Monday, December 30, 2013

Testing Book of Mormon Geography in Malaysia

There are dozens of proposed geographical correlations for the Book of Mormon. Brant Gardner provides a careful, thoughtful and considerate evaluation of a proposed geography that would place the Book of Mormon in Malaysia over at the Interpreter blog. It is worth a read.

Sunday, December 29, 2013

Book of Mormon Word Usage: To Cross Oneself

[This post originally appeared in 2001 and is also published here.]

Book of Mormon Word Usage: To Cross Oneself

Occasionally the Book of Mormon uses an un usual expression for English that calls for greater attention. One example is found in Alma 39:9, where Alma exhorts his son Corianton to “repent and forsake your sins, and go no more after the lusts of your eyes, but cross yourself in all these things; for except ye do this ye can in nowise inherit the kingdom of God. Oh, remember, and take it upon you, and cross yourself in these things.”

The reflexive use of the verb to cross is unusual and awkward in modern English. The usage is also unique in the Book of Mormon, where the word is often used as a transitive verb taking as its object a body of water (1 Nephi colophon; 17:17; Alma 2:34; 16:6; 43:35, 40; 56:25; Ether 2:6, 22, 25; 3:4; 6:3).

Three times the Book of Mormon uses the verb to cross in an entirely different sense. The first is when King Noah’s priests interrogate Abinadi: “They began to question him, that they might cross him, that thereby they might have wherewith to accuse him” (Mosiah 12:19). The second use is when the lawyers of Ammonihah interrogate Amulek: “They began to question Amulek, that thereby they might make him cross his words, or contradict the words which he should speak” (Alma 10:16). The third use is when Nephi, son of Helaman, is accused by the judges of the people of Zarahemla: “They caused that Nephi should be taken and bound and brought before the multitude, and they began to question him in divers ways that they might cross him, that they might accuse him to death” (Helaman 9:19).

In these passages, the verb to cross is used as a synonym for to contradict, a point made explicit in Alma 10:16. All of these passages are in the context of legal interrogation. Alma, having been a judge himself for eight years (Mosiah 29:42–44; Alma 1:10–14; 4:15–20), uses a legal metaphor with his wayward son. He talks about how Corianton had “been guilty of so great a crime” and that his crimes “will stand as a testimony against [him] at the last day.” By repenting and forsaking his sins, Corianton can cross—contradict—the testimony of his crimes. Alma then urges his son “to counsel with [his] elder brothers” and to “give heed to their counsel,” thus using his brothers the way a defendant uses a legal counsel (Alma 39:7–10).

It is interesting to note that although in Joseph Smith’s day one sense of the verb to cross was “to contradict,”1 that usage had been outmoded for more than a century,2 and yet the unfamiliar term is particularly apt in its context. This is an instructive example of how seemingly awkward wording in the Book of Mormon can, upon closer examination of the text itself, prove to be not only correct but also effective and even poetic.


1. Noah Webster, An American Dictionary of the English Language (New York: Converse, 1828), s.v. “cross.”

2. The Oxford English Dictionary (s.v. “cross”) gives “to contradict” as definition 14c and lists that meaning as obsolete since 1702.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Costly Apparel

The Book of Mormon inveighs against "costly apparel" a number of times (Jacob 2:13; Alma 1:6, 27, 32; 4:6; 5:53; 31:28; Helaman 13:28; 4 Nephi 1:24). Any sort of elaboration of the term includes "their ringlets, and their bracelets, and their ornaments of gold, and all their precious things which they are ornamented" (Alma 31:28), "all manner of fine pearls, and of the fine things of the world." (4 Nephi 1:24).

