Discussions of Mormons and Mormon life, Book of Mormon issues and evidences, and other Latter-day Saint (LDS) topics.

Monday, May 23, 2016

The Great and Spacious Book of Mormon Arcade Game

My two recent articles on Lehi's Trail at The Interpreter  ("Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dream Map, Part 1" and Part 2) have been noted and responded to by RT of the Faith Promoting Rumor blog, whose critiques were the primary topic of my work. He points out that my work is rife with methodological and other flaws, though the specific flaws and failed arguments are not yet identified.

Further, regarding my responses in Part I to the dozens of issues he has thrown out, he complains that I have taken a shotgun approach. I'm not sure what words best describes the action of pulling out the scattered pellets delivered from a shotgun blast, but perhaps "anti-shotgun approach" would be more appropriate. In spite of the diverse topics that require treatment, such as ancient sacrificial practices, the use of camels in the ancient Near East, the alleged blunder of mentioning the "fountain of the Red Sea," and the details of the terrain around the candidate for Bountiful that handily and surprisingly refutes RT's claim that a place like Bountiful could not possibly have been uninhabited, there are some key focus areas in the two-part article that merit more than a casual dismissal, in my opinion. I was expecting more substance. I thought there were a few interesting findings and possibly new resolutions to past problems worthy of comment.

He does offer the complaint that I frequently point to cited work of others instead of developing several already treated issues from the beginning, though does not specify where my reliance on previous work is inadequate. The two-part document was already on the rather lengthy side, so I hope my efforts to reduce unnecessary redevelopment of past work can be forgiven.

Naturally, RT was also not pleased by my lack of respect for some branches of modern biblical scholarship that claim the Bible has little historical value and is largely a pious fraud.  That does not come as a surprise, though the extent of his focus on that one issue somewhat surprised me, as if no sane person could agree with scholars like Kenneth Kitchen who dare to challenge the biblical minimalists directly and bluntly. The implicit appeal to authority on this issue does not seem like a convincing response to me, but since I'm not a biblical scholar worthy of engagement on the issues, I suppose all that needs to be done is to assert that his original case still stands, as he does.

To his credit, RT did somewhat acknowledge one point from one of the focus areas of my response regarding the low probability of Joseph having accessed one of the maps of Arabia that had the name Nehem or Nehhm:
On the subject of maps, I agree with Lindsay about their rarity. In a strictly historical sense, the likelihood of JS encountering one in rural Western New York wasn’t very high. But my argument for dependence on a map doesn’t actually rise or fall on the question of accessibility, but on a combination of other factors, e.g. the BoM’s fictional character, the vague geography of the journey through Arabia vs. the precision of the location Nahom, the similarity between Ireantum and Erythraeum, other map features, etc. I assume that there were more maps available to JS in his world than we have record. Also, Rick Grunder has informed me that near to the time JS was dictating 1 Nephi he may have visited the Reynolds Arcade in Rochester, New York, which seems to form the material background for parts of the story of Lehi’s dream. At the time the Arcade was an exceptionally large and lavish building that featured a library, rare maps, and periodicals. [link is to Grunder's PDF file]
This shows some progress, perhaps, compared to his previous essay on Nahom (part 3) that approvingly quoted Philip Jenkins: "The map evidence makes it virtually certain that Smith encountered and appropriated such a reference, and added the name as local color in the Book of Mormon." He at least recognizes that access to a Nahom-related map may not have been so likely, but still seems persuaded that the Book of Mormon ultimately depends on a map through some means.

But one thing in his response greatly surprised me: RT's approval of a newly proposed modern source as inspiration for a key portion of the Book of Mormon, namely, the Reynolds Arcade in Rochester, New York as the inspiration for Lehi's vision featuring the great and spacious building.  This creative idea comes from Rick Grunder, a master of finding creative parallels for Book of Mormon elements (see the review of his work by Ben McGuire, "Finding Parallels: Some Cautions and Criticisms, Part One" and "Part Two" at The Interpreter). Grunder views the Reynolds Arcade parallel as the crowning achievement of his Mormon studies work, one that should convince Mormons that the Book of Mormon is rooted in modernity. Grunder's crowning discovery from his decades of research to explore, rather exclusively,  the purported modern origins of the Book of Mormon is detailed in "The Dream of the Iron Rod," PDF file taken from Entry 350, "Reynolds Arcade (Rochester, New York)," in Mormon Parallels: A Bibliographic Source, 2nd ed. (Lafayette, New York: Rick Grunder ‐ Books, 2014), pp. 1367‐1431; available at http://www.rickgrunder.com/parallels/mp350.pdf.

The great and spacious Reynolds Arcade in Rochester. The observatory on top was missing at the time.
According to Grunder, as Joseph neared the end of his translation work of the Book of Mormon in June 1829, near the beginning of the translation of the small plates of Nephi, he got the idea for the "great and spacious building" in Lehi's dream when he made a trip to Rochester to look for a printer of the nearly completed manuscript. Inspired by a large building in Rochester, the Reynolds Arcade, towering at four-and-a-half stories, and just a block or so from an iron railing on an aqueduct that crossed the local Genesee River, Joseph thought of an iron rod and a "great and spacious building" that plays such a significant role in 1 Nephi. Joseph then quickly added that material to his dictated translation and voila, 1 Nephi was written, followed by the rest of the small plates material in short order.

Grunder makes an interesting case. There was an iron barrier, a fence or guardrail, running along the impressive aqueduct of the Erie Canal that crosses the Genesee River in Rochester. The iron fence and the aqueduct were not far from the original Reynolds Arcade, built in 1828, which in Grunder's view is a great and spacious building--or rather, the great and spacious building that inspired Joseph. It was a four-and-a-half story building with a unique open interior like modern malls. It had shops on the first and second floors, including a popular post office. While four stories may not seem tall enough to qualify as Lehi's giant building, a small but lofty structure on the top went well above the four-story bulk of the building, extending as high as 90 feet. So if Joseph were the author of the Book of Mormon, he could have seen that building and been wowed. Then he could have seen the aqueduct and got the idea of an iron rod.

The Rochester iron rod is on an aqueduct going across the Genesee river, not running along the bank of the river, as in Lehi's dream, and the river does not divide the wicked in the great and spacious building from the rod of iron in Lehi's dream, but yes, there was an iron railing and a river and a rather tall building for upstate New York standards. And Joseph could have seen all that in his June(?) 1829 trip to Rochester, where he tried to find a printer to print the Book of Mormon. Therefore, if the visit was early enough in June, it would be theoretically possible for Joseph to have used the Reynolds Arcade as inspiration for the early chapters of 1 Nephi in his remaining days of translation work, generally understood to have been completed by July 1. Grunder is ecstatic with this find.

RT is intrigued by the iron rod + Reynolds Arcade theory, and notes that he has always wondered where Joseph got the iron rod idea.

Better still, RT hopefully hints that the Arcade housed "a library, rare maps, and periodicals." Could the Arcade solve the mystery of the Dream Map, offering the source to the rare maps of Arabia that Joseph would need to complete the Book of Mormon? In a way, it's a beautiful theory.

But did the Arcade house rare maps that Joseph could have accessed? What is the evidence for this?

Grunder cites an 1830 source that mentions maps at the Athenaeum, an educational institute in Rochester which was housed in the Arcade:
"Under its [the Arcade's] roof," reported New York City's Monthly Repository magazine in 1830, "are six stores, an extensive boarding house, the post office, printing and exchange offices, the Atheneum, justices' and lawyers' offices, &c. The Atheneum is very creditable to the place, having a very valuable library, maps, the periodicals and newspapers from various parts." (Monthly Repository 1:5, cited further above, pp. 123-24).
Maps, perhaps. But where are the "rare maps" of RT? And where are the rare maps of Arabia that might have inspired Joseph? No evidence that I have found supports that wishful notion. But it's a beautiful theory, nonetheless.

RT's implicit "Grunder on steroids" theory, where "rare maps" at the Arcade might have helped Joseph, needs to be considered and perhaps fleshed out a bit. I think it goes something like this (warning: unnamed methodological flaws and rhetorical posturing follow): Joseph, looking for a printer because he's almost ready to print his book, stumbles across a building that inspires a whole new section for the crucial beginning of the book that he hasn't exactly written yet. There will be a mysterious vision with a tall building, an iron rod, a river! Maybe a post office and a bar. No, scrap that. But we'll import a tree with genuine New York "fruit country" fruit. Only white. And the story of the vision will take place during a voyage through--say, look at that rare map here in the Athenaeum--Arabia! Let's see, how to get from Jerusalem to the ocean. Ah, there it is! South-southwest along the Red Sea, then stop at Nehem/Nehhm for "local color," and then due east across the desert to, um, Bountiful (OK, that's not on the map, but a guy can make a lucky guess now and then, right?). Grab the hat, time to dictate a few more pages to a scribe, and then to press! Just in the nick of time.

To flesh out the theory, it helps to know a little more about the Athenaeum. According to RIT's "History of RIT" page, it was founded in 1829 by Colonel Nathaniel Rochester and other Rochester community leaders “for the purpose of cultivating and promoting literature, science, and the arts.” It was housed in the Reynolds Arcade, and had a book collection that would grow over the years until  1847, when the Athenaeum merged with the Mechanics Literary Association, founded in 1836 by William A. Reynolds (son of Abelard Reynolds), to form the Rochester Athenaeum and Mechanics Association. The resulting merged library would have over 8,000 volumes, making it a truly significant library. It would be a major part of the roots of RIT (not to be confused with RT). When it was in the Reynolds Arcade, it included a meeting room and a small reading room with a library, provided by Abelard Reynolds. Though small in 1829, could it have offered what Joseph needed, just in the nick of time?

