Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Darkness and Destruction in 3 Nephi 8-10 (Howlers # 32)

"The author, evidently, mounts the fiery steed of his imagination and herds together every strange thing, every wonderful thing, every blood-curdling story, and every impossible thing he had ever heard of, or thought of, or dreamed of, and attempts, in this master effort, to combine them all in one huge miracle!"

M.T. Lamb, The Golden Bible (1887).

"The account of the convulsions of nature, which occurred in America at the time of Christ’s coming, would compel the geologist to re-examine his theories as to the formation of land and sea, and the astronomer to adjust his laws of the heavens to the wonderful three days of darkness."

F. S. Spalding, Joseph Smith, Jr., As A Translator (1912).

"Geology and the Book of Mormon are in irreconcilable"

T. C. Smith, The Book of Mormon and Mormonism (1912).

Wrong again. Those contrary rascals over at Book of Mormon Central provides an informative summary of recent research and perspectives.

Thursday, September 15, 2016

A Night Without Darkness (Howlers # 31)

"I will here remark, a singular night, as light as the day. We Yankees have been taught to believe, that the light was called day, and the darkness called night; but Mormons, to outdo all others, they have night in the day time."

Tyler Parsons, Mormon Fanaticism Exposed, 1841.

Book of Mormon Central has an interesting post today documenting historical precedents for the kind of event described in Third Nephi chapter one.

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

What were Jaredite Swords Made of?

Some ancient bronze swords have been recovered from the Old World. The greenish color on these swords shows corrosion from bronze cancroid or bronze disease. 

In several earlier posts here and here I discuss evidence for Pre-Columbian swords in ancient Mesoamerica. Swords were an important weapon in the arsenal of Book of Mormon peoples. It is likely that most swords in the Book of Mormon did not have metal blades, but the text does indicate that some of the people of Jared and Lehi possessed rare metal blades. The earliest reference is found in the account of the Jaredite prince Shule who led a successful rebellion to overthrow his brother’s regime.

“And it came to pass that Shule was angry with his brother; and Shule waxed strong, and became mighty as to the strength of man; and he was also mighty in judgment. Wherefore, he came to the hill Ephraim, and he did molten out of the hill, and made swords out of steel for these whom he had drawn away with him; and after he had armed them with swords he returned to the city Nehor, and gave battle unto his brother Cohihor, by which means he obtained the kingdom and restored it to his father Kib” (Ether 7:8-9).

The deeds of Shule in the passage are portrayed as noteworthy. He is described as “mighty in judgment” (Ether 7:8). He is the one with the knowledge and skill to do this. “He did molten,” he “made swords out of steel,” “he . . . armed them.” Did he pass this remarkable skill on to others? The passage does not say. It is interesting, however, that the next generation is nearly wiped out by war (Ether 9:12) and that there is no subsequent mention of steel or steel swords in the Book of Ether. This could be an indication that “steel” technology among the Jaredites was rare or even subsequently lost? In periods of social anarchy, rare and valuable possessions would tend to be stolen and lost or perhaps destroyed (Ether 14:1).

Shule’s steel may indeed refer to carburized iron that he learned how to temper into effective weaponry, but in early modern English the word steel had a broader range of meaning than it has today, which included not only carburized iron, but also hardened copper alloys such as bronze. The Oxford English Dictionary notes that while steel was more often applied to carburized iron, it could also be applied to “an alloy of tin and copper,” that is, bronze. This is why early English translations of the Bible, Coverdale (1535), Cranmer (1540), Matthews (1549), Bishop’s (1568), and the King James Version (1611) rendered the Hebrew word for copper in Psalms 18:34 and 2 Samuel 22:35 as “steel” even though in today’s terminology it would be more appropriately rendered “bronze” (Frank Moore Cross Jr., and David Noel Freedman, “A Royal Song of thanksgiving: II Samuel 22 = Psalms 18,” Journal of Biblical Literature 72/1 March 1953: 31). “The translation `steel’ instead of `bronze’ which appears in the King James Authorized Version, originated with Kimhi, who interpreted nhwsh as `hard metal” (Steven Shnider, “Psalm XVIII: Theophany, Ephiphany, Empowerment,” Vetus Testamentum 56/3 2006: 394).

The other passage bearing on the question of Jaredite swords is the one describing King Limhi’s search party. Although, they did not find the land of Zarahemla, the search party found ruins of buildings and bones of the Jaredites along with the 24 gold plates of Ether. “And for a testimony that the thing that they have said are true . . . . They have brought swords, the hilts thereof have perished, and the blades thereof were cankered with rust” (Mosiah 8:10-11). The search party brought back the rusted sword blades and other artifacts “for a testimony that the things that they had said are true” (Mosiah 8:9). That could suggest that metal blades were thought to be rare or unusual.

