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

Sunday, January 29, 2006

Alma as an Authentic Ancient Jewish Male Name

In my previous post on Alma 7:11 (I wonder if that was the name of an ancient Nephite convenience store?), one commenter, MahNahvu pointed to possible "evidence of a Hebrew original in the Psalm of Nephi, 2 Ne 4:16-35." His insightful comments for verses 21-22 are posted at http://feastupontheword.org/2_Ne_4%3A21-25. Thanks, MahNahvu! FeastUponTheWord.org is an interesting site, like a Wikipedia for scriptural commentary.

His comments reminded me of the many subtle ancient Semitic influences one can find in the Book of Mormon. Sometimes aspects of the Book of Mormon that seem weak or even ridiculous actually become subtle evidences for authenticity when someone with knowledge of Hebrew or ancient Semitic practices deals with the issue. On the other hand, there are cases where someone with knowledge of Hebrew appears to expose a flaw in the text. One such example deals with the name "Alma" itself in the Book of Mormon.

The name Alma for years was derided as a gaffe in the Book of Mormon, since "everyone knows" it is a female name in Latin and Spanish, not a Jewish man's name. Then a discovery in Israel apparently showed that it was a real Jewish man's name from roughly the time of Lehi. While this discovery ought to give the critics food for thought, it has ignored or rapidly dismissed, and more recently attacked by some critics having a little knowledge of Hebrew. For example, one critic e-mailed the following question: "Why do pro-LDS apologists cite names such as 'Alma' as evidence? In Hebrew, vowels are omitted so any 'new discovery' is just a coincidence (Alma= LM)."

Critics tend to always dismiss any evidence as just coincidence, but in this case, as with many others, there is little basis for the dismissal. The critic implies that all we have for the name Alma is two consonants that could just as easily be pronounced Lame-o, Elmo, Alum, Oleomo, Oily Moe, and so forth. This is not the case. The name in the ancient Jewish document is actually spelled with four letters, beginning with an aleph. The name appears in two forms that differ in the final letter (א [aleph] or ה [hey]), but "Alma" fits both. Transliterated into English, the first form with the terminal aleph (אלמא) is 'lm'.

For scholars of Hebrew, there is good evidence that the name should be "Alma," which is exactly how the non-LDS scholar, Yigael Yadin, transliterated it. For details, see Paul Hoskisson, "What's in a Name?," Journal of Book of Mormon Studies, Vol. 7, No. 1, 1998, pp. 72-73, which shows a color photograph (in the printed publication) of the document that has the name Alma twice. John Tvedtnes also discussed the name Alma in a well-received presentation to other non-LDS scholars, "Hebrew Names in the Book of Mormon," where he noted that in addition being found as a male name in one the Bar Kochba documents, it is also found as a medieval place name in Eretz Israel and as a personal male name from Ebla. (Also see "Book of Mormon Names Attested in Ancient Hebrew Inscriptions" by John Tvedtnes, John Gee, and Matthew Roper.)

Are you aware of any critics that have provided a meaningful explanation of the numerous Hebrew influences found among Book of Mormon names? Was it just luck that Joseph could take a female name, call it an ancient Hebrew man's name, and have that verified over a hundred years later? No, the name Alma doesn't prove anything, but taken with all the other evidences of Hebraisms and Semitic influence, it seems inadequate to ascribe the origins of the Book of Mormon to mere fraud and dumb luck. Now if Ethan Smith or Solomon Spaulding had used the male name Alma and other names in the Book of Mormon, the case for plagiarism might be much stronger.

Friday, January 27, 2006

Manhattan, Anyone?

I'm just wrapping up a short visit to Manhattan attending a conference on intellectual property and will be back in a few days for another one. For those of you who live in the area, are there interesting LDS events going on next week? You know, something like a fireside with an internationally recognized LDS celebrity like Ken Jennings?

Speaking of celebrities, I'm in charge of finding an LDS speaker for a community event we're having on April 7 when we have a community luncheon at the open house of a new Stake Center in Neenah, Wisconin (near Appleton). Any suggestions?

Thursday, January 26, 2006

Alma 7:11 - Indications of Ancient Hebrew Origins?

A article in FARMS' Journal of Book of Mormon Studies on the language of Alma 7:11 (Thomas A. Wayment's "The Hebrew Text of Alma 7:11") argues that English words in Alma 7:11, apparently including a citation of Isaiah 53:4, more closely follow the actual Hebrew in the Masoretic text for Isaiah 53:4 than the KJV or the Septuagint. This is one of those many subtle but noteworthy indications of ancient Semitic origins of the text itself. Take a look at the article and let me know what you think.

Message of the Joseph Smith Papyri

FARMS has just published a new edition of the long out-of-print book, The Message of the Joseph Smith Papyri. While I'm sure a lot has changed since Nibley wrote it (and since I read it long ago), it's a fascinating book for the many glimpses it gives into the complex world of the ancient Egyptians. Many possible parallels exist to divine temple worship in Biblical times and in the Restoration. Let me know what you think about the book.

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Orson Card and Kurt Vonnegut: You Bet There's Design

Orson Scott Card weighs in on the controversy around intelligent design in his essay, "Creation and Evolution in the Schools." I think he makes some great points in clarifying what the debate is really all about. Sadly, the real argument behind intelligent design has been largely mischaracterized and prematurely dismissed as if it were just a repackaged form of fundamentalist creation in six 24-hour days. It certainly is not.

