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Saturday, January 07, 2006

Amalekites = Amlicites? Subtle But Profound Insights from a Possible Book of Mormon Error

In the latest issue of the Journal of Book of Mormon Studies from FARMS (vol. 14, no. 1, 2005, not yet online), J. Christopher Conkling makes a valuable contribution toward understanding the richness of the Book of Alma by possibly solving a mystery regarding the mysterious Amalekites. His article, "Alma's Enemies: The Case of the Lamanites, Amlicites, and Mysterious Amalekites" (pp. 109-117) combines evidence from the text, the original Book of Mormon manuscript, and the printer's manuscript to show that the Amalekites, who suddenly appear without explanation in Alma 24:2 and play a significant role thereafter, are actually the Amlicites, who are discussed heavily in Alma 2 and 3 and then disappear. Uncertainties in spelling by the scribe and again by the printer apparently resulted in the later references to the Amlicites to become "Amalekites." Alma 24:1 in the original manuscript, for example, is spelled "Amelicites" and is spelled with "Amelic[...]" in the surviving fragment of Alms 27:2. Alma 43:13 and 43:20 have "Amalickites" and "Amelickites," respectively. Confused spellings by a scribe taking diction and by the printer appear to have split a single apostate people into two groups.

This possibility is also supported by the descriptions of these peoples, which share many common elements.

Equating the Amlicites with the Amalekites removes several puzzles about both peoples - why were the Amlicites introduced with much fanfare, as if Alma were foreshadowing significant events yet to come, only to disappear from the text? And why do the Amalekites play such an important role without an introduction? By recognizing the two groups as one, we find that the Book of Alma suddenly has added layers of meaning and internal unity and consistency. Conkling makes several important points about the lessons Alma wanted to be drawn from his experiences with these enemies.

What is interesting is that there was a significant structure and layer of meaning in the Book of Alma that Joseph obviously did not appreciate. It is one of a few minor errors arising from scribes and printers that long remained in the text - something that should not be surprising for any work that goes through human hands. What is interesting is that, in my opinion, Conkling's work indirectly provides further evidence that Joseph Smith was simply acting as a translator of a sophisticated book that far exceeded his ability to compose or even to fully appreciate. And no, don't delude yourself with the idea that Solomon Spaulding or Sidney Rigdon or someone else came up with the accounts and even majestic poetry that we find in the Book of Alma. Please!

15 comments:

Curtis said...

man, that is really cool. I had always wondered where the Amalekites came from, thinking myself not as much of a Book of Mormon scholar as I had thought since I couldn't even trace the Amalekites to their roots! It's great that this mystery is cleared up.

Stephen said...

Reading the Book of Mormon outloud with my family, with each of us reading for a while (10 to 15 verses or more each) has also made the vastly different writing structures and voices much clearer.

That is an amazing part of the book, one I've lost by reading it silently (I don't vocalize when I read, which may be my loss there).

Neat to see things in the book.

Anonymous said...

"majestic poetry" snickers

You must not read much poetry.

Sarah said...

I noticed a lot of that sort of thing while reading through the Book of Mormon in a rush to be done by December 31st (I finished at 10:45pm.) It's funny; I've always known I get a lot more out of reading things (whether it's Harry Potter or the Federalist Papers) in one or two sittings, but that deadline from the Prophet is what got me to try it with the scriptures.

I remember being seriously confused when I got to the Amalekites, but I was enforcing a "no looking back" policy until I was done, and hadn't remembered to look it up once I was done with Moroni. Very interesting stuff.

Mormanity said...

"Majestic poetry" = Semitic poetry, such as the Psalm of Nephi or the brilliant chiasmus of Alma 36. I wasn't suggesting that it contained something comparable to Shakespearean sonnets (nor, thankfully, the dribblings of e.e. cummings - oops, have I revealed yet another bias?).

I admit that Book of Mormon poetry is not readily recognized as such by those who have only studied English poetry. The literary parts of the Book of Mormon were not written for English ears, so you won't find deliberate rhyme, alliteration, iambic pentameter or other metric devices, etc. But to those who have eyes to see and ears to hear, it is rich in Semitic structures, including some truly beautiful and powerful Semitic poetical forms such as chiasmus and other forms of parallelism.

Occam's razor cuts deeply here: the Semitic structures in the Book of Mormon, the signs of multiple authorship, the many ancient touches, and even the little matter of the Amalekites/Amlicites raise serious questions for those who think they can explain the Book of Mormon as Joseph Smith's work.

