephi has carried away, and left them to wander whithersoever they can for food; and many old women do faint by the way and die.
This verse is intriguing for several reasons. I first thought of it in response to a critic attempting to describe how logistical problems of feeding groups as large as the quarter million mentioned in chapter six would be impossible and lead to starvation. According to his logic therefore the Book of Mormon was obviously a fiction from Smith’s mind.[1] So while the account was rather brief, in one of the most detailed letters we do see examples of logistical problems that led to combat over limited provisions and starving civilians.[2] Of course, chapter 9 also mentions acts of cannibalism on both sides, so the assumption that they were living on a normal diet, and would need the normal amounts of food listed in such places as Alexander the Great and the Logistics of the Macedonian Army, Supplying War, and even Aztec Warfare wouldn’t apply in this situation.[3] On top of this, the prisoners taken by the Lamanites were only fed the flesh of their relatives. (Moroni 9:8) So what we have here could be the practical implications of excessive war in addition to spiritual decay.

Moreover, I’ve often compared the large numbers in the Book of Mormon to the Chinese War of the Eight Princes. Unsurprisingly, their bloody war featuring massive numbers of people and the end of a nation also featured cannibalism. As I wrote in chapter one of my upcoming book (highlights added):

The Princes of the Jin dynasty laid waste to the rival cities. The citizens in and around the capital city of Luoyang were almost continuously looted, raided, starved, eaten, conscripted and attacked by Chinese and barbarian forces until one of the largest cities of the 3rd century world and most prosperous regions was desolate. The city of Luoyang had an estimated 600,000 people, and the army may have had as many as 700,000 people at the start of the war. And even suggested peace plans and the heads of rival generals couldn’t stay the slaughter.

And contemporary and later Chinese historians recorded:

By the [end of the war] trouble and disturbances were very widespread….many suffered from hunger and poverty. People were sold [as slaves]. Vagrants became countless. In the [provinces around the capital] there was a plague of locusts…Virulent disease accompanied the famine. Also the people were murdered by bandits. There rivers were filled with floating corpses; bleached bones covered the fields…There was much cannibalism. Famine and pestilence came hand in hand.
The verse also mentions several armies. The Lamanites are naturally listed. But then he mentions the army of Zenephi. This doesn’t seem like a Lamanite army or Mormon wouldn’t have listed it right after them. So it is either an independent army from another power, or a Gadianite army. Mormon uses the term “my army is weak” in the next verse and laments that he could no longer enforce his commands. So we may infer that he commanded that the widows, and civilians in general be protected and provided with food. But the Nephite army led by Zenephi disobeyed those commands and took the supplies they needed. (17-18)

Notice also, how close this commander’s name is very similar to Nephi. A brief search of the term suggests it is a hybrid Egyptian and Hebrew name meaning, “one of Nephi.” But given this is an apostate general I like the Hebrew term that means “one of lighting.”

Strategically this implies that the Nephites were pressed on several fronts. All the armies were close to the tower of Sherrizah, but Mormon could not reach it. So the Lamanite army occupied what is called the central position. This allowed the Lamanites to shift and mass their forces between the army of Mormon and that of Zenephi as necessary. While the Nephites armies would each have to attack on their own. Since Zenephi is not following the orders of Mormon it is unlikely that would work. Napoleons early campaigns in Italy, and Stonewall Jackson at the battles of Cross Keys and Port Republic used this to maneuver to great effect.[4],_1862.png

Mormon also mentioned that he lost several choice men in battle. These could be previously loyal commanders of other armies. Or it could be sub commanders in his army. Again using the American Civil War and Napoleonic Wars, as the war dragged on the brilliant commanders like Lee and Napoleon increasingly had to rely on less capable and less trustworthy generals. This trend could only have been worse in an ancient society, and one like the Nephites where I’ve argued before that they were only a dominant city state of a coalition than a large hegemonic power like the Romans.[5]