Over the weekend I also heard part of an NPR interview with Kurt Vonnegut. While he's far from Christian, he said that teaching intelligent design in the classroom is something worth thinking about, for it's absolutely obvious that this amazing experience of life on earth is not just a random accident, but that something is going on here, something that demonstrates design. Kurt, you've got that right.

I marvel at the hysterical fear of using the "D word" in some educational and scientific circles. How those poor children would be wrecked for life if they graduated from our schools thinking that science hadn't absolutely eliminated God.

I recognize that complex interactions can arise through random processes, and that complexity in a system per se is not sufficient evidence of external design. However, the universe, earth, and life itself appears to have been permeated with level after level of design to even allow natural selection or other engines of change to operate in the first place. To me, the argument from intelligent design about the weakness of the Darwinian model in accounting for the origins of complex biochemical processes and for the origins of many aspects of life is analogous to the difficulties one would face in mapping out an evolutionary rise of the modern bicycle from an ancestral tricycle. There is no pathway that connects the two with a series of minor mutations, each of which offers an incremental advantage. For example, a mutation that removes the pedals from a wheel will fail unless a chain is also added to engage the pedals with a wheel, and the chain will do no good unless there are teeth on both the pedal assembly and the wheel to engage the chain. In fact, for almost all key features of the bicycle, manufacturing mutations leading to those features would be harmful to the overall marketing success of the product unless multiple mutations occurred at once to achieve a useful end. For this to happen over and over by chance stretches credulity.

Bicycles and tricycles are vastly more simple than proteins, cells, mammals, orchids, and the relationships between the various properties of matter. When someone proposes a reasonable series of manufacturing mutations to create - or evolve - a bicycle from a tricycle or both from a common ancestor (the early Michelin stone wheel, perhaps?), wherein each mutation offers an incremental advantage in customer satisfaction or at least marketability, ensuring that the mutation will be rewarded with higher market share, then I think those who dismiss intelligent design will have a slightly stronger case. Until then, I'm staying away from randomly-generated vehicles.

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

People Prepared for the Gospel

In priesthood meeting on Sunday, we discussed the unusual vision of Robert Mason, an acquaintance of Wilford Woodruff . In 1830, three years before President Woodruff learned about and joined the Church, Robert Mason shared his prophetic experience that foretold of the coming of the Restoration, and his story had a profound effect upon President Woodruff.

After reviewing this story, several members of our small group shared related experiences from their missions in which investigators had been miraculously prepared for the coming of the missionaries with detailed visions or dreams. Two of them included dreams in which the investigator saw the missionary who would bring the Gospel to them and recognized that person at their door. I, too, have been impressed over the years with some of the marvelous ways in which the Lord has prepared a few people to receive the Gospel, though for the majority it seems that somewhat less dramatic spiritual experiences through prayer and study are sufficient.

The unusual miracles, like the vision of Robert Mason, should be treasured and pondered, though we must not demand them or expect them as a matter of course. But how thankful I am for those rare but marvelous moments experienced by some in the Church when dramatic and powerful guidance from above is given.

And for you cynics, call me crazy, but I do believe in the reality of heavenly gifts and miracles, rare as they may be.

Sunday, January 22, 2006

Another Thought on Missionary Health

Recently I posted some concerns about health care for missionaries and would still welcome your comments and experiences on the matter (please add them to the original post - I may send the link to a few key people in Salt Lake that may be interested in your perspectives to help them improve the system). But I'd like to emphasis the wise comments from one of my favorite commenters, Bookslinger:
In the final analysis 18-year olds are legal adults and responsible for themselves.

If a missionary is really sick, and the MP or APs don't believe him, he's still sick. Someone else's mistaken belief doesn't change facts.

In the United States at least, emergency care can't legally be denied someone who shows up at a hospital's emergency room.

My father was a doctor, and I remember him dismissing many legitimate problems I had when I was little. I had to complain about a broken finger for 2 weeks before he finally had it X-rayed to shut me up, and it turned out it did have a hairline fracture.

It really hurts when people in authority over you don't believe you or don't take you seriously. But when it comes to a matter of your health and safety, you have to do what you have to do.

A mission president only has ecclesiastical authority over a missionary. It's not like missionaries are slaves or indentured servants.

There is ALWAYS the option to disobey an "order." And, in the case of an unrighteous order that is preventing a missionary from getting needed medical care, then it is almost a DUTY to disobey it, almost like in the military.

I can't think of any occasion when church leaders said that members or missionaries must obey church authorities to the point of ignoring injuries or illness.

The MP or APs can be straightened out later when all the facts are in, but the foremost duty of missionaries is to stay healthy. Sick missionaries can't preach the gospel.
Good advice, I'd say. Missionaries, take care of yourselves and make sure your families know when there is a serious problem.