BYU alter ego said...

I'm sorry Jeff but I can't resist, Occam's razor?????

You're using that principle quite selectively.

For your notions of "majestic" poetic structures, brilliant artistry and ancient authorship of the BOM to be made plausible in the face of a mountain of genetic, linguistic, metalurgic and archeological evidence we have to be quite creative.

Up to three hill cumorahs? Limited Geography Theory? Obsidian swords? Mountable Tapirs? No Hebrew influence found yet to date in ALL of the Americas?

No, no, no. The most "simple" answer is that Joseph lied about the BOM and the whole thing is a farse.

That's what Occam's razor demands.

For those not in the know see: Occam's Razor

Bookslinger said...

William of Ockham was a Franciscan friar. I don't think even he expected God to be bound by human logic. God's ways cannot be explained by human reasoning. I'm sure a Franciscan friar would be familiar with all the scriptural references to that tidbit.

I wonder if his temple work has been done.

Walker said...

BYU AE:

I would have to take similarly take issue with your selectivity of evidence, for (cement in Mesoamerica, bona fide Egytian names--korihor, paanchi, plays on words that only a Hebraicist would know and are entirely absent from the Bible). What is your "simple" explanation for these and the myriad of others?

Ian said...

Ok, so let me see if I can understand the concept of Occam's razor. Basically, we shouldn't read too much into things, and that we should take things at face value. The simplest answer is usually the right one.

If that is basically correct then, I beleive that BYU AE's statement about "Mountable Tapirs" is not using Occam's razor correctly. Suggesting Mountable Tapirs is reading more into the text than is present.

In other words, because the word horses is used, we assume that these horses were ridden. Like in the old west. Even members of the church do this. We know this because we often see pictures (and cartoons) with people from the Book of Mormon riding horses.

Is this a proper assessment of Occam's razor? Hope it's not a thread jack...

BYU alter ego said...

Okay, in a sincere effort not to "thread jack" I'm going to make this as concise as possible.

Ian, Walker, you both misunderstand the concept. Let me try to explain.

For simple questions of a true/false nature Occam's razor is a good guideline to follow.

Is the BOM true? Or is it false? The principle is that your pare out, or shave off,(hence the razor imagery) all unnecessary assumptions.

That humans lie, and often create fiction is an incredibly common phenomenon. That they conspire and keep secrets is another.

If forced to choose between Joseph and Sydney combining to start a Church and with the incredibly complex set of assumptions needed to support contemporary notions of the BOM, the former is far more simple.

So whether there's cement or unridden tapirs or not is irrelevant in this case. In fact their existence in the debate is a sign of the overwhelming complexity of the pro-BOM argument.

Is Occam's razor in real world practice always a good strategy to follow? Not necessarily.

But I originally wanted to point out to Jeff that he was grossly abusing the concept in his comments and that if he really followed the principle it would lead him to diffent conclusions than he currently holds.

Walker said...

I would have to grant you that AE; O.R. is not always a wise choice, as it (obviously) oversimplifies the question sometimes.

However, that being said, my understanding is that O.R. only applies when both explanations are equally plausible i.e when you have evidence to show the BOM both true and false. Whether that's the case or not, I dunno--to determine that would require a thread jack of enormous proportions.

I see your point, AE. For that very reason, I'm not a fan of O.R. Most of the time it robs our understanding of precious nuance, nuance that could indeed determine the truthfulness or falsity of what seems to be a cut n' dry question.

Bookslinger said...

BYUAE: Is there any evidence to suggest that Joseph met Sydney prior to the publication of the Book of Mormon, or even prior to the founding of the church? I've not read of any.

Speaking of dead horses, I can't believe you're still beating that one. The horse issue has pretty much been explained.

1. Absence of horse bones has been observed elsewhere in the world where there were documented existence of horses. For instance, the Hun empire was documented to have had tens or hundreds of thousands of horses, but no horse remains have ever been found.

2. Statuary of horses, dating to the BoM period have been found in Central America.

Mormanity said...

