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

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

Coach Lindsay's Power Secret for Success in Tennis and in Life!

Roger Federer, courtesy of Wikipedia.
Tonight I'll confess to having watched some television (while diligently working on a crucial project, of course--hardly noticed the TV for at least some of the time). The Wimbledon semifinals tennis match between two charming tennis players, Roger Federer and Kevin Anderson, has been outstanding. I am a long-time Federer fan (from Switzerland, my beloved mission country!), but it's hard not to also cheer for Anderson, a fellow excessively tall person (oops, that's a microagression: I mean "altitudinally different"). Both are great athletes and great sports.

Like many people, I have a great deal of unearned self-confidence and consider myself to be a good tennis player, good enough to beat either of these men on any given day. Here I define "given day" to mean "day when my opponent is severely injured or in prison." But I'm an even better tennis coach. Through years of careful analysis of tennis, I have developed some sure-fire secrets of tennis success that I am sure would do much to improve the play even of these champions.

I'm revealing these secrets at no cost as a gift to my readers. First I'll review some basic  secrets, and then comes the real power secret.

Basic secrets you may already know:

#1: When receiving a serve, stand where the ball is going to come. Aces tend to do where you are not. You should have been over there, waiting for it. Come on!

#2. Hit the ball over the net and inside the lines. So simple, but so many points are lost by not following this overlooked secret.

#3. When serving, hit the ball to where your opponent isn't standing or likely to reach. Amazing how often this basic secret is overlooked. 

But these secrets are for winning individual points. The power secret that you are about to learn is not about running around all day trying to win a point here or a point there. It's about focusing on the one thing that really matters: not losing the match.

Here's the critical insight: in the end, winning a match comes down to the final point, the match point. If you never lose a match point, you will never lose a match. That's the key! That's the secret! Secret, you ask? Yes! In fact, it's obvious that even Federer himself doesn't fully understand this secret and it's proper application, which you are about to learn.

In this match I'm watching tonight, like almost all matches I've seen, players wear themselves out running back and forth across the court to hit the ball in order to win individual points. Points that don't really matter in the end because they are not the match point! Remember, the winner of the match is the one who wins what? That's right: the match point! Now here is the practical guidance you need for success, Coach Lindsay's Secret Power Tip:

When playing tennis, always check: Is this the match point? If not, let it go. Relax. Save your energy. Don't chase the ball like crazy for a point that doesn't matter. Save all your energy for the one point that does matter: the match point, and just make sure you win it. As long as you win the match point, you will never lose. It's that simple!

Don't sweat the small stuff, don't worry about anything except what really matters: avoiding the ultimate disaster when it's immediately before you. Until then, let it go and enjoy!

Coach Lindsay's Power Secret has not yet affected competitive tennis (understandable--it was unknown to the world until today), but the same principle seems to be at work in many other parts of the economy in the US and other nations:
  • Do we have hyperinflation? Are hungry mobs rampaging in the streets? No? No worry, let's print more money to stimulate the economy. 
  • Have they turned off my utilities or shut off my phone service? No? Then relax and use that credit card to spend a little more money that I don't have. 
  • Am I starving? No? This might be a good time to take a break year before looking for a job. 
  • Are the checks we issue to teachers, firemen, and other government employees bouncing, and are angry mobs of unpaid workers burning down our government office buildings demanding their pension money? No? Let's increase our debt even more to keep our state or city government functioning. (No, I'm not singling out Illinois or New Jersey here.)
  • Have all the people with the capital and sills needed to create jobs left our state already? No? Then let's crank up taxes on them even more. 
  • Has the economy ground to a halt? No? Oh, yes? Um, fix the stats to say it's healthy, and then let's divert more of our nation's capital on unnecessary war in nations that aren't attacking us.
  • Have I lost my job? No? Then no need to develop new skills. Good time to turn on the TV or open up YouTube and watch something fun. Maybe even a little tennis. (Oops!)
So you can play tennis and economics and life the old school way, working hard and being wise and frugal and nervous about the future every step of the way, or you can relax and stay focused on what matters: avoiding disaster by not worrying about it until you really, really need to worry, which is usually a distant tomorrow, right?

You know Coach Lindsay's Power Secret now. Enjoy!

Friday, July 06, 2018

Misdiagnosis!

A few days ago a grieving mom in Shanghai, a good friend of ours, shared some tragic news with me: her teenage son had pancreatic cancer, one of the worst cancers. Her son was likely to die soon, if the doctor was correct. Only about 20% of pancreatic cancer patients live past 5 years. She was almost overcome with grief and had been crying for a couple of days. But even though she had gone to an expensive hospital that caters to foreign clients, she wasn't sure she should trust the doctor. The mother called me to see if I knew where she could turn for help. She didn't know that one of my sons happens to be a doctor treating cancer as a radiation oncologist at a leading US clinic.

I received a photo of the lab report for the boy and sent it to my son. The report mentioned a scan of internal organs showing no unusual problems indicative of cancer. There were no other symptoms, just a slightly elevated CA-19-9 antigen level, with a value of 45 instead of a desired maximum of 37.

My son explained that the CA-19-9 test is not supposed to be used for diagnosing cancer on its own. Absent other symptoms of cancer, its predictive power for cancer is less than 1%, he said. When he learned that the son was just a teenager, he said it's even less likely to be pancreatic cancer because that disease is almost unheard of in young people. The mother's grief was turned to relief.

I later found scientific publications confirming what my son had said. For example, see K. Umashankar et al., "The clinical utility of serum CA 19-9 in the diagnosis, prognosis and management of pancreatic adenocarcinoma: An evidence based appraisal," Journal of Gastrointestinal Oncology, 2012 Jun; 3(2): 105–119; doi: 10.3978/j.issn.2078-6891.2011.021:
CA 19-9 serum levels have a sensitivity and specificity of 79-81% and 82-90% respectively for the diagnosis of pancreatic cancer in symptomatic patients; but are not useful as a screening marker because of low positive predictive value (0.5-0.9%).
Other articles indicate that diabetics, such as this young man, can have inflated CA-19-9 values (this applies at least for Type 2 diabetes--I'm not sure if CA-19-9 artifacts from Type 1 diabetes has been investigated), one of many possible alternative causes of elevated CA-19-9 values. Alternative causes for the elevated test result do not appear to have been  considered by the doctor who terrified a mom by declaring that it was probably pancreatic cancer. Again, the test can be useful in tracking the progress of treatment of a known cancer, but should not be used to diagnose cancer in the absence of other evidence, as in this case.

The family still needs to be cautious and follow up on the possible causes of the inflated test result, but it was only slightly elevated unlike the much higher scores that I've seen reported in patients who actually do have pancreatic cancer.

To be fair, the doctor may have just said pancreatic cancer was one of several possibilities and he did ask the mom to go get further tests, but whatever he actually said or meant to say, what she understood was that her son probably had a usually lethal cancer. He also told her not to discuss it with her son or husband until they had done further tests, which may mean that he didn't want the family to be all panicked for nothing, but the effect of that requirement was that the mother was all panicked and all alone, unable to discuss her grief with others.

In deep grief, the mother had been fasting and praying, unconsoled. After fasting, she felt she should turn to someone to get another opinion, but didn't know where to go. She feels it was inspiration that she reached out to me, not knowing that my son would be able to help.

I am so grateful that my son was able to help bring peace to a mother who had been crying for a couple of days over the "fake news" she received from a generally good hospital. I suggest that here or anywhere else you should be open to the possibility that some doctors don't know what they are talking about. And of course, that can apply to what I've said here. Do your homework, ask questions, and be cautious about what others declare.

I raise this story as an example of how much pain a misdiagnose can cause. This was a minor case compared to misdiagnoses that lead to unnecessary surgery, improper amputation, blindness, or death. It reminds us that even experts can and often do make serious mistakes.

Misdiagnosis is a problem not just for physical health but also for our spiritual health. There are many who have been turned to unnecessary fear and even panic about Mormons and the LDS faith because of a local expert, often a pastor or religious friend, who declares that Mormonism is a cancer and that Mormons aren't even Christian or don't believe in the Jesus of the Bible. This kind of misdiagnosis is more outrageous than treating a mildly elevated CA-19-9 test as evidence of pancreatic cancer in a young person. The hear, anger, and confusion that has been caused by this persistent misdiagnosis truly is malignant.

