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

Monday, March 30, 2009

Evidence from Arabia: The Eastward Turn at Nahom

"Nahom and the 'Eastward' Turn" is a short note in from a 2003 Journal of Book of Mormon Studies. I missed it until now, but feel it adds an important new insight into the growing body of evidence from the Arabian Peninsula related to the authenticity of the Book of Mormon as an ancient text. After mentioning the impressive archaeological finds supporting the existence of the ancient inhabited placed called Nahom, an interesting observation about Nephi's eastward turn at Nahom is made:
The case for Nahom, or NHM, in this area is made even more tight by recent study. It has become clearly apparent from Nephi's note--"we did travel nearly eastward" from Nahom (1 Nephi 17:1)--that he and his party not only had stayed in the NHM tribal area, burying Ishmael there, but also were following or shadowing the incense trail, a trading road that by then offered an infrastructure of wells and fodder to travelers and their animals. From the general region of the NHM tribe, all roads turned east. How so? Across the Ramlat Sabhatayn desert, east of this tribal region and east of Marib, lay the city of Shabwah, now in ruins. By ancient Arabian law, it was to this city that all incense harvested in the highlands of southern Arabia was carried for inventorying, weighing, and taxing. In addition, traders made gifts of incense to the temples at Shabwah. After this process, traders loaded the incense and other goods onto camels and shipped them toward the Mediterranean and Mesopotamian areas, traveling at first westward and then, after reaching the edges of the region of the NHM tribe, turning northward (these directions are exactly opposite from those that Nephi and his party followed). Even the daunting shortcuts across the Ramlat Sabhatayn desert, which left travelers without water for 150 miles, ran generally east-west. What is important for our purposes is the fact that the "eastward" turn of Nephi's narrative does not show up in any known ancient source, including Pliny the Elder's famous description of the incense-growing lands of Arabia. In a word, no one knew of this eastward turn in the incense trail except persons who had traveled it or who lived in that territory. This kind of detail in the Book of Mormon narrative, combined with the reference to Nahom, is information that was unavailable in Joseph Smith's day and thus stands as compelling evidence of the antiquity of the text.
As we have previously discussed (see many related posts on this blog and also see MormonEvidence.com), the ancient burial place Nahom/Nihm/Nehhem/NHM is located just where Nephi says it is and, by following his eastward direction (deviating from his previous south-southeast direction after leaving Jerusalem), one can in fact reach an excellent candidate for the ancient place he called Bountiful on the shores of modern-day Oman.

The eastward turn at Nahom fits new information not available to Joseph Smith. It is one of many little clues suggestion that it may be premature to dismiss the Book of Mormon as an absurd fraud. I suggest it's worth reading and investigating carefully.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Faith and Diligence

Alma's beautiful discourse on faith in Alma 32 invokes the metaphor of a seed that must be planted and cared for with diligence to grow a plant and reap the fruit of faith. There is much wisdom in this chapter which may be of help to those whose faith is faltering or weak.
[37] And behold, as the tree beginneth to grow, ye will say: Let us nourish it with great care, that it may get root, that it may grow up, and bring forth fruit unto us. And now behold, if ye nourish it with much care it will get root, and grow up, and bring forth fruit.

[38] But if ye neglect the tree, and take no thought for its nourishment, behold it will not get any root; and when the heat of the sun cometh and scorcheth it, because it hath no root it withers away, and ye pluck it up and cast it out.

[39] Now, this is not because the seed was not good, neither is it because the fruit thereof would not be desirable; but it is because your ground is barren, and ye will not nourish the tree, therefore ye cannot have the fruit thereof.

[40] And thus, if ye will not nourish the word, looking forward with an eye of faith to the fruit thereof, ye can never pluck of the fruit of the tree of life.

[41] But if ye will nourish the word, yea, nourish the tree as it beginneth to grow, by your faith with great diligence, and with patience, looking forward to the fruit thereof, it shall take root; and behold it shall be a tree springing up unto everlasting life.

[42] And because of your diligence and your faith and your patience with the word in nourishing it, that it may take root in you, behold, by and by ye shall pluck the fruit thereof, which is most precious, which is sweet above all that is sweet, and which is white above all that is white, yea, and pure above all that is pure; and ye shall feast upon this fruit even until ye are filled, that ye hunger not, neither shall ye thirst.

