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

Saturday, November 30, 2013

I Need Less Love, Please

I need less love. Less love from some of the alleged Christians who passionately love me but just hate who I am and what I say, think, feel, believe, and do. Less schizophrenic love from zealots who feel that godly love justifies every insult, even profanity, and brings divine approval to any tactic they can devise in the holy war on Mormonism. Imagine a gang with torches in hand telling the family inside that they love them deeply, but just hate the home they live in. That's not the kind of love we need in this world.

Fortunately, much of the angry, burning love expressed by so-called Christians today is not the tangible, 3rd-degree-burns kind of love, but the kind that is delivered via media and speech. It is a virtual jihad with loving Christian suicide bombers blowing themselves up mentally to take out a few hated Mormons. So sad. A Christian mind is a terrible thing to waste, sacrificed in the name of angry love.

Here are some of the remains from the attacks of one such warrior, a Mr. T., who tried to take me with him to paradise. In his first outreach of mercy, his unsolicited email lovingly told me what an idiot I must be for defending Mormon beliefs:
Mormons are the most ignorant of people when it comes to interpreting the Bible.... For some dumb reason Mormons just don't get it. Like all cults though, they try to tell people the Bible foretells about their books. That way they can convince people their religion is from God.... I feel dumb even debating with someone with such ignorance as yours when it comes to scripture interpretation.
In response, I simply asked if he always began conversations with strangers by telling them how stupid they are. I then wished him well and closed. No interest in debating him, of course.

There was a glimmer of hope when he replied and admitted that he was a rude in his email and promised that it wouldn't happen again. Then over the coming week he began a barrage of attacks on Mormon doctrine with links to questionable videos and other sources I was not interested in. I explained I was not interested in this and could he please take me off his distribution list. I've made three four five six requests now. May need to make several more, I suppose, or just have his email be blocked with a spam filter.

His following emails have been peppered with statements that I find impolite, though perhaps Christians more spiritually advanced than I may have a more enlightened definition of "rude." For example, after a long list of arguments that were supposedly enough to turn me away from my faith, he said:
If that's not enough, your [sic] a hopeless case. Just stay Bible dumb then! A 5 year old child interprets scripture better than you. My preacher laughs at your ignorance.
Sounds like he's got a pretty jovial preacher. Keep those laughs coming.

Another email salvo contained profanity, using the s-word to express his loving views on my faith, and his most recently launched missive took the Lord's name in vain, in my opinion, in expressing his shock over Mormonism. Nothing but good Christian profanity, of course.

"WAR!!!!" was the subject line for another round of incoming fire directed to me and another Mormon defender wherein our Christian friend declared a most holy war. Not a war driven by hate, of course, but fueled by sincere love for us. Love was the reason he would be recruiting many other warriors to join him in his jihad against Mormonism:
I will keep attacking back, in defence [sic] of my Lord Jesus whom you are calling a liar, and teaching blasphemous doctrines which are straight from the pit of Hell! I have a righteous anger, not a hateful one. I love YOU but hate how the enemy has got you so trapped and convinced that the garbage your spreading is of God. Your spreading lies on you tube [sic]. The Bible talks about people who lead others away, woe to them who lead others into sin, more than the ones who sin. As far as YouTube is concerned, I'm raising an army of friends to post against your trash. Let the war begin!!!
Well, Mr. T., I am flattered by your love, but I am really not your type and need a little less of your love right now. A lot less, if possible. Your angry love of Mormons is misguided and overblown, or perhaps over blown up.   

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Handel's Messiah Comes to Shanghai: A Majestic Evening

Tonight was one of my most memorable evenings in China with a sold-out performance of Handel's Messiah in Shanghai's premier concert hall at the majestic Shanghai Oriental Arts Center in PuDong. A number of church choirs and musicians came together to create one of the best performances I can remember. With superb direction, the voices of the choir and the soloists were crisp and clear. The excellent acoustics must have helped as well. The beauty of the performance made it much easier to contemplate what Handel had achieved in this musical testimony of the Savior. How marvelous that this performance was not only allowed by the government, but that it was sold-out, with an audience overwhelmingly composed of Chinese people. I hope some of them were brought closer to the majesty of Jesus Christ through this sublime experience.

I don't think there were any advertisements for this very religious program. I am guessing that publicity was largely through word of mouth. Many thanks to the performers and the organizers who made this possible. A beautiful, majestic evening. 


Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Don't Get Too Excited About the New DNA Evidence Linking Native Americans and the Middle East

Some Latter-day Saints might be getting overly excited about a valuable new finding regarding the DNA of Native Americans. For an overview, see "'Great Surprise'—Native Americans Have West Eurasian Origins" at National Geographic's Daily News, Nov. 20, 2013. The leading paragraph, though, certainly seems like the kind of thing that would excite Book of Mormon fans:
Nearly one-third of Native American genes come from west Eurasian people linked to the Middle East and Europe, rather than entirely from East Asians as previously thought, according to a newly sequenced genome.
Yes, intriguing. Read the report, and then realize that while there may be a significant chunk of Western Eurasian / Middle Eastern DNA among modern Native Americans, the genetic ties may be too ancient to be of direct value to Book of Mormon studies. But the study does remind us of several important things:
  1. Scientists have not yet figured out the origins of all Native Americans based on DNA and other evidence. 
  2. Using DNA to trace the origins of people is complex and tentative. 
  3. Abandoning the Book of Mormon due to the alleged lack of Middle Eastern DNA in the Americans may be a bit premature.
  4. DNA science does not rule out the possibility of ancient migrations of small groups from Western Eurasia or the Middle East to the New World. 
Science is forever tentative, with many surprises yet to come. This "great surprise" should at least open up some interesting new topics for debate and further discovery regarding the complex genetic roots of Native Americans.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Taxed With a Tax?

Taxes, the bane of the common people and the key to wealth and power for the ruling class, are mentioned in the Book of Mormon with puzzling language that most editors would strike out instantly. Mosiah 7:15 gives the lament of a people in bondage who were "taxed with a tax which is grievous to be borne." The word "taxed" occurs in the KJV Bible four times, but not the redundant "taxed with a tax" concept. A search on Google Books finds no books prior to 1830 with that phrase. But it does look like a plausible Hebraism, reflecting a valid Hebrew expression. From "Hebraisms and Other Ancient Peculiarities in the Book of Mormon" by Donald W. Parry in Echoes and Evidences of the Book of Mormon, we read the following:
Cognate Accusative

The cognate accusative is a direct object noun that shares the same root as the preceding verb, as in Joseph "dreamed a dream" (Genesis 37:5) instead of the more customary English rendering "Joseph had a dream." The Hebrew Bible contains numerous ex-amples of the cognate accusative (e.g., Genesis 1:11; 9:14; Numbers 11:4; Psalm 14:5; 144:6; Isaiah 35:2; Joel 3:1), although literal representations of this form is generally not used in translation.

The Book of Mormon contains many instances of the cognate accusative, including "I will curse them even with a sore curse" (1 Nephi 2:23; see 2 Nephi 1:22; Jacob 3:3), "Behold I have dreamed a dream" (1 Nephi 3:2; 8:2), "yoketh them with a yoke" (1 Nephi 13:5), "I will work a great and a marvelous work" (1 Nephi 14:7), "build buildings" (2 Nephi 5:15; Mosiah 23:5), "this was the desire which I desired of him" (Enos 1:13), "succor those that stand in need of your succor" (Mosiah 4:16), "taxed with a tax" (Mosiah 7:15), "work all manner of fine work" (Mosiah 11:10; Ether 10:23), "judge righteous judgments" (Mosiah 29:29, 43), "sing the song" (Alma 5:26), and "fear exceedingly, with fear" (Alma 18:5).
Some of these expressions are related to ones found in the Bible. Some related phrases in the Bible such as "shouted with a loud (or great) shout" were used in other texts that in theory could have influenced Joseph Smith. So sure, it's possible for one to get some of this kind of language from the Bible. But taxed with a tax and some of the other Book of Mormon phrases showing cognate accusative patterns just seem so strange to me. I'm glad to know that they make sense as Hebraic expressions, and am grateful that some of this awkward English was preserved in our text.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Bogus Parallels Versus Christianity: Don't Be the Next Naive Victim

Recent posts here have explored how parallels between the Book of Mormon and a modern book have led to some foolishly proclaiming to have exposed the Book of Mormon as a fraud. Creatively molding parallels into seemingly convincing but bogus evidence for fraud isn't just a hobby for anti-Mormons, but has also been a tool of some seeking to undermine Christianity in general. Daniel Peterson laments a recent victim of these tactics who abandoned not just her LDS faith but her belief in Christ after reading a book explaining how Christianity is a fraud that has simply been lifted from other ancient religions that all had the very same concepts, including a son of God who came to earth and was crucified--yes, many pagan gods came to earth and were crucified, just like Jesus Christ, so it is said--, then resurrected and ascended to heaven, just like Christ. Pretty impressive, right?