Saturday, January 21, 2006

A Neglected New Testament Passage? 2 Peter 1:2-10

One of my favorite passages of scripture might be rather neglected outside the LDS Church, I fear. (Correct me if I'm wrong!) But it strikes me as beautiful and extremely important. I refer to 2 Peter 1:2-10:
[2] Grace and peace be multiplied unto you through the knowledge of God, and of Jesus our Lord,
[3] According as his divine power hath given unto us all things that pertain unto life and godliness, through the knowledge of him that hath called us to glory and virtue:
[4] Whereby are given unto us exceeding great and precious promises: that by these ye might be partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust.
[5] And beside this, giving all diligence, add to your faith virtue; and to virtue knowledge;
[6] And to knowledge temperance; and to temperance patience; and to patience godliness;
[7] And to godliness brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness charity.
[8] For if these things be in you, and abound, they make you that ye shall neither be barren nor unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.
[9] But he that lacketh these things is blind, and cannot see afar off, and hath forgotten that he was purged from his old sins.
[10] Wherefore the rather, brethren, give diligence to make your calling and election sure: for if ye do these things, ye shall never fall.
I love the way Peter begins with Christ and God, then raises their call to us to obtain glory and virtue and godliness through the power of Christ, the power that enables us to become more like God and partake of the divine nature. But the call to follow them requires diligence and patience, with progression step by step until our calling and election is sure - for, after all, it is possible for believers in Christ to fall and lose their salvation.

I'm not sure how this passage could fit into a sermon from those who condemn us a non-Christian cultists for believing in the type of things Peter teaches here. Other than an occasional reference to the divine nature, I don't think I've heard this passage used much at all - but my sampling of non-LDS sermons is small. In some cases, it is cited largely to refute its use as a "prooftext" in favor of LDS-like doctrines. One example is an article by Zane Hodges in the Journal of the Grace Evangelical Society. Here is one interesting excerpt:
A careful consideration of the context of these remarks shows that they are not supporting the Reformed Doctrine of the Perseverance of the Saints. Indeed, they actually support the opposite conclusion, that believers in Christ are secure forever, whether they add Christian character qualities to their faith or not. What is at stake, here, as we shall see, is not kingdom entrance, but abundant kingdom entrance.
I'm curious about other interesting uses of this passage, as well as many of the rather plain teachings of Peter in general. I really enjoy Peter's writings. Wish we had more!

Quiz: Brigham Young and Who Else?

A famous public building features statues of many citizens from around the United States, including Brigham Young and one other Latter-day Saint. Can you name the building and the other person?

________________

Update: The answer is Philo Farnsworth, a key inventor of the television, whose statue is in the US Capitol's National Statuary Hall Collection.

Friday, January 20, 2006

Interconnected Circles....


I just noticed this photograph that I took earlier this year, and felt that the interconnected rings fit with the theme of networking - not to mention the linking of multiple circles of truth and knowledge, all of which interlock to form one great whole. Again, the ring we are most familiar with is only one part of the grand picture.

(I also added this photo to one of my collections of favorite photos on my Website. The photo was taken at Atlanta's Centennial Olympic Park on Sept. 13, 2005. As with nearly all photos here, you can click to enlarge.)

Thursday, January 19, 2006

Why Latter-day Saints Need to Get Out More Often...

One of the most significant papers ever in sociology is said to be Mark Granovetter's widely discussed paper, "The Strength of Weak Ties," American Journal of Sociology, 78(6), 1360-1380 (1973). Granovetter revisits and strengthens his argument in
"The Strength of Weak Ties: A Network Theory Revisited" Sociological Theory, 1, 201-233 (1983). Granovetter's study of how people found jobs indicated that it was weak ties - casual acquaintances - which were the most important part of one's network in terms of finding employment. The strong ties, relationships with our closest friends, tended to be limited to a narrow group of people who largely shared the same strong ties. Thus, the range of people that could be reached by branching along the nodes of a network of strong ties was very small. But our casual acquaintances provide links to new networks where the strong ties are usually much different than our own, greatly expanding the range of people one can access. And thus it is the weak ties that are the "strongest" part of social networks in terms of providing access to information and people that can be of help to us.

Latter-day Saints sometimes get very busy in their congregations and tend to focus their social interactions with other Latter-day Saints. It's natural, but it leads to a social network that is rather limited. Our ability to influence the world for good, our ability to network and help one another, and just to enjoy life more, requires that we expand our networks and tap into larger circles of people. Having more ties, even very weak ones, with people outside our circle of current friends is an important step.

To really understand how critical this is, I encourage you to read Never Eat Alone by Keith Ferrazzi (New York: Doubleday, 2005). It's one of the best business and self-help books around, in my opinion. I'm about 1/3 the way through and it has already made me significantly more effective in my work, I think.

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Another Perspective on the Witnesses

Matt Roper's "Comments on the Book of Mormon Witnesses: A Response to Jerald and Sandra Tanner" is one of many valuable works dealing with the integrity of Book of Mormon witnesses and the desperate attempts of critics to discount their impressive, unanimous, and lifelong witnesses of the reality of the gold plates and the Book of Mormon. Is there any more plausible explanation for the history of these people of known integrity than to accept that they saw what they said they saw or at least were personally convinced that they saw it? Does it make any sense to suggest that these were all lying co-conspirators with Joseph, unwilling to expose him even when many of them later had a falling out with Joseph and had nothing to gain but grief for sticking to their testimony? Does it make any sense for Joseph to go out of his way to include so many people in his conspiracy?

Monday, January 16, 2006

When the Messiah Comes...

Recently spent an enchanting evening with some Jewish friends of ours. My experiences and religious discussion with faithful Jews have almost all been rewarding, often resonating with core parts of my faith, in spite of obvious differences. One brief comment from my friends referred to the wonderful things that will happen after the Messiah comes. They mentioned that their rabbi told them not to expect that everyone will be Jewish after the Messiah comes, for each faith plays a valuable role in God's eyes, and that in that glorious day, we will not just tolerate differences in faith, but find genuine joy in others. A very interesting perspective.

