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.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Book of Mormon Word Usage: Yesterday

The term yesterday appears seven times in the Book of Mormon, but its usage is much more restricted than might otherwise be obvious. In the Book of Mormon it always appears in the same phrase: "the same yesterday, today, and forever." There are also a restricted number of things that are the same:
For he [God] is the same yesterday, today, and forever; (1 Nephi 10:18)
I am God; and I am a God of miracles; and I will show unto the world that I am the same yesterday, today, and forever; (2 Nephi 27:23)
I [the Lord your God] do this that I may prove unto many that I am the same yesterday, today, and forever; (2 Nephi 29:9)
And I would exhort you, my beloved brethren, that ye remember that he is the same yesterday, today, and forever, (Moroni 10:19)
For do we not read that God is the same yesterday, today, and forever, and in him there is no variableness neither shadow of changing? (Mormon 9:9)
for the Spirit is the same, yesterday, today, and forever. (2 Nephi 2:4)
Nephite usage was so consistent that the Zoramites even followed it:
thou [Holy God] art the same yesterday, today, and forever; (Alma 31:17)
Nephite usage consistently connects the phrase with arguments that God still does miracles and provides gifts of the Spirit to those who believe in him. The Zoramites, however, used the phrase to argue that there would be no Christ. Instead, they claimed,
we believe that thou art God, and we believe that thou art holy, and that thou wast a spirit, and that thou art a spirit, and that thou wilt be a spirit forever. (Alma 31:15)
In this they rejected the earlier teachings of Abinadi that
God himself shall come down among the children of men, and shall redeem his people. And because he dwelleth in flesh he shall be called the Son of God (Mosiah 15:1–2)
Thus they used a scriptural teaching that God was unchangeable to argue that
there shall be no Christ. (Alma 31:16)
Their reasoning seems to have been that if God was unchangeable, then having been a spirit yesterday, he would still be a spirit today and would be a spirit forever (Alma 31:15). So while the Zoramites concentrated on God's form, the Nephites concentrated on God's power: If God did miracles yesterday, he could still do them today and would be able to do them forever.

The same phrase is used in both cases, applied to the same subject, but understood in a slightly different way made the two groups come to opposite conclusions: one believing there was a Christ and one believing there was not.


Sunday, November 17, 2013

Book of Mormon Word Usage: Fill the Seat of His Father

The expression to fill the seat of his father occurs twice in the Book of Mormon (Alma 50:40; 3 Nephi 6:19). The expression is not biblical and never occurs in the Bible. It seems to be a Mesoamerican expression. As John Sorenson points out:
Epigraphers who have studied lowland Maya inscriptions have identified a glyph that reads as “CHUM-wan (locative)” and means “seated.” Kaplan believes that this manner of representation first occurred at Kaminaljuyu about 150 BC and was transferred to the Maya lowlands not long afterward. So it is of interest to learn that both Pahoran (Alma 50:40) and Lachoneus (3 Nephi 6:19), each a Nephite chief judge (ruler) in his day, “did fill the seat of his father.” Noah, a Zeniffite (i.e., Nephite) king, sat on a throne at an earlier date (Mosiah 11:9), as did later Nephite judges (Alma 60:7, 11, 21).

(John L. Sorenson, Mormon's Codex [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 2013], 371.)

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

A Seer Stone Story

[From Christian Stephansen, "My Life's Experience and History in Religion,"11-13. Unpublished manuscript, copy in the Matthew Roper's possession. The account was written about 1920 at which time the writer would have been 80 years old. I would like to thank John and Carol Tvedtnes for sharing this source with me].

I lived in Salt lake City, Utah on 3rd East between 11th and 12th South. I was in the dairy business. One day in the Spring, I said to my step-daughter, Marie, she was 15 or 16 years old, "Will you please deliver the milk today I have something to do." She delivered the milk. When she came home she unhooked the horse and put the horse in the street where there was good grass in the road between 9th and 12th South. In the afternoon we had to have the horse to take the milk to town. I hunted for the horse; No! I couldn't find the horse. I hunted again the next day, and couldn't find it. I was in great trouble. The milk had to be delivered twice a day in town, that was the third day. I went into the police office and told them about it. "I believe somebody has run away with my horse." They say we shall do the best we can for you.

Then I came home and went into my neighbor Charley Nelson. I said to him, "What shall I do Brother Nelson. I have come into great trouble; I have lost my horse?" "I have no money to buy another horse." Sister Nelson said, "Brother Steffensen, there is a boy in Nephi Ward that has a peepstone, and that boy has helped many people with things like that." Brother Nelson said, "Don't tell Brother Steffensen anything like that. I don't believe anything about that." Sister Nelson said, "You let Brother Steffensen take our black horse and the buggy, so he can drive out there this afternoon." Brother Nelson said, "He can do that." I took the black horse and the buggy and took my daughter Marie, with me, she that had unhooked the mare and put her out on the street to feed. After what Sister Nelson told me, I found the horse all right.

I asked the lady if she had a boy there that had a peepstone and she said yes. I said, "I have lost my horse; I run a dairy and I can't deliver the milk in town without a horse, I would like your boy to tell me where the horse is, if he can." The lady told me many things the boy had done for people. She said, "The boy is out to play now, but I will call him in." She took the peepstone down from the cupboard and gave [it] to the boy. The boy started out by telling me where I lived and how my house looked. he told me how the doors and windows were, about the porch and all, and that it was a little adobe house. he said there was a girl that unhooked the horse and turned [it] out on the street to feed, he pointed at my daughter Marie and said, "She is the girl." He also said, he didn't see a horse, but that it was a yellow mare with a brand on its left side and so on describing our yellow mare Kate exactly [as] she was. He said that our mare was over on the third street west of our house, last night in a man's corral among his horses, but the mare is not there now as the man drove her down to a pasture west of his house. That man's house is yellow and there is an old mowing machine standing in front of it.

Then the boy was through. He gave the peepstone to his mother and ran out to play. I was very much surprised at what he told me. I asked the mother to let me see the peepstone and she let me. The stone looked like half of a big white egg. Inside it looked like green glass but I couldn't see anything else. I asked her what I owed the boy, and she said nothing that he didn't charge anything like that. I gave her $1.00 as I was very glad for what he had told me.   

Me and my daughter Marie, who married President Penrose’s son Herbert, went to the street the boy told us to and came to main street we turned north and had just gone a little way north when we saw the yellow house he described and there stood the old mowing machine. A lady was sitting on the front porch. I asked her if she had seen a yellow mare there last night. She said yes, there was a yellow horse among our horses in the corral last night and the boys drove all the horses down to the west pasture this morning, I guess you can find your mare down there. My yellow mare was there all right so the boy with the peepstone was all right and he told me the truth. I was sure surprised  that a young boy that age could do that for I don’t believe the boy was more than 7 years of age, and to have such instrument like that. I call that a spiritual eye and such a gift! I asked the mother where he got the stone and she said he had found it in the gravel hole right here by our house and when he found it and looked into it he said, "Mamma, I can see rabbits running up on the mountains, and I can see where papa works. So then the mother knew it was a peepstone he had found. She told me there was a company of people that went up in the canyon on a pleasure trip. While they were up there they lost a boy. They decided that the boy had been drowned in the river. They hunted in the river for him but they could not find him. They went to the boy with the peepstone and asked him to tell them where they could find the boy. He took down the peepstone. After looking into the stone then said he, I can see miles and miles up the river, but your boy is not in the river, but I can tell you where your boy is. Another company passed you in the canyon and your boy went with them. You will find your boy with that company quite a ways east of where you are. Sure enough that is where they found him.

