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

Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Our Hearts Go Out to Katrina Victims

Our hearts go out to the people stricken by Katrina. If you are part of the relief efforts, I'd like to hear about when you get back. I was in Homestead, Florida for one such effort shortly after it was decimated a number of years ago, and it was heart wrenching to see how much damage a hurricane can cause. Such disasters remind me of what may be the most important reason to follow the prophetic counsel to have a significant food storage and emergency preparedness program: the ability to help our neighbors. Those who are prepared can feed the hungry, provide much needed drinking water, and help with first aid, long before organized relief efforts move into town. All of us need to be prepared for disaster.

This would also be a good time to be generous in donating to the Church's humanitarian aid program.

I'm very worried about what's happening in the regions hit by Katrina. My boss (one of two) has family in Biloxi. Hasn't heard from them - phone lines are out, cell phone batteries have probably died. They rode out the storm in sturdy brick homes, but there is a serious risk of severe flooding. So much heartache has been caused. I'm not weeping too much for the damaged casinos, but so many people like you and me have lost everything all at once. Keep them in your prayers, and thanks to those of you who are or will be participating in relief and rebuilding efforts.

Sunday, August 28, 2005

More from the Yucatan

In a recent post, I discussed the sixteenth century Spanish account of Friar Diego de Landa about his experiences with the inhabitants of Mesoamerica shortly after the Spanish arrived and conquered the land. His description of a ritual much like Christian baptism is certainly an intriguing hint at possible ties to ancient Book of Mormon peoples. But in addition to that dramatic section, there are many other passages of possible interest. Here are some I've noted in my reading, followed by my comments.

These islands [in a large lagoon] with their shores and sandy beaches have . . . deer, hare, the wild pigs of that country, monkeys as well, which are not found in Yucatan. (pp. 2-3)
Some critics have mocked the Book of Mormon for referring to swine, claiming that they were unknown in the New World. The Book of Mormon does not say that the Nephites had swine or ate swine (which would have been a violation of the law of Moses), though one verse indicates that the earlier Jaredites did (Ether 9:18) - but the Jaredites were not under the law of Moses. Does "swine" necessarily refer to the type of animal we think of today? Perhaps not. I suspect that the "pigs" of de Landa and the "swine" of the Jaredites refers to peccaries, which are common in Mesoamerica and look very much like domesticated pigs.
Some of men of Yucatan say that they have heard from their ancestors that this country was peopled by a certain race who came from the East, whom God delivered by opening for them twelve roads through the sea. If this is true, all of the inhabitants of the Indies must be of Jewish descent. . . . (p. 8).
Other Spaniards and other American and European writers, including Solomon Spaulding, had speculated about a possible link between the lost tribes and the Jews, as one of many theories that had been circulating in Joseph Smith's day. But the fact the de Landa heard a legend from the natives hinting at a transoceanic voyage from the east should not be dismissed lightly.
The most important thing that the chiefs who stripped Mayapan took away to their own countries were the books of their sciences, for they were always very subject to the counsels of their priests, for which reason there are so many temples in those provinces. . . . (p. 17)
The passage above is in the context of describing large stone monuments with engraved writing, now largely worn away, pertaining to a destroyed city, Mayapan, that was abandoned about 120 years before de Landa came on the scene (p. 16). De Landa's quote indicates the importance of books, priests, and temples to the ancient Mesoamericans, in harmony with what we read in the Book of Mormon. The use of stone engravings and monuments is also found in the Book of Mormon (e.g., Coriantumr's Jaredite engraving known by the Nephites.)
They say that among the twelve priests of Mayapan was one of great wisdom who had an only daughter, whom he married to a young nobleman named Ah-Chel. This one had sons who were called the same as their father, according to the custom of the country. (p. 17)
Twelve priests may relate to the tradition of twelve disciples. Though present in many other cultures as well, the Book of Mormon certainly shows a tendency for prophets and priests to name their sons after themselves (Nephi, Helaman, and Alma, for example). And the role of priests in making prophecies is fully at harmony with the Book of Mormon.
The successor of the Cocoms, called Don Juan Cocom after he became a Christian, was a man of great reputation and very learned in matters and affairs of the country, very wise and well informed. He was on familiar terms with the author of this book, Fray Diego de Landa, recounting to him many ancient things, and showing him a book which had belonged to his grandfather, the son of the Cocom whom they killed in Mayapan. In this was painted a deer, and his grandfather had told him that when there should come into the land large deer (for so they called the cows), the worship of the gods would cease, and this had been fulfilled, because the Spaniards brought along large cows. (p. 19)
This passage again shows the importance of prophecy and books among the ancient inhabitants of Mesoamerica. In fact, the prophecy pertaining to the arrival of "large deer" and the change in religion of the people is not too remote from prophecies among the Nephites about the future scattering of the descendants of the Lamanites on this land by the Gentiles in the Book of Mormon. But I think the most interesting thing about this passage is demonstration of the practice of naming foreign animal species with familiar terms, such as calling cows "deer." Such tendencies need to be considered in evaluating alleged problems about missing plants and animals in the Book of Mormon.
The Indians are very dissolute in drinking and becoming intoxicated, and many ills follow their excesses in this way. . . . Their wine they make of honey and water and the root of a certain tree they grow for the purpose, and which gives the wine strength and a very disagreeable odor. After eating the cup-bearers, who have had to remain sober, help themselves from great jars until they are overcome, and their wives have great trouble in getting their drunken husbands home. (p. 35)
Many critics have pounced upon the Book of Mormon for its references to wine and to honey. Both were clearly known in the Americas. The Book of Mormon actually does not say that there was honey in the New World, only that the Jaredites had the honeybee with them as they were traveling in the Old World, making the anti-Mormon attack on honey an argument that truly lacks any sting. Nevertheless, at least one anti-Mormon site I've seen lists it as one of two primary reasons for rejecting the Book of Mormon. Well, I suppose it is as valid as any other reason for rejecting the divine text of the Book of Mormon.
The Yucatecans naturally know when they had done wrong, and they believed that death, disease and torments would come on them because of evil-doing and sin, and thus they had the custom of confessing to their priests when such was the case. (p. 46)
The role of priests and the practice of confession is an interesting one.

The Yucatecans had a great number of temples, sumptuous in style; besides these temples in common the chiefs, priests and principal men also had their oratories and idols in their houses for their private offerings and prayers. They held Cozumel and the well at Chichen Itza in great veneration as we have in our pilgrimages to Jerusalem and Rome; they visited them to offer gifts, especially at Cozumel, as we do at our holy places; and when they did not visit they sent offerings. When traveling also, and passing an abandoned temple, it was their custom to enter for prayers and burn incense. (pp. 46-47)
The existence of ancient temples and the significant role they played in Mesoamerica is consistent with the Book of Mormon, and a far cry from anything in Joseph Smith's environment.
So many idols did they have that their gods did not suffice for them, there being no animal or reptile of which they did not make images, and these in the form of gods and goddesses. They had idols of stone (though few in number), others more numerous of wood, but the greatest number of terra cotta. . . .

The most idolatrous of them were the priests, the chilanes, the sorcerers, the physicians, the chacs and the nacones. It was the office of the priests to discourse and teach their sciences, to indicate calamities and the means of remedying them, preaching during the festivals, celebrating the sacrifices and administering their sacraments. (p. 47)
Here we see priests in the role of teachers and prophets, though idolatrous - but that's consistent with the Book of Mormon, which teaches that the land fell into idolatry.
At times they sacrificed their own blood, cutting all around the ears in strips which they let remain as a sign. At other times they perforated their cheeks or lower lip; again they made cuts in parts of the body, or pierced the tongue crossways and passed stalks through, causing extreme pain; again they cut away the superfluous parts of the member, leaving the flesh in the form of ears. It was this custom which led the historian of the Indies to say that they practiced circumcision. (p. 47)
Ouch. I don't think their body piercing practices were inspired of God, though could it be that the circumcision-like practice had ancient Old World roots? In any case, it sounds like those ancient body piercers would fit right in to some segments of modern American society.

On pages 47-49, de Landa describes the horror of Mesoamerican human sacrifice, something that is, unfortunately, consistent with the practices of the Lamanites at the end of the Book of Mormon.

On pages 49-50, de Landa describes weaponry and some military practices. In addition to bows and arrows, lances, hatchets, including "hatchets of a certain metal . . . fastened in a handle of wood" (p. 50) - undoubtedly copper. They also had shields and "wore protective jackets of cotton, quilted in double thickness, which were very strong" (p. 50). "Some of the chiefs and captains wore helmets of wood, but these were not common" (p. 50). He also refers to defensive fortifications that bring to mind the structures described in Alma 50:1-4 (also see my page on Mesoamerican Fortifications and the Book of Mormon): "On the roads and passages the enemy set defenses manned by archers, barricades of stakes and trees, and more often of stone" (p. 51).
When the children were born, . . . they took them to the priest that he might cast their fate, declare the office a child was to fill, and give him the name he was to retain during his childhood; because they were accustomed to call the children by different names until they were baptized or somewhat grown up; afterwards they dropped these and called themselves after their fathers until they were married. Then they took the names of both father and mother.
The role of the priest in blessing children and making prophetic statements is again indicated.
At death they shrouded the body, filled with mouth with ground maize and a drink they call koyem, and with certain stones they used for money, that food might not be lacking to him in the other life. They buried them in their houses or the vicinity, throwing in some of their idols into the grave; if he was a priest they threw in some of his books; if a sorcerer his divining stones and other instruments of his office. (p. 57)
The reference to divining stones reminds one of the Urim and Thummim or Gazelem mentioned in the Book of Mormon. And again we see the importance of books for the priestly class.
The people have always believed in the immortality of the soul, in greater degree than in other nations, even though they were not so civilized; they believed that after death there was another life better than this, which the soul enjoyed after leaving the body. This future life they said was divided into good and evil, into pains and delights. The evil life of suffering they said was for the vicious, and the good and delectable for those whose mode of life had been good. The delights they said would come into if they had been of good conduct, were by entering a place where nothing would give pain, where there would be abundance of food and delicious drinks, and a refreshing and shady tree called Yaxché, the Ceiba tree, beneath whose branches and shade they might rest and be in peace forever.

