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

Friday, February 27, 2015

How Did Joseph Do What He Did in Translating the Book of Mormon? Further Evidence for Early Modern English Influence

The mystery of Early Modern English (EModE) grammar in the original text of the Book of Mormon just became more interesting with Stanford Carmack's latest in-depth analysis, "The Implications of Past-Tense Syntax in the Book of Mormon" at MormonInterpreter.com.

Here Stanford explores the pervasive and archaic use of "did" in the Book of Mormon, particularly the "affirmative declarative periphrastic" did, or ADP did. Brace yourselves for some intense grammar and loads of intriguing data showing that the unusual usage of this grammatical form in the Book of Mormon strongly differs from the King James Bible and other books available to Joseph Smith, and differs strongly from the English of Joseph Smith's day, but is consistent with EModE patterns a few decades before the KJV was produced. There is a remarkable fingerprint in the Book of Mormon that defies common efforts to ascribe the Book of Mormon to Joseph Smith's authorship.

Here is Stanford's abstract:
Abstract: In the middle of the 16th century there was a short-lived surge in the use of the auxiliary did to express the affirmative past tense in English, as in Moroni «did arrive» with his army to the land of Bountiful (Alma 52:18). The 1829 Book of Mormon contains nearly 2,000 instances of this particular syntax, using it 27% of the time in past-tense contexts. The 1611 King James Bible — which borrowed heavily from Tyndale’s biblical translations of the 1520s and ’30s — employs this syntax less than 2% of the time. While the Book of Mormon’s rate is significantly higher than the Bible’s, it is close to what is found in other English-language texts written mainly in the mid- to late 1500s. And the usage died out in the 1700s. So the Book of Mormon is unique for its time — this is especially apparent when features of adjacency, inversion, and intervening adverbial use are considered. Textual evidence and syntactic analysis argue strongly against both 19th-century composition and an imitative effort based on King James English. Book of Mormon past-tense syntax could have been achieved only by following the use of largely inaccessible 16th-century writings. But mimicry of lost syntax is difficult if not impossible, and so later writers who consciously sought to imitate biblical style failed to match its did-usage at a deep, systematic level. This includes Ethan Smith who in 1823 wrote View of the Hebrews, a text very different from both the Bible and the Book of Mormon in this respect. The same may be said about Hunt’s The Late War and Snowden’s The American Revolution.
The fingerprint of EModE in the original text is fascinating and ably documented in this and Carmack's other works, and yet there are times when the translation may have been loose. See Brant Gardner’s 2011 book, The Gift and the Power. Gardner’s work on this topic has some weaknesses, as David Bokovoy has pointed out, but one example I find especially interesting is the reference to the “five Books of Moses” in the BOM text, which most likely were not a set of five books in Nephi’s day. I think the original text may have made a reference to the Torah or the books of Moses, and Joseph modified it in the translation process to refer to the five books of Moses as we know them. That’s a moment of loose translation.

I think the debate over tight and loose translation is a bit like the tension between the wave and particle properties of matter. Perhaps the translation process involves both to varying degrees, with the delivery of information to Joseph being provided with initial tight control that he then sometimes adjusted in his role as translator, resulting at times in loose control. When I see translations of Chinese, there are often parts where I feel there is "tight control" and parts where things are rather loose. I can imagine both occurring for a variety of reasons in a divinely inspired Book of Mormon with a tightly controlled pre-translation being available for Joseph to access and apply. But that's just my speculation.

I’d love to have a day-long panel discussion with Stanford Carmack, Brant Gardner, Royal Skousen, David Bokovoy, and maybe someone like Daniel Peterson, John Tvedtnes, and Bill Hamblin, etc., to discuss the ins and outs of tight vs. loose control and the implications of EModE. Who else would you like to see on such a panel?

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Connecting Some Scattered Book of Mormon Dots

Those who enjoy puzzles, mysteries, and conspiracy theories might find some aspects of the Book of Mormon to be more rewarding than The Da Vinci Code or other modern thrillers. With a complex web of internal and external clues to decode, the mystery of Book of Mormon evidences can yield impressive results when one does the work to connect the many dots before us.
Here's an example of some recent random dots mostly linked to Alma 17-19 that I considered recently. There may be interesting connections, though not all of the leads end up being meaningful.

Let me begin with an exciting breakthrough just announced at the Book of Mormon Archaelogical Forum, BMAF.org. See "Excerpts from the 400-page book Exploring the Explanatory Power of Egyptian and Semitic in Uto-Aztecan." Linguist Brian Stubbs has greatly extended his early work that identified connections between Hebrew and Uto-Aztecan languages, a family of New World languages that extend from the Western United States down into southern Mexico and El Salvador (Mayan, by the way, is not part of that family). Now Stubbs has produced a new book with numerous correlations between Uto-Aztecan and three Old World languages, Hebrew, Aramaic, and Egyptian. (The book will be available on Amazon shortly.) For each of these languages, he offers several hundred correlations.

While false cognates can occur between any two languages just due to chance, significant numbers of apparently related words can be used by linguists (not necessarily amateurs) to identify language groups. Stubbs points out that many Native American language groups were established with around 100 or so correlations, so the finding of 400 to 700 correlations each for three Old World languages in Stubbs' latest work should merit attention. Stubbs recognizes that some of the proposed correlations may be a stretch, but the majority appear noteworthy.

The linkage to three different Semitic languages could have come from two or more infusions from the Old World, such as one migration from Israel with speakers of a Phoenician-like Northwest Semitic and an Aramaic-like Northwest Semitic, with one or both groups of speakers also bringing some knowledge of Egyptian. If Stubbs' work withstands further scrutiny and leads to even more insights and solved mysteries when applied by other scholars, it could prove to be a monumental advance in Book of Mormon studies. Of course, demonstrating strong Middle Eastern influences in New World languages does not prove anything divine in the Book of Mormon, but rather increases the case for plausibility and may help overcome some common objections.

Stubbs' earlier work has received the attention of other non-LDS scholars. For example, Roger Williams Westcott, Professor Emeritus of Anthropology and Linguistics at Drew University, New Jersey (Ph.D. in linguistics from Princeton, a Rhodes scholar, founder of Drew's anthropology program and author of 500 publications, including 40 books, and past president of the Linguistic Association of Canada and the United States) speaks positively of Stubbs' work in his article, "Early Eurasian Linguistic Links with North America" in Across Before Columbus?, ed. by Donald Y. Gilmore and Linda S. McElroy, Laconia, New Hampshire: New England Antiquities Research Association (NEARA), 1998, pp. 193-197. Dr. Westcott writes:
Perhaps the most surprising of all Eurasian-American linguistic connections, at least in geographic terms, is that proposed by Brian Stubbs: a strong link between the Uto-Aztecan and Afro-Asiatic (or Hamito-Semitic) languages. The Uto-Aztecan languages are, or have been, spoken in western North America from Idaho to El Salvador. One would expect that, if Semites or their linguistic kinsmen from northern Africa were to reach the New World by water, their route would be trans-Altantic. Indeed, what graphonomic evidence there is indicates exactly that: Canaanite inscriptions are found in Georgia and Tennessee as well as in Brazil; and Mediterranean coins, some Hebrew and Moroccan Arabic, are found in Kentucky as well as Venezuela [citing Cyrus Gordon].

But we must follow the evidence wherever it leads. And lexically, at least, it points to the Pacific rather than the Atlantic coast. Stubbs finds Semitic and (more rarely) Egyptian vocabulary in about 20 of 25 extant Uto-Aztecan languages. Of the word-bases in these vernaculars, he finds about 40 percent to be derivable from nearly 500 triliteral Semitic stems. Despite this striking proportion, however, he does not regard Uto-Aztecan as a branch of Semitic or Afro-Asiatic. Indeed, he treats Uto-Aztecan Semitisms as borrowings. But, because these borrowings are at once so numerous and so well "nativized," he prefers to regard them as an example of linguistic creolization - that is, of massive lexical adaptation of one language group to another. (By way of analogy, . . . historical linguists regard the heavy importation of French vocabulary into Middle English as a process of creolization.)

Of the various Afro-Asiatic languages represented in Uto-Aztecan vocabulary, the following occur in descending order of frequency:
  1. Canaanite (cited in its Hebrew form)
  2. Aramaic
  3. Arabic
  4. Ethiopic
  5. Akkadian (usually in its Assyrian form)
  6. Ancient Egyptian
Among the many Semitic loan-words in Uto-Aztecan, the following, listed by Stubbs, seems unexceptionable as regards both form and meaning:

Hebrewbaraqlightning> Papagoberoklightning
Aramaickatpashoulder> Papagokotvashoulder
Hebrewhiskalbe prudent> Nahuaiskalbe prudent
Hebrewyesïvähsitting> Hopiyesivacamp

Lest sceptics should attribute these correspondences to coincidence, however, Stubbs takes care to note that there are systematic sound-shifts, analogous to those covered in Indo-European by Grimm's Law, which recur consistently in loans from Afro-Asiatic to Uto-Aztecan. One of these is the unvoicing of voiced stops in the more southerly receiving languages. Another is the velarization of voiced labial stops and glides in the same languages.
One of the examples showing possible links to Egyptian involves the crocodile: Egyptian sbk / *subak "crocodile" appears related to Uto-Atecan *supak / *sipak "crocodile." (The asterisk "marks a proto-form or original sound or word as reconstructed by linguists.) This example follows a pattern seen in many apparent Hebrew-UA connections in which the Hebrew b is changed to a p in UA). Many of you seeing Egyptian sbk/subak might immediately think of the Egyptian crocodile god Sobek, which I discussed in my previous post "Of Crocodiles and Kings."

