Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Kish in Ancient Mesopotamia and the Book of Mormon

Kish was an important Sumerian city from an early time in ancient Mesopotamia. As one historian notes:

"After the great flood, kingship was re-established by the gods and given to the rulers of the city of Kish, at which time we move from legend into the very beginning of the proto-historical period. . . . According to Summerian legend, the period scholars now call Early Dynastic I was dominated by then hegemony of the kings of Kish. Throughout the Sumerian period the title `king of Kish' (lugal Kish) meant hegemon of Summer, and every warlord claiming universal domination of Mesopotamia adopted `king of Kish' as one of his titles" (William J. Hamblin, Warfare in the Ancient Near East to 1600 BC: Holy Warriors at the Dawn of History (London and New York: Routledge, 2006), 42. See also Tohru Maeda, “`King of Kish’ in Pre-Sargonic Sumer,” Orient 17 [1981]: 1-17).

Yigal Levin notes:

“The mid-third millennium BCE was a time of great change in Mesopotamia. After several centuries of rivalry between various Sumerian city-states such as Ur, Uruk, Lagash and Umma, the rulers of the city of Kish managed to establish a sort of priority over much of Mesopotamia. The primacy of one Sumerian city over the others was an innovation. In successive generations the title `King of Kish’ would come to mean a divinely authorized ruler over all of Sumer and would be claimed at different times by the rulers of various cities. Use of the title `King of Kish’ implied such qualities as being victorious at war, a righteous judge and a builder of cities” (Yigal Levin, “Nimrod the Mighty, King of Kish, King of Sumer and Akkad,” Vetus Testamentum 52/3 [2002]: 359).

“According to the Sumerian King List, which is the very document that supplies us with most of the `hard’ information about the Sargonic period (such as names and reigns of kings), it was to the city of Kish that kinship itself was lowered from heaven after the flood. Like the biblical Nimrod, the ancient kings of Kish were the very embodiment of human kingship in the postdiluvian era. Over a thousand years later, the Neo-Assyrian kings would use Sargon’s royal title sar-kissati, taking it to mean quote literally, `King of the Universe’” (Levin, 361-62).

In addition to the name of the Sumerian city, and the honorary royal title “King of Kish” there are also attested personal names such as Kishibgal (Jerrold S. Cooper, Sumerian and Akkadian Royal Inscriptions. New Haven: American Oriental Society, 1986, 1:25), and Iphur-Kish (Douglas Frayne, The Royal Inscriptions of Mesopotamia. Early Periods Volume 2. Sargonic and Gutian Periods (2334-2113) Toronto, Buffalo, Longdon: University of Toronto Press, 1993, 103-109).

While we cannot say precisely when the Jaredites came out from the great tower (presumably somewhere in ancient Mesopotamia), and while we do not know precisely where in that region they came from, it is noteworthy that there are four “Kish” names in the Book of Mormon. We have three Jaredite kings, Akish (Ether 9:6), after whom was named the wilderness of Akish (Ether 14:14), Riplakish (Ether 10:4), and Kish the father of the good king Lib in whose reign, “they built a great city by the narrow neck of land” (Ether 10:18-20). Then we have the later Nephite conspirator Kishkumen (Helaman 1:9), who was associated with those seeking for political power and after whom a later city was named (3 Nephi 9:10). In addition to the early Mesopotamian connection it is interesting, given the background discussed by historians that the only people with Kish names in the Book of Mormon would be kings and or individuals who were seeking political power.

Monday, July 28, 2014

A Testimony of the Book of Abraham: Susa Young Gates 1913

Said my father Brigham Young to me on a certain occasion when I had been storm tossed and longed for the haven of sure belief: “Daughter, there is only one way by which you can find out whether this gospel be true or not; that is the way your mother and I took. Go down upon your knees and ask your Father in heaven to reveal it to you, as he did to Peter.”

Upon that rock–the rock of revelation to my own heart, I have builded my testimonies, many and various, of the truths of the gospel. The whole is true; so must all of its parts harmonize. I may not be able always to discern the co-relation, but again father said: “Put things you do not understand on the shelf, until you obtain more light.” And that is just what our children should be taught to do.

Shall we not then investigate, prove all things, hold fast to that which is good?  Of a surety. But let us anchor our souls, and help our children so to fasten their on anchor chains to the rock of personal revelation. Then we may bring in all the cohorts of reason to strengthen our position and to secure our arsenal . . . .