In an article for the Deseret News, "Defending the Faith: 'Parallels' of prophets not parallel," explains that this assembly of parallels, now found in many sources in print and on the web, ultimately derives from a single source: "The World's Sixteen Crucified Saviors: Christianity Before Christ," an 1875 book by an American atheist named Kersey Graves. The book in several forms is available at Archive.org. With no references cited, Graves simply declares that extensive parallels exist between the details of Jesus Christ and numerous other ancient deities, showing, he claims, that Christianity was simply made up, swiping concepts already out there. The virgin birth, His status as Son of God, the miracles, the teachings, the Crucifixion, the Resurrection, etc., all are allegedly plagiarized from Mithra, Osiris, Baal, etc. And it's all nonsense, Peterson explains. In many cases Graves is simply making stuff up, creating parallels that aren't really there. Sad that some have lost their faith over such stuff. 

Yes, there are interesting parallels between religions, and as Latter-day Saints, we understand that many ancients including Book of Mormon writers had teachings about the future Messiah who would come as Son of God, be slain, and rise again. The theme of ascending to God is an important one in the ancient world, and we should not be surprised to find scattered parallels between our faith and many other faiths. See, for example, The Sacred and the Profane by Mircea Eliade. Properly understood, the parallels that actually do exist can be meaningful and can help us better appreciate other faiths and the possibility of some common ancient roots. But when it comes to the extreme parallels that are used to declare Christianity a fraud, the real basis for fraud is in the fabrications from Kersey Graves. His undocumented allegations are not to be trusted at all.

One resource for exploding the bogus parallels against Christianity is "Evidence for Jesus and Parallel Pagan 'Crucified Saviors' Examined" by Philip J. Porvaznik. Gets into the details of each of the alleged 16 crucified saviors of pagan lore. Interesting.

Don't be the next victim of bogus parallels undermining Christianity, including LDS Christianity. Parallels, like scientific data, can be meaningful when the right questions are asked and the right tools are applied. But when the data are simply fabricated or twisted beyond recognition, look out.


Monday, November 18, 2013

Shulem in the Book of Abraham: Possible Plausibility?

In my LDSFAQ page on the Book of Abraham, Part 2, I have previously acknowledged that one of the weakest aspects of the Book of Abraham is the part where, in Facsimile 3, Joseph Smith says a particular figure represents "Shulem, one of the king's principal waiters, as represented by the characters above his hand" when in fact, the Egyptian above his head says, "The Osiris Hor, justified forever". The man's name is Hor, not Shulem, and it says nothing of being a waiter. This had been a favorite point of attack for critics and a serious puzzle for Latter-day Saints. In discussing this puzzle, I previously cited a passage of Nibley that shows how Osiris could be identified with a high-ranking butler, and then I made this comment:
So identifying Osiris with a high-ranking butler is plausible in Egyptian lore. But why did Joseph say Shulem's name is on the facsimile, when it isn't? I don't know. Perhaps it's a mistake. Perhaps something has been switched or lost that would clarify things. Perhaps Joseph was just dozing here, while still getting inspiration on many aspects of the story. 

Could there be some aspect of correctness in what Joseph said about Shulem? Joseph's comment regarding Figure 5 is "Shulem, one of the king's principal waiters, as represented by the characters above his hand." What does "represented" mean? Is a symbolic representation of the waiter sufficient, or does it need to literally spell out Shulem? I don't know. I lean toward the possibility that Joseph understood the scene that was meant to be conveyed by the editors of the Book of Abraham with their adaptation of an Egyptian drawing, but that Joseph made a mistake in assuming that Shulem's name was written on the facsimile by his hand. However, if subsequent information reveals that there was another drawing that Joseph's comments better fit, or that Shulem's name is somehow represented in other ways on that drawing or on the orignal drawing that went with the Book of Abraham, then I'll be OK. For now, in light of abundant evidences that Joseph understood some broad and counterintuitive Egyptian concepts associated with the facsimilies, I'm not going to dump the Book of Abraham or Joseph Smith because of an apparent minor error. But if you're looking for a reason to abandon both, this is as good as any--and yet I think you'd be making a mistake far more serious than Joseph's.
Recently I learned of an interesting though still somewhat speculative approach to this problem which may fulfill the hopes expressed above.  