[43] Then, my brethren, ye shall reap the rewards of your faith, and your diligence, and patience, and long-suffering, waiting for the tree to bring forth fruit unto you.
It is in living the Gospel and following the teachings of the Lord that we come to know for ourselves of their truthfulness and thereby obtain more sure testimonies. As Christ said, "If any man will do his will, he shall know of the doctrine, whether it be of God, or whether I speak of myself" (John 7:17). Likewise, "If ye continue in my word, then are ye my disciples indeed; and ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free" (John 8:31-32).

I have found that those who fulfill home teaching assignments seriously are more likely to have testimony-building spiritual experiences and witness the power of prayer and of the Priesthood. Those who seek the Lord's help in fulfilling Church callings of many kinds tend to witness little miracles that help them understand Who is behind this work of building up the Kingdom of God and sharing the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Those who make the sacrifice of paying tithing with faith tend to see the blessings of that divine principle and witness the hand of the Lord in their lives more than before. Faith precedes the miracle, but the most miraculous results are typically preceded by faith plus diligence.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Having the Faith to Pray

"You'll Find a Way" by Terry O’Brien is one of my favorite stories in recent Ensign magazines. It's the tale of a soldier who was drafted into war shortly after his mission. He was worried about being able to keep his LDS faith and his practice of daily personal prayer in the intense atmosphere of military barracks. His bishop promised him that he'd find a way, if he exercised faith. Wonderful story of how one person's example can touch many others. It also shows how people who may seem like our enemies can be tools for miraculous good and may become wonderful allies with a little touch of God's hand.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

That Failed Expedition to Canada to Sell the Book of Mormon Copyright: Evidence that Joseph Smith Was a Fraud?

Got an interesting email recently telling me that I'm completely lost for believing that there are Book of Mormon evidences. The critic also said that the Book of Mormon was obviously a fraud because Joseph Smith sent some people to Canada to sell the copyright there. That story often comes up in anti-Mormon literature and deserves a little attention (just a little). What follows is my response, which contains some text from my LDSFAQ (Mormon Answers) page on Prophets and Prophecies.
Thanks for the note. I may not be as lost as you think. Some critics has asserted that the effort to sell the copyright in Canada indicates that the Book of Mormon was obviously a fraud. If you begin with the assumption that the book is a fraud, I can understand how one could view the event in that manner. But if one takes a more open-minded approach, is it possible that an attempt to sell some rights in a small nation outside of one's operational base could be interpreted as something other than an implicit and cynical admission of fraud? Could it have been a reasonable effort to deal with financial stress?

Here is some background from my LDSFAQ area, if you're interested:

Here is the story as summarized by anti-Mormon Dick Baer (as cited by SHIELDS-Research.org):
Winter 1829-1830. An Address To All Believers In Christ, David Whitmer, pages 30-31. Joseph Smith sent Hiram Page and Oliver Cowdery to Toronto, Canada to sell the copyright of the Book of Mormon in response to a revelation that he claimed to have received from God.

The mission and the revelation was a total failure as recorded by David Whitmer. When Joseph Smith was asked why the revelation had failed he answered that he did not know how it was. David Whitmer records that Joseph Smith "...enquired of the Lord about it, and behold the following revelation came through the stone: 'Some revelations are of God: some revelations are of man: and some revelations are of the devil. So we see that the revelation to go to Toronto and sell the copy-right was not of God, but was of the devil or the heart of man."

Many people, including B.H. Roberts, have taken Whitmer's widely-quoted account at face value, more or less. Roberts actually asked if Whitmer's account was correct, would it still be possible to accept Joseph as a prophet? He then answered affirmatively. Some anti-Mormons, like Norman Geisler, claim that Roberts admitted to a false prophecy from Joseph. This is not the case.

David Whitmer's account may not be reliable. He wrote it in 1887, long after the events he described and long after Joseph Smith was dead. Whitmer wrote it at a time when he was hostile toward the Church. Since the evidence for this allegedly failed prophecy is a secondary source from someone who was hostile at the time, written at a time long removed from the events reported, it cannot be given much weight.

