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

Monday, June 27, 2016

The Book of Mormon Verse That Brought Me Back to My Parents, Just in Time

I had a busy travel schedule in front of me a few days ago, starting with a flight from Shanghai on Friday through LA to Boise to attend a wedding there, then travel to two other parts of the US and then further travel in Europe, partly for work. Given the constraints we had on when we could leave and when we needed to be in various places, we didn't think there was any way to stop in Utah to see my parents. But last Monday I learned that my father was having increased health challenges, and when I awoke Tuesday morning, I wondered if I should try to find a way to add a few hours in Utah on my way to Boise (I had just spent time there two months ago). I prayed about it and felt that I should take a look at the Book of Mormon for possible guidance. I picked up my English/Chinese printing (a volume with three columns, one in English, one in Chinese characters, and one in Pinyin, the Romanization system for writing the pronunciation of the Chinese characters with the Latin alphabet) and flipped open to a random verse and read the Chinese of 1 Nephi 5:7, which in English reads:
And when we had returned to the tent of my father, behold their joy was full, and my mother was comforted. 
In light of what has happened these past two days, I can't think of a more perfectly relevant verse in all of scripture to help me do what I needed to do. Finding that verse seemed a bit eerie, or rather, almost too direct, and made me feel that I needed to explore the possibility of making a change in my travel plans.

I quickly gave Delta Airlines a call. I normally would have given up when I heard that wait times to reach an operator were around 40 minutes. But I persisted.  Since the first few days of my travel to the US had been done using frequent flyer miles, there were a variety of restrictions on what I could do and what kind of changes I could make. I learned that changes had to be made more than 72 hours in advance of the first flight, and I was several hours too late. Mercifully, since that change was motivated by the desire to see an ill family member, a supervisor waived that restriction. There would be two other barriers to making the changes I wanted that required further approvals by a supervisor, but in the end, I was able to add a day in Utah and it only cost my an extra $5 in taxes.

I arrived Friday night, stayed overnight with a relative, and then walked into my parents' home at 9 AM on Saturday. I had previously told them I would show up Saturday, but they apparently were not clear on when. Moments before I showed up, a medical emergency had begun. My parents had just begun discussing whether to call 911 or to find someone else to take my father to the hospital. Their children in the area were either out of town traveling or had a funeral to attend that day and were unavailable.  Right as they were fretting over how to get to the hospital, I walked in. They saw this as a real blessing. I was able to get my father to the hospital and later bring my mother there several times.

Things looked pretty serious, with surgery as a possibility, so felt I needed more than a few hours in town. Delta again was extremely gracious in rerouting me. Wait times for this second call were said to be between 24 and 43 minutes, but proved to be 62 minutes--aargh! But I persisted, and once I reached one of the far too few humans manning the phones in customer service, they were extremely helpful again and helped me change my flights at no extra cost (customer service is awesome there, but I suspect that the beancounters don't value that service enough to hire the number of people needed to take the calls they get). I chose to skip the wedding completely while my wife was there to support her niece, and would just go directly from Salt Lake to our next family reunion stop in the Midwest. Meanwhile, I was able to help my parents in a variety of ways and felt that my time here was extremely worthwhile. My father repeatedly told me and others how happy it made him that I was able to show up as if on cue and be there to help and comfort both of them.

Today the health problem was largely under control and we were elated to learn that no high-risk surgery would be needed. My father will return home tomorrow, and I'll have a little more time to work on some other issues to help them here. Given that we didn't even think we would be able to stop in Salt Lake at all, to me it was a great blessing to be able to be here for a few days right when additional help was greatly needed. How kind of the Lord to help me stumble across a perfectly worded verse that would not only motivate me to make changes but would prove to be remarkably applicable to what would happen here.

The scriptures are not meant to be used as Ouija boards to make decisions, but on the other hand, when we prayerfully look for guidance, verses can take on new meaning as seek to apply them to ourselves, and sometimes the applicability can be very direct and helpful. Seeking for guidance from the Lord through scripture study is a wonderful companion to prayer and has blessed my life in many ways. In this case, a simple verse helped clarify what I needed to do and eventually helped my be in the right place at exactly the right time to bring comfort to my mother and my father.



Monday, June 20, 2016

The Secret Combination That Saved China

One of the important parts of the Book of Mormon that many Mormons try hard to overlook or downplay is the content regarding secret combinations and their destructive role in several ancient American societies (Nephite, Lamanites, and Jaredites). I think there are some vital lessons and prophecies that need to be applied and mined for guidance in our day. I also think that viewing such content as Joseph's response to Masonry comes nowhere close to accounting for the highly nuanced and accurate treatment in the text. I also feel that examination of the various forms and business models of secret combinations in the world over time can provide evidence for the wisdom, prophetic accuracy, and ancient origins of the Book of Mormon.

The term "secret combinations" is always negative in the Book of Mormon. That term is possibly a derivative from older brass plates material related to the Book of Moses, where the term "secret combinations' is presented (Moses 5:51). But while Book of Mormon secret combinations are murderous groups pursuing "works of darkness," a broader definition of secret combinations can include some secretive efforts that are noble and enlightened. In fact, China's current success and well-being is partly due to a brilliant secret combination. I'm not talking about the one founded the Party in China, beginning with a secret pact here in Shanghai not far from where I live. Rather, I'm talking about the later secret effort where a group of brave men put their lives on the line to fight starvation, and won. That story took place close to Nanjing, home of the impressive Nanjing Branch in the Shanghai International District of the Church, a branch I have visited often. Next time I go, I'm planning to visit the site in neighboring Anhui Province of the founding of the secret combination that saved China, a little known treasure that I can't wait to see, based on what I recently read about it rise and viral success.

One of my favorite books on life in China is Michael Meyer's In Manchuria: A Village Called Wasteland and the Transformation of Rural China (New York: Bloomsbury Press, 2015). He shares his experiences living for a while in a tiny village actually called "Wasteland" in the challenging northwestern section of China. In the midst of his book, he recounts the vital story of how China overcame its problem with starvation and bloomed to becoming the booming success that it is these days, in spite of a slowing economy.

He introduces some of the challenges China faced in the 1950s, when the visions of socialism met the reality of poverty and hunger:
"Nineteen fifty-six," I said reflexively, quoting the village Stone. By 1958 all of China's co-ops had become "people's communes." The policy triggered the Great Famine, killing at least 20 million people; some estimates go as high as 45 million. Officially, the deaths were blamed on natural disasters and the period was labeled the Three Years of Bitterness.

"All our personal food was confiscated during the collective times," Auntie Yi said. "We used to grind soybeans mixed with barley in secret at home. Everything was supposed to be for the commune. We didn't even have money. We were paid in work points. At the end of each workday, you had your score assessed and entered into a little handbook for each family. It was casually decided, actually. It wasn't a true commune: whoever had the power to decide the score earned the most points, or rewarded his family and friends. You knew the standard. If you did hard labor, people would murmur, 'Give him six points.' If it was really hard work, you could earn up to ten, even twelve. But the 'rich peasants' could only earn up to eight, and every night they would be reminded it was because they had exploited people in the past. That was our family, you know: my grandfather hired people after he migrated here on foot, starting out hauling grain on his back. And my father ran a granary out here. So I was marked. But really, I was lucky. The people who collaborated with the Japanese in Manchukuo got it the worst." (p. 214)
 Then comes the story from a secret combination formed in Anhui Province in the obscure village of Xiaogang:
When Chairman Mao died in 1976, so did his dream of collective agriculture. By decade's end, farmers were allowed a small, personal plot to supplement crops raised by the village team. The work points system was abolished. "But at every turn, people were unhappy!" Auntie Yi said. "It's in people's nature to complain. But very few people complained when da baogan was introduced.