I know by the spirit of revelation that the Book of Abraham is true, and that its contents, from cover to cover, are revelations. As to the accepted revelations of the Church, I know they are true, and no power, but my own failure, can take that knowledge from me.

[Susa Young Gates, “Phase of discussion as to Book of Abraham,” Deseret Evening News, April 1, 1913].

Sunday, July 27, 2014

A Miscellany of Book of Mormon Word Usage

Loren Spendlove recently published an article entitled "Understanding Nephi with the Help of Noal Webster," It contains notes on a number of word usages in the Book of Mormon. Included are (in alphabetical order not necessarily the order in the article or in the Book of Mormon):

abode (as a verb)
at Jerusalem
big with child
broken up
breathe out
brought down
carried up
caught away
choice (as an adjective)
compass (as a noun)
cunning arts
fell down
foolish imaginations
have place
in one
like unto
made mention
must needs
no more
partook of
pass away
put forth
raise up
rebel (as a verb)
record (as a noun)
rent (as a verb)
set at naught
standard (as a noun)
stumbling blocks
suck (as a noun)
swallowed up
the which
trample under
turned aside
turn away
visionary man

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Heber J. Grant 1930: An Incidental Testimony of the Book of Mormon

One often encounters rare treasures in unexpected places. On July 15, 2014, a dear friend and relative, Sister Leola Tarwater Sims passed away in Colonia Juarez, Mexico. Our family had an opportunity to visit her home and settle some family business associated with her passing. While perusing some of her books on an old dusty shelf in a small back room of her her house, I found a much worn, and well used, black leather covered copy of the 1921 edition of the Book of Mormon. Pasted to the inside cover page, immediately preceding the Book of Mormon title page was the following brief, signed letter addressed to a young lady who would become Leola's mother. It reads as follows:

January 25, 1930
Miss Iola Whetten
Juarez Stake Academy
Colonia Juarez
Chihuahua, Mexico

Dear Sister:

In recognition of your success in the oratorical context on "Why Observe the Law of Tithing", I take pleasure in presenting you this copy of the Book of Mormon.

As a boy of fifteen I read carefully and prayerfully the Book of Mormon, and there came into my heart an abiding and firm testimony of its divinity. From that day to this its wonderful teachings have been a comfort, a blessing, and a guide to me.

I thank God from the bottom of my heart that I read the life of Nephi in my youth. I fell in love with him then, and his life has influenced mine for good more than that of any other character in ancient history, sacred or profane--save only the Redeemer of the world.

Wishing you success in the battle of life,

Sincerely your friend and brother,

Heber J. Grant.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Another Article on Book of Mormon Geography

Neal Rappleye has some thoughts on the use of statements by Joseph Smith on Book of Mormon geography.

Friday, July 18, 2014

Joseph F. Smith 1913: Part 2: A Testimony of the Book of Mormon and the Book of Abraham

In an earlier post I discussed President Joseph F. Smith's letter to Isaac Russell. That same month President Smith published the following in the Church's Improvement Era Magazine:

The Latter- day Saints maintain that while there was some difference between the methods of translation used by the prophet in the translation of the Book of Abraham and the Book of Mormon ; that while he applied his own mind as far as he could, in all his work, (and his mind expanded in intelligence as he grew in age and experience,) yet in all his work he was divinely inspired— in his translations, his revelations, and his wonderful personal direction in the establishment of the work of God known as the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, "the marvelous work and a wonder" predicted by the ancient prophets that should be founded upon the earth in the latter days.

 Men may not believe it. but nevertheless we testify to these truths. They did not believe that Jesus was the Christ— he was repudiated by his own generation, unto whom he was a sign calling to repentance. He said:

“The queen of the south shall rise up in the judgment with the men of this generation, and condemn them: for she came from the utmost parts of the earth to hear the wisdom of Solomon: and, behold, a greater than Solomon is here."— Luke 11:31.

As they did not believe in the divinity of the Christ, so also men repudiate the divine inspiration of the Prophet Joseph, who is a true witness of Jesus. But it is the testimony of the Latter- day Saints that Joseph Smith is an inspired prophet sent of God with the true message of salvation to the sons of men ; that the work he did was inspired ; that the Church which he was instrumental in founding is the Church of God, and that the doctrines which he taught are the restored, plain, and simple principles of the gospel taught by the Lord Jesus Christ for the salvation of all mankind. We invite all men, in all the earth, to investigate, to repent of their sins, and to be baptized by those who have received divine authority, thus submitting their lives to the saving ordinances of the gospel, and the unfailing promise is that they shall receive the Holy Ghost to be their surpassing daily light and joy, and their eternal guide and comfort.