I think it is possible to join with those of other faiths and respect their faith and rejoice in the religious experiences of others, even though we may disagree with their theology. In any case, I look forward to the day when the Messiah comes in His glory to the earth, and if I am still here, expect to rejoice with people of many faiths, including numerous Jewish friends. And as all things begin to be revealed (at last!) in that era, I think we will all be amazed at how little we really new, and at how many things we took as Gospel truth were understood imperfectly at best. Even though I believe God has restored the Church of Jesus Christ upon the earth and that we do have the blessing of modern revelation and scripture, it is so clear that this does not give us a monopoly on truth or anything close to a perfect understanding in any area. Our knowledge of truth, the universe and everything is not quite at the embryonic stage, so why not take advantage of our ignorance and find a little more joy in the beliefs and experiences of others? It can be a pretty lonely world otherwise.

Sunday, January 15, 2006

The Optimum Size of Wards: Divide and Conquer?

I've noticed that wards in Utah tend to be larger than the wards in other parts of the Church, at least in terms of active, participating members. In one Utah ward we visited, we saw a young married woman sustained as the MiaMaids Liaison to the Ward Activities Committee. My wife and I chuckled since we felt lucky to even have one person serving on that committee - we would never dream of having someone called as the liaison for a single class to serve on what must have been a gargantuan, bustling committee. Ah, the luxury of having a large ward.

Any idea what the optimim size of a ward is? And if there is an optimum size, why does there seem to be such diversity in ward size? I have occasionally heard some local leaders suggest that a good way to foster growth is to keep units small and lean, splitting them as they grow slightly, so that people are stretched and motivated to reach into the ranks of the less active and new converts to get them busy in building Zion. I'm not sure if there's a solid foundation of data behind that theory - any ideas? If that theory is right, why isn't it done that way in Utah?

Please note that I speak from very limited experience and may not be adequately characterizing trends across the Church. I'd appreciate your perspectives on how big wards should be and when they should be split. If it helps, our ward has about 350 people, with an activity level that I think is below 50%, and may get a little smaller in a couple months with a new ward about to be formed in our stake. How are things done where you live?

Where did Joseph learn about the Arabian Peninsula?

If the Book of Mormon is a fraud, then how did Joseph know so much about the Arabian Peninsula, including specific names and places that were not known in his day? Was it just blind luck that the rare place name Nahom in the Book of Mormon, identified as the place where Ishmael was buried, turns out to correspond to an ancient burial site right where the Book of Mormon says it is? How could Joseph Smith so accurately and plausibly describe the nature and location of the place Bountiful in the Arabian Peninsula - when critics for years have been denying the possibility of such a place being anywhere in the region? How does one account for the recent discovery of a plausible candidate for the River Laman, continuously flowing into the Red Sea as the Book of Mormon indicates, in spite of the repeated claims of critics that no such river exists? Was there anything within his reach, or the reach of any scholar of his day, that could have resulted in the plausible details we find in First Nephi?

Background:

The book of First Nephi in the Book of Mormon describes a journey through the Arabian Peninsula in much detail, sometimes giving specific directions like "south south-east," and describing specific places such as the Valley of Lemuel with its continually flowing River of Laman, a burial place called Nahom, and a fertile and inhabitable spot called Bountiful due east of Nahom, where Lehi's group lived for a period of time and were able to construct boats and sail to the New World. Incredibly, these details are not only plausible based on modern knowledge, but specific candidates for these locations exist, as I show on my page on Book of Mormon Evidences (including photos). In fact, the candidate for Nahom is confirmed as an ancient burial place in just the right location (Nehhem) and is associated with an ancient tribal name with the same consonants (NHM), based on a recent find of an ancient altar from that tribe dating to around the time of Lehi, with an ideal candidate for Bountiful nearly due east of Nahom on the coast of Oman. And in spite of much mocking by anti-Mormons about the non-existence of rivers, a continually flowing stream has been found in an impressive valley in just the right place to be the valley and river spoken of by Nephi. These places and the NHM name could not possibly have been known to Joseph Smith. They remain unknown to most college graduate in our day, and unknown to almost all anti-Mormons, based on their remarkable silence on these impressive "bulls eyes" in the Book of Mormon. But I'll ask the question again: is there any way that such precise confirmation of First Nephi could have occurred if the unschooled farm boy Joseph Smith were just making up a wild story about a mythical adventure in a remote land? How can you explain away plausible and accurate directions that bypass the empty quarter and would allow an actual ancient journey, a description of a valley and river that anti-Mormons have alleged cannot possibly exist, the existence of an excellent candidate for Bountiful (also was said to not exist anywhere in the Arabian Peninsula), and a direct hit in identifying an ancient burial site and its rare name?

Say what you will about other issues, but is there any way that First Nephi could have been written by anyone in North America in 1830, or is it more plausible that the accurate description of an ancient journey in the Middle East was written by someone who actually made the journey?

Of course, the evidence from the Arabian Peninsula does not prove the Book of Mormon is true, but it does raise a serious challenge to the theory that Joseph was the (fraudulent) author of First Nephi.