Finally, we realize more about Mormon as a man. He cares deeply about his people, and the only details of battle he gives are the loss of righteous men, the horrible treatment of prisoners by forces on both sides, and the suffering of widows. While he was a commander capable of earning the respect of his people and was given leadership at a young age. He cared more about the spiritual welfare of his people. Given the horrors he witnessed and constant fighting it is amazing he held to a belief and hope in Christ. While all of my strategizing is good, it is better that we remember the struggle that Mormon and Moroni truly cared about, the salvation of their brethren. Thus a nuanced and detailed analysis of the Book of Mormon helps us understand its many dimensions, but also gives us additional context and a deeper understanding of its primary mission. Thanks for reading.
[1]This is my best representation of the argument. Arguments from critics often lack detailed reasoning, have poor grammar, and often simply want to score rhetorical points, to the point that I have to fill in the blanks the best that I can. Ironically, they still accuse me of being the brainwashed idiot.
[2] This has important anthropological implications as well, since fighting over limited resources is one of the reasons given for conflict in society. 
[3] Engles, D. W. (1978). Alexander the Great and the Logistics of the Macedonian Army. Berkely: Univeristy of California Press. Creveld, M. V. (1977). Supplying War: Logistics from Wallenstein to Patton. London: Cambridge University Press.  Hassig, R. (1988). Aztec Warfare: Imperial Expansion and Political Control. Norman, London: University of Oklahoma Press.
[4] I’m glad my Master’s Thesis on Stonewall Jackson is still useful.
[5] This thought is expanded upon in chapter two of my upcoming book.

By Morgan Deane, cross-posted from Warfare and the Book of Mormon.

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Book of Mormon Word Usage: Trouble

The word trouble occurs sixteen times in the Book of Mormon, seven times as a noun and nine times as a verb.

As a noun, trouble is sometimes paired with "care and sorrow" (Alma 40:12), and more often in the plural with trials and afflictions (Mosiah 29:33; Alma 36:3, 27; 38:5). In the Isaiah passages, it is paired with "darkness, [and] dimness of anguish" (2 Nephi 18:22), where it translates the Hebrew ṣārāh, which is the feminine abstract of ṣār, meaning enemy, oppressor, persecutor, and would thus mean something like enmity, oppression, persecution.

The root of the Book of Mormon use of the word seems to be the verbal form, which is used in the sense of the earliest English use of the word meaning "To put into a state of (mental) agitation or disquiet; to disturb, distress, grieve, perplex" (according to the Oxford English Dictionary). The Book of Mormon expression reflecting this most clearly is "I have been somewhat troubled in mind" (Alma 22:3) or "Alma was troubled in his spirit" (Mosiah 26:10; cf. 26:13). It is used differently in such places as "being troubled no more for a time with their enemies." (Alma 3:24), but the main usage is being vexed in mind.

Various things could cause people to be troubled. One might, for example be "troubled because of the wickedness of the people of the house of Israel." (3 Nephi 17:14), or one could be troubled with "all the trials and troubles of a righteous king" (Mosiah 29:33). But one can also be troubled with intellectual issues, such as when Lamoni's father was "troubled in mind because of the generosity and the greatness of the words of thy brother, Ammon" (Alma 22:3). Alma's son was troubled by a number of intellectual issues which either were caused or exacerbated by his sins. His father sought to allay the intellectual issues, but counseled: "I desire that ye should let these things trouble you no more, and only let your sins trouble you, with that trouble which shall bring you down unto repentance." (Alma 42:29).

Productive trouble leads to revelation or repentance.

Friday, August 9, 2013

Scimitars in Mesoamerica in Book of Mormon Times (Howlers # 19)

Part 3

Hassig suggests that the short sword is a Post-classic Toltec invention and was unknown in Mesoamerica before this time (Hassig, War and Society in Ancient Mesoamerica, 112-13), however, curved scimitar-like long daggers are portrayed in the hands of warriors at Teotihuacan circa A.D. 450 (Arthur G. Miller, The Mural Painting of Teotihuacan. Washington D.C.: Dumbarton Oaks, 1973, 85, 116, 162). A monument from Tonina, Mexico, which dates to A.D. 613, shows a noble posing with a curved “scimitar-like flint blade” (Mary Miller and Simon Martin, Courtly Art of the Ancient Maya. New York: Thames and Hudson, 2004, 188, plate 106). A figurine found today in the Museo Regional de Campeche, which most likely dates from this period, portrays a warrior wearing a death mask who grasps an unhappy captive in his right hand and a curved weapon in his raised left hand with which he is about to decapitate his victim. The weapon in the figure’s left hand has been called an ax by some scholars, but given its curved form it could just as well be a scimitar (Linda Schele, Hidden Faces of the Maya, 1997, 100-101).