Not only do we testify that Joseph Smith was inspired when he gave to the world the Pearl of Great Price, but we declare that it was by the inspiration and power of God that he translated the Book of Mormon, organized the Church of Christ, and gave mankind the precious revelations contained in the Doctrine and Covenants; and it is our firm belief that scientific investigation and discovery will confirm our testimony, rather than weaken or repudiate it. 

[Joseph F. Smith, “Joseph Smith, Jr., as a Translator," Improvement Era 16/4 (February 1913): 378-80].

Thursday, July 17, 2014

B. H. Roberts on Faith, Investigation, and Future Vindication

In 1912 Elder B. H Roberts wrote the following:

I would suggest to my own people that they should remember that there is a wide difference between the thing that one may not be able to explain and the thing which overthrows his theory altogether. One may not always account fully for his truth, nor beat down successfully all objections that may be urged against it; but it remains truth, just the same. And so in this case.

I believe that in the translations Joseph Smith has given to the world — confessedly not by scholarship but by inspiration, by his own spirit being quickened by contact with God's spirit — that in those translations are truths that are parts of a mighty system of truth, the like of which is not found elsewhere among men. And that system of truth, now being worked out in the experiences of both individual men and nations of men, will receive, ere the end, a splendid vindication both as a system and in all its parts . . . .  

If any new form of evidence shall hereafter be needed to meet new forms of attack, and authenticate afresh the word of truth, they will be found deposited somewhere, waiting for the fulness of time; and God will bring them  forth in their season, from the dark hieroglyphics, or the desert sands, or the dusty manuscripts, to confound the adversaries of his word, and to magnify his name. Secure in such a conviction, here let us stay ourselves, nothing daunted; and let the world's investigation of our truth be welcomed, confident, with the apostle of the Gentiles, that nothing can be done against the truth, but for the truth. 

[B.H. Roberts, Salt Lake Tribune, December 15, 1912].

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Joseph F. Smith 1913: Part 1: On the Book of Abraham and the Book of Mormon

In November 1912 Episcopal Bishop Franklin S. Spalding of Salt Lake City, Utah published his pamphlet, Joseph Smith Jr., as a Translator. Spalding had solicited and published statements from  influential American and European scholars of the day who dismissed the Book of Abraham as a fraud. This generated a flurry of articles published in Utah and across the nation over the next year or more.

In February 1913 President Joseph F. Smith wrote to Isaac Russell, a professional writer and a Latter-day Saint who had been negatively influenced by these attacks. Acknowledging that the Church, at the time, did not have the ability to fully respond to some of these criticisms, President Smith explained some of his concerns with Russell.

You will recall that Bishop Spalding and associates took all the time they needed to digest and bring forth this plan of attack without making known their purpose, and the result of their labor was put forth in pamphlet form unannounced, and this with the pretense of getting at the truth.

This pamphlet was circulated among Mormons and non-Mormons, but the former class, found since to have received free copies of the pamphlet, consisted chiefly of students not capable of seeing through the scheme behind it.

At first it was thought best to treat the pamphlet in silence for the time being, as it dealt with a subject none of our community was thought capable of writing upon, as none was known to be capable of passing on the translations of the hieroglyphics it contained from an Egyptologist standpoint. But, much to our gratification, Brother Sjodahl quickly took the question up and submitted a communication in answer, and without any knowledge whatever of this fact, Brother Roberts did likewise. . . . 

I could not but keenly feel the significance of an attack of this kind because of the effect it was perhaps going to have on those of our young people lacking in faith, and when Brothers Sjodahl and Roberts voluntarily came forward in defense my heart warmed towards them, and they and I, and all interested in the outcome so far feel well in what has been done, but your communication produced a very different feeling, as the spirit of it to us was from one in the camp of the enemy, and the thought occurred to me that you, a member of the Church, could ill afford to stand in with Bishop Spalding in a premeditated attack on our religious faith.

President Smith then counseled Russell to not abandon his faith, the truthfulness of the Book of Abraham or the work of the Prophet Joseph Smith, but rather do his best to defend it.