Saturday, January 14, 2006

Update on Lihyanite Chronology

In my previous post on the Lihyanites of Arabia and their possible relevance to the Book of Mormon, one commenter mentioned the April 1985 Sunstone magazine which had a brief response from two people critical of the Hiltons' early speculations about the Lihyanites (before George Potter's work, the Hiltons had originally pointed to a possible link with that ancient Arabian people). It was argued that the Lihyanites did not arise until at least century after Lehi's journey and that the inscription allegedly from the Lihyanites in the 6th century B.C. was actually from the Dedanite kingdom of that time, contrary to what was stated in the Smithsonian Magazine.

I'm not convinced that this argument from chronology still stands.

Take a look at the book reviews in the Journal of Northwest Semitic Languages, Vol. 23. No. 2 (1997), where we encounter Lukas Muntingh's review of H. Lozachmeur, (ed.), Presence arabe dans le croissant fertile avant l'Hegire (Actes de la table ronde internationale Paris, 13 Novembre 1993). Paris: Editions Recherche sur les Civilisations, 1995. ISBN 286538 2540. An excerpt from the review is relevant to our present discussion:
F Scagliarini's paper deals with Al-'Ula/Dedan, in NW Arabia, some 110 km SW of Teima. The author proposes an adjustment to the accepted Dedanite and Lihyanite chronology; "Dedanite" is used for the older phase of the history of the oasis of Al-'Ula, the Biblical Dedan. In reality, the difference between the two is conventional. The paleographic criterion which leads to different datings of the list of texts discussed here is arbitrary. It is, however, very interesting that the king, presented as king of the city of Dedan in the older period is later indicated as king of the Lihyan tribe.
Interesting. Any of your familiar with the latest findings on Lihyanite chronology? The stink raised over the chronology in the Smithsonian's publication and the Hiltons' speculation may have little substance now, which might be good to know for those of who were facing a challenge to your faith in Smithsonian Magazine.

By the way, the reference to Winnett and Reed in Sunstone is probably Frederick V. Winnett and William L. Reed, Ancient Records from North Arabia (Toronto: University of Toronto, 1970), p. 101. I found that citation in a FARMS publication by Robert F. Smith.

Friday, January 13, 2006

George Potter on Lihyanite Writing: More Clues from the Arabian Peninsula?

The November 2004 newsletter from the Nephi Project discusses some interesting tentative findings from the Arabian Peninsula involving the ancient Lihyan tribes of Arabia. George Potter points to possible correlations with the Book of Mormon. He has kindly given me permission to quote from his newsletter here.
Book of Mormon Names Among the Lihyanites in Arabia
By George Potter

When archaeologists prioritize the importance of documentary evidence, written records take top stage. Nothing is more compelling than to find a written historical record that an event transpired, everything else highly interpretive. The Doctrine & Covenants tells us that Nephi was a very successful missionary during his journey down from Jerusalem (D&C 33:7, 8). So why not ask the question, is there any written evidence that Nephi converted a large number of people in Arabia.

The obvious place to start searching for written evidence is the ruins of the Lihy Empire in Arabia. Lehi and Nephi passed through this same part of Arabia early in the sixth century B.C. Then shortly thereafter, late in the sixth century B.C., the Lihyanites came to power in northwest Arabia, and ruled a large area of the peninsula for over 300 years. Book of Mormon scholars Lynn and Hope Hilton were first to theorize that the Lihyanites were possibly the descendants of some of the converts of Lehi and Nephi (Hiltons, Discovering Lehi, (Springville Ut: CFI 1966)). Since renaming families and tribes after exceptional leaders is a time honored tradition in Arabia, it would be feasible that the Lihyanite converts would both renamed their tribe after the patriarch Lehi and have named their children after the men they regarded as exceptionally righteous. The Book of Mormon identifies the righteous adult males in Lehi's family during their crossing of Arabia as Lehi (Lihy), Nephi (Nafi in Arabia) and Sam (1 Nephi 2:17,7:6,8:3).

The name Lihy is found on inscriptions throughout the al-Ula valley, the valley in which the Lihyanite capital city Dedan was located. As noted in our book, Lehi in the Wilderness, and in our film Discovering the Most Fertile Parts, Dedan was along the part of the frankincense trail that was known from the time of Ramasees II (2nd Millennium B.C.) to Mohammed (6th Century B.C.) as the "fertile parts". Nephi wrote that they traveled in the "fertile parts" (1 Nephi 16:14).

The name Lihy was also carried in the line of Lihyanite kings. Indeed, from the Lihyanite capital at Dedan (al-Ula), the name Lihy spread along the towns of the frankincense trail. Dr. Al-Anary writes "Liyhanite inscriptions were found along the trade routes in Tayma and Al-Fau (approximately 1,000 miles) In Tayma, a black obelisk mentions, "Fadju, shahro bin Malik Lihyan", son of the king of Lihyan" . ('an' makes a word plural in Arabic) Pliny, who died in 79 A.D. referred to the Gulf of Aqabah as the "Gulf of Laeanitie".

During our last visit to the ruins of the Lihyanite capital city (al-Ula), we meet a man at the farmers markets who bore that name Nafi (Nephi). That's not surprising since there is a town named Nafi in central Arabia. The Hiltons visited that town and relate this interesting encounter:

"One day in the company of Delbert Madsen, we visited the town [Nafi]. It seemed like a miracle when we knocked on a door, and the Arab owner invited us in for supper and "o'nite". He explained he was home for vacation for the University of Colorado, where he was a Ph.D candidate! When we declined his tea, he asked if we were Mormon. He said that once he was driving from southern Nevada to Idaho when he noticed the town Nephi, Utah on the map. He stopped there for gas and food and asked a man in the restaurant, "What is the connection between 'Nephi' in Utah and my home 'Nafee' in Saudi Arabia, since both are the same word?" The Utah man was reported to have replied, "Are you kidding?" So the Arab drove on to Idaho, never getting an answer." (Hiltons, Discovering Lehi, p. 87)

Of even more import is the Hiltons' discovery that the Lihyanties used the personal name 'Nafy'. The name appears in Lihyan script on a 3rd or 4th century tomb marker near al-Ula. (Hiltons, p. 89; W.F. Winnett and W. L Reed, "Ancient Records from the North Arabia", (Toronto, University of Toronto Press: 1970)).