Here is another story about that same boy with the peepstone and these stories are true. There was a man in Salt Lake City that had stole from another man. The police were hunting for him and couldn't find him. They asked the boy with the peepstone, "Can you tell us where this man is that stole from the man named so and so? The boy said, "Yes, that man that stole from this other man is in a shop in Chicago, he makes shoes.

Can a person with such a little stone and with the gift from God, see what is coming to pass in the future and what has already passed? If so, that is a great gift. So a man can receive eternal life.

Brother Nelson went out to Cottonwood to his farm. 6 or 7 years after, Sister Nelson came in town for to do business, and the same time she came to visit us. We had been neighbors for so many years, and our conversation--Sister Nelson said, "Brother Steffensen I can tell you some news," I said, "What is that Sister?" She said, "It is about the boy, that told you where your mare was, has lost the gift he had." "How is that?" I said. Sister Nelson answered and said, "He started to charge the people for what he told them, that is the reason he has lost the gift; he has the stone, but that is all.” If this boy had been able to keep the gift to the age of manhood, and had received the Priesthood, he could have been a great instrument in the Lord’s hands, and in this Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints . . . .

The stone the boy got, was not given to him for business to make money. After he told me where my mare was, he gave his mother the stone and went out to play. He was then an innocent boy. When he got to be about 14 years old, I guess he wanted to make money, and that was when the gift was taken from him.

The gift that is given us from Heaven is Holy; and the blessing of this earth is unholy. The devil claims he has the Deed to this earth; that is the reason these two things can’t agree. The Lord Jesus Christ has given us a commandment, that we shall always pray in his name. Everything we have must be holy and sanctified. Ask the Lord to bless our body and spirit and for everything we have temporarily, and ask the Lord to bless the food we eat, but, all in his name. If these things were holy and sanctified, we wouldn’t need to pray for something we already have.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Young Generals

Modern readers of the Book of Mormon might wonder a bit at the precociousness of some of the military leaders. Moroni "was only twenty and five years old when he was appointed chief captain over the armies of the Nephites." (Alma 43:17). Mormon says that when he was "fifteen years of age" (Mormon 1:15), "the people of Nephi appointed me that I should be their leader, or the leader of their armies. Therefore it came to pass that in my sixteenth year I did go forth at the head of an army of the Nephites" (Mormon 2:1–2).

Other leaders were also young. The text reports that "Moroni yielded up the command of his armies into the hands of his son, whose name was Moronihah" (Alma 62:43) in the thirty-second year of the reign of the judges (see Alma 62:39). Moroni was twenty-five in the eighteenth year (Alma 43:3-4, 17) just fourteen years earlier. Even if we assume that Moronihah was born when Moroni was fifteen, Moronihah could not have been more than twenty-four when he took over command of all the armies.

On the one hand, mortality rates in the ancient world were significantly higher than they are now. So individuals simply had to take over responsibilities at an earlier age. On the other hand, there may have been a cultural factor at play as well.

Bernardino de Sahagun reports the custom among the Aztecs of sending young men to live in a "young men's house" (tepuchcali):
And when [he was] yet an untried youth, then they took him into the forest. They had him bear upon his back what they called logs of wood--perchance now only one, or, then, two. Thus they tested whether perhaps he might do well in war when, still an untried youth, they took him into battle. He only went to carry a shield upon his back.

And when [he was] already a youth, if mature and prudent, if he was discreet in his talking, and especially if [he was] of good heart, then he was made a master of youths; he was named tiachcauh. And if he became valiant, if he reached manhood, then he was named ruler of youths (telpochtlato). He governed them all; he spoke for all the youths. If one [of them] sinned, this one judged him; he sentenced [the youths] and corrected them. He dealt justice.

And if he was brave, if he took four [captives] then he attained [the office of] commanding general, [or] chief. (Fray Bernardino de Sahagun, Florentine Codex 3, appendix 5, in Arthur J. O. Anderson and Charles E. Dibble, Florentine Codex [Santa Fe, NM: The School of American Research, 1952], 4:53.)
While Sahagun is writing about Aztecs, not Nephites, and about customs of a much later time, we do not know how far back the customs stretch. The custom, however, provides a plausible parallel for how a man could rise to be a commanding officer at an early age.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Bad Readings of the Book of Mormon

Can you tell what is wrong with the following statements?

Nephi knew all about steam-boats and the compass 2400 years ago.

               Alexander Campbell, "Delusions," Millennial Harbinger, 7                                February, 1831: 83.

I had read the Book of Mormon enough to find in the terms "gunpowder, mariner's compass," and several others introduced into a silly story . . . . There are also references to pistols and other fire arms.

               Christian Watchman, 5 May, 1837.

These Jews [Lehi and his family] are supposed to have emigrated from Jerusalem . . . . A mysterious wheel rolls before them to guide them, and an equally mysterious instrument directs them on the sea.

              W. Sparrow Simpson, Mormonism: Its History, Doctrines and                       Practices. London: 1853,

Monday, November 4, 2013

“Filled with the Holy Ghost” in Matthew 5:6 and 3 Nephi 12:6 (Howlers # 24)

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, 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.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Book of Mormon Word Usage: Sharpness

The word sharpness is used six times in the Book of Mormon. It is consistently used in similar contexts. It is not used, however, to describe Nephite arrows or swords but words:

In the time of King Benjamin, for example:
there were many holy men in the land, and they did speak the word of God with power and with authority; and they did use much sharpness because of the stiffneckedness of the people (Words of Mormon 1:17)

Lehi tells his sons, Laman and Lemuel:
And ye have murmured because he [Nephi] hath been plain unto you. Ye say that he hath used sharpness; ye say that he hath been angry with you; but behold, his sharpness was the sharpness of the power of the word of God, which was in him; and that which ye call anger was the truth, according to that which is in God, which he could not restrain, manifesting boldly concerning your iniquities. (2 Nephi 1:26)
So sharpness is a synonym for plain and can be mistaken for being angry. It is also associate with the power of the word of God.

Mormon laments:
Behold, I am laboring with them continually; and when I speak the word of God with sharpness they tremble and anger against me; and when I use no sharpness they harden their hearts against it; wherefore, I fear lest the Spirit of the Lord hath ceased striving with them. (Moroni 9:4)
While sharpness might be mistaken for anger, among the wicked it causes anger. Speaking the word of God plainly is hard for them to take, as the Book of Mormon amply demonstrates.

Friday, November 1, 2013

A Response to a Recent Attempt to Explain Away the Book of Mormon

Ben McGuire has written a well reasoned piece responding to a recent argument that the Book of Mormon was not translated from an ancient text, but was based upon Early Nineteenth Century Sources which were written in pseudo-biblical language. This has been published in Interpreter: A Journal of Mormon Scripture and can be found here.

Thursday, October 31, 2013


Well, I have a testimony: I may be ignorant, but I am not lost.

                        (Hugh Nibley, Temple and Cosmos, 1992, 449).

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Pre-Columbian Traditions of Horses

According to the Chronicles of Michoacan, Montezuma sent messengers to Cazonci, the Tarascan king, informing him of the coming of the Spanish and asking for help. When the ambassadors delivered their message the king was troubled. He was puzzled by their claim that the newcomers rode on "deer."

