Sunday, June 30, 2013

Book of Mormon Word Usage: Glance

At first it seems that a word that occurs only three times in the Book of Mormon is not worth a second glance, but sometimes a word rarely used shows very specific usage. The term glance is one of these.

In Joseph Smith’s day, a glance was “a sudden shoot of light or splendor” or “a shoot or darting of sight; a rapid or momentary view of cast; a snatch of sight; as, a sudden glance; a glance of the eye.” (Noah Webster, American Dictionary of the English Language (1844), s.v. glance.) That provides a basic meaning in the translation but does not address the particular Book of Mormon usage.

Jacob uses the term twice in quick succession of each other:
I must . . . tell you concerning your wickedness and abominations . . . under the glance of the piercing eye of the Almighty God (Jacob 2:10).
O that he [God] would show you that he can pierce you, and with one glance of his eye he can smite you to the dust!
Alma too uses the term in similar fashion:
then shall they confess, who live without God in the world, that the judgment of an everlasting punishment is just upon them; and they shall quake, and tremble, and shrink beneath the glance of his all-searching eye (Mosiah 27:31). 
One of the things that is interesting about this passage is that just days before Alma had been one living without God in the world, and had found out from personal experience that the mere presence of an angel “could shake the earth and cause it to tremble” (Mosiah 27:18) and caused him to become “weak, even that he could not move his hands; therefore he was taken by those that were with him, and carried helpless” (Mosiah 27:19).

So in the Book of Mormon, it is never merely a glance, but a glance of the eye of God. That glance pierces and smites, causes things to quake and tremble and shrink.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Thoughts on the Book of Mormon

From Hugh Nibley, The Prophetic Book of Mormon (1989), 85

An imitation nursery rhyme may be almost as good as an original, but a knowingly faked mathematical equation would be the abomination of desolation. Curves and equations derive all their value not from the hard work they represent or the neatness with which they are presented on paper, but from one fact alone – the fact that they speak the truth and communicate valid knowledge. Without that they are less than nothing. To those who understand and believe Einstein’s equation that E = mc 2 [Energy equals mass times the speed of light squared], that statement is a revelation of power; to those who do not understand or believe it (and there are many!), it is nothing short of an insolent and blasphemous fraud. So it is with the Book of Mormon, which if believed is a revelation of power but otherwise in a nonsensical jumble.

Monday, June 24, 2013

Religious Genius and the Book of Mormon

From Terryl L. Givens, By The Hand of Mormon: The American Scripture That Launched A New World Religion (Oxford University Press, 2002), 246.

Recognizing the ultimate insufficiency of cultural influences to account for the Book of Mormon taken as a whole, an intrigued observer like Harold Bloom, perhaps the most famous contemporary (non-Mormon) admirer of Joseph Smith, refers to the prophet as an “authentic religious genius.” Many Mormons would be happy for the complement. Such a tribute, however, as foremost historian of Mormonism Richard Bushman realizes, is still just another kind of intellectual failure to come to terms with the golden bible. “Genius, by common admission, carries human achievement beyond the limits of simple historical explanation, just as revelation does. To say that the Book of Mormon could only be written by a genius is logically not much different from saying God revealed it. In both cases, we admit that historical analysis fails us.”

He shall be born at Jerusalem which is the land of our forefathers (Howlers #8)

In the previous post we saw how the phrase “land of Jerusalem” in the Book of Mormon, which was once derided by critics as an anachronism finds its equivalent in ancient Near Eastern texts, discovered long after the Book of Mormon was published and Joseph Smith was dead. In another early criticism skeptical readers cited the words of Alma’s prophecy to the people of of Gideon as even more problematic. Some eighty-three years before the birth of Christ, this pre-Columbian prophet said, “And behold, he shall be born of Mary, at Jerusalem, which is the land of our forefathers” (Alma 7:10). Few passages of the Book of Mormon have been the subject of more ridicule and it seems to be a favorite criticism even among critics of the Book of Mormon today. One blast from the past should be adequate.

“This prophet Smith . . . . is better skilled in the controversies in New York than in the geography of history of Judea. He makes John baptize in Bethabara, and says Jesus was born in Jerusalem.”

Alexander Campbell, “Delusions,” Millennial Harbinger, February 7, 1831): 93.

Latter-day Saints have often responded to this criticism (e.g. Robert F. Smith, “The Land of Jerusalem: The Place of Jesus’ Birth” in John W. Welch, Reexploring the Book of Mormon, 1992, 170-72). The most significant points in my view are these. Alma’s prophecy speaks of the “land” from which his forefathers came of which “Jerusalem,” the place where the ruling kings of Judah dwelt, was the political center in Lehi’s day. The Amarna letters show how the terms Jerusalem and land of Jerusalem could be used interchangeably, when Jerusalem is understood to be the political center that controls the surrounding land. The troubled writer of el-Amarna Letter 289 says, “And now as for Jerusalem behold this land belongs to the king”  (Prichard, The Ancient Near East, 1:273. Emphasis added), just as Alma speaks of “Jerusalem which is the land of our forefathers” (Alma 7:10). In Lehi’s day, as well as in Jesus’ day, Jerusalem was the capital of the Jewish people.

More significant, however, is that el-Amarna Letter 290 refers to "a town in the land of Jerusalem" with the Canaanite name Bît-Lahmi, which is, “an almost certain reference to the town of Bethlehem, which thus appears for the first time in history” (James B. Pritchard, The Ancient Near East, 274, note 1). That is, Bethlehem, known to us as the place of Jesus’ birth, was considered by the ancient writer to have been a town belonging to Jerusalem, a town of the “land of Jerusalem,” which Alma’s prophecy can be taken to imply.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Thoughts on the Book of Mormon

From Neal A. Maxwell, But for a Small Moment (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1986), 18.

Individuals and settings of obscurity are not unusual to the Lord's purposes. Meridian-day Christianity was initiated on a very small geographical scale and with comparatively few people. The larger, busy world paid little heed to it. Likewise with the Book of Mormon peoples. Whether located in Meso-America or elsewhere, they were one people among many peoples on this planet and perhaps even on the western hemisphere. Lack of knowledge of and communication with others was the factor here.

Line upon Line

From Brigham Young, March 15, 1857, JD:4-286-87

Those who humble themselves before the Lord, and wait upon him with a perfect heart and willing mind, will receive little by little, line upon line, precept upon precept, here a little, and there a little, “Now and again,” as brother Taylor says, until they receive a certain amount. They then have to nourish and cherish what they receive, and make it their constant companion, encouraging every good thought, doctrine and principle and doing every good work they can perform, until by and bye the Lord is in them a well of water, springing up unto everlasting life.

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Book of Mormon Intertextuality

Dan Peterson has an article on Intertextuality in the Book of Mormon. He notes four places where the Book of Mormon quotes from or refers to itself. Two of these seem to be new.

See more at

Friday, June 21, 2013

The “Land of Jerusalem” (Howlers #7)

“`The land of Jerusalem.’ . . . There is no such land. No part of Palestine bears the name Jerusalem, except the city itself.”

            Origen Bacheler, Mormonism Exposed Internally and Externally (1838), 14.