There are LDS people who panic and abandon what was once a strong testimony over an expert somewhere who proclaims that Mormonism is a cancer or proven to be wrong. Sometimes the diagnosis is based on a rigged or improperly executed test, and other times there is a metric of some kind that points to a genuine problem, but a problem that should not be lethal to a testimony. Such problems can be due to the confusion and errors that always happen when mortals are allowed to do anything in the Church, no matter how much we want them to be infallible. More often than not, I think the real problem are inaccurate assumptions on our part about how God should do things or about what may or may not occur in a Church led by prophets and apostles of God. Such problems are often linked to inadequate information on our part, requiring a recognition of our incomplete knowledge and the patience and faith to wait for more.

We see through a glass darkly in this life. Faith and patience will always be required (Luke 22:19). There will always be doubts that can be stirred up, but if we have found the pearly of great price through faith, study, patient following of God's counsel and the witness of the Holy Ghost, we should be prepared to deal with the inevitable onslaught of experts and other sources of doubt with a healthy dose of doubt itself, that is, to "doubt our doubts" -- a phrase that to me means to have a healthy dose of skepticism about the attacks made by various experts, and to have an even healthier dose of faith and patience as we seek guidance and help to cope with those doubts. Reaching out to others who may have experience and knowledge with the issue can be helpful. Fasting and seeking inspiration from the Lord may be essential.

Monday, June 25, 2018

Praise for Jared W. Ludlow’s New Book, Exploring the Apocrypha from a Latter-day Saint Perspective

Jared W. Ludlow’s new book, Exploring the Apocrypha from a Latter-day Saint Perspective (Springville, UT: Cedar Fort, Inc., 2018) is a valuable resource for Latter-day Saints seeking to better understand an important part of the sacred texts of Christianity and Judaism. Though not part of our official canon, they have been a part of the canon in several other faiths and are included in a majority of the Bibles used by Christians around the world. For Latter-day Saints, according to a statement regarding the Apocrypha in Doctrine and Covenants 91, we are told that “There are many things contained therein that are true” (vs. 1) and that “whoso is enlightened by the Spirit shall obtain benefit therefrom” (vs. 5), in spite of the “interpolations by the hands of men” that are also at play (vs. 2).

Latter-day Saints, unfortunately, have tended to ignore the Apocrypha, but there is value that we should be extracting. Ludlow’s book, in my opinion, is precisely the kind of guide that many of us need in order to know where the richest sources of value can be found and what the key lessons are that we can learn.

Ludlow begins with a helpful overview of what the Apocrypha is. The 183 chapters in that collection come from early Jewish writers well after the latest books in our current Old Testament were written (ca. 400 BC), with many dated to around the first and second centuries BC. These texts were circulated among Greek-speaking Jews as the Septuagint translation from Hebrew to Greek was conducted. Many appear to be original Greek compositions rather than translations from Hebrew or Aramaic to Greek. Ludlow groups them according to three categories and considers each text in this order:

Biblical Expansions
  • The Additions to the Book of Esther
  • Daniel Stories: Song of the Three Young Men, Susanna, Bel and the Dragon
  • First Book of Esdras (Greek form of the name Ezra)
  • Second Book of Esdras (the only Apocrypha text not from the Greek Septuagint but found in several Old Latin manuscripts)
  • Prayer of Manasseh
  • Baruch and Letter of Jeremiah
Heroic Stories
  • Tobit
  • Judith
  • 1 Maccabees
  • 2 Maccabees
Wisdom Literature
  • Wisdom of Solomon
  • Ecclesiasticus or the Wisdom of Jesus ben Sirach

As Ludlow reviews each of the books of the Apocrypha, he thoroughly illustrates how “the Apocrypha can be a valuable tool for helping us understand the political, cultural, and religious background of Jesus Christ and his contemporaries” (p. 4) and how these texts provide teachings and stories relevant to Latter-day Saints.

Ludlow explains that as Jewish and Christian groups debated the value of these texts, they were given the label apocrypha, or “things that are hidden.” It was a positive label for some and a negative label for others. The term is also applied to many other texts outside the Apocrypha that were falsely attributed to various prophets and apostles (generally known as the “Pseudepigrapha,” a Greek term describing texts with a “false superscription”), but Ludlow only considers the closed set of books formally known as the Apocrypha.

Ludlow reviews the history of the debate over these books, where views have varied widely. The Catholic Church in the 1546 Council of Trent declared all the books to be deemed canonical except 2 Esdras and the Prayer of Manasseh. Protestants have generally rejected them but some such as Martin Luther saw value in some of the Apocrypha and portions have often been printed in Protestant Bibles.

Despite the Apocrypha’s checkered canonical history, there can be no doubt that it has impacted Christian and Jewish cultures. In Jewish practice, Hanukkah has become a central festival and the Maccabees form a part of Jewish identity. In the Christian world, the Apocrypha has influenced poets, artists, hymn-writers, dramatists, composers, and even explorers such as Christopher Columbus, who used a passage in 2 Esdras about the earth being composed of six parts land to seek financial support for his journey westward. Even in early Christian sites like the catacombs of Rome, depictions of Apocrypha scenes have been found. (p. 12)

Ludlow devotes a chapter to reviewing the history of LDS views regarding the Apocrypha. The beginning of LDS inquiry into the Apocrypha comes from Joseph Smith, wondering if his inspired translation of the Bible should include the Apocrypha. The answer through revelation on March 9, 1833 is now printed in Section 91 of the Doctrine and Covenants:
1 Verily, thus saith the Lord unto you concerning the Apocrypha—
There are many things contained therein that are true, and it is mostly
translated correctly;
2 There are many things contained therein that are not true, which are
interpolations by the hands of men.
3 Verily, I say unto you, that it is not needful that the Apocrypha
should be translated.
4 Therefore, whoso readeth it, let him understand, for the Spirit
manifesteth truth;
5 And whoso is enlightened by the Spirit shall obtain benefit therefrom;
6 And whoso receiveth not by the Spirit, cannot be benefited. Therefore
it is not needful that it should be translated. Amen.
Joseph made other statements that points to the value of the Apocrypha, and apparently respected them enough to include the Apocrypha in the “complete Bible” that was deposited in the Nauvoo Temple (p. 24). However, they don’t seem to have influenced his sermons or teachings (p. 27), though a few other early LDS leaders occasionally used small portions from the Apocrypha.

Ludlow’s review of the contents and highlights of each of the books of the Apocrypha provides valuable historical information that will help readers better appreciate the cultural, religious, and political setting as the New Testament begins. One can also sometimes see influence from the Apocrypha on New Testament writers, such as the Book of Judith’s treatment on searching the depths of God and not knowing his mind, which appears to have influenced Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 2:6-7,12 (p. 133).

There are also occasional nuggets of particular interest to LDS readers, such as the Wisdom of Solomon’s teaching on the Creation, praising God for his all-powerful hand “which created the world out of formless matter” (Wisdom of Solomon 11:17, see Ludlow p. 188), an acknowledgment that creation was not ex nihilo.

The Wisdom of Solomon also has brief references to the premortal existence (p. 193). Indeed, it was the final section on the Wisdom literature of the Apocrypha that I most keenly enjoyed, and I think many LDS readers will find particular value in those books and that portion of Ludlow, though the entire treatment is clear, interesting, and well suited for a broad LDS audience.

In his closing remarks, Ludlow nicely summarizes the nature of the diverse and complex texts he has treated:
The Apocrypha consists of a variety of texts making it both interesting and challenging. Comprising wisdom literature, apocalypses, tales, and scriptural expansions, the Apocrypha runs the gamut of ancient religious literature. Its eclectic collection is reflected in how each book of the Apocrypha is handled in this work; varied approaches are used in different chapters because of the diverse styles of the texts. Yet despite their diversity, the texts give us a glimpse into the world of Second Temple Judaism and its Hellenistic influence. These texts are also important to understanding the historical background to Jesus and the early Christians and the concerns and aspirations of early Jews and Christians. (p. 223)
I strongly recommend Ludlow's thoughtful work for any LDS reader interested in better understanding the broad body of treasured ancient texts encompassed in the Apocrypha.

