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

Sunday, October 30, 2005

Powerful Evidence Against the Book of Mormon

I was asked why I don't provide evidence against the Book of Mormon as well as for. Well, as part of what may be a more balanced approach, let me admit that there are many arguments that are used against the Book of Mormon. Certainly one of the most common, one that is viewed as a "slam dunk" argument by many critics, is the one based on Alma 7:10. Mormons, hold on to your testimony, or better yet, quit reading right now if your faith is weak, because I'm about to reveal one of the top 10 dirty little problems about the Book of Mormon, a problem that many critics say we Mormons don't want others to know about. And frankly, Mormons rarely get up in testimony meeting and discuss this problem, seminary manuals are silent about it, and missionaries rarely tell it to their investigators. It's like the whole Church is trying to hide a fatal flaw in the Book of Mormon that anybody with an IQ of about 40 or so could think of.

Still reading? Beware - because here it is. Alma 7:10 says that Christ was born in the land of Jerusalem, but the Bible teaches that He was born in Bethlehem. In fact, every school child knows that Christ was born in Bethlehem. Joseph Smith's fraudulent work was so clumsy, so ignorant of the teachings of the Bible, so devoid of intelligence, so absent of thought and research, that he got messed up regarding one of the most basic facts in the whole Bible. Absolute idiocy, an obvious flaw, and exactly the kind of nonsense we would expect from an ignorant farmboy trying to make up scripture on his own.

So there you go! If you're looking for a reason to reject the Book of Mormon, that's about as good as any.

However, if you're looking for understanding, you may want to ask yourself if there might be something more to this issue. It sure looks like a slam-dunk argument against the Book of Mormon, clear, logical, straightforward, undeniable. But many times the critics leave out some important information (often unintentional, I'm sure, at least at first). Could there be any possible answer to so powerful an argument? Perhaps. Take a look and judge for yourself. Actually, there is much more to be said on this issue than that link gives, but it's one place to start.

Here's a quick summary of the issues from the above links:
  1. Bethlehem is only 5 miles from Jerusalem, making it virtually a suburb of the city. Thus, referring to the birthplace of Christ as being in the land of Jerusalem is quite reasonable.
  2. For people long and far removed from Jerusalem, referring to Bethlehem as being in the land of Jerusalem actually makes more sense that referring to the tiny village itself, just like people from Brea, California or Sandy, Utah might tell Europeans that they are from Los Angeles or Salt Lake City, respectively.
  3. Ancient documents from Lehi's era support the concept of Jerusalem being viewed of as more than just a city, but a region including outlying villages.
  4. The Dead Sea Scrolls refer to the "land of Jerusalem" and a non-LDS scholar commenting on that passage notes how this phrase "greatly enhances the sense of historicity" of a document. It's an authentic phrase.
Overall, rather than being a major flaw, Alma 7:10 is an entirely authentic touch that is perfectly consistent with the hypothesis that the Book of Mormon is an ancient Semitic document. It strains credulity to think that Joseph would be so brilliant as to add that touch, when it is so obviously "wrong" to all the learned Bible scholars among anti-Mormon ranks.

And are we supposed to believe that the farmboy who was so ignorant of the Bible as to make the blunder of Alma 7:10 was at the same time so perceptive and such a great scholar of the Bible that he could detect and imitate Hebraic literary tools such as chiasmus or paired tricola long before they were well recognized by typical Bible scholars???

I Thought Utah Was a Friendly Place for Job Seekers

Human resources departments in corporations sometimes are accused of being impersonal, even harsh, as if those in charge of hiring just see job applicants as something to chew up and spit out. That's a terribly unfair stereotype, of course, and I surely hope that it doesn't apply to typical corporations in Utah, that cheerful and employee-friendly state - right? That's why I'm puzzled over the employment page of a Utah firm that's been in the news recently. Is Sarcos Corporation making some kind of subtle statement with the design of that page? And is this representative of other Utah firms? I mean, Utah is a happy, friendly place, right??

Any of you readers from Sarcos? I'd be interested in your comments. Are you getting a lot of applications based on this page design?

In fairness to Sarcos, let me point out that they sound like one of the more exciting companies in the U.S., and that the theme of their employment page is surely more a reflection on the cool robotics that they have developed rather than a preview of how applicants will be welcomed by H.R. But perhaps their Webmaster might consider if other subliminal messages might be conveyed....

Friday, October 28, 2005

King Benjamin's Speech: Forget Solomon Spaulding, Ethan Smith, and Shakespeare

Talk about great literature! Take a look at the powerful and classic ancient Semitic speech of King Benjamin in the early chapters of Mosiah in the Book of Mormon. In my opinion, this section alone raises reasonable questions about attempts to "explain" the Book of Mormon as a result of plagiarism from Solomon Spaulding, Ethan Smith, Shakespeare, the King James Bible, the Apocrypha, or Walt Whitman. Perhaps even more than the extremely sophisticated chiasmus of Alma 36, Mosiah 1-6 contains such strong textual evidences of ancient Semitic origins that it strains the imagination to think that Joseph Smith whipped this up, no matter whose shoulder he was looking over in 1829.

I would especially recommend that you read "Kingship, Coronation, and Covenant in Mosiah 1-6" by Stephen D. Ricks, an excellent chapter in one of my favorite books, King Benjamin's Speech, edited by John Welch and Stephen Ricks (Provo, Utah: FARMS, 1998), pp. 233-275. The Maxwell Institute provides the entire book online, a wonderful freebie. I especially enjoyed: Chapter 3, "Benjamin's Speech: A Masterful Oration" by John W. Welch; Chapter 5, Assembly and Atonement" by Hugh W. Nibley; Chapter 10, "Benjamin's Covenant as a Precursor of the Sacrament Prayers" by John W. Welch; and Chapter 11, "Parallelism and Chiasmus in Benjamin's Speech" by John W. Welch. Awesome! But that's just a fraction of all the great information and testimony-building insights from the book, so I still hope you'll buy your own copy.

In part of Welch's chapter on kingship and coronation, he discusses the six elements of the ancient covenant renewal pattern. Pay attention to these points. Long before this book was published, my testimony of the Restoration and especially of the divinity of the Temple got a major boost when I bought and read a book by a Jewish scholar on the ancient temple paradigm. Dr. Jon Levenson of Harvard is the author of this favorite book of mine, Sinai and Zion: An Entry into the Jewish Bible (Minneapolis: Winston Press, 1985). I was amazed to read about the twentieth-century discovery of a common pattern found in many ancient Middle Eastern covenants between unequal parties (e.g., a ruling nation and its subjects). This ancient pattern for making a covenant between God and man or a king and his subjects is known as the "covenant formulary" and includes the following six elements, though many ancient examples of covenants may only have a subset of the six:
  1. The preamble
  2. Historical prologue (description of what the king has done for the subjects)
  3. Stipulations (to secure fidelity of the subjects to the king)
  4. Deposition of the text of the treaty or covenant (special writings and other means to ensure that the covenants aren't forgotten and are recorded and reviewed)
  5. List of witnesses
  6. Statement of curses and blessings (the results of disobedience or obedience)
This ancient pattern is becoming relatively well known now, and has even made its way into some mainstream Christian sermons, such as a 2004 sermon by Reverend Neil Bramble-Chapman (amazingly, he even mentions the ancient Christian doctrine of theosis in his sermon).

While I do not desire to discuss details of the Temple, each element of the ancient covenant formulary is clearly present in the LDS Temple. And as Stephen Ricks shows in his chapter, these elements appear to be present in the covenant making process that King Benjamin directs (though one element is implied rather than explicitly present). This adds an interesting perspective to our appreciation of the Book of Mormon.

Modern recognition of the ancient covenant formulary dates back to the 1950s, when George Mendenhall and Klaus Baltzer began comparing biblical literature with other ancient treaties (see discussion in Levenson, p. 26; see also George Mendenhall, "Covenant Forms in Israelite Tradition," Biblical Archaeologist, Vol. 17, No. 3, 1954, pp. 50-76, as cited by Stephen Ricks "Kingship, Coronation, and Covenant in Mosiah 1-6," with references pertaining to Mendenhall and other related sources cited on p. 274). Though these elements can be found scattered in the Bible, their significance and their relationship to each other was not appreciated in Joseph Smith's day. (Actually, there is still vigorous debate on these elements: see Covenant, Treaty, and Prophecy by E. C. Lucas, originally printed in Themelios, Vol. 8, No. 1, Sept. 1982, pp. 19-23. This article discusses the ancient six-part treaty concept proposed by Mendenhall and reviews some recent criticisms of Mendenhall's views.)