The messengers answered:

Sire, those deer must be something like a story we know in which the God Cupanzieri played ball with another God Achurihirepe, won over him and sacrificed him in a village called Xacona. He also left the later's wife pregnant with his son Siratatapeci. When the son was born he was taken to another village to be raised, as if he were a foundling. As a youth he went bird hunting with a bow and on one of those hunts he came upon a yvana which said to him, "Don't shoot me and I'll tell you something. The one you think is your father is not because your real father went to the house of the God Achirihirepe to conquer, and he was sacrificed there. When Siratatapeci heard this he went to the village of Xacona to get vengeance on his father's murderer. he excavated the place where his father was buried, exhumed him, and carried him on his back. Along the way there was a weed patch full of quail which took to flight. In order to shoot the quail he dropped his father, who turned into a deer with a mane on his neck and a long tail like those that come with the strange people (Eugene R. Craine and Reginald C. Reindrop, eds., The Chronicles of Michoacan. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1970, 63-64, emphasis added).

This same account also reports that when the Spanish arrived in central Mexico, "Some called the horses deer, others tuycen, which were something like horses which the Indians made from pigweed bread for use in the feast of Cuingo and to which the fastened manes of false hair" (63-64, emphasis added). Historian Hugh Thomas notes, "The Mexicans may have continued to think of these animals as deer. But perhaps some folk memory may have reminded them that there had once been horses in the Americas" (Hugh Thomas, Conquest: Montezuma, Cortes, and the Fall of Old Mexico. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1993), 178).

Monday, October 28, 2013

And the Word Was God

[S. Kent Brown in Andrew C. Skinner and Gaye Strathearn, eds., Third Nephi: An Incomparable Scripture. Salt Lake City: Neal A. Maxwell Institute for Religious Scholarship, 2012, 381].

I want to say something about text. . . . Jesus himself is the text because he bears in his body the proof of the atonement. And his body, of course, is the first thing he allows people access to—to touch the scars in his hands and his feet and his side. But when one thinks about ancient texts, one thinks about texts that are inscribed on stone, clay tablets, metal, wood, eventually papyri, which is a softer, more perishable material. Each one of those kinds of surfaces can be destroyed, but the resurrected, glorified body of Jesus cannot. And it bears, as it were, witness of itself, and it carries, in its own way, the text of his suffering and death and resurrection. In a concrete way, the immediate and eternal text is the Risen Jesus, bearing in his body marks that will never go away.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Reinventing the Wheel

Individuals doing research sometimes have to confront the painful truth that they are not the first people to think of an idea. One trait that distinguishes the scholar from the tyro is that the scholar is aware of previous research in the field.

Back in 1993, Russell Ball thought that he was the first person to connect the the destruction in 3 Nephi with a volcano in his article in the Journal of Book of Mormon Studies. Unfortunately, every point he made had previously been made about a half century earlier by Evan Fry in an article called "The Book of Mormon and the Crucifixion," published in the Saints Herald 1945. In all fairness to Ball, there is little way he could possibly have known about the earlier article. Both articles have since been superseded by Bart Kowallis's article in the 1997-1998 BYU Studies.

Friday, October 25, 2013

Lost in Translation: Hummers and Henry V

Morgan Deane has an insightful article on his always insightful Warfare and the Book of Mormon blog entitled, Henry V, Hummers, and the Book of Mormon.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Pre-Columbian Myths and Traditions of the Elephant

The Book of Ether references "Elephants" among the animals known to the early Jaredites during the reign of King Emer, where they are said to have been "useful" but not numerous (Ether 9:19).It is generally assumed that large elephant-like mammals such as the mammoth and the mastodon became extinct by the end of the Ice Age (circa 9,000 B.C.). Some native American myths and traditions suggest Pre-Columbian knowledge of species of mammoth or mastodon and may be considered evidence that small groups of these animals survived in certain regions until recent historical times.

It is possible that some of these traditions are rooted in native American discoveries of the bones of extinct fauna, while other myths seem to be founded on actual encounters with living species who had notable elephantine-like long noses which could sometimes trample and uproot trees (John R. Swanton, Indian Tribes of the Lower Mississippi Valley and Adjacent Coast of the Gulf of Mexico. Washington: Government printing Office, 1911, 355).  One Abenaki account tells of a great “elk” that could easily walk through more than eight feet of snow, whose skin was tough and had “a kind of arm which grows out of his shoulder, which he makes use of as we do ours” (Pierre-Francois Xavier de Charlevoix, A Voyage to North America . . . Dublin: J. Exshaw and J. Potts, 1766, 1:88). Naskapi tradition tells of a large monster that once trampled them and left deep round tracks in the snow, had large ears and a long nose with which he hit people. Another story tells of Snowy Owl, a Penobscot culture hero who, while searching for a wife and traveling to a far valley encountered what appeared at first to be hills without vegetation moving slowly about. Upon closer inspection he found these were the backs of huge animals with long teeth who drank water for half a day at a time and when they laid down could not get up. The hero was able to trap the large beasts by making them fall on sharpened stakes where he was able to shoot them (W. D. Strong, “North American Indian traditions suggesting a knowledge of the mammoth,” American Anthropologist 36 1934: 81-88). Similar traditions have been documented for native American groups from Canada to the Gulf of Mexico persuading some scholars that they are based upon a core memory of actual historical encounters with elephant-like beasts who may have survived in the region perhaps as late as 3,000 years ago (Ludwell H. Johnson, “Men and Elephants in America,” Scientific American 75 1952: 220-21).

    Pre-Columbian Mexican traditions also speak of ogre-like giant peoples who inhabited central Mexico and were killed off after the arrival of Aztec ancestors. These tales attribute seemingly human characteristics to some of these legendary giants. Accounts say that some had long tapering arms and could tear up trees as if they were lettuce (Juan de Torquemada, Monarchia Indiana (Mexico: 1943), 1:38; Acosta, Natural And Moral History of the Indies. Durham and London: Duke University Press, 2002, 384). These legends, notes Adrienne Mayor, say “that the giants destroyed by the ancestors pulled down trees and ate grass, elephant-like behavior” and suggests that these stories may reflect “a vague memory of prehensile trunks, something like the `extra arm’ of the Giant Elk in Abenaki and Iroquios myth.” While it cannot be proven, she thinks it possible that “localized mammoth species (and other large Pleistocene animals and birds) may have survived to later dates in the Valley of Mexico and the Southwestern United States” and also that at least “some aspects of the legendary giant-ogres may have originated in ancestral memories of Columbian mammoths and may have been later confirmed by discoveries of fossils” (Adrienne Mayor, Fossil Legends of the First Americans. Princeton and Oxford: Princeton University Press, 2005, 97, 77).

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Noah Webster and the Book of Mormon

[I reproduce here a little piece I wrote years ago for the Journal of Book of Mormon Studies 4/2 (Fall 1995): 142-46].

"The Book of Mormon critics," wrote Hugh Nibley in 1959, "have made an art of explaining a very big whole by a very small part. The game is to look for some mysterious person or document from which Joseph Smith might have gotten a few simple and obvious ideas and then cry triumphantly, 'At last we have it! Now we know where the Book of Mormon came from!'"1 Nibley's observation finds support in a recent article published by anti-Mormon writers Jerald and Sandra Tanner.2 While the Tanners' article is largely devoid of merit, it provides an excellent illustration of Nibley's point.