If so, Joseph's access to the fledgling library and whatever exotic maps it may have might pose a problem. Important information comes from the Rochester Athenaeum Collection at RIT:
The first meeting of the Athenaeum was held on June 12, 1829 and Nathaniel Rochester was chosen as the first president. For a $5 annual fee, individuals could use the Athenaeum's space in the Reynolds Arcade building for private events. More importantly, however, they could use the organization's collection of books and journals. These materials were not limited to the field of science, but spanned a variety of subject areas. On February 12, 1830, the Athenaeum was granted a charter from the State of New York, with the stated purpose of "cultivating and promoting literature, science and the arts."
Grunder's theory could be even more beautiful if he would but speculate that Joseph was there at that first meeting, perhaps with Solomon Spaulding, gleefully discussing Book of Mormon lore while picking up story tips from his fellow literati as they scanned rare European maps of Arabia and then watched sunset on a walk across the aqueduct while holding on to the iron rod as they crossed the misty river and tried not to fall into the gulf of misery and woe.
 
Sadly, whatever treasures the Athenaeum had or would one day have, they probably were not available to Joseph. Like a variety of other libraries in the US at this time, this was not a public library where any farm boy could wander in and handle rare maps of Arabia, if one imagines that the Atheneum had such things. Joseph had just recently struggled to get money to buy paper for the translation process. He and Oliver had been short on food. He was relying on a mortgaged farm from Martin Harris to pay the overwhelming cost of printing the Book of Mormon. I don't imagine he was ready to spend $5 in 1829 dollars to pay an annual fee to access a fledgling library that he had nearly no time to enjoy. The Athenaeum is simply not a promising candidate for Book of Mormon origins. But could the Arcade itself have played a pivotal role?

The "nick of time" part is where we still run into some difficulty. Did Joseph actually visit Rochester before he had completed Lehi's dream in the early chapters of 1 Nephi? June was a pretty busy month for Joseph and I don't think there is adequate time in Grunder's scenario for a June Rochester trip followed by frenetic translation of almost the entire small plates of Nephi. First note that chronologies of the translation of the Book of Mormon put its completion around July 1 or the end of June. For example, David Whitmer said that “The translation at my father’s farm, Fayette Township, Seneca County, New York occupied about one month, that is from June 1, to July 1, 1829” (Kansas City Daily Journal, 5 June 1881, as quoted at FAIRMormon). On June 11, Joseph, possibly through the work of Martin Harris, applied for a copyright for his book to help protect his rights, a process that required filing the printed title page of the Book of Mormon in a distant copyright office in Utica, New York, about 120 miles from Palmyra, as detailed by Michael Hubbard MacKay and Gerrit J. Dirkmaat, From Darkness Unto Light: Joseph Smith's Translation and Publication of the Book of Mormon (Provo, UT: Religious Studies Center, BYU and Salt Lake City, UT: Deseret Book, 2015), p. 164. The title page of the 1830 Book of Mormon makes it pretty clear that the account of Ether and the burying or sealing up of the plates had already been described, so it's fair to say that the translation of 1 Nephi was already underway by that date. A key question is when did Joseph go to Rochester and how much remained to be translated when he went?

Grunder depends on Joseph taking his time to get 1 Nephi started. He requires Joseph to have pretty much stopped translating after hitting the end of the Book of Mormon and its title page (at the end) in order to seek out printers, before rushing to complete the last few pages. How many pages? There are 143 pages from 1 Nephi 1 to Omni in the 1981 printing of the Book of Mormon. Translation rates have been estimated at 5 to 10 pages a day. During June, Joseph would deal with the three witnesses, he would travel to Palmyra and then Rochester and spend time seeking printers, he would travel back to work with scribes to translate the plates, and then he would need at least half of June to complete the translation at a rapid pace. It's no wonder that Grunder states that Joseph must have gone to Rochester early in June and then did the translation of 1 Nephi afterwards:
THE LATEST COMPARISON OF ORIGINAL SOURCES suggests that Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery were not settled in the Whitmer cabin to begin this part of the dictation until about June 5 (EMD 5:417, detailed chronology assembled from extensive documentation). Very shortly thereafter, they visited the Grandin printing shop in Palmyra. Then Joseph went on to Rochester where he was reported again almost immediately with Martin Harris.
The negotiation with printers did not initially require Joseph to abandon the work of translation, for he sent Martin Harris to Palmyra "by early June, and possibly before" with a manuscript copy of the title page to use in negotiations (MacKay and Dirkmaat, p. 165). Martin met with Egbert B. Grandin in Palmyra. The man who became the typesetter, John Gilbert, reported that it was in early June when Harris and Grandin met (see Gilbert's 1892 typescript memoir, "Recollections of John H. Gilbert  [by himself]," archived at BYU). Grandin was skeptical and refused to take on the project. Grandin would publish an article on June 26, 1829 mocking the Book of Mormon project as the "result of gross imposition, and a grosser superstition," showing that at this time in late June, Grandin was not seriously considering taking on the publication task at this time. After Grandin's rejection, Joseph and Martin together sought help from others in Palmyra, without success.

According to Pomeroy Tucker an employee of E.B. Grandin, when the initial negotiations took place in June, Joseph brought the title page and some manuscript pages, and was able to tell Grandin how many folios (sets of folded pages) would be needed to complete the book:
In June, 1829, Smith and the prophet, his brother Hyrum, Cowdery the scribe, and Harris the believer, applied to Mr. Egbert B. Grandin, then publisher of the Wayne Sentinel at Palmyra (now deceased), for his price to do the work of one edition of three thousand copies. Harris offered to pay or secure payment if a bargain should be made. Only a few sheets of the manuscript, as a specimen, with the title-page, were exhibited at this time, though the whole number of folios was stated, whereby could be made a calculation of the cost. Mr. Grandin at once expressed his disinclination to entertain the proposal to print at any price, believing the whole affair to be a wicked imposture and a scheme to defraud Mr. Harris, who was his friend, and whom he advised accordingly.
[Pomeroy  Tucker, Origin,  Rise,  And  Progress of Mormonism: Biography  Of  Its  Founders  And  History  of Its  Church (New York: D. Appleton, 1867), pp. 50-51.]
This suggests that the manuscript, of course, was nearly complete and Joseph at least knew how many more pages of text would be needed to complete the translation. Is this consistent with theories that suggest Joseph was ready to start creating major, lengthy new sections on the fly? Yet it appears there may still have been some translation to be done, so some additional content may have been forthcoming in the final days of June.

An important question is when did Joseph then go to Rochester to look for other printers to take on the task of publication. Pomeroy Tucker states that Joseph and his team "immediately" went to Rochester after visiting Grandin (Tucker, p. 52), but Tucker wouldn't know the details of their trip apart from what Joseph would later tell Grandin sometime after his return.  Of course, given early June negotiations with Grandin, one can assume that the trip to Rochester happened shortly threafter, giving a mid-June estimate for that trip, which is what several authors have accepted (e.g., see the chronology for Oliver Cowdery at OliverCowdery.com which puts the trip at mid-June). Y

More recently, however, MacKay and Dirkmaat in From Darkness Unto Light state that Joseph Smith and Martin Harris decided to visit printers in Rochester, "likely arriving in Rochester sometime in July" (MacKay and Dirkmaat, p. 168, emphasis mine). After several days  discussing and negotiating with printers in Rochester, Elihu Marshall agreed to take on the project. This was not yet a good solution for Joseph, though, who would have a hard time staying close to the work in a town almost 25 miles from Palmyra, but the offer from Marshall gave him standing to renegotiate with Grandin, who now realized that someone was going to print to the book after all, and he might as well be the one to get the work, but under rather harsh terms (MacKay and Dirkmaat, pp. 168-175). According to MacKay and Dirkmaat, "While it is not known definitively when the men settled on terms with Grandin, by 11 August 1829, Jonathan Hadley reported in his paper that the Book of Mormon was 'soon to be put to press' in Palmyra rather than in Rochester" (p. 175).

A chronology at FairMormon also puts the Rochester visit in July 1829, with the Grandin deal being finalized in August.  In the widely cited and detailed Book of Mormon chronology compiled by Eldon Watson at http://www.eldenwatson.net/BoM.htm, the Rochester trip does not appear to take place in June at all, which is packed with Book of Mormon translation work. In that chronology, 1 Nephi 11 is completed by June 7, 1829. Later, 2 Nephi 27, giving details about the three witnesses, is estimated to be translated on June 20, giving rise to the three witnesses event near the end of June. Whether Rochester was visited in mid-June or in July, Watson's chronology leaves no room for speculating that something on that trip was a catalyst for material in 1 Nephi 8 and 1 Nephi 11. Lehi's vision was already described.

As for the Rochester trip, July makes more sense to me. A problem with a mid-June date for the Rochester trip is that the subsequent negotiations with Grandin take place later in July (being finalized as late as August), and the significant events with the three witnesses and the eight witnesses take place near the end of June. If a bid from Elihu Marshall was obtained in mid-June, why the lengthy delay in getting back to Grandin, having one an all-important competitive bid that would enable working with a printer much closer to home where the security of the manuscripts and the details of the work could be adequately supervised? If the issue of finalizing the printing plans was important enough for Joseph to delay the translation project in mid-June, why not follow-up immediately with Grandin upon returning from Rochester?