Sunday, June 24, 2018

Joseph Smith's Universe and Some Ruminations on Chinese Sci-Fi

One of my favorite projects recently was preparing an unusual article for The Interpreter that looks at Joseph Smith's cosmology in light of some truly eye-opening views on the cosmos found in recent Chinese science fiction. Along the way I look at some common charges that what Joseph Smith gave us isn't all that novel after all and just a cheap regurgitation of ideas already abounding in his day. The article, which I hope you'll read and share, is "Joseph Smith’s Universe vs. Some Wonders of Chinese Science Fiction," Interpreter: A Journal of Mormon Scripture 29 (2018): 105-152. It was a bit risky for The Interpreter to publish this unusual piece, but I hope it won't tarnish them too much.

In looking at how others in Joseph's day reacted to the increasing awareness that there are many stars in the galaxy, and then considering how modern theology deals with the overwhelming magnitude of the Creation that we can now witness through the Hubble telescope and other means, I continued to be struck with the significance of the question, "Why bother?" If God is wholly other, totally immaterial, utterly incomprehensible, totally fulfilled independently of us troublesome humans, why bother with the Creation? So that we can admire His works, some say. But why does He need anyone to admire Him? Why go to such length to create such an astounding cosmos? I find much more compelling guidance in the universe of Joseph Smith, where God declares what His motivation and agenda is: "This is my work and my glory, to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man," the statement made not of a wholly other entity, but of a heavenly Parent yearning for the welfare of His children, His sons and daughters.

What Joseph gave us is much more meaningful that we may have realized.

Postscript: An Unnecessary Distraction from "Electric Universe" Supporters

Talking about science fiction, cosmology, and religion in the same breath is a risky endeavor because it sometimes brings out some pretty wild statements about science from some quarters. Some people have gotten caught up in some strange theories that sound "educated" and "better than Einstein" but really lack a plausible foundation. Already in my Inbox is a dogmatic comment from someone declaring that talk about the Big Bang, etc., is all ridiculous compared to the real science of the "Electric Universe," the theory that plasma and electricity, not gravity, dominate the interactions between the bodies of the universe.

The Electric Universe (EU) theory holds, for example, that the sun is not driven by fusion at its core, but is a plasma ball whose electromagnetic forces are the key to its behavior and its interactions with the solar system. But that aspect of the theory utterly fails and should take about two minutes to debunk. The fusion model predicts a significant flux of neutrinos coming from the core of the sun. The EU model does not. The fusion model predicts that the photons from the sun should show a smooth spectrum typical of thermal radiation, while the EU model, with the sun more like a big fluorescent light, should have a much different spectrum with numerous share lines, not s smooth curve. Both issues provide strong empirical support for the fusion model and contradict the EU model. See "Testing the Electric Universe" by Brian Koberlein, February 25, 2014. Further details on the neutrino issue are discussed by Brian Koberlein in "Neutrino Rain," October 6, 2014.

'The EU model disputes relativity and many other aspects of science for which there is growing and detailed empirical support. Good theories make specific predictions that can then be verified. Bad theories fail over and over, and require special patching to try to add on something to explain the contradictory data. Revision of many details of theories is common and does not of itself rule out the merit of a general theory that was incomplete, but when the theory fails to make any meaningful predictions that can later be verified, and when every test becomes a question mark or direct refutation, there's a problem.

Further resources on this unnecessary distraction (a distraction because this post is about the article at The Interpreter, not about radical alternatives to mainstream science):
But to get a feel for how debates tend to go when the EU theory is being advocated, spend some time reading the comments for "Testing the Electric Universe" by Brian Koberlein, where Dr. Koberlein shows incredible patience in dealing with basic issues over and over. He also raises many other important issues along the way, including the important observation that making a little ball of cool plasma in a laboratory that looks like the sun and shows some interesting hot spots or other sunlike things does mean that it has any plausible connection to the complex phenomena that the massive sun actually has. Yes, plasma can be bright and hot and do some cool things, but the laboratory experiments I've read about don't come close to providing a plausible model for the sun--the mathematical and physical rigor needed is not there. Making something tiny look like something big doesn't mean the tiny lab model in a highly contrived setting tells us anything meaningful about a vastly bigger and much different system.

Thursday, June 14, 2018

Touched by the Worldwide Youth Devotional with President Nelson and His Wife

Although it's been several years since I qualified as a youth in the Church, I was still delighted to listen to and read the recent Worldwide Youth Devotional featuring President Russel M. Nelson and his wife, Wendy, two of the most youthful old people around. The energy and vitality of that ninety-something President of the Church is remarkable.

In encouraging our young people to become more involved in the greatest work on earth, President Nelson offered 5 suggestions for things they could do now to become and achieve something more. I was quite intrigued by his first recommendation: a seven-day fast from social media. Here I am, struggling with guilt over not doing more with social media, while others suffer from the opposite problem and are entangled in a pseudo world where social media dominates too much of their life. His challenge to the youth on this issue began with a story that reflects not only wisdom from the parents of a young man, but a healthy willingness to learn displayed by the initially furious young man himself. I love what he learned in the experiment President Nelson describes:
And now I invite you to prepare yourself by doing five more things—five things that will change you and help you change the world.

First, disengage from a constant reliance on social media, in order to decrease its worldly influence upon you.

Let me tell you about one young man your age, the grandson of a dear friend of mine. He is popular with his friends and a leader in his high school. Recently, his parents found things on his phone that were inappropriate for a follower of Jesus Christ. They insisted that he go off social media for a time. They exchanged his smartphone for a flip phone, and he panicked. How would he stay connected with his friends?

Initially he was furious with his parents, but after just a few days, he thanked them for taking his smartphone away. He said, “I feel free for the first time in a long time.” Now he calls his friends on his flip phone to connect with them. He actually talks with them instead of always texting!

What other changes have occurred in this young man’s life? He says he now loves being free from the fake life that social media creates. He is actively engaged in life instead of having his head in his phone all the time. He participates in outdoor recreational activities instead of playing video games. He is more positive and helpful in his home. He seeks opportunities to serve. He listens better in church, has a brighter countenance, is so much happier, and is actively preparing for his mission! All this because he took a break from the negative influence of social media.
President Nelson then called for a seven-day fast and reminded us of further problems from excessive reliance on social media:
So, my first invitation to you today is to disengage from a constant reliance on social media by holding a seven-day fast from social media. I acknowledge that there are positives about social media. But if you are paying more attention to feeds from social media than you are to the whisperings of the Spirit, then you are putting yourself at spiritual risk—as well as the risk of experiencing intense loneliness and depression. You and I both know youth who have been influenced through social media to do and say things that they never would do or say in person. Bullying is one example.

Another downside of social media is that it creates a false reality. Everyone posts their most fun, adventurous, and exciting pictures, which create the erroneous impression that everyone except you is leading a fun, adventurous, and exciting life. Much of what appears in your various social media feeds is distorted, if not fake. So give yourself a seven-day break from fake!

Choose seven consecutive days and go for it! See if you notice any difference in how you feel and what you think, and even how you think, during those seven days. After seven days, notice if there are some things you want to stop doing and some things you now want to start doing.

This social media fast can be just between you and the Lord. It will be your sign to Him that you are willing to step away from the world in order to enlist in His youth battalion.
I've been amazed at how social media leads people to become digital savages. The sudden formation of virtual mobs to mock and slander others is a painful phenomenon to observe or to experience. The ease at which insults are hurled and judgements made on the moral values or human worth of others is disheartening. The impersonal nature of writing short quips and the ability to hide behind a screen when insulting distant targets brings out the brute and the coward in many people.  Breaking away from that environment will be a healthy step for many. Ditto for dropping the savagery and mindless waste of time that typifies many online games. I am astounded at how often I learn of parents troubled over their promising child who insists on spending every spare moment shooting people or smashing things up via video games.

President Nelson's call is to make something more of our lives and to use our time for things that really matter. Bravo!

Overall, I was impressed and touched by the messages shared by both President Nelson and his wife, Wendy. We are so fortunate to have such people in our midst. Now I need to just find some more time to get out there and (politely) Tweet about this!

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

Out of the Best Books: Donald Parry's Valuable Poetic Parallelisms in the Book of Mormon

If you don't have this book already, I recommend that you download (for free!) one of the best tools for study of the Book of Mormon, Donald W. Parry's  Poetic Parallelisms in the Book of Mormon: The Complete Text Reformatted (Provo, UT: Maxwell Institute for Religious Research, 2007), available as a PDF file from the Maxwell Institute. This text is reformatted to distinguish narrative from sections employing various forms of parallelism. For example, it is now especially easy to see many examples of Book of Mormon chiasmus just by browsing the text.