While the covenant formulary is an exciting concept for appreciating King Benjamin's speech, there is much more in Levenson's book and other modern writings about ancient practices that puts not only the Book of Mormon but also the LDS Temple squarely into the realm of ancient practice. Some of the elements which deeply impressed me were the relationship between the Temple and the Sabbath day (sacred space and sacred time), the symbolism of the baptismal font (and subterranean waters in general) in the Temple, the relationship between mountains and Temples (also found strongly in the Bible and the Book of Mormon), the significance of covenant making, the link between Zion and the Temple, the things one does to show reverence for sacred ground, the significance of the Creation story, and so on. Levenson probably knows nothing of LDS Temples, yet his writings about the ancient Jewish experience did more for my understanding of LDS Temples than any modern LDS writer had up to that time.

A related summary of information about the ancient Middle Eastern temple concept is available online in John M. Lundquist's scholarly article, "What Is a Temple? A Preliminary Typology," originally printed in H. B. Huffman, F. A. Spina, and A. R. W. Green, eds., The Quest for the Kingdom of God: Studies in Honor of George E. Mendenhall (Winona Lake, Indiana: Eisenbrauns, 1983), which was republished in Temples of the Ancient World, ed. by Donald W. Parry and Stephen D. Ricks (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book and FARMS, 1994, pp. 83-118). While Lundquist's article is not explicitly about the LDS Temple, those familiar with LDS temples will find intriguing evidence for its ancient roots.

See also "Early Christian and Jewish Rituals Related to Temple Practices" by John A. Tvedtnes at FAIRLDS.org.

Well, getting back to the Book of Mormon, I am impressed with how often we can better understand the text by understanding aspects of ancient Semitic practices and poetry.

Thursday, October 27, 2005

Name This Famous Institution in Utah

Here are a couple scenes from the building of a world-famous organization in Utah. Do you recognize it? Know why it's so important? And can you tell me the lengthy name of another famous Utah-based organization that has its name prominently displayed on one of the floors of this building?

I got to tour this building recently and was very impressed with what is going on here. It's also a great place for lunch!







(Photos are copyright 2005, Jeff Lindsay.)

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Remember the Captivity of Our Fathers

One of the major themes of the Book of Mormon is the importance of remembering the captivity of our fathers as seek our own deliverance from captivity and sin through the power of the Messiah. It is interesting that the angel who appeared to rebellious Alma and the sons of Mosiah instructed the shocked son of the prophet to "Go, and remember the captivity of thy fathers in the land of Helam, and in the land of Nephi, and remember how great things he has done for them. . . ." (Mosiah 27:16) Ninety-seven pages later, in that masterpiece of Semitic literature, the powerfully chiastic Alma 36, Alma begins and ends his account with a plea for his son to "do as I have done, in remembering the captivity of our fathers" (Alms 36:2), noting that he had (since his conversion) "always retained in remembrance their captivity (Alms 36:29). And of course, the focal point of that chiasm was his own deliverance from captivity as he turned to Christ for deliverance.

May we always treasure the liberty that Christ offers us, and the freedoms our other fathers have provided (Founding Fathers, "religious fathers" like Joseph Smith, etc.) . We must never take these things for granted, but must actively work to preserve them.

Jewish DNA?

Much of the dispute over DNA and the Book of Mormon is based on erroneous assumptions about what the Book of Mormon says. If you (incorrectly) believe that the Book of Mormon teaches that all Native Americans are descended primarily or solely from Lehi's group, and if you assume that the text requires Lehi's group to have had "Jewish DNA" like that of modern Jews, then, yes, we've got a problem, because most modern Native Americans do not appear to have "Jewish DNA" - whatever that is. But of course, these assumptions are not based on a careful reading of the text. The actual text clearly refers to a limited geography for Book of Mormon lands spanning a few hundred miles, not an entire hemisphere. It does not rule out the presence of others in the land, and even provides internal evidence for the presence of others in Book of Mormon territory (including survivors of the Jaredite era). And it does not teach that Lehi's group carried Jewish DNA. And we are given no clear information that allows us to classify the DNA of anyone in Lehi's group, except that Lehi was a descendant (in some way) of Joseph. We are not required to believe that any of his Y- chromosomes survived into our day, even if we believe that he must have had "Jewish" or "Hebrew" DNA.

Just what is "Jewish DNA," anyway? There is no scientifically acceptable standard for Jewish DNA. Dr. Robert Pollack, a professor of biological sciences and director of the Center for the Study of Science and Religion at Columbia University, makes the following important observation in his online article, "The Fallacy of Biological Judaism" (Pollack, 2003):

Unlike asking "Are Jews a family?", as historians have traditionally done, geneticists seeking to advise Ashkenazic families are also, in passing, asking, "Do Jews all share the same versions of one or more genes?" -- a question with a testable, precise answer. As no two people except pairs of identical twins have exactly the same version of the human genomic text, this claim could be confirmed or rejected by a search for versions of the human genome shared by all Jews and no other people.

Given the historical context of the Nazi "experiment," it is all the more remarkable that Jews all over the world have been flocking to the new technology of DNA-based diagnosis, eager to lend their individual genomes -- each a surviving data point from the terrible experiment in negative selection -- to a revisiting of this issue of biological Judaism.

At a recent meeting of the Association of Orthodox Jewish scientists and the Columbia Center for the Study of Science and Religion, it became clear that Jewish curiosity has provided sufficient genetic material to give a perfectly clear negative answer: There is no support in the genomes of today's Jews for the calumnious and calamitous model of biological Judaism. Though there are many deleterious versions of genes shared within the Ashkenazic community, there are no DNA sequences common to all Jews and absent from all non-Jews. There is nothing in the human genome that makes or diagnoses a person as a Jew.
If there is no genetic marker that can identify a person as a Jew, I would ask Thomas Murphy and other critics of the Book of Mormon exactly what DNA evidence we should be looking for to test the hypothesis that a tiny handful of Hebrew people entered the Americas in 600 B.C.? What can be challenged is the once-common LDS assumption that the Book of Mormon told the whole story of the origins of the Americas, but it's much more reasonable to understand that it's only part of the story. Given the way genes diffuse, it is possible that every Native American was in some way a descendant of Lehi, but there is no need to assume that his Y chromosomes - whatever features they had - are still around in large numbers waiting for scientists to puzzle over all the "Jewish DNA" in the Americas. (And of course, if markers related to "Jewish DNA" were found among Native Americans, wouldn't it immediately be assumed to have come from mixing with Europeans? I think the answer is yes.)

By the way, there might be some evidence of pre-Columbian Middle Eastern and European genes entering the Americas based on an analysis of human lymphocyte antigens (HLAs). The article I'm thinking of is not in established journals, which leaves a big question mark over the work, but that doesn't necessarily condemn it. Look at the work of James L. Guthrie and let me know what you think.

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Lessons from Bees



This is a photo I took last week on my way home from church. (Click to enlarge.)

When I ponder the miracle of insect flight and the complex aerodynamics that have only recently begun to be understood by scientists, or the numerous brilliant structures of insect bodies (especially bees) that allow them to perform so many functions effectively, I can only respect the divine wisdom that enabled the marvels of life on this planet.

When I hear people say that this is all just an accident, with no intelligence behind it, it almost makes me, uh, break out in hives. (Not really - I'm just pollen your leg.)

Monday, October 24, 2005

The Flood and the Black Sea

On my LDSFAQ page on science and Mormon beliefs, I have discussed the issue of Noah's flood and offered my personal view - shared by many LDS people - that the flood must have been a local flood. But even reducing the scope of the flood to local rather than global proportions leaves many questions unanswered, including the question of where any evidence can be found for such a major flood. But Mike Parker recently posted a link to an insightful article that may offer a possible answer. I recommend that you read "Noah's Flood: Modern Scholarship and Mormon Traditions" by Duane E. Jeffery, Sunstone, Oct. 2004, pp. 27-45. According to one hypothesis currently being explored, the regions that were wiped out by Noah's flood may presently still be underwater and unexplored in the region that is now the Black Sea. Preliminary evidence points to the possibility of a massive flood around 5600 B.C. as breach of the Bosporus land bridge allowed waters from the Mediterranean Sea to flood the area, expanding a small ancient freshwater lake into the present Black Sea. If evidence of flooded cities under the Black Sea is found, the hypothesis will become more interesting.

Sunday, October 23, 2005

Deuteronomy 32:8-9 - Many Implications for LDS Religion

Today I took a few moments to read in one of my favorite books, The Apostolic Fathers (2nd ed., translated by J.B. Lightfoot and J.R. Harmer, ed. and rev. by M.W. Holmes, Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1989), a compilation of some of the earliest Christian writings after the New Testament. And while exploring, I found an interesting version of Deuteronomy 32:8 that I wish to discuss.

By the way, I love reading the early Christian writings in The Apostolic Fathers because it reminds me of the reality of the Restoration. So much of the theology in there sounds more like something from an LDS General Conference sermon than the theology of our modern critics who claim to represent "historic Christianity." (For abundant details, see Barry Bickmore's Early Christianity and Mormonism site.)