In connection with this whole matter this thought is of prime importance, and should ever be borne in mind: The same overruling providence which prompted the father of Joseph Smith to change the place of abode of himself and family from Vermont to Palmyra, New York, the neighborhood of the Hill Cumorah, where were hidden at that time the sacred Nephite record, also prompted the exhuming of the mummies containing the sacred writings of Abraham, and guided the man in possession of them to the Prophet Joseph Smith, and the self-same spirit moved upon Oliver Cowdery to come to, and make the acquaintance of, Joseph who needed his help, as was plainly make known to Oliver by revelation. And we firmly believe that the same overruling providence will continue to move upon men, whom the Lord in his wisdom will use, from time to time,  to bring forth and establish in their own way and their own time indisputable evidences of the authenticity and divinity, not only of the Book of Abraham, as brought to light through the Prophet Joseph Smith, but the Book of Mormon as well.

This part of the work, however, is evidently for the scientists themselves to accomplish and not for us as a Church, for our testimony is not received or admitted by the critics, and in its consummation it is to be hoped they will have dug their own grave of unbelief, and be willing to acknowledge the truth. But in the meantime whatever you or any other member of the Church may be able to do along this line of work will of course be acceptable to the Lord and your brethren, and will at the same time redown [sic] to your own gratification and honor.

I sincerely hope that the love of the truth and the desire to uphold and defend it may ever be a part and portion of your being, and that nothing may occur in your life, however eventful it may be, to weaken your faith or in the least shake your confidence in the Prophet Joseph Smith. 

With best wishes and kind love, 
I am your friend and brother, 
Joseph F. Smith.

[Joseph F. Smith to Isaac Russell, February 2, 1913]

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Update on Ether's Cave

Last year in a post which commenced this blog I wrote that “Ether’s Cave” is where I share my 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. Here I want to state that while the Book of Mormon will continue to be the primary focus of Ether's Cave there will always be a corner in the cave for Abraham who from time to time may need place of residence. Consequently, there will occasionally be posts relating to the Book of Abraham as well as the Book of Mormon.

Reason and Revelation

In an interesting talk Elder Dallin H. Oaks said the following:

I admire those scholars for whom scholarship does not exclude faith and revelation. It is part of my faith and experience that the Creator expects us to use the powers of reasoning he has placed within us, and that he also expects us to exercise our divine gift of faith and to cultivate our capacity to be taught by divine revelation. But these things do not come without seeking. Those who utilize scholarship and disparage faith and revelation should ponder the Savior's question, "How can ye believe, which receive honour one of another, and seek not the honour that cometh from God only?" (John 5:44).

God invites us to reason with him, but I find it significant that the reasoning to which God invites us is tied to spiritual realities and maturity rather than to scholarly findings or credentials. In modern revelation the Lord has spoken of reasoning with his people (see D&C 45:10, 15; 50:10–12; 61:13; see also Isaiah 1:18). It is significant that all of these revelations were addressed to persons who had already entered into covenants with the Lord—to the elders of Israel and to the members of his restored church.

In the first of these revelations, the Lord said that he had sent his everlasting covenant into the world to be a light to the world, a standard for his people: "Wherefore, come ye unto it," he said, "and with him that cometh I will reason as with men in days of old, and I will show unto you my strong reasoning" (D&C 45:10). Thus, this divine offer to reason was addressed to those who had shown faith in God, who had repented of their sins, who had made sacred covenants with the Lord in the waters of baptism, and who had received the Holy Ghost, which testifies of the Father and the Son and leads us into truth. This was the group to whom the Lord offered (and offers) to enlarge their understanding by reason and revelation.

 [Dallin H. Oaks, "The Historicity of the Book of Mormon." This talk was given at the annual dinner of the Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies in Provo Utah and has been subsequently published in Historicity and the Latter-day Saint Scriptures, ed. Paul Y. Hoskisson (Provo, Utah: Religious Studies Center, 2011, 237-48 and reprinted in the Journal of Book of Mormon and Other Restoration Scripture 21/1 (2012): 66-72].

Friday, July 11, 2014

Historicity and Scripture: Does it Matter?

Some Latter-day Saint critics who deny the historicity of the Book of Mormon seek to make their proposed approach persuasive to Latter-day Saints by praising or affirming the value of some of the content of the book. Those who take this approach assume the significant burden of explaining how they can praise the contents of a book they have dismissed as a fable. I have never been able to understand the similar approach in reference to the divinity of the Savior. As we know, some scholars and some ministers proclaim him to be a great teacher and then have to explain how the one who gave such sublime teachings could proclaim himself (falsely they say) to be the Son of God who would be resurrected from the dead.