Sobek is of interest in the Book of Abraham since Joseph Smith's identification of a crocodile in Facs. 1 as the "idolatrous god of Pharaoh" can be considered as one of the many interesting evidences of authenticity for that work. When I saw that this Egyptian root had a cognate in UA, I wondered if the name Sebus in the Book of Mormon, as in the waters of Sebus, might be related to the crocodile. Could there have been a crocodile infested watering hole? But that conjecture is easy to dismiss since the final "s" really doesn't fit the "k" of Sobek and I don't think final "k" sounds are likely to morph into aspirants.

Though the crocodile-Sebus hypothesis was a false lead, my question led me to a new tangent and more dots to connect as I reviewed review some valuable work from others related to the place named the waters of Sebus.

By way of background, one of my favorite scenes in the Book of Mormon involves Ammon defending a Lamanite king's flocks at the waters of Sebus. The king's name is Lamoni, a name which corresponds well (yes, here's another tangent) with one of the few ancient place names in Mesoamerica whose ancient pronunciation has survived. Most ancient sites in the region are known by Spanish names like La Venta, with little to go on regarding how the name was known anciently. But in Belize, the ancient place name Lamanai has been preserved. This is an ancient city with impressive fortifications around it, similar to those described in the Book of Mormon.

You can learn more about the ancient Mayan city of Lamanai in a Youtube video. You might also enjoy the video that refers to the ancient Mayan city Pan cha'lib', which literally means "Bountiful." This may be a coincidence, but it's possible that the city was named after the ancient New World place called Bountiful in the Book of Mormon (which may have been named after the Old World Bountiful discussed above). Watch the text call-outs on the video in the first couple of minutes. The video is a re-enactment of an ancient ritual related to one that told of a warrior who visited Bountiful (Pan cha'lib').

The name Sebus is somewhat unusual for both Book of Mormon and Hebrew names, which usually don't begin and end with the same letter. It's the only example of such a name in the Book of Mormon. Paul Hoskisson in "What’s in a Name? Sebus" in the Maxwell Institute's Insights, vol. 32, no. 1 (2012), p. 3, explores some possible Semitic connections. He finds a plausible fit with an ancient Semitic root that could give this word the meaning of "to be gathered," which would be an appropriate name for a watering hole where animals are gathered. The potential for Semitic wordplay is then present in Alma 17:26, where we learn that Sebus is where the Lamanites drove their flocks (i.e., gathered or assembled them). Naturally, there is the contrast with the scattering that routinely occurred there as Lamanite troublemakers scattered the king's flocks--and seemed to get away with it time and again. Relying on divine power and some great combat skills, Ammon tells his fellow servants not to lose heart regarding the scattered flocks, for "we will gather them together and bring them back unto the place of water" (Alma 17:31). The waters of Sebus is mentioned twice more in Alma 19, verses 20 and 21, and in both cases that name is juxtaposed with the word "scattered."

It's fascinating how many times Semitic wordplays occur in the Book of Mormon. Not bad for a book allegedly fabricated by an unschooled conman years before he had a chance to actually study Hebrew.

One of the most recently discovered apparent wordplays involves the name Abish, a Lamanite servant woman who plays a role in the aftermath of Ammon's victory and successful gathering (both of flocks and arms) at the waters of Sebus, which resulted in the gathering in of many Lamanites to the fold of believers. See Matthew Bowen, "Father is a Man: The Remarkable Mention of the name Abish in Alma 19:16 and Its Narrative Context," Interpreter: A Journal of Mormon Scripture, 14 (2015): 77-93. And brace yourself for another tangent.

In a text that rarely reports woman's names, rarely reports Lamanite names, and almost never reports the names of servants, to have the name of a female Lamanite servant given is highly unusual. Yet Bowen points out how well the name fits the context and reinforces important themes in addition to providing a classic Hebrew wordplay. The name can be interpreted as Hebrew for "Father is a man," which relates well to Abish's status as a believer in God due to a "a remarkable vision of her father" (Alma 19:16). Bowen's abstract suffices for this tangent, but his case is greatly strengthened by the details he explores in his thorough article:
As a Hebrew/Lehite name, “Abish” suggests the meaning “Father is a man,” the midrashic components ʾab- (“father”) and ʾîš(“man”) being phonologically evident. Thus, the immediate juxtaposition of the name “Abish” with the terms “her father” and “women” raises the possibility of wordplay on her name in the underlying text. Since ʾab-names were frequently theophoric — i.e., they had reference to a divine Father (or could be so understood) — the mention of “Abish” (“Father is a man”) takes on additional theological significance in the context of Lamoni’s vision of the Redeemer being “born of a woman and … redeem[ing] all mankind” (Alma 19:13). The wordplay on “Abish” thus contributes thematically to the narrative’s presentation of Ammon’s typological ministrations among the Lamanites as a “man” endowed with great power, which helped the Lamanites understand the concept of “the Great Spirit” (Yahweh) becoming “man.” Moreover, this wordplay accords with the consistent Book of Mormon doctrine that the “very Eternal Father” would (and did) condescend to become “man” and Suffering Servant.
OK, the potential Semitic wordplay is cool, but what's going on with a king who couldn't stop a persistent threat at the waters of Sebus? And how can several of the surviving bad guys, drawn in by news from Abish in her attempt to get others to be witnesses of the miracle taking place with Ammon, the king, and the queen, dare to show up in the king's court and even attempt to slay the unconscious Ammon (see Alma 19)? It's the kind of security gap and cluelessness that might be par for the course for certain modern governments, but would seem to be a stretch in the presumably more sane ancient world. Brant Gardner has shown that the many seemingly ridiculous elements in the story of Ammon become quite plausible once we important Mesoamerican culture into the background. See his presentation at the 2004 FAIRMormon Conference, "The Case for Historicity: Discerning the Book of Mormon’s Production Culture."

Gardner explains that we may be looking at a family feud in which one Mesoamerican family is at odds with another powerful group, and can't simply kill off the trouble makers who roam his courts and slay his animals. To save face, he makes servants take the blame, and to upset the balance of power, he cleverly throws in a Nephite wild card with surprising results. This is one of many examples in the Book of Mormon where a knowledge of Mesoamerica helps fill in mysteries in the text. (Also see the related discussion of Gardner's hypothesis at Book of Mormon Notes, Feb. 2010).

Looking to Mesoamerica culture helps us appreciate what's happening in the Book of Mormon.

Interestingly, at least part of Abish's name, the Hebrew word for man, may be found in Uto-Aztecan. One of the finds reported by Brian Stubbs in his latest work, is correlation #572: Hebrew ’iiš "man, person" > UA *wïsi "person". But I'm not aware of "ab" or "abba" from Hebrew being proposed as a source for anything in UA. If Brother Stubbs sees this, perhaps he might have something more to say on the topic of possible linkages between Old World and New World names.

Coming back to the waters of Sebus, we've looked at the name Sebus and its role in a possible Semitic wordplay, the ensuing court scene and the whole scenario as a Mesoamerican intrigue, and interesting linguistic issues involving the name Abish. Now what about the "waters" aspect of the waters of Sebus?

The Book of Mormon Resources blog examines the many uses of the term "waters" in the Book of Mormon, and finds remarkable consistency with the way that term was used in--here we go again--Early Modern English (EModE).

By way of background, one of the most perplexing but data-rich and evidence-driven discoveries about the original Book of Mormon text is that much of what we thought was just bad grammar or imitation of KJV language is actually good English that predates the KJV substantially. There appears to be a strong current of obsolete grammatical patterns in the Book of Mormon that derive from roughly a century before the KJV was begun, adding a perplexing factor to Book of Mormon studies that at least helps us demonstrate that the Book of Mormon cannot be readily explained as a product based on copying KJV language and plagiarizing from contemporary sources or even relying on secret teams of contemporary writers trying to imitate KJV language. It's not clear why this would be the case and what mechanism would lead to the results, but the data demand to be considered and not just dismissed with an eye roll, or with mere assumptions about pockets of archaic grammar persisting as the frontier language of Joseph Smith's community. Something more than just bad grammar from Joseph himself is going on here, and Carmack offers abundant data to support that claim.

The discoveries in this vein began when Royal Skousen, the scholar most familiar with the intricate details of the earliest Book of Mormon text, noted that some of the grammatical structures in the early Book of Mormon manuscripts that looked like bad grammar and often were corrected out of the Book of Mormon actually were good grammar in Early Modern English from around 1500 AD. See Royal Skousen, "The Archaic Vocabulary of the Book of Mormon," Insights 25/5 (2005). The initial discovery came after Christian Gellinek suggested to Royal Skousen in 2003 that "pleading bar" may be a good reading for the problematic "pleasing bar" in Jacob 6:13. "Pleading bar" is not found in the KJV and is obsolete in modern English, but was a term used in EModE. This surprising observation led Royal Skousen to open-mindedly examine other aspects of the text, connecting more dots and pursuing more puzzles, until he came to the conclusion that EModE somehow played an important role in the original text. (Also see "Early Modern English" at the Book of Mormon Resources blog, Sept. 2014.)