First, consider the name Shulem. Others have already noted that it can have a meaning related to the divine ascension theme that is related to the Book of Abraham and the Egyptian scene depitcted in Facs. 3 (see Val Sederholm, "Shulem or Ladder, One of the King's Principal Waiters"). Intriguing. Next, Ryan Larsen in the past few weeks has offered an interesting observation and hypothesis in a preliminary post on Facebook, "My Perspective On Book Of Abraham Arguments". He relates Shulem to the Hebrew word shulam, related to the Hebrew word for peace and completeness, shalom. As we read at Wikipedia (see also another article on the meaning of shalom), shulam can have the meaning of "fully paid for," possibly corresponding to "justified" in Joseph Smith's commentary. Then its possible to connection to "ladder" and the theme of ascension adds further possible interest--though it could all just be an interesting random parallel. Yes, I know, those do happen.

Larsen also observes Joseph's original comment referred to "kings" without an apostrophe, and he feels that was intentional. Then, observing that Hor, the priest, would have a role as a servant to Egyptian gods, including preparing ritual meals and other duties, it would be fair to call that priest a "waiter" to the gods = "kings." Thus, the justified man serving the gods/kings could be related to Shulem, a principal waiter of the kings, or the kings' principal waiter. No mention of Hor, though. Still, with Shulem meaning justified, etc., one could argue that Joseph Smith's comment may actually have been inspired and worded in a way that would be acceptable for those willing to exercise a little faith, while still leaving room for skepticism, not removing the need for faith. That's actually how much of the Book of Abraham is (and ditto for the Book of Mormon): impressive, if faith is present, and easy to reject if you want to or if faith is absent. I'll say more about Ryan Larsen's views in the future. I think they may have merit. Your views? Is it possible that one of the weakest apparent flaws on the Book of Abraham actually might have a touch of plausibility? I'm putting this on hold for now, but look forward to learning more.


Saturday, November 16, 2013

Parallels with The Leaves of Grass: More Insights


Many thanks to Ben McGuire not only for his painstaking rebuttal of the “Late Great War Against the Book of Mormon,” but also for responding to my inquiries about statistics of various texts. He kindly ran some analysis on Leaves of Grass (using the text at Gutenberg.org) and the Book of Mormon, since I have previously pointed to Leaves of Grass as a superior albeit impossible candidate for plagiarism compared to the sources critics have been offering as smoking guns. I was hoping that the techniques used by critics to promote The Late War as the ultimate best modern source for Book of Mormon plagiarism would make the Leaves of Grass look even better, but my hopes were not quite fulfilled. Naturally, there is a huge difference in style that will result in far fewer four-word matches in Whitman’s writing because he was NOT writing in redundant scriptural style with Elizabethan English, but was writing fresh, modern poetry loaded with fresh and original phrasing and built of a huge vocabulary.  But the statistics are still interesting.

Here is what Ben reported from his analysis:

Word Count:
BoM: 269,551
LoG: 126,543

Vocabulary:
BoM: 5,638 (very small for a book its size)
LoG: 12,399 (huge for a book its size)
Shared Vocabulary: 3,054 (marginally higher than expected - this probably helps account for some of your similarities)

Unique three-word Locutions
BoM: 141,342
LoG: 113,608
Shared three-word Locutions: 3,846

Unique four-word Locutions:
BoM: 202,830
LoG: 123,470
Shared four-word Locutions: 609

Of those 609 occurrences, 360 of them are had in common with the KJV [leaving 249 four-word locutions shared between Whitman and the Book of Mormon that are not also in the KJV].

Interestingly enough, only 206 four-word parallels show up between Whitman and The Late War. This in itself wasn't as fascinating as the other issue – of those 206, zero were in common with the KJV. This is actually a fairly startling since Whitman has 1,243 parallels in common with the KJV – The Late War had 2,341 four-word phrases in common with the KJV – but it was trying to imitate that text. So that is certainly an oddity.

These are highly interesting, but The Great War has even more four-word and higher count shared locutions, which is really not surprising since it’s using Elizabethan English.