Joseph Smith may have received permission from the Lord to cause some men to go to Canada in hopes of selling the copyright. This was a time when the Church was facing financial difficulty -- perhaps selling some rights in Canada could have helped. As I understand the event, the possibility being explored was the sale of Canadian rights only, not rights in the U.S. In a time of financial distress, it may have been a reasonable possibility to consider.

I suppose that when David Whitmer heard about the trip and some prophecy associated with it, he assumed that it was necessarily a prophecy guaranteeing success, which, as we will see, was not the case at all. Years later, as a bitter ex-Mormon, having been away from the Church for 50 years, his recollection of the event may have been colored by his feelings.

Importantly, when B.H. Roberts addressed this issue, he was unaware of the most important information about the event, the personal statement of one of the participants, Hiram Page. The FAIR Wiki's article, "Did Joseph Smith attempt to sell the Book of Mormon copyright?" explains:
Hiram Page, who was one of the individuals sent to Canada, laid out the event in a letter in 1848. Page wrote that the revelation Joseph Smith received conditioned success upon whether those individuals in Canada capable of buying the Book of Mormon copyright would have their hearts softened. When unable to sell the copyright, the four men returned to Palmyra. Hiram Page stated he for the first time understood how some revelations given to people were not necessarily for their direct benefit--in fact, Hiram Page believed that the revelation was actually fulfilled. . . .

Hiram Page's 1848 account of the Canadian Mission trip was sent to William McLellin. Because it was private correspondence, its existence and details were unknown until the 1930's, when the letter was donated to the RLDS Church's archives as part of a larger collection of McLellin materials. The content of the letter was not broadly known until after the document was stolen in 1985, but a copy of the original was donated by a private collector around the year 2000 who had made a copy prior to the theft of the original.

Further details are on the FAIR Wiki site. As far as we know, none of the actual participants of the Canada expedition were troubled by Joseph's prophecy -- and at least one of them came back from the even with added respect for his role as a prophet. Hardly the fiasco that Whitmer, with no first-hand knowledge, described 50 years later, long after he had left the Church and had become upset with Joseph. Whitmer's description of the event is also where we are introduced to the questionable statement ascribed to Joseph that allegedly served as his excuse for the failed prophecy: "Some revelations are of God: some revelations are of men: and some revelations are of the devil." I think David's jaded memory of events might be more responsible for this story than a prophetic fiasco from Joseph Smith.

I'm grateful that Hiram Page's comments regarding this event were not entirely lost from the world!

As for there being no evidence in support of the Book of Mormon, for starters, shouldn't the discovery of excellent candidates for places like Nahom, Shazer, Bountiful, the River Laman, and the Valley Lemuel count for something? Perhaps you didn't read my page at mormonevidence.com, but there are quite a number of things which can provide a prima facie rebuttal to the claim that there isn't a bit of evidence in favor of the Book of Mormon. Not that we can claim to prove it's true -- no, certainly not -- but we can provide some answers to objections and some interesting evidence of plausibility for those interested in evaluating the book. Of course, if you start with the assumption that you know something is absolutely false, it's hard to imagine what kind of evidence could possibly soften that position - so I'm not expecting you to say, "Oh, wow, I guess you're right!" But I hope you will realize there is a role played by the assumptions you bring to the table when you discuss the Book of Mormon - don't make the mistake of thinking you have an entirely objective position. The same, of course, applies to me as well.

Best wishes from Wisconsin!
OK, the Canada expedition, whatever it was, isn't one of those highly faith-promoting stories that we might like to hear, but one of many things that just didn't turn out well in Church history. That's life, unfortunately, but not the thing slam-dunk cases for fraud are made of.

The Restoration of the Gospel, just like the journey of the Hebrews from bondage to the promised land or even the rise of Independence in the United States (in my biased perspective), is a long tale of disappointment, mundane drudgery, and human weakness -- punctuated with a few moments of divine inspiration and glory that made all the difference. To make too much of the setbacks and signs of human weakness at the neglect of the critical moments of divine intervention and inspiration will lead to unwarranted cynicism and simply missing the real and joyous crux of the matter.