The new-style critics have the same problem with the Book of Mormon. For example, we might affirm the value of the teachings recorded in the name of a man named Moroni, but if these teachings have value, how do we explain these statements also attributed to this man? "And if there be faults [in this record] they be the faults of a man. But behold, we know no fault; nevertheless God knoweth all things; therefore, he that condemneth, let him be aware lest he shall be in danger of hell fire" (Mormon 8:17). "And I exhort you to remember these things; for the time speedily cometh that ye shall know that I lie not, for ye shall see me at the bar of God; and the Lord God will say unto you: Did I not declare my words unto you, which were written by this man, like as one crying from the dead, yea, even as one speaking out of the dust?" (Moroni 10:27). There is something strange about accepting the moral or religious content of a book while rejecting the truthfulness of its authors' declarations, predictions, and statements. This approach not only rejects the concepts of faith and revelation that the Book of Mormon explains and advocates, but it is also not even good scholarship.

[Dallin H. Oaks, "The Historicity of the Book of Mormon." This talk was given at the annual dinner of the Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies in Provo Utah and has been subsequently published in Historicity and the Latter-day Saint Scriptures, ed. Paul Y. Hoskisson (Provo, Utah: Religious Studies Center, 2011, 237-48 and reprinted in the Journal of Book of Mormon and Other Restoration Scripture 21/1 (2012): 66-72].

Urim and Thummim II: Revealing the Hidden Things

In Exodus the Lord tells the prophet Moses, "And thou shalt put in the breastplate of judgment the Urim and Thummim, and they shall be upon Aaron's heart, when he goeth in before the Lord" (Exodus 28:30). The Jewish Targum Pseudo-Jonathan has the following for this passage:

And you shall put the breastplate the Urim, which illuminates their words and make manifest the hidden things of the House of Israel, and Tumim which perfect their deeds, for the High Priest who seeks instruction from the Lord through them.

In the Book of Mormon, Ammon tells King Limhi about a similar class of objects. One who possessed certain stones called "interpreters" by the Nephites was known as a "seer."

By them shall all things be revealed, or rather, shall secret things be made manifest, and hidden things shall come to light, and things which are not known shall be made known by them, and also things shall be made known by them which otherwise could not be known (Mosiah 8:17).

The prophet Alma, who was also the Nephite High priest over the Church described how by means of the interpreters, secret things can be revealed and receive illumination.

For behold, the Lord saw that his people began to work in darkness . . . . And the Lord said: I will prepare unto my servant Gazalem, a stone, which shall shine forth in darkness unto light, that I may discover unto my people who serve me, that I may discover unto them the works of their brethren, yea their secret works, their works of darkness, and their wickedness and abominations (Alma 37:22-23).

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Teraphim and the Urim and Thummim

Biblical scholars have long puzzled over the nature and function of objects referred to as “teraphim” in the biblical record. A recent study of divination practices in the ancient Near East notes that the term “is of disputed derivation and uncertain meaning” and that in the biblical text it “does not consistently designate the same type of object.” Yet evidence in Hosea 3:4 (8th century B.C.) suggests that, in the preexilic Israelite religion, the teraphim may once have been considered “a legitimate method” of divination until they were taken away from Israel during a period of discipline.1

In a recent study, Cornelius Van Dam argues that in ancient Israel the teraphim were a substitute for the Urim and Thummim and may have functioned in a similar way. He suggests that teraphim (plural of terep) derived from the root rpp, which corresponds to the Arabic root raffa (“quiver”) but can also mean “shine, glisten.”2 If so, teraphim, like the Urim and Thummim, “may have been made of a precious stone with light-reflecting qualities.”3 Van Dam thinks that teraphim had a revelatory function in early Israel and that they may later have been replaced by the Urim and Thummim, or “perfect light.”4

Similarly, the Book of Mormon prophets associated the Nephite interpreters (two stones consecrated to God for revelatory purposes) or their function with the concept of light. For example, we read about “Gazelem, a stone, which shall shine forth in darkness unto light” and “bring to light” all the secret abominations of the people who possessed the land (Alma 37:23, 25). Moroni used similar language in describing how the Nephite record would be brought forth in the latter days (Mormon 8:15–16).

Other biblical scholars suggest that teraphim is the altered metathesized form of an earlier term, petarim, from the verb ptr, “to interpret.”5 This would mean the teraphim were originally called “interpreters.” Under this theory, while the use of teraphim may have been a legitimate method of divination in early Israelite times, later biblical writers gave these oracular instruments a name with a more negative connotation, teraphim.