The phrase “land of Jerusalem” is a common phrase in the Book of Mormon and is used by prophets in the Book of Mormon to refer to the place of their original inheritance before their journey to a new land of promise (1 Nephi 2:11; 7:2; 7:7; 16:35; 17:20; 2 Nephi 1:1).Hugh Nibley and subsequent Latter day Saint scholars have shown that, while the phrase, “land of Jerusalem” is not found in the Bible, it does appear five times in the El Amarna Tablets, which date to the fourteenth century B.C. (Hugh Nibley, Lehi in the Desert, 1988, 6-7),  as shown in the examples from El Amarna Letters 287  AND 287 and 290 below.

“Behold this land of Jerusalem . . .”

“[If] they send into the land [of Jerusalem] troops, let them come with an Egyptian officer”

“Let my king requisition for them much grain, much oil, (and) much clothing, until Pawure, the royal commissioner, comes up to the land of Jerusalem

“Behold, the king has set his name in the land of Jerusalem for ever; so he cannot abandon the lands of Jerusalem!”

“But now even a town of the land of Jerusalem, Bit-Lahmi by name, a town belonging to the king, has gone over to the side of the people of Keilah”

James B. Pritchard, The Ancient Near East, 1:271-272, 274 emphasis added.

The Amarna tablets were not discovered until 1887, some fifty-seven years after the publication of the Book of Mormon.

The phrase “land of Jerusalem” has more recently turned up in a fragment from the Dead Sea Scrolls attributed to the prophet Jeremiah (4Q385b).

[…and] Jeremiah the prophet [went] from before YHWH, [… the] exiles who were brought into exile from the land of Jerusalem and were led […] king of Babel, when Nabuzaradan, chief of the escort, struck […] … and he took the vessels of the temple of God, the priests [… and] the children of Israel and led them to Babylon.

Florentino Garcia Martinez and Eibert J. C. Tigchelaar, eds., The Dead Sea Scrolls Study Edition (1998), 2:773.

Thoughts on the Book of Mormon

Notwithstanding that a determined effort was made after he removed from the State of New York, by hunting up evidence at Palmyra and Manchester, to prove the Book of Mormon to be a mere human production, and although various charges were brought against him, yet so well known was it that he was an unlearned youth, that the idea of charging him with an education did not occur to his active opposers. They made charges against him, but no person either in Palmyra or Manchester accused him of ever buying a book or entering a library.

C. W. Wandell, “Credibility of the Book of Mormon” Latter-day Saints Millennial Star (May 16, 1857): 311.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Thoughts on the Book of Mormon

From  Dan Jones, “The Book of Mormon–Its Description,” Prophet of the Jubiliee (August 1846): 42-43.

I suppose no book ever had so much said against it by those who knew so little about it, as the Book of Mormon. Wherever it goes in every country, the ears of the populace are filled to the brim with stories and tales as numerous and varied as their authors, which consequently contradict each other; many of them published and preached by those who have never seen the book; others by those who have dipped into it here and there, purposefully to pick faults, and not infrequently one sees quotations from it greatly distorted and twisted. Some describe it as an invented tale; others say it is a new Bible, to supersede the old. Some condemn it for being the most worthless tissue of foolishness they ever saw; others say that it is the most skillful fraud possible. Some find fault with it because it is too similar to the Bible, that its testimony coincides with it, and is therefore unnecessary; but others assert that it is a fraud because it is not similar enough to the Bible. Some condemn the principles it contains because they are immoral, totally evil, and blasphemous; but others of their brothers proclaim to their faces that the principles teach morality, chastity, and holiness, as though it had been purposely composed to trick in that way. Amongst others, one learned minister went to the trouble of publishing a 60-page treatise, against the Book of Mormon, &c., accusing it unsparingly of comprising a strangely foolish mixture, “faith and acts, of God’s mercies, and of asking obedience to his creatures.” Some of the great men of the age have proclaimed that its idiom, its language, and its contents prove its antiquity; and others of the same class, that it bears every mark of recent forgery. Some cannot make our what use it could be, or how to prove its truth, unless there were some prophecies in it to be fulfilled, from which they could prove its divinity; others quote extensively from the prophecies that are about to be fulfilled, and they condemn it for being too clear: the old prophets did not do thus, they say.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Names and Meaning: Zoram as a Case Study

Neal Rappleye posted the following at Studio et Quoque Fide (reposted with permission):

Book of Mormon Onomasticon Project Launched Online

The Book of Mormon Onomasticon project, which has long been in the works, has finally been launched online. Although it is still under development, there is plenty of great information and research available already on every single name in the Book of Mormon. Many of the entries provide convenient summaries of the research that has gone into a Book of Mormon name. Some brief time browsing the entries will quickly make it apparent which names have received the most attention from scholars and which names need more work. In any event, it is a great new tool for Book of Mormon study.

Understanding the meaning of a name can shed light on the meaning of scripture, especially since scriptural names can be metonymic. That is, names more relevant to the actions or role of a person in a narrative may be substituted for that actual person’s name. Even in cases where a metonymic name is not in play, authors aware of the meaning of the name may have used it in some way to enhance the narrative. Such word plays on proper nouns are common in ancient Near Eastern literature.
Zoram: From “Servant of Laban” to “Rock of Nephi”

Consider the name Zoram. I chose this name because it has received very little attention from scholars. It was one of the first I looked up in the Book of Mormon Onomasticon (BMO) because, as the only name in the 1 Nephi narrative that has not been attested in ancient sources, I was interested in seeing what they had come up with. Hugh Nibley had suggested it meant something like “refreshing rain,” and William J. Hamblin has followed suit (from the Hebrew zerem). The BMO, however, suggests either ûrām, “their rock,” or the hypothetical construct *ûrʿām, “rock of the people.” I like this suggestion much better than the “rain” idea from Nibley and Hamblin because when I think about that meaning in light of the role Zoram plays in the narrative, it becomes more interesting.
Zoram is first introduced into the narrative simply as the “servant of Laban” (1 Nephi 4:20, 31, 33). It is not until he taking an oath wherein he is promised his freedom that his called by his name (1 Nephi 4:35). This might be significant. I suggest that this is a deliberate literary move made by Nephi, meant to convey his transition from bondage to freedom. At first he is known only as someone else’s, “the servant of Laban,” but after taking an oath which grants him his status as a free man, he becomes known by his own name, “Zoram.” In the narrative, it is almost as if he becomes Zoram upon taking the oath, like receiving a new name. If the name, as the BMO suggests, has the element “rock” in it, then the imagery of a now strong and mighty person, no longer a slave or servant could be conveyed by the choice to call him no longer the “servant” but by his name, Zoram. Since rock imagery can convey the idea of steadfastness, faithfulness, or reliability, it may be meant to convey his faithful commitment to the oath he was making. The meaning “their rock” might even be expressive of his relationship to his oath-givers. While he was granted status as a “free man” it was on the condition that he join their group, that he “go down into the wilderness with us” (1 Nephi 4:33). Thus in that sense, he was to become “their rock,” or their faithful and loyal companion. As Lehi is about to pass away, he speaks to Zoram and we find out that indeed, Zoram had become a “true friend” to Nephi, and Lehi is confident that he will be so “forever” (2 Nephi 1:30). Again, the imagery here is that of a rock – someone who is firm, faithful, and true forever. Zoram is the “rock of Nephi”, his ever loyal comrade.
Final Thoughts

These are, of course, only my fairly amateur ruminations and may not be connected to reality at all. But whether or not ûrām/*ûrʿām is really the underlying Hebrew of Zoram, thinking about the possible meaning of this name has given me a whole new way of reading his story in the Book of Mormon in light “rock” imagery that provides insights on freedom, strength, friendship, and loyalty. Right or wrong, it was worthwhile. And that is from just one name. Imagine what else can be gleaned as we seek out possible meanings of other names in the Book of Mormon. So go check out the Book of Mormon Onomsticon and see what treasures of hidden knowledge (see D&C 89:19) await you!