The term meant "the complete allocation of responsibilities," and the policy meant that individuals, like the hungry Pilgrims, no longer had to farm as a team. The change was born not in a ministerial meeting but in a farmer's home in the central China province of Anhui, where The Good Earth had been set. A corn-growing village named Xiaogang was starving, suffering under the nation's quota demands. Its residents dug up roots, boiled poplar leaves with salt, and ground roasted tree bark into flour. Entire families left their thatched-roof, mud-walled homes and took to the road to beg.

A farmer named Yan Hongchang, whose studies had ended at middle school, was the deputy leader of the village work team, overseeing production. But there was no production that autumn of 1978. During the Great Famine, a quarter of the county's residents had died. "We knew what it was like to starve, and we would rather die any other way," Mr. Yan later recalled.

On the night of November 24, Mr. Yan summoned the heads of the village's twenty families to a secret meeting. The village accountant was deputized as a secretary, and on paper torn from a child's school exercise book transcribed a seventy-nine-word pledge to divide the commune's land into family plots, submit the required quota of corn to the state, and keep the rest for themselves. "In the case of failure," the document concluded "we are prepared for death or prison, and other commune members to raise our children until they are eighteen years old." The farmers signed the document and affixed their fingerprints.

Thus began China's rural reform.

Today a large stone monument to the pact greets tourists to the village But in the spring of 1979, a local official who learned of the clandestine agreement fumed that the group had "dug up the cornerstone of socialism„ and threatened severe punishment. Thinking he was bound for a labor camp, Mr. Yan rose before dawn, reminded his wife that their fellow villagers had promised to help raise their children, and walked to the office of the county's party secretary. But the man privately admitted to Mr. Yan that he knew, since the pact had been signed, the village's winter harvest had increased sixfold. The official told Mr. Yan he would protect Xiaogang village and the rebellious farmers so long as their experiment didn't spread.

Villagers gossip; farmers talk about their fields. Soon neighboring hamlets copied Xiaogang's model. News reached the provincial authorities, who were unwilling to punish farms that were, at last, producing food. Thus, they did not brand the abandonment of collective farming as counterrevolutionary but instead endorsed it as "an irresistible wave spontaneously topping the limits once enforced by the state.

In Beijing, three years after Chairman Mao's death, Deng Xiaoping was opening China to foreign trade and liberalizing the economy. Yet originally he ruled against allowing "household farms," afraid that critics would again label him a "capitalist roader," for which he had been purged during the Cultural Revolution. However, the grassroots movement that began in Xiaogang made the decision for him. In a series of policies issued between 1978 and 1984, China formalized the Household Contract Responsibility System (colloquially called chengbao). It allowed families to farm their own allocation of land in exchange for turning a portion of their crops over to the state. What remained was theirs to eat, and to sell at unregulated prices. China's communes, brigades, and production teams were renamed as townships, villages, and hamlets, respectively.

Xiaogang was made into a living patriotic education base where a small museum displays a replica of the farmers' pact, since the original was lost' Exhibits praise the bold wisdom of its ringleader, Yan Hongchang, his cosignatories, and the Party. But not everyone bought the high rhetoric. "My father signed that paper because we were starving," Mr. Yan's son told "There was nothing heroic about it. He had no other choice. It was human instinct, trying not to die. It's strange the leaders want to celebrate survival."

The reforms continued: in 1984, fifteen-year leases were introduced for family farm plots—then extended to thirty years in 1993. The state stopped requiring grain procurement in 2001 and abolished all agricultural taxes in 2006. (pp. 215-217, viewable at Amazon.com)
 I thought about Xiaogang and the daring secret combination tonight as we just completed a move (our 4th in 5 years) to a new apartment in China in a marvelous, lively neighborhood in Gubei, where we walked into a fruit store next to our complex and found some of the best, freshest fruit we've had. What abundance we enjoy in China! How much we owe to the farmers and many others who make this possible. How much we owe to the very brave, starving farmers who helped officials look at China in a new way and opened an era of prosperity.

Xiaogang was in the news recently as the President of China visited it and recognized it as the epicenter of the reforms that have made China so prosperous.

The photo and caption below come from a 2016 story in Qiushi, an official organ of the Chinese government:


HEFEI, April 27, 2016 (Xinhua) -- Chinese President Xi Jinping visits the family of Yan Jinchang (3rd R), who was a leader on implementing the "household contract responsibility system", at Xiaogang Village of Fengyang County in Chuzhou, east China's Anhui Province, April 25, 2016. Xi made an inspection tour in Anhui from April 24 to 27. (Xinhua/Li Xueren)

My thanks and love to the brave families of Xiaogang who showed the world that simple incentives to produce can result in a boom in production. Amazing stuff!

Also amazing is the experience of food in China. One thing China has taught me is to value and cherish food. Food matters so much here, as it should. Food here is about more than just not being hungry. It is about relationships, joy, love, and the quality of life. Food is something to never take for granted. We need it, and it can vanish so quickly due to drought, disease, overabundance of government, whatever. Having food storage is vital to be ready for the disasters that surely will come. May your food chain remain intact without the need to risk your life with secret combinations in your own country! May we be grateful to those who have done so much to make our current abundance possible.

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

"Under This Head Ye Are Made Free"

One of many recent discoveries regarding ancient wordplays in the Book of Mormon is presented by Matthew L. Bowen in "The Scalp of Your Head: Polysemy in Alma 44:14–18," Interpreter: A Journal of Mormon Scripture 20 (2016): 39-45. He treats a couple examples where Semitic wordplays involving concepts like "head" and "chief" appear to have been used for additional effect in the Book of Mormon.

According to Bowen:
Alma 44:12–14 recounts a prophetic threat uttered by “one of Moroni’s soldiers” to the defeated Lamanite leader Zerahemnah and his soldiers after Moroni’s soldier had taken off a part of Zerahemnah’s scalp with his sword. His soldier’s prophecy and its reported fulfilment verses later in Alma 44:18 turn on the words “chief” and “head.” Both “head” in the anatomical sense and “head”/“chief” in a sociological leadership [Page 40]sense are represented by a single word in Hebrew (ʾš)1 and Egyptian (tp),2 both languages that the Nephites themselves said they used.3
In this brief note, I propose that the intensity of the fear aroused in the Lamanite soldiers and the intensity of Zerahemnah’s redoubled anger are best explained by the polysemy (i.e., the range of meaning) of a single word translated “chief” in Alma 44:14 and “heads” in Alma 44:18. Mormon’s use of the latter term in Alma 44:18 completes the fulfilment of the soldier’s prophecy, a polysemic wordplay initiated with his use of a term translated “chief” in Alma 44:14.
In response, I offered this comment to Matthew:
The “head” under which we are made free in Mosiah 5:8 always seemed like an odd phrase to me. Understanding its apparent Semitic roots is now quite helpful.

Mosiah 5:
7 And now, because of the covenant which ye have made ye shall be called the children of Christ, his sons, and his daughters; for behold, this day he hath spiritually begotten you; for ye say that your hearts are changed through faith on his name; therefore, ye are born of him and have become his sons and his daughters.