In addition to its similarities to Aramaic psr and Arabic fassara, both of which can mean “interpret,” ptr appears to be related to the Egyptian verb ptr, “to see.”6 Both meanings are consistent with Ammon’s explanation in Mosiah 8:13 of the sacred instruments that King Mosiah used to translate ancient records.

In contrast to biblical commentators of the day, who viewed teraphim only as idolatrous images,7 early Mormon writer W. W. Phelps suggested that teraphim may have sometimes fulfilled a positive role and were similar in form and function to the Urim and Thummim possessed by Israel’s high priest. In the light of more recent studies of these objects, Phelps’s suggested connection between the Old Testament teraphim and the Book of Mormon interpreters utilized by the Prophet Joseph Smith in the translation of the Book of Mormon seems entirely plausible.8

1. Ann Jeffers, Magic and Divination in Ancient Palestine and Syria (1996), 222–27.
2. Cornelis Van Dam, The Urim and Thummim: A Study of an Old Testa-ment Means of Revelation (1997), 228–29.
3. Ibid., 229. See John A. Tvedtnes, “Glowing Stones in Ancient and Medieval Lore,” appendix 2 in The Book of Mormon and Other Hidden Books (2000), 195–225.
4. Van Dam, Urim and Thummin, 229.
5. C. J. Labuschagne, “Teraphim: A New Proposal for Its Etymology,” Vetus Testamentum 16 (Jan. 1966): 115–17.
6. Adolf Erman and Hermann Grapow, W├Ârterbuch der aegyptischen Sprache (1935–53), 1:564.
7. Thomas C. Upham, Jahn’s Biblical Archaeology (1823), 528–29.
8. W. W. Phelps, “Hosea Chapter III," Evening and Morning Star 1/2 (July 1832): 6; “Despise Not Prophesyings,” Times and Seasons 2/7 (1 Feb. 1841): 298. See Tvedtnes, "Glowing Stones,” 209–10.

By Matthew Roper 
From Insights: An Ancient Window 20/9 (2000): 2-3.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Book of Mormon Names--Mosiah

In 1965, John Sawyer, a non-Mormon biblical scholar, published an article entitled, "What Was a Mosia" (Vetus Testamentum 15 1965: 475-86). This word, he noted, is Hebrew and is found in the Hebrew scriptures, but is never transliterated into modern English translations of the Old Testament as mosia.  John Welch has noted that mosia, when coupled with the theophoric element iah, would mean "the Lord is a mosia." ("What Was a Mosiah?" Reexploring the Book of Mormon. Salt Lake City: Deseret Book and FARMS, 1992,105-7).  Sawyer's insights into the biblical usage of the word are interesting in light of themes and elements found in the book of Mosiah in the Book of Mormon.

1. Mosia is a word like "victor" or "savior" or "deliverer" (481-83).

The themes of physical and spiritual deliverance and salvation are central to the book of Mosiah.

2. The term was used in antiquity to refer to a hero appointed by God, who delivers an oppressed and afflicted people from injustice.

Sawyer explains, "It is a word invariably implying a champion of justice in a situation of controversy, battle or oppression" (475-76). "It is in a situation of injustice and in particular unjust oppression of the chosen people that a mosia is needed. This applies to situations of battle, and to situations of general lawlessness" (478). "The subject when mentioned is always God or his appointed hero" (478, 480). In the Book of Mosiah Benjamin, Zeniff, Alma, Gideon, Ammon, Mosiah II, and the sons of Mosiah are all heroes appointed by God to bring deliverance to his people. Later the sons of Mosiah, after having been delivered from sin (Alma 26:17-20), are instruments of God in bringing spiritual deliverance to the Lamanites (Alma 26:13-15). Sons of the Lamanite converts in turn become instruments of God in delivering the Nephites from their enemies (Alma 56-59).

3. The term designated a unique class or office in ancient Israel.

Sawyer notes that, in two instances, "It appears to have been the object of the verb l hakim. . . . This verb is found only with the following individuals: king, judge, prophet, priest, shepherd, watchman, father, son, satan and mosia. Thus mosia is separated from its more general synonyms and brought into a class of people who have a definite office or position in ancient Israel" (477). He further suggests that the term "belonged originally to some special sphere of life—the palace, the battlefield, the temple, the lawcourt, the market place, the family—and was later applied to wider contexts" (478). Mosiah I, Benjamin, Zeniff, and Mosiah II are all kings. Alma the Elder is a priest, and Alma the Younger became the first chief judge over the Nephites. King Benjamin delivers his speech from the temple (Mosiah 2:7), after being victorious in battle (Omni 1:24; Words of Mormon 1:13-14) and estab-lishing peace by preaching the gospel (Words of Mormon 1:15-18; Mosiah 1:1, 3).