The torments of the evil life which they said awaited the wicked, lay in going to a place below the other, and which they called Mitnal, meaning hell, where they were tormented by demons, by great pains of cold and hunger and weariness and sadness. They said there was in this place a chief demon whom all the rest obeyed and whom in their language they called Hunhau; also they said that these good and evil after-lives had no end, because the soul itself had none. (pp. 57-58)
These beliefs regarding the afterlife resonate strongly with teachings in the Book of Mormon, not just about the afterlife, but also in its use of a tree as a central symbol, much like the tree of life symbol in Lehi's vision (1 Nephi 8, 11).

Among the multitude of gods worshipped by these people were four whom they called by the name Bacab. These were, they say, four brothers placed by God when he created the world, as its four corners to sustain the heavens lest they fall. They also say that these Bacabs escaped when the world was destroyed by deluge. (p. 60)
This is an interesting reference to Mesoamerican belief in divine creation and a deluge that destroyed the world. The Mesoamerican concept of the four corners of the earth or the four quarter of the earth also is consistent with Old World views. (See the footnote on p. 13 discussing the four colors attached to the four directions.
When the New Year came, all the men gathered, alone, in the court of the temple, since none of the women were present at any of the temple ceremonies, except the old women who performed the dances. The women were admitted to the festivals held in other places. Here all clean and gay with their red-colored ointments, but cleansed of the black soot they put on while fasting, they came. When all were congregated, with the many presents of food and drink they had brought, and much wine they had made, the priest purified the temple, seated in pontifical garments in the middle of the court, at his side a brazier and the tablets of incense. The chacs seated themselves in the four corners, and stretched one to the other a new rope, inside of which all who had fasted had to enter, in order to drive out the evil spirit, as I related in chapter 96 (Sec. XXVI). When the evil one had been driven out, all began their devout prayers, and the chacs made new fire and lit the brazier, because in the festivals celebrated by the whole community new fire was made wherewith the light the brazier. The priest began to throw in incense, all came in their order, commencing with the chiefs, to receive incense from the hands of the priest, which he gave them with as much gravity as if he were giving them relics; then they threw it a little at a time into the brazier, waiting until it ceased to burn.
In the Old World, New Year rites were extremely important, and were often associated with temples. In the Book of Mormon, King Benjamin's speech at the Temple has been viewed by some as a classic Old World New Year's and coronation rite (e.g., see Kerry Shirts' article, "Jewish Festivals in the Book of Mormon"). The gathering of the people in Bountiful at the temple shortly before the visitation of Jesus Christ may have been a New Year's festival. And now we see New Year's festivals at the temples of Mesoamerica as well. Further significant details include fasting marked with soot - as in the sackcloth and ashes practice of the Jews - and the use of incense in a brazier in the temple, reminiscent of the use of incense in the ancient Jewish temple. (See also p. 77 of de Landa, discussing the Oc-na festival whose name means "renovation of the temple." Incense was again involved. See also p. 78, where incense is said to exorcise the evil spirit.)
In the month of Uo [beginning about August 6] the priest and the physicians and sorcerers (who were one ) [amazing how modern the Mesoamericans were!] began, with fasting and the rest, to prepare to celebrate another festival. The hunters and fishermen began to celebrate on the 7th of Sip, each celebrating for himself on his own day. First the priests celebrated their fete, which was called Pocam ['the washing']; gather in their regalia in the house of the chief, they first cast out the evil spirit as was their custom; after that they brought out their books and spread them upon the fresh leaves they had prepared to receive them. Then with many prayers and very devoutly they invoked an idol they called Kinch-ahau Itzamná, who they said was the first priest, offered him their gifts and burned the pellets of incense upon new fire; meanwhile they dissolved in a vase a little verdigris and virgin water which they say was brought from the forests where no woman had been; and anointed with it the tablets of the books for their purification. After this had been done, the most learned of the priests opened a book, and observed the predictions for that year, declared them to those present, [and] preached to them a little enjoining the necessary observances. . . . (p. 71)
Priests, sacred books, anointing with holy water, prophecy, casting out the evil one - all interesting concepts from Mesoamerica.
They ended it [the Tzec festival] with wine as usual, in plenty, the hive owners giving honey for it in abundance. (p. 73)
Again, wine and honey were important elements of ancient Mesoamerican society.
The second of the chief ancient structures, such that there is no record of their builders, are those at Tiho, thirteen leagues from those at Izamal, and like them eight leagues from the sea; and their are traces of there having been a fine paved road from one to the other. . . . (p. 86)

Around this structure [now he refers to Chichen Itza] there were, and still today are, many others, well built and large; all the ground about them was paved, traces being still visible, so strong was the cement of which they were made. . . .

From the court in front of these theatres there goes a beautiful broad paved way, leading to a well two stone-throws across. (p. 91)
The Book of Mormon also speaks of highways being built in Book of Mormon lands. There is also a reference to construction with cement in the north part of the land. Again, this was not something Joseph would have experienced among Native Americans in his area.
There are two kinds of bees, both being much smaller than ours; the larger of these are raised in very small hives, and do not form a comb as do ours, but instead certain small sacs like wax-nuts, all close together and full of honey. . . .

The others live in the woods, in the hollows of trees and rocks, where one must hunt the wax. With this and the honey the country abounds, the honey being most excellent save for the fact that it is somewhat watery. . . . These bees do not sting, even when the honey is gathered. (p. 101)
Again, the reality of honey is affirmed.
In the country there are certain wild vines bearing edible grapes. . . . Another fresh and beautiful tree holds its leaves without falling, and bears a small fig they call ox. (p. 105)
Just a helpful reminder for those who challenge the Book of Mormon for a mention of grapes and figs when Christ repeats the sermon on the mount: "Do men gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles?" (3 Nephi 14:16). However, the translated passage does not require that such things be found in the New World - presumably Christ would have referred to plants known by the locals in his actual statement, which would then be appropriately translated into the "grapes" and "figs" language understandable by modern readers.

De Landa also indicates that the Mesoamericans planted gardens around their homes (e.g., p. 103 [I've lost track of the main reference - still searching]), consistent with the Book of Mormon account in Helaman 7:10 of Nephi praying on the tower in his garden that was next to a highway to the chief market. (See further discussion on my Book of Mormon Evidences pages.)

Now here is a sobering statement from de Landa:
These people also used certain characters or letters, with which they wrote in their books about the antiquities and their sciences; with these, and with figures, and certain signs in the figures, they understood their matters, made them known, and taught them. We found a great number of books in these letters, and since they contained nothing but superstitions and falsehood of the devil we burned them all, which they took most grievously, and which gave them great pain.(p. 82)
How horrible that so much knowledge would be destroyed. Only four codices have survived, out of what may have been tens of thousands. As a result of such crimes, much information about the ancient inhabitants of the New World has been lost. In general, our state of knowledge about ancient Mesoamerica is still in its infancy, many decades behind the studies done in Bible lands, but stay tuned for new insights as more is learned.

Mesoamerica - the best candidate for the setting of the Book of Mormon - was a very pagan and wicked place in the sixteenth century, with no help from the terrible cruelty of the Spanish conquerors. But the native practices reflect some elements that could very well have derived from knowledge of ancient Christian ceremonies such as baptism, though in a pagan and corrupt form.

If the Book of Mormon account is pure fiction, how do we explain that in the one region that can be a plausible candidate for Book of Mormon geography, we also find a culture that had baptism, legends of a Great White God who visited them and promised to return, the presence of sacred writing systems in a continent otherwise devoid of writing, elaborate temples, and many other elements consistent with the Book of Mormon?

And remember, de Landa's book was not available in English until long after Joseph Smith's death.

Saturday, August 27, 2005

Multimedia Files at FARMS: Chiasmus in the Book of Mormon, and More

FARMS, the Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies, has a free set of multimedia files with a variety of important lectures to help us better appreciate the scriptures and the Temple. I am especially pleased with the multimedia files on Book of Mormon topics, including a couple of my favorite presentations: "A Scholar Looks at Evidences for the Book of Mormon" by Daniel C. Peterson, and "Chiasmus in the Book of Mormon" by John W. Welch. There are also presentations on DNA and several other interesting topics. The presentations are provided in your choice of three formats. Enjoy!

Friday, August 26, 2005

Copyright Law: Make Sure Your Music is LEGAL!

Texas Instrument a few years ago was sued for the practice among its engineers of making photocopies of journal articles. They paid over $1 million, as I recall, for their abuse of copyright law. At least a few people had gone way beyond the limits of fair use doctrines. The restrictions on music tend to be more even severe than published journals. Latter-day Saints, please don't make illegal copies of music!