8 And under this head ye are made free, and there is no other head whereby ye can be made free. There is no other name given whereby salvation cometh; therefore, I would that ye should take upon you the name of Christ, all you that have entered into the covenant with God that ye should be obedient unto the end of your lives.
Bowen then responded:
I agree that it is helpful to see Mosiah 5:7-8 in terms of Helaman 13:38, as well as the polysemy of Alma 44:14-18. And I wonder if there might be even more to this.
 Helaman 13:38, mentioned by Bowen, gives a title of Jesus as "our great and eternal head.”

I thought of Bowen's closing words, "I wonder if there might be even more to this," this morning as I was reading Brant Gardner's excellent book, Traditions of the Fathers: The Book of Mormon as History (Salt Lake City, UT: Greg Kofford Books, 2015), pp. 270-271, where Gardner discusses the Mesoamerican tradition of kings representing deity in ritual settings that often involve wearing a mask of the head of a god:
The living Mesoamerican king became, in ritual circumstances, the living and present deity. There were rituals where the king not only put on the mask of deity but, for ritual time and in ritual space, became that deity—commonly called god impersonation or “deity concurrence.” In deity concurrence, a ritual specialist, typically the ruler, puts on an engraved mask or elaborate headdress and transforms himself into the god whose mask or headdress is being worn. There is a glyphic formula that essentially says, “His holy image (u-b’aah-il), [that of] God X, [is upon] Ruler Y.” The Maya used the head metaphorically as a mark of individuality, and it stood as a representation of the whole body. In their minds, they were not playacting—they would actually become that god, acting as he would act and performing the godly duties pertaining to that particular deity. As Houston, Stuart, and Taube state, “There is no evident ‘fiction,’ but there is, apparently, a belief in godly immanence and transubstantiation, of specific people who become, in special moments, figures from sacred legend and the Maya pantheon.” There are many situations where deity concurrence takes place and a wide variety of deities are impersonated, such as wind gods, gods of incense burning, gods of ball playing, even major gods such as the sun god or the supreme creator deity, Itzamnaaj.50 This practice goes back to the Formative period (1500 B.C.–A.D. 200), as cave paintings in Oxtotitlan dating to the eighth century B.C. attest.51 Against that context, Alma’s question “Have you received his image in your countenances?” (Alma 5:14) and its rhetorical companion, “Can you look up, having the image of God [Jehovah] engraven upon your countenances?” (v. 19), become highly nuanced. Alma may have been referencing a concept that he expected his listeners to understand and attempted to shift that understanding into a more appropriate gospel context. The masks and headdresses that deity impersonators wore were literally graven; numerous ancient Maya ceramics depict artists in the act of carving them. [footnotes omitted]
Coming back to King Benjamin's speech, note the double use of head: "And under this head ye are made free, and there is no other head whereby ye can be made free." Christ is the head that frees us, and there were apparently competing "heads" that Mosiah warns against, for none of those other heads have power to save.

While the Hebrew and Egyptian use of the word "head" seems similar to the range of meanings we give it in English, in my vernacular at least, "head" feels like it should be followed by "of," as in "head of the Church," "head of our faith," etc. To speak of Christ simply as "our head" or "the head" feels odd to me. I'd rather say "our leader" or use some other noun. But if King Benjamin is speaking from the perspective of a culture in Mesoamerica, familiar with kings who represent and act as gods by placing the mask of a god's head upon their head, then this phrase seems more meaningful and natural. 

There are numerous examples in Gardner's work where considering  Mesoamerican culture adds insights and depth to the Book of Mormon text. It seems like there is always more than meets the eye in the Book of Mormon.

Tuesday, June 07, 2016

Two Green Apples

I like faith-promoting stories that are more than just rumors but come from sources I know and trust. Recently in talking with the mother of a missionary currently serving in Russia, I learned of the experience of one of his investigators with the principle of tithing. With the kind permission of the family, below is the story, straight from the missionary's letter home. Out of respect for Russia's laws on privacy, he has withheld the name of woman, and I am likewise not sharing the name of the missionary or his specific mission.
Friday, we met with one of our investigators.... The last lesson we taught (tithing) was not the best. She was crying the whole time and our member present was less than helpful. We planned just to watch the restoration video and have a lighter lesson. She walked in and declared that she wanted to pay tithing right then. When we explained it was only required after baptism, she didn't really care and demanded to pay. When we asked what caused her to accept the law of tithing, she told us an awesome story. She said after the previous lesson, she walked home crying and praying for faith to accept tithing. She walked into the store and looked at her favorite green apples, saw the price, and walked distraught out of the store. She couldn't afford them, even not paying tithing. "How will I be able to live if I pay tithing?" she asked God. Then, on the way home, she looked down into a nearby snow bank to see two shining green apples. After asking around, finding that nobody had lost them, she took them home as a testimony to her that if she pays tithing, God will provide. What a miracle! We then watched the restoration video and she asked to be baptized finally.
Two green apples in the snow. What a kind and simple gift to let someone know that He understands and loves her. And what a beautiful image to remind us that we can live the law of tithing without fear.

Saturday, June 04, 2016

The Straight and Narrow Path, the Rod, the Spacious Field, and the White Fruit: Further Thoughts on Lehi's Dream

Not to beat a dead Nephite horse, but I'd like to say a few more things about Lehi's dream and the lessons learned through exploring hypermodern theories of modern fabrication for Nephi's record. Some of these issues touch upon questions raised by commenters in my recent posts on Lehi's vision where I feel further information is needed. Other topics are areas for further exploration.

1. The Straight and Narrow Path: Evidence of Plagiarism or of Translation?
Some critics see evidence of plagiarism or modern origins in Nephi's language about the "straight and narrow path." First, I must say that I agree with John Welch's very thoughtful and intelligent discussion of the confusion around "strait and narrow" versus "straight and narrow" in John S. Welch, "Straight (Not Strait) and Narrow," Journal of Book of Mormon Studies 16/1 (2007): 18–25, 83–84 (link is to text only, but the article is also available as an attractive PDF). He argues convincingly that the word should be "straight" as it was printed in all editions of the Book of Mormon until 1981.

Whether "strait" or "straight," the direct combination with "narrow" does not occur in the Bible, but does occur in Pilgrim's Progress, a widely known Christian tome published by Paul Bunyan in 1678. In a dream, Goodwill tells the protagonist, Christian, that there are many ways that go down, "and they are crooked and wide; but thus thou mayest distinguish the right from the wrong, the right only being straight and narrow." Did Joseph plagiarize from Paul Bunyan?

The phrase is actually older than Pilgrim's Progress. The use of "straight" near "narrow" is, of course, found in Matthew 7:13-14:
13 Enter ye in at the strait gate: for wide is the gate, and broad is the way, that leadeth to destruction, and many there be which go in thereat:
14 Because strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it.
Welch explains that "Had the Lord said, 'Strait is the gate, and straight and narrow is the way,' it would have been more descriptive but less poetic." But there is really no need to specify the shape of the path in this bit of poetry. Crooked, winding paths are already ruled out in the scriptures His audience would have known (e.g., Deut. 5:32-33; see also Ps. 5:8 which asks the Lord to "make thy way straight before my face" and Isaiah 40:3, "make straight in the desert a highway for our God").