After perusing the pages of James Adair's book The History of the American Indians,3 the Tanners triumphantly announce what they describe as a "startling discovery." According to our zealous researchers, Adair's work contains a passage so similar to phrases found in Book of Mormon descriptions of Nephite fortifications "that we could not escape the conclusion that Joseph Smith either had the book in hand or a quotation from it when he was writing the Book of Mormon."4 The passage as cited by the Tanners reads:
Through the whole continent, and in the remotest woods, are traces of their ancient warlike disposition. We frequently met with great mounds of earth, either of a circular, or oblong form, having a strong breast-work at a distance around them, made of the clay which had been dug up in forming the ditch on the inner side of the enclosed ground, and these were their forts of security against an enemy. . . . About 12 miles from the upper northern parts of the Choktah country, there stand . . . two oblong mounds of earth . . . in an equal direction with each other. . . . A broad deep ditch inclosed those two fortresses, and there they raised an high breast-work, to secure their houses from the invading enemy.5
The Tanners report that they were first struck by the words their forts of security: "These identical words are found in the book of Alma!" (Alma 49:18). In addition to this "striking parallel," these forts of security, surprisingly enough, are said to secure their occupants against an enemy. The Tanners further note parallel words and phrases such as the word breastwork (Alma 53:4) and a reference to the ditch and to mounds or banks of earth, which had been dug (Alma 49:18). "We find it extremely hard to believe that all of these similar word patterns could happen by chance." Since, as the Tanners argue, none of these words or phrases occur in the Bible, "The evidence seems to indicate that the source was Adair's book."6

In regard to the above comparison, several observations are in order. First, Adair's description is limited to one short paragraph, while the Book of Mormon references are spread out over four different chapters. Second, when one compares the two texts with each other it is obvious that the words do not appear in the same order—plagiarism might have been more plausible if the words had appeared in the same order. Some phrases are linked in Adair and yet divided up in a disjointed fashion in the Book of Mormon text and vice versa. Third, even where parallel words occur in the two texts they are not necessarily being used in the same way. Adair, for instance, uses the word equal to refer to distance, while the Book of Mormon passage uses equal in reference to opportunity. While the word breastwork is used in both passages, the Adair passage refers to a breastwork of clay while the Book of Mormon describes a "breastwork of timbers" against which earth was banked. There is no mention of "timbers" in the Adair passage.

Finally, and perhaps most significantly, both Adair's description and Joseph Smith's translation of the Book of Mormon are describing fortifications for warfare and would be expected to use similar English language to describe them. This can be rather easily demonstrated by examining the definitions of words associated with the concept of fortification. To illustrate this point we will list several words that appear in Adair's account with their definitions from Noah Webster's 1828 English dictionary:
FORT, n. . . . 1. A fortified place; . . . a place surrounded with a ditch, rampart, and parapet, or with palisades, stockades, or other means of defense; also, any building or place fortified for security against an enemy.7
FORTIFICATION, n. . . . 2. The art or science of fortifying places to defend them against an enemy, by means of moats, ramparts, parapets and other bulwarks. 3. Works erected to defend a place against attack. 4. A fortified place.8
FORTIFY, v.t. . . . 1. To surround with a wall, ditch, palisades or other works, with a view to defend against the attacks of an enemy; to strengthen and secure by forts, batteries and other works of art; as to fortify a city, town, or harbor. 2. To strengthen against any attack.9
BREAST-WORK, n. . . . In fortification, a work thrown up for defense; a parapet.10
BANK, n. . . . 1. A mound, pile or ridge of earth, raised above the surrounding plain, either as a defense or for other purposes.11
DITCH, n. . . . The primary sense is a digging or place dug. . . . 1. A trench in the earth made by digging . . . for making a fence to guard enclosures or for preventing an enemy from approaching a town or fortress.12
SECURE, v.t. To guard effectually from danger; to make safe. Fortifications may secure a city.13
How are we to explain such "striking" similarities between the fortification vocabulary found in Adair's work, certain passages in the Book of Mormon, and those definitions found in Webster? Did Joseph Smith have both volumes of Webster's 1828 English dictionary "book in hand" while he dictated that text to his scribe? After all, with the exception of proper names, nearly every word found in the Book of Mormon can also be found in Webster. Must we now acknowledge Webster's dictionary as a primary source for the Book of Mormon narrative? . . . .

Given the fact that the Book of Mormon is describing fortifications of warfare it should not surprise us that Joseph Smith, an early nineteenth-century translator, should use such words and phrases to describe defensive fortifications of an ancient American group. This example aptly illustrates one of the pitfalls faced by those seeking to identify nineteenth-century sources for the Book of Mormon. Many nineteenth-century parallels touted by critics as examples of Book of Mormon borrowings are, in fact, nothing of the kind, but are simply part of the English vocabulary of the translator's day.

1. Hugh Nibley, "The Grab Bag," in Hugh Nibley, The Prophetic Book of Mormon (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book and FARMS, 1988), 175.
"If someone will show me how to draw a circle," cries the youthful Joseph Smith, "I will make you a fine Swiss watch!" So Joachim or Anselm or Ethan Smith or Rabelais or somebody takes a stick and draws a circle in the sand, and forthwith the adroit and wily Joseph turns out a beautiful running mechanism that tells perfect time! This is not an exaggeration. The Book of Mormon in structure and design is every bit as complicated, involved, and ingenious as the works of a Swiss watch, and withal just as smoothly running. . . . The writer of that book brought together thousands of ideas and events and knit them together in a most marvelous unity. Yet the critics like to think they have explained the Book of Mormon completely if they can just discover where Joseph Smith might have got one of his ideas or expressions!" (Ibid.)
2. Jerald and Sandra Tanner, "The Book of Mormon: Ancient or Modern," Salt Lake City Messenger 84 (April 1993): 5—10.
3. James Adair, The History of the American Indians (London: Dilly, 1775).
4. Tanner and Tanner, "The Book of Mormon: Ancient or Modern," 5.
5. Ibid., 6, emphasis in original.
6. Ibid.
7. Noah Webster, An American Dictionary of the English Language, 2 vols. (New York: Converse, 1828), s.v. "fort."
8. Ibid., s.v. "fortification."
9. Ibid., s.v. "fortify."
10. Ibid., s.v. "breast-work."
11. Ibid., s.v. "bank."
12. Ibid., s.v. "ditch."
13. Ibid., s.v. "secure."

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

“I beheld. . . Rumors of Wars”: (Howlers # 23)

When Nephi had a vision of the future of his people before the time of Christ he wrote, “I beheld wars and rumors of wars” (1 Nephi 12:2). He later recounts the destruction of his people and the subsequent conflicts among the Lamanites, “And I saw wars among them; and in wars and rumors of wars I saw many generations pass away” (1 Nephi 12:21). These references have been an object of ridicule since the publication of the Book of Mormon as the following comments show:

“I beheld wars and rumors of wars” . . . Beheld rumors!
               Origen Bacheler, Mormonism Exposed, 1838, 20.

“And I saw wars and rumors of wars among them; and in wars, and rumors of wars, I saw many generations pass away.” The last quotation reminds me of the old lady who in a time of war remarked that they only had the wars then, “but wait,” said she, “until the rumors come”
           G. Stewart, “The Book of Mormon,” The Perfectionist, 15 May, 1843).

[Nephi] was not only a very “large” man, as we are told, but a very funny man I should say, for he cooly informs us that he saw “rumors of war!” so that, according to this professedly “inspired” book, eyes do the work of ears.
           J. B. Sweet, A Lecture on the Book of Mormon, 1857, 12.

The Book of Isaiah begins with the information that it is “The vision of Isaiah the son of Amoz, which he saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem” (Isaiah 1:1). The second chapter speaks of “the word that Isaiah the son of Amoz saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem” (Isaiah 2:1). Isaiah, however, speaks not only of what he sees, but what he hears. Motyer observes that the verb to see which is used in these passages can mean more than just to see. “All thirty-five occurrences of vision (hazon) and thirty-six out of forty-eight of saw (haza) refer to truth disclosed by God, not necessarily in visual experience” (J Alec Motyer, The Prophecy of Isaiah: An Introduction and Commentary. InterVarsity Press, 1993, 41). 