Seantum’s Confession (Howlers # 6)

“At a later period occurred the trial of Nephi for the murder of Seantum, the Chief Judge. The real murderer was the judge’s brother, who is forced to confess by a series confessions based on threats such as would undoubtedly be rejected by the judge of an English criminal court. Finally comes the statement, `because of this fear and this paleness which has come upon your face, behold we know that thou art guilty.’”

James Williams, “The Law of the Book of Mormon” American Law Review 34 (1900): 222.

John W. Welch has written extensively on the subject of law and the Book of Mormon published an article in 1992 in which he wrote the following:

The trial of Seantum in Helaman 7-8 raises some interesting points of Nephite and Israelite law. The story is familiar, how Nephi spoke from his garden tower (see Helaman 7:10), was threatened with a lawsuit for reviling against the government, but in the end revealed that the chief judge was "murdered, and he [lay] in his blood; and he [had] been murdered by his brother, who [sought] to sit in the judgment-seat" (Helaman 8:27). Five men ran and found things to be as Nephi had said.

A public proclamation was then sent out by heralds announcing the murder and calling a day of fasting, mourning, and burial (see Helaman 9:10). The day after the death of a political leader was traditionally a day of fasting, mourning, and burial (see 1 Samuel 31:13; 2 Samuel 1:12).

Following the burial, five suspects (the men who had been sent to investigate) were brought to the judges. They could not be convicted, however, on circumstantial evidence, for such was ruled out under Israelite law, which required every fact to be substantiated by the testimony of two eyewitnesses (see Deuteronomy 19:15). This presented a serious problem in this particular case, however, for no one had witnessed the killing of the chief judge. Seantum had killed his brother "by a garb of secrecy" (Helaman 9:6).

Cases of unwitnessed murders presented special problems under the law of Moses. While the two-witness rule would seem to stand insurmountably in the way of ever obtaining a conviction in such cases, such slayings could not simply be ignored. If a person was found slain in the land and the murderer could not be found, solemn rituals, oaths of innocence, and special purification of all the men in the village had to be performed (see Deuteronomy 21:1-9). Things turned out differently in Seantum's case, however, for he was soon exposed in a way that opened the door to an exceptional rule of evidence that justified his conviction.

Nephi first revealed to the people that Seantum was the murderer, that they would find blood on the skirts of his cloak, and that he would say certain things to them when they told him, "We know that thou are guilty" (Helaman 9:34). Indeed, Seantum was soon detected and immediately confessed his guilt (see Helaman 9:37-38).

Seantum's self-incriminating admission would normally not be admissible in a Jewish court of law. Under the Talmud, no man could be put to death on his own testimony: "No man may call himself a wrongdoer," especially in a capital case (TB, Sanhedrin 9b). But from earlier times came four episodes that gave rise to an exception to this rule against self-incriminating confessions under certain circumstances. Those precedents, each of which involved convictions or punishments based on confessions, were the executions of (1) Aachan (see Joshua 7), of (2) the man who admitted that he had killed Saul (see 2 Samuel 1:10-16), and of (3) the two assassins of Ishbosheth, the son of Saul (see 2 Samuel 4:8-12), as well as (4) the voluntary confession of Micah, the son who stole from his mother (see Judges 17:1-4).

The ancients reconciled these four cases with their rigid two-witness rule by explaining that they involved confessions before trial or were proceedings before kings or rulers instead of judges (See Menachem Elon, The Principles of Jewish Law [Jerusalem: Keter, 1975], 614). An exception was especially granted when the confession was "corroborated by an ordeal as well as by the production of the corpus delicti," (Ze'ev Falk, Hebrew Law in Biblical Times [Jerusalem: Wahrmann, 1964], 71), as in the case of Aachan, who was detected by the casting of lots and whose confession was corroborated by the finding of the illegal goods under his tent floor.

Thus, one can with reasonable confidence conclude that in the biblical period the normal two-witness rule could be overridden in the special case of a self-incriminating confession, if the confession occurred outside of court, or if God's will was evidenced in the matter by ordeal, lots, or otherwise in the detection of the offender, and if corroborating physical evidence of the crime could be produced.

Seantum's self-incriminating confession satisfies all three of these requirements precisely, and thus his conviction was ensured. His confession was spontaneous and before trial. The evidence of God's will was supplied through Nephi's prophecy. Tangible evidence was present in the blood found on Seantum's cloak. These factors, under biblical law, would override the normal Jewish concerns about the use of self-incriminating confessions to obtain a conviction.

Given the complicated and important ancient legal issues presented by the case of Seantum, it is little wonder that the text makes special note of the fact that Seantum himself was legitimately "brought to prove that he himself was the very murderer" (Helaman 9:38). No further evidence was legally needed to convict him under these circumstances.

Welch’s article, “The Case of An Unobserved Murder,” was published in Reexploring the Book of Mormon (1992), 242-44. For further reading see Welch, The Legal Cases in the Book of Mormon (Brigham Young University Press and the Neal A. Maxwell Institute for Religious Scholarship, 2008).

Thoughts on the Book of Mormon

An extremely important lesson [is] driven home repeatedly in the Book of Mormon, that righteousness does not consist of being identified with this or that nation, party, church, or group. When you find a particularly wicked society in the story, look back a few pages and you will probably find that not many years before those same people were counted righteous. Or, when you find a particular godless and ferocious lot of Lamanites, if you look a few pages ahead you may find them among the most blessed and favored of God's people.

                Hugh Nibley, The Prophetic Book of Mormon (1989), 337

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Scholars are People Too

From I. Cohen, “Orthodoxy and Scientific Progress,” Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society 96 [1952]: 505-506.

I have never encountered [a scientist] of any importance whatever who would welcome with joy and satisfaction the publication of a new theory, explanation, or conceptual scheme that would completely replace and render superfluous his own creation . . . The scientist actually tries often in vain to fit each new discovery or set of discoveries into the traditional theories [as he] clings to conceptions or preconceptions as long as it is humanly possible.” Hence, “Any suggestion that scientists so dearly love truth that they have not the slightest hesitation in jettisoning their beliefs is a mean perversion of the facts. It is s a form of scientific idolatry, supposing that scientists are entirely free from the passions that direct men’s actions, and we should have little patience with it.