Aztec accounts note the role of merchants and clothing. During the reign of Quaquauhpitzauac, the first king of Tlatilulco,
they engage in trade: they sold only red arara and blue and scarlet parrot feathers.
Under the second ruler, Tlacateotl,
appeared quetzal feathers, [but] not yet the long ones, and troupial and turquoise, and green stones; and capes [and] breech clouts of fine cotton. What was being worn was still all maguey fiber capes, netted capes of maguey fiber, breech clouts, shifts, skirts of maguey fiber.
 Under the third ruler, Quauhtlatoatzin,
appeared gold lip and ear plugs and rings for the fingers -- those called matzatzaztli [or] anillo; and necklaces with radiating pendants, and fine turquoise, and enormous green stones, and long quetzal feathers; and the skins of wild animals; and long troupial feathers, and blue cotinga and red spoonbill feathers.
Under the fourth ruler, Moquiuixtzin,
appeared costly capes - the wonderful red ones, with the wind jewel design; and white duck feather capes; and capes with cup-shaped designs in feathers; and wonderful breech clouts with embroidered ends -with long ends at the extremities of the breech clouts; and embroidered skirts [and] shifts; and capes eight fathoms long of twisted weave; and chocolate. And all [and] everything [already] mentioned- quetzal feathers, gold, green stones, all the precious feathers -at this time increased, augmented even more. (Fray Bernardino de Sahagun, Florentine Codex, Book 9, chapter 1.)
Although the Aztecs are later than the Nephites, they provide an indication of the variety of costly apparel available in Mesoamerica.

The garments for men appear to have been mainly capes and loincloths, with some shifts and skirts. This matches the depictions of Mayan people. The ornamentation consists of metals and precious stones along with feathers from various birds.

These provide an indication of the types of costly apparel that probably would have been available to Nephites and Lamanites in Book of Mormon times.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Book of Mormon Word Usage: Seal You His

This was published in Insights: An Ancient Window 22/1 (2002): 4, but since it is difficult to find, I am reproducing it here:

Book of Mormon Word Usage: "Seal You His"

The verb to seal occurs some 34 times in the Book of Mormon.1 In most of these instances the verb takes (is followed by) a direct object referring to such things as the law, a book, records, words, an account, an epistle, an interpretation, revelation, the truth, and the stone interpreters.2 Twice, however, the verb to seal takes a person as a direct object that is qualified by a possessive pronoun:

Therefore, I would that ye should be steadfast and immovable, always abounding in good works, that Christ, the Lord God Omnipotent, may seal you his, that you may be brought to heaven, that ye may have everlasting salvation and eternal life, through the wisdom, and power, and justice, and mercy of him who created all things, in heaven and in earth, who is God above all. (Mosiah 5:15; emphasis added)

For behold, if ye have procrastinated the day of your repentance even until death, behold, ye have become subjected to the spirit of the devil, and he doth seal you his; therefore, the Spirit of the Lord hath withdrawn from you, and hath no place in you, and the devil hath all power over you; and this is the final state of the wicked. (Alma 34:35; emphasis added)

While use of the term to seal to mean "to mark as one's property, and secure from danger"3 was known in Joseph Smith's day, it was not usually used of persons. What, then, are we to make of the expression "seal you his" in the Book of Mormon? Hebrew seals from before the Babylonian exile (and thus in use during Lehi's time) provide helpful insight. Many of those seals contain a formulaic inscription reading "belonging to," followed by the owner's name.4 To seal a document or an object, a person would wrap string or twine around it, place a daub of mud on the knot, and press the seal into the mud. Affixing this sort of seal marked the object as the possession of the person in whose name it was sealed.

It is this cultural milieu that underlies the seemingly peculiar usage in the Book of Mormon and clarifies its meaning: our actions allow either Christ or the devil to place his seal on us to indicate to whom we belong.


1. Title Page (twice); 1 Nephi 14:26; 2 Nephi 18:16; 26:17; 27:7, 8 (twice), 10 (thrice), 11, 15, 17, 21, 22; 30:3, 17; 33:15; Mosiah 5:15; 17:20; Alma 34:35; Helaman 10:7 (twice); 3 Nephi 3:5; Ether 3:22, 23, 27, 28; 4:5 (thrice); 5:1; Moroni 10:2.