4. The term was later applied specifically to God himself.

"We are suggesting, then, a development from a definite office within a definite sphere of life, to a title of God related anthropomorphically to the same sphere of life, and from there to a title of God in any general context" (485). The underlying message of the whole book of Mosiah is that, although God appoints servants, it is the Lord who is the true deliverer (Mosiah 11:23; 24:21; 25:16).

5. Those in danger or those who are unjustly oppressed "cry out" for help and receive deliverance from a mosia (476-77).

The people of Zeniff cry unto the king in times of danger (Mosiah 9:16-18), and also "cry mightily to the Lord" (Mosiah 9:17), as do the people of Limhi (Mosiah 11:23-25; 21:14-16) and the people of Alma (Mosiah 23:27-29; 24:10-17).

6. This deliverance is frequently, though not always, accomplished by nonviolent means.

"Thus we have seen that mosia appears most often, not in contexts of violence or physical danger, but in situations of injustice" (480). "His activity is sometimes verbal, rather than physical" (486). King Zeniff unsuccessfully opposes a needless attack upon the Lamanites (Mosiah 9:1-2). Through the counsel of Gideon, the people of Limhi are delivered by getting the Lamanites drunk, thus preventing bloodshed (Mosiah 22:1-16), and the Lord causes a deep sleep to come upon the Lamanites so that Alma's people may escape in peace (Mosiah 24:19-25).

7. The mosia is an "advocate" or "witness for the defense."

"The meaning of 'advocate' or 'witness for the defense' fits well" (485). "The mosia is one who appears on behalf of Israel in court" (481). "There was a place in ancient Israel for an 'advocate' or a 'witness for the defense,' as also for a 'witness for the prosecution.' " Sawyer asks, "If Satan was the one, was the mosia, at some time and in some part of the Middle East, the other?" (486). Alma was an advocate for Abinadi, for which he was cast out by Noah (Mosiah 17:1-4). Abinadi clearly teaches that the wicked who reject Christ and do not repent have no redeemer or advocate to defend them from the demands of justice (Mosiah 15:27; 16:12).

8. He is always on the side of justice.

According to Sawyer, "The main idea is intervening and contending on behalf of the right" (482) "The result of the coming of a mosia on the scene was escape from injustice, and a return to a state of justice where each man possesses his rightful property" (480). "The mosia is always on the side of justice" (486). The book of Mosiah teaches important principles regarding God's justice (Mosiah 15:8-9, 26-27). In the biblical ideal, "Final victory" means the coming of mosiim  "to rule like judges over Israel. The people will once again possess their own property and justice will be the foundation of the Kingdom of the Lord" (482). The whole purpose of the Zeniffite colony was to redeem their rightful land of inheritance (Mosiah 9:1, 6-7). The reign of the judges was seen by the people of Nephi as a joyous change in which "inequality should be no more" (Mosiah 29:32) and "every man should have an equal chance throughout the land" (Mosiah 29:38).

9. The oppressed and afflicted seek refuge from their enemies at the "right hand" of a mosia (483).

Zeniff's people call upon him for protection against their enemies (Mosiah 9:14-16). The righteous are promised a protected place at God's  "right hand" at the day of judgment (Mosiah 5:9; 26:23-24). The name Benjamin, incidentally, means "son of the right hand."

In many ways the book of Mosiah in the Book of Mormon seems appropriately named.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Revelation and the Urim and Thiummim

In the past most biblical scholars viewed the Urim and Thummim as a rather mechanical device used merely to obtain a yes or no answer, similar to casting lots. This is quite different from the function of the device described in the Book of Mormon as “interpreters” and by the Prophet Joseph Smith as the “Urim and Thummim.” In these descriptions of the use of the Urim and Thummim, revelation played a large role. For example, accounts of the translation of the Book of Mormon indicate that Joseph Smith could not translate without the Spirit and that a great deal of mental effort was necessary.1