Monday, June 17, 2013

Laban’s Sword of “Most Precious Steel” (Howlers #5)

In his account of his encounter with Laban, an important official in Jerusalem around 600 B.C. Nephi states, “I beheld his sword, and I drew it forth from the sheath thereof; and the hilt thereof was of pure gold, and the workmanship thereof was exceedingly fine, and I saw that the blade thereof was of the most precious steel” (1 Nephi 4:9). Nephi’s description of this weapon was long considered anachronistic:

“This is the earliest account of steel to be found in history.”
E. D. Howe, Mormonism Unvailed (1834), 25-26.   

“Laban’s sword was steel, when it is a notorious fact that the Israelites knew nothing of steel for hundreds of years afterwards. Who but as ignorant s person as Rigdon would have perpetrated all these blunders?” 
Clark Braden in Public Discussion, 1884, 109.

“Laban is represented as killed by one Nephi, some six hundred years before Christ, with a sword `of the most precious steel,’ hundreds of years before steel was known to man!”
Daniel Bartlett, The Mormons or, Latter-day Saints (1911), 15.         
“[The Book of Mormon] speaks of the most `precious steel,’ before the commonest had been dreamt of.”
C. Sheridan Jones, The Truth about the Mormons (1920), 4-5.   

“Nephi . . . wielded a sword `of the most precious steel.’ But steel was not known to man in those days.”
Stuart Martin, The Mystery of Mormonism (1920), 44.  

“Laban had a steel sword long before steel came into use.”
George Arbaugh, Revelation in Mormonism (1932), 55.  

“Every commentator on the Book of Mormon has pointed out the many cultural and historical anachronisms, such as the steel sword of Laban in 600 B.C.”
Thomas O’Dea, The Mormons (1957), 39.   

“No one believes that steel was available to Laban or anyone else in 592 B.C.”
William Whalen, The Latter-day Saints in the Modern World (1964), 48.

Today, the cutting remarks of  past critics notwithstanding, it is increasingly apparent that the practice of hardening iron through deliberate carburization, quenching and tempering was well known to the ancient world from which Nephi came "It seems evident” notes one recent authority, “that by the beginning of the tenth century B.C. blacksmiths were intentionally steeling iron."  (Robert Maddin, James D. Muhly and Tamara S. Wheeler, “How the Iron Age Began,” Scientific American 237/4 [October 1977]:127).

Archaeologists, for example, have discovered evidence of sophisticated iron technology from the island of Cyprus. One interesting example was a curved iron knife found in an eleventh century tomb. Metallurgist Erik Tholander analyzed the weapon and found that it was made of “quench-hardened steel.” Other examples are known from Syro-Palestine. For example, an iron knife was found in an eleventh century Philistine tomb showed evidence of deliberate carburization.  Another is an iron pick found at the ruins of an fortress on Mount Adir in northern Galilee and may date as early as the thirteenth century B.C. “The manufacturer of the pick had knowledge of the full range of iron-working skills associated with the production of quench hardened steel” (James D. Muhly, “How Iron technology changed the ancient world and gave the Philistines a military edge,” Biblical Archaeology Review 8/6 [November-December 1982]: 50).

According to Amihai Mazar this implement was “made of real steel produced by carburizing, quenching and tempering.”  (Amihai Mazar, Archaeology of the Land of the Bible 10,000-586 B.C.E. New York: Doubleday, 1990, 361).

More significant, perhaps, in relation to the sword of Laban, archaeologists have discovered a carburized iron sword near Jericho. The sword which had a bronze haft, was one meter long and dates to the time of king Josiah, who would have been a contemporary of Lehi. This find has been described as "spectacular" since it is apparently "the only complete sword of its size and type from this period yet discovered in Israel."(Hershall Shanks, “Antiquities director confronts problems and controversies,” Biblical Archaeology Review 12/4 [July-August 1986]: 33, 35).

Today the sword is displayed at Jerusalem's Israel Museum. For a photo of the sword see here.

The sign on the display reads:

This rare and exceptionally long sword, which was discovered on the floor of a building next to the skeleton of a man, dates to the end of the First Temple period. The sword is 1.05 m. long (!) and has a double edged blade, with a prominent central ridge running along its entire length.

The hilt was originally inlaid with a material that has not survived, most probably wood. Only the nails that once secured the inlays to the hilt can still be seen. The sword's sheath was also made of wood, and all that remains of it is its bronze tip. Owing to the length and weight of the sword, it was probably necessary to hold it with two hands. The sword is made of iron hardened into steel, attesting to substantial metallurgical know-how. Over the years, it has become cracked, due to corrosion.

Such discoveries lend a greater sense of historicity to Nephi's passing comment in the Book of Mormon.

Thoughts on the Book of Mormon

 From Hugh Nibley, Of All Things (1993), 14-5

When is a thing proven? When you personally think it’s so, and that’s all you can do. . .
Then you have your testimony, and all you can do is bear your testimony and point to the evidence. That’s all you can do. But you can’t impose your testimony on another. And you can’t make the other person see the evidence as you do. Things that just thrill me through and through in the Book of Mormon leave another person completely cold. And the other way around, too. So we can’t use evidence, and we can’t say, I know this is true, therefore you’d better know it is true. But I know it is true, and I pray our Heavenly Father that we may all come to a knowledge of the truth, each in his own way.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Book of Mormon Word Usage: Smell

In trying to recapture the world of the Book of Mormon, perhaps the most difficult of the sense to recapture is that of smell. The Book of Mormon uses a number of terms for this sense and uses them in unexpected ways.

Some words for smell are not used in the Book of Mormon. These include aroma, stench, reek, and odor.

The word scent occurs three times in the Book of Mormon. None of the circumstances of the scent are pleasant.

Alma 16:11 describes the aftermath of the destruction of the city of Ammonihah:
After many days their dead bodies were heaped up upon the face of the earth, and they were covered with a shallow covering. And now so great was the scent thereof that the people did not go in to possess the land of Ammonihah for many years.

Ether 14:23 uses the term twice in describing the final Jaredite destruction:
So swift and sppedy was the war that there was none left to bury the dead, but they did march forth from the sheeding of blood to the shedding of blood, leaving the bodies of both men, women, and children strewed upon the face of the land, to become a prey to the worms of the flesh. And the scent thereof went forth upon the face of the land, even upon all the face of the land; wherefore the people became troubled by day and by might, because of the scent thereof (Ether 14:22-23). 
In all cases, the Book of Mormon uses the term scent to describe the smell of decaying human flesh. The term is used for a noisome odor that bothers people.

For a pleasant odor, the Book of Mormon uses the word smell, but does so only once in a quotation of Isaiah: “instead of sweet smell there shall be stink” (2 Nephi 13:24). The adjective sweet needs to accompany the term smell to refer to a pleasant odor showing that the term smell is more neutral.

This leads us to the last term for odor in the Book of Mormon: stink. As a noun, stink occurs once in opposition to a “sweet smell” (2 Nephi 13:24). As a verb, stink is used three times in the Book of Mormon.