Ben impressed me with his careful commentary and observations. Instead, let me add mine, which are slightly more tongue-in-cheek, to illustrate some of the dangers of looking too hard for things that aren’t there. Here we go:

How curious that Whitman’s unique, modern poetic style would give so much in common with the Book of Mormon. Is that just due to chance? Well, sure, the Mormon apologist might say. But look at what we have.

Friday, November 15, 2013

Parallels for the 2,000 Stripling Warriors in the Book of Alma: More Smoke from the Smoking Gun?

This is a follow-up to my length post on "Curious Parallels" between the Book of Mormon and The Late War Against the United States.

While it's hard not to yawn at many of the parallels from the latest, greatest smoking gun for Book of Mormon plagiarism, some of the parallels from that obscure book, The Late War Against the United States, are certainly interesting, at least on first glance at the way they are presented by the critics. That was the case for the parallels to a battle scene said to match a dramatic Book of Mormon scene in which a defensive ditch around a walled city was being filled up by the slain attackers. Turns out the smoking gun text wasn't quite aiming in that direction, at least not with any sense of a ditch being filled. Another curious parallel appeared to be a direct hit for Lehi's discovery of the Liahona, but when one notices that The Late War is discussing a naval battle in which the "balls" are tethered mines called torpedoes, the inspiration for Lehi finding the sacred direction-pointing Liahona outside of his tent in the desert seems a little less clear. If only Joseph hadn't done so much work in revising nearly every plagiarized concept, we would then have a much more tell-tale account of Lehi and his sacred torpedo, blowing up enemies as they sailed along the Eastern seaboard. That would make life easier for the anti-Mormons.

One more parallel that stood out as being interesting involved the term "strippling warriors." As with "curious workmanship," it's a phrase we just don't use today unless we are quoting the Book of Mormon. So when critics pointed to a stripling parallel in The Late War, that got my attention. It gets especially interesting when some critics point out that The Late War mentions both strippling warriors and 2,000 soldiers, just like the 2,000 stripling warriors in the Book of Alma. Whoa, that sounds pretty compelling. So are these 2,000 soldiers associated with stripling warriors by chance? Young Indians who have joined the Americans as the youth of converted Lamanites joined the Nephites? And are these courageous striplings only able to fight because they were too young to be part of a covenant their converted parents made to bury their blood-stained weapons and never take up weapons weapons? In a word, no. That is the context that those who know the Book of Mormon think of when they hear "stripling warriors." That is the content, the meat of an interesting story. The smoking gun of plagiarism gives us one word, "stripling"--not even the phrase "stripling warrior"--and there's just one, not 2,000. In some other part of the text there is a reference to 2,000 soldiers, and many other numbers, including nice round ones that are found through war stories everywhere, no plagiarism required. This is not the sort of smoke that real smoking guns emit, in my opinion, especially when we realize that "stripling" was a much more common part of the vocabulary in Joseph's day and is a reasonable way to convey the notion of a young person. Many examples can be offered, but here's one: "stripling warrior" (both words, not just one) occurs in Jerusalem Delivered: An Heroic Poem, by Torquato Tasso, John Hoole, Samuel Johnson, 1764, vol. 1, p. 102. A quick glance reveals that several other Book of Mormon themes can be found there with, perhaps, more relevance (by chance) than typically occurs in The Late War.

Also see statistical data on the word "stripling" in old books, presented at ForgottenBooks. org. It takes a pretty creative plagiarizer to come up with so much Book of Mormon material that is so weakly related to its source. I think it's more reasonable to suspect that The Late War had little or nothing to do with the Book of Mormon apart from the natural relationships you will get from being written in a similar style with some similar material (war). Otherwise, what plausible mechanism was used in crafting that work of plagiarism from that book and others? How does The Late War come anywhere close to explaining Book of Mormon origins, or, as one critic triumphantly announced to the applause of ex-Mormons, to destroying Mormonism? Wishful thinking, mingled with statistics.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

On Parallels and Plagiarism: Shouldn't Plagiarism Make Life Easier for the Plagiarist?

A favorite tactic for attacking the Book of Mormon today is to find parallels in other modern texts from Joseph Smith's day or before, and then argue that they are evidence for plagiarism or at least "influence" enough to rule out the Book of Mormon as an ancient text translated with the power of God. My two previous posts deal with this topic and draw in part upon Benjamin McGuire's response at Mormon Interpreter to a recent statistical effort pointing to an alleged "smoking gun" for alleged fabrication of the Book of Mormon.