In my opinion, one of the more valuable ways to enhance one's study and appreciation of the Book of Mormon is to recognize the portions that employ the many forms of parallelism that are known in ancient Near Eastern tests, especially the Old Testament. The interesting structures and parallels employed are often difficult to note when reading a translation that formats everything as prose. Reading Isaiah, for example, can be much more meaningful when it has been formatted in verses reflecting the underlying Hebrew poetry. While any effort to reformat the Book of Mormon based on possible poetical elements in the original text will face speculation and error due to our current lack of the original gold plates to inspect, it is still possible to identify many seemingly deliberate examples of parallelism that are worthy of consideration. Parry does not capture all the interesting parallel-rich passages that may be present (in part because some candidates, like Janus parallelism or other structures, have only recently been identified), but he has done a great job in capturing many and in highlighting many cases where more may be going on in the text than a casual reader would recognize. It's definitely worth keeping on your electronic devices and using it regularly as you explore the richness of the Book of Mormon, an ancient "voice from the dust" worthy of much more attention.

Sunday, June 03, 2018

The Oldest Hebrew Inscription and the Psalms in the Book of Mormon

Tiny silver amulets engraved with Hebrew
from the era of King Josiah, found at Ketef Hinnon,
Israel. From the Biblical Archaeology Society.
My recent publication on David and the Psalms in the Book of Mormon ("Too Little or Too Much Like the Bible?" at The Interpreter: A Journal of Mormon Scripture), responded to some recent critical claims against the Book of Mormon by showing, among other things, that the Book of Mormon makes greater and more sophisticated use of the Psalms than one critical scholar recognized. However, one of the more interesting uses of the Psalms was not mentioned.

Psalm 67:1 is especially interesting because it is related to the oldest Hebrew inscriptions known,  inscriptions that probably date to Lehi's day. Interestingly, it was engraved on silver metal, two very small pieces, not a large book, but still legitimate inscriptions on ancient precious metal apparently serving as amulets. It was discovered near Jerusalem at Ketef Hinnon. The story and significance of the two engravings are discussed by one of the scholars involved in bringing that discovery to light, the Israeli archaeologist Gabriel Barkay in "The Riches of Ketef Hinnom," Biblical Archaeology Review, 35:4 (July/August September/October 2009).
[Each of the] texts of the two inscriptions ... contains slight variations of parts of the three blessings that appear in the famous priestly blessing from Numbers 6:24–26:
The Lord bless you and keep you.
The Lord make his face to shine upon you, and be gracious to you.
The Lord lift up his countenance upon you, and give you peace.
These are the words with which observant Jews still bless their children before the Sabbath meal on Friday night and that are also used in prayers in synagogues....

The amulets can be securely dated on a combination of three grounds. Paleographically they can be dated by the shape and form of the letters to the late seventh century B.C.E., before the Babylonian conquest. Stratigraphically the first amulet was found only about 7 centimeters (less than 3 in.) above the repository floor, which testifies to its relative antiquity within the repository assemblages, which rose to about 2 feet total. The second plaque was found in the innermost part of the repository, far from the entrance, among the earliest deposits. Finally, the date suggested paleographically corresponds to the chronological horizon of the late Iron Age pottery found in the repository. The silver plaques thus come from the late seventh century B.C.E., or the time of the prophet Jeremiah and King Josiah.

The implications of this dating are startling. First of all, it means that these texts on our silver plaques are the oldest composition of words similar to Biblical verses in existence. The earliest Biblical texts among the Dead Sea Scrolls date to about 250 B.C.E. at the earliest. That means that our texts are older than the next oldest Biblical texts by nearly 400 years.

Moreover, these inscriptions are the only texts of the First Temple period with clear similarities to Biblical verses.

This has important implications for the Biblical text. The Pentateuch, or Five Books of Moses, is usually divided by text-critical scholars into four source strands, labeled J (for Yahwist, or Jahwist in German), E (for Elohist), D (for Deuteronomist) and P (for the Priestly Code). The priestly blessing from Numbers, which is quoted in our silver plaques, is generally considered part of P, the Priestly Code. (So, too, the passage from Deuteronomy 7:9, which has echoes in the larger silver amulet.)

There is a major scholarly disagreement as to the date of the Priestly Code. Some scholars contend it predates the Babylonian conquest. Others say it is later. Our two texts seem to support those who contend that the Priestly Code was already in existence, at least in rudimentary form, in the First Temple period.

The priestly blessing seems to have been widely used during the First Temple period. Its influence can be traced both in the Bible itself (see Psalm 67:1, for example) and in early Hebrew epigraphy. In addition to our references, an inscription painted on a large pithos at Kuntillet ‘Ajrud in the Sinai Peninsula contains the Hebrew words YBRK wYŠ MRK wYHY ‘M ’DNY, which can be translated as “[may God] bless you and keep you and be with my Lord.” This, too, dates to the First Temple period.

The Ketef Hinnom excavations have made an enormous contribution, not only to our understanding of life in Jerusalem more than 2,500 years ago, but also to our understanding of the development of the text of the Hebrew Bible.
Psalm 67:1, as noted above, is strongly related to the inscriptions. The KJV is: "God be merciful unto us, and bless us; and cause his face to shine upon us; Selah."

Psalm 67:1 is mentioned in a Book of Mormon Central article just released on May 29, 2018, "How Do the Psalms Quoted in the Book of Mormon Teach about the Temple?":
Another related and important part of the ancient temple rites was the idea that when the Lord appeared, He would “lift up” the light of His countenance and His face would “shine” upon the people. This was part of the priestly blessing (Numbers 6:24–26) and is mentioned repeatedly in the Psalms [the footnote here cites Psalm 67:1]. The sight of the shining face of the Lord was supposed to effect a transfiguration in those who saw it so that their faces would also shine, as was the case with Moses on Mount Sinai (Exodus 34:29–35).

Again, this is exactly what happened during Jesus’ visit to the Book of Mormon people. In 3 Nephi 19:25, after Jesus had prayed with his chosen disciples, the record states:
And it came to pass that Jesus blessed them as they did pray unto him; and his countenance did smile upon them, and the light of his countenance did shine upon them, and behold they were as white as the countenance and also the garments of Jesus …
These findings demonstrate that Book of Mormon authors had access to at least some of the Psalms, either from the plates of brass or from memory.
So the Book of Mormon appropriately integrates language from a text in Psalm 67:1 and Numbers 6:24-26,  once thought to be a creation from a late Priestly tradition that would not be written until long after Lehi and Nephi left Jerusalem, but now provided with surprising archaeological evidence that those words were known and sacred to the Israelites in Lehi's day. Those words were important enough to be inscribed on thin silver plaques or plates, but rolled up and centuries later unrolled and interpreted in our day.

One little discovery provides helpful evidence simultaneously against three arguments that have been made against the Book of Mormon, the first dated, the second still current, and the third very new from leading scholarship at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary:
  1. Writing and preserving scriptures on metal plates anciently was unknown and is a ridiculous concept (now it's much trendier to say that this would have been obvious to Joseph Smith since everyone knows this).
  2. The Book of Mormon cannot be authentic in light of the Documentary Hypothesis because it relies on some material from the Priestly source that was not in existence in Lehi's day. 
  3. The Book of Mormon cannot be from authentic ancient Israelites because it does not use the Psalms heavily like some other biblical writers. 
There has been debate over the dating and interpretation of the scrolls, but the evidence appears to be in favor of Dr. Barkay's assessment. For background, see “Bible Texts on Silver Amulets Dated to First Temple Period,” Haaretz.com, Sept. 19, 2004. See also “Ketef Hinnom,” Wikipedia.org. Also see Stephen Caesar, “The Blessing of the Silver Scrolls,” BibleArchaeology.org, 2010. The dating and interpretation was challenged by Nadav Na’aman, “A New Appraisal of the Silver Amulets from Ketef Hinnom,” Israel Exploration Journal 61/2 (2011): 184–195. That work was then rebutted by Shmuel Ahituv, “A Rejoinder to Nadav Naaman’s ‘A New Appraisal of the Silver Amulets from Ketef Hinnom,’” Israel Exploration Journal 62/2 (2012): 223–232. (I have that article but don't have a link to an online version.)