In the quotation of Isaiah in 2 Nephi 7:2, God is quoted as saying:
Behold, at my rebuke I dry up the sea, I make their rivers a wilderness and their fish to stink because the waters are dried up, and they die because of thirst.
So in this passage dying and drying fish are said to stink.

The other passage using the verb stink twice in describing Lamoni, who has been in a comatose state for two days and nights. His wife discussing the situation, observes:
Some say that he is not dead, but others say that he is dead and that he stinketh, and that he ought to be placed in a sepulchre; but as for myself, to me he doth not stink. (Alma 19:5).

So stink, like scent, is used in the Book of Mormon to refer to the smell produced by decaying bodies.

In the Old Testament, the term savor is sometimes used of good smells, but in the Book of Mormon it is only used of the taste of salt (3 Nephi 12:13; 16:15).

One might wonder why the olfactory world of the Book of Mormon is so overwhelmingly negative. Perhaps only the bad smells were thought worthy of mention. Perhaps Mormon and Moroni, observing the destruction of their people, with their noses as well as their eyes, saw fit to leave us a pungent reminder of their people’s folly.

Friday, June 14, 2013

The "Garb" of Secrecy (Howlers #4)

“A `garb of secrecy’ is surely a formidable instrument with which to stab a man!”
                                      M. T. Lamb, The Golden Bible (1887), 57.

“`Garb’ is clothing; one cannot be stabbed with a piece of clothing—it would be even more difficult for someone to be stabbed with that!”
                                     Weldon Langfield, The Truth About Mormonism (1991), 50.

John Tvedtnes and David Bokovoy offer the following insight:

In Helaman 9:6, we read that the Nephite judge had been "stabbed by his brother by a garb of secrecy." Critics have contended that this makes no sense in English since "garb" has the same meaning as "garment" or "clothing." This idiom is the same as the English "under cloak of secrecy." But what is most interesting is that the Hebrew word beged means both "garment" or "garb" (e.g. Genesis 39:12-13) and "treachery." This is an obvious word-play in the Hebrew original of the Book of Mormon. As for the preposition by, in Hebrew its range of meaning includes "in," "with," and "by means of."

David E. Bokovoy and John A. Tvedtnes, Testaments: Links Between the Book of Mormon and the Hebrew Bible (2003), 204.

Thoughts on the Book of Mormon

From Hugh Nibley, Lehi in the Desert (1988), 153.

“The Book of Mormon is tough. It thrives on investigation. You may kick it around like a football, as many have done; and I promise you it will wear you out long before you ever make a dent in it.”

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Abinadi: Master of Disguise (Howlers #3)

“The hero of this tale is a fearless prophet by the name of Abinadi who got himself into a lot of trouble by denouncing the evil deeds of the wicked king Noah. King Noah finally swore to kill Abinadi, so the prophet hid out for two years to escape the king’s wrath. We read in Mosiah 12:1 about how he surfaced again: `And it came to pass that after the space of two years that Abinadi came among them in disguise, that they knew him not, and began to prophesy among them, saying–Abinadi, go and prophesy unto this my people . . . .’ And how long do you think that disguise lasted?”
                                                Latayne Colvett Scott, The Mormon Mirage (1979), 88.

Alan Goff provides another perspective on Abinadi’s disguise:

After hiding from King Noah for two years, the prophet Abinadi came before the people in disguise, identified himself by name, and then delivered a message of condemnation to the king and his people. Some might wonder why Abinadi would go to the trouble of disguising himself only to identify himself shortly afterward. Recent scholarly studies of the biblical narrative may help shed light on this curious episode.

One example is an article by Richard Coggins that examines five biblical stories involving kings, prophets, and disguises (1 Sam. 28:3–20; 1 Kgs. 14:1–20; 20:35–43; 22:29–37; 2 Chr. 35: 20–24).  Each narrative relates a confrontation between a king and God’s prophet or spokesman. Sometimes the king or his wife dons the disguise in an unsuccessful effort to deceive God. At other times God’s prophet wears and then discards the disguise as part of his divine message.

According to Coggins, “the disguise story ends in each case with the same warning: defeat of the people in battle, and death of the king.” He also notes that it is an “unacceptable line of kingship” that is condemned by the prophetic word. All of the kings or their heirs in the biblical disguise stories meet with brutal deaths, and in each case the dynasty fails.

In this light, it isn’t hard to guess what will happen to the wicked and unrepentant King Noah. Abinadi predicts that Noah’s people will be brought into bondage and that the armies “shall be slain; and the vultures of the air, and the dogs, yea, and the wild beasts, shall devour their flesh” (Mosiah 12:2; 21:7–12). He also correctly predicts King Noah’s violent death by fire (Mosiah 12:3). Although Limhi served as king for a brief time afterward, Noah’s royal line ended as Limhi and his people were assimilated into Mosiah’s kingdom.

Coggins notes that the number and the distinctive character of the biblical disguise scenes suggest that they work typologically to make a fundamental theological point: “Nothing is hidden from God’s sight; he is presented as controlling the situation, often . . . in unexpected ways.” Because the Book of Mormon has roots in the Old World, Abinadi’s disguise may have conveyed a similar message. If so, the disguise may have been a prop to allude to the blindness of the people. While Abinadi was disguised, the people “knew him not” (Mosiah 12:1). King Noah did not know the Lord (Mosiah 11:27), and the people were blinded to God’s prophetic message (Mosiah 11:29). Noah and his supporters may have sought to hide or disguise their sins, but the Lord had seen their abominations (Mosiah 11:20) and would soon reveal them to other nations (Mosiah 12:8).

However, once the disguise was discarded, Abinadi’s divine message was clearly revealed to the people, just as “the time shall come when all shall see the salvation of the Lord; when every nation, kindred, tongue, and people shall see eye to eye and shall confess before God that his judgments are just” (Mosiah 16:1). Thus the disguise may have symbolized God’s ability to reveal and fulfill his word, notwithstanding the blindness of the people.

As in 1 Kings 20, where a prophet disguises himself “to ensure that his message would be conveyed unmistakably to the king,”  Abinadi’s use of a disguise in accord with an apparent Old Testament pattern can be seen as effectively foreshadowing Noah’s demise.  

Goff’s article was originally published in “Abinadi’s Disguise and the Fate of King Noah,” Insights: An Ancient Window 20/12 (2000): 2. For additional readings see also Goff, “Uncritical Theory and Thin Description: The Resistance to History,” Review of Books on the Book of Mormon 7/1 (1995):  170-207; Richard Coggins, “On Kings and Disguises,” Journal for the Study of the Old Testament 50 (1991): 55-62.

Thoughts on the Book of Mormon

From Hugh Nibley, Since Cumorah (1988), 393.

The final analysis of Mormon and Moroni was that the fatal weakness of the Nephites was lack of charity. And whenever the worst epidemics of Nephite disease were brought under control and even stamped out, it was always through a marvelous display of charity and forbearance by such great souls as Alma, Ammon, Moroni, or Nephi or his father Helaman, and specifically through the preaching of the word, which Alma knew was more effective than any surgery.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Book of Mormon Onomasticon Launched

The Laura F. Willis Center for Book of Mormon Studies under the direction of Paul Y. Hoskisson has for many years been working on a Book of Mormon Onomasticon Project. An onomasticon is a collection of names and the Book of Mormon Onomasticon Project looks at all the names in the Book of Mormon. The site is mostly a work in progress so accessing it at any given time will inform people of the latest thought on any particular name.