With statistical analysis, it is possible to find numerous brief parallels scattered throughout any two texts. Finding chunks of four words at a time can be interesting, but what does it tell us about authorship? When we apply what critics are finding in this recent case or in any case of alleged plagiarism or influence, what we tend to get implicitly is a process in which Joseph Smith's "plagiarism" did something that plagiarists usually try to avoid: making life harder rather than easier for the fabricator/author. These smoking guns don't offer nice, polished sections of plagiarized text and detailed stories that Joseph could lift and use to simplify his life. Rather, it looks like the process of composing his text was one of incredible tedium, pausing every few words to snatch three, four, or five words from a text somewhere, or turning to another text for a tiny idea that could be momentarily adapted. Occasionally a bit of imagination was used to complete the plagiarism. For example, in describing the scene of Lehi finding the Liahona, one of the impressive parallels I discuss in my previous post would imply that Joseph turned to The Late War and found a passage about ships being sunk by torpedoes, and in the description of a torpedo, found and applied the word "ball." This resulting curious workmanship of the portable and non-explosive Liahona in the final text is certainly better than having Lehi find a mystic torpedo outside his tent, but turning to a naval scene in The Late War at that point for guidance on what Lehi would find in the desert just seems like an easy way to make life unnecessarily difficult for a young plagiarizer. 

But if all these parallels are the result of mere exposure to various sources that were digested and used almost subconsciously by Joseph, rather than being directly applied in overt plagiarism as some have suggested, then where do the many snatches of four-word phrases come from, if not from chance and natural overlap when similar style is used and related topics are discussed? Read these other works, then look at the real content of the Book of Mormon, and explain how they account for anything. The latest smoking gun gives us very faint smoke indeed.

Update, Nov. 14, 2013:  Wait a second. If we Mormons are now discounting parallels, aren’t we discounting much of the evidence for the Book of Mormon as an ancient book since a good portion of that is based on parallels as well? Parallels, like experimental data in scientific research (e.g., individual positive or negative results in a pharmaceutical trial), can be meaningful and give insight, when the right test is conducted, when the right questions are asked, and when the right analysis is done. To argue against the irrelevance of bad data ("big" or otherwise) based on flawed work and errant assumptions is not to discount all research and data per se. When loose parallels with another text and some similar phrases might theoretically account for, say, far less than 1% of a text, the work of explaining the origins of that text is hardly done. There is much more to say on the proper applications of parallels and data to Book of Mormon studies that I will address later.

Curious Parallels Between the Book of Mormon and The Late War Against the United States


As a follow up to my previous post about "The Late Great War Against the Book of Mormon," there are some interesting parallels between The Late War and the Book of Mormon that have gained some attention, especially among our critics. For example, one writer, convinced that The Late War was an important source for the Book of Mormon, provides a lengthy list of parallels over at Patheos, some of which seem noteworthy. Some, though, are a bit of a stretch. Read The Late War and try explaining to me how that actually accounts for the Book of Mormon. Further analysis and responses to the charges will later be provided on my LDSFAQ page dealing with allegations of plagiarism in the Book of Mormon.

The Patheos article begins its list with this impressive parallel:

A battle at a fort where righteous white protagonists are attacked by an army made up of dark-skinned natives driven by a white military leader. The white protagonists are prepared for battle and slaughter their opponents to such an extent that they fill the trenches surrounding the fort with dead bodies. The surviving elements flee into the wilderness/forest (pp. 102-4, 29:1-23) Alma 49:10-25

As with most of the parallels, much of the content is a fairly natural description of details of war. Forts, walls, and ditches are not that unusual, though I’ll admit it was only recently that scholars recognized how important they were in ancient Mesoamerica. Further, preparing for battle, fighting, suffering casualties and fleeing--these are not very unique nor impressive. The filling of the ditch with the wounded is getting a bit more unique because it is so extreme and memorable. But is that what The Late War actually says? Pages 102-104 describe a battle at a fort with a deep ditch around it. As in many battles there are casualties, as we read in the key sentence on page 104: “And the deep ditch that surrounded the fort was strewed with their slain and their wounded.” The word “strewed” does not convey the “filling” by numerous bodies as in the Book of Mormon, but can have more of a sense of bodies scattered around the ditch, not bodies piled high. Hmm, rephrasing that as “filling” the ditch and scoring it as a strong parallel suggests we may be dealing with a less than objective approach by the author. Indeed, it may give us a taste of what is to come in the parallels that follow.