Skousen's observations and discoveries were greatly strengthened by a linguist, Stanford Carmack, who has provided extensive data and statistics for certain aspects of the Book of Mormon further strengthening the case for EModE influence in the dictated text from Joseph Smith--an impossible feat for Joseph Smith on his own or I think anyone he had access to. See "A Look at Some 'Nonstandard' Book of Mormon Grammar" in Interpreter: A Journal of Mormon Scripture, vol. 11 (2014): 209-262, and "What Command Syntax Tells Us About Book of Mormon Authorship," Interpreter: A Journal of Mormon Scripture, vol. 13 (2015): 175-217. A third article on this topic should be published any day now (possibly this Friday) at MormonInterpreter.com. I look forward to digesting that new contribution, and congratulate Stanford Carmack for his detailed analysis and investigative work. This is a vein rich in data and filled with surprises.

I think it's hard to argue that Joseph Smith was deliberately trying to add EModE elements to impress anyone (what, nearly two centuries later, when we finally noticed?) since he took pains to edit out some of the awkward sounding phraseology that resulted.

Now, coming back to the waters of Sebus, Book of Mormon Resources in Sept. 2014 had this to say about an EModE connection, after listing the many verses using the plural "waters" in the Book of Mormon:
These passages show the pervasive Book of Mormon characteristic of duality. Waters are either associated with life, peace, righteousness and deliverance or they connote death, peril, sin and captivity. All of these ideas are found commingled in the single verse 1 Nephi 4:2.

All unambiguous passages refer to either a) a salt water ocean b) a flowing stream or c) symbolic spirituality, life and healing. The OED [Oxford English Dictionary] confirms that during the Early Modern English era (see the blog article "Early Modern English") "waters" plural referred either to a) water moving in waves [the ocean], b) flowing water [rivers] or c) healing water from medicinal, thermal or therapeutic springs. In this case, the OED strikingly corroborates what we find in the text….

So, evidence from the text and the OED suggests the waters of Mormon, Sebus and Ripliancum are all streams or rivers as in Joshua 3:13. Fountains are generally considered springs as in Deuteronomy 8:7. The fountain mentioned in Mosiah 18:5 is almost certainly a spring feeding a flowing stream. Trees grow along stream beds as in Numbers 24:6 which explains the thicket near the water in Mosiah 18:5. The fountain/tree connection was part of the Nephite worldview 1 Nephi 11:25. The image of waters that flow and gush associated with the actions of a prophet is attested in the text 1 Nephi 20:21 citing Isaiah 48:21. River Jordan was the quintessential baptistery in the New Testament Matthew 3:6, Mark 1:5. The most noted baptistery in the Book of Mormon is probably a flowing stream as well. In the land of Zarahemla, Alma1 probably baptized in the river Sidon as his son did decades later Alma 4:4. Alma1's baptisms in Zarahemla were expressly "after the manner" of his iconic baptisms earlier in the waters of Mormon Mosiah 25:18.

Most LDS Mesoamericanists who deal with the Book of Mormon correlate the waters of Ripliancum with the extensive wetlands at the mouth of the Papaloapan River in Veracruz. Our analysis confirms this correlation as highly likely. [The author then explores several geographical correspondences with the Book of Mormon and offers further examples from EModE texts.]

We know the "waters of Sidon" refers to a large river. The "waters of Ripliancum" probably refers to a large river. The "many waters" in land Ramah-Cumorah probably refer to multiple rivers. This makes it likely the "waters of Mormon" refers to a flowing stream of water since as Royal Skousen frequently reminds us, the original text is very consistent in its usage patterns (See the Editor's Preface to the Yale Edition, page xxxix). In the 1981 LDS edition, Mosiah 18:8 reads "here are the waters of Mormon" which in modern English could potentially refer to any body of water. The Yale edition restores this phrase to its original "here is the waters of Mormon" which in Early Modern English implied a flowing stream.
So what of the waters of Sebus? Perhaps it was a watering hole that was part of a stream or river. Nothing too surprising there, but I do like the way Book of Mormon usage of "waters" fits well with EModE usage. However, I'm not sure that treating "waters" as a singular noun was common in EModE or signals a pre-KJV connection. While the consistency in meanings for "waters" between the Book of Mormon and early English is interesting, I don't think any of those meanings are obsolete today, making this less interesting than the highlights of Carmack's and Skousen's finds.

Finally, turning back to Brant Gardner's insights about Mesoamerican culture and royal intrigues in the story of Ammon, I am interested in the Book of Mormon insights we may obtain from examination of ancient Mesoamerican royal courts. The Book of Mormon's brief information about kings and royal households among the Lamanites in the story of Ammon and the sons of Mosiah shows a hierarchical system of kings under a top king. We also learn of royal household and courts that appear to offer broad public access. Compare that to the following information from Wikipedia's entry, "Maya Civilization" under the section on "King and Court":
A typical Classic Maya polity was a small hierarchical state (ajawil, ajawlel, or ajawlil) headed by a hereditary ruler known as an ajaw (later k’uhul ajaw). Such kingdoms were usually no more than a capital city with its neighborhood and several lesser towns, although there were greater kingdoms, which controlled larger territories and extended patronage over smaller polities. Each kingdom had a name that did not necessarily correspond to any locality within its territory. Its identity was that of a political unit associated with a particular ruling dynasty….
Mayanists have been increasingly accepting a "court paradigm" of Classic Maya societies which puts the emphasis on the centrality of the royal household and especially the person of the king. This approach focuses on Maya monumental spaces as the embodiment of the diverse activities of the royal household. It considers the role of places and spaces (including dwellings of royalty and nobles, throne rooms, temples, halls and plazas for public ceremonies) in establishing power and social hierarchy, and also in projecting aesthetic and moral values to define the wider social realm.
Spanish sources invariably describe even the largest Maya settlements as dispersed collections of dwellings grouped around the temples and palaces of the ruling dynasty and lesser nobles. None of the Classic Maya cities shows evidence of economic specialization and commerce of the scale of Mexican Tenochtitlan. Instead, Maya cities could be seen as enormous royal households, the locales of the administrative and ritual activities of the royal court. They were the places where privileged nobles could approach the holy ruler, where aesthetic values of the high culture were formulated and disseminated and where aesthetic items were consumed. They were the self-proclaimed centers and the sources of social, moral, and cosmic order. The fall of a royal court as in the well-documented cases of Piedras Negras or Copan would cause the inevitable "death" of the associated settlement.
To me, the passage of time since Joseph Smith's day has made the Book of Mormon far more plausible, when placed in a Mesoamerican setting, than it was in light of common knowledge about Native Americans in Joseph's day. Looking for Mesoamerican cultural clues, linguistic clues, and other internal and external clues in the text can point us to many rich and long-buried treasures in this precious volume. There are many more dots to connect and puzzles to solve or resolve. Keep on sleuthing!

Update, Feb. 26: As I rushed to prepare this post, I had the persistent feeling that I needed to find and add one more interesting connection to these meanderings around Alma 17, so I wondered if the Mayan word for crocodile might be relevant. That was actually the question on my mind as I awoke early this morning after returning to China from the U.S. last night, but the online resources I found did not include crocodile or alligator. Out of time, I posted this, but then moments later heard back from Kathy Kidd, editor of the Nauvoo Times where I am cross-posting this. She mentioned that a Mesoamerican tour guide had told her that Lamanai means crocodile in Mayan. OK, there's my missing connection, and it has slightly more authority than hearsay since I just noticed Wikipedia identifies the ancient place name Lamanai as meaning "submerged crocodile" in Yucatan Mayan. Of crocodiles and kings indeed!

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Friend of the Slain Muslims in North Carolina: An Example of Calmness, Courage, and Kindness in Grief

On Wednesday morning at a technical conference I attended in Miami, the female CEO of an impressive nanotech company from North Carolina gave the first presentation of the day, a departure from the printed schedule. She appeared to be Muslim since she was wearing a hijab (a traditional head wrap). The presentation had been moved up since there was an emergency that required her to fly back to North Carolina right away.

She gave one of the more interesting presentations, but was somewhat quiet and subdued, I felt. She then excused herself and left swiftly instead of taking any questions. The session chair explained that she would not have time for questions since she had to rush to the airport. Only later did I glean a hint about the nature of the emergency: three friends of hers had just been murdered. On Thursday I would see the headlines in the newspaper about the slayings of three Muslims in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. So terrible--how do I even begin to grasp what this kind of loss must feel like?

It was thoughtful of her to share as much as she did with us before her flight. I caught her on the way out and congratulated her for a great presentation, not yet knowing that there had been a tragedy. I had missed the announcement about the reasons for the change in schedule since I had been chatting out in the lobby. Had I known, I might not have wanted to bother her at all.

Her composure and kindness to the audience while facing such terrible news about her friends was very professional, but what pain she must have been facing! I am surprised at how calm and courageous she had been. Even if the victims of the murder had not been friends, just to have fellow Muslims from one's town be murdered would have been a terribly troubling burden to face. This might be a good time for all of us to reach out in kindness to our Muslim friends as they face a trying time. They may face other cases of hatred and misunderstanding. May we help prevent such hatred and violence, and be a comfort and help to those who are at risk in our violent world. 

We Latter-day Saints often recall the stories of past discrimination and persecution, but what our ancestors  suffered many decades ago is minor compared to the pains of many in the world today. There are Muslims wishing to stand for peace who are slain by extremists. There are whole communities of Christians being driven out of their nations. There are minority religions and ethnic groups in many lands that are violently persecuted. May we not forget these brothers and sisters in their pain.