       Similar blades are portrayed in classic and preclassic Maya art from Comitan, Loltun Cave, Izapa,and La Venta, Mexico, and at Kaminaljuyu in highland Guatemala (Roper, “Swords and `Cimeters’ in the Book of Mormon,” 35-40).  Curved scimitar-like blades are also portrayed on several monuments at the Olmec site of San Lorenzo in southern Veracruz (1500-900 BC). Ann Cyphers, currently the leading archaeologist at the site observes that Monuments 78 and 91 portray weapons resembling the Aztec macuahuitl, except that they are curved. Monument 78 “has a curved body with eleven triangular elements encrusted in the sides” (Ann Cyphers, Escultura Olmeca de San Lorenzo Tenochtilan. Mexico: Universidad Nacional Autonoma de Mexico, 2004, 145).  Monument 112 portrays a figure with a curved dagger in his belt (Cyphers, 190, figure 126). Monument 91 also displays “an object in the form of a curved macana with 14 triangular points” including one on the tip (Cyphers, 159). These weapons appear to represent variants of the same curved “short sword” weapon known from later postclassic art. This suggests that Mesoamerican scimitars were not a late innovation, but were known from preclassic times as the Book of Mormon text suggests.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Mesoamerican Scimitars (Howlers # 19)

Part 2

Ross Hassig has identified a curved weapon portrayed in Postclassic Mesoamerican art which he calls a “short sword”  (Ross Hassig, War and Society in Ancient Mesoamerica. Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1992, 112-13;  “Weaponry,” in Susan Toby Evans and David L. Webster, eds., Archaeology of Ancient Mexico and Central America: An Encyclopedia. New York and London: Garland Publishing, 2001, 810-11; Mexico and the Spanish Conquest. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 2006, 23-24; “La Guerra en la Antigua Mesoamerica,” Arqueologia Mexicana 14/84 Marzo-Abril 2007: 36. See also Esperanza Elizabeth Jimenez Garcia, “Iconografia guerrera en la escultura de Tula, Hidalgo,” Arqueologia Mexicana 14/84 Marzo-Abril 2007: 54-59).

       It was a curved weapon designed for slashing and consisted of a flat hard wooden base approximately 50 cm. (20 inches) long into which were set obsidian blades along both edges. “It was an excellent slasher and yet the forward curve of the sword retained some aspects of a crusher when used curved end forward” (Hassig, War and Society in Ancient Mesoamerica, 113). The lightness of the short sword enabled the soldier to carry more than one weapon. “Soldiers could now provide their own covering fire with atlatls while advancing and still engage in hand-to-hand combat with short swords once their closed with the enemy” (Hassig, Mexico and the Spanish Conquest, 23-24).

This weapon or something very similar may have been used until shortly before the arrival of the Spanish in some sectors of Mesoamerica. Huastec engravings on shell show “a sort of curved club, apparently of wood and with a cutting edge” which may have been a similar weapon (Guy Stresser-Pean, “Ancient Sources on the Huasteca,” in Handbook of Middle American Indians 11 1971, 595). Hassig reported that short swords are portrayed in the hands of warriors on a Aztec monument from the ceremonial center at Tenochtitlan and took this as evidence that the weapon was either “still in use or at least remembered as a functional weapon” at that time (Hassig, War and Society in Ancient Mesoamerica, 248, note 8).  Reportedly among the weapons used by the ancestors of Guatemalan peoples were “certain scimitars they say were made of flint” (“Descripcion de la provincia de Zapotitlan y Suchitepequez,” Sociedad de Geografia e Historia de Guatemala, Anales 28 1955: 74).  Another tradition relates that the Pre-Columbian ancestral heroes of certain west Mexican tribes taught their people to make fire and “gave them also machetes or cutlasses of iron” (Robert H. Barlow, “Straw Hats,” Tlalocan 2/1 1945: 94). Interestingly, if credited, this may suggest that pieces of iron may have sometimes been used as scimitar or machete-like blades rather than obsidian. In any case, this weapon seems to be a reasonable candidate for the Book of Mormon scimitar (William J. Hamblin and A Brent Merrill first suggested this correlation in “Notes on the Cimeter (Scimitar) in the Book of Mormon,” Warfare in the Book of Mormon, 361. For a more detailed discussion see Matthew Roper, “Swords and `Cimeters’ in the Book of Mormon,” Journal of Book of Mormon Studies 8/1 1999: 39-40, 41-43; Roper, “Mesoamerican `Cimeters’ in Book of Mormon times,” Insights: An Ancient Window 28/1 2008: 2-3).

Monday, August 5, 2013

Word Index

I have put together an index of discussions of Book of Mormon word usage that have appeared on this blog and elsewhere. It is available as a separate page and also here.