I would like to remind all LDS people that we are under a moral obligation to be honest. Making photocopies of copyrighted works of music can be a serious violation of the law as well as the LDS standard of honesty. It rips off music companies - it's simple theft. If your choir needs 10 copies of a piece, BUY ten copies. Maybe a few more to handle emergencies. If your group shows up for the performance and several have forgotten or lost their music, you are generally not allowed to make an emergency copy. It's better to postpone a performance and be honest than to cheat, in my opinion. If you cheat, maybe you'll have entertained a few people - while putting the entire Church at risk. The law can inflict punishments much greater than you might think. Be careful, and be honest.

If you are aware of potential copyright violations, please realize that those involved probably acted out of ignorance. I don't mean to be too judgmental of those who act in good faith but poor judgment. It's so easy to not think before photocopying. Talk to the offenders privately, remind them of the law and of the moral issues involved, and surely they will shape up. But if not, Church leaders should be alerted of the problem so they can act to correct it. And I think it would be wise for bishops to occasionally check and make sure that the unit is careful in observing copyright law for music and other materials.

Thursday, August 25, 2005

Paul on Repentance, Obedience, and Works: Was He a Cultist?

To understand what Paul means when he speaks about grace in Eph. 2:8, it's helpful to consider the totality of his writings and other Biblical writings. Here is one interesting passage to consider from Romans 2:4-11:
4 Or despisest thou the riches of his goodness and forbearance and longsuffering; not knowing that the goodness of God leadeth thee to repentance?

5 But after thy hardness and impenitent heart treasurest up unto thyself wrath against the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God;

6 Who will render to every man according to his deeds:

7 To them who by patient continuance in well doing seek for glory and honour and immortality, eternal life:

8 But unto them that are contentious, and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, indignation and wrath,

9 Tribulation and anguish, upon every soul of man that doeth evil, of the Jew first, and also of the Gentile;

10 But glory, honour, and peace, to every man that worketh good, to the Jew first, and also to the Gentile:

11 For there is no respect of persons with God.
This is one of many passages from Paul and other New Testament writers giving a rarely heard perspective on the relationship between faith, grace, and works.

I still don't see why Paul isn't given the LDS treatment and condemned as a non-Christian cultist for writing such offensive material. In fact, Like Joseph Smith, he also claimed to have seen Christ in a remarkable vision - and gave three differing accounts of that vision. He claimed to be an apostle with special authority from Christ. He introduced new scripture. He teachings went contrary to established religious norms and to historical Biblical Judaism. He was arrested by the authorities for questionable dealings, and was generally viewed as a troublemaker and person of questionable integrity filled with delusions. He encouraged his followers to be part of an exclusive, close-knit organization with special rites and esoteric doctrines. And he taught the importance of works! Good grief, the more I look into Paul and his writings, the more I realize that he wasn't just a cultist, he was essentially a Mormon cultist! The only thing he had going for him was not having more than one wife. Guess he was just too old.

This just in: I checked the definition of cult in the dictionary, and it turns out that even scholars recognize that Paul was a cultist after all. Paul, you see, was part of a religious organization. He meets the criteria for nearly every meaning of the word "cult," as given at Dictionary.com:
    1. A religion or religious sect generally considered to be extremist or false, with its followers often living in an unconventional manner under the guidance
      of an authoritarian, charismatic leader.

    2. The followers of such a religion or sect.

  1. A system or community of religious worship and ritual.

  2. The formal means of expressing religious reverence; religious ceremony and ritual.

  3. A usually nonscientific method or regimen claimed by its originator to have exclusive or exceptional power in curing a particular disease.

    1. Obsessive, especially faddish, devotion to or veneration for a person, principle, or thing.

    2. The object of such devotion.

  4. An exclusive group of persons sharing an esoteric, usually artistic or intellectual interest.

Well, there you have it. My instincts were right: Paul was a cultist, and apparently a Mormon-wannabe cultist as well. Shocking that such a man would get his writings in the Bible.

Wednesday, August 24, 2005


BYU-China - I love the idea! How long before it's possible? I'm guessing 10 years, with religion classes being entirely optional.

BYU has extensions in Idaho and Hawaii - why not other countries like Mexico and China? There is something special about China.

If any chemical engineers are needed for the faculty, I might recommend a few.

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Ancient Mesoamerican Baptism?

A famous early account of life in Mesoamerica just after the Spanish Conquest is the 1566 record of Friar Diego de Landa about his observations in the Yucatan. At a used book sale, I recently acquired an English translation of his work, Yucatan Before and After the Conquest, translated by William Gates (New York: Dover Books, 1978), originally published as Relación de las cosas de Yucatan, 1566, first published in English in 1937 as Publication No. 20 of the Maya Society, Baltimore. No English translation was available for Joseph Smith to study, even if he had been a bookwork with a vast frontier library. Much of what we know about Mayan culture - which is still precious little - derives from the writings of this friar, who, I'm sorry to report, persecuted the inhabitants of the Yucatan and burned many of their records that could have told us much more. But from his descriptions, we do see a number of things that might make some sense as possible remnants from contact with ancient Book of Mormon peoples. One of the most striking things is the existence of Mayan rites with close connections to the Book of Mormon concept of baptism. Here is an excerpt from pages 42 to 45 of the English translation:
Sec. XXVI. Method of baptism in Yucatan; How it was celebrated

Baptism is not found anywhere in the Indies save here in Yucatan, and even with a word meaning to be born anew or a second time, the same as the Latin word renascer. Thus, in the language of Yucatan sihil means 'to be born anew," or a second time, but only however in composition; thus caput-sihil means to be reborn. Its origin we have been unable to learn, but it is something they have always used and for which they have had such devotion that no one fails to receive it; they had such reverence for it that those guilty of sins, or who knew they were about to sin, were obliged to confess to the priest, in order to receive it; and they had such faith in it that in no manner did they ever take ft a second time. They believed that in receiving it they acquired a predisposition to good conduct and habits, protection against being harmed by the devils in their earthly affairs, and that through it and living a good life they would attain a beatitude hereafter which, like that of Mahomet, consisted in eating and drinking.

Their custom of preparing for baptism was as follows: the Indian women raised the children to the age of three, placing for the boys a small white plaquet, fastened to the head in the hair of the tonsure; the girls wore a thin cord tied very low about the waist, to which was attached a small shell over the private parts; to remove these two things was regarded among them as a sin and disgraceful, until the time of the baptism, which was given between the ages of three and twelve; until this ceremony was received they did not marry.

Whenever one desired to have his child baptised, he went to the priest and made his wish known to him, who then published this in the town, with the day chosen, which they took care should be of good omen. This being done, the solicitant, being thus charged with giving the fiesta, selected at his discretion some leading man of the town to assist him in the matter. Afterwards they chose four other old and honored men to assist the priest on the day of the ceremony, these being chosen with the priest's cooperation. In these elections the fathers of all the eligible children took part, for the fiesta was a concern of all; those so chosen were called Chacs. For the three days before the ceremony the parents of the children, as well as the officials, fasted and abstained from their wives.

On the day, all assembled at the house of the one giving the fiesta, and brought all the children who were to be baptized, and placed them In the patio or court of the house, all clean and scattered with fresh leaves; the boys together in a line, and the girls the same, with an aged woman as matron for the girls, and a man in charge of the boys. . . .

[Landa then describes how the priest purifies the house and casts out demons, and refers to the priest carrying a hyssop made of a short stick and the tales of serpents like rattlesnakes (the aspersarium).]

The chacs then went to the children and placed on the heads of all white cloths which the mothers had brought for this purpose. They then asked of the largest ones whether they had done any bad thing, or obscene conduct, and if any had done so, they confessed them and separated from the others.

When this was done the priest called on all to be silent and seated, and began to bless the children, with long prayers, and to sanctify them with the hyssop, all with great serenity. After this benediction he seated himself, and the one elected by the parents as director of the fiesta took a bone given him by the priest, went to the children and menaced each one with the bone on the forehead, nine times. After this he wet the bond in a jar of water he carried, and with it anointed them on the forehead, the face, and between the fingers of their hands and the bones of their feet, without saying a word. The liquor was confected out of certain flowers and ground cacao, dissolved in virgin water, as they call it, taken from the hollows of trees or of rocks in the forest. . . .

The fiesta then ended with long eating and drinking; and the fiesta was called em-ku, which means 'the descent of the god.'
Fascinating! A major Mayan ritual was associated with being born again, purification, cleansing from sin, confession of sins to a priest, changing one's nature to be a better person, and gaining salvation in the afterlife - all very LDS and Christian concepts (at least early Christianity - some of these concepts have been lost in some parts of modern Christianity). It was readily recognizable as a Native American form of baptism by a Catholic friar in the sixteenth century. The ritual, like Christian baptism, was performed by a priest, to whom candidates for baptism confessed their sins, if serious sins were present - again similar to the restored Christian practice in LDS religion. White cloth was associated with the ritual, as in the LDS practice (though for LDS baptism, the candidates dress completely in white.) Though sprinkling was done rather than immersion, Christian baptism went a similar route in the centuries after the loss of apostles, and the Book of Mormon records that baptism was becoming corrupted in the fourth century among the Nephites, when infants were being baptized (presumably by sprinkling). Unlike the Aztecs, though, the Yucatan form of baptism is for children in the range of 3 to 12 years. And, as in Christian baptism, the ceremony is associated with "the descent of the god" - akin to the description of baptism in Romans 6, where Paul explains that it is a symbol of the death and resurrection of Christ.

Could the three days of fasting of the adults before the baptism ritual be associated with the symbolism of Christ being in the grave for three days? Perhaps. Later in Landa's book (p. 50), there is a reference to the troubling practice of human sacrifice: "At times they threw the victims alive into the well at Chichen Itza, believing that they would come forth on the third day, even though they never did see them reappear." The three-day concept could be tied to ancient lost knowledge of the death and resurrection of Christ.