The address is:

We congratulate Professor Hoskisson and his team for bringing this project to a point where individuals can actually use it and hope that our readership will explore this resource.

Waving a "rent" (Howlers #2)

“But the following caps the climax of absurdities. Moroni has rent his coat, and taken `a piece thereof, and wrote upon it,’ and `fastened it upon the end of a pole thereof, and then after earnest an prayer: `He went forth among the people, waving the rent of his garment in the air, that all might see the writing which he had wrote upon the rent’ . . . . It is not strange that a man of meagre literary attainments as Joseph Smith . . . should be guilty of a great many blunders in composition, should make use of inelegant, and even vulgar expressions, should often choose the wrong word to express his thought.”
                                                                        M. T. Lamb, The Golden Bible (1887), 57.

The words of this passage in Alma 46:19 have been slightly amended in editions subsequent to 1830 to read “waving the rent part of his garment” and “writing which he had written upon the rent part.” John Tvedtnes sheds additional light on this phrase as it appeared in the 1830 edition.

During the years 1968-71, I taught Hebrew at the University of Utah. My practice was to ask new students to respond to a questionnaire, giving some idea of their interests and linguistic background. One student wrote that she wanted to study Hebrew in order to prove the Book of Mormon was a fraud. She approached me after class to explain.

When I inquired why she felt the Book of Mormon was fraudulent, she stated that it was full of errors. I asked for an example. She drew my attention to Alma 46:19, where we read, "When Moroni had said these words, he went forth among the people, waving the rent part of his garment in the air." She noted that in the 1830 edition (p. 351), this read simply "waving the rent of his garment." In English, the rent is the hole in the garment, not the piece torn out of the garment. Therefore, Moroni could not have waved it. This was an error, she contended, and adding the word part later was mere deception.

This was my first introduction to variations in different editions of the Book of Mormon. Without a Hebrew background, I might have been bothered by it. But the explanation was clear when I considered how Mormon would have written that sentence. Hebrew does not have to add the word part to a verbal substantive like rent as English requires. Thus, broken in Hebrew can refer to a broken thing or a broken part, while new can refer to a new thing. In the verse the student cited, rent would mean rent thing or rent part. Thus, the "error" she saw as evidence of fraud was really a Hebraism that was evidence for the authenticity of the Book of Mormon.

John Tvedtnes, “The Hebrew Background of the Book of Mormon,” in John Sorenson and Melvin Thorne, ed., Rediscovering the Book of Mormon (1991), 78.

Thoughts on the Book of Mormon

From George A. Smith, November 15 1863, Journal of Discourses 12:335

The Book of Mormon 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.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Book of Mormon Word Usage: Fear of the Lord

Modern man thinks of fear as a negative thing. Fears are seen as unreasonable. If you have a fear of something, it is a phobia that needs psychiatric help. There are some fears like that but fear of the Lord is not one of them.

The phrase “fear of the Lord” appears ten times in the Book of Mormon, half of them in quotations of Isaiah (2 Nephi 12:10, 19, 21; 21:2-3). The fear of the Lord has an interesting effect on those in the Book of Mormon. After king Benjamin’s address, the multitude “had fallen to the earth, for the fear of the Lord came upon them” (Mosiah 4:1). During the conversion of Lamoni, when Ammon, Lamoni, and the queen “had sunk to the earth,” the servants of the king who were there “began to cry unto God, for the fear of the Lord had come upon them also. . . . And it came to pass that they did call on the name of the Lord, in their might, even until they had all fallen to the earth” (Alma 19:14-16). Alma, recounting his own conversion to his sons, recalls that “we all fell to the earth, for the fear of the Lord came upon us” (Alma 36:3). In the Book of Mormon, the fear of the Lord is an overwhelming dread that so overcomes people that they fall to the earth. This is reflected also in the Isaiah quotations:
“O ye wicked ones, enter into the rock, and hide thee in the dust, for the fear of the Lord and the glory of his majesty shall smite thee” (2 Nephi 12:10 = Isaiah 2:10).
“They shall go into the holes of the rock, and into the caves of the earth, for the fear of the Lord shall come upon them and the glory of his majesty shall smite them” (2 Nephi 12:19 = Isaiah 2:19).
“To go into the clefts of the rocks, and into the tops of the ragged rocks, for the fear of the Lord shall come upon them and the majesty of his glory shall smite them” (2 Nephi 12:21 = Isaiah 2:21).
The Book of Mormon depicts God as an object of legitimate fear, awe, and dread. Jacob notes that “with one glance of his eye he can smite you to the dust!” (Jacob 2:15), and Moroni says “ye would be more miserable to dwell with a holy and just God, under a consciousness of your filthiness before him, and ye would to dwell with the damned souls in hell” (Mormon 9:4). Abinadi reminds his listeners that they should “behold, and fear, and tremble before God, for ye ought to tremble; for the Lord redeemeth none such that rebel against him and die in their sins” (Mosiah 15:26).

The Egyptians experienced something like this fear of God. In their daily temple liturgy, the high priest, who entered the presence of the god on a daily basis, opened the shrine and saw the face of the god. He immediately threw himself on his belly and pleaded:
I am on my belly for fear, fearing thy dread . . . lest I fall dead, slaughtered this day. (P. Berlin 3055 11/8-10, in Rituale für den Kultus des Amon und für den Kultus der Mut, Hieratische Papyrus aus den Königlichen Museen zu Berlin 1 [Leipzig: J. C. Hinrichs, 1901], Tafel XI.)

In modern times, this fear of the Lord seems to have left us. We substitute instead the notion that God is tolerant and inclusive. For many modern people, “God is something like a combination Divine Butler and Cosmic Therapist: he is always on call, takes care of any problems that arise, professionally helps his people feel better about themselves, and does not become too personally involved in the process.” (Christian Smith and Melinda Lundquist Denton, Soul Searching: The Religious and Spiritual Lives of American Teenagers [Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005], 165.) This is not a Book of Mormon attitude.

It is no coincidence that the first words out of angel’s (Genesis 21:17) or God’s mouth (Genesis 15:1; 26:24; 46:3; Joshua 8:1; Judges 6:23) are usually: “Fear not!” The visit of a divine being is in general a terrifying experience. Joseph Smith, after God and Jesus appeared to him, said that “when I came to myself again, I found myself lying on my back, looking up into heaven. When the light had departed, I had no strength” (JS-H 1:20). Falling to the earth is the normal reaction to a divine visitation.