When it becomes our turn to face the wrath of bigots and madmen, may we remain calm and courageous, not seeking vengeance and not forgetting the need for charity even when there is cause for anger.

Monday, February 09, 2015

What About Those Who Can't Sing?

For some people, singing is a challenging part of worship. For those who feel they can't sing well or who fear to sing around others, music can sometimes be a barrier rather than aid to worship.

This was a challenge for me in my early days. I think part of the problem was that toward the end of my second-grade year in Boise, Idaho, my teacher worked with school officials to get me instantly promoted to third grade. They told my parents I needed to move up a grade because I was so smart. Mom and Dad were so proud of me. But there are other theories. Perhaps my sweet second-grade teacher was spared a nervous breakdown by throwing me into third grade. Whatever the cause, I skipped most of third grade, and I fully forgive all those involved. Actually, I think it was good for me and gave me opportunities later that I am grateful for, but it came at a price.

Parents, if you have children in third grade, please make sure they attend and pay great attention. Third grade, from what I can tell, is where some of life's most important skills are developed. This must be where kids become athletes, develop social graces, learn how to write legibly, and also learn how to sing. I pretty much skipped all that.

Without the benefit of a third-grade education (yes, I can see this statement being used against me), I soon found myself in fourth grade. The eager and overly confident little second grader still dwelling in me, so used to getting straight A's and being praised for minor accomplishments, was about to face a complete shock on his report card with a "D" for handwriting and a "D" for singing. The nice fourth-grade teacher I started with took time off to have a baby and was replaced with a harsh substitute for several very long weeks.

One day she announced that we needed to have a singing test, and that each of us needed to prepare by choosing a song that we would sing to her. What? This was a total surprise to me. She reminded us one day that the test would be tomorrow. Yikes. So I went home and sought help from my father, who sings beautifully, as does my mother, neither of whom bothered to pass on any musical genes to me. I had turned to the one source of vocal music I could find at home, the LDS hymnbook, and dutifully searched for a really short song. "Upon the Cross of Calvary" was the fateful choice. Another crucifixion song such as "There Is a Green Hill Far Away" would have done just as well for brevity and thematic content.

My father had me sing it, tried hard not no chuckle, and spend some time giving me helpful tips. After another try or two, he gave me some encouragement and hoped I would do OK.

I tried to imagine how the test would go. I wondered if she would bring us into her office or take us out into the hallway or some other remote room for the individual singing evaluations. When the topic of the test came up the next day, she announced that each child would stand, one at a time, and sing in front of the entire class of 30-something children (my estimate). This was to be a very public shaming, and my row was first.

I suppose that the four or five kids who sang before I did were all budding Josh Grobans and Whitney Houstons. I could hardly concentrate on what they were singing, but it sounded better than what I could do. When I finally stood to accept my fate, I tried to sing but felt it was somewhat worse than how I had sung for my father, but maybe, hopefully maybe OK. The two verses I sang were over quickly (I seem to recall she let me finish sooner than I expected, with no complaints from me) and I sat down, glad that I had survived. Well, that wasn't so bad, was it? I felt OK about it somehow, until a few weeks later when I got the report card with my first ever "D." Two of them, one of singing and one for handwriting. I don't recall, but perhaps some kind of writing test was conducted right after the singing test. Trembling does not make for a steady hand.

After that, my response to public singing became one of evasion for several years. I remember in fifth grade, now in Salt Lake City, the teacher caught me trying to hide behind the piano when it was singing time. Silly. I was a vocal and enthusiastic student for the most part, just not for vocal music. I recognized that singing was part of worship and wanted to do better, but didn't spend a lot of time at it and really felt I just lacked the talent to improve much. I can do better now and sometimes really enjoy it, but don't give me a public test, please, at least not a solo.

Fortunately, for those of who you share my awkwardness about singing, there is new hope from scholars. My favorite science news service offers this headline based on newly published research at Northwestern University: "Can't sing? Do it more often." The tagline is "Regular practice may be as crucial to singing on pitch as it is for learning an instrument." A new study published in a February volume of the journal Music Perception: An Interdisciplinary Journal offers new hope for me and others. The online information doesn't yet include the February issue, so be patient. For now, we can rely on the printed version or third-party commentary such as the report at Eurekalert.org, from which the following excerpt is taken:
Published in a special February issue of the journal Music Perception, the study compared the singing accuracy of three groups: kindergarteners, sixth graders and college-aged adults. One test asked the volunteers to listen to four repetitions of a single pitch and then sing back the sequence. Another asked them to sing back at intervals.

The three groups were scored using similar procedures for measuring singing accuracy.

The study showed considerable improvement in accuracy from kindergarten to late elementary school, when most children are receiving regular music instruction. But in the adult group, the gains were reversed -- to the point that college students performed at the level of the kindergarteners on two of the three tasks, suggesting the "use it or lose it" effect.

Singing on key is likely easier for some people than others. "But it's also a skill that can be taught and developed, and much of it has to do with using the voice regularly," Demorest said. "Our study suggests that adults who may have performed better as children lost the ability when they stopped singing."
Great news!  Science has once again given me something to sing about.

Meanwhile, I would encourage Latter-day Saints and all of us to be sensitive to the challenges that some people may face when they are shy about singing. One positive thing parents and teachers can do is encourage people to practice. All that singing in Primary and elsewhere can make a difference and help people do better.

Thursday, January 29, 2015

The Increasingly Interesting Liahona

In an earlier post here at Mormanity, I discussed an intriguing aspect of the temple that Nephi built. I am especially indebted to a chapter from Kevin Christensen, "The Temple, the Monarchy, and Wisdom: Lehi's World and the Scholarship of Margaret Barker" in the Glimpses of Lehi's Jerusalem by John Welch, David R. Seely, and Jo Ann N. Seely (Provo: Maxwell Institute, 2004), and to Don Bradley's presentation, "Piercing the Veil: Temple Worship in the Lost 116 Pages," FAIRMormon.com, 2012. In that post, I noted how these LDS scholars help us recognize that the Nephites had sacred relics for their own "ark" that have remarkable parallels to the scared relics that were in the Ark of the Covenant of Solomon's temple.

Four of the five sacred relics of the Nephites that I discussed have fairly clear parallels to their Old World counterparts: the interpreters like the Urim and Thummin, the metal plates like the stone tablets with the law, the sword of Laban as a symbol of authority like the rod of Aaron, and the Nephite breast plate like the High Priest's breastplate. The least obvious and most interesting parallel deals with the pot of manna preserved in the Ark of Solomon's temple.

A possible Nephite parallel is introduced using language that may have been crafted to serve as a parallel to the sacred manna which, according to Exodus 16:13-15, was discovered in the desert in the morning and was described as "a small round thing" which obviously astonished them, "for they wist not what it was." In parallel, it was on a morning in the desert when Lehi was also surprised with his discovery of another gift from the Lord to weary travelers seeking a promised land: "As my father arose in the morning, and went forth to the tent door, to his great astonishment he beheld upon the ground a round ball of curious workmanship" (1 Nephi 16:10). Round, like the "small round thing" that astonished the Hebrews on an earlier morning. Update, 1/30/15: As noted by a helpful commenter, the word "round" in this KJV verse doesn't appear to be supported by the Hebrew text and is not used in other translations. But the gist of the parallel still stands.

Lehi's Liahona serves as a fitting parallel to the pot of manna, a symbol of the Lord's mercy and deliverance. And like manna, it wasn't a gift to be taken for granted, but could quit functioning as a result of rebellion.

With relics to match each of the relics of the Ark of the Covenant, the Nephites could have a reasonable imitation of Solomon's temple in spirit and function, making the Holy of Holies an suitably sacred place.

There's more to the Liahona that we should consider. Long ago I had correspondence with a man studying to become a Rabbi who was also impressed with the Book of Mormon as an authentic ancient Jewish text. He wasn't LDS and I'm not sure what became of his interest, but he offered his rough analysis of the word Liahona, opining that it was good Hebrew. He said the name (lamed-yud-hey-vav-nun-alef in Hebrew) is related to known Hebrew words with relevant meanings:
  • LIA (lamed-yud-hey), Strongs 3914: something round; a wreath
  • LAWAH (lamed-vav-hey), Strongs 3867: to bind around; to wreathe; to start or stop
  • LON (lamed-vav-nun), Strongs 3885, from LAWAH: to abide, to dwell, to remain or to continue.
That was interesting, but recently I noticed that a much more complete exploration of the name has been conducted: James Curci, "Liahona, 'The Direction of the Lord," An Etymological Explanation," Journal of Book of Mormon Studies, vol. 16, no. 2 (2007): pp. 60-67, 97-98. Curci concludes that Liahona is a word coined by Nephi and/or Lehi using Hebrew elements conveying the meaning "The Direction (Director) of YHWH" or literally "To the Lord Is the Whither." As is so often the case in the Book of Mormon, there are interesting Hebrew word plays in the text that only recently are coming to light. In this case, the use of the word "whither" in relationship to Liahona-related passages in First Nephi link to the "whither" (hona) element of the name. Here is an excerpt from the PDF of Curci's paper:

Curci has much more to say about the term Liahona and its aptness in the Book of Mormon record. Just one of many cool, ancient, and increasingly plausible elements in the Book of Mormon.