Friday, March 06, 2009

The Mesa Temple - Photo You Can Use

I was in Mesa, Arizona recently and had time to visit the Temple on a Saturday. What a wonderful place that historic temple is! Love the building, especially the inside. While there I took a few photos. Here's one I like. Feel free to download and use for personal non-profit purposes. The photo doesn't have my usual "JeffLindsay.com" identifier on it.

Click to enlarge. My original version is 1 megabyte in size, 2190 x 1507 pixels, and makes a nice 8 x 10 print. After going through Blogger, what you get here is only 300 kb, 1600 x 1101 pixels. You can also get a reduced version on my new Flickr area (http://www.flickr.com/photos/jefflindsay/). If you'd like the full size photo, email me or follow me on Twitter (http://twitter.com/mormanity) and let me know (you can use a direct message to send me your email address). Then I'll email it to you.

Thursday, March 05, 2009

Chicago Temple Now Open Again

Following damage from a broken water pipe, the Chicago Temple in Glenview, Illinois is up and running again, according to my sources. Great news!

For those visiting the Temple, be sure to consider a visit to Sweet Tomatoes (Word-of-Wisdom Approved!) on Willow Road, about 10 minutes from the Temple (2351 Willow Road, Glenview, IL, 847-657-8141). A tiny taste of the Celestial Kingdom for a Telestial price - whatever that means. I also like the Szchuan place on Milwauke Ave. near the Temple, as well as the two Korean places just yards from that, and the tiny Mexican place a few yards from Seoul Garden. Other suggestions for great places to eat near the Chicago Temple (or any other temple) are always welcome here.

Goldilocks Planet: What Makes Earth So Special?

Many people marvel at all the special things that make life possible on earth, and wonder if there could be any other "just right" planets like this Goldilocks planet of ours -- a term used by Clara Moskowitz in "What Makes Earth Special Compared to Other Planets?" She discusses several unique aspects about earth. The importance of tectonic plates and the role water plays with that mechanism is something I hadn't really considered before. Here's what she says:
Goldilocks planet

Earth's water is also special in that it has remained liquid for so long. How has Earth been able to hold on to its oceans while those on other planets freeze or fry?

"Many details as to why Earth is the only planet with liquid water in our solar system need to be worked out," said Diana Valencia, a graduate student in Earth and Planetary Sciences at Harvard University. "Certainly the distance to the sun has made it possible. A planet much farther in would receive too much energy from the sun, and a planet too far out would quickly freeze."

Our planet's Goldilocks-like "just right" location in the solar system has helped, as has its system of plate tectonics — the slip-sliding movements of Earth's crust that are thought to have created the planet's towering mountain ranges and plummeting ocean depths.

"The fact that Earth has plate tectonics allows for the carbon-silicate cycle to operate over geological timescales," Valencia said. "With the carbon-silicate cycle, the levels of carbon in the atmosphere get regulated to keep the surface temperature around that of liquid water."

Plate tectonics and water are inextricably linked. Not only does plate tectonics enable liquid water to exist by way of regulating the temperature, but many scientists have argued water enables plate tectonics to happen.

"Without water the planet would be geologically dead," said Caltech's Mike Brown, discoverer of the newly reclassified "plutoid" object named Eris, which lies beyond Pluto in our solar system. "Water is what lubricates plate tectonics, which is what leads to the extreme difference between continents and seafloors, the large amount of earthquakes and volcanoes, fresh mountain-building. Venus has no water, no plate tectonics, no deep sea floor, no steep mountains, no continents, probably few earthquakes or volcanoes. A much less geologically interesting place!"

Another "just-right" aspect of Earth is its size: If it was much smaller, it wouldn't be able to hold on to our precious atmosphere, but much larger and it might be a gas giant too hot for life.