Many early Christian writings are available on the Early Church Fathers Site at Wheaton College. One can view individual books there or download files with extensive portions of The Ante-Nicene Fathers (ANF), edited by Alexander Roberts and James Donaldson in a 10-volume set (Buffalo: The Christian Literature Publishing Company, 1885-1896). I especially recommend downloading Volumes 1 and 2, where one can read writings from the early fathers of the Church. For study of the Apostolic Fathers in particular, I just found an interesting inline resource: the Apostolic Fathers Lookup Tool described at Ricoblog. This allows you to enter references to passages of the Apostolic Fathers and see an English translation and the Greek at the same time.

So let's take a look at the passage that caught my eye today, First Clement 29:2. The version of the text given by the online tool is slightly different than what I have in print, which follows:
For thus it is written: "When the Most High divided the nations, when He dispersed the sons of Adam, he fixed the boundaries of the nations according to the number of the angels of God. His people Jacob became the Lord's portion, and Israel his inherited allotment."
What caught my eye is the phrase "according to the number of the angels of God." (You can also read First Clement at the Catholic site, NewAdvent.org.) I understand "angels of God" to be one of two common translations for this part of Deut. 32:8 in the Septuagint, which is often rendered as "sons of God."

I'm comfortable with either "sons of God" or "angels of God" - after all, we understand angels to be human souls, sons of God also, sent to earth to minister for God from time to time. But what makes Deut. 32:8-9 so interesting and controversial is the apparent editing that was done in the Hebrew (Masoretic) text that was used as the basis for the King James Version and most modern translations of the Old Testament. Most LDS people reading the King James version of Deuteronomy would never guess how intriguing this passage is. Here is the KJV:
8 When the Most High divided to the nations their inheritance, when he separated the sons of Adam, he set the bounds of the people according to the number of the children of Israel.

9 For the LORD's portion is his people; Jacob is the lot of his inheritance.
Apparently, this passage originally referred not to "the children of Israel," but to "the sons of God," and in so doing, may have been a reference to the ancient Israelite concept of a council of the gods where Jehovah (Yahweh) was the chief among the sons of God, subordinate to the God of gods, El (as in Elohim). You can see the phrase "sons of God" in an English translation of Deuteronomy (Deuteronomion) from the Septuagint at the CCAT site of the University of Pennsylvania, among other places.

Michael Griffith's article, "Is the Bible Inerrant and Complete?" includes a section on this controversial passage of scripture (see the link for detailed references):
We have considered some of the many cases where the New Testament authors find it necessary to follow the LXX over the Hebrew Old Testament. Says Richard F. Smith, "at times the LXX is cited [in the New Testament] in support of Christian doctrines precisely because the Hebrew text does not support the doctrines in question" (in Brown, Fitzmyer, and Murphy 2:511).

Further proof that variant readings affect important passages comes from Deuteronomy 32:8-9. In the Masoretic Text (MT), as it is translated in the KJV, the passage reads as follows:
When the most High divided to the nations their inheritance, when he separated the sons of Adam, he set the bounds of the people according to the number of the children of Israel. For the LORD's [Yahweh's] portion is his people; Jacob is the lot of his inheritance.
However, it has long been known from the Septuagint, and more recently from the Dead Sea Scrolls, that the phrase "according to the number of the children of Israel" used to read "according to the number of the sons of God." In the RSV, which takes into account the confirming evidence from the Dead Sea Scrolls, the passage reads like this:
When the Most High [El Elyon] gave to the nations their inheritance, when he separated the sons of men, he fixed the bounds of the peoples according to the number of the sons of God. For the LORD's [Yahweh's] portion is his people, Jacob his allotted inheritance.
The significance of this variation is that in ancient times the term "sons of God" frequently referred to members of a divine assembly of gods. The ancient Hebrews believed in a divine council of deities headed by the supreme father-god El (also called Elohim or El Elyon), and they often referred to the members of this council as "the sons of God." There is considerable disagreement among scholars over the council's composition, but there is no serious question that a belief in a divine assembly of heavenly deities was an important doctrine in ancient Hebrew theology (Eissfeldt; Mullen; Hayman; Morgenstern; Hanson 39; Clifford; Ackerman; Ackroyd; Seaich 1983:9-23).

By changing "the sons of God" to "the children of Israel," someone was deliberately trying to eliminate the reference to the divine council.

The LXX and Dead Sea Scroll versions of Deuteronomy 32:8-9 portray Yahweh as separate from El and as a member of the divine assembly subordinate to Him. As Niels Lemche says, "the Greek version apparently ranges Yahweh among the sons of the Most High, that is, treats him as a member of the pantheon of gods who are SUBORDINATE to the supreme God, El Elyon" (226, emphasis added). According to Harvard University's Paul Hanson,
This verse no doubt preserves early Israel's view of her place within the family of nations. The high god "Elyon" originally apportioned the nations to the members of the divine assembly. . . . Israel was allotted to Yahweh (39)
As the RSV puts it, Israel was Yahweh's "allotted inheritance," given (or "allotted") to Him by His Father, El.

The Dead Sea Scrolls and the Septuagint prove that in the original Hebrew of Deuteronomy 32:8-9, Yahweh was portrayed as a member of the divine council under El. Therefore, those who subsequently tampered with the Hebrew text were probably Yahweh-only editors who wanted to erase the original distinction between El and Yahweh and to depict Yahweh as the one and only God.
Similar information is provided in a brief summary of The Origins of Biblical Monotheism: Israel's Polytheistic Background and Ugaritic Texts by Mark Smith.

Martin S. Tanner's book review, "Book of Mormon Christology" (FARMS Review of Books, Vol. 7, No. 2, 1995, pp. 6-37) includes a discussion of the implications of Deut. 32:8,9 on the relationship between Christ and the Father, and the linkage between Christ and Jehovah, showing further support for LDS themes:

In an apparent attempt to show that the Latter-day Saint idea of Jesus as Jehovah is inconsistent with the Old and New Testaments, [Melodie Moench] Charles [author of Book of Mormon Christology] claims:
There is no evidence in the Old or New Testament that this doctrine was taught anciently. The use of the divine names Jehovah and Elohim in the Old Testament never supports the twentieth-century Mormon doctrine that Elohim is the father of Jehovah, that Jehovah, not Elohim, is the God of the Old Testament, or that Jehovah is Jesus Christ. . . . [T]he divine names Elohim and Jehovah are both used unambiguously to refer to the same divine being, the one god of the Old Testament. (p. 109)
Where does Charles come up with this? Recognized experts on the Old Testament take a contrary position. For example, Professor Mark Smith of Yale University states, "The original god of Israel was El. . . . El was the original chief god of the group named Israel. . . . Similarly, Deuteronomy 32:8-9 casts Yahweh in the role of one of the sons of El." [Mark S. Smith, The Early History of God: Yahweh and the Other Deities in Ancient Israel (San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1990), 7, emphasis added.] Margaret Barker, of Oakbrook School in England, and member of the Society for Old Testament Study, explains:
Yahweh was one of the Sons of El Elyon, God Most High. In other words, he [Jesus] was described as a heavenly being. Thus the annunciation narrative has the term "Son of the Most High" (Luke 1:32) and the demoniac recognized his exorcist as "Son of the Most High God" (Mark 5:7). Jesus is not called son of Yahweh nor the son of the Lord, but he is called Lord. We also know that whoever wrote the New Testament translated the name Yahweh by Kyrios, Lord. (See, for example, the quotation from Deuteronomy 6:5: "You shall love Yahweh your God . . ." which is rendered in Luke 10:27 "You shall love the Lord [Kyrios] your God.") This suggests that the Gospel writers, in using the terms "Lord" and "Son of God Most High," saw Jesus as [divine] and gave him their version of the sacred name Yahweh. [Barker, The Great Angel, 4-5]
Barker goes on to say that the identification of Jesus as Yahweh happened "in the very earliest period; it was in fact, what the Christians were proclaiming when they said that Jesus was Lord. Jesus was Yahweh, the second God . . . . [T]he first Christians recognized that Jesus was Yahweh, not that he was in some way equivalent but not identical." [Ibid., 221, emphasis in original.]
So the original form of Deut. 32:8-9, with its teachings about sons/angels of God apparently in a premortal state, provides support for LDS themes such as the relationship of God and Christ as separate Beings, the title of Jehovah that was often given to Christ before His mortal birth, the concept of there being a council of gods, the fact that we are sons and daughters of God with divine potential, the premortal existence, and, of course, the reality of human editorial changes to the scriptures. Quite a lot from a tiny verse or two. What a shame it was edited away in the Masoretic text!

Other resources: the Hebrew (Masoretic) text of Deut. 32 from the Blue Letter Bible.