Bunyan was not the first to see that Lord's narrow path was also straight, not just strait take the Lord's words and move "straight" and "narrow" a little closer together. According to Welch:
Cyprian, a church father of the third century, in an apparent paraphrasing of Matthew 7:13–14, wrote, “How broad and spacious is the way which leadeth unto death, and many there are who go in thereby: how straight and narrow is the way that leadeth to life, and few there are that find it!” He also wrote, “We must persevere in the straight and narrow road of praise and glory.” (Cyprian Treatise 12.3.6, “Three Books of Testimonies against the Jews,” in The Ante-Nicene Fathers, vol. 5, ed. Alexander Roberts and James Donaldson [Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1965], 534, and Epistles of Cyprian 6.3 (in Ante-Nicene Fathers, 5:284), both as cited by Welch).
Origen also wrote of the "the straight and narrow way, which leads to life" (Origen, Commentary on John 10.28, in Ante-Nicene Fathers, vol. 10, ed. Allan Menzies [Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1969], 408, as cited by Welch).

Welch attributes the popularity of the phrase to Bunyan's influence. However, a search of Google Books shows it was also in use in modern English, or rather, Early Modern English, before Bunyan's day, when the Early Modern English era was nearing its end.  For example, the opening page of John Dee's 1591 "Dr. Dee's Apology" sent to the Archbishop of Canterbury speaks of the "true, straight, and most narrow path" of Christians. Two examples from 1632, both in a Christian context,  include a work by Richard Hooker et al. and a work by Robert Chetwind, have "straight and narrow." Examples are easier to find using a database of Early Modern English such as Early English Books Online proximity search at the University of Michigan. There, I can see, for example, a poem published by Robert Albott in 1600 with "For straight and narrow was the way that he did showe." In 1608, Thomas Bell wrote, "First, that the way to heauen (that is to say Gods commaundements) is very straight and narrow, not wide and long, or easie." I also see examples of "straight and narrow" in non-religious contexts, indicating that the pairing was more useful than just paraphrasing scripture. There are many dozens of examples to consider, with many obviously referring to the way to salvation.

One noteworthy point is that "straight and narrow" was not only part of English vocabulary in Joseph's day, but was also part of the vernacular of Early Modern English (which still includes Bunyan, though he was near the end of the period). I mention this because an important observation about the language of the Book of Mormon--not a theory that we Mormons need to buttress our faith, but a fact-based observation that we are struggling to understand--is that much (not all) of the language of the Book of Mormon shows strong influence from Early Modern English in ways that are not readily derived from the KJV Bible, almost as if there were tight control to give an English text that was often moved away from the English of Joseph's day or from KJV English into something slightly earlier and strangely different, yet plain and familiar, readily understandable to English speakers (unlike some Early Modern English). With this came grammar that is bad by modern standards by acceptable in EModE, a story we've covered here before. For now, the important thing is that "straight and narrow," though related to the KJV, is not a direct KJV phrase, but was an established phrase before Bunyan came along While its presence in the Book of Mormon may come from Joseph's own vernacular, as we would expect with a translation, it is also consistent with the unexpected observation that there are many times of possible tight or "semi-tight" control giving text laden with an Early Modern English approach.

One skeptic who objected to the idea that "straight and narrow" could not be explained by being part of Joseph's vocabulary if I also think that there was tight control with words given to Joseph Smith. "You can't have it both ways!" But I have it both ways all the time when I translate, as do many others in translation work. I turn to automated tools or Chinese friends who give me words directly, but I may edit those myself or do translation in my own words at other times. Normal translation is a complex process and the Book of Mormon itself shows much complexity in the language used. If any mental effort was required from Joseph, and it appears that it was, then his mind and language was not entirely separated from the text. The fact that he edited parts of the text after it was dictated and copied in subsequent editions of the Book of Mormon, often taking out some of the best Hebraisms or Early Modern English characteristics, suggests that his mind was involved to some degree.

Further, using a well-known phrase that has entered into the common vocabulary of a language is not plagiarism. Those who speak of quantitative easing, global warming, a black swan event, a utopian society, etc., are drawing upon recently developed phrases that can legitimately be used in an original work because they are part of our language now, as "straight and narrow" was in Joseph Smith's day, and as it was in the Early Modern English era. Whether the account of Lehi's dream was dictated with tight control using an Early Modern English base text or "setting" of some kind, or whether it was translated more loosely in Joseph's own vernacular, as a translation drawing upon either modern or Early Modern English, "straight and narrow" can be used to describe the path leading to eternal life even if that is not literally how the straightness or strictness of the way was expressed on the gold plates themselves. It's a plausible term to use in a translation and is not a sign of "plagiarism."

2. A Rod or a Railing? Active or Static?
Joseph was presumably familiar with railings and fences. Why not describe the rod as such in the text? "Rod" is not a common way in modern English to describe the function of what we perceive as a common railing in Lehi's dream. But it is a terrific word for an ancient Semitic text. "Rod" conveys the meaning of authority and divine power. In the Old Testament, the word "rod" is introduced in Moses' encounter with God on Sinai, when the Lord asks a significant question: "And the LORD said unto him, What is that in thine hand? And he said, A rod." The rod of Moses would become a tool for smiting enemies or overcoming the barrier to liberty and bringing the Israeilites to the promised land, just as the rod in Lehi's dream brings us to the tree of life. The rod can be used as a weapon to thwart enemies of God, as does the rod of iron in Psalm 2:9, and the smiting rod in Isaiah 10:24 and 11:4. In the latter verse, the Lord "shall smite the earth with the rod of his mouth," showing a connection to the role of the rod as the "word of God." Similar action against the wiles of the adversary is a also function of "the word of God" (in context, implicitly the rod, IMO) in Helaman 3:29.  The rod from the stem of Jesse is a Messianic symbol (Isaiah 11:1). All these uses provide relevant context for the significance of the rod, as it might have been understood in Nephi's world. (It is often said that Psalm 2 came after the exile. For evidence of a possibly more ancient origin, see William H. Brownlee, "Psalms 1 - 2 as a Coronation Liturgy,"  Biblica Vol. 52, No. 3 (1971): 321-336.)

In the Book of Mormon, Nephi first uses the word rod in an interesting scene in 1 Nephi 3:28-29, where the rod is used both as a tool for smiting and implicitly as a symbol of authority:
[28] And it came to pass that Laman was angry with me, and also with my father; and also was Lemuel, for he hearkened unto the words of Laman. Wherefore Laman and Lemuel did speak many hard words unto us, their younger brothers, and they did smite us even with a rod.
[29] And it came to pass as they smote us with a rod, behold, an angel of the Lord came and stood before them, and he spake unto them, saying: Why do ye smite your younger brother with a rod? Know ye not that the Lord hath chosen him to be a ruler over you, and this because of your iniquities? Behold ye shall go up to Jerusalem again, and the Lord will deliver Laban into your hands.
The angel not only spares Nephi's life, but challenges the use of a rod by the wicked brothers. The question isn't merely "Why do ye smite your younger brother?" but why do they smith him with a rod? This is followed by a challenge to their leadership status: "Know ye not that the Lord hath chosen him to be a ruler over you and this because of your iniquities?" The right to wield the rod is Nephi's, not his elder brothers'. Here the rod is a misused symbol of authority as well as a smiting tool.