And after baptism, the baptized people were anointed with sacred water, being anointed on the head and elsewhere, a practice which could very well have derived from knowledge of anointings in the ancient temple.

Related to de Landa's account of baptism in Mesoamerica is the later account of Mexican-born Spaniard, Mariano Veytia (1720-1778; full name: Mariano Fernandez de Echevarria y Veytia), who recorded what he learned from native Mexicans about their ancient history. His writings, which were not even printed in Joseph Smith's day and only recently have been translated to English, are available in the book Ancient America Rediscovered, translated by Ronda Cunningham, compiled by Donald W. Hemingway and W. David Hemingway (Springville, Utah: Bonneville Books, 2000). The following excerpt from Veytia is taken from pages 167-169 of Ancient America Rediscovered:

Other customs and rites were still found among these peoples at the time of the arrival of the Spanish, which, because of being more particular and characteristic of Christianity, prove more effectively that the person who introduced them was an apostle or disciple of Jesus Christ. Baptism is the first sacrament necessary, without which there can be no salvation, and therefore they rightly call it the door of the Catholic Church, to which no one can enter except by it; and it is evident that throughout this country a type of baptism was found to be established. Although it varied in the ceremonies according to the places, substantially they all agreed on this bath of natural water, saying upon the baptized person some forms such as honors and prayers and putting a name upon him, and this they observed as a rite of religion, preserving the memory of Quetzalcohuatl's having taught it to them. Father Remesal affirms that the first Spanish who arrived at Yucatan found that those natives used a type of baptism, to which they gave a name in their language which in our language means being born again. An expression more in agreement with that of Christ in the Gospel cannot be given. They had (he says) so much devotion and reverence for it that no one failed to receive it. They thought that in it they were receiving a pure disposition to be good and to not be harmed by the devils, and to attain the glory that they were hoping for. It was given to them from the age of three years up until twelve, and without it no one got married. They would choose a day for it that was not one of their tragic days, the fathers would fast for three days beforehand and would abstain from the women, the priests would handle the purification of the home, casting out the devil with certain ceremonies, and once these ceremonies were over the children would go one by one, and the priests would give them a little corn and ground incense in the hand, and they in a brazier, and in a cup they would send wine outside the town, with an order to the Indians not to drink it or look back, and with this they believed that they had cast out the devil. The priest would come out dressed in long, solemn clothing with a hyssop in his hand. They would put white cloths on the heads of the children, they would ask the big ones if they ha done any sin, and in confessing they would remove them to a place and bless them with prayers, making movements as if to strike them with the hyssop, and with certain water that they had in a bone, they would wet the forehead and the features of the face and between the toes and the fingers, and then the priest would get up and remove the cloths from the children, and certain notifications being done, they were thus baptized and the festival would end in banquets, and in the nine following days the father of the child was not to approach his wife.

In the territories of Texcoco, Mexico, Tiacopan, Culhuacan, and other regions there were certain festivities in which the ceremony was solemnly done of bathing the children and putting names upon them; but when these festivities were not immediate, it was a custom to bathe the children seven days after they were born, standing them on their feet and throwing water on them from the top of the head, and at the same time they would put the name upon them. If it was a boy, they would put an arrow in the right hand and a target in the left, and if it was a girl, in one hand the spindle and in the other the shuttle, or a broom; and two months after birth (which was after forty days), because each month of theirs was twenty days long, the mothers would take them to present them at the temple, where they were received by one of the priests who was the one who was in charge of keeping the count of their calendar or ecclesiastical chart. This priest would present the child to one of their gods as it seemed right to him, and as a surname would give the child the name of that deity, to whom he did certain honors, and they amounted to asking him to give that child a good and peaceful nature, that it not be hard for him to learn what he should learn, for him to be happy in war, for him not to suffer travails and need, and other similar things.

In some towns their bath was not until the tenth day after birth, and in others it was not by infusion but by immersion, submerging the children in ponds, rivers, springs, or fonts full of water; but in all parts they gave them a name in doing this ceremony of the bath; and although in some parts the remembrance had already been lost of the one who introduced these ceremonies or many of them among them, and among the better educated people, as I have said, the knowledge was found that it was Quetzalcohuatl who taught them this ablution or bath of natural water and to give the children a name at the time of performing it; and it seems natural that being an apostle or disciple of the Lord he would carry it out that way, to fill the commandment that the Lord gave to all his apostles when he commanded them to preach the Gospel throughout all the world and to every creature, baptizing them in the name of the Father, of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, promising eternal salvation through faith and baptism: Whosoever believes and is baptized shall be saved. . . .

No less remarkable is the custom that they found established of confessing to the priests, declaring to them those things that they had as sins, and accepting the penitence that the priests would impose upon them; and the obligation that the priests had, not to reveal the sins that were confessed to them, was so rigorous that if they violated this confidentiality they were severely punished even with the penalty of death.
Some may question how well Veytia understood Mesoamerican legends and whether what he heard or what he wrote was tainted by an effort to find contrived parallels between Mesoamerican legends and the Gospel, but much of what he writes on the topic of baptism is supported by other sources and appears credible. (On the other hand, he may have relied heavily on de Landa in his description of baptism, so I cannot say how valuable Veytia is here as an independent witness of Mesoamerican traditions.) But in any case, the parallels between Mesoamerican baptism and Christianity certainly are consistent with the Book of Mormon.

Could it be that such native practices reflect elements derived from knowledge of ancient Christian ceremonies such as baptism, though in a pagan and corrupt form?

Monday, August 22, 2005

Science Speaks: The Harm of Violent Video Games?

Hey parents, a news story from Nature.com calls attention to scientific studies pointing to the possibility that violent video games might encourage violent behavior in kids. Some of you may be surprised that this isn't obvious, but it's interesting enough to merit a story from that reputable source of scientific news.

I realized that video games affect behavior shortly after I was first exposed to Pong in the 1970s. I think it affected my ability to be decisive. Well, not really. Actually, yes it did. No it didn't. . . .

Anyway, parents, this is a good time to evaluate how the entertainment you provide for your kids might be affecting their development socially, intellectually, and physically.

Sorry for the emotional pain this statement will cause, but I think too many LDS people are into video games. One LDS ward my family attended while we were in Utah once shocked two of my boys when the lesson for at least two of the quorums during Priesthood meeting involved going across the street to play video games at the adult's home. Now that's real apostasy.

Saturday, August 20, 2005

The Sacrifice of Serving a Mission: Should You Go?

One recent commenter said he was just asked to go on a mission. Being 21 and having just completed four years of military service, he wondered how he could do that, being behind in his education already. "Books of Mormon in Indy" gave some great advice, emphasizing that it's a personal decision that he must make for himself, prayerfully. I agree.

My second son is about to go on his mission. He leaves next week for the MTC, and will then be serving in Nevada. He just went through the temple - a very positive experience for him - and is pretty much ready to go. We'll miss him so much, as we missed our first son when he went to Argentina. I appreciate his willingness to make this sacrifice to serve the Lord and serve others.

For those of you who are pondering missionary service and worry about the magnitude of the sacrifice required to go, let me admit that it can be a great and painful sacrifice, depending on your circumstances. It can result in lost opportunities, broken hearts, financial burdens, acquired parasites, stress, illness, and possibly death (sort of sounds like the warning label on a prescription drug or the warning they should provide for some rides at Six Flags). But I think most of us who served will agree that the blessings of the experience far outweigh the risks.

For me, when I went to serve in the Zurich, Switzerland mission in 1979, I thought it would be a real sacrifice. It meant losing two years of education and might also mean losing my high school sweetheart, whom I really hoped would be around when I got back. I might have panicked if I had known how many outstanding guys did try to pursue her while I was gone, but I am happy to report that she became my wife and still is, after all these years - I'm a deliriously happy husband. (So now you know why I seem delirious sometimes - it's not from too much fasting or overdosing on popsicles.)

As for my education and career, what looked like a sacrifice proved to be a real blessing. I feel like my mission helped me move along faster in the long run than if I had not gone. It was a two-year delay, yes, but those two years gave me an intense education about life, cultures, and many other things. I got to know people from six continents and over 50 countries, learned German and a little Italian, came to understand some of the perspectives of Europeans vis a vis Americans, learned how to get along with jocks and other companions who had almost nothing in common with me, learned how to work hard and sacrifice, learned to see the goodness in others even when they fail or don't progress or fall away, learned about the challenges of immigrants, experienced the joy of real bread and real cheese, experienced Fasnacht in Basel (!!), saw how chocolate was made, learned a few things about cooking and spices, encountered the strange world of Rudolf Steiner and the Goetheanum, learned a few things about art (including why one should not touch the frames of paintings in museums with sensitive electronic alarms), got to see first-hand the ravages of drug addiction, alcoholism, and mental illness in several forms, learned to trust the Lord, learned not to trust butchers or anything made with raw ox or raw horse meat, learned that Mormons don't have a monopoly on truth and goodness, and found out what it's like to be a young, naive Yankee trying to teach a "ridiculous American" religion to sophisticated Europeans. You don't get that kind of education listening to a professor ramble on for a couple hours a week.