Ancient Near Eastern Scimitars (Howlers # 19)

Part 1

A Cimeter (more commonly spelled scimitar) is a sword  “having a curved blade with the edge on the convex side” or “something resembling a scimitar (as in sharpness or shape); esp: a long-handled billhook” (Webster’s Third International Dictionary of the English Language Unabridged 1993). Critics have long claimed that the scimitar was unknown before the rise of Islam and that references to this weapon in the Book of Mormon is anachronistic.

I might urge the utterance of ideas and the use of words which these ancient writers, if genuine, could not have known, as an argument against the authenticity of the book. Such as . . . . Cimeters.”

John Hyde Jr., Mormonism: Its Leaders and Designs (1857), 234-35.

The book contains evidence of its modern origin . . . . The cimeter, a Turkish weapon, not known until after the time of Mohommed.

Samuel Hawthornthwaite, Adventures Among the Mormons (1857), 69.

The use of the word `scimitar’ does not occur in other literature before the rise of Mohammedan power and apparently that peculiar weapon was not developed until long after the Christian era. It does not, therefore, appear likely that the Nephites or the Lamanites possessed either the weapon or the term.

W. E. Riter to James E. Talmage, August 22, 1921.

Cimeters were curved swords used by the Persians, Arabs, and Turks, half a world away from America and appearing a thousand years too late in history to enter the picture.

Gordon Fraser, Joseph Smith and the Golden Plates (1964), 58.

Scimitars are unknown until the rise of the Muslim faith (after 600 A. D.)

James Spencer, The Disappointment of B.H. Roberts (1991), 4.

There are other anachronisms such as . . . cimeter, the latter presumably an Arabian scimitar that "did not originate before the rise of Islam" more than a millennium  after Lehi.

Earl Wunderli, An Imperfect Book: What the Book of Mormon Tells Us About Itself (2013), 36.

We now know that scimitars of various forms were known in the Ancient Near East as early as 2000 B.C. (Yigael Yadin, The Art of Warfare in Biblical Lands. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1963, 1: 10-11, 78-79, 172, 204-207; William J. Hamblin, Warfare in the Ancient Near East to 1600 BC. London and New York: Rutledge, 2006, 66-71, 279-80). They are subsequently portrayed in martial art from Mesopotamia and Egypt. Rare archaeological specimens of this weapon have also been found. The cutting edge was usually on the convex side, however some were double-edged such as the “curved sword sharpened on two sides” discovered at Shechem which dates to 1800 B.C. (“Arms and Weapons,” in Charles F. Pfeiffer, ed., The Biblical World: A Dictionary of Biblical Archaeology. New York: Bonanza Books, 1966, 93). “Ancient representations show mostly the employment of the inner blade; that of the outer one is however also perhaps to be found. Preserved oriental scimitars have the blade outside” (G. Molin, “What is a Kidon?” Journal of Semitic Studies 1/4 October 1956: 336).

In the biblical account of David’s confrontation with Goliath the Philistine champion is said to be well armored. In addition to his spear he had both a hereb sword with a sheath (1 Samuel 17:51) and a kidon which he carries between his shoulders (1 Samuel 17:6). The term kidon was once a mystery, but texts from the Dead Sea Scrolls suggest that it was some kind of sword and is now widely acknowledged to have been a scimitar (Paul Y. Hoskisson, “Scimitars, Cimeters! We have scimilars! Do we need another cimeter?” in Warfare in the Book of Mormon, 352-59. G. Molin, “What is a Kidon?” 334-37; Roland de Vaux, Ancient Israel. New York and Toronto: McGraw-Hill, 1965, 1:242). When challenged in 1 Samuel 17:45 David responds to his opponent, “You come against me with a sword [hereb] and spear [hanit] and scimitar [kidon], but I come against you with the name of Yahweh Sabaoth, god of the ranks of Israel” (See P. Kyle McCarter, Jr., 1 Samuel. New York: Doubleday, 1980, 285). Interestingly, as Hoskisson observes, the biblical description in the Hebrew text parallels that in Alma 44:8 in which the Zoramite chieftain carries both a sword and a scimitar (Hoskisson, “Scimitars, Cimeters!" 355).