Monday, January 19, 2015

The Book of Mormon's Command Performance: The Late War and Other KJV-Style Texts Don't Help

Stanford Carmack's discussion of the unusual grammar in the original Book of Mormon text creates a case that the unusual English of the original Book of Mormon cannot be readily explained if Joseph just created the Book of Mormon himself. The language of the King James Bible is actually quite distinct from the English that Joseph dictated. Carmack's most recent work on the topic, as I previously discussed ("New Twists," 1/08/15; also see my earlier "Joseph Smith's Hick Language," 8/29/14), takes up the use of the verb "command" in the Book of Mormon. The Book of Mormon tends to favor archaic English constructions like "command Jeff THAT he SHOULD do something" instead of the standard modern form with "to" (the infinitive form), as in "command Jeff TO stop writing so poorly." The King James Bible mostly uses the infinitive form, not the other "finite" form, when "command" governs another verb.

A commenter in my last post guessed that we would find similar language in one of the other books that Joseph allegedly plagiarized from. OK, that's a testable hypothesis. So this week I looked at the texts of some of the leading books people have proposed as Joseph's source material to see how they use "command." I was not surprised to see that they provide no support for the Book of Mormon's command performance. Of course, it will take generations to sort through the ever growing and highly imaginative collection of Joseph's vast frontier library that nobody ever saw, Joseph included (though this could make a fun movie of the National Archive variety, complete with a huge underground Masonic temple lined with books), but this week I looked at the most popular recent "smoking guns."

First on the list is Gilbert Hunt's The late war, between the United States and Great Britain, from June 1812, to February 1815 : written in the ancient historical style. For background, see my "Another Fun Statistical Squabble," 11/07/13 and "Curious Parallels," 11/13/13, and especially see Ben McGuire's commanding "The Late War Against the Book of Mormon," Mormon Interpreter, vol. 7, 2013. Said by some critics to be the ultimate smoking gun that proves plagiarism, a delusional conclusion obtained with bogus statistical methods, this text was written in Elizabethan-style English in imitation of King James language. Occasional similarities also derive from its many scenes of war that describe the kind of things that happen in war, as the Book of Mormon does. So if this was Joseph's secret source, now uncovered with the power of Big Data, it's relationship to the unusual language structures of the Book of Mormon might be interesting, eh?

Courtesy of the remarkable online resource, Archive.org, you can see a text file with the full text of The Late War at https://archive.org/stream/latewarbetween_00hunt/latewarbetween_00hunt_djvu.txt. Other formats might be more enjoyable, such as the PDF file or the online reader. In searching, be sure to consider the occasional hyphenated form also (search for "command" as well as "com-").

My exploration shows that Hunt's use of "command" as a verb is dominated by "commanded by" in the sense of leading, as in an army or ship commanded by a captain, similar to its common use as a noun, as in "under the command of" a leader. These cases don't apply to the current discussion. The cases where "command" governs another verb are relatively few for such a long text (over 300 pages), which already is a notable difference to the Book of Mormon, where command is a frequently used verb governing other verbs. Hunt has 10 instances of command governing a verb, by my count, while the Book of Mormon has over 100. Here are the 10 from Hunt, with the finite forms in bold:
2:3 And they commanded them to go forth from their presence, for that purpose, and return again on the third day of the same month.

3:25 Therefore, I command that ye go not out to battle, but every man remain in his own house.

4:16 But they were rejoiced that power was not given unto him to command fire to come down from heaven to consume the friends of the great Sanhedrim.

7:13 William . . . commanded the valiant men of Columbia to bow down before the servants of the king.

12:11 and commanded them to go to the island of the king which is called Bermuda.

25:15 After which the men of Columbia were commanded to go in boats, down to the strong hold of Kingston, in the province of the king.

29:11 Therefore, that your blood may not be spilt in vain, we command that ye give up the strong hold into the hands of the servants of the king, and become captives.

33:6 And he called together his captains of fifties, and his squadrons, and encouraged them, and commanded them to prepare themselves for the fight.

46:3 For the Prince Regent had commanded his servants to go forth into the heart of the land of Columbia, and separate the states of the east from the rest of the country.

51:28 They commanded the vessel called the Yankee to follow after them, towards the ship of the king their master ;
Here 8 of 10 instances use the common infinitive form (command ... TO ...). The other two use command + that + verb. So 20% of Hunt's few uses are in the finite form, similar to what we see in the KJV Bible, according to Carmack, but quite unlike the high level in the Book of Mormon. None of Hunt's finite forms use an auxiliary verb like "should," which is common in the Book of Mormon. Doesn't look like Hunt explains the Book of Mormon's command patterns.

The First Book of Napoleon is another text that allegedly has statistical similarity to the Book of Mormon. Archive.org again offers the full text, a PDF, and an online reader. You will find even less support for the use of "command" in that text. I find zero instance of "command" governing another verb.

The 1822 translation of the Quran is a little more interesting and relevant, but still fails as an explanation for Joseph's unique Book of Mormon language. Archive.org provides a text file, a PDF, and an online reader. Again, some of the important instances of command are hyphenated, so include "com-" in your search if using the text file. When "command" as a verb governs another verbs, 33 times it was in the modern infinitive form and only 8 times in the finite form. That's 19.5%, very similar to the KJV and quite unlike the Book of Mormon.

One related structure in the Quran is related, but does not fit the finite usage of interest here. An example of this form is "it is also commanded us, saying, Observe the stated times of prayer." The verb "command" here does not directly govern a second verb, but introduces a quotation. So I am not counting it as a finite "layered" form equivalent to "command X that X or Y should do something."

Here are the 8 examples of command + finite verb that I found, listed by page number. Again, this is my preliminary count. I welcome comments and further analysis.
45. who also say, Surely God hath commanded us, that we should not give credit to any apostle, until one should come unto us with a sacrifice, which should be consumed by fire.

67. Wherefore we commanded the children of Israel, that he who slayeth a soul, without having slain a soul, or committed wickedness in the earth, shall be as if he had slain all mankind:

68. We have therein commanded them, that they should give life for life, and eye for eye, and nose for nose, and ear for ear, and tooth for tooth ;

100. and command thy people that they live according to the most excellent precepts thereof

144. who hath commanded that ye worship none besides him.

173. Thy Lord hath commanded that ye worship none besides him ;

269. Nay, but the crafty plot which ye devised by night and by day, occasioned our ruin; when ye commanded us that we should not believe in God, and that we should set up other gods as equals unto him.

277. Did I not command you, O sons of Adam, that ye should not worship Satan ; because he was an open enemy unto you?
Five of the eight examples use "shall" or "should" as an auxiliary verb after "that," which may make it more similar to the Book of Mormon in that regard than is the King James Bible. So in terms of the Book of Mormon's command-related language, the 1822 Quran is certainly the best of the recently touted links found by bad Big Data (or Big Bad Data?), but is still not very helpful and, of course, rather implausible.

Just for fun, I also looked at Solomon Spaulding's Manuscript Found (text file at Archive.org), which proved to be a case of relevant command language being not found. There were 9 examples of infinitive forms but none in the finite form when command governed another verb. Yawn.

But wait, what about Shakespeare? Or Sir Walter Scott? Or James Adair and dozens of other authors? Dig in and let me know what you find.

So far, Carmack's thesis stands: the archaic language of the Book of Mormon cannot be readily explained by drawing from the KJV or other books in Joseph's day. I don't really know why that early archaic English is there, but whatever the reason, it is a subtle data-rich indicator of something other than imitation and plagiarism by Joseph Smith. Or do you have a better fraud-friendly explanation?

Monday, January 12, 2015

Another Classic Example of Misleading LDS Apologetics: The Gospel of Philip and Temple Marriage

In the comments to a previous post about LDS garments at Mormanity, I've just been called out for an egregious blunder on my part. I am genuinely grateful to Alvin for this barbed and instructive comment:
Because of my dayjob, I can’t really check all the references used by apologists, and apparently neither can anyone else, including Mormanity. Brother Ostler’s paper “Clothed Upon” was written in 1982, before it became easy to find some of his sources on the internet. I spot checked this claim from the third paragraph: “In some accounts, one must be married in the Holy of Holies of the temple in order to obtain the highest of three degrees of glory.”

The reference he gives for this claim is the Gnostic Gospel of Philip. There’s a translation on the web by Wesley Isenberg. There’s no mention in the document of “three degrees of glory.” It most definitely does not say that people must be married in the Holy of Holies in order to obtain the highest. It does compare the Holy of Holies in the temple at Jerusalem (no longer extant at the time the gospel was written) to the “bridal chamber.” The bridal chamber is a place where marriages are consummated, not where the ceremony takes place, in case there’s any confusion. The meaning of the “bridal chamber” in gnostic Christianity is a subject of debate among scholars, but there is absolutely nothing in the Gospel of Philip to back up Ostler’s claim. If you’re looking for an example of how misleading apologetics can be, this is a great one, and Mormanity uncritically propagates it to defend the faith.
Sadly, I have to admit my guilt and sloppiness: I cited a paper from a journal without carefully checking the references. Because I trusted the author and the publisher, my guard was down and I felt comfortable pointing people to Blake Ostler's 1982 paper, "Clothed Upon: A Unique Aspect of Christian Antiquity" in BYU Studies without taking the time required (maybe a day or two in the States, or maybe a week or more here in China with the slow and often blocked Internet) for basic checking of Ostler's 79 footnotes. Mea culpa. I assure you, it won't fail to happen again. (Yes, that's a double negative.)