The description of rusted sword blades could refer to rusted steel, although the passage does not identify the metal in question. At the present time no authentic archaeological specimens of carburized iron steel are known from Pre-Columbian America. Given, however, the broader range of meaning of the word steel in the language into which the Book of Mormon was translated, it is also possible that the blades described were bronze blades. At least two different kinds of bronze were known in Pre-Columbian Mexico, though known archaeological specimens date later than Book of Mormon times. It is currently thought to have been introduced from north-western South America (Dorothy Hosler and Guy Stresser-Pean, “The Huastec Region: A Second Locus for the Production of Bronze Alloys in Ancient Mesoamerica,” Science 257 (28 August, 1992): 1215-1220; Heather Lechtman, “Arsenic Bronze: Dirty Copper or Chosen Alloy? A View from the Americas,” Journal of Field Archaeology 23 1996: 477-514).  If the Jaredite blades found by Limhi’s search party were bronze, the description of blades cankered with rust would be an apt description of the effects of “bronze cancroid” or “bronze disease.” Bronze disease is “the process of interaction of chloride-containing species within the bronze patina with moisture and air, often accompanied by corrosion of the copper allow itself” (David Scott, “Bronze Disease: A Review of Some Chemical Problems and the Role of Relative Humidity,” Journal of the American Institute for Conservation 29/2 Autumn, 1990: 193).  In such cases, according to Jason Sanchez and Ken Harl, bronze objects develop a greenish color on their surface when exposed to “extremes of heat, humidity, acids, or environmental pollutions,” typical of “a region with relatively high humidity throughout the calendar year.” If left untreated, “it produces a remarkable disintegrating and destructive effect on the object it attacks . . . slowly reducing it to amorphous powder” (W. G. Wood-Martin, “The Copper Age in Ireland,” Ulster Journal of Archaeology 9/2 April 1903: 91).  Bronze disease” according to Tonya Yirka, is the “equivalent to rust in iron-based metals, occurs when oxygen and chloride combine in a moist environment to make hydrochloric acid. This acid forms copper and tin chlorides which in turn break down the bronze. Uncontrolled, this process will eventually destroy the bronze.” This process has only been more or less recognized and understood for the past century or so. (Wood-Martin, “The Copper Age in Ireland,” 89; Scott, “Bronze Disease: A Review of Some Chemical Problems and the Role of Relative Humidity,” 193).

Given that such weapons were likely quite rare anyway, we would not expect that we would necessarily find surviving examples in an ancient trash heap, nevertheless, the Book of Mormon description of how such blades could corrode and perish is understandable.

Friday, January 29, 2016

For What Crime Was Nehor Executed?

Those who are interested in legal issues relating to the Book of Mormon will be interested in a superb book published by by John Welch on the legal cases in the Book of Mormon. In a recent essay in this book, Welch argues that the case of Nehor may have posed an interesting legal problem for Alma the Chief Judge in the first year of the reign of the judges.  (“The Trial of Nehor,” The Legal Cases of the Book of Mormon. Brigham Young University Press and the Neal A. Maxwell Institute for Religious Scholarship, 2008, 211-35).

We are told that following the death of Gideon, the killer Nehor, was apprehended by the people and taken to Alma, where he was able “to plead for himself with much boldness” (Alma 1:11). How could Nehor have defended his actions?

Welch offers several possible lines of defense for Nehor in light of the law of Moses which was observed by the Nephites. Nehor may have argued, for example, that his killing of Gideon was not intentional. Intentional homicide was punishable by death (Numbers 35:17; "the murderer who deliberately killeth" 2 Nephi 9:35). For example, if the victim was smitten “with an instrument of iron” or by one “throwing a stone” causing death, the perpetrator was considered guilty of murder if he had been “laying in wait” to kill the victim (Numbers 35:16-21), which would show premeditation. Unpremeditated killings, however, did not require capital punishment, although the perpetrators unable to escape to a city of refuge might be slain by relative of the victim (Numbers 35:15, 19). “Biblical law seems to have recognized the element of fighting as a mitigating factor in settling the liabilities of men who had been parties to a brawl” and “Presumably, some leniency was normally shown in cases where people acted improperly but under the heat of an altercation, or if injury was caused inadvertently as a consequence of a scuffle” (225).

Welch observes that in the case of Nehor, both men had apparently fought before Gideon was killed in the confrontation (Alma 1:9). According to Welch, Nehor may have argued that Gideon’s death was unpremeditated and that Nehor was not laying in wait for Gideon and that he did not start our with the intent of killing the man.

Priestcraft was considered an evil (2 Nephi 26:29-30), but not illegal itself under the law of Mosiah. There apparently was no legal punishment specified for priestcraft if people professed to believe what they taught (Alma 1:17). For this and other reasons discussed by Welch, the case of Nehor posed a particular legal problem under the law of Moses as practiced by the Nephites. He also discusses several other additional factors that may have been relevant to Nehor's defense.