This year we found that Lihyanite inscriptions in the al-Ula Valley include the name 'Sam'. This is interesting since the common Hebrew pronunciation is 'Samuel', and the Arabic traditional pronunciation is 'Sami', yet the Book of Mormon pronunciation is exactly the same was the Lihyanite articulation Sam!. We later discovered that the National Museum of Saudi Arabia with the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History display on their joint internet site another Lihyanite inscription of the name 'Sam'. (http://www.mnh.si.edu/epigraphy/e_pre-islamic/lihyanite.htm [URL updated by J.L.; the original URL was www.mnh.si.edu/epigraphy/english_version/html/e_lihyanite.htm]).

Here then, is more compelling WRITTEN evidence that the Book of Mormon is in total harmony with the history of Arabia. To suggest that Joseph Smith somehow could have known the Lihyanite names of Lehi, Nephi and Sam is naive, indeed. No westerner visited the land of the Lihyanites until it was discovered by Charles Doughty in 1876.

It excites me to know that the Prophet Joseph Smith revealed that Nephi taught the gospel in Arabia, and that now, by written evidence, we know that the names of the adult male religious males of Lehi's family were used among the ancient people of Lihy, who ruled a large portion of the Frankincense trail soon after Lehi's passage down that very trail.


1- Al-Ansary, 28.

2- Ibid.

3- George Potter and Faisal Al-Zamil, 7 April 2004, central farmers
market in al-Ula, Saudi Arabia.

4- National Museum of Saudi Arabia and Smithsonian National Museum of
Natural History, "Written in Stone", Inscriptions from the National Museum
of Saudi Arabia, Lihyanite Script, 1 of 2, http://www.mnh.si.edu/epigraphy/english_version/html/e_lihyanite.htm.
March 2004. (This URL no longer works. I believe the appropriate URL is now http://www.mnh.si.edu/epigraphy/e_pre-islamic/lihyanite.htm.

Thursday, January 12, 2006

Have You Seen NephiProject.com

A couple of my favorite books and videos dealing with the Book of Mormon are available at NephiProject.com. The information on Lehi's trail (great videos) and the book Lehi in the Wilderness demand much more attention than they have received.

It's hard to think of the Book of Mormon as just uplifting fiction when someone could literally use it as a guide to identify plausible candidates for places that learned anti-Mormons have ridiculed as impossible - places like the River Laman and Bountiful. Dig into First Nephi, go to Arabia, explore, and bingo - looks like there is the Valley Lemuel, the River Laman, the burial place Nahom, Shazer, plausible pathways in the directions Nephi states, and finally great candidates for Bountiful. Well, I've oversimplified the process, but that's roughly what several people have down, with fascinating results. Now just how did Joseph Smith imagine up all that? At the least, the information from George Potter et al. is worthy of consideration rather than utter neglect. And those who look at the evidence will at least come away with some new insights about the Book of Mormon.

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Why I've Been Distracted Lately. . .

It's been hard to write much in the past couple of weeks. You see, I'm still grumbling about what happened at the end of the year. We gathered all our receipts and other records and then spent most of Dec. 30 with the best tithing attorney in Wisconsin, preparing for our Dec. 31 tithing settlement date. Incredibly, the best this pricey expert could do was to get our tithing down to 10% of our income. I couldn't believe it, so I stayed up all night and studied the entire tithing code myself - all four verses - and couldn't find any loopholes either. I'm still losing sleep over the matter. No deductions for home teaching mileage? Fast offerings not tithing deductible? And no credit for all those chocolate chip cookies I personally baked and donated for a Young Men's event?

The tithing attorney admitted that business has been slow and sincerely hopes that you folks out in Salt Lake will work to get the code a little more up to 21st century tax code standards.

Sunday, January 08, 2006

Health Care for Missionaries: Usually Great, But Some Improvement May Be Needed

I called LDS headquarters this week to ask a few questions and raise some concerns about health care for missionaries (or rather, about what I hope are two unusual and exceptional cases). In the process, I spoke at length with several people in two different departments dealing with LDS missions and medical issues. I've also spoken with several missionaries and former missionaries. On the basis of these conversations, I agree that the Church does strive diligently to ensure that missionaries are safe, healthy, and get the care they need. There is a real effort to make sure that excellent care is given, and many millions are spent toward that end. I am also impressed with the statistics showing that serving a mission is remarkably safe and much healthier than the lifestyles of typical young people. And I am confident that in most missions, most missionaries receive an outstanding level of appropriate health care. However, I am also convinced that there is still room for improvement in the health care provided for missionaries in at least some missions. And frankly, after expressing some serious concerns, I feel that others did not fully grasp the potential seriousness of the situation (not the nurse I spoke to - she was great). Sure, I can understand why people there might not pay much attention to a complainer from Wisconsin. But one significant person eventually assured me that corrective action would be taken in one case that I raised, but as you may deduce from the details below, the disappointing result would only prove to be more fuel for my burning concern. There is a problem, perhaps a rare one but certainly a real one that needs to be addressed.