Saturday, October 22, 2005

Lehi, the Visionary Man

John A. Tvedtnes' short note, "A Visionary Man," provides some insight into one of many phrases in the Book of Mormon that sound odd in English but make a lot of sense when the Semitics origins of the text are considered (see also the PDF version of the article to see John's transliteration of a few Hebrew words). While providing Semitic insights into the statement that Lehi was a "visionary man," he discusses the awkward (in English) statement of Lehi, "I have dreamed a dream; or, in other words, I have seen a vision" (1 Nephi 8:2). Here is his analysis:
The idiom "dreamed a dream" is clearly an example of the cognate accusative, known from Hebrew and other ancient languages, in which the verb is followed by a noun (here used as direct object or accusative) deriving from the same root. From this, it also seems likely that the words "seen a vision" represent another cognate accusative. We can illustrate this by rendering the English as "seen a scene," "vised a vision," or "envisioned a vision." It is likely that the original read , using a verb and noun deriving from the same root as , "visionary." The fact that this Hebrew root is found in cognate constructions in both Isaiah 1:1 and Ezekiel 12:27; 13:7, 16 adds strength to this suggestion.
Just one of many examples of Hebraic influence in the Book of Mormon.

Update: This example is actually not one of the more interesting ones because the term "dreamed a dream" is also present in Genesis, as BYU Alter Ego points out in a helpful comment. But there are much more interesting Hebraisms that cannot be "explained" by their presence in the Bible. More interesting in the present case is the "visionary man" concept that Tvedtnes discusses in the original article.

Thursday, October 20, 2005

Go Irish!?

A friend of mine at work, a Notre Dame alumnus, sent me email today that included this non-confidential postscript:
P.S. Now with Notre Dame playing BYU this weekend, I hope we are still friends regardless of the outcome !!!
My response included this:
And what makes you think I'll be rooting for BYU? Doing well in football takes everyone's mind off their studies. Winning the National Championship in 1984 when I was there was the equivalent of performing about 30,000 temporary lobotomies. Go Irish!
OK, deep down I want BYU to win, but even more than that I would like BYU students to do their best to excel and prepare for the increasingly challenging times ahead.

Go Cougars! And Irish.

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Evil Church Leaders: My First-Hand Experience

As I just explained in comments on a recent post, I know a thing or two about the pain caused by evil leaders in the Church. I know because I was one. In particular, during the years when I was Bishop, members of my ward had to deal with the following leaders, all of whom were me (this information came from the victims directly or indirectly to me):

a) a bishop who lied repeatedly and played devious mind games;

b) an ecclesiastical leader who micromanaged events and made people feel oppressed;

c) a calloused, insensitive leader who did not respect the sacrifices of others;

d) a bigoted male leader who made false accusations about good people that caused great grief and pain;

e) a wicked, corrupt person who made someone's life hell for years;

f) a foul, deceptive leader who should be exposed for the fraud he is;

g) a self-righteous pig who tried to keep good people out of the Temple and cause intolerable grief and suffering through his lack of care;

h) an unfair and selfish bishop who improperly distributed items donated to help the poor;

i) a power-hungry, arrogant snot; and finally,

j) a sweet and really good-looking guy (thanks, Honey - it's nice to get some balance).

They were probably the roughest but most rewarding years of my life. But it was often amazing just how easy it is to offend people. One person approached me by email me five years after I was released and told me I had made his life hell, that I had wrecked everything for him. I wanted to apologize, but I couldn't remember ever meeting this person. I pressed for details. The most I could learn was that we had some brief encounter in a parking lot, and somehow something insensitive I did or said caused great grief that grew out of control and wrecked things for him. I apologized and wished I could know what he's talking about - but I'm sure he's sincere that I really did something wrong. The awful thing about all the responsibility put on a bishop is that there are so many opportunities to offend people. Every decision, every action, every word spoken will bother someone, especially when we are misunderstood or people are looking for faults. And for some of the most painful issues, I was unable to defend myself without breaking confidentiality or putting someone else at risk, or so I thought. There is much that I could say here that is best not said.

I made many mistakes, I offended many people (I hope only a small minority of the ward on any one issue), I opened wounds or created new ones, and I'm sure that I was every bit as evil as the typical evil stake president, mission president, or unnamed General Authority that are so often mentioned in anti-Mormon Websites (when there are real people behind those stories). From the perspective of my victims at the moment of pain, yes, I was pretty evil - but I was honestly trying to follow Jesus Christ and serve properly. Sounds easy in theory, but my practice was far from perfect. How easy it is to offend and to be misunderstood, and how easy it is to make true and sometimes grievous mistakes.

If you expect Church leaders to be infallible, you're in the wrong millennium or on the wrong planet or - no, you're just wrong. Inspiration and revelation are real, but those gifts do not take away human influences in what we do every day. Take it from me, a former evil bishop who has personally experienced the marvelous power of revelation from God and reality of the gift of the Holy Ghost and the great blessings that come with that wonderful calling. God can occasionally get through even to us evil leaders - and he can get through to you, too, if you'll seek Him.

Please don't let my words discourage you future leaders from accepting opportunities to serve in the Church. Yes, there may be pain and misunderstandings, but for each person offended, you have the opportunity to strengthen and heal and bless dozens, and even the people I sorely offended for a while often came back and became reconciled. In one case, one of the people I most offended and most feared became one of my most wonderful allies and friends. How grateful I am to people who understand the power of forgiveness - what miracles can be wrought by forgiving one another, even when we are hurt.

Missionaries, Take Care of Yourselves

A recent comment that I deleted for its use of profanity (actually turned out to be a cut-and-paste rant from an old posting on an anti-Mormon site) referred to serious health problems suffered on a mission that were ignored by an evil mission president who allegedly became an unnamed General Authority. Though some parts of the comment were questionable, it does raise an important issue: caring for the health of missionaries. Elders and Sisters on missions, remember that you are legally an adult and have a responsibility to take care of yourselves. If you are having health problems, please let your family know. Please get proper medical attention and don't wear yourselves down. Don't expect that other missionaries such as zone leaders will provide reasonable guidance relating to your health, and it may even be that your mission president might fail to appreciate the seriousness of a situation. If you can tell something is seriously wrong, like losing a lot of weight or an infection that won't go away, get help! And please don't feel like you have to only report positive things in your letters.

If you have a serious problem, let your family know, and do what it takes to get help.

Members, we can all pitch in by looking after our missionaries and making sure that they are eating well, getting adequate rest, and living in safe, clean environments.

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Stung by Alma's Words to Corianton

Tonight the youth and their parents in our ward had a "Standards Night" event that centered around watching a DVD of a John Bytheway presentation to youth on morality. I must admit that I learned a lot from his perspectives and really enjoyed it. He explained how "Satan is the enemy of romance" - a good way of expressing an important truth in a world that has almost no idea of how wonderful real love and romance can be. And I really appreciated his discussion on the three ways that we might approach the standards of the Church on morality: (1) How bad can I be? (2) How good do I actually have to be? (3) I want to be valiant.

But for me the main learning came in his discussion of Alma 39, where Alma confronts his son, Corianton, after he has departed from his ministry to pursue a prostitute. Bytheway noted that he did not begin by chastising his son for violating the principle of morality, but for his pride:
[2]. . . Now this is what I have against thee; thou didst go on unto boasting in thy strength and thy wisdom.

[3] And this is not all, my son. Thou didst do that which was grievous unto me; for thou didst forsake the ministry, and did go over into the land of Siron, among the borders of the Lamanites, after the harlot Isabel.

[4] Yea, she did steal away the hearts of many; but this was no excuse for thee, my son. Thou shouldst have tended to the ministry wherewith thou wast entrusted.
Corianton's fall apparently began with his pride and trusting in his own wisdom, followed by abandoning his duties in his ministry, and then the fall into immorality, which Brother Bytheway generalized as associating with the wrong crown or pursuing the wrong things. And as I pondered his points, I realized that Alma 39 applies to me much more than I thought. I considered my own challenges with pride, my own recent tendencies to neglect some aspects of my callings and other duties, and the danger of pursuing things that are detrimental or of little value. It was a timely wake-up call - one of several I've had recently. Maybe now is the time to actually wake up!

I love how the Book of Mormon can become alive and wonderfully current when we ponder it and apply it to our own lives. There are so many subtle and powerful points in that inspired book.

Monday, October 17, 2005

A Must-Read Essay on Martha Beck and the Assault on Hugh Nibley

"As Things Stand at the Moment: Responding to Martha Beck's Leaving the Saints" by Boyd Petersen is an essay I urge you to read and ponder. I was touched by the profound emotions yet firm restraint demonstrated in the reasoned response of Boyd to the outrageous attacks of his sister-in-law, Martha Beck, on the Church and his family. What he says and how he says it has value to all of us as we deal with the many nasty charges that are hurled our way by enemies of the Church.

I also think there are some important but brief insights into the dangers of recovered memory therapy.