In another study of this verb, which is rendered “seer” in our English translations of the Bible (Isaiah 30:9-10), Jeffers also notes that the term was not used exclusively of visual perception, “the hozeh `sees’ but he also `hears’ in a context where the reception of the word of God plays an important part” (Ann Jeffers, Magic and Divination in Ancient Palestine and Syria. Leiden: Brill, 1996, 36). Likewise, since the verb has a broader meaning than visual experience, Nephi Seer of olden time could indeed “behold” not only wars, but rumors of wars, even though the English usage at first may seem strange.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Book of Mormon Historicity: Why it Matters?

Interpreter: A Journal of Mormon Scripture has an excellent article written by Stephen Smoot on the importance historicity and the Book of Mormon which can be found here.

More Scriptures Yet to Come Forth

[From Neal A. Maxwell, "`God Will Yet Reveal,'" Ensign November 1986: 52].

Lost books are among the treasures yet to come forth. Over twenty of these are mentioned in the existing scriptures. Perhaps most startling and voluminous will be the records of the lost tribes of Israel (see 2 Ne. 29:13). We would not even know of the impending third witness for Christ except through the precious Book of Mormon,  the second witness for Christ! This third set of sacred records will thus complete a triad of truth. Then, just as the Perfect Shepherd has said, “My word also shall be gathered in one” (2 Ne. 29:14). There will be “one fold and one shepherd” (1 Ne. 22:25) in a welding together of all the Christian dispensations of human history (see D&C 128:18).

Whereas previous prophets were sometimes left to surmise—as Moroni supposed the Jews also had a record of the Creation from Adam on down (see Ether 1:3) —ours, instead, is a time of fulness, including “things which never have been revealed from the foundation of the world” (D&C 128:18). Moreover, “and the day cometh that the words of the book which were sealed shall be read upon the house tops; and they shall be read by the power of Christ; and all things shall be revealed unto the children of men which ever have been among the children of men, and which ever will be even unto the end of the earth” (2 Ne. 27:11; see also 2 Ne. 30:16, 18; Ether 4:7; D&C 101:32; D&c 121:28).

Thus, just as there will be many more Church members, families, wards, stakes, and temples—later on, there will also be many more nourishing and inspiring scriptures. However, we must first feast worthily upon that which we already have!

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Book of Mormon Word Usage: Attend

Although the English word attend has many meanings, the two uses in the Book of Mormon only really cover one of them, the second meaning in Webster's 1928 dictionary: "To be present; to accompany." This can be seen in the two appearances (both in Alma):
Now these are the circumstances which attended them in their journeyings, for they had many afflictions; they did suffer much, both in body and in mind, such as hunger, thirst and fatigue, and also much labor in the spirit. (Alma 17:5)

And there were some who said that Ammon was sent by the Great Spirit to afflict them because of their iniquities; and that it was the Great Spirit that had always attended the Nephites, who had ever delivered them out of their hands; and they said that it was this Great Spirit who had destroyed so many of their brethren, the Lamanites. (Alma 19:27)
It may be of some significance that the subject of these verbs is never a mortal, instead being less tangible things such as "hunger, thirst, and fatigue," or what the Lamanites described as "the Great Spirit." But of all the things that could attend someone, the Great Spirit is certainly one of the most desirable.

Friday, October 18, 2013

Weakness in Language

Critics have often dismissed the Book of Mormon on the basis of bad grammar or what they consider to be poor English. If the translation came from God, how could the text contain poor grammar. Latter-day Saints, however, believe that God is not limited in how he chooses the communicate with his children to whom he speaks “in their weakness, after manner of their language” (D&C 1:24). Nephi wrote, "For the Lord God giveth light unto the understanding; for he speaketh unto men according to their language, unto their understanding" (2 Nephi 31:3). Joseph Smith taught, “If he [the Savior] comes to a little child, he will adapt himself to the language and capacity of a little child (Joseph Smith, 8 August 1839, in Andrew Ehat and Lyndon Cook, Words of Joseph Smith, 12).  Brigham Young explained his view as follows: “Should the Lord Almighty send an angel to re-write the Bible, it would in many places be very different from what it now is. And I will even venture to say that if the Book of Mormon were now to be re-written, in many instances it would materially differ from the present translation. According as people are willing to receive the things of God, so the heavens send forth their blessings (Brigham Young, July 13 1862, JD 9:311). “The Book of Mormon,” observed George A. Smith, “was denounced as ungrammatical. An argument was raised that if it had been translated by the gift and power of God it would have been strictly grammatical . . . . When the Lord reveals anything to men, he reveals it in a language that corresponds with their own. If you were to converse with an angel, and you used strictly grammatical language he would do the same. But if you used two negatives in a sentence the heavenly messenger would use language to correspond with your understanding (George A. Smith, November 15 1863, JD 12:335).

Thursday, October 17, 2013

A Little Learning

The gas-law of learning . . . . any amount of information no matter how small will fill any intellectual void no matter how large.

             (Hugh Nibley, Old Testament and Related Studies, 1986, 4).

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Lost in Translation (Challenges and Perspectives)

One interesting challenge for Bible translators has to do with translating animal names from the Biblical languages into target languages. In some cases this can pose interesting challenges, To take an example from the New Testament, Jesus is said to have been moved with compassion on the multitude because “they fainted, and were scattered abroad, as sheep having no shepherd” (Matthew 9:36). A Greenlandic translation made in 1744 explains "sheep" as “small animals which are nearly like caribous.” Inge Kleivan explains,

The comparison may at first sight appear astonishing, but in fact Poul Egede [the 1744 translator] has chosen the animal which is nearest to the sheep in size, appearance, and behavior if he wanted to compare the sheep with an animal which the Greenlanders knew; there were only the following land animals in West Greenland: hares, foxes, caribous, and polar bears. The comparison is, however, unsatisfactory at a very important point, because the caribous are not tame animals and the pastoral culture which pervades the Bible was quite unknown to the Greenlanders (Inge Kleivan, “`Lamb of God’ = `Seal of God’? Some semantic problems in translating the animal names of the New Testament into Greenlandic,” in Kirtsten Gregersen, ed., Papers of the Fourth Scandinavian Conference of Linguistics, Hindsgavl, January 6-8, 1978. Odense University Press, 1978, 340).

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

"Coins" or "Money"? Why It Matters

In 1 Samuel 13:21 we read that the Philistines during the time of Saul held a monopoly in iron metallurgy and so the Israelites would have to go to them to sharpen their tools. “The charge was two-thirds of a shekel for the plowshares and for the mattocks, and one-third of a shekel for sharpening the axes and for setting the goads” (1 Samuel 13:21 NRSV). In 2 Samuel Joab tells a soldier he would have paid him “ten shekels of silver” if he had killed Absalom, but the soldier responded that he would not have dared to do so for “a thousand shekels of silver in mine hand” (2 Samuel 18:11-12). Some think that references to silver money are out of place this early in Israelite history. Donald Redford, in a popular work on the ancient Near East reads into these passages the use of “coined money” and claims that such “blatant anachronisms are more numerous than a record with reliable sources should contain” (Donald B. Redford, Egypt, Canaan, and Israel in Ancient Times. Princeton University Press, 1992, 305).