Book of Mormon Barley or Going Against the Grain (Howlers #1)

History and time sometimes provide a useful perspective with which to evaluate criticisms of the Book of Mormon. One example of this can be seen in the claim that Book of Mormon references to Pre-Columbian barley are anachronistic. In 1887 M.T. Lamb, wrote, “ It is a somewhat stubborn fact that barley was never found upon either of these western continents until imported by Europeans in modern times!” (M.T. Lamb, The Golden Bible, 1887, 304).  Several decades in 1910 another erudite critic referenced such references in the Book of Mormon and asked, “But where is the proof of this extraordinary assertion? It seems very probable that, if Americans had once had wheat and barley, they would not have given up their cultivation and use, and yet they were not to be found in America when the Europeans came.” He then noted that while ancient Pre-Columbian sites were known in Peru, Arizona and Ohio for example, “not a vestige of wheat or barley has ever been found” at any of these sites (Charles Shook, Cumorah Revisited, 1910, 382-383). In an unpublished collection of potential criticisms raised by critics of the Book of Mormon B.H. Roberts once listed references to wheat and barley among other potential “Book of Mormon difficulties” (Subsequently published in Brigham D. Madsen, ed., B.H. Roberts: Studies of the Book of Mormon, 1985, 95). Other critics of the Book of Mormon have been equally negative in their assessment. George Arbaugh saw in such Book of Mormon references to wheat and barley a reflection of Joseph Smith’s contemporary culture (George Arbaugh, Revelation in Mormonism, 1932, 55).  “In this book, we are told,” states William Biederwolf in a widely circulated pamphlet, “that barley was among the produce of the earth, whereas all respected scholarship is absolutely positive in its authority” that barley is only a modern New World crop (William Biederwolf, Mormonism Under the Searchlight, 1947).  

In 1964 a skeptical Gordon Fraser asserted, “The only grain known in America was maize”   (Gordon Fraser, What Does the Book of Mormon Teach? 1964, 90). Elsewhere the same author described the Book of Mormon references to barley as one of numerous “verifiable blunders” found in the Book of Mormon (Gordon Fraser, Is Mormonism Christian? 1977), 141).  In 1970 Wayne Ham stated, “The findings of American archaeology do not substantiate the claim that such items were known among the ancient Americans,” in particular “wheat” and “barley”   (Wayne Ham, “Problems in Interpreting the Book of Mormon as History,” Courage 1 September 1970: 20). Four years later, John Price asserted, “The aboriginal New World did not have wheat [and] barley”  (John A. Price, “The Book of Mormon vs Anthropological Prehistory.” The Indian Historian 7/3 Summer 1974: 38).  In a work published in 1979, yet another critic could safely affirm what previous critics already knew that, “barley never grew in the New World before the white man brought it here!” (Latayne Colvett Scott, The Mormon Mirage, 1979, 82).  Others were even more smug, “If there was no barley in America until the white man came, then Alma 11:4-19 must be false. If God were the one that wrote the Book of Mormon, is it not a reasonable assumption that he would have known there was no barley in the New World? The Book of Mormon... falls short of authenticatable [sic] truth” (Rick Branch, “Nephite Nickels.” The Utah Evangel 29/10 October 1982: 1).

At the very time that last statement was being made, archaeological work was underway at a Pre-Columbian Hohokam site in downtown Phoenix Arizona, which would show that such claims were premature. “Perhaps,” reported a writer in 1983, “the most startling evidence of Hohokam agricultural sophistication came last year when salvage archaeologists found preserved grains of what looks like domesticated barley, the first ever found in the New World” (Daniel B. Adams, “Last Ditch Archaeology,” Science 83 December 1983: 32; see also John W. Welch, Reexploring the Book of Mormon, 1992, 130-32; John Sorenson, “Digging into the Book of Mormon: Our Changing Understanding of Ancient America and It’s Scripture,” Ensign (October 1984): 20; Sorenson, An Ancient American Setting for the Book of Mormon, 1985), 184-86).

In addition to samples identified at the site near Phoenix, “extensive archaeological evidence also points to the cultivation of little barley in the southwest and parts of Mexico” (Michael T. Dunne and William Green, “Terminal Archaic and Early Woodland Plant Use at the Gast Spring Site (13LA152), Southeast Iowa,” Mid-continental Journal of Archaeology 23/1 Spring 1998: 64. Presumably northern Mexico).

Samples have been found at other North American pre-Columbian sites in throughout the Central and Eastern United States. Concerning the discovery and identification of samples in Illinois and Oklahoma, two researchers states, “This project reveal[s] a previously unidentified seed type now identified as little barley (hordeum pussillum), and there are strong indications that this grain must be added to the list of starchy–seeded plants that were cultivated in the region by [sic] 2000 years ago” (Nancy Asch and David Asch, “Archaeobotany.” In Charles R. McGimsey and Michael D. Conner, eds., Deer Track: A Late Woodland Village in the Mississippi Valley Kampsville, Illinois: Center for American Archaeology, 1985, 44. See also 78).

Tyler Livingston in a more recent article reported the identification of additional samples from Arkansas, Alabama, Missouri, North Carolina, Wisonsin, and Iowa   

Barley samples dating back several thousand years indicate that Pre-Columbian barley was widely known and cultivated over a long and extended period in the New World. “It is reasonable to conclude,” stated one of the principal archaeologists associated with these discoveries, “that we are looking at a North American domesticated grain crop whose existence has not [previously] been suspected”  (V. L. Bohrer, “Domesticated and Wild Crops in the CAEP Study Area.”  In P. M. Spoerl and G. J. Gummerman, eds., Prehistoric Cultural Development in Central Arizona: Archaeology of the Upper New River Region. Southern Illinois University at Carbondale Center for Archaeological Investigations, Occasional Paper 5, 1984: 252).

While informed Latter-day Saints scholars have been aware of this discovery since 1984, some critics remain uninformed or choose to ignore this discovery if one is to judge by some of their statements (Peter Bartley, Mormonism: The Prophet, the Book and the Cult, 1989, 50-51; Weldon Langfield, The Truth About Mormonism, 1991, 40; Robert McKay, “No Book of Mormon Evidence,” The Evangel 38/4 May-June 1991: 8;  Reed and Farkas, Mormons Answered Verse by Verse, 1992, 110; James White, Letters to a Mormon Elder, 1993, 139).

Others have attempted to downplay the discovery by noting that this American barley is of a New World and not an Old World variety as if this were somehow problematic for the Book of Mormon (Deanne G. Matheny in “Does the shoe fit? A critique of the limited Tehuantepec geography.”  In Brent Lee Metcalfe, New Approaches to the Book of Mormon, 1993, 302).

The Book of Mormon, of course, does not claim that the barley mentioned was introduced by the Nephites from the Old World. Latter-day Saint anthropologist John Sorenson summed up the implications of these discoveries, “So here was a domesticated barley in use in several parts of North America over a long period of time. Crop exchanges between North America and Mesoamerica have been documented by archaeology making it possible that this native barley was known in that tropical southland and conceivably was even cultivated there. The key point is that these unexpected results from botany are recent. More discoveries will surely be made as research continues” (John Sorenson, “Viva Zapato! Hurray for the Shoe! A Response to Deanne G. Matheny, “Does the shoe fit? A critique of the limited Tehuantepec geography.” Review of Books on the Book of Mormon 6/1 1994: 342).