However, two studies by biblical scholars on the Urim and Thummim described in the Old Testament are more in harmony with LDS understandings. On the basis of what appears to be solid historical, linguistic, and textual evidence, Cornelius Van Dam rejects the mechanical view, pointing out numerous instances in which the divine answer is detailed and is not merely yes or no.2 He argues that “it seems certain that Yahweh’s gift of prophetic inspiration was involved and played a major role in the process of giving an answer” through the Urim and Thummim: “When revelation was requested of Yahweh, Yahweh would speak to the high priest or enlighten him and so give him the decision that was necessary. If this inspiration was not forthcoming, the high priest would know that he was in no position to make use of the UT [Urim and Thummim].”3

A 1990 article by C. Houtman agrees with Van Dam that the Urim and Thummim was not used merely to receive a mechanical yes or no answer. He puts forward textual evidence that suggests that for the Urim and Thummim to function, divine power had “to penetrate into the heart, the intellectual centre of the high priest, in order to enable him to ‘read’ the will of YHWH from the UT.”4
It remains to be seen whether the arguments of Van Dam and Houtman will persuade biblical scholars and whether new evidence and new interpretations will support or weaken their position. But for now their arguments open the door to an understanding of the Urim and Thummim that sees a greater role for revelation, in keeping with the understanding obtained from latter-day scripture.

Other points in these two studies may also shed light on Book of Mormon passages. Van Dam argues that in many instances in the Old Testament the phrase inquire of the Lord indicates the use of the Urim and Thummim.5 On at least two occasions Nephite commanders sent messengers to Alma so that he could “inquire of the Lord” as to the whereabouts of their enemies (Alma 16:6; 43:23–24). In each case Alma revealed specific directions allowing the Nephites to gain advantage over their enemies. Perhaps Alma used the Urim and Thummim to obtain this knowledge. We know he possessed the interpreters (see Mosiah 28:20; Alma 37:24), which Joseph Smith described as the Urim and Thummim, and the account in the book of Mormon fits the biblical usage described by Van Dam.

Finally, Van Dam suggests that there was a visual component to the use of the Urim and Thummim: “A special or miraculous light was somehow involved in the functioning of the UT,” possibly through some kind of stone, “in order to verify that the message given by the high priest was from Yahweh.”6
The Book of Mormon accounts of the interpreters also suggest a visual component. Ammon indicates that the king of the land of Zarahemla “has wherewith that he can look, and translate” (Mosiah 8:13), and Alma speaks of “a stone, which shall shine forth in darkness unto light” to reveal things kept secret (Alma 37:23).

Research by Matthew Roper, originally published as a FARMS Update in Insights (December 1995): 2.
1. See D&C 8:1–4; 9:7–9; and Lyndon W. Cook, ed., David Whitmer Interviews: A Restoration Witness (Orem, Utah: Grandin, 1991), 86, 199.
2. See Cornelius Van Dam, The Urim and Thummim (Kampen: Uitgeverij Van Den Berg, 1986).
3. Ibid., 128.
4. C. Houtman, “The Urim and Thummim: A New Suggestion,” Vetus Testamentum 40 (April 1990): 231.
5. See Van Dam, Urim and Thummim, 89–95.
6. Ibid., 130–31.

Monday, July 7, 2014

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Giddianhi--Gadianton Propagandist

In a recent post Plundering the Narrative: Gadianton Robbers and First Nephi 1:2-3 Morgan Dean looks at the robber Giddianhi's letter to Lachoneus I (3 Nephi 3:2-10) in light of Nephi's introductory colophon at the beginning of 1 Nephi. Building on the work of other scholars, including Noel Reynolds, who argued that Nephi's record was a political text that justified his rule over his brothers, Dean suggests that the shrewd Governor of the Gadiantons attempted to subvert the Nephite foundational narrative by patterning his own words after those of Nephi, but with a cunning twist or two. Dean is an excellent scholar with fresh ideas and is always worth reading.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Update on NHM in the Book of Mormon

For the last several decades Warren P. Aston has been a leading researcher on the question of Lehi's wilderness journey from Jerusalem to Bountiful in the Old World. For a recent article on his research see "A History of NaHoM," BYU Studies 51/2 (2012): 79-98.

Students of the Book of Mormon may be interested to know that he has just recently published another article "The Origins of the Nihm Tribe of Yemen: A Window into Arabia's Past," Journal of Arabian Studies 4/1 (June 2014): 134-48.

Book of Mormon Names--Mormon

Paul Hoskisson has an interesting discussion on the Book of Mormon name Mormon, it's meaning, and possible attestation. Interested readers will want to enjoy both parts of this two part article.

 What's in a Name? Mormon--Part 1

What's in a Name? Mormon--Part 2