I also agree with Boyd in his opposition to kidnapping the elderly. Not sure why so many in the media and in RFM circles don't get the seriousness of what Martha did. How can they take her work seriously?


Update, Oct. 18: The third comment below was deleted for its use of profanity. So you know, it was someone who said he served a foreign mission, was treated terribly, nearly died from illness, and was then told to lie about his experiences. He also said that he saw racism from Utah/Idaho missionaries and that he stood out for opposing it. Now he's out of the Church and is fighting against it.

Another Mormon in the News: Robert Gardiner

On October 4, the Wall Street Journal ran a story about the top diversified mutual funds. Their 10-year winner was the Wasatch Micro Cap Equity Fund (23.5% annualized return over the past 10 years) managed by Robert Gardiner (see "Most Diversified Stock Funds Managed Broad-Based Gains" by Laura Egodigwe, p. R3). The article notes that Gardiner is from Salt Lake City and "served a two-year Mormon mission in Paris." Nice work, Brother Gardiner!

The fund is a closed fund, so don't plan on investing now. But if you did 10 years ago, way to go!

I've managed to get my kids interested in saving and investing for the future. I let them give me some of their cash and I lump it with other funds that I invest. Of course, I cheat and give them the Lindsay Mutual Fund Guarantee: they will at least get their money back, but if the investment makes money, it's theirs. Most of their investments have been in something I consider very safe with high upside potential. Kind of fun. And it helps them understand that by not going out to eat or by choosing a less expensive activity, we can save money and invest it for the future. They seem to get the idea.

Sunday, October 16, 2005

New Pilot Program: Housing Missionaries with Qualified Members

Our Stake apparently will be participating in a pilot program to help reduce the costs of missionary work. Apparently some qualified and willing members will be sought who can provide rooms for missionaries at low cost rather than renting normal apartments. Might be difficult to implement, but if even a few people can participate, it could make a big dent in the average cost of supporting missionaries. Hope it works! I appreciate the prudent efforts of the Church to look for ways to keep costs down and reduce the financial burden of families supporting missionaries.

Saturday, October 15, 2005

By Their Fruits . . .

Today I was at the Chicago Temple. In the celestial room and later in the main entry area, I took a few minutes to watch the people there. I couldn't help but notice that the Temple is a place of happiness. I saw whites, blacks, Mexicans -- all people that seemed to be strengthened by what they were experiencing. Yes, this is very subjective and very biased on my part, but take a look at the lives of people who go to the Temple and ask them what the Temple does for them and their marriages. This is a house of spiritual strength, a house of prayer, a house of purity, a House of God. The Temple is not some spooky demonic netherworld that turns people into zombies, as anti-Mormon horror films would suggest.

On the way home, my wife told me a story that tied in to my temple experience. A good Christian but non-LDS friend of hers recently said that her daughter hung out with a group of LDS girls during the homecoming dance at a local high school, and went to a party with them afterwards. She went to her mother later and said, "Mom, I want to hang out with those Mormon girls more. They are the only ones who don't have alcohol at their parties." That fine young lady valued the high standards of her LDS friends. And I value those standards, too. LDS youth who live their religion stand out. They have something wonderful to share with others. What the teachings of the Church have done for them is a good and praiseworthy thing.

The Church has plenty of flaws, being an organization still over 99% mortal at last count. But what it does for its members is wonderful. I'm so grateful to be a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. I cannot say enough but how it has blessed my own life, my marriage, and the life of my family. Condemn it all you want, but be careful about unrighteous judgment -- that will haunt you one day. The restored Church of Jesus Christ is true, in spite of sometimes painful flaws and puzzles and all the things that make critics guffaw.

If you have not given it a serious chance, I would encourage you to learn more about the Church and its doctrines. Meet with the missionaries, read the Book of Mormon, visit Mormon.org, attend services in your area, and find out what we mean when we say that the Gospel of Jesus Christ really has been restored. It's wonderful news!

Friday, October 14, 2005

Jim Cramer Recruited Where??

For a little entertainment, my boys and I watched a few minutes of Jim Cramer's Maddmoney show on CNBC tonight. Crazy, I know - but it's a hilarious and interesting way to learn some things about companies and stocks from one of the most popular and even intelligent (if not loudest) voices on Wall Street. One interesting tidbit I learned is that Cramer used to recruit at BYU - I'm guessing MBAs or accountants when he was working as an analyst for Sachs and Goldman. Nice to hear a quick plug for BYU.

I'm not sure how heavy recruiting is recently at BYU, but let me throw in my two cents. I was on campus in September representing my company, and while not primarily recruiting, I did get to talk to a number of students as well as faculty members. I came away strongly impressed with the quality of students there. They seem suprisingly bright. I respected the school when I was there as a student, but I believe things are better than ever, in spite of the human politics that occur in any university.

Regarding university politics, I've had professors at other schools tell me that the politics in corporate America are nothing compared to what goes on in typical academic department, and BYU is not free of such human influences, as BYU Alter Ego has occasionally hinted at on this blog. But neither BYU nor the Church claim to be free of human beings among their leaders, so whether you're going to church or to a church-owned university, be warned: human stuff happens in both, and it's not always altruistic human stuff. But I'm sticking with both as excellent choices. And while the Church should be for everybody, BYU is not - there are many other fine choices, but I'm partial to that amazing school where young people can not only have a great education, but also have their values sustained (on the average), not deliberately torn down.

Thursday, October 13, 2005

The Founding Fathers: "Just a Bunch of Whiners"?

My son in high school told me tonight that his U.S. History teacher has been telling the class that the Founding Fathers were just a bunch of whiners, always complaining about taxes. I'm finding this derogatory treatment of the inspired founders of this nation to be increasingly common in our public schools. Any suggestions on how to help teachers with that mindset to better understand the topic they claim to be teaching? Can anything be done?

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Hebrews as a Missionary Tool?

Does anybody out there really enjoy the book of Hebrews as an occasional missionary tool? There are so many interesting passages that can lead to interesting discussions of LDS views, or even give some sincere critics pause. The first few chapters seem especially rich. In chapter 1, verses 1-4 speak of Christ in ways that strongly suggest He is a separate Being, the Son and Heir of God, by Whom God made the worlds, who looks just like the Father - being His "express image" - and who sits on the right hand of the Father. Doesn't sound like Paul was thinking of the Godhead as one substance without body or parts or an image of any kind.

Chapter 2 starts off with a warning that we Christians can slip, and that we need to give earnest heed to the teachings of the Gospel (gasp - could this imply obedience??). Paul isn't just talking about fallen pagans: "How shall WE escape, if we neglect so great salvation?" (v. 3). Yes, it's possible for Christians who chose Christ once to later choose something else and neglect the salvation He offers us. In other words, we can slip and fall from grace.

Verse 7 of chapter 2 is loaded with significance. Referring to Christ, Paul quotes Psalm 8:5, which states that God has made man a little lower than the angels. Actually, the Hebrew text says a little lower than "the gods." Christ, like man, was made in this state, yet obviously is God, crowned with honor and glory, set by the Father to be "over the work of [the Father's] hands" (v. 7). Paul seems to be saying that Christ progressed from the state, becoming "perfect through suffering" (v. 10), offering us Atonement, in which he did "taste death for every man" (v. 9) that we might be sanctified and become one with Him (v. 11), making us "brethren" to Jesus (v. 11). Some of you might wish to add Paul to your list of heinous non-Christian impostors. (Perhaps Paul and other New Testament writers actually worshipped a different Jesus?)

Chapter 3 again has Paul making the oft-repeated call to Christians to be careful, to endure to the end, and avoid falling into sin lest we lose the blessings Christ offers us (vs. 6, 12-14).

Chapter 4 urges Christians to labor to enter into the rest of God (v. 11), and chapter 5 touches again upon the progress of Christ in learning obedience through suffering and becoming perfect (vs. 8-9), becoming "the author of eternal salvation unto all them that _____ him." Can you guess what the missing word or phrase is? Perhaps "pray to"? "Confess"? "Love"? "Admire"? (Hint: the word is similar in appearance and sound to "ebay".)

The challenge, of course, is understanding what these passages mean, and helping others to see that there is another paradigm that might make a lot more sense than the one they have inherited.

Are We Really Serious about the Book of Mormon?

Many members of the Church are reading the whole Book of Mormon again before the end of the year, which is great. But I am convinced that the Church as a whole still takes it "lightly" as described in Doctrine and Covenants 84:
49 And the whole world lieth in sin, and groaneth under darkness and under the bondage of sin.

50 And by this you may know they are under the bondage of sin, because they come not unto me.

51 For whoso cometh not unto me is under the bondage of sin.

52 And whoso receiveth not my voice is not acquainted with my voice, and is not of me.

53 And by this you may know the righteous from the wicked, and that the whole world groaneth under sin and darkness even now.