Arriving in Rochester in July means that Joseph wasn't interrupting his urgent translation work to travel to Rochester. "Socks first, then shoes. Write first, then print." It would mean that he was probably done with the translation and would be able to soon provide the initial pages of the manuscript (which Oliver would be working on rapidly in July, producing the Printer's Manuscript) once the printer was secured. In this scenario, if accurate, no matter how impressed Joseph was by the 4.5 stories of the Arcade, or any other tall building in Rochester, complete with nearby iron rod, a river, and fruit trees in the region, it would be too late to start dreaming about how to use that material in Lehi's vision. It was already in ink.

The "nick of time" problem isn't resolved by a June visit to Rochester, if it turns out that his visit was much earlier than July after all, early enough somehow to have preceded the account of Lehi's vision in 1 Nephi 8. Making up the books of Nephi on the fly to incorporate newly encountered scenes from Rochester leaves us with numerous problems. First, the record of Lehi, which was in the 116 lost pages that could turn up at any time, as far as Joseph knew, most likely contained some aspects of Lehi's vision, for it is in the midst of Lehi's discussions after his dream and just before Nephi's own version of that dream that Nephi tells us that the many details of Lehi's preaching at this time are given in the large plates plates (1 Nephi 10:15). Nephi also tells us in the midst of Lehi's dream-related account in 1 Nephi 8:29 that he is not going to write all the words of his father on this matter, which follows 1 Nephi 1:17 where Nephi explains that he is abridging the record of his father and then will give his own record. The lost 116 pages should have more details from Lehi's visions and preaching, not much less than Nephi's abridgement. The same should apply to details of life and struggles along Lehi's trail, including details that one might allege could come from a map.

This is a point to emphasize. The material about Lehi's vision and Lehi's journey was very likely already on the lost 116 pages and not something Joseph could conceivably make up on the fly.  If Joseph were a con man making things up and fooling his scribes, Lehi's vision -- and the gist of the travels through Arabia -- can't be freshly concocted at this stage or else his own scribes and whoever may have had the 116 lost pages could cry foul. Innovations from a mystery map in the Arcade doesn't help, nor does inspiration from four stories of spaciousness at the Reynolds Arcade. None of this is in the nick of time in any scenario.

The relationship of the small plates to the rest of the Book of Mormon also poses crucial problems for theories of fabrication, including last-minute fabrication based on seeing a "great and spacious building" in Rochester. Many details in Nephi's writings are relied on in subtle ways throughout the Book of Mormon, such as Lehi's and Nephi's use of dust imagery, building on the theme of rising from the dust in Isaiah 52, which is fittingly used by Moroni to close the Book of Mormon and is employed in other subtle ways in the text (I have a forthcoming article submitted to the Interpreter on this topic, which builds on a related essay by David Bokovoy). While the iron rod is not explicitly mentioned later in the Book of Mormon, several concepts related to Lehi's vision are present, including:
  • the need to "lay hold upon the word of God" to lead us in a "strait and narrow course across th everlasting gulf of misery which is prepared to engulf the wicked" (Helaman 3:29)
  • avoiding "the great gulf of death and misery" that represents death and hell (Alma 26:20; Helaman 3:28-30; Helaman 5:12)
  • the consistently negative implications of "spacious buildings" (Mosiah 11:8-9, referring to Noah's "elegant and spacious buildings" and "spacious palace," and then Mormon's condemnation of Riplakish, who taxed the people to "build many spacious buildings" in Ether 10:5)
  • the tree of life (though this is an important theme from Genesis as well) and its fruit (e.g., Alma 5:34, which juxtaposes the fruit with the waters of life as well).
  • "mists of darkness" in 3 Nephi 8:22, part of the destruction accurately prophesied by Nephi.
1 Nephi and the experiences and teachings along Lehi's trail are artfully woven into the Book of Mormon. The Liahona plays a critical role. The basic story line with Nephi, Lehi, Laman, Zoram, etc., is already woven throughout the book in numerous references, as is the basic idea of their exodus from Jerusalem in a difficult trek that would take them to the New World where the Nephites will  again apply the name Bountiful from Nephi's account. The sufferings during that trek, which, contrary to Grunder, who only equates Nephi's "wilderness" with the verdant, moist territory around Palmyra, did include thirst (Alma 18:37 and Alma 37:42) and did include many details consistent with a record from someone who had crossed Arabia as describe (see my "Technicolor Dream Map" articles). While Grunder thinks Nephi's use of "wilderness" and his failure to use the word "desert" means Joseph was just thinking of the green, moist wilderness around his home when writing the Book of Mormon, if only he would take off the blinders he might see 1 Nephi offers much more than anything Joseph could have dreamed up based on New England terrain. RT had a similar objection that I treat in Part 1 of the Technicolor Dream Map, point #34 in the brief responses to RT, where I point out that the word "wilderness" in the Book of Mormon is an appropriate translation for at least two commonly used biblical Hebrew terms that are sometimes also translated as "desert." In fact, as the group came to the southern end of the Dead Sea, they would encounter the wide rift valley of Arabah, a name that actually means wilderness, just as Nephi had recorded.

There are many further details to consider. For example, as members of Lehi's family moved back and forth in the Jerusalem area, the use of "up" and "down" is always perfectly consistent with the real terrain.  But the real excitement comes in recognizing that the now plausible description of once-ridiculed, "impossible" places like the Valley of Lemuel and Bountiful, along with accurate, plausible directions, and the impressive archaeological confirmations for ancient Nahom, even coupled with a Hebraic word play, add layers of ancient reality to Lehi's Trail that have no relationship whatsoever to Joseph Smith's local terrain. That's why the leading critics and skeptics insist there must have been help from a map and perhaps many other sources to even get a few of those many things right. To me it's rather extreme to speculate that significant portions of the writings of Nephi et al. were concocted on the fly in late June, in part inspired by a newly encountered building, resulting in pages of new text hastily tossed into the manuscript just in time for printing. But some theories are too beautiful to drop. 

For those interesting in the Reynolds Arcade and its history and architecture (a great tidbit of American, complete with a "Chinese pagoda" on top!), here are some further materials to consider:
  • Bob Marcotte, "Reynolds Arcade," "Retrofitting Rochester" series in partnership with the Office of the City Historian of Rochester, Democrat and Chronicle, Rochester, NY, 2012. A good overview of the impressive four-story building that would be an important part of Rochester life for many years.
  • "Walking Tour of Rochester's One Hundred Acre Plot," LowerFalls.org. This features several photos and drawings of the Reynolds Arcade and other prominent buildings in Rochester, with some history.
  • "Reynolds Arcade," Libraryweb.org, Monroe County (NY) Library System. Several historic views of the Reynolds Arcade. 
  • Diane Shaw, City Building on the Eastern Frontier: Sorting the New Nineteenth Century City (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2004), pp. 124-130 (viewable at Amazon). Shaw points out that the glass roofing shown in some photos is from a remodeling effort long after Joseph might have seen the building. 
  • Rick Grunder, "The Great and Spacious Building," guest post at World Without End, April 27, 2015. A beautiful theory, but best served with a great and spacious grain of salt.


Sunday, May 15, 2016

What Paper and Wood Tell Us About the Gold Plates

When Joseph Smith finally received the gold plates from the stone box that had been buried on the tiny hill we now call th Hill Cumorah, he did not bring them directly home, but hid them in a log since he did not have anything to cover them or store them in. In Chapter One of From Darkness unto Light (Provo, UT: Religious Studies Center, BYU and Salt Lake City, UT: Deseret Book, 2015), Michael H. MacKay and Gerrut J. Dirkmat describe the pains Joseph took to properly protect the plates now that he had received them. His first task, then, was to seek a wooden box to put the plates in.
Leaving the plates hidden in the woods, Joseph did not initially intend on showing them to anyone, but instead he set out to find a chest or box to keep them in.... He had apparently asked his neighbor Willard Chase, a local carpenter and joiner, twice in September to make a case for him before he retrieved the plates. Chase likely refused because he doubted that Joseph could repay him for the materials and labor. Chase remembered Joseph making plans to protect the plates, contemplating the problems that he would face once he had them and knowing that the angel had charged him to keep them hidden. The day Joseph went to the hill to obtain the plates, he was still looking for someone to make a box for the plates. Before leaving for the hill, he woke his mother and asked "if [she] had a chest with a lock and key" to store the plates once he retrieved them, but she had nothing to offer him. [From Darkness unto Light, p. 6]
She told Joseph to go to a cabinetmaker who had been making something for their oldest daughter, hoping to be able to buy it on credit because they had no money. But she was able to negotiate a deal involving paying half in produce and half with money (apparently on loan). The next day, a Mrs. Well of Macedon asked for Joseph to come help dig a well, giving him a day of paid labor that Joseph's mother felt was a blessing from God to allow them to pay their debt to the cabinet maker. [From Darkness unto Light, pp. 6-7]

The lack of a wooden cabinet tells us something about the plates. So does the lack of paper that later hindered the translation process.  In Chapter Eight of the same source, MacKay and Dirmat explain that the paper that Joseph and Oliver had received as a gift from Joseph Knight Sr. had run out, and thus the translation process faced a roadblock. Out of money and supplies, Joseph and Oliver left Harmony, PA and traveled 20 miles to reach the Knight home in Colesville, only to find that he had left on business. They returned still without paper for their work.