Almost every moment of my mission was worth it (well, let's say 84%). It changed my life and my attitudes (for those of you think I'm a self-righteous SOB, believe me, I would be even worse without that mission experience! - thank God for the painful experiences that helped me chill out a bit). It gave me skills and confidence and strength that I think have made it much easier to move ahead with my life and move forward in my career and education. I count it as the best part of my education (apart from the education of marriage and fatherhood) rather than just a two-year delay. And on top of that, I think I made a difference in the lives of a number of people, some of whom became converts to the Church. Yes, that's the real reason we go, to bless others, but for me - and perhaps I'm an exception - the blessings my mission brought to me were just unreasonably great.

In the early part of my mission, I had a few particularly painful experiences. There were times when I wanted to scream and wondered if this was all in vain. Yet we had some surprising success, and this made it seem worth it. But one experience in particular made me realize that if the rest of the two years was hell, I would be willing to count it an honor to have served. That experience was the baptism of Sophie R. This beautiful girl from French-speaking Switzerland was the prototypical "golden" convert. The Gospel rescued her from despair and hopelessness. When she read the Joseph Smith story left at her door one day, it resonated with her soul - she was sure she knew that story already, that it was somehow already familiar and true to her, though there was no explanation for that. She dug into the Book of Mormon with great vigor and insight, and almost taught us more than we taught her. In spite of some serious opposition from some of her family, she chose to accept the restored Gospel of Jesus Christ and became a strong and valiant member, rescued from despair and the captivity of a treacherous Adversary. There was something so special, pure, and unusual about this woman, that it was a great honor to just be there as a teacher and friend. After I saw her baptized, I told the Lord that if the rest of my mission was pain and anguish, that one experience would stand as a pearl of great price to make it all worth everything I might suffer. Hyperbole, perhaps, but I really meant it. I accidentally ran into her and her husband in the Swiss temple about a year later (he was the French-speaking returned missionary who gave the closing prayer at her baptism - we were delighted to that relationship blossom so quickly) - and was again thrilled at the progress she had made in the Gospel and the happiness that I think was hers. I met her again in Switzerland in 1990, about a year or so before a tragic death. But I think I know where she is, and am so grateful that I could have been an instrument in the hands of the Lord to help bring the joy of the Gospel into that marvelous and previous life. Sophie's story alone made my mission more than worth it.

For those of you contemplating missionary service, don't go because I said it's worth it. Don't trust us mortals, but do trust the Lord: He is there to guide you and help you make the right decision if you turn to Him sincerely. Seek His will first.

Multilevel Mormonism

I was pained by a post from an anonymous poster about problems of multilevel marketing in the Church. Yes, I think it really can be a problem. The Church provides lots of ties to fellow members, and those who are looking for recruits for marketing schemes may find it an irresistible temptation to tap into fellow Latter-day Saints. Well, I guess that's what networking is all about, but I have also had some concerns about certain multilevel marketing programs that are pushed by members. Some groups, including new members, might just be too trusting to see through the business pitch of a smooth-talking fellow member who seems "righteous" or is their home teacher or something. After all, they are a brother in the Gospel - surely that business deal is honest, fair, inspired, and likely to provide miraculous blessings just like the literature says, right? Frankly, Latter-day Saints need to be a lot less naive about the risks of business ventures with fellow members, and quit assuming that just because someone has a temple recommend or a Church calling that he or she can be trusted in business deals.

Below is the insight provided by our poster - does it sound like something that has happened in any of your stakes or wards?
I have often wondered if any other Wards/Stakes have been affected by multi-level marketing strategies "raging" through the ward. About five years ago we had multi-level marketing people move into our Ward. Many Ward friendships for many quickly turned into how to get rich together. People were invited to join [the name deleted] team while sitting in the chapel waiting for Sacrament to begin.

Many of the poorer/weaker members joined the scheme. When they failed in sales they did not come back to church. They were embarrassed that they let the upline people down. . . .

This was unfortunate. Has anyone else experienced this kind of problem?
Now look, I know the critics will want to jump all over this about Mormon deception and all that, but any close-knit social or religious group offers opportunities for those looking for business connections with others. There is nothing inherently wrong with that, but some multilevel marketing schemes are notorious for taking advantage of trusting relationships, whether associated with religion or not. And yes, some Mormons are just too trusting of other Mormon. How sad that this should be a problem.

Thursday, August 18, 2005

Recommended Reading: Bokovoy and Tvedtnes, Testaments: Links between the Book of Mormon and the Hebrew Bible

I strongly recommend Testaments: Links between the Book of Mormon and the Hebrew Bible by David E. Bokovoy and John A. Tvedtnes (Tooele, Utah: Heritage, 2003, 232 pages). This carefully written and well documented resource adds new depth to our insights about the Hebraic roots of the Book of Mormon text. These insights show rich levels of meaning or help us understand the reasons for some of the unusual features of the text.

For example, Chapter 18, "Editorial Techniques," includes a discussion of a Hebraic editorial technique called "repetitive resumption" in which editorial comments are framed between two parallel statements. The repetition of statements could function somewhat like our use of parentheses in modern English to mark where an explanation or departure from the story had occurred. An example is Joshua 1:7-9, which begins with a command to be strong and courageous, followed by what some scholars see as an editorial insertion about the need to study the law daily, followed by a repetition of the command to be strong and courageous. This pattern, interestingly, is also found abundantly in the Book of Mormon.

An example of repetitive resumption in the Book of Mormon is Alma 10:32 and Alma 11:20, two passages stating that the object of Nephite lawyers was to get gain, and that they got gain according to their employ. In between, in Alma 11:1-19, we get a lengthy parenthetical explanation about Nephite law, payment for judges, and the monetary system (undoubtedly not coins but a system of weights for precious metals related to measures of grain). The departure from the story appears to have been added editorially to help readers understand the significance of Zeezrom's subsequent offer of six "onties" (a large measure of silver) to Amulek if only he will come to his senses and deny the existence of a Supreme Being (Alma 11:22). What is essentially a parenthetical explanation is bracketed with two very similar phrases, following a Hebraic editorial technique.

Scholars only recently came to recognize and appreciate repetitive resumption in the Old Testament. Bokovoy and Tvedtnes cite Bernard M. Levinson, Hermeneutics of Innovation: The Impact of Centralization upon the Structure, Sequence, and Reformulation of Legal Material in Deuteronomy (Ph.D. diss., Brandeis University, 1991), pp. 142-150 and Bernard M. Levinson, Deuteronomy and the Hermeneutics of Legal Innovation (New York: Oxford University Press, 1997).

The ancient editorial technique of repetitive resumption -- only recently discovered -- helps us understand why some passages of the Book of Mormon seem to have puzzling redundancy (not to mention wordiness). Relevant examples of "wordy" passages with apparent repetitive resumption include Alma 3:1, Alma 8:6-8; Alma 15: 16-18; Alma 17:26-27; Alma 23:6; Alma 24:23-24; Alma 27:4; Helaman 10:3, and others.

Remember, ancient Hebrew and related languages did not have punctuation as we do today. Parentheses, dashes, etc. were not available, so writers used other techniques in their writing to mark beginnings and ends of sections, editorial insertions, etc.

Consider Helaman 10:3, where a dash seems demanded by the text:
And it came to pass as he was thus pondering -- being much cast down because of the wickedness of the people of the Nephites, their secret works of darkness, and their murderings, and their plunderings, and all manner of iniquities -- and it came to pass as he was thus pondering in his heart, behold, a voice came unto him saying:
While it was easy to add dashes for the English translation, repetitive resumption with the phrase "it came to pass as he was thus pondering" would have been a valid editorial technique to achieve the same effect in Hebrew. The resulting text is far too redundant for modern English ears, but this foreign level of wordiness is actually an echo of ancient Hebraic origins.

The authors reformat several Book of Mormon passages using bold to mark the repeated phrase in repetitive resumption and parentheses to help delimit the parenthetical comment or editorial insertion. Here is one more of many examples:
Alma 8:6-8

[6] ... and he came to a city which was called Ammonihah.

[7] (Now it was the custom of the people of Nephi to call their lands, and their cities, and their villages, yea, even all their small villages, after the name of him who first possessed them; and thus it was with the land of Ammonihah.)

[8] And it came to pass that when Alma had come to the city of Ammonihah he began to preach the word of God unto them.
Today Biblical scholars recognize that the Bible shows many signs of editorial revisions, following the same pattern that we see in the Book of Mormon, where inspired editors make it clear that they are editing earlier documents to create an inspired abridgment. And one of the techniques common to ancient editors of both texts was the use of repetitive resumption - just one of many Hebraic elements that we can find in the Book of Mormon text (others include chiasmus, for example).

Interestingly, the more we learn about ancient scripture from the Old World, the more we can appreciate the crafting of the ancient scripture from the New World, for both have common roots.

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

Steel in the Book of Mormon?

Recently, a commenter recommended that article, "Steel in the Book of Mormon" by William Hamblin as a good source of information about this favorite area for critics to poke at. I think it's a valuable article that helps us better understand the richness and complexity of the text, and the danger of making simple 21st century assumptions about an ancient text.

One issue that is not thoroughly discussed in that article, however, is the issue of meteoric iron alloys as a type of steel. I discus this on my LDSFAQ page about metals in the Book of Mormon. Meteoric deposits of alloys of iron and nickel, for example, which modern scientists have called "steel," could account for the reference to steel in Ether, for example.

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

The Myth of Engineers at General Motors

For years, General Motors has claimed to use intelligent engineers to design its automobiles. Based on the size of the company and the amazing complexity of many of its vehicles, one would think that massive teams of thousands of engineers are working full time. But ask yourself, do you actually know any engineers that work for GM? I'm an engineer, I know hundreds of engineers, and I've never met a bona fide GM engineer. And I bet you haven't, either. In fact, it's pretty obvious to me that the whole story about engineers and intelligent design at GM is a fairy tale, a pathetic myth to buoy up stock prices and keep the faithful buying from the General Authorities of automobiles.