Friday, June 01, 2018

The High Suicide Rate in the Mountain States: Possible Effect of Altitude

The relatively higher suicide rates in Utah and other Mountain States has often been blamed on Mormonism or the culture of the Mountain West or the ready availability of guns, but one factor that some scientists and medical professionals are beginning to recognize is altitude itself.

Here is an abstract from a scientific publication, Rebekah S Huber et al. (including Perry Renshaw, mentioned below), "Altitude is a Risk Factor for Completed Suicide in Bipolar Disorder," Medical Hypotheses, 82/3 (March 2014): 377–381:
Bipolar disorder (BD) is a severe brain disease that is associated with a significant risk for suicide. Recent studies indicate that altitude of residence significantly affects overall rate of completed suicide, and is associated with a higher incidence of depressive symptoms. Bipolar disorder has shown to be linked to mitochondrial dysfunction that may increase the severity of episodes. The present study used existing data sets to explore the hypothesis that altitude has a greater effect of suicide in BD, compared with other mental illnesses. The study utilized data extracted from the National Violent Death Reporting System (NVDRS), a surveillance system designed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) National Center for Injury Prevention and Control (NCIPC). Data were available for 16 states for the years 2005–2008, representing a total of 35,725 completed suicides in 922 U.S. counties. Random coefficient and logistic regression models in the SAS PROC MIXED procedure were used to estimate the effect of altitude on decedent’s mental health diagnosis. Altitude was a significant, independent predictor of the altitude at which suicides occurred (F = 8.28, p=0.004 and Wald chi-square=21.67, p < 0.0001). Least squares means of altitude, independent of other variables, indicated that individuals with BD committed suicide at the greatest mean altitude. Moreover, the mean altitude at which suicides occurred in BD was significantly higher than in decedents whose mental health diagnosis was major depressive disorder (MDD), schizophrenia, or anxiety disorder. Identifying diagnosis-specific risk factors such as altitude may aid suicide prevention efforts, and provide important information for improving the clinical management of BD.
The first such study I am aware of is C.A. Haws et al. (including Perry Renshaw), "The possible effect of altitude on regional variation in suicide rates," Medical Hypotheses, 73/4 (Oct. 2009): 587-90, with this abstract:
In the United States, suicide rates consistently vary among geographic regions; the western states have significantly higher suicide rates than the eastern states. The reason for this variation is unknown but may be due to regional elevation differences. States' suicide rates (1990-1994), when adjusted for potentially confounding demographic variables, are positively correlated with their peak and capital elevations. These findings indicate that decreased oxygen saturation at high altitude may exacerbate the bioenergetic dysfunction associated with affective illnesses. Should such a link exist, therapies traditionally used to treat the metabolic disturbances associated with altitude sickness may have a role in treating those at risk for suicide. 
Now a variety of additional studies have been published, with several cited in the Huber et al. article above. The lower concentration of oxygen at high altitudes can have an effect on serotonin and while that can be positive for many people, it can exacerbate or contribute to depression for others. Multiple studies now point to altitude as having a significant effect on suicide. There is still more to understand and debate, but this is a noteworthy development.

Such findings are gradually making it into popular media, though I suspect that many of us haven't heard much about this yet. One very readable and interesting report is Theresa Fisher, "There's a Suicide Epidemic in Utah — And One Neuroscientist Thinks He Knows Why," Mic.com, Nov. 18, 2014 (a hat tip to Russell Osmond for this article and motivation for my post). For a Wyoming perspective, see Joe O'Sullivan, "Altitude may be major factor in suicide," Casper Star-Tribune, Sept. 18, 2011. An excerpt follows:
When it comes to suicide in Wyoming, guns often take the blame as a contributing factor. So does the isolation and flinty independence of rural culture. But a possible cause now being looked at appears to be a more important contributor to self-inflicted deaths: altitude.

Researchers at the University of Utah have found a correlation between how high above sea level people live and per capita suicide rates. Between 1999 and 2007, Wyoming had the fourth-highest rate of suicides per capita in the nation, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; states in the Mountain West hold nine of the top 10 spots.

The researchers looked at 35 separate factors that could cause suicide. Using suicide data from the CDC and mapping data by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, they found a distinct correlation between elevation and suicide.

“The Rocky Mountain states just jumped out at you,” said Dr. Perry Renshaw, a professor at the university who took part in the research. “No matter what we did, the altitude kept coming up with a significant factor.”

The study shows that suicides occur between 60 and 70 percent more frequently at high elevations compared to sea level, according to Renshaw.

In fact, altitude surpassed both the isolation of rural culture and the prevalence of gun ownership, both of which come up as assumed causes for the high suicide rate, according to Renshaw. Altitude was the second-highest ranking of 35 variables. The only suicide indicator that ranked higher was being a single mother, he said.

Renshaw, who has spent 15 years studying brain chemistry, said lower oxygen levels in the brain affect people with depression and bipolar disorder.
Both of those disorders involve problems with how the brain uses energy, according to Renshaw. Recent research suggests that the amount of oxygen a person receives affects their mental faculties and performance.

“In depression, what we find is that there are changes in these high-energy compounds in the brain,” Renshaw said.

While oxygen makes up the same percentage of air at sea level as it does at high altitudes, atmospheric pressure — the amount of molecules compressed into one space — decreases with height.

That means people take in fewer oxygen molecules with each breath in a city like Casper, which is a mile above sea level, compared to someone living at sea level.
Comparisons outside the U.S.

To prove the data wasn’t just a fluke, Renshaw and the researchers looked overseas to prove their hypothesis. They did this by analyzing suicide rates in a mountainous country with an elevation that at its highest reaches 6,398 feet: South Korea.

“It was exactly the same result,” Renshaw said, referring to a comparison of suicides in South Korea with the Mountain West. “The higher you went, the higher the result.”
O ye mountains high, indeed!

Understanding the impact of altitude for those facing depression or other mental health challenges may now help guide medical professionals in better assisting patients, including single mothers (being a single mother turned up in one study as just about the only risk factor more significant than altitude). If nothing else, getting away to a lower altitude area for a while might be a big help. We'd love to see you here in Shanghai, a place where you may find it's a good thing to have friends in low places.


Update, June 3, 2018: Some readers questioned why Colorado or the Andes weren't considered. Renshaw's work has considered the entire Mountain West and also many nations, and has seen the altitude effect repeatedly.

A very recent publication involving the Andes, not done by Renshaw, also points to a possible altitude effect, though the authors don't seem familiar enough with Renshaw's work to explain why an altitude effect might exist. See Esteban Ortiz-Prado, "The disease burden of suicide in Ecuador, a 15 years’ geodemographic cross-sectional study (2001–2015)," BMC Psychiatry, 17(2017): 342; doi: 10.1186/s12888-017-1502-0. They found that "Provinces located at higher altitude reported higher rates than those located at sea level (9 per 100,000 vs 4.5 per 100.000)." A much higher suicide rate for the high-altitude provinces. 

Sunday, May 27, 2018

Democracy in the Ancient Americas? Maybe Not So Ridiculous After All

The Book of Mormon has often been criticized for its introduction of a form of democracy during the rule of judges era starting around 90 BC. Instead of a potentially despotic king, the Nephites would be ruled by law and a system of judges chosen somehow by "the voice of the people." Those trappings of democracy have long been viewed as horribly anachronistic. But maybe such a system wasn't all that crazy after all, and perhaps not all that original in the ancient Americas. See a recent article, "It wasn't just Greece: Archaeologists find early democratic societies in the Americas" by Lizzie Wade, March 15, 2017, at ScienceMag.org.

A brief excerpt follows:
Now, thanks in part to work led by Fargher's mentor Richard Blanton, an anthropologist at Purdue University in West Lafayette, Indiana, Tlaxcallan is one of several premodern societies around the world that archaeologists believe were organized collectively, where rulers shared power and commoners had a say in the government that presided over their lives.

These societies were not necessarily full democracies in which citizens cast votes, but they were radically different from the autocratic, inherited rule found—or assumed—in most early societies. Building on Blanton's originally theoretical ideas, archaeologists now say these "collective societies" left telltale traces in their material culture, such as repetitive architecture, an emphasis on public space over palaces, reliance on local production over exotic trade goods, and a narrowing of wealth gaps between elites and commoners.

"Blanton and his colleagues opened up a new way of examining our data," says Rita Wright, an archaeologist at New York University in New York City who studies the 5000-year-old Indus civilization in today's India and Pakistan, which also shows signs of collective rule. "A whole new set of scholarship has emerged about complex societies."