With that context having been established, I suggest it is improper to neglect what Nephi and other scriptures already have told us about the symbol of the rod when we encounter it again in Lehi's dream. Obviously the rod, however it was portrayed, was much longer than a typical scepter. It extended along a bank and led to the tree of life. But that doesn't make it a modern railing. Those who gained the benefits of the rod "caught hold of the end of the rod of iron" and then pressed forward by "clinging to the rod" (1 Nephi 8:24), and finally reached the tree of life by "continually holding fast to the rod of iron" (1 Nephi 8:30). The interaction with the rod seems to be one of grabbing and not letting go. This could be advancing along the rod, one grip or handhold at a time, but the language leaves open the possibility that the rod might have been extended toward people on the bank to then pull them toward the tree of life if they would but grab the end and hold on, contrary to the image we tend to have of moving along the rod as we do with a conventional railing. Perhaps the rod as "word of God" played a more dynamic role in leading, guiding, and shepherding people (see the quote from Margaret Barker below on this idea), while also being able to "divide asunder" the cunning, the snares, and the wiles of the devil as does the word of God in Helaman 3:29, and to "land their souls" in the kingdom of heaven (Helaman 3:30).  In any case, it's a dream and elements don't have to have normal dimensions and properties.

Nephi continues using the word "rod" in his writings. In 1 Nephi 17:41, he refers to a active use of the rod to "straiten" the Israelites in the wilderness as he juxtaposes the rod of Moses with the story of the brass serpent on a pole:
And he did straiten them in the wilderness with his rod; for they hardened their hearts, even as ye have; and the Lord straitened them because of their iniquity. He sent fiery flying serpents among them; and after they were bitten he prepared a way that they might be healed; and the labor which they had to perform was to look; and because of the simpleness of the way, or the easiness of it, there were many who perished.
The rod of Moses, famous for its association with serpents in Exodus 4, is linked here with the brass serpent on a (rodlike?) pole, and the overall effect is to "straiten" the Israelites, or to guide them on a strait (narrow) course that, like the yoke of Christ, is easy but often rejected. Here the rod, the Messiah, and the straight and narrow path are associated. Later uses of "rod" by Nephi are in quoting from the Old Testament, where the smiting action of the rod is mentioned several times (2 Nephi 20: 5, 24, 26; 21:4, 24:29, 30:9).

In 2 Nephi 3:17, the rod as a symbol of power is found in a prophecy of the Lord given to Joseph the ancient Hebrew and recorded on the brass plates, possibly in the Egyptian script or language that Joseph may have used: "I will raise up a Moses; and I will give power unto him in a rod; and I will give judgment unto him in writing." In this couplet, the rod and writing are linked, possibly drawing upon the Egyptian language wordplay in which "rod" (mdw) means "words," in line with the apparent word play in Lehi's dream where the iron rod is explicitly identified as "the word of God." See Matthew Bowen, "What Meaneth the Rod of Iron?," Insights 25/2 (2005). In fact, the Egyptian hieroglyph for "word" is the symbol of the walking stick, a rod, as you can see in Wikipedia's entry, "Walking stick (hieroglyph)." I find this potential word play to be highly interesting and not the kind of thing one would think up on the fly after being impressed by an aqueduct in Rochester, or even with leisurely study in 1829. These findings either support ancient origins for Lehi's vision or provide just one more case of Joseph making a lucky guess in his innovations. Let's at least give that lazy plagiarizer a little innovation credit.

Adding further credibility to the argument for ancient roots of the iron rod as portrayed in the Book of Mormon, non-LDS scholar Margaret Barker writes:

Consider as well the mysterious rod of iron in this Book of Mormon vision (1 Nephi 8: 20; 11: 25). In the Bible, the rod of iron is mentioned four times as the rod of the Messiah. Each mention in the King James Version says the Messiah uses the rod to “break” the nations (Psalm 2: 9) or to “rule” them (Revelation 2: 27; 12: 5; 19: 15). The ancient Greek translation (the Septuagint) is significantly different; it understood the Hebrew word in Psalm 2: 9 to mean “shepherd” and it reads, “He will shepherd them with a rod of iron.” The two Hebrew verbs for “break” and “shepherd, pasture, tend, lead” look very similar and in some forms are identical. The Greek text of the Book of Revelation actually uses the word “shepherd,” poimanei, of the Messiah and his iron rod, so the English versions here are not accurate. The holy child who was taken up to heaven (Revelation 12: 5) was to “shepherd the nations with a rod of iron.” The King James Version of Micah 7: 14 translates this same word as “Feed thy people with thy rod,” where “guide” would be a better translation. Psalm 78: 72 has, “He fed them ... and guided them,” where the parallelism of Hebrew poetry would expect the two verbs to have a similar meaning: “He led them ... he guided them.” Lehi’s vision has the iron rod guiding people to the great tree—the older and probably the original understanding of the word. (Margaret Barker, "Joseph Smith and Preexilic Israelite Religion," in The Worlds of Joseph Smith: The Worlds of Joseph Smith: A Bicentennial Conference at the Library of Congress, ed. John S. Welch [Provo, UT: Brigham Young University Press: 2006], Kindle edition, section "White Fruit and a Guiding Rod.")

Let's don't make the mistake of projecting modern views of iron railings into Lehi's dream and then finding that the iron rod is too modern to be from an ancient text. Iron rods, pillars, and bars are attested in the Old Testament and could have been known and recognizable to Lehi and Nephi, with  symbolism and even linguistic aspects relevant to Nephi's usage in an ancient era. Lehi's dream and the rod of iron fits the ancient setting of the Book of Mormon better than a modern railing from Rochester in Joseph's day.


3. New Insights on a Temple Gone Dark: The Use of "Spacious" in the Book of Mormon
The Book of Mormon's use of the term "spacious" is another interesting twist in this story. That word is not used in the King James Bible, but is consistently used in a negative context in the Book of Mormon. And in most cases, possibly all, it has an architectural connection (buildings). Thus we have "spacious buildings" (Mosiah 11:8-9), referring to Noah's "elegant and spacious buildings" and "spacious palace," and then Mormon's condemnation of Riplakish, who taxed the people to "build many spacious buildings" in Ether 10:5. But before we read of the great and spacious building, Nephi introduces spacious to describe a field, of all things. But there's something unusual about this field and the other words used to describe it in 1 Nephi 8, as Nephi quotes Lehi:
[9] And it came to pass after I had prayed unto the Lord I beheld a large and spacious field.
[20] And I also beheld a strait and narrow path, which came along by the rod of iron, even to the tree by which I stood; and it also led by the head of the fountain, unto a large and spacious field, as if it had been a world.
A large and spacious field? As if it had been a world? Huh? This always sounded very odd to me--until I read D. John Butler's book, Plain and Precious Things: The Temple Religion of the Book of Mormon’s Visionary Men (2012), available at Smashwords or Amazon for a pittance.

Butler identifies numerous temple themes in Nephi's writings, and explains how the three parts of the ancient Jewish temple are reflected there, as I previously mentioned in a 2012 post, "A Temple Gone Dark," (before I noted the use of "spacious" elsewhere in the Book of Mormon, which strengthens the argument made there). Among the three parts of the Jewish temple, first is the ulam, often translated as “porch,” a room that may be roofless or very tall. Then comes the hekal, the main middle room. That word literally means “building” or “great building.” A high, lofting building. And then comes the debir, the holy of holies, representing the presence and power of the Lord.

As Lehi begins his travel in the dream, he enounters a “dark and dreary wilderness” that joins a “large and spacious field, as if it had been a world” (1 Nephi 8:20). The Hebrew word ulam for the first part of the temple is very close, almost identical in sound, to olam, the word that means “world.” In Butler’s view, there is a Hebrew play on words linking the great and spacious field, “a world,” to the temple’s ulam. If "the word" is a play on words linked to the courtyard of the temple, then "spacious" again could convey an architectural sense. There is a great and spacious courtyard, but dark and dreary from apostasy.