Joseph and Oliver had no choice but to stop the translation process to look for work in order to get funds for paper. But they were unsuccessful in finding work, and were now empty-handed and hungry. Fortunately, Joseph Knight came to the rescue, bringing generous supplies and paper, and the work continued.

As someone in the forest products industry, the role of two forest products in the Book of Mormon story intrigues me. The Book of Mormon project was hindered twice due to the lack of needed forest products. The lack of a wooden box to protect the plates (but special thanks to the tree that served as a temporary storage place!) and the lack of paper for the translation process.

Both of these issues point to the granular reality of the Book of Mormon and the impoverished state its translator. If the plates did not exist, would he be out shopping for jobs to afford to pay a carpenter for a box to store them in? And if Joseph could not even afford paper for the translation process, could he have afforded expensive tin or copper plates to make a fake set of plates to impress the witnesses? Indeed, when Martin Harris first hefted the plates, still covered in a box, he said, "I knew from the heft that they were lead or gold, and I knew that Joseph had not credit enough to buy so much lead." [Martin Harris interview in "Mormonism—No. II," Tiffany's Monthly, Joel Tiffany, ed., vol. 5, no. 4, August 1859, pp. 163–170, quotation from p. 169.] By the way, he estimated their weight at 40-50 pounds, close to the 60 pounds estimate we have from William Smith, which is an excellent fit not for a chunk of pure gold of the same size (that would be around 200 pounds), but for a stack of thin plates made from a lighter copper-gold alloy like tumbaga from Mesoamerica, with significant air space occurring between the stacked plates, based on analysis from metallurgist Reed Putnam in "Were the Golden Plates made of Tumbaga?" (Update, 5/17/16: A very useful page on this topic was just prepared at Book of Mormon Central: "What Kind of Ore did Nephi Use to Make the Plates?")

Detail after detail around the translation process supports the reality of the plates and of the oral dictation of the Book of Mormon. Joseph was not a front for a smooth, well-financed operation to deceive people. He was not working off a carefully drafted manuscript that he or someone else with plenty of paper had been crafting for years. He was not dealing with visionary, floating plates, but with real ancient plates that needed a real wooden box in which to be carried safely. Plates that could be hefted and touched. And for both the box and the paper, Joseph was willing to drop everything to go work in order to afford a simple item that he needed. This is a gritty, granular story that doesn't fit common theories of fraud.

Paper and wood tell us something about the metal plates of Joseph Smith.




China's Real Estate Market: A Potentially Significant Bubble

For those of you who recognize the huge impact of the Chinese economy on the global economy, I'll share some good news and bad news. First, the good news is that China shows many signs of vigor and strength in spite of a slowing economy. However, the bad news is I'm uncertain how well China can cope with economic reality when the current real estate bubble corrects. Will it be a gentle correction, or a painful one that sends shock waves around the world? I think regulators here will go all out to keep it gentle, and I hope they succeed. But from my perspective, China's housing market may be in a bubble, especially in top-tier cities like Shanghai, and a correction could be painful. But if there is no correction, the pain will be even greater for the lower income citizens who can't afford skyrocketing rent. Here's hoping that nothing goes wrong and all the conflicting forces resolve smoothly in universal harmony and happiness and that nobody gets burned and impoverished in the process. Well, one can hope, right?

The real estate market here seems to share some of the same excesses that the United States had in its government-driven real estate bubble shortly before the subprime mortgage crash in 2007. Here in China, we have a flood of newly created cheap capital flowing into the market at low interest rates for easy loans. We find unusual business models popping up to exploit the cheap credit and drive up housing prices and demand. What is happening is not sustainable and arguably  represents a huge misallocation of capital. The problem could get much worse, as it has in the United States, through vigorous government "help." The help often alleviates the short-term pain of some parties while making the long-term problem more dangerous, one of the hallmarks of big government and highly educated economists.

Easy credit from the banks of China and China's equivalent of "quantitative easing" have been used to stimulate the markets, just as was done with little success in the U.S., Japan, the European Union and Zimbabwe (before their cataclysmic crash with hyperinflation and economic chaos). Initially much of the new money being created was being used to drive the Chinese stock market. As that bubble popped, wealthy Chinese looked again to real estate as the traditional safe way to make lots of money. In popular cities, home prices have shot up. In Shenzhen, housing prices show a 57% increase over last year. That's an insane rate showing something is wrong.

Owners of apartments until recently were not too concerned about rental rates since they real money were making was coming from rapidly appreciating property values in cities like Shanghai. But with fear that recent rises were no longer going to be sustainable, rental prices are now getting more emphasis. This appears to be driven in part by the very large-scale actions of a giant force, the real estate company Lianjia (United Homes), according to a friend of ours who is a real estate agent. Lianjia is a respected heavyweight in the market. It has somehow managed to obtained huge capital reserves that it has used to buy up many former competitors, giving them a stranglehold on the real estate business, at least in terms of the agencies and agents that buyers, renters, and sellers use for transactions of homes and individual rental units. According to our friend, they are also using large amounts of capital to make loans to customers who otherwise might not be able to afford the down payment of a new property. Further, they are actively working with property owners to push for significantly higher rental values. This increases their commissions and also make landlords happy. I am not saying this is unethical, just that it is bold and seems to require easy capital to keep the momentum going.

In spite of a slowing economy in China, many renters are reporting significant jumps in rent this year, at least here in Shanghai. Our landlord, for example, wanted to increase our rent by 33%. Since we take good care of the place and don't make many demands, though negotiation, she was willing to sacrifice to help us by just asking for a 24% raise in rent instead. But she has agents from Lianjia calling her and saying she could be getting 33% or even 40% more. This seems to be happening all over the city.

In looking for new, more affordable apartments, my wife found that when she went to the nearby Lianjia office and asked for places with a price similar to what we have been paying the past year, they said it wasn't possible and that we would have to pay a lot more to get a place with the features we now have. When we went to one of the increasingly hard-to-find non-Lianjia dealers, we learned that there certainly were places in our price range that could meet our needs. While my wife and a non-Lianjia agent were looking at one apartment priced at 14,000 RMB, a Lianjia agent came to the same place with a Chinese girl who was looking to rent. She liked the place and asked how much it was. My wife heard the Lianjia agent say it was listed at 18,000, a full 4,000 RMB above the actual asking price. The girl was shocked and wondered how it could be so expensive. She turned to the agent my wife was with and asked what price he had been told. Not wanting to make another agent lose face, our agents just nodded his head and said it was 18,000. But this apparently was Lianjia's attempt to drive up the price. Ugly. That may be a rare exception, but our non-Lianjia realtor also confirmed that Lianjia is aggressively talking up the prices.

By offering easy loans to customers who might not otherwise be able to get one, and by collaborating with landlords to drive prices up, the rental market in Shanghai has been booming at a crazy pace, the kind of pace that looks like a classic bubble. The housing bubble is already popping in Hong Kong, with a significant drop now in housing prices since the Sept. 2015 peak, said to currently be in "free fall." That cold front may soon sweep northward to cities like Shanghai.

In bubble economies, it's hard to tell precisely when the insanity will stop. With abundant injections of cash and other policy actions, the government could keep driving up prices for a while, but eventually (what, two more months? maybe six? a year?) economic reality has to kick in, and when it does, it can be painful and sudden. The bigger the steps taken to keep the bubble going, the worse the pain will be and the longer the correction will take.

When cheap mortgages to unqualified buyers begin to fail and threaten the banks, we could be in for a repeat of the subprime mortgage crisis the US faced a few years ago. When property owners begin to see that real estate values can drop significantly, they may look to the ultimate way of preserving capital in risky times: precious metals, particularly gold and silver. A dramatic pop of any kind in China could send shock waves throughout the world.

What to do? Be prepared for trouble. Get out of debt. Have cash on hand to keep you going for two or three months in case there is a run on the banks (the available currency in the US is a tiny fraction of the vast amount of digital money that has been created, and if banks fail or are hacked, turning those digits into something you can spend may be a challenge that faces many delays, not to mention massive threats of hacking). Physical cash on hand may be an important part of your survival kit. Food and other supplies, and some gold and silver coins or bullion, may be a good idea.

By the way, in my last post for the Nauvoo Times back in January 2016, I mentioned that I thought the precious metals market showed signs of being a great time to buy. Gold was then below $1100/ounce and silver was around $14/ounce. Those who took that advice have seen some strong gains. While there may be another dip coming up now, I think in the long run this is still an excellent time to make sure you have part of your portfolio backed by genuine precious metals, but not the fake paper stuff that many companies sell. If you can't own the physical stuff (hard for foreigners here in China to do that!), you can invest in funds such as CEF (Central Exchange Fund of Canada, NYSE: CEF) which is backed by actual bullion, a favorite investment of mine.  But first make sure you have some cash on hand, and then make sure you have some ways of preserving wealth when bubbles pop or electric accounts are sealed, hacked, or frozen. The tsunami of insane debt that our government has created coupled with insane artificially low interest rates (even negative rates now in Europe and Japan as part of the war on savings and the war on cash) is driving many bubbles that won't be pretty when they pop. So be sure to have a good food storage plan. And get all the education you can. Good luck!