54 And your minds in times past have been darkened because of unbelief, and because you have treated lightly the things you have received�

55 Which vanity and unbelief have brought the whole church under condemnation.

56 And this condemnation resteth upon the children of Zion, even all.

57 And they shall remain under this condemnation until they repent and remember the new covenant, even the Book of Mormon and the former commandments which I have given them, not only to say, but to do according to that which I have written.
This is a call for action, not just reading. Until we live by the teachings of the Book of Mormon, we are still taking it lightly.

One example of how lightly we take it involves the issue of "secret combinations." This topic is one of the most frequently discussed topics in the text. The editors wanted to press upon our minds that power-hungry secret combinations among the elite and powerful caused the utter destruction of two different civilizations, and would be a critical threat to the liberty of all lands and nations in our day. Yet this topic, more than any other in the text, is treated with supreme superficiality. Esteemed commentaries on the Book gloss over the issue with a vague reference to evil in general. Sunday School discussions briefly mention the Mafia as bad actors to avoid, and then move on (the class will nod in agreement - yeah, those secret combination Mafia guys sure are nasty). Members have been trained to think of anything touching upon "conspiracy theories" as the work of nut cases, and instantly shift gears to some other topic.

But what is the threat to liberty in our days? What are the things that we are supposed to use every means to root out? Are there secret societies and combinations in our world our nation that should cause us grief? This is an off-limits topic - a sign of our unwillingness to take the Book of Mormon as seriously as its editors did, or as seriously as we are commanded to, IMO.

To me, one of the most powerful evidences of the divinity of the Book of Mormon is its amazingly prophetic nature. It was edited for our day, and it is becoming more relevant as we move forward in time, not less. The role of secret combinations, the usurpation of power, the intrigues among the movers and shakers of society, the rise of exorbitant taxes and corrupted political structures, the menace of elite and atheistic "dissenters" who aid external enemies and corrupt internal politics, the networks of lawyers and merchants seeking gain and pleasure at the expense of others, the suppression of religious liberties, the guerrilla tactics of external enemies, and many other details in the Book of Mormon are much more relevant in this century than they were in 1830. These prophetic elements are so accurately described as to be far beyond anything Joseph could have synthesized out of his environment. The book has profound implications for our day and the dangers we face. If we ignore it, we will lose our liberties and suffer greatly in the future. If we listen to its message, then there is a chance that we can fulfill the mandate in Ether 8. But ignorance and inaction will cost us dearly.

So what do all the warnings about secret combinations really mean? Well, the answer is -- oh, dinner time, got to run.

The Supreme Court and the Loss of Principle

"Cronyism" is the title of Randy E. Barnett's op-ed piece in the Wall Street Journal of October 4, 2005. He makes a powerful point by quoting Alexander Hamilton in a passage from the Federalist Papers:
"To what purpose then require the co-operation of the Senate? I answer, that the necessity of their concurrence would have a powerful, though, in general, a silent operation. It would be an excellent check upon a spirit of favoritism in the President, and would tend greatly to prevent the appointment of unfit characters from State prejudice, from family connection, from personal attachment, or from a view to popularity. . . . He would be both ashamed and afraid to bring forward, for the most distinguished or lucrative stations, candidates who had no other merit than that of coming from the same State to which he particularly belonged, or of being in some way or other personally allied to him, or of possessing the necessary insignificance and pliancy to render them the obsequious instruments of his pleasure." (The italics are Barnett's.)
He rightly notes that it's hard to think of a better example of improper favoritism, according to Hamilton's perspective, than the nomination of George Bush's personal lawyer and close ally, Harriet Miers, as the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court.

Many conservatives have noted that the choice of this justice for the Supreme Court may be the single most important decision George W. Bush will make. It will be the one decision that will most shape the future of the United States. How terrifying that this may be true. The Supreme Court as envisioned by the Founding Fathers was certainly the weakest of the 3 branches of government, there in part as a safety valve to help limit improper actions of others. In grotesque violation of the sacred document it should be protecting, today's Supreme Court has become a frighteningly powerful branch, one that seems to create new legislation at will, one that can force changes in spending, one that threatens to disrupt the fabric of society. Given that Congress has failed to take any actions to limit the runaway usurpation of power by the Court, I suppose it is vitally important that we start putting men and women in the Court who respect the Constitution and the vital limits to power defined therein. I suppose it is important that we put in people with the right judicial philosophy and with the intellectual power to resist the vast expansion of power the judiciary has assumed in recent years. Many people who voted for George Bush have hoped for that the Court could be reshaped under his direction so we could have brilliant defenders of the Constitution on the bench. And of course, for all those of us who are outraged by the injustice and violence of abortion on demand, we hoped that any appointees would be opposed to Roe v. Wade. At best, Ms. Miers is another stealth candidate on these issues.

More important, perhaps, than one's position on any social issue is Miers' position on the Constitution. For the Supreme Court to defend the principles of freedom and liberty, it must be able to act as a check and balance against the abuses of power in other branches (and not be guilty of such crimes itself). To select someone as a justice solely because she is known to be loyal to the leader of the Executive Branch of government, when there are dozens of more highly qualified candidates (e.g., Janice Rogers Brown), should make conservatives as well as liberals cry foul. This is certainly not what the Founding Fathers intended, and it's a shame if we let this improper nomination be sustained, regardless of whether the former Democrat, Harriet Miers, is now believed to be a conservative on social issues. We need someone who can act with a strong and clear philosophy to defend the Constitution and help maintain limits on what power hungry politicians (and judges) can do. Being the confidant and personal lawyer of a politician with an established appetite for expanding his own power and ignoring Constitutional restraints is hardly the kind of qualifications this country needs.

The Constitution is increasingly hanging by a thread, as Joseph Smith prophecied. Who will stand to defend it?

Monday, October 10, 2005

Great Newsweek Interview with President Hinckley

Newsweek's latest issue for the week of Oct. 17 has a tremendous interview with President Hinckley: "Solid, Strong, True." (Thanks to Dale of Appleton, Wisconsin for the tip tonight.) And take a look at the cover! The issue has a lot of coverage about Latter-day Saints.

Here is a sample from the interview:
What do you believe is Smith's most meaningful contribution, not only to the church but also to the world?

His greatest contribution I think is defining the nature of deity. He saw the Father and the Son. He spoke with them. They were beings of substance. They were in form like a man. And they could express themselves and he could speak with them. Such an interpersonal relationship. And such a warm and reassuring thing to know the nature of God.
Amen! And thank you, Newsweek, for the timely coverage.

One more passage:
The church has strict codes of living that members are held accountable for. Why do you still attract so many followers?

We live in a world of shifting values. The family is falling apart. Parents failing in what they ought to do. And they find in this church something that expects something of people, that has standards and holds to those standards and speaks of requirements and definitions and so on. And they find here a rock that is solid and strong and true and isn't wavering with every gust of wind.
And another amen.

Sunday, October 09, 2005

Kim Komando: The Danger of Your Child's Blog

Kim Komando, one of my favorite radio personalities, wants to warn parents everywhere about the threats to children who blog. Many parents would be shocked to find what kind of information their kids are posting on the Web, including personal information that would allow a molester or other criminal to exploit them. She urges parents to monitor what their kids are doing, and take steps to protect them (including have them stop their blogging). If your child has to blog, make sure that they understand the dangers and what kind of information not to share, and make sure that you monitor the blog regularly.

I would also suggest that you make sure your kids know how strangers can trick them with information they might glean from a blog or other sources. For example, someone tracking a teenage girl's blog could pick up enough information to approach her at a sports event and say something like this:
Jeannie, I'm Dave from your Dad's work at Hudson, Inc. He's at the hospital with your mom, Debbie, and your brother Joey, who was just hit by a car. He asked me to come here and give you a ride to the hospital as soon as possible because Joey may die. In case you're worried, your Dad told me to prove I'm for real by telling you this: the name of your pet gecko is Lulu. OK, let's go.
Would your child be smart enough to say no and take steps to verify the claim?

A great tip is to make sure that your kids know a secret password that they must demand of any stranger to prove they really have been sent by you. If the stranger doesn't give the password, the kids should just run.

Saturday, October 08, 2005

Gratitude for Clerks

I thought about the role of clerks in the Church after my last post on the LDS.org training materials. Some of the most competent, faithful, and dependable people in the Church fill the quiet and often unrecognized positions of clerks. Perhaps it's time to recognize their work more and to express some gratitude.

I think the average member has no idea how important that calling is and how technically demanding it can be. So much of the work of the Church depends on getting the right information organized in a computer. Each organization needs membership lists, roles, etc. Efforts to reach out to less active members require information about who they are. Welfare efforts and the operations of the Church depend upon faithful accounting of finances and entry of donations by people of impeccable integrity. It's all demanding work that is often not noticed by others. So give your ward or branch clerk a hug - or better yet, an apple pie.