After the ulam comes the hekal, the “great building.” Recall Lehi’s words of what he saw after the spacious field/world/ulam, describing:
a great and spacious building; and it stood as it were in the air, high above the earth. And it was filled with people, both old and young, both male and female; and their manner of dress was exceedingly fine; and they were in the attitude of mocking and pointing their fingers towards those who had come at and were partaking of the fruit. (1Nephi 8:26-27)
The word “fine” is used repeatedly in the Old Testament to describe the clothing of the priests in the temple, not secular clothing. The people with the fine clothing in the great and spacious building include the priests of the temple in a sinister hekal, part of Lehi’s dark temple experience. Butler also compares the fumes of incense that are part of the hekal with the mists of darkness that lead people astray. The waters of life that are part of many temple scenarios in ancient literature are replaced with filthy waters that lead people astray.

Only those who resist the corrupt religious establishment of his day and the temptations and pressures of the adversary, clinging to the word of God (the iron rod) can make it past the dark ulam and sinister hekal and arrive safely to the debir and the tree of life, also rich in temple imagery.

As is so often the case, there is much, much more going on in the Book of Mormon than meets the eyes of a casual reader rushing through the text. There also appears to be much more going on that can plausibly be attributed to an unschooled farmboy rushing through many pages a day of non-stop dictation with no other documents before before him. Consistency, depth, intrigue, and even clever word plays seem to abound. In my view, this is not the kind of stuff anybody could make up on the fly after bumping into a four-story building near a river and an aqueduct. The most reasonable dating for Joseph's visit to Rochester in July 1829, after the Book of Mormon was already written, only slightly increases the overall implausibility of Rochester's buildings, bridges, aqueduct, river, books, and maps as the source for Lehi's dream, Lehi's trail, or anything else in the Book of Mormon.

4. The Whiteness of the Fruit
While Rick Grunder found an 1838 publication boasting of the abundant fruit in New York, nearly every state has fruit trees and regions that are well known for fruit (Washington apples, Georgia peaches, California and Florida citrus trees, Wisconsin's Door County for cherries, etc.). But finding fruit in New York to explain the fruit of the tree of life is hardly interesting, and doesn't address what really stands out in the Book of Mormon: the unique white fruit of the tree.

Grunder argues that the tree of life vision was created after a June 1829 (actually it was probably July) visit to Rochester, when Joseph was finishing the Book of Mormon as he translated the small plates of Nephi at the end of the translation process. This fails to account for the many references to the words and teachings from the small plates that are woven into the rest of the text, such as Alma 32 where the word of God is compared to a seed that can be planted in our heart and then grow, if carefully nourished, into a tree of life. Alma's description of the tree of life mirror's Lehi's, for it "is sweet above all that is sweet, and ... white above all that is white, yea, and pure above all that is pure; and ye shall feast upon this fruit even until ye are filled, that ye hunger not, neither shall ye thirst" (Alma 32:42).  Compare that to 1 Nephi 8: 11-12:
[11] And it came to pass that I did go forth and partake of the fruit thereof; and I beheld that it was most sweet, above all that I ever before tasted. Yea, and I beheld that the fruit thereof was white, to exceed all the whiteness that I had ever seen.
[12] And as I partook of the fruit thereof it filled my soul with exceedingly great joy; wherefore, I began to be desirous that my family should partake of it also; for I knew that it was desirable above all other fruit.
Nephi also tells us in 1 Nephi 11:8 that "the beauty [of the tree of life] was far beyond, yea, exceeding of all beauty; and the whiteness thereof did exceed the whiteness of the driven snow." This is not a New York apple tree, unless there's been some kind of serious industrial accident.

Margaret Barker was impressed with Lehi's description. In the section "White Fruit and a Guiding Rod" of her above-cited chapter in The Worlds of Joseph Smith, she writes:
The tree of life made one happy, according to the Book of Proverbs (Proverbs 3: 18), but for detailed descriptions of the tree we have to rely on the noncanonical texts. Enoch described it as perfumed, with fruit like grapes (1 Enoch 32: 5), and a text discovered in Egypt in 1945 described the tree as beautiful, fiery, and with fruit like white grapes. 21 I do not know of any other source that describes the fruit as white grapes. Imagine my surprise when I read the account of Lehi’s vision of the tree whose white fruit made one happy, and the interpretation that the Virgin in Nazareth was the mother of the Son of God after the manner of the flesh (1 Nephi 11: 14–23).  This is the Heavenly Mother, represented by the tree of life, and then Mary and her Son on earth. This revelation to Joseph Smith was the ancient Wisdom symbolism, intact, and almost certainly as it was known in 600 bce.
There's on old joke about a man on his hands and knees looking for something on the ground under a streetlight one night. A passerby asked him what he was doing. "Looking for a lost key." Where did you lose it? "About a block down the street, I think." So why aren't you searching there? "Because the light is better here." Searching for parallels in the modern era is more convenient, but it's not the right place to fairly evaluate the Book of Mormon.

As is often the case, when looking for parallels to a text in the wrong place, something can always be found, what is found may not be not as meaningful or informative as the parallels encountered when one searches nearer the source. The fake "keys" to the Book of Mormon from Joseph's environment don't really open the book to us. They don't fit the data. And in the case of Rochester and Pilgrim's Progress as purported sources of a major section of Nephi's writing, they fail on numerous counts and don't come close to offering plausibility or explanatory power for the riches that are there.


Monday, May 30, 2016

The Iron Rod: Inspired by an Aqueduct in Rochester?

As discussed in my previous post, RT's response to my defense of the evidence for Lehi's Trail points to a new suggestion from Rick Grunder that perhaps the great and spacious building and the iron rod of Lehi's dream were inspired by Joseph's visit to Rochester looking for a printer for the Book of Mormon. In this scenario, Joseph hasn't written most of the beginning 143 pages (current printing) of the Book of Mormon. He is so impressed by the four stories of the Reynolds Arcade in Rochester, complete with a river a block or two away and its aqueduct with an iron railing,  that he turns it into a major theme in Lehi's dream as he dictates the rest of the Book of Mormon in the remaining days of June. This scenario probably can't work, though, for it appears that Joseph's trip to Rochester was in July, after he had completed the Book of Mormon. Further, Eldon Watson's detailed chronology of the Book of Mormon process puts the drafting of 1 Nephi 8 near the beginning of June, before any possibility of Joseph's trip to Rochester. But there is some uncertainty and in theory it is still possible for Rochester to have influenced Joseph.

The problem with only looking at modern sources to explain the Book of Mormon is that it leaves one blind to the abundant evidence of ancient origins. A fair evaluation should consider the Book of Mormon in the context it offers and determine if it is plausible and weight how the evidence for ancient origins compares to other theories.