The presence of our big brother planet, Jupiter, farther out in the solar system blocking Earth from much of the incoming debris, has also helped Earth become a safe haven for life. Jupiter acts like a giant broom, sweeping the solar system of debris — rocks as small as cars and as huge as moons — that could snuff out life in one fatal blow. This protective effect was particularly helpful in the solar system's early years, when Earth still got pummeled but, scientists say, not nearly as bad as would have been the case without Jupiter.
Yes, earth is an incredible and amazing place. How did we get so lucky? Various forms of the anthropic principle can be invoked to take the worshipful edge away from our contemplation of earth's majestic match to the improbable requirements for life ("Don't marvel that everything has worked out just right for life - if those coincidence hadn't occurred, we wouldn't be here to ask why"). However, I prefer gratitude to a kind and brilliant God who crafted this place for us. Latter-day Saints go a step further by believing that the universe has millions upon millions of earths similar to this one where other sons and daughters of God dwell. We know almost nothing about that, so don't press me for answers! But the wonder of all those galaxies and marvelous creations across the cosmos is not there just for us and our telescopes. There may even be intelligent life on hundreds of other places like this right here in our own galaxy, not to mention the Andromeda Galaxy (M31), Bode's Galaxy (M81), the Black Eye Galaxy (M64), the Sombrero Galaxy (M104), and even the Los Angeles Galaxy (MLS).

Sunday, March 01, 2009

The Power of Keeping a Personal Journal (Daily or Otherwise)

"My Journal, My Testimony" by Salli Hollenzer in the April 2008 Ensign provides a number of blessings the author has experienced in 25 years of faithful journal writing:
I acquired a written family record of details that are a practical source of information. I appreciate searching through my records and finding answers to family history questions such as “What month did Grandpa retire from the Air Force?” It is satisfying to know that family history details are readily accessible in my journal.

I have a clearer, richer memory of the past. It is wonderful to review the thoughts and feelings I felt at my daughter’s baptism or on the day my son entered the missionary training center. I recall the emotions I felt at those events, and a flood of memories returns as I review moments of days gone by.

I found a practical method of setting goals, tracking my progress, and following through on commitments. The pages of my journal are filled with my personal ambitions. I am reminded of my goals, and because of this I feel I have accomplished much more in my life than I might have otherwise.

I discovered a therapeutic means to resolve emotional, social, and spiritual issues I face. As I record thoughts on the pages of my journal, I have learned to quickly get to the heart of the matter when something disturbs me. I am also able to retain the lessons of life easier without having to repeat mistakes of the past.

I have improved my writing skills. I have never taken a writing course, but I have become a better writer simply because I practice writing each day. Recently I have drawn on past experiences to create stories and articles that have been published. A satisfying venue has opened to me because I obeyed the counsel of the prophet.

I have discovered that many of my righteous desires are eventually fulfilled. Many times I have recorded righteous aspirations, and years later I have found that those desires have been granted. This form of importuning the Lord has been so dramatic to me that now, much of what I write is simply an expression of the righteous desires I have for my life and my family. “Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened” (Matthew 7:7). This scripture brings new understanding to me as I humbly ask the Lord for my wants and needs on the pages of my journal.

I have created a form of personal scripture by recording the inspiration and revelations I have received. I’ve come to realize the truth in the words of Elder John H. Groberg, a former member of the Quorum of the Seventy: “There is something eternal in the very nature of writing, as is so graphically illustrated by the scriptures themselves. In a very real sense, our properly written histories are a very important part of our family scripture and become a great source of spiritual strength to us and to our posterity.” Occasionally I return to my journal to reflect on former thoughts and am filled with the Spirit as I read previous spiritual promptings.

Personal journal keeping is one of those LDS best practices that anybody can do. It's an expression of our interest in family history, the importance of human life, and the value of the written word.

I started a personal journal in 7th grade. Was nearly daily for a long time, now less so, but still important. My journals are treasured - though some treasures make me want to grab the matches. My 7th-grade entries were too frequently about who I happened to have a crush on, and dealing with rejection. "Didn't think about [name] today - making progress." Ouch.

Every two or three years, when I looked back at what I was writing two or three years ago, I would say, "Yikes - can't believe I was so stupid then. Well, I'm glad I've got everything straightened out now." Hmmm. But apart from foolishness and stupidity, my journals are generally pretty inspiring. At least when I remember to write the inspiring stuff. That's why regular writing is so important, because there is inspiring stuff in our lives and many valuable lessons and experience, but we often forget to write them down, leaving us with little more than the obvious big events ("I was born, and then I got a job and had a family") that don't teach us or our posterity a whole lot. So get out that journal and start writing!

Short url for the Ensign article: http://is.gd/liO5. The Ensign has some of the most lengthy URLs for its content of anything on the Web - but I hear they are revising their database to begin using URLs that humans can use and share.