Friday, May 13, 2016

An Insane, Kingly Decree: Flushing the Constitution Again and Empowering Pedophiles

One of the awkward things about bathrooms in China is that there is less privacy than we Westerners tend to like. Floor to ceiling windows may be next to urinals. There may not be a door where we would normally have one. In some areas, cleaning ladies may roam in and out of men's bathrooms. But there does seem to be the widespread, common-sense recognition that men do not wander into women's bathrooms. There is a basic understanding that male pedophiles and perverts in women's bathrooms or locker rooms would put women and girls at risk. That level of sanity does not seem to exist among certain extremists in American politics. All those folks who say they want to "keep the government out of our bedrooms" seem quite happy to have the troops march into our bathrooms and compel us to accept new norms.

I woke to the news that the head of the ever-swelling Executive Branch of the US government issued a decree, wielding usurped power that is nowhere present in the US Constitution, telling America's schools (in effect) that they must not "discriminate" against certain males who want to walk into girl's bathrooms and locker rooms (provided they claim that they identify with the gender they wish to target--there is no way to easily verify the sincerity of someone's claim). The child safety issue has properly been raised over the related controversy in North Carolina and needs to be front and center here as well. What kind of perverse insanity is this? Various extremist groups have already applauded this move. Millions of Americans will now be browbeaten into silently accepting this setback in privacy, morality, and child safety as "progressive," with resistance being decried as bigotry, intolerance, or even racism.

Whether you are concerned or not about the risk of pedophiles or perverts in bathrooms and locker rooms, to me a bigger question is whether we are concerned about the ability of one man to issue decrees that overturn state or federal laws? The US Constitution is based on limitation of powers. Power is supposed to be retained by the States or the people unless expressly given to the federal government, and then those federal powers are limited, specific, and divided. It is Congress, not the President, that passes laws. To forget this, to give the Party a pass, is to enable a future, more outrageous decree. What's next? A decree that since his year's presidential campaign has become too divisive, that we now need to bring the nation together by postponing elections indefinitely and making our leader Commander for Life? This has happened in pother nations. What makes you think it cannot happen here? If a Presidential decree can override Parenting 101 (potty training basics), why not everything else?

Bathroom policies are just the kind of thing that should be left in the hands of local people, not the federal government. But if it is a federal issue, then it's Congress who should act. Does anybody remember this anymore? Are we that far gone?

Those parents who have been homeschooling their kids over concerns about the lack of moral sanity in the schools are looking a lot smarter now. (For most of them, their kids have been looking a lot smarter already, based on what I've seen of their academic performance.) Recent concerns about the safety of children in an "anything goes" environment are looking a lot less paranoid. I salute you homeschoolers for your prescient concern for your children and mourn the failure of public education. I mourn its failure in America to  provide a safe place for children to actually learn, without having to suffer at the whims of completely out-of-touch politicians who seem to value progressive theory and political paybacks more than child safety.




Wednesday, May 04, 2016

Dumpster Diving with a New LDS Area Authority in Hong Kong

My wife and I had the pleasure of attending a multi-district youth conference in Hong Kong over the three-day weekend we just had in China. On Sunday night at the large LDS building in Wan Chai, Hong Kong (14 stories tall!), right before the testimony meeting for the youth was about to begin, a very nice LDS man from the Hong Kong area asked me if I was in the Shanghai District presidency, and would I be willing to sit on the stand with him and other leaders during the testimony meeting. "I guess so," I replied, "but first I need to do some dumpster diving."

Earlier that day, the 100+ young people from five districts across China did a service project on two floors of the Wan Chai building in which they cooked a delicious for two large branches of sisters from the Philippines who work in Hong Kong as maids, trying to make money for their families back home. There are many hundreds of LDS women from the Philippines working in difficult circumstances in Hong Kong. They spend their lives serving other people with little rest. On Sunday, they got to experience having someone else serve them for a change, and I was stunned by how excited and grateful they were. Giggling, exuberant, talkative, and just so much to be around. It helped that the food we cooked was well planned and really delicious, and it helped that leaders who knew and loved the Philipinas helped guide the event. It also helped that the youth were spread out across the dining hall so they would talk to and learn from the sisters they were serving. What awesome fun this event was!

The Philipinas love to take pictures, so we had two cool backdrops set up to facilitate photography. They were provided by a sister in one of the Hong Kong branches or wards, made by her daughter. Unfortunately, during clean up, they were rolled up and thrown out with the trash. When I learned of the problem and saw the frustrated look on the sister's face who was hoping to take the backgrounds back home, it seemed like a little dumpster diving was in order, though I worried that the odds of finding the remnants of the background would be low and that they would probably be ruined. Still, I wanted to try.

After I explained the situation and the reason for "dumpster diving," how surprised I was when the man who invited me to sit on the stand volunteered to lead the charge toward the dumpsters right before the meeting was supposed to start. He knew where they were and took me and another man from Beijing straight there. He was in a very nice suit, unlike my cheap one (about $150, tailor made at the South Bund Fabric Market in Shanghai, one of many important stops for your next trip to China!). I could see that this was a man for whom service came naturally, even when messy.

He brought us to the dumpsters and opened them up. Fortunately, before anyone had to get dirty, the leader from Beijing, Brother Sevy, spotted a clean, dry box with the sought-after treasure. The backdrops had been rolled and folded, and were not covered in remnants of curry chicken and rice. We unfolded them, rolled them properly, and soon had them back in the hands of the smiling sister who had loaned them for our activity. Whew!

Only after we got to the stand did I realize that the dumpster-diving Mormon who helped us recover our treasure from the trash was President Tai of the Hong Kong Area Presidency. Elder Benjamin Ming Tze Tai is one of the new Area Authorities who was just sustained in General Conference. Such a kind, sweet, and professional man. It's people like him that make it such a pleasure to be part of the Church and to rub shoulders with its leaders, even when that occurs in a Hong Kong dumpster.


Monday, April 25, 2016

A Thought on Book of Mormon Origins

The full significance of Martin Harris's visit to Charles Anthon has been diminished in the way Latter-day Saints typically retell the story. A consequence of that visit was an apparent fulfillment of prophecy in Isaiah 29 when the learned scholar, Charles Anthon, declared that he could not "read a sealed book," after initially giving a favorable report to Martin Harris about the apparent ancient nature of the characters copied off the gold plates. We have since focused on the trip as fulfilling a prophecy and satisfying Martin Harris's doubts. But the real purpose of the lengthy journey to New York City and other stops was to find someone who could translated text. Significantly, at this time, Joseph did not yet know what language the plates were written in. Harris was not looking for a translator of Egyptian or reformed Egyptian (only European scholars could have provided any hope of translation from Egyptian at that time) or even some version of Hebrew. He may have been looking for experts in Native American languages.

A valuable resource on the details of Martin Harris's journey and its purpose is found in Michael Hubbard Mackay's chapter, '"Git Them Translated': Translating the Characters on the Gold Plates," in Approaching Antiquity: Joseph Smith and the Ancient World, ed. Lincoln H. Blumell, Matthew J. Grey, and Andrew H. Hedges (Provo, UT: Religious Studies Center, Brigham Young University, 2015), 83-116. This chapter has kindly been made available by the author at Academia.edu, but please buy the book (one of my most treasured recent acquisitions, loaded with great material).

Mackay's chapter needs to be read in combination with his new book, Michael Hubbard MacKay and Gerrit J. Dirkmaat, From Darkness unto Light, particularly chapter 3, which adds further details pointing to Joseph's initial desire to find a translator and showing that Joseph did not know what the characters were until he got information as a result of Harris's journey that suggested a connection with ancient Old World languages (specifically, his brother William Smith said that it was through Harris that Joseph would first learn that the script was some form of degenerate Hebrew mixed with Egyptian).

The more we learn about the details of the origins of the Book of Mormon and the translation process, the more we see a young, uneducated man discovering step by step what the treasure was that he had before him. He did not begin with a scheme to create something allegedly in an ancient Egyptian script that the would translate by the power of God. His initial desire was to find someone to do the translation, and he did not have any idea what language the script was. He would later learn that he had to translate, and during the translation he would learn that they were written in reformed Egyptian. This is not the fruit of a carefully worked out scheme, but more and more looks exactly like the kind of thing he and his witnesses testified of: an unlearned man doing something extraordinary with a genuine ancient text, miraculously preserved and miraculously translated.




Tuesday, April 19, 2016

General Conference and Immigration

I've been deeply touched by the emphasis on service to refugees being advocated by the Church during this recent General Conference. Related to that was the message from Elder Donald L. Hallstrom, "I Am a Child of God," which showed great love and appreciation for the powerful faith of new Saints in Liberia, where he and some other leaders were among the first to return to that nation after travel into the nation was again allowed after the recent Ebola crisis was over. The story of such faithful Saints who have memorized so much of scripture and so many hymns reminds me of the immigrants and converts among the Nephite nation, the former Lamanites who called themselves Anti-Nephi-Lehites after conversion. Though given lands of inheritance, they were outsiders, cut off from their former culture and not really part of the new one. It seems that they turned to God and the scriptures for their support, developing their own Zion-based culture, producing families of great faith who would be a great blessing to the Nephites. I think we can look to Africa for great blessings and miracles in our own future.

Immigration and loss of roots is an ongoing problem in Africa, though it is dwarfed in the news by the immigration crises stemming from Syria and other nations whose immigrants are sweeping into Europe and other nations. I am glad to see the Church encouraging compassion and support for immigrants.

