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.