The controversy arises over a sentence from Ostler's paper that refers to marriage. It's the sentence in bold below (my emphasis):
The ritual action of putting on a sacred garment is properly termed an “endowment.” The word garment is, in fact, representative of ordinances found in ancient texts. The Greek word enduma [Ostler uses Greek terms instead of transliterations] that means “garment” or endumai “to clothe upon” was used to represent sacramental, baptismal, and sealing ordinances in the Clementine Recognitions, an extremely important and ancient Christian (Ebionite) work. [1] The Latin induere, meaning “to clothe," and inducere, “to lead or initiate,” are the roots for our English word endowment. All connote temple ordinances. [2]

The endowment, the complex of ordinances associated with the donning of sacred vestments, contained in ancient Judeo-Christian texts, provides a framework for symbolic interpretation. The doctrine of the preexistence, for example, appears frequently in the Dead Sea Scrolls, the pseudepigrapha, and the Nag Hammadi texts. [3] The soul must journey to the earth in order to prove itself as part of God’s plan set down before the foundation of the world. [4] In order for the soul to return to the presence of God, certain ordinances are necessary. Among these ordinances are baptism, washings, anointings, special garments, and signs as seals and passwords to pass by the angels who guard the gate to God’s kingdom. [5] In some accounts, one must be married in the Holy of Holies of the temple in order to obtain the highest of the three degrees of glory. [6] Thus, the plurality of the heavens is among the most universal of ancient doctrines, with special glories represented by the moon, stars, and sun. [7] Those who could not receive all the necessary ordinances regarding the gnosis, or required knowledge in this life, could receive them beyond the grave. [8] The account of Christ's descensus ad infernos, or his journey to the spirit world after his death to preach the gospel, is another doctrine common to many manuscripts. [9] Christ does not go to the wicked, however; he goes to his former prophets to organize an ecclesia....
When I read this, I was comfortable with the basis for most of these statements based on previous reading I have done, but the statement that raised my eyebrows the most was the sentence in question. I scanned the footnotes and noticed that the intriguing #6 did not seem easy to look at right away. Curious but lacking time, I finished my blog post, and now finally am checking up on this statement, urged on by Alvin's pointed comment.

After some review, at the moment I would say that Ostler's phrasing is too strongly slanted toward the LDS position, yet has a plausible basis. If he happens upon this post and has anything further to say, I would welcome that input.

So does Ostler's footnote #6 support the statement that "In some accounts, one must be married in the Holy of Holies of the temple in order to obtain the highest of the three degrees of glory"? Here is the footnote:
6. Eric Segelberg, "The Coptic Gospel according to Philip and Its Sacramental System," Numen 7 (1960): 198-199; "The Holy of Holy Ones Is the Bridal Chamber" (Gospel of Philip 117.24-5). "The Woman is united to her husband in the Bridal Chamber" (Gospel of Philip 119.17-29). Cf. Gospel of Philip. 4-8 and 124.6ff.
Does the Gospel of Philip, a document dating perhaps to the 3rd century with obvious gnostic influences, really say that you have to be married in the temple to obtain the highest of three degrees of glory? I would like to say, "See for yourself!" by simply pointing you to a translation of the Gospel of Philip such as the one of Wesley Isenberg mentioned by Alvin, found at http://www.gnosis.org/naghamm/gop.html, but without some explanation, you might have the same reaction as Alvin.

First let me say that the Gospel of Philip strikes me as a text somewhat like a typical modern statement from the Chairman of the Federal Reserve Bank. When you first read it or hear it, it is puzzling and doesn't seem to say much of anything meaningful. But those with ears to hear can pick it apart, using the proper lens to elucidate its rich meaning so that they can respond appropriately, usually by panicking.

As I understand it, when the Gospel of Philip was written, the temple was long gone. But sacred rituals and teachings rooted in the temple continued among some parts of Judaism and Christianity. Temple imagery in the Gospel of Philip should not be taken as a literal description of what happened in the non-existent temple of that day. It might be better to take it as a collection of doctrines in one branch of Christianity rooted in temple lore and mysticism. Perhaps the sacraments were done in that day in imitation of or in memory of the old ways of the temple, perhaps using churches or private rooms in the absence of the temple they longed for.

Some of the Gospel of Philip's discussion is clearly symbolic or allegorical. But references to the rituals and to places like the Holy of Holies are not necessarily merely allegorical, in spite of the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem. Matthew Brown points out the potential for real ordinances with temple themes persisting among the early Christians.  In his 2008 presentation,  "The Israelite Temple and the Early Christians," Brown states:
[W]e can now turn to a large collection of early Christian initiation texts that was updated in 2003 by Dr. Maxwell Johnson of Notre Dame University. This collection is called Documents of the Baptismal Liturgy. Throughout these texts are references to temple terms such as laver, altar, sacrifice, incense, priest, Levite, and high priest. There are even statements in these documents that initiates are going to enter into the temple of God to receive certain ordinances and also enter into the Holy of Holies (the Liturgy of Jerusalem—from about 350 A.D.—uses both of these terms—temple and Holy of Holies—to describe the building where the liturgy takes place).
But however literal or symbolic its temple elements are, I suggest that the Gospel of Philip is a valuable text showing what some ancient Christians believed regarding marriage and other vital sacraments.

If you scan the text of the Gospel of Philip at Gnosis.org looking for statements related to marriage, you might find these passages:
Great is the mystery of marriage! For without it, the world would not exist....

Truth did not come into the world naked, but it came in types and images. The world will not receive truth in any other way. There is a rebirth and an image of rebirth. It is certainly necessary to be born again through the image. Which one? Resurrection. The image must rise again through the image. The bridal chamber and the image must enter through the image into the truth: this is the restoration. Not only must those who produce the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, do so, but have produced them for you. If one does not acquire them, the name ("Christian") will also be taken from him. But one receives the unction of the [...] of the power of the cross. This power the apostles called "the right and the left." For this person is no longer a Christian but a Christ.

The Lord did everything in a mystery, a baptism and a chrism and a eucharist and a redemption and a bridal chamber. [...] he said, "I came to make the things below like the things above, and the things outside like those inside. I came to unite them in the place." [...] here through types [...]and images. …

A bridal chamber is not for the animals, nor is it for the slaves, nor for defiled women; but it is for free men and virgins.

Through the Holy Spirit we are indeed begotten again, but we are begotten through Christ in the two. We are anointed through the Spirit. When we were begotten, we were united. None can see himself either in water or in a mirror without light. Nor again can you see in light without mirror or water. For this reason, it is fitting to baptize in the two, in the light and the water. Now the light is the chrism.

There were three buildings specifically for sacrifice in Jerusalem. The one facing the west was called "The Holy". Another, facing south, was called "The Holy of the Holy". The third, facing east, was called "The Holy of the Holies", the place where only the high priest enters. Baptism is "the Holy" building. Redemption is the "Holy of the Holy". "The Holy of the Holies" is the bridal chamber. Baptism includes the resurrection and the redemption; the redemption (takes place) in the bridal chamber. But the bridal chamber is in that which is superior to [...] you will not find [...] are those who pray [...] Jerusalem who [...] Jerusalem, [...] those called the "Holy of the Holies" [...] the veil was rent, [...] bridal chamber except the image [...] above. Because of this, its veil was rent from top to bottom. For it was fitting for some from below to go upward.

The powers do not see those who are clothed in the perfect light, and consequently are not able to detain them. One will clothe himself in this light sacramentally in the union.

If the woman had not separated from the man, she should not die with the man. His separation became the beginning of death. Because of this, Christ came to repair the separation, which was from the beginning, and again unite the two, and to give life to those who died as a result of the separation, and unite them. But the woman is united to her husband in the bridal chamber. Indeed, those who have united in the bridal chamber will no longer be separated. Thus Eve separated from Adam because it was not in the bridal chamber that she united with him....

In this world, the slaves serve the free. In the Kingdom of Heaven, the free will minister to the slaves: the children of the bridal chamber will minister to the children of the marriage. The children of the bridal chamber have just one name: rest. Altogether, they need take no other form, because they have contemplation, [...]. They are numerous [...] in the things [...] the glories [...].
I was uneasy after reading this, especially the part about the slaves serving the free, but before I panicked I remembered that this was NOT a Federal Reserve statement. Just an ancient Christian document. Whew.

First note that Ostler does cite two sentences from the Gospel of Philip which are actually there in the text: "The Holy of Holy Ones Is the Bridal Chamber" and "The Woman is united to her husband in the Bridal Chamber." In Isenberg's translation these become "'The Holy of the Holies' is the bridal chamber" and "But the woman is united to her husband in the bridal chamber." Close enough for me.

So what these two sentences and the associated passages appear to be saying is that one of the essential sacraments for salvation, perhaps the highest one of all, is sacrament of marriage, and that this union of man and woman takes place in the Holy of Holies (also called the bridal chamber, which, earlier in the text, is said to be mirrored, which is also intriguing). This sacrament appears to be essential for the full blessings of the Gospel in the Kingdom of Heaven. However, the concept of the three degrees of glory does not appear to be present in these passages, and that is the primary basis of the complaint posted at Mormanity. Did Ostler overreach or casually conflate the Gospel of Philip with other early Christian references that do more clearly speak of three degrees of glory?