After studying the teachings of Richard Dawkins and other leading scientists, it's pretty clear that we can explain every feature of a typical GM car as the direct result of natural selection in the market place and survival of the fittest. Cars with air bags, for example, are more likely to result in the survival of the driver, who in turn can tell others about his or her GM car and thus perpetuate that species. Cars with headlights that work are more likely to survive (both vehicle and driver) when driving in the night. Cars with air conditioning provide a more pleasant environment for drivers that will make them and their passengers and friends more willing to purchase GM in the future. It all makes sense: all these features on automobiles provide survival advantages that ultimately result in the propagation of more vehicles from GM. That's the mechanism that explains everything - no "intelligent design" needed.

Anyone who has studied manufacturing knows that there is tremendous variation in the natural scope of production. Companies that use actual engineers spend much of their time trying to fight natural variability, trying to impose meticulous process control to avoid mutations in the reproduction of a product. But I think General Motors embraces variability, allowing the mutations that naturally occur during production to guide the evolution of their product portfolio. The mutations that sell best are naturally selected for further production, while the real losers (e.g., a car with three wheels instead of four, or those missing a gas tank) are quickly eliminated because they don't sell or at least don't make it out of the parking lot.

So folks, all you really need to know about automobile manufacturing and the evolution of the modern luxury car is that every feature that looks like it was brilliantly "designed" can actually be explained away by recognizing that it provides an advantage through natural selection, an advantage that leads to more sales of that species or of other GM cars with that feature. No engineers needed. No intelligent design. And that's why the story of intelligent engineers at General Motors, however comforting, however good for Wall Street, however helpful for maintaining GM's hegemony in the world of automobiles, is just a fairy tale.

Let me tell you, I used to believe in GM engineers. But during my years as a student of chemical engineering, I can honestly say that I never met a GM engineer. GM never showed up at BYU to recruit any of us. That should have been a clue, but I still believed the myth my parents taught me. All those cool features - must be an engineer behind it all! But once I began to think for myself, I searched and searched, but it was all in vain. I walked the engineering departments at my work to see if anybody there was a GM engineer. Nobody! I walked through my Wisconsin neighborhood, asking family after family if any GM engineers live there. Nothing. I got out my telescope and scanned the heavens looking for GM engineers. Nothing. I sent e-mail to George Bush asking if he had any GM engineers on his staff. No answer (apart from a request for campaign donations). I rented dozens of Jackie Chan videos and studied them in detail to see if I could find even the slightest proof that GM engineers might exist. I picked up a few good moves, but not one shred of evidence to convince any thinking person that GM has ever hired a single engineer. And thus, I can tell you with absolute certainty: they don't exist. It's all a myth.

Monday, August 15, 2005

Why I Believe the Book of Mormon Is True

In response to my recent post about the thief who was converted by a stolen Book of Mormon, one critic (whose comment was deleted for her inarticulate use of profanity) was shocked at my gullibility. It seemed that she thought I based my belief on faith promoting rumors fabricated by others. Not so. My acceptance of the Book of Mormon is the result of my personal pursuit for truth and the experiences I have had with it at a spiritual and intellectual level over the years. The fact that a thief could be converted by it has little to do with whether it's true or not - that was not my point. In fact, I'm surprised at the ire that little story raised.

Even the most hardened of critics should recognize that the Book of Mormon has touched the lives of millions of people. Deluded or not, many have been converted to the restored Gospel of Jesus Christ ("Mormonism") by study of that book. Because of that book, many have wanted to become better people, to give up their misdeeds, to gain forgiveness, and even to become Latter-day Saints. That should not be surprising. So if the book can touch so many lives and make so many people wish to follow Christ, why should it be surprising that at least one thief was among the crowd of converts? The story is touching, but is not meant to prove the Book of Mormon is true, and does not even prove any sort of divine presence in the world. It is merely a rather dramatic example of what should be common knowledge: the book changes the lives of many people who read it. Critics can comfort themselves with a belief that it's all just a foolish delusion, but there's no denying that lives are changed by whatever is in that book.

Among those lives is mine. Yes, I was born in the Church, but at age 14, I could see that staying a member of the Church would be a foolish thing to do if it were not true. Why pay tithing, why go on a mission, why even go home teaching if it was all fake? Doing such could even be morally wrong (teaching others to believe a lie? - not good!), and I wanted to do what's right (but, frankly, I especially did not want to pay unnecessary tithing and waste two years of my life). The Church had taught me repeatedly that each individual needed to find out for themselves if the Church was true, and the obvious key to doing that was not attempting to sort out various interpretations of what happened with polygamy or the Mountain Meadow Massacre or puzzling statements in the Journal of Discourses, but to determine if the Book of Mormon was divine or a man-made hoax.

We are very serious about the Book of Mormon: if it is false, then Joseph Smith was not a prophet. If it is true, then he must have been some kind of a prophet after all, and the Church's claims of divine origins should then at least merit our attention. The Book of Mormon is surely the most obvious place for serious investigation for anyone who wishes to explore the validity of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

The last chapter in the Book of Mormon offers an inspired key to exploring the validity of the text. We are counseled by Moroni to ponder the book, to contemplate the great things described therein, and then to ask the Lord with real intent to know if it is true. In my case, at age 14, I decided to read the book. I should say that at that point, there was no doubt in my mind that God was real and that prayers could be answered - I had had many positive experiences with prayer and truly knew of the reality of God. But what of the Church itself? I would read the Book of Mormon and then pray to get an answer.

Unfortunately, my quest was complicated by my adolescent pride (now replaced with a much more wholesome middle-aged pride). With a somewhat cocky attitude, I wanted to see how fast I could get through it (bragging rights of some kind, I guess). I took up the challenge and zoomed through the book over a period of about a week during the summer. "Reached my goal - awesome. Well, that wasn't so bad. And now I'll pray. True or not? . . ." Nothing. No answer, nothing came. I was puzzled. I read Moroni 10:3-5 again and realized that I had not done as counseled -- there had been little pondering, just rushing through the text, and reading in part for the wrong reason. I didn't have much more information about the meaning of the book than when I had begun. I realized I would need to take more time, be more sincere, and really think about what I was reading. Whether it was true or not, this made a lot of sense. We should use our own mind as much as possible, and let God fill in the blanks.

With a slightly more humble attitude, I took up the challenge again, this time reading more slowly to ponder the meaning of the text and to consider on my own whether what I was reading was fabricated by man or really represented an inspired, scriptural text. I found richness in the text and many insights into life and Christ and religion - but was it true? After pondering the text, I then approached the Lord in prayer one evening, sincerely asking for guidance about the text and explaining what tentative conclusions I had been able to draw, then asking if this text was true, explaining that it was very important to know, and that I wished to do what was right.

I have shared my experience with others before, but here let me just say that on that night, about 30 minutes later, I walked away with a powerful and profound personal testimony that God loved me, that Christ was real, and that the Book of Mormon was indeed a divine testament of Christ, a second witness for His divinity. And yes, that meant that somehow, Joseph Smith was a prophet of God.

The experience was powerful and beyond wishful thinking, pizza-induced heartburn, or self-hypnosis, though you are all free to dispute that. For you, it proves nothing and should not make you feel threatened. But for me, it was just the beginning of what has been a lifelong series of fascinating spiritual and intellectual experiences and insights confirming that the Book of Mormon is not a work of fiction authored by a nineteenth century fraud, but a sophisticated ancient text with divine origins. I share some of the intellectual reasons for that point of view on my Book of Mormon Evidences page, but there are many more such issues that I would like to discuss.

My personal testimony of the divinity of the Book of Mormon is why I am a member of this Church. It's why I went on a two-year mission. It's why I married in the Temple. It's why I have made many sacrifices for what I believe to be the Church of Jesus Christ. It's why I can be patient at the foolishness of other members, even occasional Church leaders, who are all mortal like me, for I know it's not their Church - it's the Church of Jesus Christ, whom the Book of Mormon has helped me to know and love much better. I love the Bible, especially the New Testament, but you will find no other book more Christ-centered and more able to bring a man to Christ than the Book of Mormon, in my opinion.

My sins, my failings through life, my many weaknesses (some of which are evident in my blogging) make me every bit as guilty as the thief who robbed Sister Cruz of her Book of Mormon. And like the thief, the Book of Mormon has helped me to wish to change, to seek forgiveness, to overcome my many flaws and to (at least occasionally) yearn to follow Christ. If it's all a delusion, if there is no God and no truth, then I'm puzzled, for it's been like the sweet meal of a dream that, upon waking, leaves my stomach full, my body strengthened, and my senses enriched by the persistent aroma and delightful aftertaste. (There is even a need to brush and floss.) A nourishing delusion indeed. May you all be so afflicted.

I hope that if I can achieve one thing with this blog it would be to encourage some of you, LDS or not, to actually read and ponder the Book of Mormon. Maybe even pray while you're at it. Anti-Mormon ministers will plead with you to do anything BUT pray for guidance in this manner, but I hope you'll always turn to the Lord when you are seeking to understand divine truth. He's the One Being we can always trust.

Sunday, August 14, 2005

Converted by a Stolen Book of Mormon

One of my favorite stories about the converting power of the Book of Mormon is printed in a talk by President James E. Faust entitled "The Message: Ten Things to Know Before You Go" (New Era, July 2005):
Elder F. Burton Howard of the Seventy acquaints us with a strong testimony of the converting power of the Book of Mormon: Sister Celia Cruz Ayala of the Puerto Rico San Juan Mission decided to give the Book of Mormon to a friend. She wrapped it in attractive paper and set out to deliver her present.

