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

Thursday, May 03, 2007

Tasty Little Details in the Book of Mormon

Ken Kuykendall of MormonCentury.org recently dropped in with some excellent comments on the recent PBS production. I noticed that Ken's high-quality site has an excellent page of possible evidences that may be of interest to LDS folks: "Sheer Dumb Luck?" I'd like to share one of the passages there dealing with Margaret Baker, whom I've discussed before on this blog and on my site. Here's some good food for thought:
… Margaret Barker, a Methodist minister who has written extensively on both the Old and New Testaments[, …] recently presented a paper at the Worlds of Joseph Smith conference, 6 May 2005, held at the Library of Congress. She discussed the image of the tree of life in 1 Nephi:
The tree of life made one happy, according to the Book of Proverbs (Proverbs 3:18), but for detailed descriptions of the tree we have to rely on the noncanonical texts. Enoch described it as perfumed, with fruits like grapes (1 Enoch32:5), and a text discovered in Egypt in 1945 described the tree as beautiful, fiery, and with fruit like white grapes. I do not know of any other source that describes the fruit as white grapes. Imagine my surprise when I read the account of Lehi's vision of the tree whose white fruit made one happy, and the interpretation that the Virgin in Nazareth was the mother of the Son of God after the manner of the flesh (1 Nephi 11:14–23). This is the Heavenly Mother, represented by the tree of life, and then Mary and her Son on earth. This revelation to Joseph Smith was the ancient Wisdom symbolism, intact, and almost certainly as it was known in 600 bce.
"Behind the Mask, Behind the Curtain: Uncovering the Illusion," review by Brant Gardner, 2005 FARMS Review (volume 17, issue 2)
Many of the minor details of the Book of Mormon become fascinating tidbits when coupled with knowledge not available to Joseph Smith in 1830. This includes the some of the many Hebraisms of the Book of Mormon, including chiasmus, the evidences pertaining to volcanism, numerous details about names, and a variety of Mesoamerican elements.

What I think the critics mean when they say that "there is not a shred of evidence for the Book of Mormon" is that scholars have not felt compelled to become Mormons en masse because of the overwhelming evidence, including discovery of the original gold plates, that absolutely proves that Jesus Christ was on the continent in a post-resurrected state, and that there was a people called the Nephites living in a city called Zarahemla, with no wiggle room for doubt of any kind. But while there are plenty of unanswered questions, there are shreds all over the place. Why not have a taste?

10 comments:

6inptc said...

I believe there never will be any serious tangible proof for the truthfulness of the restored gospel. A testimony of the restored Gospel, of Joseph Smith as a prophet is only grown out of the seed of faith, period. Any visibly, physical proof can always be explained away, but the personal proof to every convert (both born outside and inside the Church) is something only oneself can explain away.

For me some of these stories and findings reaffirm my personal testimony and may be in a small manner help continue building it, but they certainly have never been the foundation of mine.

Ken said...

Wow, Jeff, thanks for the kind words. Ken Kuykendall here, and let me tell you how I have used these tasty tidbits. I agree with the first comment -- of course, it is the Spirit that gives real conviction of the truthfulness of the gospel. BUT ... to open-minded non-members of the Church, these facts have proved extremely interesting. I gave a talk in Sacrament meeting where I simply said: "How?" over and over. "How could Joseph Smith have known this -- unless he was really a prophet?" "How could the Book of Mormon contain this -- unless it was really of ancient origin?" In between those questions, I was explaining small details that have been brought forth by the FARMS team -- such as the Margaret Barker observation that the Book of Mormon making the fruit of the Tree of Life white is an astonishing bulls-eye.

From that ONE talk in Sacrament meeting, I have heard from 5 people in 4 different families who joined the Church and have been through the temple. Though not investigators at the time of my talk, they were attending the ward to see a Primary talk of a neighborhood friend, or had been invited to Church to see a musical number, etc. But my "FARMS" talk -- though again not the BASIS for a testimony -- began to break down some of the walls people keep up against Mormonism.

Also, I was a Seminary teacher in Atlanta and then the priest quorum advisor for 4 years -- the youth absolutely went CRAZY for stuff like this. It's not a testimony -- but it can inspire someone with enough confidence that they begin to want a testimony of their own.

So, indeed, please accept Jeff's advice -- and check out Sheer Dumb Luck? on my website!

Best wishes,
Ken Kuykendall
MormonCentury.org

Robert said...

6intpc,

I hear you, and I think Jeff would agree that "evidence" is not the basis for his faith, either. They are certainly not the basis of mine, either, but they sure are fun to examine.

Jeff,

I started reading the "Sheer Dumb Luck" section on Ken's site, and I must say that reading that list one right after another almost makes my hair stand on end. Maybe Helen Whitney should've had Ken on just to sit and read that list as a voiceover in the background of the archaeologist saying "there is no evidence". In all seriousness, she should have at least given one person from FARMS the chance to respond to his rather bold comments.

Mormanity said...

My hair stood on end right at the same time as well - but that's partly because my wife had just given me a short haircut (seriously!).

There are so many evidences pointing to something other than fraud and dumb luck in the Restoration of the Gospel. It truly is a marvelous work and a wonder. Getrude Specht was right: most of us just don't appreciate what we have.

Sure, there are ghastly human mistakes and puzzling events in Churhc history. Let the critics have their fun ranting over these things - but the reality is that mortal error does not eliminate the reality of Divine action behind the Restoration and the Book of Mormon.

Folks, you need to read it with an open mind and dig. This book really is true - a powerful, divine witness for the reality of Jesus Christ. It's silly to the blind, but to those who will see, there is amazing light and joy in this work.

ruadamu2 said...

How? How could Joseph Smith known that Jesus was born of a Virgin as depicted in the Book of Mormon?

The answer is simple. He got it from modern english translation of the bible.

Problem is that the prophetic text testifying of the Messiah being born of a Virgin, was mistranslated. It should have read "young girl".

Funny that Joseph Smith didn't know that but then again, How? How could Joseph Smith have known that?

ruadamu2 said...

Geez, I just read the "Dumb Luck" list. Much of it is laughable, much has nothing to do with coincidence, and the rest is inconsequential.

Give me a break.

Anonymous said...

Okay, ruadamu2, you have a break. Take five minutes to relax, calm down, and realize it is not your job to bring down the entire LDS Church. In fact, take a few days to realize it. Get some air to clear your head. It does wonders for the body and the spirit.

Anonymous said...

But don't take too long a break, rua--may I call you Rudy?--because I'd miss the comic relief. Thanks.

Mormanity said...

Easy now. Ruadamu2 is absolutely on one point: "much has nothing to do with coincidence." (But perhaps that's not what he meant?)

Robert said...

Excellent point, Jeff. Sometimes a coincidence is more than a coincidence... it is a connected event. The savior was crucified and there were volcanoes erupting in the New World, for instance. More than coincidence, more like cause and effect.

Thanks for pointing that out, ruadamu2.