And as for any clerk with the patience to endure the Church's MLS record keeping software, well, there's only one thing to say: "You're a saint!" (I'm not kidding here. It's the only case I've seen where I yearned for the ancient DOS version of a Windows program. For you MLS defenders, here's a pop quiz: show me how to use MLS 2.2.2 to print out a useful list of prospective elders without having to kluge together a customized report, or show me how to print out useful pages of home teaching assignments without cutting and pasting and writing in basic information by hand, pages that I can simply hand to home teachers so they can have phone numbers, etc., for their people.)

Training Materials at LDS.org to Help with Callings

The new training materials at LDS.org provide valuable resources for several callings in the Church. Those who have been called as clerks, for example, will find some helpful training materials to assist with these especially challenging but important callings.

Friday, October 07, 2005

Yale versus BYU: Wall Street Journal's Two Top Schools for Recruiting Ethical MBAs

Kudos to Yale University! They managed to gain the #1 spot, barely edging out #2 BYU in the Wall Street Journal's list of "Top Schools for Recruiting M.B.A.s with High Ethical Standards" (Sept. 21, 2005, p. R4). The results were based on a survey of recruiters of MBAs, who were asked (among other things for other lists) which programs were best for hiring graduates with strong ethical standards. Yale was nominated 131 times and BYU 127 times. The next-highest ranked business schools were at Dartmouth (122), Univ. of Denver (101), Univ. of Virginia (92), UC Berkeley (72), IPADE (70), Notre Dame (67), Stanford (61), Carnegie Mellon (51), ESADE (51), and Univ. of Michigan (51).

Well, I say kudos to Yale - and see no reason to accept the widespread allegations that this honor was obtained by bribery, blackmail, and arm-twisting from certain powerful Yale alumni.

I do worry, though, that Yale will let this honor go to their heads. One clue is the new brochure for promoting Yale's business school with the slogan "Yale: Even Better than BYU." Also popular on T-shirts on campus, I hear.

Thursday, October 06, 2005

A Terrible Dream: Mushroom Clouds

I had a terrible dream Friday night. I was in Chicago, near the Temple, when I noticed that lights and other electrical devices flickered momentarily, even battery-powered ones, and then came back on. It happened again. I wondered if there might have been an electromagnetic pulse of some kind. I went to the window and saw four clouds over Chicago, including one that was a perfect and dramatic new mushroom cloud. It was an awful and solemn moment. And the only dream I've ever had with a mushroom cloud. Disturbing. It then jumped to a lonely street scene with a few people resigned to their fate from radiation poisoning.

I hope this never happens, but it's made me ponder. These are days that call for Americans and people of all nations to be prepared for wars and acts of terror.

Now for a brief rant: How can any American feel secure when we are in an alleged war on terror while we leave our borders largely unprotected? If hundreds of thousands of immigrants can get across our border every year, what is stopping hundreds of Al Qaida agents from strolling across at their leisure carrying weapons of mass destruction? The border could be sealed. Troops could be stationed all along the southern border to fully secure it. But how can we imagine we are serious about stopping terrorism when we don't sincerely try to stop terrorists or anyone else who wishes to get across the border? No wait, to suggest that the border should be secured makes one a racist. My bad! Sorry about that.

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

"If Only I Had Known BEFORE I Left the Church..."

I received poignant email today from a good woman who left the Church several years ago, disillusioned by seemingly powerful anti-Mormon attacks on the Book of Abraham. The power of that book had been an important part of her early testimony, but when she read that it was all "proven" to be a fake, she was devastated. She and her husband left the Church, as did one other couple I know who were upset over the Book of Abraham issue. After reading my rebuttal on the Book of Abraham, she wrote me and said how she wished she had known about this before she left. Her old testimony is coming back and makes more sense now, but so much has changed now that the path back to the Church will be difficult and painful, if it is even possible.

I know a little of what the woman went through, as my testimony was shaken sorely when I read what the Tanners had cobbled together regarding the Book of Abraham over a decade ago. I turned to the Lord in prayer to understand the answer to the issue, and felt that I needed to keep reading and looking, and soon found that the Tanner's had left out some important details that destroyed their case against the Book of Abraham. I, like many others, had been tricked. I realized that I would always have to be very careful in dealing with anti-Mormon literature, for it tends to be the work of dedicated enemies with a deadly ax to grind. Some pose as loving ministers, some as noble and objective Galileos seeking only truth, and as we have seen on this blog, some even pose as sincere members of the Church or sweet investigators, looking for truth.

People need to know that there are answers. Perhaps not yet for every attack, not for every puzzle, not for every question, but for many, many issues, there are answers and good reasons to believe. How sad that the adversary does manage to deceive some very good people and lead people to reject years of faith and testimony-building experiences with some of his sly attacks. Those who have left may not return, but many will, even when they seem hardened and harsh at the moment. Be patient and loving, and continue to minister, for perhaps some will wake up and return. I hope the woman who wrote me can manage to come back with her family.

Kirby on Video Mayhem

Ron Kirby of the Salt Lake Tribute has found a topic too disturbing for comedy: the extreme evil of some modern video games. (I didn't say all!) Parents, you need to understand the content of some of the popular games out there.

Monday, October 03, 2005

The Hilton Wordprint Study of the Book of Mormon

I was pleased to find a copy of John Hilton's article, "On Verifying Wordprint Studies: Book of Mormon Authorship" on the Web, as printed in BYU Studies, 30 (Summer 1990):89-108. Since it's on a BYU site, I'm assuming that it's there with permission. The article is essentially the same as Chapter 9 of one of my favorite books, Book of Mormon Authorship Revisited, ed. by Noel B. Reynolds (Provo, Utah: FARMS, 1997), pp. 225-253.

Hilton's work was based on the primitive Book of Mormon text obtained from the printer's manuscript, the 1830 printed text, available portions of the original manuscript, and the first edition printed by Wilford C. Wood. Editors prepared a composite file based on the oldest sections available to make the best possible primitive text that they could. In the study, quotations from KJV passages were excluded so that the analysis would be based on the texts allegedly created by Nephi, Alma, and others.

His project included cooperation with non-LDS people to help craft a solid statistical approach to compare texts of various authors.

The conclusions are noteworthy. It is highly probable that the authors of text ascribed to Nephi and Alma were two different people, and these two people are very unlikely to include any of Joseph Smith, Oliver Cowdery, or Solomon Spaulding. Critics are encouraged to reproduce the work or to critique what they have written.

Oh, there will be instant fame and glory to the first commenter who can quote the sentence or two in Hilton's article and give the page number that mentions the most beautiful and amazing woman in Wisconsin. (And the Midwest, and perhaps even all of North America . . . . OK, let's be honest: the world!)

2012 Update: Since publication of Hilton's study, there have been efforts to refute his conclusions and show that Joseph Smith or Sidney Rigdon may have been the authors of the Book of Mormon. For details on what these authors did and what serious errors affect their work, and for the latest contribution on wordprint analysis, see "Stylometric Analyses of the Book of Mormon: A Short History" by G. Bruce Schaalje, Matthew Roper, and Paul Fields, Journal of the Book of Mormon and Other Restoration Scripture, vol. 21, no. 1 (2012), pp. 28-45. There is strong evidence that Joseph Smith was not the author of the Book of Mormon, and neither was Sidney Rigdon nor Oliver Cowdery. Who then, was the author? Why, Somebody Else, of course. Or several somebodies.

Sunday, October 02, 2005

"I, Nephi" - Just Made Up?

One recent comment asked why the phrase "I, Nephi" was so common, and stated that this just sounded made up, as if it were a catch-phrase to make Nephi's writing sound different than other books. The writer has a point: "I, Nephi" is a remarkably common phrase, found 89 times, 88 from the first Nephi, but only once from one of the later Nephis (Helaman 9:36). It's not just a phenomenon with Nephi, though he's the most prominent user of such phrases. The other authors of the small plates of Nephi used this style a lot: "I, Jacob" occurs 16 times, the short book of Enos has "I, Enos" five times, Jarom has it twice, and even Omni begins with the formulaic "I, Omni."

After the small plates of Nephi, things are different. In the Book of Mosiah, there are no occurrences of "I, Benjamin," "I, Mosiah," or "I, Limhi," but Zeniff uses that form twice in his account. The large Book of Alma has "I, Alma" only four times. That book, not the Book of Helaman, is where we find the only two occurrences of "I, Helaman" in an epistle. Throughout the Book of Mormon, both Mormon and Moroni identify themselves in that form 16 and 17 times, respectively, most of which are done in the role of editors to make it clear who is speaking. The phrase "I, Ether" does not occur at all.

It seems that the person who raised the objection based on "I, Nephi" noted this difference in style between Nephi's writings and the other parts of the Book of Mormon. I think because it struck him as an "obvious" difference, it seemed "made up" - and thus evidence of fraud. There may be something of a circular argument here, or a catch-22 from Book of Mormon critics. If the style of two writers seems the same, it shows that there was one author, making the book a fraud. If the style seems obviously different, it's evidence that style differences were just made up, making the book a fraud.