Then the defeated troops fled into the forest and straight back to their vessel. Does that really equate with the wilderness of the Book of Mormon?

The vast majority of the parallels from The Late War naturally involve war, and often the details of war, with parallels generally found in Alma’s detailed accounts of some wars the Nephites fought. While critics feel that their often contrived parallels somehow explain the authorship of the Book of Mormon based upon the cumulative impression these parallels create, mingled with bogus statistical tools, there is a severe absence of clearly plagiarized material of the kind that would make life easier for a lazy plagiarist. The Book of Mormon is “explained” by plagiarism from The Late War even less than the New Testament is “explained” as a work of plagiarism from, say, Isaiah (and in that case, we know Isaiah was actually quoted frequently).

Detailed accounts of actual war have parallels with the Book of Mormon because the Book of Mormon text has intricate details steeped in the realities of real war, something Joseph Smith was not acquainted with. The issues of recruiting, chain of command, supply chains, managing prisoners, negotiations with the enemy, deception, strategy of many kinds, the challenges of marches and terrain, the relationship between seasons and warfare, morale of the troops, weaponry, armor, fortifications, wounds, and numerous other details that we often miss provide a consistent and remarkable tapestry that speaks of authorship from someone besides Joseph Smith. There is an entire book of warfare in the Book of Mormon that only partially explores the deep war-related content of that ancient book.

While many of the realities of war apply to any setting, including the war of 1812, much of what is in the Book of Mormon has an ancient flavor that Joseph could not have fabricated. The chapter on warfare in John Sorenson’s recent Mormon’s Codex also should be read by anyone even mildly impressed with The Late War as a possible explanation for the Book of Mormon. The Mesoamerican elements consistent with the Book of Mormon, and foreign to what Joseph might have known, deserve serious consideration. But the common elements with almost all war will make for easy parallel hunting, but none of these parallels explain authorship.

Something Curious about that Book

One of the parallels that I felt was most interesting, at least initially, involves a phrase that one might think is a distinctive Book of Mormon term: “curious workmanship.” If you Google that phrase, the first page of hits will be dominated by links related to the Book of Mormon and LDS lore.  Here are the related parallels mentioned at Patheos, which definitely caught my interest:

A man builds a boat of “curious workmanship”, despite the mocking and scoffing of others. The latter are humbled when they see the completed product. (pp. 192-193, 50:2-7, 12) 1 Nephi 17:17-18; 18:1-4

A “ball” made out of “brass” of “curious work” with clocklike spindles (p. 195, 50:28) 1 Nephi 16:10

Swords of fine/curious “workmanship” (p. 42, 12:12; p. 44, 13:13; p. 58, 16:24) 1 Nephi 4:9

The Book of Mormon references are:

1 Nephi 16: 10
And it came to pass that as my father arose in the morning, and went forth to the tent door, to his great astonishment he beheld upon the ground a round ball of curious workmanship; and it was of fine brass. And within the ball were two spindles; and the one pointed the way whither we should go into the wilderness.

1 Nephi 18:1
And it came to pass that they did worship the Lord, and did go forth with me; and we did work timbers of curious workmanship. And the Lord did show me from time to time after what manner I should work the timbers of the ship.

Ether 10:27
And they did make all manner of weapons of war. And they did work all manner of work of exceedingly curious workmanship.

(Note: 1 Nephi 4:9 is presented as sort of a “curious workmanship” hit at Patheos, but that verse doesn’t use the word curious. Instead, Nephi observes that “the workmanship” of Laban’s sword was fine. But Ether 10:27 refers to curious workmanship right after a mention of weapons. )

How impressive are the parallels cited at Patheos?

I’ve already noted that the last parallel cited isn’t completely fair since the Book of Mormon doesn’t use “curious workmanship” in the cited verse. But things are better in the first parallel. Here is The Late War text, pp. 192-193, featuring chapter 50, verses 2-7, 12:

2 Among these there appeared one whose ingenuity was exceedingly great inasmuch as it astonished all the inhabitants of the earth :

3 Now the name of this man was Robert, sir-named Fulton; but the cold hand of death fell upon him, and he slept with his fathers, on the twenty and third day of the second month of the eighteen hundred and fifteenth year of the Christian era.