On the way she was attacked by a bandit who stole her purse and with it the wrapped copy of the Book of Mormon. A few days later she received this letter:

Mrs. Cruz:

Forgive me, forgive me. You will never know how sorry I am for attacking you. But because of it, my life has changed and will continue to change. That book [the Book of Mormon] has helped me in my life. The dream of that man of God has shaken me. … I am returning your five pesos for I can’t spend them. I want you to know that you seemed to have a radiance about you. That light seemed to stop me [from harming you, so] I ran away instead.

I want you to know that you will see me again, but when you do, you won’t recognize me, for I will be your brother . . . . Here, where I live, I have to find the Lord and go to the church you belong to.

The message you wrote in that book brought tears to my eyes. Since Wednesday night I have not been able to stop reading it. I have prayed and asked God to forgive me, [and] I ask you to forgive me. … I thought your wrapped gift was something I could sell. [Instead,] it has made me want to make my life over. Forgive me, forgive me, I beg you.

Your absent friend (Church News, Jan 6, 1996, 16).
Such is the conversion power of the Book of Mormon.

Saturday, August 13, 2005

Hollywood's Unprofitable Commitment to R-Rated Movies

While it's old news now, I am still intrigued by the Dove Foundation study on the profitability of R-rated and G-rated movies released in January:
GRAND RAPIDS, January 27 -- A comprehensive ten-year study focusing on the profitability of films based on their MPAA (Motion Picture Association of America) rating is being released today. It reveals that, while Hollywood produced 17 times more R-rated than G-rated films between 1988 and 1997, the average G-rated film produced 8 times more gross profit than its R-rated counterpart. In addition, the average G-rated film produced a 78% greater rate of return on investment (ROI) than the average R-rated film. . . .
It has long been recognized that family-safe films are more likely to draw crowds than often offensive R-rated films, but the magnitude of the typical financial penalty for pushing an R-rated movie surprises me. Why does Hollywood continue to prefer R-rated movies over much more profitable family fare? Is it possible that Hollywood executives are just incredibly stupid? Or is something going on other than an objective pursuit of optimum returns? I'm almost tempted to speculate that a devout commitment to the dark side of life takes precedence over financial returns in the minds of some of the elite in Hollywood. Or is it, more plausibly, that pursuit of the praise of a callous world for R-rated films matters more than simple financial gain? Are all three explanations needed to account for the decision making of Hollywood executives: stupid, vile, and vain?

In any case, many of us are going to far fewer movies and looking for better ways to spend our money. And I hope all of you will shy away not just from R-rated movies, but from any form of entertainment that is not compatible with the high standards of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. It's your call how to do that, but I think it's better to err on the safe side. Spend less on the entertainment provided by an increasingly vile world, and do more reading or visiting people or interacting with your kids. Ouch - that reminds me, I better get upstairs and start interacting with mine.

Friday, August 12, 2005

A Valued Life

This morning I was touched by Shanna P. Grow's story of her daughter in "A Valued Life" in the June 2005 Ensign. Her daughter, Cami, was born with serious birth defects that left little hope for her. Daughters expected her to die within a year or two, and she was expected to die at several other points in her now twenty-something life. The guidance of the spirit, giving personal revelation to parents as well as some physicians, surely saved her life. The story is instructive in several ways.

While some of you who have grieved over the loss of a child, or have struggled with seemingly unanswered prayers and unfulfilled blessings in seeking help for physical afflictions, some aspects of this story may raise painful questions such as "Why were these blessings withheld from us?" The Lord's plans for his children are highly nonuniform. We must come to grips with the reality that some will die early, some will live long, and others will suffer or be spared from suffering in ways that rarely seem crafted according to human ideals. In those cases involving miracles that we wish had been ours, let us rejoice for the recipients of such blessings, trusting the Lord is mindful of our own pain and loss and has not forgotten us.

Having said that, let me say that one of the parts that touched me most was the brief insight we get into Cami's perspective. Here is the passage:
After the experiences of Cami's heart surgery, we had no doubt that her life was in the Lord's hands. We decided to simply treat her as normally as possible and enjoy her precious spirit for as long as she lived. She attended regular public school and enjoyed some of it. When we moved from Utah to Waco, Texas, people treated her wonderfully. As we watched our daughter grow, we felt blessed and content. However, when Cami was 15, her heart began to fail. She turned blue and had to go on oxygen. We thought perhaps it was her time, but still we hoped.

We were sent to heart specialists at a children's hospital in Austin. Heart research had progressed greatly in the past 11 years. A new use for a waterproof fabric had been applied, and a team of specialists used it to repair and restructure Cami's heart the day after her 16th birthday. While she was in intensive care recovering from that surgery, day after day her father and I would sit by her bed and read to her from Louisa May Alcott's Little Women. One day several months after her amazing recovery, the blueness gone, her health quite restored, Cami pointed out the following quotation from that story, saying, "Mom, this is me":
"There are many Beths in the world, shy and quiet, sitting in corners till needed, and living for others so cheerfully, that no one sees the sacrifices till the little cricket on the hearth stops chirping, and the sweet, sunshiny presence vanishes, leaving silence and shadow behind" ([1932], 38).
I realized that in her own way, Cami is our Beth; in her quiet, cheerful way she has taught our family much about sacrifice and love.
Each life is so precious!

Sometimes, in dealing with those who suffer from severe physical or mental handicaps, people tend to focus on the caregivers and the parents and the sacrifices made by others in serving these sons and daughters of God. Perhaps we don't always appreciate the many patient sacrifices being made by person we think we are serving. Maybe sometimes we miss who is serving whom. Service, love, and Christlike charity comes in many flavors.

Wednesday, August 10, 2005

Provident Living: Food Storage - One More Reason

The prophetic call in our day for members of the Church (and all people, really) to maintain food storage and be prepared for emergencies is sounding wiser all the time. The Church offers information about food storage and emergency preparedness at its Provident Living site. In addition to the great reasons offered there for this inspired program, let me also point out that modern terrorism offers another motivation. There is real risk that serious terrorist attacks may happen in this and many other countries. If a major hub of the economy were disrupted, many thousands of jobs could be lost. In fact, that's happening already, thanks to outsourcing and the heavy tax burdens imposed on our nation and a host of other factors. A year's supply of food and healthy savings are needed more than ever in today's job market, even without the threat of terrorist attacks making everything worse.

But we must not ignore the terror threat. With our porous borders, it is a trivial matter to walk into the country carrying weapons of terror. One former US official is warning people to prepare diligently now for the possibility of a very serious attack, calling upon us to have reserves of food and water, for example. I would like to think that it could never happen here and not worry. But even if such attacks do not materialize, there are plenty of other reasons to heed the prophetic counsel for our day. Build up a reserve of food, water, clothing, and some savings. Live providently and be ready for the troubled times that may be ahead.

Thank goodness we have living prophets in our day to bless us with inspired counsel. I don't think you'll regret heading this particular piece of advice, regardless of what you think about Latter-day Saints in general.

Tuesday, August 09, 2005

Remembering Nagasaki and Captain Moroni

Sixty years after Hiroshima and Nagasaki were destroyed with atomic bombs, my family was blessed with the friendship of a wonderful Japanese woman who stayed with us for a few days before returning to the region of Kanonji, a sister city of Appleton, Wisconsin. She made a remarkable impression on us with her kindness and graciousness. Her heavy suitcase was loaded with gifts and amazing food for us - what a cook! And what a friend we found in her. We learned so much and hope to meet her again.

On this anniversary of the bombing of Nagasaki in her native land, my recent delightful encounter with Japan makes me all the more pensive about the bombing. I cannot help but ponder the horror of wasting entire cities in warfare. I know the arguments for the bomb, the arguments about how it was needed, but I don't accept them. Surely there was another way. Surely if Captain Moroni had been around, things would have been different. Captain Moroni, that valiant general from Book of Mormon times who loved liberty and despised bloodshed, was a righteous man who found brilliant solutions to win battles without the need to slaughter opponents. Surely he would have been appalled at the suggestion of bombing entire cities.

Today, while trying to clean my basement office in preparation for an open house on Sunday (in honor of my son Daniel who departs soon on a mission to Nevada), I ran across an old magazine article my mother gave me a couple years ago about the bombing of Japan. It's an article from a very conservative magazine, be warned, but I think it raises some important points (about halfway down especially) that call into question the need to bomb a nation that was already offering to surrender. But whether that article is right or wrong, I cannot get over the horror of entire cities of people like my new friend from Japan, and people like my own family, being incinerated with nuclear weapons. Of course, whether it's 100,000 people all at once or 100,000 people one at a time in different parts of the world, each untimely death from war, crime, or other factors is worthy of sorrow and remembrance - each soul counts. Each crime or act of brutality makes this earth less than it should be.

How terrible the trauma that we inflict on one another! How much the world needs righteous leaders like Captain Moroni to resist war and bloodshed. The terror of modern warfare and the daily individual inhumanity of man would overwhelm us all with despair were it not for the true and living hope provided by the Hope of Israel, Jesus Christ, who has conquered death and will wipe away the tears of those who mourn and come unto Him. We must endure many sorrows now, but there will be victory, life, hope, and mighty reunions of joy thanks to Him and His infinite Atonement. Truly He is the Messiah. How much we need Him now.