"I think it's a breakthrough," agrees Michael E. Smith, an archaeologist at Arizona State University (ASU) in Tempe. "I've called it the most important work in the archaeology of political organization in the last 20 years." He and others are working to extend Blanton's ideas into a testable method, hoping to identify collective states solely through the objects they left behind.
The region where these collective societies with advanced civilization occasionally flourished is squarely in Mesoamerica, the most plausible location for the New World setting of the Book of Mormon on the basis of many factors (in my opinion). There is still much to learn and explore regarding collective societies and forms of democracy in the ancient Americas. Those instances cited in this article are not likely to involve Nephites, of course, but do establish that forms of rule other than all-powerful kings were known anciently in Mesoamerica, an important new development to consider.

A hat tip to Bill Knighton for calling my attention to this article.

Engines of Beauty


"Mandarin Fish," the winning work from a recent art contest, shown above (courtesy of Wikipedia), was produced by the world's most prolific and accomplished artist, variously known as "Meaningless Random Mutations" or the Lord God. See "Synchiropus splendidus" at Wikipedia. However the design was first created, the custom reprints are continuously manufactured through the standard manufacturing engines of carbon-based life based on numerous genes encoded in DNA. The cellular machinery decodes DNA to produce proteins that in turn assemble and produce the structures of each organism including the colors and patterns we see on the outside.

As beautiful as the mandarin fish is, its reprint engine is even more stunning. That basic cellular machinery for making proteins is what creates so much beauty and wonder, or, if you insist, meaningless junk.

There is so much to marvel at in the cellular engines that create the bodies of the complex creatures known as Eukaryotes, the organisms whose cells have a nucleus enclosed within membranes, in contrast to bacteria and some other single-celled organisms. Just one of numerous aspects of your cellular engines to contemplate is the stunningly beautiful spliceosome. Spliceosome? Yep, and it's a beauty. Just look:

https://www.cell.com/cell/abstract/S0092-8674(17)30487-7



Maybe you're shaking your head and saying, "I just don't get modern art." But this is very ancient art, and it's art you need to survive. But it was only recently uncovered and framed for mankind to enjoy, though it's been there all along helping you and your ancestors to manufacture the proteins you depend on. In fact, it's something of a miracle/really interesting meaningless accumulation of random mutations.

The miracle involves a dirty little secret of biological science. Everyone knows that genes encode proteins. Each protein from a gene, with many thousands of genes for many thousands of proteins, right? But there's a problem you might not have heard about: there are a lot more proteins in your body than there are genes to encode them. We have about 20,000 genes, but over 100,000 proteins. How is that possible? Is there some kind of cover-up going on? No, not a cover-up, but another engine of beauty, a small machine in your cells that runs around splicing. There's a word you ought to contemplate whenever you look at a beautiful creature like the mandarin fish or your spouse. The word is SPLICEOSOME (say it like "splice -- oh -- sohm" which rhymes with Rome).

The spliceosome is an incredible machine that assists in transcribing information from your genes. Spliceosomes cut out certain parts and assemble information multiple regions of your DNA to create more proteins than there are genes. We rely on them, and when something goes wrong with spliceosomes, humans suffer from genetic disease. "Around 35% of human genetic disorders are caused by a mutation that alters the splicing of a single gene," according to a great article on spliceosomes at Cell.com. Also see X. Zhang et al., "An Atomic Structure of the Human Spliceosome," Cell, vol. 169, issue 5 (May 18, 2017): 918–929. Or see Wikiepedia's article, "Spliceosome." A basic explanation is given at "One gene, many proteins – alternative splicing" at ScienceExplained.com.

The spliceosome is an engine of miraculous beauty, allowing human life and most multi-cellular life to be remarkably efficient in their reprint engines that keep this world going in such beautiful ways. Only recently discovered, but has been there all along, a work of brilliant art and stunningly advanced technology/random chance that we Eukaryotes depend on. Technology so sophisticated, so cool, so other-worldly, that it almost makes me tremble to contemplate it. How is this even possible no matter how intelligent the designer is? It is beyond our comprehension, though every step of the way toward understanding it awaits a potential Nobel prize to those who are intelligent enough to figure out bits and pieces of how this machine works. And yet somehow the marvel of the machine itself has nothing to do with intelligence but is merely the result of random, meaningless mutations? Now that's what I call faith.





Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Elder Gong in Shanghai

Shanghai was blessed to be visited by Elder Gerrit W. Gong, a newly called Apostle of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, on Sunday, May 20. He was accompanied by his wife and also by Elder Randy D. Funk and his wife. Though we only had just over one week's notice for the visit, the special District Conference that was called set a record in attendance, with almost every available seat filled in the large ballroom where we meet in Shanghai.

Here are some photos, kindly provided by Monica Alvarado. Members in China can see or request additional photos from the event if you connect with her on on WeChat. He WeChat ID is Ginitas23. More on the content of the session later.







Monday, May 21, 2018

Intriguing Comments on Brian Stubbs' Work on Possible Old World Connections to Uto-Aztecan Languages

After I published "The Next Big Thing in LDS Apologetics: Strong Semitic and Egyptian Elements in Uto-Aztecan Languages" at The Interpreter, I was pleasantly surprised with some of the the comments shared by various readers. Some of the most recent comments are especially interesting to me, beginning with two from Brian Stubbs himself:

1. How delightful to read civil discourse on Jeff’s review of my works! I’ve never experienced such a high percentage of reasonable commentary on such topics. Most of the questions were answered by later commenters. I might add two comments. One, Yes, I returned from two years among the Navajo, and immediately looked into that possibility, but within days of looking at Sino-Tibetan and other Far Languages, I could see that Athapaskan came from across the Bering Strait. So if I were of a mind to “create” something from nothing, it would have been there. Two, all the main UA pronouns are from Semitic or Egytian, as is a relatively high percent of its basic vocabulary: head, eyes, nose, cheek, neck, hair, shoulder, chest, breast, waist, leg, calf, finger/toe, sun, sky, moon, rock, water, several kinds of trees / plants, man, woman, several kinds of animals and insects, etc, etc. Of course, much remains to be figured out of how it all happened, yet it’s beginning to look like, rather than a near east infusion into UA, that other things came into the Near-Eastern base that UA actually is, because both Semitic-kw terms (Mulek) and Semitic-p and Egyptian terms (Nephi) are in all branches of UA, besides the actual Semitic terms for Nephites, both masc plural and feminine pl in some UA languages.

2. Stan Spencer pleasantly asked a fair question about Swadesh word lists, mentioning Tiberian Hebrew and Nahua, which deserves more explanation. Mulekite Semitic-kw would better correspond to Hebrew, but Mulek vocabulary is less prominent in UA than Lehite Semitic-p. UA pronouns are more from Lehite Aramaic and Egyptian, and you Sg is from you pl, just as English ‘you’ (originally pl) replaced ‘thou’ (related to German du, Latin tu, etc). So explainable changes make the Swadesh vocabulary lists problematic. E.g., the Hebrew word ‘ish ‘man’ is minimally found in UA, but the common UA word for man is from Aramaic dakar ‘male’ > UA / Nahua taka ‘man’, etc. The books explain things quite well, but plowing thru such books is not everyone’s priority, tho the smaller, lay-reader friendly Changes in Languages from Nephi to Now explains, in ways, more than the larger. Thank you Stan and all for your congenial discourse.
Then today came an interesting homework from a reader who has done his homework on this topic. Beau Anderson writes:
I know this article hasn’t been commented on recently, but just in case people interested in this subject come across this article, I would like to add to this conversation.

I became aware that Brian was working on this language proposal sometime around 2012-2013. I sent him an email inquiring about it and he very generously made available to me a pre-publication copy of the larger book that Jeff mentions in this article.

I found the proposal so professionally prepared and interesting that I immersed myself in it, trying to see if Brian’s arguments were truly as persuasive as they seemed to be. That pre-publication copy got so over-used that I heard it breathe an audible sigh of relief when I bought Brian’s finished book after it was published.

I also reached out Lyle Campbell, a (non-LDS) foremost scholar in historical linguistics and in Uto-Aztecan languages. Lyle quite literally wrote the book on what it takes to establish “long-distance” relationships between language families.