Contrary to some critics who insist that Mormons really aren't accepting of outsiders and immigrants, my family's experience suggests that love and acceptance of immigrants and strangers is a vital part of our faith and culture. Two of my siblings married immigrants, one from Korea and one from Brazil. In Appleton, Wisconsin, a large fraction of our ward was made of immigrants, mostly the Hmong people from Laos and Thailand, but also some from Mexico and other lands. One of my first callings in Wisconsin was being asked to reach out to immigrants in the area, and that began my study of the Hmong language and some Spanish.

After having worked closely with immigrants as their bishop, I was then called with my entire family to serve in a Hmong-speaking branch. The stories of tragedy and loss from the Hmong people, who fought and died to rescue Americans in the secret wars in Laos during the Vietnam War, inspired and moved me, and motivated me to create a web page about their story, "The Tragedy of the Hmong," in addition to writing an article that has been published in several sources. While I personally was an advocate for integrating the newly baptized Hmong people into a strong, functional ward rather than forming their own branch, we accepted the calling and strove to serve them for two years. The branch faced disaster, one of the most painful eras of my life, when a key leader there left the Church. Yet I remain his friend and was pleased to visit him and his wife when I was in Appleton on a visit from China, and was delighted to see he still had a large photo of his family with my wife and I from the day he went to the LDS temple with us. We love him and his family, and yearn for their happiness.

We are now strangers in China and though we live in unjust prosperity in the easy city of Shanghai, we can relate to a few of the challenges that strangers and immigrants face in strange lands, though precious few are given the advantages and ease that we have. Our lives, though, are deeply connected with others here whose paths have not been so smooth. The immigrants from the Chinese countryside fill the cities and are strangers and sometimes outcasts, seeking a better life without the benefits of health care and education that would be available if they stayed in their homelands, where jobs are scarce. They stand in great need of help also and represent a great challenge here in China that many are striving to address, but the challenge is so great.

In every nation, there is a need to do more for the needs of the immigrants and the impoverished in out midst. How we respond will determine who we are. May we listen to the wise counsel from General Conference and from other wise proponents of compassion to find better ways to help.

Monday, April 11, 2016

Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dream Map: Part 1 Now at MormonInterpreter.com

"Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dream Map" is the tongue-in cheek title of my serious look at detailed criticisms of the Book of Mormon evidence from the Arabian Peninsula. The Interpreter (MormonInterpreter.com) kindly published it. Part 1 was out on Friday, and Part 2 will be published next Friday. The "Dream Map" theme is my take on the theories that claim Joseph Smith must have seen a high-end European map of Arabia that had the name "Nehhm" or "Nehem" on it. That scrap of information could have revealed the location of the Nihm tribe in Yemen, whose tribal lands are now considered to correspond with the place "Nahom" where Ishmael was buried in 1 Nephi 16:34. Not only is that region the perfect place--the right place--for Nahom, being nearly due west of the leading candidate for Bountiful on the east coast, the existence of that tribal name in the region in roughly the right time in antiquity has been confirmed by three amazing altars from a temple in ancient Marib bearing the NHM tribal name. It's almost as cool as finding a Mesoamerican inscription saying "Welcome to Zarahemla, home of the Nephites."

The details of what Joseph could have gleaned from the best maps of his day is covered in Part 2, but in Part 1 I point out that theories based upon a "Dream Map" or other theories with Joseph as fabricator fail to account for the crown jewels of the evidence, fail to explain how the maps or other resources could have guided the actual recorded path, and fail to explain why Joseph and his peers never tool advantage of the built-in evidence for the Book of Mormon that they allegedly created. If they used information from maps or books to build in evidence or "local color" for enhanced credibility, why was it never exploited? Why not arrange for someone to "discover" the Nahom evidence on a newly purchased map to support the Book of Mormon? When related evidence came out in other sources, it was highly touted in LDS publications. Why neglect the evidence from Arabia, unless Joseph and his peers had no idea it was there? The potential link to a real Nahom-related name on a map would not be noticed until 1978.

Writing this article was an enjoyable process of discovery for me. I feel that I discovered a few interesting things along the way that might not have been widely appreciated before. For example, one of the complaints about George Potter's excellent candidate for the River Laman and the Valley Lemuel (see photo below) is its lack of a mouth, though Nephi says it has one (1 Nephi 2:8). Objections have also been made to the term "fountain of the Red Sea," into which the River Laman "emptied" according to 1 Nephi 2:9. In response, here is an excerpt from Part 1 of the article (footnotes deleted):

Critics in the 1850s guffawed at describing the flow of the river as going into the "fountain of the Red Sea" and some continue to object to Nephi's term. One can argue that fountain can have a broader meaning than a spring or subterranean flow of some kind, but the other uses of "fountain" in the Book of Mormon point to similar concepts: a physical or figurative source of a flow such as a spring. The Hebrew word typically translated as "fountain" (Strong's H4599, mayan) has the meaning of a spring, and is also sometimes translated as spring or well, giving it a subterranean flavor. Interestingly, that more specific meaning may actually fit the physical reality Nephi experienced.

Potter and Wellington, in Lehi in the Wilderness, observe that "the river flows under a gravel bed for the last three-eights of a mile as it approaches the Gulf of Aqaba."  They observe that the river may have previously had much greater water flow, and that the canyon floor is believed to have risen since Lehi's day, so perhaps it flowed directly into the Red Sea when Nephi saw it. On the other hand, I wish to suggest that even through the river flow may have been greater and the elevation of the canyon somewhat lower, what if the river still disappeared beneath the rocks as it approached the Red Sea in Nephi's day? By disappearing into the rocks adjacent the Red Sea, the water is obviously not disappearing completely, but is flowing into the Red Sea through subterranean channels, joining the underground springs that feed the Red Sea. In other words, the River Laman is now, and possibly was in Nephi's day, literally flowing into the fountains that feed the Red Sea.

If the river disappeared near the coast in Nephi's day as it does now, arguably flowing into the "fountain of the Red Sea," then perhaps this would also explain Nephi's repeated use of the verb "empty" rather than "flow." The river "emptied into the Red Sea" (1 Nephi 2:8), and again Lehi "saw that the waters of the river emptied into the fountain of the Red Sea" (1 Nephi 2:9). Waters disappearing, descending into the earth, could well be described this way. Perhaps Potter's candidate for the River Laman fits the details of Nephi's description even better than he realized, although it is difficult to know if the behavior of the river around 600 BC would be similar to its behavior today.

 Another objection to the leading candidate for the River Laman is that it lacks a mouth flowing into the Red Sea, apparently contrary to 1 Nephi 2:8, which states that the river "emptied into the Red Sea; and the valley was in the borders near the mouth thereof." Chadwick emphasizes this repeatedly in his critique, claiming that without a mouth, we can rule this candidate out and be certain that Potter has been looking in the wrong place.  One definition of "mouth" is:
something that resembles a mouth especially in affording entrance or exit: as
a: the place where a stream enters a larger body of water,
b :  the surface opening of an underground cavity….
Another dictionary gives one definition for mouth as "the outfall at the lower end of a river or stream, where flowing water is discharged, as into a larger body of water."  If Nephi understood that the River Laman, as it sank into the ground, was flowing into the subterranean waters that feed the Red Sea, or the fountain of the Red Sea, then the place where that stream disappeared and entered a larger body of water (the subterranean fountain) would appropriately be called a mouth. The Book of Mormon does not say that the mouth directly contacted the Red Sea. It had a mouth and flowed into a fountain, the fountain of (meaning "belonging to" or "associated with," I would argue) the Red Sea, and thus "emptied into the Red Sea," via the fountain. This understanding resolves the primary argument Chadwick offers against this candidate, for the river does indeed have a mouth where it flows into a larger body of water. And, as noted above, it resolves the objection to calling the Red Sea a fountain, which is not necessarily what Nephi is saying. It is also consistent with the ancient concept of interconnected subterranean waters that feed rivers and oceans.
What I enjoyed most about writing the article was the need to dig more deeply into some of the best writings out there, especially Lehi and Sariah in Arabia by Warren Aston, his 2015 masterpiece. The DVD, Lehi in Arabia, also beautifully illustrates the wonder of Bountiful. Well worth the time to ponder! There are so many gems from Arabia that merit more reflection, more study, and more exploration (with the help of more funding, of course). 

Sunday, April 03, 2016

A Mother's Attempt at Prayer

At our recent District Conference (Shanghai International District), an LDS mother in an exellent talk on seeking peace through the Gospel of Jesus Christ opened with her story of attempted prayer. With her kind permission, the story follows:
Several years ago I had a 4-year-old, 2-year-old, and 1-year-old. I was praying one morning, and, as was normal, the kids were climbing all over me happily yelling and playing. Most mornings I would ignore it and continue to pray, but on this particular morning, I had just had enough of the noise and craziness. I just wanted a few minutes to pray without also simultaneously being used as a playground! So I stopped in the middle of my prayer and said in exasperation, “Can you just give me a few minutes of peace????” My kids stopped and my 2-year-old looked at me and said in his best tough guy voice, “You wanna piece of me?” Needless to say, my exasperation quickly melted to laughter. I don’t think I even finished my prayer. 
I love this story. Apart from its humor and the reminder of how much media can influence us  (I think the two-year-old must have picked up that line from Toy Story, is that right?), what I really like is an aspect my wife pointed out that the speaker probably didn't notice. What really impressed us is that this sister made it a habit to pray even in the midst of noise and the pressing demands of life. Even with kids crawling over her, she would seek a moment for for daily prayer.