Let's look at the first citation given in footnote 6, the Segelberg reference from the journal Numen. Initial searching took me to its JSTOR publisher, where I was planning to buy a copy of the article but could not because of a server problem at JSTOR. Later I found a Scribd version of the Numen volume where I could read the entire Segelberg reference. Segelberg gives special emphasis to the sentence translated above as "The Lord did everything in a mystery, a baptism and a chrism and a eucharist and a redemption and a bridal chamber." He sees this as a list of 5 sacraments, including nymphon (involving the bridal chamber).
The number of sacraments in the Gnostic system reflected in EP should then be five. They appear to be mentioned in their order of importance in the sacramental system. Baptism is of least importance...; the bride-chamber, finally, is the fulfillment which perhaps forms, as it were the conclusion of the rites of death. (p. 198)
Segelberg then addresses the three chambers of the temple which "should be thought as representing baptism, chrism, and nymphon [pertaining to the bride-chamber] in this order. 'Baptism contains the resurrection and the redemption, in order to flee into the bride-chamber'. The bride chamber is superior to the baptism and the chrism." (p. 199)

So perhaps if the progress from the first through the last of the three chambers of the temple is taken to represent the three heavens or three degrees of glory, then one could infer that the highest of the sacraments, associated with the highest and holiest of the three chambers of the temple mentioned in the Gospel of Philip, is essential for reaching the highest of the three degrees of glory. But Segelberg does not make that point expressly.

In other words, I assume that Ostler, in the context of other Christian sources (not the least of which is 1 Cor. 15:40-42 and Paul's reference to a third heaven), saw the Gospel of Philip's treatment of the three chambers of the temple, clearly symbolic of entering the presence of God, as a symbolic reference to three heavens. The most vital sacrament, marriage, is associated with the highest degree of holiness in those three chambers. But neither Segelberg nor the Gospel of Philip expressly refer to "three degrees of glory" for humans in heaven. (Interestingly, another scholar, Avril DeConick, uses the term "degree of holiness" to describe what each of the three chambers represent in the Gospel of Philip. I discuss her work in final section of this post.)

From an LDS perspective, it's possible to connect the dots and paraphrase the Gospel of Philip as Ostler did, but I think his one-sentence statement could have been expressed without directly invoking LDS terminology about the three degrees of glory. More explanation in that sentence would have been helpful. However, Ostler's whole passage is a telegraphic delivery of rather sensational but supported highlights from early Christianity that are relevant to the LDS temple tradition, briefly mentioned as background leading to the core of his discussion on the issue of sacred vestments. The wording in the sentence mentioning the degrees of glory could have been toned down or the footnote amplified with further references (see below), but this is a minor gap. There is actually serious content worth considering behind Ostler's brief statement and useful footnote.

Alvin, the commenter at Mormanity who complained about my endorsement of Ostler's work, may actually be right: "If you’re looking for an example of how misleading apologetics can be, this is a great one." Agreed, but I hope it's an example that won't just make you fume, but might make you ponder as well. There's often much more to LDS claims than just smoke and mirrored bridal chambers. 

Yes, LDS apologists do make mistakes. If you feel Ostler made a mistake with inadequate documentation and overreaching, let me help correct that by filling in some blanks. For starters, take a look at Barry Bickmore's book, Restoring the Ancient Church: Joseph Smith and Early Christianity, especially the chapter "Salvation History and Requirements" which has a section on the three degrees of glory and connections to early Christian teachings. That section was the basis for FairMormon.org's page on the three degrees of glory, which lists a variety of ancient Christian sources giving support for that concept.

Whoops! Never mind. I just noticed that there are numerous footnotes on that web page and especially in Barry's book, and unfortunately, I haven't checked them all yet. Sigh. That's why I also can't mention, by way of further interesting background, John A. Tvedtnes' 1999 presentation, "Early Christian and Jewish Rituals Related to Temple Practices." Another 50 footnotes? Forget it. Ditto for Matthew Brown's presentation, "The Israelite Temple and the Early Christians" with 47 mostly unchecked footnotes. Someday I'll be able to mention it in good faith, but not today.

Do you have some favorite temple-related sources whose footnotes you've carefully checked that we can share here?

Further Information:

For those interested in better understanding how the controversial gnostic document, the Gospel of Philip, links LDS concepts with some early Christian threads (mingled with questionable content, of course), there's another scholarly article I found helpful. It comes several decades after Segelberg's initial examination of the Gospel of Philip and challenges part of Segelberg's interpretation. I refer to April D. DeConick, "The True Mysteries: Sacramentalism in the 'Gospel of Philip,'" Vigiliae Christianae, Vol. 55, No. 3 (2001), pp. 225-261, http://www.jstor.org/stable/1584809, with the full text available for free at Rice.edu.

DeConick challenges Segelberg's view that the five sacraments listed in the Gospel of Philip are limited to five specific rituals, and raises that possibility that some sacraments transcend rites but, like marriage itself, involve life extensive experiences that bring us closer to God. I see that as a valuable perspective on marriage and sacraments that need not do away with the importance of the rites that launch those life experiences.

DeConick opens with an important review of Jewish traditions about the ascent into the presence of God, wherein temple rituals were to be transformative, providing secret knowledge of the ways of God and bringing one into God's presence. This again puts the LDS temple concept on solid ancient ground. She then speaks of the three temple shrines in the Gospel of Philip. She sees the Gospel of Philip as having a "celestial Temple tradition" that parallels the Jewish temple tradition.
It is plausible that these sacraments are understood on the spiritual level to represent the three rooms of the previously destroyed Temple: the ulam or vestibule, the hekhal or central room, and the devir or inner sanctum. Just as each of these rooms represents a greater degree of holiness within the Temple, so does each sacrament in Philip. Each stage in the ascent through the rooms of the heavenly Temple bring the believer closer to the devir, the Holy of Holies where the Presence of God dwells, seated upon the merkavah. As the believer moves through each Temple shrine, he is progressively transformed. For the Christian Gnostic, this ascent culminates in an eschatological experience at the much-anticipated End, where the believer is finally able to enter the Holy of Holies and gaze upon the Father, fully transformed. (pp. 230-231)
There is much more in DeConick's article that readers may find intriguing, such as "the association of baptism and chrism with the priesthood and admittance to the heavenly Temple" (p. 235), the important role of sacred garments mentioned in several places, anointing with oil, the significance of the sacrament and its link to the temple, and the powerful link between marriage and the Holy of Holies. On the latter point, DeConick observes that Hebrew words for marriage, consecration, temple and Holy of Holies are related (p. 246). Thus,
It seems then that the expression "Bridal Chamber" is really equivalent to the "Holy of Holies" when one understands how these words functioned in Hebrew!

So it should not be surprising to find that, in the Gospel of Philip, marriage is associated with the third shrine of the heavenly Temple, the Holy of Holies. On one level, Philip talks about marriage as a sacrament in terms of its human institution. On another level, it is understood to be the great eschatological event, the Bridal Chamber, when the cleansed and transformed spirit finally enters the Holy of Holies, marries his angel, and is granted to see the Father face to face. (p. 246)
Some of that certainly resonates with LDS concepts. Though parts of it confuse me, I agree with the Gospel of Philip on several points, including this one: "Great is the mystery of marriage!" I am also grateful to have married my sweet angel, and look forward to the future blessings the Gospel can bring.

Thursday, January 08, 2015

New Twists in the Debate Over Book of Mormon Origins

The Book of Mormon has long been a controversial book to the world, but we must also recognize that it is increasingly controversial within the Church. The debate over its origins — is it an authentic ancient document or modern fiction concocted by Joseph Smith? — occurs not just between Mormons and non-Mormons, or between the faithful and those losing their faith, but has also extended among the ranks of those who consider themselves faithful Mormons.

There are some who respect the Book of Mormon yet feel it is not derived from an ancient text but somehow stems from Joseph Smith's mind and his environment. That may seem bizarre to many faithful Mormons, but especially among academics, there are strong pressures to humanize the roots of our religion and the "keystone" thereof, seeing such things from a purely naturalistic perspective.

However inspiring and "truthy" the Book of Mormon may be, from that perspective it must ultimately be fiction. It is a perspective I reject and find inconsistent with my personal experience and with abundant evidence, beginning with the witnesses of the gold plates and the extensive evidences from the text itself and beyond.

But I feel it is vital to understand the debate if only to avoid being blind-sided and caught off guard when one finds occasional fellow Mormons teaching something quite surprising.

Two recent publications give insights into the ongoing debate over the origins of the Book of Mormon. One of these comes from the Mormon Interpreter, the publication edited by Daniel Peterson that is a leading source for scholarly investigation into LDS issues pertaining to our scriptures.

In apparent contrast comes an article from BYU's Maxwell Institute, once the banner carrier for LDS apologetics, which has gone through significant shape-shifting since casting out Dr. Peterson and distancing itself from apologetics. (However, the controversy over this article may be unnecessary, as I observe in an update below.)

The first article is "What Command Syntax Tells Us About Book of Mormon Authorship" by Stanford Carmack in Interpreter: A Journal of Mormon Scripture 13 (2015): 175-217. This is a highly technical and challenging article, but one that adds important new evidence to previous recent scholarly observations showing that the English language dictated by Joseph Smith during the translation of the Book of Mormon was not simply derived from the language of the King James Bible nor the English of Joseph's day.