Lyle was kind enough to provide me with some general feedback regarding Brian Stubbs’ work, language relationships in general, and Uto-Aztecan in particular. I think it is particularly helpful to hear from a prominent non-mormon historical linguist about what he thinks of Brian Stubbs previous Uto-Aztecan publications and professionalism:

“Brian kindly sent me his [Semitic/Egyptian in Uto-Aztecan] work a few months ago, and I haven’t had time to do more than scan parts of it. Brian’s UA Comparative Vocabulary is excellent, the major source for checking UA cognates. It’s based on sound principles and rigorous scholarship. I refer to it often, and am grateful to Brian for sharing it with me.” (Lyle Campbell, personal correspondence, January 2016, shared with Lyle’s permission)

The book “UA Comparative Vocabulary” that Lyle mentions as being “based on sound principles and rigorous scholarship” presents its data in a very similar fashion as the language proposal, although the language proposal tends to provide even more detailed information and much more useful indexes and appendixes.

After working to understand the validity of Brian’s work for several years, I can’t say enough about how powerful I think the case is for significant Semitic & Egyptian influence in Uto-Aztecan languages.
Thank you, Beau!

Note that Dr. Campbell is not directly evaluating the merits of Stubbs' recent work, but is kindly acknowledging his competence in the UA arena. Eventually I hope Dr. Campbell will be able to more directly evaluate the specific findings in Stubbs work, in spite of the sensitivity of anything tied to Book of Mormon evidences. Fingers crossed.

Monday, May 14, 2018

New Document Discovered from a Book of Mormon Witness

From the Juvenile Instructor blog, we have an important new finding regarding a Book of Momron witness. See "1829 Mormon Discovery Brought to you by…Guest Erin Jennings" which shares news about the discovery of an important early letter from Oliver Cowdery regarding the Book of Mormon. The letter had been printed before, but the original was only recently discovered through painstaking work.

Daniel Peterson notes a key learning from this letter in his brief summary at Sic et Non:
Dated 9 November 1829 — which is to say, nearly five months before the actual publication of the Book of Mormon — the account is contained in a letter that was evidently written by Oliver Cowdery to a Mr. Cornelius Blatchly.

Mr. Blatchly had evidently suggested that the Book of Mormon, and the testimonies of the Witnesses to it, might rest upon “juggling.”  Noah Webster’s 1828 American dictionary defines the verb to juggle as  “1. To play tricks by slight of hand; to amuse and make sport by tricks, which make a false show of extraordinary powers.  2. To practice artifice or imposture.”

Oliver Cowdery responded to Mr. Blatchly as follows (with editorial notes from Mr. Blatchly enclosed within brackets), referring to his encounter with the plates and the angel as one of the Three Witnesses:

“It was a clear, open beautiful day, far from any inhabitants, in a remote field, at the time we saw the record, of which it has been spoken, brought and laid before us, by an angel, arrayed in glorious light, [who] ascend [descended I suppose] out of the midst of heaven.

“Now if this is human juggling — judge ye.”

Friday, May 11, 2018

When a Child Has a Fracture, Why Are the Parents Presumed Guilty Until Proven Innocent?

In the end the parents got their children back, but it took two years of separation and harm inflicted to a child by the State of Pennsylvania. You can read the decision from the appeal that finally, after two years, returned a baby to its parents after a rogue judge had decided to take the baby away. It is a case where two loving parents were presumed guilty of something until proven innocent. It's a troubling reading, especially for those of us who have a grandchild with loving parents in Philadelphia, where this travesty occurred. It could happen again and my granddaughter could be next.

[Update, May 13: The URL for the court decision, http://www.pacourts.us/assets/opinions/Superior/out/Memorandum%20%20ReversedVacated%20%2010346885234069864.pdf?cb=1, is on odd one that Firefox displays with spaces that can create problems. I changed the link above to a TinyURL shortcut that seems to help. If you still have trouble, you can also download the PDF file from JeffLindsay.com.]

Simon Black, founder of the SovereignMan service that I subscribe to, shares the story in a recent newsletter. Here is an excerpt:
It started back in 2016… on April 6th to be specific. A Philadelphia-area mother walked into a clinic because her 7-month old baby was being excessively fussy.

The doctor performed a cursory examination, concluded the baby had an ear infection, and prescribed an antibiotic.

Later that day, the mother noticed what seemed like a bone popping in the baby’s side and thought this might be the source of the discomfort.

Concerned, she went right back to the clinic to show the pediatrician.

The doctor claimed that he could not feel any popping and reassured the mother that the baby had an ear infection.

By the next day, the baby was in even worse shape. So the father took her to the hospital and insisted on an X-ray.

The parents’ instinct turned out to be correct-- the baby had a mild fracture of her ribs.

Now-- this is problem #1 in our story. Certainly the US health care industry is filled some incredibly hard-working and talented professionals.

But the system is designed the churn and burn... to push people through the clinics as quickly as possible.

The standard of care now is to prescribe some medication (usually antibiotics) and send people on their way without taking the time to conduct a comprehensive examination....

But this story isn’t about medical care. This is a story about a family being ripped apart by the ‘Justice’ system.

That’s because, after the physicians finally saw the baby’s cracked rib, they called in the local Child Protective Services.

A hearing was immediately convened, and the parents couldn’t explain the injury. Their best guess was that their older child may have accidentally injured the baby, but they didn’t know for certain.

And it was based on this uncertainty that BOTH children were taken away.

The older child was placed in the custody of his grandmother, and the baby was shipped off to a foster home.

This is where things become truly bizarre.

The local authorities conducted an investigation and found no “aggravated circumstances”. So the older child was soon returned to the parents.

But the baby remained in a foster home… in the care of complete strangers.

FOUR MONTHS LATER, there was finally an initial court hearing. The judge acknowledged that the older child had already been returned to the parents and was safe in their home.

But she refused to return the baby.

More importantly, the judge mandated that the parents should have SUPERVISED visitation, i.e. they had to go to the foster home to see their own baby under the supervision of a government employee.

Another four months later (now we’re in December 2016), another hearing was held.

Once again, the judge refused to return the baby… and even refused to transfer the baby from the foster home to the custody of the grandmother.

Bear in mind that the older child had already been returned to the parents several months prior.

So if they’d had any evidence that the parents were unfit, you’d think that BOTH of the children would have been in foster care.

But that wasn’t the case at all. That’s because the investigation showed no evidence of wrongdoing. The police weren’t involved. And no charges were being filed.

This was simply a matter of a single judge abusing her authority to separate a family, solely because she wasn’t satisfied that the parents didn’t know how the baby had sustained her injuries.

At that point the family hired a SECOND attorney who appealed the decision.

Another four months went by, and in March 2017, the judge held further hearings on the matter.

At that hearing, the attorney attempted to introduce evidence supporting the family’s claim, as well as testimony from other physicians citing a number of plausible reasons how the baby could have been injured.

But according to court records, the judge “refused to take any testimony in the case” because she thought the new attorney was “disrespectful and a little bit arrogant”.

The judge concluded the hearing by punishing the family even more-- she suspended the grandmother’s right to visit the baby, denied the parents request for unsupervised visitation, and authorized the city to start the process to put the baby up for adoption.

More hearings took place over the next several months, until, in October 2017, the judge “involuntarily terminated Parents’ rights.”

In other words, the judge stripped the baby away and shipped her off like cattle to another home. Permanently. The parents were no longer the parents.

Now, it took a looong time. But last week the appeal was finally settled, with a different judge in a higher court.

And the appeals court sided with the parents.

More importantly, the appeals court issued a scathing condemnation of the other judge’s behavior, calling it “abuse of discretion” among other choice phrases.

It took more than TWO YEARS for this family to be reunited… not to mention a ton of money in attorney fees and an incalculable amount of stress.
Increasingly, in the United States, the citizens in the "land of the free" find that they are relatively free until one judge, one police officer, or one petty official from a host of bureaucracies and agencies decides to simply take those rights away. Whether it is confiscating your home or car or bank account under the abusive procedure of civil asset forfeiture without a trial, or attempting to take away a child permanently because the parents didn't know when and how a rib was fractured, Americans are increasingly at the mercy of despots.

For Mother's Day, may I suggest that we ponder what we can do to resist the loss of fundamental rights and to better protect the rights of mothers and parents in general. I don't currerntly know who the best organizations are fighting for our rights in this area, but one good group may be ParentalRights.org. I would appreciate your input on key allies we should consider to resist the erosion of parental rights.