In a recent article Alan Millard takes Redford to task reading things into the text which are not actually there. He observes:

Coinage began in Anatolia, usually said to be Lydia, probably a little before 600 BCE, when small lumps of electrum of equal weight were stamped with a design serving as an official or royal guarantee. Prior to that, anyone wanting to pay in bullion would weight the metal, which might be in the form of ingots, or pieces cut off from them, or worked metal, plate or jewelry, whole or in fragments. Several examples of hoards of such silver bullion have been unearthed in the Holy Land and adjacent regions, buried during the Iron Age and earlier. Although late in the third and early in the second millennia BCE Babylonian Smiths fashioned long coils of silver from which pieces could be cut to make payment.

These, however, were not coins.

A little earlier [than Lydian coins] in the Near East, certain towns and institutions had standard weights. Examples of bronze weights marked for Hamath are known and Assyrians reckoned by "the mina of the land", "the royal mina" and "the mina of Carchemish" . . . . In some cases specific amounts of precious metal may have been sealed in small bags (Alan Millard, “Are There Anachronisms in the Books of Samuel?” In Geoffrey Khan and Diana Lipton, Studies on the Text and Versions of the Hebrew Bible in Honour of Robert Gordon (Leiden and Boston: Brill, 2012), 40).

Redford had wrongly assumed references to metal money referred to coinage. the Biblical passages in question only mention pieces of silver.

Clearly payment was made by weighing the silver, as the man expressed to Joab "even if a thousand shekels were weighed out in my hands . . .", in the form of bullion that the hoards display. . . . There are no grounds at all for assuming that coinage which did not appear until the seventh century BCE, was envisaged in either passage in the books of Samuel. To allege that use of fractions implies coined money and so is an anachronism is without any justification at all (Millard, 41-42).

This is relevant to the question of money in the Book of Mormon. The text of Alma 11 mentions the use of gold and silver pieces of money, but not coinage.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Desert Naming Practices (Howlers # 22 )

“All the rivers and valleys he makes Lehi name with new names.”
    John Hyde Jr., Mormonism: Its Leaders and Designs (1857), 223.

[From Hugh Nibley, Lehi in the Desert (1988), 75-76].

By what right do these people rename streams and valleys to suit themselves? No westerner would tolerate such arrogance. But Lehi is not interested in western taste; he is following a good old Oriental custom. Among the laws "which no Bedouin would dream of transgressing," the first, according to Jennings-Bramley, is that "any water you may discover, either in your own territory or in the territory of another tribe, is named after you." So it happens that in Arabia a great wady (valley) will have different names at different points along its course, a respectable number of names being "all used for one and the same valley. . . . One and the same place may have several names, and the wadi running close to the same, or the mountain connected with it, will naturally be called differently by members of different clans," according to Canaan, who tells how the Arabs "often coin a new name for a locality for which they have never used a proper name, or whose name they do not know," the name given being usually that of some person. However, names thus bestowed by wandering tribesmen "are neither generally known or commonly used," so that we need not expect any of Lehi's place names to survive.

Speaking of the desert "below the Negeb proper," i.e., the general area of Lehi's first camp, Woolley and Lawrence report "peaks and ridges that have different names among the different Arab tribes, and from different sides," and of the nearby Tih Palmer says, "In every locality, each individual object, whether rock, mountain, ravine, or valley, has its appropriate name," while Raswan recalls how "miraculously each hill and dale bore a name." But how reliable are such names? Philby recounts a typical case: "Zayid and 'Ali seemed a little vague about the nomenclature of these parts, and it was only by the irritating process of continual questioning and sifting their often inconsistent and contradictory answers that I was able in the end to piece together the topography of the region." Farther east Cheesman ran into the same difficulty: "I pointed out that this was the third different hill to which he had given the same name. He knew that, was the reply, but that was how they named them."  The irresponsible custom of renaming everything on the spot seems to go back to the earliest times, and "probably, as often as not, the Israelites named for themselves their own camps, or unconsciously confounded a native name in their carelessness." Yet in spite of its undoubted antiquity, only the most recent explorers have commented on this strange practice, which seems to have escaped the notice of travelers until explorers in our own times started to make maps.

Even more whimsical and senseless to a westerner must appear the behavior of Lehi in naming a river after one son and its valley after another. But the Arabs don't think that way. In the Mahra country, for example, "as is commonly the case in these mountains, the water bears a different name from the wadi." Likewise we might suppose that after he had named the river after his first-born the location of the camp beside its waters would be given, as any westerner would give it, with reference to the river. Instead, the Book of Mormon follows the Arabic system of designating the camp not by the name of the river (which may easily dry up sometime), but by the name of the valley (1 Nephi 10:16; 16:6).

Testimony of Book of Mormon

[From Kirtland Council Minute Book, 12 February, 1834)

Bro Joseph then went on to give us a relation of his situation at the time he obtained the record, the persecution he met with &c. He also told us of his transgression at the time he was translating the Book of Mormon. He also prophesied that he should stand and shine like the sun in the firmament when his enemies and the gainsayers of his testimony should be put down and cut off and their names blotted out from among men.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Book of Mormon Word Usage: Pretend

The English word pretend comes from the Latin, praetendo meaning to hold forth. Even in Latin, the term held the connotation of holding forth something that is not actually the case. Thus, in Joseph Smith's day, Webster's dictionary defined the term as meaning:
To hold out, as a false appearance; to offer something feigned instead of that which is real; to simulate, in words or actions. . . . To show hypocritically; . . . To exhibit as a cover for something hidden. . . . To claim. . . .To put in a claim, truly or falsely; to hold out the appearance of being, possessing or performing.
The six uses of the term pretend in the Book of Mormon follow this pattern. In all cases, those who use the term imply that what is pretended is actually false, although they are not always accurate in their assessment.

Thus Abinadi's accusers say:

he saith thou shalt be as the blossoms of a thistle, which, when it is fully ripe, if the wind bloweth, it is driven forth upon the face of the land. And he pretendeth the Lord hath spoken it. (Mosiah 12:12)
In this case, his accusers are mistaken.

Korihor, likewise promotes the accusation:
Yea, they durst not make use of that which is their own lest they should offend their priests, who do yoke them according to their desires, and have brought them to believe, by their traditions and their dreams and their whims and their visions and their pretended mysteries, that they should, if they did not do according to their words, offend some unknown being, who they say is God—a being who never has been seen or known, who never was nor ever will be. (Alma 30:28)
Again, Korihor is mistaken in his accusations.

Abinadi himself uses the term:

And now Abinadi said unto them: Are you priests, and pretend to teach this people, and to understand the spirit of prophesying, and yet desire to know of me what these things mean? (Mosiah 12:25)
Abinadi notes that Noah's priests, who held themselves out as understanding the spirit of prophesying, could not understand the prophecies. Abinadi, however, was not mistaken.

Nephi uses the term ironically:
Has Nephi, the pretended prophet, who doth prophesy so much evil concerning this people, agreed with thee, in the which ye have murdered Seezoram, who is your brother? And behold, he shall say unto you, Nay. (Helaman 9:27–28)
Nephi knows quite well that the people he is talking to do not believe that he actually is a prophet. He is in custody and those who have put him in custody have been trying to refute his prophecies and are trying to frame him for murder.

For others, the term is used not so much ironically as cynically:
Nevertheless, they durst not lie, if it were known, for fear of the law, for liars were punished; therefore they pretended to preach according to their belief; and now the law could have no power on any man for his belief. (Alma 1:17)
The most egregious example of this cynical use has to be the traitor Amalickiah, who, having failed to seize power over the Nephites, is in the process of seizing power over the Lamanites. He has already betrayed the Lamanite king by handing his army over to another general, whom he in turn betrayed by poisoning him, and he has just had the Lamanite king assassinated:
And it came to pass that Amalickiah commanded that his armies should march forth and see what had happened to the king; and when they had come to the spot, and found the king lying in his gore, Amalickiah pretended to be wroth, and said: Whosoever loved the king, let him go forth, and pursue his servants that they may be slain. (Alma 47:27)
As the word usage shows, the Book of Mormon condemns those who pretend to be something that they are not.