Rather, there is a compelling case that the translation was somehow given in language predating the KJV by roughly a century or more. I mentioned this in my previous Nauvoo Times post, "The Debate Over Book of Mormon Translation: Loose or Tight?" Brother Carmack's latest contribution looks at the complex ways in which the verb "command" is used in the Book of Mormon, and multiple issues point to usage patterns that are surprisingly close to English around 1500, and significantly different from the statistical patterns of the KJV.

However this was done and why, it severely undercuts any theory that relies on Joseph Smith as the source of the translation. Carmack offers plausible reasons why these long-unnoticed characteristics of the original English point to a process outside of Joseph's abilities — in other words, evidence for detailed divine intervention in at least some aspects of the translation.

The controversial Maxwell Institute article comes from an LDS scholar who apparently embraces Mormonism but appears to be has been viewed  as casting at least some doubt on the historicity of the Book of Mormon. The article is "The Book of Mormon and Early America’s Political and Intellectual Tradition" by Benjamin E. Park, Journal of Book of Mormon Studies, 23 (2014): 167–75. Dr. Park, an associate editor of the Maxwell Institute’s Mormon Studies Review (the successor of the FARMS Review that Dr. Peterson edited from 1988 through June 2012) reviews David F. Holland, Sacred Borders: Continuing Revelation and Canonical Restraint in Early America (2011), and Eran Shalev, American Zion: The Old Testament as a Political Text from the Revolution to the Civil War (2013).

In his essay, Dr. Park appears [at first glance, anyway] to endorse the notion that the Book of Mormon is a product of Joseph Smith's environment and not a truly unique and miraculous book, as would seem to be required for any ancient New World text translated by divine power. He approvingly observes that the academic works he reviews help to "chop away at Mormonism’s distinctive message” and shed the “shackles” of “Mormon historiography’s exclusive nature.”

Update, Jan. 10: Dr. Park has made a statement at Times and Seasons that I just saw which seeks to address the controversy that has ensued. Here is part of his statement:
When I spoke of the methodological limitations of past discourse, I did not mean that viewing the Book of Mormon as an ancient text is a mistake. I simply meant that the important scholarly work on questions of central importance to an internal, predominantly Mormon audience has paved the way for a broader scholarly conversation about ways that Joseph Smith and his religion connected with other streams of nineteenth-century thought. I in no way expect or want scholarship that explores an ancient setting for the Book of Mormon and other questions of vital importance to Mormons to cease—indeed, the very first page of my review notes that these past discussions are both important and should continue. There is nothing about this new work that precludes continued attention to questions surrounding the text’s ancient origins. I was pleased to see that the very issue of the Journal of Book of Mormon Studies in which my review appeared featured several articles that explored the Book of Mormon’s ancient setting, a form of scholarship that the Maxwell Institute continues to support. I regret that the talk surrounding my emphasis on the nineteenth-century context has overshadowed the primary point of the last few pages of my review: that even the contextual frameworks ably provided by Holland and Shalev don’t fully capture the breadth and depth of the Book of Mormon, as the book continues to elude narrow categories of contemporary analysis.
This is a helpful statement, but I don't think this removes the controversy or eliminates the grounds for debate. I am glad to see that Park does not reject the ancient roots of the Book of Mormon. Perhaps Dr. Park in his role as a scholar addressing a broad audience did not realize how his words would be taken as undermining the authenticity of the Book of Mormon as an ancient book. And perhaps some readers like myself fail to fully appreciate the value of contextualizing the Book of Mormon and the roots of Mormon religion in light of related nineteenth century trends using modern scholarly tools and paradigms.

Indeed, it is fair to recognize that at least some aspects of the Book of Mormon, especially the language and the work of preparing a text, obviously had to be influenced in various ways by the linguistic and cultural environment of Joseph Smith. But as noted below, there may still be some serious surprises in that area that challenge all of our prior assumptions about the translation of the text. The purpose of this post is not to criticize Park but to point to some of those new but still very tentative surprises that might need to be considered in future debate, and which can be interesting areas for ongoing research.

For a publication coming from BYU's Maxwell Institute, this can easily be viewed as controversial material worthy of debate and response. Daniel Peterson briefly summarizes the controversy and challenges Park in his LDS blog at Patheos in the post, "Recovering, at long last, from the plague of Mormon exceptionalism." The comments there help reflect the depth of the controversy and the divide that can occur among LDS thinkers on both sides of the debate.

What I'd like to call attention to is the issue of the language of the Book of Mormon translation, which is an issue raised in Shalev's book and in Park's review. Here is an excerpt from Park, making reference to Shalev:
The book’s third chapter attempts to, as announced in its title, chart the “cultural origins of the Book of Mormon.” More particularly, the chapter examines the growth of what Shalev calls “pseudobiblical literature,” which used Elizabethan English and a biblical message in order to add a divine grounding to the nation’s message. During the early republic, Shalev explains, a preponderance of texts sought to imitate the Bible’s language and message while validating America’s destiny and purpose. “By imposing the Bible and its intellectual and cultural landscapes on America,” American Zion explains, “those texts placed the United States in a biblical time and frame, describing the new nation and its history as occurring in a distant, revered, and mythic dimension” (p. 100). These texts sought to collapse the distance between past and present—making both the Israelite story relevant as well as the ancient language accessible. This republicanization of the Bible possessed significant implications for American political culture. Beyond merely expanding their historical consciousness and placing America within an epic narrative of divine progress, the Old Testament added a pretext for such actions as those supposedly provoked by manifest destiny.

Ironically, the Book of Mormon appeared after the apex of this literary tradition. By the time Joseph Smith’s scriptural record was published, texts written in the Elizabethan style were on the decline, and most works were presented in a more modern, democratic style. On the one hand, this made the Book of Mormon the climax of the pseudobiblical tradition; on the other hand, the book acts as something of a puzzle. Shalev writes that the text “has been able to survive and flourish for almost two centuries not because, but in spite of, the literary ecology of the mid-nineteenth century and after” (p. 104). While this may be true—and Shalev is persuasive in showing how the Book of Mormon appeared at the most opportune time to take advantage of its linguistic flair—his framework overlooks the continued potential for creating a sacred time and message through the use of archaic language. Not only did other religious texts replicate King James verbiage throughout the nineteenth century, but so did varied authors like the antislavery writer James Branagan, who used antiquated language in order to provoke careful readings of his political pamphlets. Yet despite this potential oversight, Shalev’s use of the linguistic environment in order to contextualize the Book of Mormon is an underexplored angle that adds much to our understanding of the text.

Shalev is at his best when comparing the Book of Mormon to other pseudobiblical texts from the period, such as “The First Book of Chronicles, Chapter the 5th,” which was published in South Carolina’s Investigator only a few years before the Book of Mormon, as well as “A Fragment of the Prophecy of Tobias,” published serially in the American Mercury. The latter text is especially fascinating for Book of Mormon scholars, as the editor claims to have found this work that was hidden away in past centuries and that required a designated translator to reveal its important meaning for an American audience. These contemporary accounts are not meant to serve as potential sources for the Book of Mormon’s narrative—indeed, Shalev admits such an endeavor would be impossible—but they reaffirm the important lesson that the Book of Mormon is best seen as one of many examples that embody the same cultural strains and that its importance for American intellectual historians is best seen as part of a tapestry of scriptural voices that speak to a culture’s anxieties, hopes, and fears....

Shalev’s book offers a new context and asks new questions concerning the Book of Mormon’s linguistic and political context—issues that will certainly be taken up by future scholars
The Elizabethan language of the Book of Mormon is widely assumed by critics, non-LDS scholars, and some LDS people as evidence of Joseph Smith's authorship of the text, while those believing in the authenticity of the book have often defended that language as a reasonable stylistic choice for the divinely aided translation.

What is interesting now is that this entire debate may have been based on a faulty assumption, the assumption that the language Joseph dictated is KJV Elizabethan.

The recent work of Carmack, building on Royal Skousen's detailed analysis of the original text of the Book of Mormon, reveals a surprise that may turn the tables on the critics and some scholars: it isn't Elizabethan dating to the 1600s, but Early Modern English from a century or so before.

Why would the translation of the Book of Mormon somehow be dialed into an earlier version of English than that which Joseph knew from the KJV? I asked this question of Brother Carmack in the comments section at the Mormon Interpreter, and obtained this interesting response:
The Book of Mormon contains old, distinctive syntax that is nevertheless plain to the understanding. In view of Moses 1:39, the Lord wants us to take the Book of Mormon seriously. Many have begun to doubt the historicity of the book in part because they have decided that Joseph Smith is the author of the English-language text.

Ample syntactic evidence tells us that he could not have been the author. I am confident that the Lord knew that we would eventually find this out, and that we would learn about it at a time when we had a strong need for solid empirical evidence that the book was divinely translated, which points ineluctably to historicity.
Based on the distressing turn of events I see at the Maxwell Institute, I'd say This new evidence about the non-KJV origins of Book of Mormon English may be coming just in time. The timing, in fact, may be rather providential. But more research is needed on the linguistic relation of the original Book of Mormon text to Early Modern English and texts of Joseph's day. This could be quite interesting to see where this pursuit leads.

One thing I especially agree with in Park's essay and in Carmack's comments is the need for further scholarship in this area. It is a puzzling but intriguing vein that needs to be mined much more deeply using the tools and knowledge we now have that simply was not available a few years ago.