The history of the Book of Mormon barley question is instructive. Had one been persuaded by early arguments one might have conceivably rejected the Book of Mormon because there was then no evidence for pre-Columbian barley. This was, after all, the scholarly consensus of the time. Now, however, it turns out that this view was wrong, as were the hasty conclusions of those who rejected the Book of Mormon on that basis. There was in fact archaeological evidence for barley in pre-Columbian America. It just hadn't been discovered yet.

A little barley.

A lesson on the dangers of hasty judgment about the Book of Mormon, the merits of faith, patience, and the likelihood of new and unexpected discoveries in the future for those who keep looking.

Howlers and History: Historical Perspectives on Book of Mormon Questions

    In 1963, Hugh Nibley wrote:    
“It is the `howlers’ with which the Book of Mormon abounds that furnish the best index to its authenticity. They show, first of all, that the book was definitely not a typical product of its time, and secondly, when they are examined more closely in the light of present day evidence, they appear very different indeed than they did a hundred years ago.”
Hugh Nibley, “Howlers in the Book of Mormon,” Millennial Star (February 1963): 28.

What follows is the first in what I hope to be a series that provides historical perspectives on questions that have challenged some readers of the Book of Mormon from 1830 to present.

Thoughts on the Book of Mormon

From Hugh Nibley, Lehi in the Deseret (1988), 121-22.

A young man once long ago claimed he had found a large diamond in his field as he was ploughing. He put the stone on display to the public free of charge, and everyone took sides. A psychologist showed, by citing some famous case studies, that the young man was suffering from a well-known form of delusion. An historian showed that other men have also claimed to have found diamonds in fields and been deceived. A geologist proved that there were no diamonds in the area but only quartz. The young man had been fooled by a quartz. When asked to inspect the stone itself, the geologist declined with a weary, tolerant smile and kindly shake of the head. An English professor showed that the young man in describing his stone used the very same language that others had used in describing uncut diamonds. He was, therefore, simply speaking the common language of his time. A sociologist showed that only three out of 177 florists' assistants in four major cities believed the stone was genuine. A clergyman wrote a book to show that it was not the young man but someone else who had found the stone.

Finally an indigent jeweler named Snite pointed out that since the stone was still available for examination the answer to the question of whether it was a diamond or not had absolutely nothing to do with who found it, or whether the finder was honest or sane, or who believed him, or whether he would know a diamond from a brick, or whether diamonds had ever been found in fields, or whether people had ever been fooled by quartz or glass, but was to be answered simply and solely by putting the stone to certain well-known tests for diamonds.

Experts on diamonds were called in. Some of them declared it genuine. The others made nervous jokes about it and declared that they could not very well jeopardize their dignity and reputations by appearing to take the thing too seriously. To hide the bad impression thus made, someone came out with the theory that the stone was really a synthetic diamond, very skillfully made, but a fake just the same. The objection to this is that the production of a good synthetic diamond 120 years ago would have been an even more remarkable feat than the finding of a real one.

No Middle Ground on the Book of Mormon: An Earlier View

In 1899 Lily Dougall published a novel about Joseph Smith entitled, The Mormon Prophet. In the preface to her book, the writer explained her views of Joseph Smith as portrayed in her fictional tale. Rejecting earlier attempts to attribute the Book of Mormon to outright “conscious invention,” she offered what she felt was a more sympathetic explanation. “Smith,” she reasoned, “was genuinely deluded by the automatic freaks of a vigorous, but undisciplined brain, and that, yielding to these, he became confirmed in the hysterical temperament which always adds delusion to self-deception, and to self-deception half-conscious fraud.” Anticipating subsequent psychological explanations of more recent critics, Dougall attributed the Book of Mormon and Joseph Smith’s religious experiences to unspecified mental maladies of which the Prophet may have been either partially or completely unaware (Lily Dougall, The Mormon Prophet, 1899, vii).

Brigham H. Roberts, a Latter-day Saint leader, and one of the seven Presidents of the Church's First Council of Seventy, reviewed Miss Dougall’s book for the New York Times Saturday Review.

He characterized Dougall’s theory as an attempt to find a psychological “middle ground” that avoided the prophet/fraud dichotomy. While appreciative of the kindlier tone of her work, in comparison to others, Roberts explained that Dougall’s position was “utterly untenable.”

“The facts in which Mormonism had its origin are of such a character that they cannot be resolved into delusion or mistake. Either they were truth or conscious Simon-Pure invention. It is not possible to place the matter on middle ground. Joseph Smith was either a true prophet or a conscious fraud or villain. Had his religion found its origin in the visions of his own mind, without any connection with material objects, as was the case with Emanuel Swedenborg, then there would have been room for Miss Dougall’s theory;  but the facts in which Mormonism had its origin had to do with quite a different order of things.”

Why is this? The Book of Mormon “was no visionary book–no mere creation of an overwrought brain–but actual substance, sensible to touch as to sight, consisting of golden plates, with length breadth and thickness. Each plate was about seven by eight inches in dimension, and somewhat thinner than common tin; the whole bound together by rings made a volume some six inches in thickness.” Joseph Smith claimed to have handled these plates and others (the three and eight witnesses) saw and handled them also. “It cannot be said that Joseph Smith and these men were self-deceived in such things: not even the `automatic freaks of a vigorous but undisciplined brain’ could delude itself in such matters. The Book of Mormon plates had an existence, and Joseph Smith and others who testified to the fact saw and handled them, or they were conscious frauds and lied and conspired to deceive.” This physicality was just as true with other revelatory experiences associated with the restoration. Resurrected personages actually laid their hands upon the head of Joseph Smith. “There was no chance for self-delusion or mistake to enter into such transactions, and no theory based upon the idea of Joseph Smith being confirmed in hysterical temperament can explain away these stubborn facts, however well-intentioned or skillfully worked out.”

B. H. Roberts, “`The Mormon Prophet’: Congressman Robert’s Views of Miss Dougall’s Novel,” New York Times Saturday Review 23 (September 1899).

What is Ether's Cave?

The Book of Mormon is an account of how God remembered and kept sacred covenants with several groups of his people who migrated from the Old World to the Americas before the time of Christ. This record was prepared by ancient prophets and was preserved by God to come forth at a future day.

In 1823, the angel Moroni, the last of the prophets who kept that record, appeared to Joseph Smith Jr. and informed him that this ancient record, written upon plates which had the appearance of gold, was buried near his home, near Palymra New York and contained the fulness of the Gospel of Jesus Christ and heralded important events that would occur in the Latter-days previous his second coming. In 1827, Moroni delivered this record into the custody of Joseph Smith who was enabled to translate the book into English through the “gift and power of God.”

The Book of Mormon  is a true account of God’s dealings with his ancient American covenant people and today is held to be scripture by more than 14 million members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints across the world. As one of these I believe the Book of Mormon is true in its testimony and its sacred teachings. My life has been greatly blessed as I have studied and learned more about that Book and even more so as I have tried to follow its teachings.

“Ether’s Cave” is where I share my semi-random reflections on the Book of Mormon. These include personal insights, interpretations of the text, perspectives on controversial questions, and news about contemporary scholarship on the Book of Mormon which I hope may be of interest to others.