Too often we find pressing schedules, changing itineraries, and the rush of life squeeze out quiet moments for prayer, and we zoom through our day running on spiritual empty. That mother reminded me that even things are rushed, noisy, and chaotic, I need to take time for prayer. Distractions are not an excuse. Though a hilarious two-year-old tough guy act can throw any of us for a loop. 

Saturday, March 26, 2016

Another Reason Why the Ancient Covenant Formulary Matters

Some LDS writers have talked about the ancient covenant pattern found in the Near East as possible evidence for the ancient authenticity of the Book of Mormon (where it may be present in King Benjamin's speech) as well as the LDS temple. Regarding its use in the Book of Mormon, see Stephen D. Ricks, "The Treaty/Covenant Pattern in King Benjamin's Address (Mosiah 1- 6)," BYU Studies, vol. 24, no. 2, Spring 1984, pp. 151-62. Also see Stephen Ricks, "Kingship, Coronation, and Covenant in Mosiah 1-6," in King Benjamin's Speech, ed. John Welch and Stephen Ricks, Provo, Utah: FARMS, 1998, pp. 233-275. For basic information on the covenant formulary and its presence in the Bible, see Jon Levenson, Sinai and Zion: An Entry into the Jewish Bible (Minneapolis: Winston Press, 1985), p. 23ff, and Kenneth A. Kitchen, On the Reliability of the Old Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2003), pp. 283-294. [Most of these references were added in an update on April 5, 2016.]

The six-part structure of ancient Hittite treaties, also found in the Bible, was only noted and studied in the 1900s, making it unlikely that Joseph Smith could have known of this or consciously imitated it. Osmosis, luck, and bad LDS apologetics are alternate explanations. But the understanding of ancient covenants is important for an issue of more general interest: the Bible and its origins.

In the debates over the origins of the Bible, a large number of modern scholars have found it fashionable to view the early books of the Bible as late fabrications largely composed after the Exile. The details of Moses and the Sinai covenant, for example, are often presented as a late evolutionary development not grounded in history. However, the presence of such ancient treaty structures, significantly different from known treaty structures in the Near East after the Exile, suggests that the accounts in the Bible have much more ancient roots.
The similarity of the form of the "Hittite" type of treaty with the structure of Exodus 24-Leviticus, Deuteronomy, and Joshua 24 directly bears on the question of the dating of these narratives. Many scholars acknowledge the antiquity of these biblical treaty-texts because of the similar structure of the six points of the Hittite treaties. Mendenhall, for example, concluded: "It is very difficult to escape the conclusion that this narrative rests upon traditions which go back to the period when the treaty form was still living." Klaus Baltzer maintained that "it remains, however, a striking and historically unexplained explained fact that the Old Testament texts resemble most closely the highly developed formulary of the Hittite treaties." Kitchen determined that "if we take the nature and order of nearly all the elements in the Old Testament Sinai covenant and its renewals [i.e., Deuteronomy and Joshua 24] ... it is strikingly evident that the Sinai covenant and its renewals must be classed with the late-second-millennium covenants."
Source: James K. Hoffmeier, Ancient Israel in Sinai: The Evidence for the Authenticity of the Wilderness Tradition (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005), Kindle edition, chapter 8, section IV, "Ancient Near Eastern Treaties and the Sinai Legislation."
Hoffmeir goes on to review the attempts of some scholars to dress the Biblical covenant material with much later robes, but the fit is rather poor.

My first introduction to these ancient covenant patterns came while reading Jon Levenson's marvlous book, Sinai and Zion. This aspect of ancient covenants deserves more attention for better appreciating the Old Testament as well as LDS material.

Professor Explains Why Mormons Don't Like Trump (and My Thoughts on Dissent)

I apologize for stepping into political topics in this post, which I prefer to avoid most of the time here. I especially apologize to supporters of Donald Trump, for I do recognize that there are intelligent, faithful people who feel he is right on enough important issues to merit their support. I can say the same about supporters of any other candidate as well, and do not wish to say anyone is a bigot, criminal, or idiot for supporting another candidate, no matter how dangerous and deceitful they may seem to me. Politics is a complex, emotional field and there are many different decisions that good people can make (or, in more cynical words, just as there are many ways to deceive the very elect, there are even more ways to deceive the "very electors," or something like that).  

A reader here at Mormanity asked me to comment on an article that initially resembled (but wasn't) just another critic of Mormons looking for faults in the things Mormons do. A Harvard-trained professor at Emory University, Dr Benjamin Hertzberg, wrote what I consider an unkind piece for the Washington Post deconstructing Utah's rejection of Trump not as a vote for religious liberty but more as a desperate if not deceitful attempt to look mainstream by fearful Mormons who allegedly might not really be so supportive of religious liberty for others. In "Utah’s Mormons rejected Trump and picked Cruz. Here’s why," the professor applies what must be Ivy League mind-reading skills as he explains what Utahans were really thinking as they overwhelming rejected Trump in the recent Republican primary.

First, let me note that Hertzberg does not share the refreshing outlook of Mike Donnelly, the Catholic man who is Deputy Chief of Staff for Senator Mike Lee, who finds a community founded on kindness and service in Utah that he believed would thrash Donald Trump on election day (see "Why a Catholic Loves Utah–Especially on Caucus Day" at Meridian Magazine).  Hertzberg also doesn't share the positive response exhibited by Damon Linker writing for The Week with the intriguing title, "The GOP needs more Mormons." Linker lists six reasons why Mormons may not like Trump (these may not apply to all of you, but they fit me fairly well and a majority of my LDS friends and family): (1) we aren't angry people; (2) we object to vulgarity; (3) we generally dislike Trump's "garish lifestyle"; (4) we respect the law and distrust those who might set themselves up as authoritarians above the law; (5) we like immigration reform and have a positive view of immigrants (many of us want more legal immigrants and recognize how much they can contribute to our society); and (6) Mormon's don't hate Muslims.

On that last point, in my small circle of LDS friends here in China, Trump's anti-Muslim rhetoric seems to be an especially important factor in their dislike of Trump. You can't just trample the Constitution and deny religious liberty to a whole class of people. Mormons tend to get this. We can easily see that this is dangerous. So I cannot vote for Trump. That doesn't mean I want to embrace radical socialism or any other flavor of Big, Bigger, Biggest Government -- the lessons of China's painful history, especially the Cultural Revolution, have much to teach us about what happens when you stir up a generation to think that progress and prosperity comes by seizing other people's stuff.

When a Muslim worship hall (not yet a full-fledged mosque, as I recall) came to the Fox Valley near Appleton, Wisconsin a few years ago when I was serving as a bishop, I took my older sons with me to attend to the opening ceremony and public house. I wanted them to meet some of my Muslim friends and to appreciate the goodness in this other faith. More recently, on Christmas Day while in Hong Kong, our youngest son actually recommended that we visit a mosque there that we saw on the way, and we had a wonderful and memorable experience there (and I'm looking forward to what will be my third visit the next time I'm in Hong Kong at the end of April, hoping to meet my new friend from Yemen). I was proud of my son's willingness to learn about and respect another great faith. In my experience, typical Mormons generally respect other faiths, including Judaism and Islam.

Such points don't seem to count for much to Hertzberg. What's really driving the Mormon vote — as if all of Utah were just one big Mormon block, acting in lockstep — apparently is fear, coupled with a lack of courage, and certainly not any kind of genuine, principled concern about religious liberty:
As members of a minority religion, those in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints are stuck in a Catch-22: They are bound by their well-developed fear of persecution to appear as American as apple pie, all the while preserving their radical religious particularity. It is this predicament, rather than a principled concern for religious liberty, that best explains Utah’s caucus results....
For a minority religious group such as the Mormons, religious liberty is both a necessary condition for their survival and a continuous threat to it. Without it, they could potentially be subjected to coercive restrictions... With it, however, Mormons have to deal with continuous and relentless historical examination of their founding theological claims and the ever-present fear that their youths will either leave the faith or radically reshape the way it is practiced and understood....
It is deeply mistaken to understand Utah’s decision ... as motivated by some principled Mormon concern for religious liberty.

What I see instead is the fearful calculus of a minority religious group that has legitimate concerns about the likely implications of the GOP’s increasingly punitive policies toward the religiously different — but does not have the courage to embrace their particularity and leave the party entirely. To do so would be to admit what is obvious to students of Mormonism: They are radically different from the mainstream of American Protestant religiosity. So instead of proclaiming their own difference, they stay, effectively, in the closet: They support the marginally more respectable Cruz over the brash and aggressive Trump. [emphasis mine]
It is a mistake, he argues, to see Utah's rejection of Trump as a vote for religious liberty since, he argues, Cruz has serious gaps in that area, too, and the lesser known, less liked John Kasich would be the right choice, he says, for a vote actually based on respect for religious liberty. Since Utahan's preferred Cruz, the only Republican candidate with a serious chance to compete with Trump, they must not really be for religious liberty.

I know some of you are going to say that I'm once again way out of my league in criticizing the  political thinking of a Harvard-trained professor of political theory, but when I talk with actual voters about how they vote, I notice that very few of them are willing to "throw away" their vote the way I often do and vote for, say, a third party or a remotely trailing candidate with little chance of winning. To me it seems that a majority of voters will select the lesser of two or three evils in order to support a less objectionable candidate with a chance of winning. That may sound crazy in the halls of Harvard, but it's what I see on the streets of American towns.