Rick Grunder has found a building, a river, and an iron rail, and feels he has an incredibly compelling case. The same case could have been found in many cities of the world, for cities tend to be built on rivers, and tend to have buildings, including buildings at least four stories tall, and iron rails are found all over as well. The question, though, is whether something like an iron rod could have been known in antiquity, It doesn't need to have been used in ancient cities, but needs to have been a concept that could have been understood in a dream with spiritual significance. In the comments section, RT points to the purported problem of the iron rod and suggests that is is clearly a modern concept:
 In my view, the strength of the parallel relates to the conjunction of a long rod of iron and narrow path, a large swift flowing river and nearby falls ("terrible gulf"), and an exceptionally large and lavish building nearby. The appearance of a rod of iron in this setting is particularly important, since it is clearly not an ancient motif. There were no rods of iron set next to rivers at the time of Nephi in the Old World. I have always wondered where the notion could have come from, and so its presence here in a setting highly evocative of Lehi's dream and at a place JS is known to have visited is difficult to ignore.
Is a rod of iron a nineteenth century concept? Is it impossible to have been used in a divinely inspired vision in 600 B.C.? First realize that iron itself is not the problem. The Iron Age was well underway in Lehi's day. Even the "fine steel" of Laban's sword is not anachronistic, as some critics have claimed (especially those in the first few decades after the Book of Mormon, before the history of iron became better known), though high-quality steel could be rare and precious. So the problem raised by RT appears to be not the iron itself, but an iron rod. There were iron knives, iron swords, iron tools, iron cups, iron beds, iron yokes, etc., but is the concept of an "iron rod" so out of place in Lehi's day that it would have been unintelligible to him, like, say, showing him a 64 gigabyte flash drive of fine germanium-doped silicon holding zillions of sacred words? (Sing with me now: "Hold to the drive, the silicon drive...." Care to complete the lyrics for a little added glory?)

Actually, the term "iron rod" occurs in the KJV Old Testament in Psalm 2:9: "Thou shalt break them with a rod of iron; thou shalt dash them in pieces like a potter's vessel." It's not just a quirky KJV thing. The NIV also has "iron rod" while the NASB has "rod of iron."

Jeremiah 1:18 also speaks of an iron pillar: "I have made thee this day a defenced city, and an iron pillar, and brasen walls against the whole land...." The brass walls coupled with iron pillars (rodlike elements?) defend the city. The Hebrew word translated here as "pillar" can also be a platform or scaffold, according to Gesenius (see BlueLetterBible.org), so could this include a fencelike function? Probably not. However, structural iron elements should not be unrecognizable to Lehi, including iron structures used to protect people.

Updated paragraph,  5/31/2016: The KJV also twice mentions iron bars in Psalm 107:16 and Isaiah 45:2. The Hebrew word for "bars" is bĕriyach (בְּרִיחַ), Strong's H1280, which according to Gesenius' Hebrew-Chaldee Lexicon (see the entry for Strong's H1280 at BlueLetterBible.org), can mean a crossbeam or bar used to connect wooden boards of the tabernacle or can be a bolt or bar for shutting doors or gates. Here we have an iron beam-like or rod-like object that appears to be horizontal, again suggesting that iron horizontal objects serving some kind of structural or barrier function would not be inconceivable to Lehi. Interestingly, in Isaiah 45:2, the iron bars are mentioned after stating that the Lord would make that which was crooked (crooked paths, apparently) straight.

But I agree with RT in that I'm not aware of any ancient rivers in the Middle East that had iron rods along them, but that does not mean it could not have been an intelligible concept in a dream nor does it require that we look to modern sources for the concept of an iron rod. Given the presence of iron in Lehi's day and specifically of reference to an iron rod in Psalm 2, as well as other structural iron features in the Old Testament, iron in the form of a rod appearing in nothing more challenging than an archaeologically benign dream should not be overly puzzling. 
What I hope is more puzzling to RT is the association of a "rod" with the "word of God":
I beheld that the rod of iron, which my father had seen, was the word of God. (1 Nephi 11:25)
And they said unto me: What meaneth the rod of iron which our father saw, that led to the tree? And I said unto them that it was the word of God; and whoso would hearken unto the word of God, and would hold fast unto it, they would never perish. (1 Nephi 15:23—24)
How does a rod equal the word of God? Isn't that rather odd?

This concept may not have just been an on-the-fly blunder inspired by a last-minute glimpse of an iron fence on an aqueduct. In my previous post, I mentioned that elements from Lehi's dream appear to be interwoven in the remaining text of the Book of Mormon, which was written before 1 Nephi. One of those elements is the idea of "holding" onto the word of God, as in Helaman 3:29-30:
[29] Yea, we see that whosoever will may lay hold upon the word of God, which is quick and powerful, which shall divide asunder all the cunning and the snares and the wiles of the devil, and lead the man of Christ in a strait and narrow course across that everlasting gulf of misery which is prepared to engulf the wicked --

[30] And land their souls, yea, their immortal souls, at the right hand of God in the kingdom of heaven, to sit down with Abraham, and Isaac, and with Jacob, and with all our holy fathers, to go no more out.
Here language is used that echoes Nephi in several ways. In addition laying "hold" on the word of God, like the iron rod, we learn that it serves to lead one in a straight course to eternal life (like the tree of life) and to avoid the "gulf of misery" that Nephi also speaks of (2 Nephi 1:13, possibly building on the "terrible gulf" of Lehi's dream in 1 Nephi 12:18 and the "awful gulf" of 1 Nephi 15:28; cf. Alma 26:20 and Hel. 5:12). The dangerous journey to eternal life is made possible if one will "lay hold upon" the word of God and pursue its straight and narrow course.  The iron rod theme seems to have been part of background in Helaman 3, and this not readily explained by something Joseph saw well after dictating Helaman. But where does this concept come from? A random creation from Joseph inspired by some other modern scene in Rochester or elsewhere?

