Sunday, November 24, 2013

Book of Mormon Word Usage: Yesterday

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

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


Sunday, November 17, 2013

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

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

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

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

A Seer Stone Story

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Young Generals

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Bad Readings of the Book of Mormon

Can you tell what is wrong with the following statements?

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

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

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

               Christian Watchman, 5 May, 1837.

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

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

Monday, November 4, 2013

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

In 1978 Krister Stendahl, a prominent Lutheran Leader and scholar of the New Testament was invited by Truman Madsen to read and comment on the teachings of Jesus in the Sermon at the Temple in 3 Nephi. Stendahl graciously provided an insightful discussion on the subject which was subsequently published in a collection of essays written by other non–LDS scholars entitled Reflections on Mormonism, a volume which is still of value and well worth reading. In his article, however, Stendahl did take note of 3 Nephi 12:6, which parallels Matthew 5:6, “Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness: for they shall be filled,” except that the passage in Jesus’ sermon in 3 Nephi adds the phrase “with the Holy Ghost.” Stendahl thought that the additional phrase seemed out of place:

The Greek word behind filled is chortazo, which means “fill the stomach,” as one fills the stomach of animals, not “fill up” in the sense pleroo, which is the biblical term for being filled with the Holy Spirit. it is rather unnatural to use the Greek chortazo for making the addition “with the Holy Spirit” (Krister Stendahl, “The Sermon on the Mount and Third Nephi,” in Truman G. Madsen, Reflections on Mormonism, 1978, 142).

The following is taken from John W. Welch, The Sermon At the Temple and the Sermon on the Mount. Deseret Book and FARMS, 1990, 114-15].

Krister Stendahl has suggested one such translation problem in the way the Sermon at the Temple renders the fourth Beatitude. It reads, "Blessed are all they who do hunger and thirst after righteousness, for they shall be filled with the Holy Ghost" (3 Nephi 12:6). He remarked that it seemed unnatural to associate the Greek word chortazo ("physically filled") with a spiritual filling, since the New Testament Greek usually uses a different word, pleroo, when it speaks of being filled with the Spirit and since chortazo appears in passages about actual feedings of multitudes, eating crumbs, and so on.

The problem, however, is solved when we turn to Old Testament backgrounds of the Sermon. The promise of Jesus, that those who hunger and thirst after "righteousness" (dikaiosunen) shall be filled (chortasthesontai), is closely related to the last two verses of Psalm 17 in the Greek Septuagint (the "LXX"), a rarely mentioned text that Stendahl apparently overlooked. The Psalm contrasts the filling (echortasthesan) of the stomach in uncleanliness with beholding the face of God in righteousness (dikaiosune): "I shall be satisfied [chortasthesomai] when I awake, with thy likeness" (Psalm 17:15). Here the word chortazo is used to describe one's being filled with the Spirit and being satisfied by beholding the righteousness of God.

The distinctiveness of this use of chortazo in Psalm 17 and Matthew 5:6 only increases the likelihood that Jesus' New Testament audience would have recognized his allusion to these words in the Psalm, a passage that would have been quite familiar to them. It shows that the translation in the Sermon at the Temple does well by making explicit this particular understanding of chortazo as having reference to a spiritual filling by the Holy Ghost, such as that which comes when a person beholds the face of God in righteousness.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Book of Mormon Word Usage: Sharpness

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

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

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

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

Friday, November 1, 2013

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

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