So yes, perhaps Kasich might be a better choice to make a statement on religious liberty for a well-informed voter (do they still have those these days?) willing to simply vote for the best candidate on the list. Actually, more Utahans voted for Kasich than for Trump, but many more supported Cruz, the only Republican candidate with a chance of beating Trump. Kasich has only won his home state, nothing else, and is a distant fourth behind Trump, Cruz, and Rubio. Is it implausible that making a "practical" vote for someone with a chance to stop Trump was an important factor for many voters? To portray the overall outcome in Utah as the result of a perverse "fearful calculus" to make Mormons look mainstream without actually being very tolerant people strikes me as the kind of harsh bias and skewed mind-reading  we often find in anti-Mormon writings, where everything Mormons do can be cast in negative light and precious little credit given for what others can readily see as good.

At that point I had to wonder about Hertzberg. What makes him tick, or rather, what makes him so ticked about Mormons? In Googling him, I was quite surprised to see that he had been a professor of political science for a couple of years at BYU. In fact, he's LDS, which surprised me. Then came a critical insight. Very shortly after the LDS policy on children in gay marriages came out, he published a harshly critical piece on CNN.com in which he boldly states that he must stand against the Church. In "Mormons' unChristian policy on LGBTQ," published Nov. 13, 2015, just a few days after the policy was published, he declares that Mormons should "loudly and publicly object to the policy and demand its immediate retraction," and calls the Church's explanations for the policy "disingenuous." He urges dissent, and declares that he's doing it out of love for the Church and as means of sustaining its leaders:
Some will think that by publicly dissenting from the new policy I am not sustaining the First Presidency and the Twelve. Nothing could be further from the truth.
I dissent because I love Mormonism, and I cannot bear to see its leaders cause so much unnecessary suffering and harm. I dissent because obedience now costs too much, to my moral integrity, to the church, and to the families of Mormons whom I love.
This is certainly his right. Many of us struggled with the policy when it came out. Some have waited patiently to understand it and to better understand what the Church's concerns are. Some have reacted too quickly and harshly, in my opinion, and Hertzberg's prompt reaction of loud public dissent may be an example of that, though I am confident he is genuine and that he views his actions as loving and courageous.

Of course, we have to make our own personal choices in these difficult matters. I fear, though, that his anger or frustration over the same-sex marriage issue may have led him to become too critical. This has happened to many I know when they become frustrated or critical on one issue, that can then affect their approach to other issues as well.

Regardless of where Hertzberg is in his attitudes, which may be more benign that I gather from his interpretation of Mormon voting, I wish now to speak of the general issue of disagreement and dissent. 

I have a little experience in dealing with Church leaders and decisions from above that I object to. What I have learned over the years is that I rarely do wrong when I am charitable, when I assume that those in leadership positions with whom I may disagree are not acting out of vile hatred, fear, ignorance, and other evil motivations. This took some time for me to learn as I dealt with some painful circumstances when I served in some past leadership positions, but it has been a vital lesson for me.

We are rarely wrong when we take some time and consider that there may be reasonable thinking behind the actions of our mortal, fallible leaders, and that while they may sometimes be in error, the error is usually not because they are idiots and mean-spirited bigots, though few men are free of the many errors in thinking that can pervade human society in every generation. We are rarely wrong when we keep our objections, however well founded, and even anger to ourselves and wait for an appropriate opportunity to discuss concerns with our leaders. We are rarely wrong to be patient. And we are rarely right when we take our indignation to the public, however righteous we think we and it are. There's something about the psychology of going public and all the encouragement and attention that it brings that makes it very easy to step over the threshold from good-faith feedback to "kicking against the pricks." There's a reason for Christ's wise counsel: "in your patience possess ye your souls" (Luke 21:19), and I urge caution to those who want to stand as loud and critical dissenters. That's my view, anyway. 

It is common for dissenters to claim that their public criticism and denouncements are done to help the Church (though calling it a manifestation of actually "sustaining" our leaders is a bit unusual). It is common for them to call it an expression of love for Mormonism. They probably mean it. But while the GOP may need more Mormons, as Damon Linker suggests, sometimes we Mormons could use a little less love.

I hope members who feel a need to publicly criticize their Church can apply patience and faith rather than becoming vocal critics. I also hope that America will learn the lessons of history and come to its senses in preserving not just religious liberty but the many precious liberties meant to be preserved by the Constitution which gave us a small, weak Federal government, with vast powers reserved to the States and to the People, not in the hands of an autocratic executive (and his appointed cronies) able to launch wars, change or ignore laws, spend at will, and do thousands of things our Founders sought to prevent. May the blood they spent in bringing us liberty not be for naught. 



Monday, March 21, 2016

An Annoying but Beautiful Passage: Isaiah 55:8-9 ("My Ways Are Higher...") and Its Link to Continuing Revelation

Isaiah 55:8-9 may be one of the most annoying passages in scripture. Not because it isn’t true and beautifully expressed, but because of how it has been abused for centuries. Thousands of people have had serious questions about some of the most fundamental issues of their faith. Questions like, “If God and Christ are the same being, why does Christ pray to the Father? Why does he say 'my Father is greater than I'? Why does he say “not my will but thine be done?” In response, they may be told that it’s a mystery, it’s not supposed to make sense, and is something we cannot even hope to understand because God’s ways and thoughts are higher than ours, so please quit asking such things.

Isaiah 55:8-9 has been used to shut down inquiry and to stop seekers from seeking answers. The abuse of this scripture is rooted in the false, man-made notion that revelation has ceased, that everything we need to know has been revealed and there are no more revealed answers to be obtained. So please stop seeking.

How grateful I am for the Restoration that reminds us of the ancient, biblical truth that God does speak through his prophets and apostles, and that there are more prophets and more words of God to come (e.g., Matthew 23:34 “behold, I send unto you prophets, … and some of them ye shall kill and crucify”; Rev. 11:3-12, speaking of two future prophets in Jerusalem; Amos 3:7; Joel 2:28-29; etc.). How grateful I am for Isaiah, the great prophet and poet who understood that the living God does not wish to seal the heavens but invites us to seek, to learn, and to feast upon the knowledge that He wishes to share and reveal.

Let’s consider Isaiah 55:8-9 in its context.

Isaiah begins with an invitation to drink deeply and feast, not to starve. The Lord is offering abundance:
1 Ho, every one that thirsteth, come ye to the waters, and he that hath no money; come ye, buy, and eat; yea, come, buy wine and milk without money and without price.

2 Wherefore do ye spend money for that which is not bread? and your labour for that which satisfieth not? hearken diligently unto me, and eat ye that which is good, and let your soul delight itself in fatness.
This feast comes by listening to what the Lord will speak and by participating in his covenant:

3 Incline your ear, and come unto me: hear, and your soul shall live; and I will make an everlasting covenant with you, even the sure mercies of David….
We are commanded to seek the Lord, which is to seek more, and not to be satisfied with where we are and what we have already:
6 Seek ye the LORD while he may be found, call ye upon him while he is near:
This abundance of guidance and revelation for those who seek requires that we draw close to the Lord and repent of our sins:
7 Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts: and let him return unto the LORD, and he will have mercy upon him; and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon.
We need to repent that we might receive His words and revelation, because:
8 For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the LORD.

9 For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts.
Through seeking his ways, his thoughts, his words, and his revelations, we will receive the life giving waters he offers and experience the spiritual abundance He promises and the joy that God's word and guidance can bring:
10 For as the rain cometh down, and the snow from heaven, and returneth not thither, but watereth the earth, and maketh it bring forth and bud, that it may give seed to the sower, and bread to the eater:

11 So shall my word be that goeth forth out of my mouth: it shall not return unto me void, but it shall accomplish that which I please, and it shall prosper in the thing whereto I sent it.

12 For ye shall go out with joy, and be led forth with peace: the mountains and the hills shall break forth before you into singing, and all the trees of the field shall clap their hands.

13 Instead of the thorn shall come up the fir tree, and instead of the brier shall come up the myrtle tree: and it shall be to the LORD for a name, for an everlasting sign that shall not be cut off.
An excellent companion passage is Jacob 4, verses 8 and 10, from the Book of Mormon:

8 Behold, great and marvelous are the works of the Lord. How unsearchable are the depths of the mysteries of him; and it is impossible that man should find out all his ways. And no man knoweth of his ways save it be revealed unto him; wherefore, brethren, despise not the revelations of God....

10 Wherefore, brethren, seek not to counsel the Lord, but to take counsel from his hand. For behold, ye yourselves know that he counseleth in wisdom, and in justice, and in great mercy, over all his works. 

There are mysteries that are impossible for us to learn and understand--on our own. The Lord's response is not to say, "so quit asking," but rather to explain that the only way to get knowledge of those mysteries is through revelation. We are thus to treasure revelation, not to despise it. That includes revelation already given in the scriptures, personal revelation given to individuals, and revelation given to the Lord's servants, the prophets and apostles.

We should cherish revelation and ever seek to understand more. There are mysteries, but the Lord wants us not to give up and assume His higher ways are unknowable, but to come to Him and drink deeply of the wells of wisdom He offers. He pleads with us to accept His revelations so that we can learn from Him and see things as they are. He wants us to seek, not to shut down inquiry. Humbling welcoming and feasting on continuing revelation from the Lord is ultimately at the heart of Isaiah's message in Isaiah 55.