Hints of something more come from John Tvedtnes in "Rod and Sword as the Word of God," Journal of Book of Mormon Studies 5/2 (1996):
The use of a rod to represent words or speech is found in Proverbs 10:13 and 14:3. In other passages, it refers specifically to the word of God. In Isaiah 30:31, “the voice of the Lord” is contrasted with the rod of the Assyrians. In a few passages, the rod is compared to a covenant with God which, like a rod, can be broken (Ezekiel 20:37; Zechariah 11:10, 14). Micah wrote, “The Lord’s voice crieth unto the city, and the man of wisdom shall see thy name: hear ye the rod, and who hath appointed it” (Micah 6:9). Isaiah wrote of the Messiah, “But with righteousness shall he judge the poor, and reprove with equity for the meek of the earth: and he shall smite the earth with the rod of his mouth, and with the breath of his lips shall he slay the wicked” (Isaiah 11:4). A similar thought, obviously based on the Isaiah passage, is expressed in a modern revelation in which the Lord threatens to punish the unrepentant with “the rod of my mouth” (D&C 19:15).
Even more interesting information came later from Matthew Bowen in "What Meaneth the Rod of Iron?," Insights 25/2 (2005, footnotes omitted):
Further support for the antiquity of Nephi's imagery is detectable in his own comparison of the word to a rod, a comparison that may involve wordplay with the Egyptian term for "word" and "rod." Although we have the Book of Mormon text only in translation and do not know the original wording of the text, we can use our knowledge of the languages that the Nephite writers said they used—Hebrew and Egyptian (1 Nephi 1:2; Mormon 9:32—33) —to propose reasonable reconstructions.
We note that the Egyptian word mdw means not only "a staff [or] rod"2 but also "to speak" a "word."3 The derived word md.t, or mt.t, probably pronounced *mateh in Lehi's day, was common in the Egyptian dialect of that time and would have sounded very much like a common Hebrew word for rod or staff, matteh.4 It is also very interesting that the expression mdw-ntr was a technical term for a divine revelation, literally the "the word of God [or] divine decree."5 The phrase mdw-ntr also denoted "sacred writings,"6 what we would call scriptures, as well as the "written characters [or] script"7 in which these sacred writings were written.
Now consider Nephi's comparison of the word and the rod in the context of the Egyptian word mdw:
I beheld that the rod [mdw/mt.t, Heb. matteh] of iron, which my father had seen, was the word [mdw/mt.t] of God.8 (1 Nephi 11:25)
And they said unto me: What meaneth the rod [mdw/mt.t, Heb. matteh] of iron which our father saw, that led to the tree? And I said unto them that it was the word [mdw/mt.t] of God; and whoso would hearken unto the word of God, and would hold fast unto it, they would never perish. (1 Nephi 15:23—24)
An indication of Nephi's awareness of the play on words is his use of the expression "hold fast unto" the "word of God," since one can physically hold fast to a rod but not to a word (compare Helaman 3:29). Nephi's comparison of the rod of iron to the word of God also makes very good sense in light of other scriptural passages that employ the image of the iron rod.9 But the comparison takes on even richer connotations when viewed as a play on multiple senses of the Egyptian word mdw. Since Lehi's language consisted of the "learning of the Jews and the language of the Egyptians" (1 Nephi 1:2), we would reasonably expect that Lehi and his sons (Nephi in particular) were aware of, and probably even used, the common word mdw/mt.t in at least some of those senses. It seems unlikely that the word's phonetic similarity to Hebrew matteh would have escaped their attention. On the contrary, it would plausibly explain Nephi's apparent substitution of "word" for "rod" in later remarks to his brothers in 1 Nephi 17:26, 29: "And ye know that by his word [mdw/mt.t] the waters of the Red Sea were divided. . . . And ye also know that Moses, by his word [mdw/mt.t] according to the power of God which was in him, smote the rock, and there came forth water."10
Nephi's imagery itself, along with its possible Egyptian language wordplay, further attests the antiquity of the Book of Mormon. Certainly Joseph Smith in 1829 could not have known that mdw meant both "rod" and "word." However, Nephi, in the early sixth century BC likely had a good understanding of such nuances, and he may have employed them as part of a powerful object lesson for his brothers.
Like the white fruit of Lehi's dream, which impressed non-LDS scholar Margaret Barker with its ancient connections to documents Joseph Smith could not have known about ("White Fruit and a Guiding Rod" in The Worlds of Joseph Smith (Provo, BYU Press: 2006)), the ancient Semitic connections around the iron rod symbolism in the Book of Mormon are also rooted in antiquity and deserve more consideration than simply ascribing it to inspiration from a common modern setting (building, river, railing, all in the same city, no less). It requires more explanation than just assuming that the writings of Nephi must have been made up on the fly,  inspired by last-minute ideas Joseph picked up a few days before completing the Book of Mormon from a his late visit to Rochester, a visit so late that the Book of Mormon was probably already finished. Given the evidence from the text of the Book of Mormon, that theory of fabrication is a pipe dream, and if iron, then a heavily corroded iron pipe dream, far more fanciful, far more modern, and far less enduring than Lehi's.

Update,  5/31/2016:  Criticism about the rod of iron as an anachronistic structure to me seems to draw upon our modern views of iron railings. We assume that the rod of iron is a nicely anchored, stationary railing made according to modern standards, nicely cemented into place with supports ever 30 or so centimeters. But the rod of iron in Isaiah 11:4 is used for smiting, a rather dynamic act, and when Mormon appears to refer to the iron rod and other themes from Lehi's dream in Helaman 3:29-30, he urges us to "lay hold upon the world of God which is quick and powerful, which shall divide asunder all the cunning and the snares and the wiles of the devil, and lead the man of Christ in a strait [straight] and narrow  course across the everlasting gulf of misery..." The word, which we must hold, is "quick"--alive, active--and can "divide" (perhaps chop up, whack, or smite) the artifices of the Adversary. This suggests motion, the kind of motion you might get from a rod that is being wielded by a divine agent. In leading us to salvation (or to the tree of life), perhaps its action is also more than merely a passive support. Perhaps the iron rod is pulling us or actively moving us in the right direction. It actively wrecks Satan's deceitful artifices while bringing us, perhaps vigorously, to our goal. Well, it's a dream. We're not sure what he saw. But importing modern images into the dream and then declaring that the dream seems too modern may be a bit fallacious.

The possibility of the rod playing an active, dynamic role is not just Mormon's idea in Helaman 3. Nephi, in explaining the significance of the rod of iron to his brothers, states that "it was the word of God, and whose would hearken unto the word of God, and would hold fast unto it, they would never perish; neither could the temptations and the fiery darts of the adversary overpower them unto blindness, to lead them away to destruction" (1 Nephi 15:24). Thus, as Tvedtnes has noted, "This makes the rod both a source of support (as the word of God) and a weapon of defense against the devil’s 'fiery darts'...." Nephi's concept, nicely built into Helaman 3, suggests the role of the iron rod is more than just a static railing.

If the rod Lehi saw was an exaggerated iron scepter, a symbol of God's power and also of the word of God, building on the clever wordplay suggested by Matthew Bowen above, then in the dream it could have served as a barrier/railing but also as a dynamic tool to protect people and draw them home. Lehi doesn't say it was anchored, just that "it extended along the bank of the river and led to the tree" (1 Nephi 8:19). There was a path along the rod of iron (1 Nephi 18:20) and since a path is static, the rod may have been, but this is not necessary. The people who reached the tree of life "caught hold of the end of the rod of iron" and then pressed forward, "clinging to the rod or iron" (1 Nephi 8:24). So it had a finite length, and the key was grabbing the end of it and holding on. That makes sense for a static structure, but need not be, especially in a dream.

What if we compare the rod of iron with another metallic symbol of power, a sword? As we can see in Vol. 4 of Skousen's online Critical Text of the Book of Mormon, 1 Nephi 12:8, which currently has "the word of the justice of the Eternal God" serving to "divide" the wicked from the blessings of eternal life, but Skousen shows that this was a mistake and it should be the "sword of the justice of the Eternal God" that is doing the dividing, which is more logical and consistent with ancient usage and with the dividing action in Hel. 3:29, though there it is the word of God carrying out that action. As Tvedtnes has pointed out, rods, swords, and the word of God may all be connected.

Another connection occurs in 1 Nephi 15:30, when Nephi explains "that our father also saw that the justice of God did also divide the wicked from the righteous; and the brightness thereof was like unto the brightness of a flaming fire,..." The bright, flaming justice of God, a sword (as originally in 1 Nephi 12:8) that divides or separates the wicked from the tree of life, here appears to draw upon the image of the cherubim and flaming sword of Genesis 3:24, placed there by God "to keep the way of the tree of life." The "way" is derek, Strong's H1870, which means road, path, etc. I think Lehi's dream builds on that concept nicely, and we Latter-day Saints may have overlooked this connection to Genesis. We don't know the details of how the dream was presented and if Lehi saw a rod and a sword at the same time, far apart or somehow related, but his dream and Nephi's version were fairly sweeping with many features and scenes.

One of the most interesting aspects of the dream is the relationship between its stages and the three stages of the Jewish temple. This goes far beyond anything Joseph could have concocted, in my opinion, and nothing in Rochester would have helped here. See my first post on this, "A Temple Gone Dark."

There's much more to the iron rod than meets the modern eye, and much more to the Book of Mormon's use of that theme than Joseph would have gleaned from a quick glance at a Rochester aqueduct in his frantic final moments of dictating the beginning of the Book of Mormon, a beginning that is interwoven in many ways with the rest of the already-dictated text. The alleged weakness of an anachronistic iron rod structure in Lehi's dream may actually be a strength pointing to sophisticated usage drawing upon ancient concepts and even Semitic wordplays. The theory that Joseph came up with Lehi's dream almost as an afterthought in the last few hours of dictating the Book of Mormon just doesn't work.

Monday, May 23, 2016

The Great and Spacious Book of Mormon Arcade Game

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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