Friday, October 11, 2013

Book Review of Mormon's Codex

Morgan Deane has a book review of John Sorenson's recent book Mormon's Codex on his blog Warfare and the Book of Mormon which can be found here

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Book of Mormon Word Usage: Merry

Considering all the injunctions to be of good cheer (e.g. 3 Nephi 1:13), one might expect the Book of Mormon to have a positive use of the word merry. In the Book of Mormon, the term merry is always used in a negative way.

The term merry is used five times in the Book of Mormon. It is used of unbelieving Lamanites twice (Mosiah 20:1; Alma 55:14), the wicked twice (2 Nephi 28:7-8), and of Laman and Lemuel once (1 Nephi 18:9). So in the Book of Mormon unbelievers are merry.

The Book of Mormon also associates the term with a variety of specific behaviors. It is associated with singing and dancing twice (1 Nephi 18:9; Mosiah 20:1), with drinking (especially wine) and drunkenness three times (2 Nephi 28:7-8; Alma 55:14), as well as rudeness (1 Nephi 18:9).

So the Book of Mormon uses the term merry for a certain type of light-heartedness, associated with the wicked, who drink and get drunk. It is the enjoyment of the wicked in their wickedness so that "they did forget by what power they had been brought thither" (1 Nephi 18:9).

This is a contrast with Joseph Smith's day, when, according to Webster's dictionary of his day, to be merry was to be "Pleasant; agreeable; delightful" or "jovial."

So while the Book of Mormon might encourage us to be of good cheer, it does not want us to make merry. 

Sunday, September 29, 2013

From the Department of Useless Statistics

The following list shows the current group of apostles and the likelihood (based on previous talks) that if they cite a scripture they will cite the Book of Mormon:

David A. Bednar 46%
Richard G. Scott 40%
Henry B. Eyring 37%
Niel L. Andersen 37%
Boyd K. Packer 36%
D. Todd Christofferson 34%
Dallin H. Oaks 31%
M. Russell Ballard 30%
Robert D. Hales 30%
Quinten L. Cook 30%
M. Russell Nelson 29%
L. Tom Perry 27%
Jeffrey R. Holland 25%
Dieter F. Uchtdorff 25%
Thomas S. Monson 11%

(based on information from

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Scripture Index to Mormon's Codex

Any extensive serious work on the Book of Mormon needs a scriptural index. Since John Sorenson's new book, Mormon's Codex did not include a scriptural index, I have posted one on this site. (You can find it here, and a number of you already have.)

Sunday, September 22, 2013

New Book of Mormon Bibliography Resource

The BYU library has computerized A Comprehensive Annotated Book of Mormon Bibliography, originally published in 1996 and made it searchable in ways that is was not before. This is a great resource since it covers all the Book of Mormon publications up to about 20 years ago. This is the Beta version.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

The Flight of the Nephites from the Land Southward

The Maxwell Institute Blog has provided another preview of John Sorenson's book Mormon's Codex which discusses archaeological evidence for the flight of the Nephites from the land southward during the mid fourth century B.C.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Wages and Measures in the Book of Mormon

Before narrating Zeezrom’s offer to bribe Amulek (Alma 11:22), Mormon places Zeezrom’s bribe in context by giving an account of Nephite weights as compared to measures of grain (Alma 11:1-20). In doing so, he observes that “a senum of silver was equal to a senine of gold, and either for a measure of barley, and also for a measure of every kind of grain” (Alma 11:7). This listing of an exchange rate provides a means of comparison that sheds light on the Nephite practices. Unfortunately, we know neither the grain measure nor the weights in question, which diminishes our understanding an appreciation of the passage.

In order to shed light on the Nephite measurement, earlier studies have compared the Nephite system of weights with a set of Egyptian measures.1 Unfortunately, the system of Egyptian measures used is a small one normally used in recipes and ranging in size from the equivalent of two teaspoons up to about a gallon. In which case, Zeezrom’s bribe would be the equivalent of about 28.8 liters (about 6 ½ gallons) of grain, and judges would get paid just less than half a liter (about 1 3/4 cups) of grain per day of judging, perhaps half a loaf of bread, an unrealistically small wage. This suggests that a one to one comparison of Egyptian measures to Nephite ones is not likely. Another comparison, however, might prove a bit more enlightening.

Most ancient systems have two sets of measures, one for smaller prices, measured in the equivalent of grain, and one for larger prices, measured in the equivalent of metal. At a certain point, these two measuring systems meet where a certain amount of grain is equivalent to a smaller amount of metal. We will refer to this point as the equivalence point. A number of ancient monetary systems follow this pattern, including the Nephite system.

Ancient Egypt follows the same pattern where prices on less expensive items are usually given in grain measures rather than in units of money,2 and more expensive items are given in weights of copper, silver and gold. The equivalence point is at one copper weight called a diban (91 grams)3 which is the equivalent of a measure (h3r, literally “sack”) of grain (= 76.88 liters).4 Silver in ancient Egypt is worth ten times the same amount of copper.5 The normal monthly wages of grain given to ordinary workmen at Deir el-Medina was 422.84 liters (5 ½ h3r) of grain per month,6 or 14.09 liters of grain per day. Officials at Deir el-Medina received about a third again as much at 7 ½ h3r of grain per month.7 The exchange rate in Ramesside Egypt was roughly 8.49 liters of grain per gram of silver.

The earlier Assyrian king, Shamshi-Adad I, claims to have fixed the prices in ancient Assyria to 2 gur (240 liters) of barley for a shekel (8 1/3 grams) of silver,8 or 28.8 liters of grain per gram of silver, but this price was artificially low and was generally ignored, the actual price being much higher.9 If, for purposes of comparison, we assume that a Nephite measure is about equivalent to a h3r of grain and a Nephite worker gets paid about the same as a worker at Deir el-Medina, then a Nephite judge is paid approximately 6 times what a Nephite worker is paid. Zeezrom’s bribe would then be about a year’s worth of wages for a worker. This is a considerable sum of money. If something more like the Assyrian system were in use, Zeezrom’s bribe would amount to about three and a half years’ worth of wages. These comparisons, rather than about two day’s wages as suggested above, are more likely to give us an idea of the magnitude of Zeezrom’s bribe.

Since “the judge received for his wages according to his time–a senine of gold for a day” (Alma 11:3), rather than on a per case basis, it is in the judge’s economic interest to judge more often; “it was for the sole purpose to get gain, because they received their wages according to their employ, therefore, they did stir up the people to riotings, and all manner of disturbances and wickedness, that they might have more employ” (Alma 11:20). Keeping our assumptions that a judge is paid a week’s wages for a laborer per day, this could have been instituted by Mosiah to be roughly compensatory assuming that the judge would only need to judge once a week. But the amount of pay would be sufficient that a judge would have reason to want to work more often.

The lawyers were not paid per diem but rather they “get money according to the suits” (Alma 11:20). Thus if a judge heard ten cases per day, he was paid the same amount as if he only heard one, while a lawyer would get paid for ten cases. So a lawyer would potentially get paid much more unless the judges took bribes. Zeezrom’s actions indicate that a bribe was standard procedure: Zeezrom “being one of the most expert among them, having much business to do among the people” (Alma 10:31) begins his examination of Amulek by proposing a bribe (Alma 11:21-22). Thus, in Ammonihah, the judges, the lawyers, and the clergy (Alma 14:16, 18; 16:11; 1:3, 12) all served their own economic interest rather than whatever interests they should have served. Thus, Amulek’s charge “that the foundation of the destruction of this people is beginning to be laid by the unrighteousness of your lawyers and your judges” (Alma 10:27), is certainly in keeping with speaking “in favor of your law, to your condemnation” (Alma 10:26).