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Book of Mormon Word Usage: Elect

Interestingly enough, all four uses of the verb elect are found in just two verses in the Book of Mormon, in the prayer uttered every week by the Zoramites:
Holy God, we believe that thou hast separated us from our brethren; and we do not believe in the tradition of our brethren, which was handed down to them by the childishness of their fathers; but we believe that thou hast elected us to be thy holy children; and also thou hast made it known unto us that there shall be no Christ.

But thou art the same yesterday, today, and forever; and thou hast elected us that we shall be saved, whilst all around us are elected to be cast by thy wrath down to hell; for the which holiness, O God, we thank thee; and we also thank thee that thou hast elected us, that we may not be led away after the foolish traditions of our brethren, which doth bind them down to a belief of Christ, which doth lead their hearts to wander far from thee, our God.(Alma 31:16–17)
The verb means to choose which is more common in the Book of Mormon. Its usage in this particular passage would seem to mean that it was used for the Zoramites for a particular meaning. The verb to choose has a Germanic etymology, while the verb to elect comes from Latin. Latin words tend to have a higher register in English than Germanic ones. The use of a higher register comes across as more elitist than using the verb to choose thus reinforcing the snobbery of the Zoramites.

The Zoramites view themselves as elitist because they have been chosen to know "that there shall be no Christ" as opposed to the unwashed masses who are "led away after the foolish traditions of our brethren, which doth bind them down to a belief of Christ." As a result, the Zoramites believed that they were chosen "that we shall be saved, whilst all around us are elected to be cast by thy wrath down to hell."

Interestingly enough, the Zoramites, who were elitist, apparently showed no interest in missionary work.

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Hugh Nibley on the Destruction of Nephite Civilization

Hugh Nibley discussed the steps that led to the destruction of Nephite Civilization:
About two hundred years after Christ visited the people, they became tired of intellectual integrity and self-control and opted to give up the law of consecration. From then on everything went in a fatal declension, each step of which has been duly marked and described in the Book of Mormon.

First they became privatized. They no longer had “their goods and their substance . . . [in] common” (4 Nephi 1:25). Then they became ethnicized as they “taught [their children] to hate” the Nephites and Lamanites they had been playing with (4 Nephi 1:39). Then they became nationalized by serving the careers of ambitious men. Then they become militarized, from the need for large-scale security when mutual trust gave away to self-interest. And they were terrorized as shrewd men saw the advantages of organized crime. Then they became regionalized as people began to form various combinations for protection and profit, entering through business relations with the criminal society and even sharing in their profits. Then they became tribalized as they finally succeeded at the urging of various powerful interests in abolishing the central government completely. Then they became fragmentized into paramilitary groups, wandering bands, family shelters, and so forth. Then they become polarized; to check the general disorder and insecurity, great armies were formed around competent leaders by forced recruitment or conquest. And they became pulverized as the great armies smashed each other and left the land utterly desolate. It is left for a future generation to take the final step and become vaporized. Viewing the state of the land at the American bicentennial, President Spencer W. Kimball declared himself “appalled and frightened” by what he saw, and in this and in his last published address he quoted many passages we have just cited from the Book of Mormon. Now, President Ezra Taft Benson issues an inspired appeal to make the Book of Mormon an object of our most intense concern. Suddenly, we find ourselves there: scenes and circumstances that not long ago seemed as distant as Ninevah and Tyre suddenly come to life about us. Could Joseph Smith have made all this up? (Hugh Nibely, "Last Call: An Apocalyptic Warning from the Book of Mormon," The Prophetic Book of Mormon, Collected Works of Hugh Nibley 8 [Provo, Utah: FARMS, 1989], 530–531).

Mormonism: Not Dead Yet

From Dan Jones, A Review of the Last Lecture of the Rev. E. Roberts, (A Baptist Minister in Rhymni, Against Mormonism(1847)

Now, certainly, we have a right to prophesy a bit about Mormonism, since every contemptible editor, every contemptible preacher, every contemptible shopper, and every contemptible persecutor have tried their hand at it; and here it is: we prophesy the the `Elegies’ written for her, and the `funeral sermons’ prepared for her, are all in vain, and that there will never be a need for them; and time will show still more clearly that, just as surely as she is full of the `strength of eternal life,’ all those who foretell the ruin and death of Mormonism are false prophets. There will be a call for funeral sermons for Mr. Davies from Dowlais, Roberts from Rhymni, Dafydd Lewis, and the Editor of the Star of Gomer, together with all her persecutors, before she dies; yes, even before she shows one sign of illness! Then we shall see who the false prophets really are; by their fruits ye shall know them. This is our prophecy!