AE, I'm surprised at your response. I suggested that evidences of ancient Semistic poetry and other authentic touches beyond Joseph Smith's ability raise serious questions about the theory that Joseph Smith was the author. If the dictated text of Alma has unity and meaning beyond the level of Joseph to appreciate - evidenced, for example, by his failure to recognize that the separated reports of Amlicites and Amalekites were (apparently) referring to the same people - then it seems doubtful that he was the actual author of Alma. The presence of Hebraic structures such as chiasmus, the many authentic ancient Middle Eastern names such as Alma (now corroborated as an ancient Jewish male name), etc., all require far-fetched explanations.

When we deal with First Nephi and the Arabian Peninsula, it becomes almost overwhelminmgly implausible to ascribe authorship to Joseph Smith. Whoever wrote First Nephi knew of a continually flowing river in an impressive valley flowing to the Red sea. They knew that south-southeast was the proper direction to head toward southern territory. They knew of more fertile parts that included the place Shazer. They knew of an ancient burial site known as Nahom/Nehem near the only place where one could turn due east from the established trails and still have a chance of surviving as one headed to the southeastern coast. They know of a wonderful place like Bountiful with trees suitable for shipbuilding, fruit, a water supply, cliffs overlooking the ocean, the presence of flint and ore, etc.

As one studies the evidence from the Arabian Peninsula, it becomes clear that the author of First Nephi was personally familiar with details of the Arabian Peninsula that were beyond the ken of even the most learned of anti-Mormons, until recently. So how did Joseph Smith do this? Will you speculate that he embarked on a secret journey to Arabia and spent months trekking through the desert? Or that he had a friend who did this and helped him compose it? There is no hint of who this friend could be. So how do we explain First Nephi? What is more plausible, least complicated, than accepting that it is based on a record from someone who actually traveled there anciently?

What surprised me most about your response was the snarky reference to mounted tapirs. I have never heard any apologist refer to mounted tapirs, nor does the Book of Mormon. Of course, you refer to one person's speculation that Semitic immigrants to the new world may have used the Hebrew word "horse" to describe a species other than the horse familiar to us. Two candidate species that have been proposed inclulde deer and tapirs. There are merits to both argument, and neither requires anything terribly complicated. But the Book of Mormon never says anybody rode horses. They appear largely as a possible food group, and may have pulled something behind them to transport a few elite people, but no one ever mounts a horse/deer/tapir.

However, as has been pointed out here, there is no question that horses once roamed this continent. Is it possible that some pockets of actual horses survived into Book of Mormon times? There are traces of evidence to suggest that horses were here, including remnants of actual non-fossilized horses from at least one pre-Columbian Mayan site. Now where it the complexity in that? We're not sure what "horses" were, and have generally assumed that horses were long extinct in 600 B.C., but there is some evidence of exceptions to that. And even if there were no horses, it is a known phenomenon that immigrants to a new area will use their old language to describe new species. That's why the hippopotamus was called a "river horse" even though it is not a horse at all.

The fact that there are fair alternative hypotheses to deal with the question of horses in the Book of Mormon hardly demands rejection of the text as a fraud. And when you raise the red flags of "mounted tapirs" and "three Cumorahs" (there is only one in the text!) you are only confirming that critics of the Book of Mormon are typically responding not to the text itself, but to what they think they've heard others say about the Book of Mormon. I don't think any serious student of the Book of Mormon has spoken about mounted tapirs or three Cumorahs, but even if you did hear someone speculating on such things, that has no bearing on the truthfulness of the Book of Mormon.

As for your theory of a conspiracy to create a fraud, how can you explain the absolute loyalty all the dozen-plus witnesses of the Book of Mormon gave to their story, even when some of them were estranged from the Church and angry with Joseph? And how can you explain that men like Martin Harris and David Whitmer were well known as honest and responsible men throughout their lives? The evidence from the witnesses is so compelling, that Occam's razor must come into play and make schnitzel of the theory that all were lying conspirators - for what??

Anonymous said...

I think AE fell for a spoof from Tal Bachman to get the three Cumorahs theory. Well, at least we know where he gets some of his information on the Book of Mormon.

SiriusGodStar said...

Through studies what I have learned is that the English language differed much from earlier times in our history. Many different ways to pronounce words. I ha the privilege of reading a bible for 1800's where the word people was written "peple".
Also, I learned that the ancient Egyptian and Jews and Amlicites along with modern people from India all used this "red dot" method on their foreheads. This third eye, marked by a red dot is actually the portal to open the world to demon entrance from living temple host. These practices are based on witch craft to entertain unfamiliar spirits and it is exactly what scripture speaks about to be mindful of.