In posting my comments here, I do not mean to point fingers at any of the mission presidents and their wives in the Church. I hope that will be clear below.

By way of background, missionaries in need of non-emergency health care often are asked to call the mission president's wife to discuss the problem. She may have the missionary talk with a Church-sponsored doctor over the phone to see if further attention is needed, or she may make recommendations on her own. If the missionary is sent to a doctor, the Church covers all the costs. Many millions are spent to ensure that good care is provided. I can see that requiring pre-approval before seeing a doctor in non-emergency situations makes sense when all the costs are being covered by a third party.

A problem arises, though, when the mission president's wife does not accurately assess the situation. Even if we required them to have medical degrees, there are cases when a phone call is inadequate to understand the nature of an injury or illness. I respect them greatly for the work they do to watch after missionaries, but perhaps too much is being asked sometimes. In my opinion, the same problem applies to those missions where doctors hired by the Church are available by phone to approve (and screen) missionary requests to see a doctor. If a missionary feels that he or she needs to see a doctor, but the mission president's wife or a long-distance doctor says no, what recourse does a missionary without his own insurance have? Perhaps we need some kind of backup system - perhaps a copay system for unauthorized office visits or a health care advocate/ombudsman a missionary can turn to when he or she is not satisfied with a recommendation.

Two Troubling Cases: May These Be Unique!

I know of two recent cases, hopefully two very exceptional cases, in two different missions, where missionaries correctly recognized that they needed to see a doctor but were told not to. More than one request was made, but they were all denied. In one case a frustrated member in a local missionary's area, worried about the missionary's sports injury from a preparation-day activity, gave up on the system after multiple requests for approval to see a physician and simply took the elder to a walk-in clinic at the expense of the member. The mission's screeners had believed the injury to be minor and would not authorize a visit to a physician, even after a couple of concerned local members called various parties to intervene for the elder. However, X-rays confirmed that the missionary's injury was more serious than the mission president's wife and a remote Church doctor had recognized, and confirmed that a higher level of care was needed. In fact, the missionary will require surgery (relatively minor, fortunately).

Now that a correct diagnosis has been obtained - apparently this required a physically present physician using x-rays - I am confident that the surgery will be covered by the Church and that the missionary will get the care that he should have been getting several weeks ago. While it would have been best to see a physician right after the injury, I am hopeful that most of the problem can still be corrected. Though hopeful and grateful now that care has been initiated, I am unsettled by this event. Perhaps more than just a little unsettled. Local members were right to be concerned and a local member was right to buck the system by "smuggling" the missionary into a clinic to get x-rays. Glad he felt he had enough cash to spare to do that on his own. (Update: the Church's Missionary Medical Department wishes to reimburse the member for wisely taking the elder into the clinic, so that's good.)

In a second and more serious case, a missionary's repeated requests to see a doctor were allegedly denied by a well-meaning mission president's wife. She thought the pains in his side might be due to inadequate fluids and recommended drinking water or Gatorade. He had appendicitis. Fortunately, the missionary is OK now, but I understand that he was worried and unsatisfied with the recommendation from the mission mom. His health could have been protected better by making it easier to see a doctor.

My dear brothers and sisters in the Missionary Department, although these two cases may be bizarre outliers in a system that normally works well to protect the health of missionaries at reasonable cost, they do point to a potential weakness in the system that might depend too much on the judgment of a well-meaning mission mom who typically is not a medical professional, or on the judgment of a remote physician who may feel a responsibility to cut back on seemingly unneeded doctor visits to prevent wasting Church funds. Could we consider a safety valve for those cases when a missionary really feels that a doctor's attention is needed? I believe that health care for missionaries is remarkably good, but in at least a few cases it needs to be better.

I am also concerned that an unfair burden may be placed on mission presidents' wives. All the ones I have known have been exemplary people, loving, diligent, and dedicated to the well-being of their missionaries. But I haven't known any that were licensed nurses or physicians. Isn't there a dangerous liability issue hanging over mission moms? I don't know of any such lawsuits, but one medical disaster coupled with aggressive personal injury attorneys could create a huge nightmare for them and for the Church.

My final concern involves the ability of parents to know what's happening with their missionaries. I can understand that mission presidents want families to just get upbeat news and not details of miseries from colds or other minor illnesses. But I believe that parents should expect to know the details of the health of their missionaries, if the missionaries want to share that. Unfortunately, many missionaries are told to stay positive and not discuss health problems. They may feel pressure to not talk about problems like pains in their side or a sports injury that isn't healing. Look, they are adults and should be able to share whatever information they wish about their health. And who knows, perhaps a little more openness here could help serve as a safety valve, for increased awareness will bring increased accountability and perhaps improved health care access. I'm sure mission presidents, Church doctors, and leaders in the Missionary Department don't want a flood of overly nervous parents calling in to second-guess the level of care that is being provided when someone isn't feeling well, but as long as there isn't a safety valve to deal with the exceptional cases like the two I've raised here, then maybe a few more calls from concerned members and parents will help.