May the horror of atomic warfare never be seen again on this earth - but that wish may be vain. Hundreds of millions have been slaughtered in the past century - whether it is done with bombs or machetes, it is terrible enough. We must mourn and seek to stand for the principles of life and charity embodied in Captain Moroni or, much more perfectly, in the true Captain of our souls, Jesus Christ.

Monday, August 08, 2005

All Lies? My Experience with the Book of Abraham

A number of years ago a member of our ward left the Church and started a popular anti-Mormon Website. When I went to his Website to learn of his story, it appeared that losing his testimony over the Book of Abraham was what drove him out of the Church. After reading the critiques on the BOA from anti-Mormon publications, he became convinced that Joseph Smith lied about his ability to translate with the power of God. He and his family soon left the Church. I can sympathize with his initial reaction (but not with his later pursuit of full-blown anti-Mormonism) because it almost happened to me, too.

I think it was early 1995 when I seriously read and pondered some of the Book of Abraham attacks published by a Utah anti-Mormon ministry. I had experienced anti-Mormon rhetoric and thought it would be easy to see through the attacks they offered - but this was different than the typical anti brochure. A seemingly clear and convincing case was presented: (1) Joseph had some papyrus documents that he "translated" as the Book of Abraham; (2) those documents were lost for many years but have now been found; (3) scholars who now can translate Egyptian confirm that THE PAPYRUS SCROLLS HAVE NOTHING TO DO WITH ABRAHAM. It was all a fraud. Ouch!!

I was very troubled by the evidence and was unprepared to deal with it. Could it be that Joseph just got it all wrong with the Book of Abraham? It sure seemed that way - but that created a real puzzle because there was no doubt in my mind, intellectually and spiritually, on the basis of extensive evidence and experience and powerful personal revelation, that the Book of Mormon was an authentic, divine work. Could he have gotten the Book of Mormon right and then fell as a prophet to mess up the Book of Abraham completely? I went to the Lord in prayer and asked for guidance, and explained that I sincerely wanted to know the truth, wanted to be able to bear testimony honestly of what was really true and needed to know if the Book of Abraham was divine or not. After this prayer, I simply felt that I needed to study more and be patient.

As I started digging up information on the Book of Abraham to understand the issues raised by critics, I soon felt CHEATED AND BETRAYED. Not by Joseph Smith, but by the anti-Mormons who had conveniently left out some of the most important information about the Book of Abraham. The anti-Mormon critiques I had read left the reader without the slightest hint that the Joseph Smith papyri - the fragments that were found in 1967 - were remnants of a much larger collection of scrolls, and that these remnants DO NOT MATCH the multiple physical descriptions of the scroll Joseph Smith translated as the Book of Abraham. That scroll appears to have been in the collection that was sold to sold to a St. Louis museum in 1856 and then later sent to a Chicago museum, where it appears to have burned in the Great Chicago Fire of 1871. The critics almost universally assert that the Book of Abraham scroll has been found, not allowing the reader to know the gaps in their argument. To inform people that some of the OTHER related documents in the Joseph Smith collection do not deal with Abraham is just not faith shattering enough, I guess - but even that does raise some legitimate questions, especially since some of the figures that are included with the Book of Abraham were attached to some of the other documents. But now the debate is of quite a different flavor. The results of my investigation, and the evidence that the anti-Mormons left out, are given in my LDSFAQ page, "The Truth about the Book of Abraham, Part 1."

Now in my recent post about lies, I made a comment about the "direct hits" I see in the Book of Abraham, and was asked for specifics. I go into these in some detail in my LDSFAQ page, "The Book of Abraham, Part 2 - Evidence that Joseph Smith was a Prophet of God and in "Part 3: Ancient Records Offer New Support for the Book of Abraham."

Here's one sample issue: Figure 6 in Facsimile 2, said by Joseph Smith AND modern scholars to represent "the four quarters of the earth." Bullseye. Just a lucky guess? Here's an excerpt from my page ("Part 2") that deals with the direct hits:
Figure 6 is the same as the four canopic figures under the lion couch of Facs. 1 and is said by Joseph to represent "this earth in its four quarters." How many farmers would have guessed that four little statues represented such a thing? But it is an entirely plausible explanation based on a modern understanding of Egyptian, and fits nicely into the themes of the hypocephalus. E. Wallis Budge explained, "These jars were under the protection of Isis, Nephthys, Neith, and Serqet, and represented the south, north, east, and west respectively" [Budge, 1904, 1:210]. In the forward to Budge's translation of the Book of the Dead, Budge wrote that the four "children of Horus" were each "supposed to be lord of one of the quarters of the world, and finally became the god of one of the cardinal points" [Budge, 1967, p. cxxiv, emphasis mine]. Joseph was absolutely correct.

According to John Gee [Gee, 1991], the four canopic vessels represent the four Sons of Horus, each of which has its own unique name, its own animal head, and its own cardinal direction. The link between the Sons of Horus and the cardinal directions was first established in 1857 [Brugsch, 1857], so Joseph could not have drawn upon scholarly knowledge in saying that they represented the four quarters of the earth. Indeed, there was essentially no valid knowledge of Egyptian to draw upon in 1842 when the Book of Abraham was published.

Stephen E. Thompson criticizes Joseph Smith's interpretation of Figure 4 [Thompson, 1995]. Concerning the claim of LDS scholars that the fours sons of Horus represent the four quarters of the earth, Thompson objects:
"As far as ancient Egypt is concerned, there is no evidence currently available to support this claim. There is only one context in which the sons of Horus are associated with the cardinal directions, i.e., 'the earth in its four quarters.' They were sent out, in the form of birds, as heralds of the king's coronation....I must emphasize that it is only in this context, and in the form of birds, that these gods were associated with the cardinal points. In the funerary context no such relationship is evident. Furthermore, the fact that these gods are sent to the four quarters of the earth does not mean that the Egyptians equated them with these directions. There is no evidence that they did so."

Thompson's approach fascinates me. Instead of marveling at how Joseph could have guessed even a remotely plausible meaning for the canopic figures, he quibbles. After flatly stating that there is no evidence for a link to the four quarters of the earth, then he admits that there is only one context - coronations - in which such a link exists. He then denies the relevance of that link, alleging that Facsimile 2 is only a funerary scene. I wonder if he is unaware of what Hugh Nibley has been writing about Facsimile 2 for many years: that it is centers around the concept of the endowment, which is the "coronation" of the resurrected soul in the kingdom of God. Indeed, non-LDS scholars acknowledge that figures of this type (the hypocephalus) are concerned with the life after, with a triumphant resurrection and entrance into eternity. It seems entirely reasonable to me to place Facsimile 2 into the context of a coronation scene, the one scene for which Thompson says the sons of Horus are linked to the four quarters of the earth. But Thompson can allow no room for plausibility in anything Joseph says.
I also disagree with Thompson's stance that only one context permits a relationship between the sons of Horus and the cardinal directions. John Gee provides others in his article. For example, in the Pyramid Texts, "the Sons of Horus are associated with the orientation of the four corners of the earth and used to orient the Pyramid" [Gee, 1991, p. 38]. They are also connected to winds from the four corners of the sky.
I feel that identifying the "four quarters" with the sons of Horus in Figure 6 is especially appropriate, since the four legs of the adjacent cow, Hathor = 'house of Horus', have a similar meaning mentioned in the quote from Campbell above.

Still puzzled about Thompson's allegation, I borrowed a copy of Richard W. Wilkinson's Symbol and Magic in Egyptian Art [Wilkinson, 1994] from our local library. The discussion of the Sons of Horus in Wilkinson clearly links them to the four quarters of the earth or the four cardinal directions, with no hint at all that this connection only occurred during coronation ceremonies. For example, Wilkinson's glossary entry for the Sons of Horus explains that they "were four genii or minor deities connected with the cardinal points and which guarded the viscera of the deceased. Originally human-headed, they were regularly portrayed with the heads of different creatures: Imsety, human-headed (south); Duamutef, jackal-headed (east); Hapy, ape-headed (north); Qebesenuef, falcon-headed (west)" (p. 213). His section on the meaning of the number four notes that the four Sons of Horus were one of several groups of four commonly found in Egyptian art. Then he writes, "Frequently the number [four] appears to connote totality and completeness and is tied to the four cardinal points...The four cardinal points are certainly an ancient concept.... Usually ... the four areas represent the four quarters of the earth alone. This is the case in most religious rituals which find representational expressions" [Wilkinson, 1994, pp. 133-134, emphasis mine]. He does cite the coronation of the king as well as the jubilee ceremony as examples involving the cardinal directions, but there is no hint that the connection between the four Sons of Horus and the four quarters of the earth only occurs in a narrow and limited context.

Page 145 of Wilkinson shows a photograph of canopic jars (shaped as the Sons of Horus, containing human viscera) in a decorated chest (22nd Dynasty). Each side of the chest also has one of the four Sons of Horus on it, being protected by the goddesses Isis, Nephthys, Neith, and Selket. This concept is discussed on pages 70-71 in the context of placement of coffins, which were sometimes oriented with the cardinal directions (head to the north, with the body sideways facing east). The four Sons of Horus were sometimes placed on the long sides of the coffin, with two on the west side and two on the east. Wilkinson then notes that the Son of Horus are sometimes represented on the four sides of the chests in which canopic jars were stored. Again, the Sons of Horus are linked to directions in a context other than coronation rites alone. Joseph's "four quarters of the earth" remains a "direct hit," in my eyes. Now how can the critics explain that? If Joseph were a fraud, why the direct hits?