Welch concludes:

“In the final analysis, Nehor was executed not for murder, and not for priestcraft, but for a composite offense of endeavoring to enforce priestcraft by the sword (Alma 1:12). Alma’s judicial brilliance is evident in the way he fashioned this ruling. As suggested above, a simple charge of murder was problematic (if not precluded) under Numbers 35, and as far as we know, no human punishment was prescribed for priestcraft alone in any specific text. By innovatively combining these two offenses, however, Alma was able to convict Nehor of killing for the culpable purpose of enforcing priestcraft. . . . I would see Mosiah’s law against murder as supplying the element of the actus reus necessary for Nehor’s conviction, while the moral and religious turpitude of priestcraft can be seen as providing the required mens rea sufficient to support a verdict requiring capital punishment.” (227)

Welch also observes that in the aftermath of Nehor’s execution his followers instigated persecutions “with all manner of words” and that some members of the Church “began to be proud, and began to contend warmly with their adversaries, even unto blows; yea, they would smite one another with their fists” (Alma 1:22). “Significantly,,” notes Welch, “they hit each other only with their fists because the case of Nehor had made it clear that it was illegal to enforce one’s religious beliefs with a weapon, but the holding said nothing about other kinds of striking” as long as they were not intended to kill (234).

Welch’s book provides a wealth of insight into the many ancient legal aspects of the Book of Mormon and the reader will be amply rewarded.           

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Blood, Passover, and Third Nephi

When in bondage to the Egyptians, the Lord commanded the children of Israel to take a male lamb without blemish, sacrifice it, take the blood of the lamb, and put some of it on the door posts of their houses (Exodus 12:5-7). And when the Lord passed through the land to destroy the firstborn he promised:

“I will execute judgment . . . And the blood shall be for a token upon the houses where ye are: and when I see the blood, I will pass over you, and the plague shall not be upon you to destroy you when I smite the land of Egypt” (Exodus 12:12-13).

Israel was commanded to commemorate this feast annually, during the Jewish month (around March or April).

“And this day shall be unto you for a memorial; and ye shall keep it a feast to the Lord throughout your generations” (Exodus 12:14).

Latter-day Saints and other Christians believe that the Israelite Passover pointed to the redemption of Jesus Christ whose blood was shed to provide an atonement for our sins (See for example Donald W. Parry and Jay A. Parry, Symbols and Shadows, 2009, 64-67).

The Book of Mormon records that the Nephites experienced great destruction among their people at time of Jesus’ death. These events commenced at the beginning of the thirty and fourth year on the fourth day of the first month of the new year (3 Nephi 8:5). While we do not know the details of the Nephite calendar, which may have differed in many respects from that in Judea, I assume that the Nephites, when they kept the law of Moses, would have celebrated some form of Passover at approximately the same time as the Israelites of the Old World. Under this assumption several elements of the events described in Mormon’s account in Third Nephi are worth noting.

First, the three days of darkness among the Nephites (3 Nephi 8:19-23; 10:9) obviously recalls the three days of darkness over Egypt when the children of Israel were delivered from bondage (Exodus 10:21-22). This event would have clearly reminded the people of Lehi of the darkness of Egypt. Unlike ancient Israel, however, the Nephites did not have light in their dwellings (Exodus 10:23). The darkness seems to have enveloped everyone. The universal nature of the darkness, whatever its physical cause, would have suggested that the Nephites that by breaking their covenant obligations as a people they had become like the Egyptians and so the Lord was treating them as such.

Second, following three hours of terror and destruction, Jesus announced from heaven the destruction of numerous cities which he had caused to be destroyed (3 Nephi 9:9-22). The inhabitants of those cities rejected the gospel messengers which had been sent to them from God. Rather than repenting of their sins in order to be saved by the blood of the Lamb of God, they persisted in their iniquities and abominations and ironically shed the “blood of the prophets and the saints” (3 Nephi 9:5, 7, 9, 11). Those who were “saved” from the subsequent destruction were considered “more righteous” than the others because they had “received the prophets and stoned them not; and it was they who had not shed the blood of the saints, who were spared” (3 Nephi 9:13; 10:12).

The events described may be interpreted as an ironic reversal of the Passover blessing of protection and deliverance. Having rejected the atoning blood of Christ, the wicked killed the prophets and the saints whose righteous blood stood as a sign against those in these doomed cities, which Jesus could no longer pass by in judgment. The dramatic events, announced to all by Jesus Christ, the “light and the life of the world” (3 Nephi 9:18) from heaven would strikingly emphasize to the people of Lehi the need to repent and return to Jesus and partake of the covenant blessings of protection and salvation.