Can only unnoticeable differences count in favor of multiple authorship? If so, once they are pointed out, I suppose they would no longer qualify since they have been noticed and are now "obvious." Actually, the importance of subtle, hard-to-notice and hard-to-fake differences is the premise in the computerized wordprint analysis done a number of years ago by John Hilton (using improved methods relative to an earlier effort known as the Larsen study). See John L. Hilton, "On Verifying Wordprint Studies: Book of Mormon Authorship," BYU Studies, 30 (Summer 1990):89-108. An analysis of subtle patterns in language - things that are very difficult to consciously control - can be used to identify characteristic patterns of different authors and to statistically distinguish authors. Based on that work, there is good reason to believe that there were multiple authors of the Book of Mormon, and that these authors were almost certainly not Joseph Smith, Oliver Cowdery, or Solomon Spaulding. (BTW, my wife's masters' thesis in statistics was a wordprint study advised by Dr. Hilton on the writings of Paul.)

This issue of "I, Nephi" shows a minor but important difference between the books from the small plates of Nephi and the rest of the text. For example, Brant Gardner's Multidimensional Commentary on the Book of Mormon for First Nephi 1 has this to say about the opening verse that begins with "I, Nephi":
Hugh Nibley first identified 1 Nephi 1:1-3 as a colophon, a structured and typical identificatory passage used at the beginning or end of many ancient documents (Nibley Since Cumorah, 1967, pp. 170-171). The essential elements are the identification of the writer, the writer's lineage, and at times a statement of the veracity or trustworthiness of the written text. . . .

The hallmark of the colophon is the personal introduction of the material by the writer. While Nephi's introduction is clearly the most formal, the introduction to the written text by the writer continues for most of the material from Nephi to the end of Omni (Jacob's personal introduction is perhaps the least formal, and the furthest from the structures of a colophon). Once the Book of Mormon picks up with Mosiah, however, the personal introductions cease, and are replaced by a typically chronological introduction (Alma 1:1 "Now it came to pass that in the first year of the reign of the judges...."; Helaman 1:1 "And now behold, it comae to pass in the commencement of the fortieth year of the reign of the judges..."; 4 Nephi 1:1 "And it came to pass that the thirty and fourth year passed away,..."). None of these qualifies as examples of colophons, and even the personal introductions lack the formulaic precision of Nephi's introduction.

The first clear division can be made between the personalized introductions of the 1 Nephi through Omni material, and all books which follow. This division is precisely that between the small plate material and the large plate material. The small plates were written in the first person, and the large plates were abridged. More will be said later about the structure and content of these different sources, but for now it is sufficient that the introductory material for the books in each section is clearly different, and follows a different literary imperative.
I hope that provides some helpful insight into the "I, Nephi" issue and the complex styles and structures of the text.

So, if I may ask, are such stylistic differences evidence that the Book of Mormon was just made up to appear to have different authors? And are the more subtle, less-obvious differences detected by computer analysis of patterns involving minor words also evidence that the book was made up? Is the presence of sophisticated Hebraic patterns like chiasmus also evidence of fraud? Really, I've encountered a few examples where critics point to Semitic elements in the text as examples of fraudulent borrowing from the Bible, and when they don't find enough Semitic elements (like details on how the Law of Moses was observed), they find that as evidence of fraud as well. To me, the zealous effort to reject the Book of Mormon no matter what represents a modern "marvelous work and a wonder," though I question the inspiration behind it.

Saturday, October 01, 2005

60 Quarts of Apple Sauce Today. . .

The best investment I ever made was buying two little Jonathan apple trees 10 years ago to plant in our yard. This year we have an estimated 1000 pounds of juicy, delicious apples. We began harvesting them today, just making a small dent in the crop after canning 60 quarts of the best apple sauce ever (my wife's recipe - a combination of fine sauce and chunky bits prepared two different ways and blended), and also giving away lots of apples to friends. We'll give away lots more tomorrow. The apple trees cost $30 each when we bought them - and this year's harvest is worth nearly $1000. And no store-bought apples I've tried taste any better. Best investment ever (though I'm also hopeful that my high-dividend avocado stock will stay in the green -- please don't ask me any questions about the difference between the stock market and gambling unless you have a good explanation yourself to share).

I really appreciate the Church's recommendation that people do things to become more self-sufficient, things like planting gardens, saving for a rainy day, having a food storage program, working hard, getting all the education we can, staying out of debt and following the requirements for one's parole. To the extent that we listen to this advice, our lives will be blessed immensely.

The Church Affirms the Divinity of the Book of Mormon: Yes, It's Truer than Ever

After President Hinckley's brief remarks in General Conference this morning, we heard a great sermon again affirming the divinity of the Book of Mormon as something real and tangible that people can test. We were also reminded that the First Presidency has asked us to again read the Book of Mormon before the end of the year. We were further told that the Book of Mormon is unique in containing a test to allow the reader to determine through the power of God if it is real or not.

After all these years, the Church has not backed off from the Book of Mormon. It is not slowly become a piece of inspiring fiction that we are a little ashamed of or try to ignore - precisely the trend one would obviously expect if it were all a fraud that was increasingly being exposed. The most educated people in the Church are not dismissing it and excusing it as a misguided effort, but boldly reaffirming that it is true, divine, and worthy of being investigated vigorously.

An intellectually honest approach to the Book of Mormon requires evaluating the baggage we bring to it and sometimes discarding our old assumptions and childhood images as we learn more about it, its context, and the ancient environment it came from. Yes, modern science has challenged old assumptions about an empty continent in 600 B.C. and purely Jewish ancestry of all Native Americans, but these assumptions are definitely NOT derived from a careful reading of the text. In fact, these assumptions were being challenged by key voices in the Church for decades before DNA data became available, and the possibility of other migrations and a geography linked to Mesoamerica was even raised by Joseph Smith himself.

While some critics get upset that an improved understanding of the ancient context of the Book of Mormon does not jive with misunderstanding they picked up in their youth, they overlook that modern scholarship and discovery has led to a "marvelous work and a wonder" in our understanding of the Book of Mormon as an authentic ancient document. If it was a fable from Joseph Smith based on random writings in his environment, how on earth can we account for the breathtaking modern confirmations of the accuracy of First Nephi in describing the Arabian Peninsula, giving us detailed directions that really could be traveled - accurately passing between the two divisions of the empty quarter in an entirely plausible course? How can we account for the accurate descriptions of places that were unknown to the Western world in Joseph's day? Some of these places, such as the ancient burial place Nahom (with surprising confirmation of that ancient tribal name from ancient inscriptions on altars taken from the region), plausible candidates for Bountiful, the place Shazer, the Valley of Lemuel and the River Laman, were unknown and seemingly implausible until the recent discovery or verification in light of the text. In the Arabian Peninsula, the Book of Mormon has proved remarkably valuable as a guide for those willing to get out and follow what it says. These things were unknown to many scholars until recently, and apparently are still unknown and will forever remain unknown to many of the leading anti-Mormon critics. In discussions with some of them, when I have pressed for a plausible explanation as to how anyone in the nineteenth century could have made up the accurate details in First Nephi, I have been met with either silence, a vague "I am not impressed," or most commonly, something like, "Oh yeah? Well what about polygamy? Or DNA? Or blood atonement? Or Mark Hoffman? Or the Jupiter talisman. Yeah, what about that?"

Ancient Jewish poetical forms like chiasmus and paired tricola, ancient Jewish names in the Book of Mormon now verified as authentic, the structure of Mesoamerican civilization that provides so many parallels to what is in the Book of Mormon far beyond what Joseph could have known in his day, and numerous other details provide new and recent appreciation of the plausibility of the Book of Mormon, and add increasingly overwhelming burdens to those who wish to explain the Book of Mormon by plagiarism based on Joseph's rich imagination coupled with osmosis from, say, the writings of Ethan Smith, von Humboldt, E.T.A. Hoffman, or, most impressive of all (yet clearly impossible), Walt Whitman.

Some have said that the Book of Mormon is less defensible than ever in light of modern science. Absolutely not! It has become increasingly impossible to explain its actual content by plagiarism, even if Joseph had a large library and team of top-notch scholars working for him. For starters, just for starters, please explain to me how such a team could come up with something that would not be appreciated and verified until over 150 years later, namely, the surprising accuracy of Nephi's account of his travels in the Arabian Peninsula? Could he or a team of scholars have known of the Valley of Lemuel and the River Laman, for example, which are in a location that accurately fits the description in the text (in fact, they were found by following the text)? And then what about Shazer, Nahom as an ancient burial place, and Bountiful almost exactly due east of Nahom, as Nephi indicates? Doesn't this deserve some kind of answer? I mean, other than, "What about polygamy?"