For the record, my missionary son is not one of the two cases discussed above. His health has been fine, as far as I know. (Well, as far as I know - I mean, I haven't heard anything negative, so I assume . . . oh oh . . .) And my oldest son who served in Argentina reports that he felt the health care provided was excellent, and the role of the missionary president's wife there was a very helpful one. She was really looking out for the missionaries and made sure they got good care.

Now if there are possible flaws in the Church's healthcare system for missionaries, it will be just one more reminder of how fallible all humans are, even those who serve the Church. Just as Moses the great prophet needed advice from his father-in-law to get him improve his inadequate management of the House of Israel, it's possible that outside advice from ordinary members like you and me and the parents of missionaries might be needed in some department somewhere in Salt Lake City, like it or not.

If you respond to this post, please note that I am not looking for a forum to criticize Church leaders, to denounce the Church, or to post anonymous and highly questionable alleged horror stories of missionary maltreatment. We've had some nasty examples of that from deceptive anti-Mormons on this blog before. But I would especially appreciate suggestions on how we can better help our missionaries, how we might avoid the exceptional problems I have raised here, and how members and leaders can better care for and protect our missionaries. I would also appreciate comments on how we can deal with the issue of what missionaries do and don't share with folks back home. And if I'm overreacting and being unfair in this post, let me know.

Update on the Missionary Murder in Virginia

News on the murder of an LDS missionary in Virginia reveals new details about the murder of Elder Morgan Young. James Broughton, Jr., a 19-year-old who has been arrested for the murder, allegedly was fighting another man, Gregory Lamont Banks, Jr., when Broughton broke free, pulled out a gun and fired once at Banks. Banks was unharmed but fell to the ground as if dead. He heard Broughton leave and then heard two more shots fired, as if Broughton ran into two potential witnesses and shot them on the spot.

The response of Elder Young's parents to this tragic murder shows great faith and reflects deep Christian principles. My heart goes out to them.

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!

"A Pioneer Miracle": True Story on DVD

I recently watched the DVD "A Pioneer Miracle: A True Story" made by T.C. Christensen. It's a short but powerful recreation of a miracle that LDS pioneer Belle Richards experienced as a young girl. The reality of her experience, which she long kept to herself, was confirmed to her father years later in an interesting twist on the story. It was also interesting to watch the extra material included on the DVD, including interviews with people that knew Belle and the story of what she experienced. Great food for thought on the reality of divine intervention and angels.

Thursday, January 05, 2006

Watch Out for Your Local Missionaries

I'd like to encourage members to take extra steps to help out and watch over their local missionaries. I'm concerned that some don't always get the attention they might need. Are they eating well, with a good mix of fresh fruits and vegetables? A lot of young people aren't careful about their diet, so bring over something healthy for them. Check up on their health - sometimes they may need to see a doctor without realizing it. Sometimes they may need member support in making sure they get medical attention when they need it.

Here's one practical suggestion to enhance their diet: if your local missionaries don't have a blender, get an inexpensive one for them ($9 to $12 can get a suitable blender), and show them how to make their own smoothies from frozen and fresh fruit and milk or ice cream. For example, equal parts of frozen strawberries and drained canned peaches with a little banana, milk, and a touch of ice cream blends up into a delicious and relatively healthy smoothie. Can also work well without dairy products. Plenty of room for creativity.

Also make sure they have antibacterial soap and other hand disinfectants. So many colds and illnesses can be prevented by just making sure that hands are clean and disinfected before eating, and by avoiding contact of fingers with eyes, nose, and mouth. Simple tips, but they make a big difference.

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Two Missionaries Shot in Virginia

Two missionaries shot in Virginia is a tragic news story this week. One Elder was killed and the other seriously wounded. May the murderer be caught. And may the Lord comfort the families and friends who grieve.

Being a missionary is not only difficult work, it can be dangerous. It's a true sacrifice to serve in that manner. Let's all go the extra mile to watch out for the safety and well-being of our missionaries.

Which Cult Do You Belong To?

Q. "Aren't you Mormons part of a cult?"

A. "Sure we are, just like you Lutherans/Catholics/Baptists/etc."

Given that a standard dictionary definition of a cult is "a system or community of religious worship and ritual," yeah, I figure my fellow Baptists qualify. Of course, there are other dictionary definitions, such as "a religion or religious sect generally considered to be extremist or false." Since a majority of the world is likely to disagree with my Lutheran friends (and with all of us Christians, as a matter of fact), I guess they're in, too.

Of course, those who use the word "cult" aren't trying to inform others that we are a religious organization. Informing has nothing to do with their ends - it's all about spooking people with the eerie nuances of the word. And those in the battle against "cults" work hard to come up with special definitions of the word to nail their targets, be they Mormons, Jehovah Witnesses, Roman Catholics, or martial arts fans. According to these special definitions, for examples, cults may be any group with one or more features like claiming to have inspired leaders, teaching new ways and laws that are not already accepted in current society, asking sacrifices of money and time from their people, claiming to have new revelations or scripture, etc. What I find so interesting about nearly all of these special definitions aimed at labeling Mormons as "cultists" is that these definitions also condemn Jesus Christ and the early Christians. They were generally viewed as false and extremist, claimed to have an inspired leader and new revelations, taught new ways, demanded much of their members, introduced new scripture - you name, those early Christians and their leader were cultists to the max, just like members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. OK, so I admit it: I belong to a cult. But it's nice to be in such good company!

So, what cult do you belong to? Interested in a restored one? We have openings!

I discuss the issue of cults in more detail on my Mormon Answers page about cults and Mormonism.