1The topic is also discussed in John W. Welch, “Weighing and Measuring in the Worlds of the Book of Mormon” in Journal of Book of Mormon Studies 8/2 (1999): 36-46; John W. Welch and J. Gregory Welch, Charting the Book of Mormon: Visual Aids for Personal Study and Teaching (Provo, Utah: FARMS, 1999), charts110-13.
2Jac. J. Janssen, Commodity Prices from the Ramessid Period: An Economic Study of the Village of Necropolis Workmen at Thebes (Leiden: Brill, 1975), 514-23.
3Ibid., 101.
4Ibid., 109.
5Ibid., 101-2.
6Ibid., 460.
7Ibid., 460.
8RIMA A.0.39.1, in A. Kirk Grayson, Assyrian Rulers of the Third and Second Millennia BC (to 1115 BC), RIMA 1 (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1987), 49; Albert Kirk Grayson, Assyrian Royal Inscriptions, 2 vols. (Wiesbaden: Otto Harrassowitz, 1972-76), 1:20; the conversions are based on M. A. Powell, "Masse und Gewichte," Reallexikon der Assyriologie 7:499, 510.
9Grayson, Assyrian Royal Inscriptions, 1:20-21, n. 64.

Monday, September 9, 2013

Another Preview from Mormon's Codex

The Maxwell Institute Blog has provided another sneak peak at John L. Sorenson's forthcoming book Mormon's Codex which is expected to appear sometime next week.

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Book of Mormon Word Usage: Opposition

The word opposition is used in the Book of Mormon to contrast things that are opposed to each other. Lehi illustrates this with a number of word pairs that are opposed or contrary to each other. His list includes:
  • punishment vs. happiness (2 Nephi 2:10)

  • righteousness vs. wickedness (2 Nephi 2:11)

  • holiness vs. misery (2 Nephi 2:11)

  • good vs. bad (2 Nephi 2:11)

  • life vs. death (2 Nephi 2:11)

  • corruption vs. incorruption (2 Nephi 2:11)

  • sense vs. insensibility (2 Nephi 2:11)

  • the forbidden fruit vs. the tree of life (2 Nephi 2:15)
Indeed, Lehi argues that "there is an opposition in all things" (2 Nephi 2:11). But it is not so in the Book of Mormon. The term opposition appears only in 2 Nephi, in Lehi's speech to his son Jacob (2 Nephi 2:10-11, 15).

Friday, September 6, 2013

Timber at Old World Bountiful (Howlers # 21)

1 Nephi 18:1 indicates that the Jews make a ship from the ample timber in Arabia. The same objection applies here also. 

     Thomas Key, "A Biologist Examines the Book of Mormon," (1985), 1.

At this point Nephi is instructed to build a ship for passage into the New World, at a location probably more remote from shipbuilding timber than any place on the globe. 

     Gordon Fraser, What does the Book of Mormon Teach?, 1964, 37.

Recent research in southern Oman indicates that several kinds of wood were found in the region of Southern Oman that could have been used in building Nephi's ship.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

The Future of the Book of Mormon

In 1881, President George Q. Cannon of the First Presidency made the following remarks.

Today there is probably no greater stumbling block in the way of the people regarding this Latter-day work than this record. Everything has been done that could be done to blind the eyes and darken the understanding of the children of men concerning the Book of Mormon. Every conceivable falsehood, almost, has been put into circulation concerning the origin of that work, and the inhabitants of the earth have been led to believe that it is one of the greatest impostures that was ever palmed upon mankind. And the name "Mormon" has been applied in consequence of this, in derision to us because of our belief in that work. . . .

Beliefs change and misrepresentation and falsehood fade away as time passes on and truth is received and accepted; and the day will yet come--and it is not far distant . . . when this Book of Mormon and all connected with it will be received and accepted, that is, all the truth, as the truth of the living God, for the reason that it is true, and that God himself is its author. For that reason, and for that reason alone, the time will come--and as I have said, it is not far distant, though it may seem very presumptuous to make such a statement--when this record will be accepted, as the Bible is now accepted, as a book of divine origin, and that it has been revealed through the ministrations and agency of holy angels.

[From George Q. Cannon, 18 September, 1881, in Journal of Discourses 22:252).

Monday, September 2, 2013

How to Read the Scriptures

[From Brigham Young, 8 October, 1859, in Journal of Discourses 7:333).

Do you read the Scriptures, my brethren and sisters, as though you were writing them a thousand, two thousand, or five thousand years ago? Do you read them as though you stood in the place of the men who wrote them? If you do not feel thus, it is your privilege to do so, that you may feel as familiar with the spirit and meaning of the written word of God as you are with your daily walk and conversation, or as you are with your workmen or with your households. You may understand what the Prophets understood and thought--what they designed and planned to bring forth to their brethren for good. When you can thus feel, then you may begin to think that you can find out something about God, and begin to learn who he is.

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Book of Mormon Word Usage: Neglect

The word neglect, occurring only seven times in the Book of Mormon, is easy to neglect. All of the occurrences are in Alma, and all but one of them come from a single chapter, Moroni's petition to Pahoran (Alma 60). The other occurrence is in one of Alma's discourses (Alma 32).

Four times the noun neglect is modified by the adjective great (Alma 60:4, 5, 6, 14) and twice is described as "exceedingly great neglect" (Alma 60:6, 14). Moroni complains to the Pahoran, the chief judge, and asks:
Is it that ye have neglected us because ye are in the heart of our country and ye are surrounded by security, that ye do not cause food to be sent unto us, and also men to strengthen our armies? (Alma 60:19)
Moroni can classify this as neglect because
ye yourselves know that ye have been appointed to gather together men, and arm them with swords, and with cimeters, and all manner of weapons of war of every kind, and send forth against the Lamanites, in whatsoever parts they should come into our land. (Alma 60:2)
The two challenges facing Moroni and his armies were
myself, and also my men, and also Helaman and his men, have suffered exceedingly great sufferings; yea, even hunger, thirst, and fatigue, and all manner of afflictions of every kind (Alma 60:3)
great has been the slaughter among our people; yea, thousands have fallen by the sword, while it might have otherwise been if ye had rendered unto our armies sufficient strength and succor for them (Alma 60:5).
Thus Moroni asked for food and men.

Moroni blames the situation first on "your thoughtless state" (Alma 60:6), second because perhaps "ye yourselves are seeking for authority. We know not but what ye are also traitors to your country."
(Alma 60:18). The real reason is a rebellion (Alma 61:3), which is a possibility that Moroni mentions but does not consider as the present problem (Alma 60:16-17).

Moroni, seeing the dire consequences of neglect and thoughtlessness, classifies those who neglect their duties as "wax[ing] strong in your iniquities" (Alma 60:31) and bringing the judgment of God on them (Alma 60:32).

Given this sort of background on the use of neglect, consider now the other use of the term:
But if ye neglect the tree, and take no thought for its nourishment, behold it will not get any root; and when the heat of the sun cometh and scorcheth it, because it hath no root it withers away, and ye pluck it up and cast it out. Now, this is not because the seed was not good, neither is it because the fruit thereof would not be desirable; but it is because your ground is barren, and ye will not nourish the tree, therefore ye cannot have the fruit thereof. (Alma 32:38–39)
The two uses form a curious, and telling, parallel.