Saturday, May 05, 2018

Two Witnesses, Witnessed by Sally Parker

The vast body of scholarship on the witnesses to the Book of Mormon paints a consistent story of real people who really saw something and, in spite of whatever problems or differences with Joseph Smith or others they may have later faced, never denied the reality of their witness. The scholarship on their lives also includes studies on many peripheral figures whose words add to our understanding of what the witnesses said. One such figure is Sally Parker. See Janiece L. Johnson , "'The Scriptures Is a Fulfilling': Sally Parker's Weave," BYU Studies, vol. 4, no. 2 (2005). This publication features a letter written by Sally Bradford Parker to her brother-in-law John Kempton on August 26, 1838. The young convert shares her experience in hearing the testimony of Hyrum Smith and also of Lucy Mack Smith. On page 1 of her letter (I'll use the edited version with conventional spelling and grammar), she states:
And you said you wanted if we could send you something to comfort you, which I don't know as I can. For I have not heard but one sermon since we have been in the place and that by Hyrum Smith. As he was moving to Missouri he tarried with us a little while. His discourse was beautiful. We were talking about the Book of Mormon, [of] which he is one of the witnesses. He said he had but two hands and two eyes. He said he had seen the plates with his eyes and handled them with his hands and he saw a breast plate and he told how it was made. It was fixed for the breast of a man with a hole in [the] stomach and two pieces upon each side with a hole through them to put in a string to tie it on, but that was not so good gold as the plates for that was pure. Why I write this is because they dispute the Book so much.

I lived by his Mother [Lucy Mack Smith, in Kirtland] and she was one of the finest of women, always helping those that stood in need. She told me the whole story. The plates were in the house and sometimes in the woods for eight months on account of people trying to get them. They had to hide them once. They hid them under the hearth. They took up the brick and put them in and put the brick back. The old lady told me this herself with tears in her eyes and they run down her cheeks too. She put her hand upon her stomach and said she, "O the peace of God that rested upon us all that time." She said it was a heaven below. I asked her if she saw the plates. She said no, it was not for her to see them, but she hefted and handled them and I believed all she said for I lived by her eight months and she was one of the best of women. [emphasis added]
She testifies to the character of Lucy Mack Smith and observes that while she had not seen them directly, she had "hefted and handled them" (apparently while covered) and thus, of course, was a witness of their physical reality. Of Hyrum Smith, she heard him directly describe what he had seen. He made it unmistakeable that it was with his real eyes that he saw and his real hands that he handled the plates. These accounts are numerous, consistent, and granular. The witnesses were genuine witnesses and the plates were real. In my opinion, that's the most logical conclusion that can be made in light of their statements and their behavior.

Cultural Misappropriation: Much Worse Than You Thought

Some Americans are steaming about the shocking incident in Salt Lake City when a young Utah white girl demonstrated her white privilege and scandalous racism, imperialism, consumerism, colonialism, narcissism, egocentrism, materialism, highbrowism, astigmatism and even touch of isomerism and dimerism, a loathsome cornucopia of vice all wrapped in one egregious act: wearing a Chinese dress, the elegant qipao. Sadly, most folks here in China don't have the advanced education that is required to get so frothy over someone's dress, as the Southern China Morning Post reports. Chinese mainlanders tend to think Keziah Daum's choice of prom dress was a cool decision and don't understand the vitriol, which is why we need more elite American tourists to come to China and help educate the natives over here. Feel free to educate me, too, when you visit. And then after your lecture, I can show you some of the better places to get nice tailored Asian clothes cheap.

You'll need to know where those places are so you can tell Chinese people where to go after you vent about just how offended you are at their cultural misappropriation of Western dresses, pants, shoes, shirts, and suits, even down to specific Western brands like Nike and Boss. If you enjoy venting, there are bigger fish to stir fry than a Utah prom dress.

Meanwhile, another Westerner who has lived for years in China, Mark Cohen, the US government's former liaison to China from the US Patent and Trademark Office, wrote an article on this incident that helped me realize that cultural misappropriation among Americans is far worse than I imagined.

Critics of Mormonism (another offensive -ism to stir up sensitive souls) will be pleased with the shocking news that scandalous cultural misappropriation is taking place every Sunday in almost every Mormon chapel around the United States and perhaps all over the world. See those men sitting on the stand as if they are some kind of leaders or something? How many of them are genuine Croatians? Almost none. But there they are, egregiously and ignorantly misappropriating the classical Croatian attire. Mark Cohen seems way too calm as he explains this scandal:
One need not travel far to see evidence of cultural borrowings.  Whenever a man wears a tie, he is following a tradition set by Croatians during the Napoleonic wars.  Indeed, the French word cravate is a corrupt French pronunciation of Croate.  The origin of the tie is a source of some pride to the many Croatians I have met over the years.
It's time we stand in solidarity with Croatian pride! So next time you see some white Mormon male  wearing a tie, ask him about his genealogy and see if he's got at least 50% Croatian roots. Once he's admitted that he doesn't, you've got him! Then get on your high horse -- wait, that would be misappropriating Apache and Mongolian horsemanship skills -- or rather, throw down the gauntlet (totally OK if you are descended from medieval French knights), and let him know just how morally superior you are. Eat your heart out, or his -- if you come from an authentic cannibal culture, that is, and if local laws and regulations permit.

Best to keep that Asian-themed tattoos covered up while you do this, just to prevent misunderstanding (especially the kind that comes from understanding, if he understands Chinese -- sometimes those cool Chinese characters people get for tattoos actually say some pretty awkward things).

By the way, happy Cinco de Mayo!

Wednesday, May 02, 2018

Li Jing, China's Mysterious Long-Distance Horse Rider, Has Finally Been Found and Rides Again!

Li Jing has now been found in Russia and connected
to the international Long Riders' Guild
One of the most interesting escapades of my years in China has been the search for Li Jing, China's mysterious long-distance rider who completed a monumental horseback ride of over 9,000 kilometers from Moscow to Bejing a decade ago, and then seemed to vanish as far as the international equestrian community knew. The background story is told in my previous post, "Where Horses Can Take You, and My Quest for Li Jing (李荆)," where I explain how my article on horses and the Book of Mormon for Meridian Magazine resulted in a connection with the illustrious international society dedicated to long-distance riding, the Long Riders' Guild, whose colorful and eloquent president, CuChullaine O'Reilly, asked me if I cold help them in their nine-year quest to find Li Jing. That previous Mormanity post, along with efforts on Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, my Chinese network and Chinese social media, including both Chinese and English comments posted on two Chinese social media sites apparently owned by Li Jing, were part of my effort to help connect Li Jing with the Long Riders' Guild. I had also learned in my searching of Chinese-language websites that Li Jing had moved to Russia, apparently Moscow, and was still riding.

Wonderfully, Li Jing has now been found! A few days after my efforts, CuChullaine O'Reilly was contacted by a Russian organization with information about Li Jing. The President of the National Equestrian Tourism Center (NETO Russia) has connected Li Jing with the Guild, and the Guild will now be able to help support future rides and projects, and share precious information about Li Jing's ongoing work with its international membership.

The news is already spreading around the world. From New Zealand, for example, there is this dramatic story: "World’s most elusive Long Rider finally found, riding toward the Arctic Circle," May 2, 2018, from HorseTalk.co.nz. My minor efforts even get an undeserved mention there.

In an overly kind act, the Guild has officially named me as one of the Friends of the Guild, though I have pointed out that in my recent communication with the leader of the Russian organization, he was not aware of my efforts here in China to connect the Guild with Li Jing. His reaching out to the Guild, which he was already aware of, may have been completely fortuitous. But perhaps the prodding led to a chain of events or conversations that helped make the connection. In any case, I'm thrilled that Li Jing has been found and that another chapter in the great story of horses and humans can be more fully written.

I also hope to meet Li Jing one day, and have contacted NETO Russia to explore such opportunities. Li Jing, a native of Wuhan, China, in the heart of this land, embodies the spirit of adventure and passion that has resulted in so many great things out of China. His story needs to be told more widely here as well as around the globe. I also hope that the Guild's newly kindled interest in the story of horses among the religions of the world will lead to more treasures of knowledge for all of us. Many thanks to Li Jing, to Gennadii Semin of NETO Russia, and especially to CuChullaine O'Reilly of the Long Riders Guild!