2. See 2 Nephi 18:16 (law); 2 Nephi 27:7, 10, 17, 22 (book); Moroni 10:2 (records); 2 Nephi 27:10, 11, 15 (words); 2 Nephi 26:17; Ether 3:22, 27; 4:5; 5:1 (account); 2 Nephi 3:5 (epistle); Ether 4:5 (interpretation); 2 Nephi 27:10 (revelation); Mosiah 17:20 (truth); Ether 3:23, 28 (stone interpreters).

3. Noah Webster, An American Dictionary of the English Language (New York: S. Converse, 1828), s.v. "seal," definition 8, citing Song of Solomon 4:12: "A garden inclosed is my sister, my spouse; a spring shut up, a fountain sealed."

4. See Nahman Avigad and Bejamin Sass, Corpus of West Semitic Stamp Seals (Jerusalem: The Israel Academy of Sciences and Humanities, The Israel Exploration Society, and The Institute of Archaeology, The Hebrew University of Jerusalem, 1997), 470.

By John Gee

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Book of Mormon Word Usage: Survive

Both uses of the term survive appear in the writings of Mormon. The first instance is in the Words of Mormon:
it is many hundred years after the coming of Christ that I deliver these records into the hands of my son; and it supposeth me that he will witness the entire destruction of my people. But may God grant that he may survive them, that he may write somewhat concerning them, and somewhat concerning Christ (Words of Mormon 1:2)
Here Mormon hopes that his son, Moroni, will outlast the destruction of his people. The second time the term is used is in a similar context though a slightly later date:
And when they had gone through and hewn down all my people save it were twenty and four of us, (among whom was my son Moroni) and we having survived the dead of our people, did behold on the morrow, when the Lamanites had returned unto their camps, from the top of the hill Cumorah, the ten thousand of my people who were hewn down, being led in the front by me. (Mormon 6:11)
Mormon got his desire: his son did outlive the destruction of his people and did write concerning Christ. Elsewhere Mormon explains to his son his rationale:
Behold, thou knowest the wickedness of this people; thou knowest that they are without principle, and past feeling; and their wickedness doth exceed that of the Lamanites.

Behold, my son, I cannot recommend them unto God lest he should smite me.

But behold, my son, I recommend thee unto God, and I trust in Christ that thou wilt be saved; and I pray unto God that he will spare thy life, to witness the return of his people unto him, or their utter destruction; for I know that they must perish except they repent and return unto him. (Moroni 9:20–22)
It may be of some significance that the word survive appears only twice in the Book of Mormon. For the most part, the Nephites were worried about whether they would prosper in the land (e.g. 1 Nephi 4:14) not whether they would survive at all. The term prosper does not occur in either the books of Mormon or Moroni. Neither writer sees it as a viable option for his people. Survival, not prosperity, is their hope and their concern.

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Book of Mormon Word Usage: Wrestle

In Joseph Smith's day, the verb to wrestle meant
To strive with arms extended, as two men, who seize each other by the collar and arms, each endeavoring to throw the other by tripping up his heels and twitching him off his center.
The Book of Mormon, however, has a very different usage for the word.

The word wrestle occurs twice in the Book of Mormon, both times with similar usage. The plainest is in Alma. When Alma preached to the city of Ammonihah,
Alma labored much in the spirit, wrestling with God in mighty prayer, that he would pour out his Spirit upon the people who were in the city; that he would also grant that he might baptize them unto repentance. (Alma 8:10)
The usage in Enos is similar:
 I will tell you of the wrestle which I had before God, before I received a remission of my sins. (Enos 1:2)
Enos then describes how
my soul hungered; and I kneeled down before my Maker, and I cried unto him in mighty prayer and supplication for mine own soul; and all the day long did I cry unto him; yea, and when the night came I did still raise my voice high that it reached the heavens. (Enos 1:4)
So in the Book of Mormon wrestling is always connected with prayer. It is a spiritual rather than a physical struggle.