4 However, the things which he brought into practice in his life time will be recorded, and his name spoken of by generations yet unborn.

5 Although, like other men of genius, in these days, he was spoken of but slightly at first; for the people said, Lo ! the man is beside himself! and they laughed at him; nevertheless, he exceeded their expectations.

6 For it came to pass, that (assisted by Livingston, a man of wealth, and a lover of arts and learning) lie was enabled to construct certain curious vessels, called the vernacular tongue, steam-boats.

7 Now these steam-boats were cunningly contrived and had abundance of curious workmanship therein, such as surpassed the comprehension of all the wise men of the east, from the beginning to this day.

12 But when the scoffers, the enemies of Fulton, and the gainsayers, saw that the boats moved pleasantly upon the river, they began to be ashamed of their own ignorance and stupidity, and were fain to get into the boats themselves; after which, instead of laughing, they gaped at the inventor with astonishment.

Yes, Robert Fulton built a boat alright, and some folks laughed at him. But is there anything about this story that makes it helpful to an eager plagiarist in need of material, lots of material, for his book? If this is THE SOURCE that Joseph relied on above all other sources, why is so little of the material used?

Maybe things will be more clear with the remaining “curious” parallel above, the one that looks most impactful with its kinship to the Liahona. Here is the cited text from The Late War, verse 28 of chapter 50, p. 195:

Thursday, November 07, 2013

Another Fun Statistical Squabble Over Book of Mormon Origins

Hot dog! An intriguing statistical squabble is underway in Mormondom. You can dig into the details in Benjamin L. McGuire's excellent article, "The Late War Against the Book of Mormon" over at one of the leading sources for LDS scholarship and Mormon studies, The Mormon Interpreter.

There's nothing like a battle of statistics to kick off the holiday season, with Thanksgiving and Christmas in the air. Santa Claus displays, Christmas trees, ornaments, and all sorts of Christmas paraphernalia are now on sale now in Shanghai, here in the atheist nation that isn't ashamed to keep the word "Christ" in Christmas, and where you can enjoy actual religious hymns being played in drug stores and elevators.

McGuire takes on yet another attempt by critics to explain away the Book of Mormon as some sort of plagiarism from modern sources. For some background on this theme, see my LDSFAQ page on plagiarism and the Book of Mormon. In this newest attack, a highly questionable method has been used to look for "influence" between texts based on four-word strings that they have in common. An allegedly strong influence for the Book of Mormon is found in a text published in 1816: The Late War Between the United States and Great Britain. As is fairly typical for the many books alleged to have influenced the imagined bookworm Joseph Smith or to have been sources for material in the Book of Mormon, there is no evidence that he actually ever saw this book, much less relied on it whenever he needed, say, a four-word phrase such as, say, "entitled an act supplementary." Oh, my mistake (and that of the critics): that was one of the 75 matches out of 479 total between the two texts that come from the widespread boilerplate of the copyright statement at the beginning of the books. There are quite a few other problems with the attack that McGuire skewers nicely.

However, I'd like to add a couple of my comments. Books like The Late War, by virtue of being deliberately written in scriptural style, would seem to be much more likely to use different words and grammar patterns than others in normal prose. Even after direct matches from the Bible are subtracted, the higher incidence of words like "unto" instead of "to" and "verily" and so forth have got to make it more likely for this kind of statistical analysis to highlight similarities when there may be zero actual influence.

The Tanners have pointed out a number of three and four-word parallels in the Book of Mormon with other texts, alleging plagiarism. I had some fun with the weakness of their argument by showing much more impressive Book of Mormon parallels with another text, Whitman's Leaves of Grass. OK, there is the slight problem that the Book of Mormon was written first, but the evidence for Joseph's plagiarism is still far more impressive than with any other alleged modern source I've seen, which only proves the weakness of using occasional parallels in phrasing as evidence to explain away the Book of Mormon. My apologies to those whose faith was shaken by my little spoof.

Benjamin, if you read this, could you also apply statistical tools to compare Whitman's work with the Book of Mormon and see how it fares relative to The Late War? I'm curious.

Also, for those needing a little more math, see the follow-up article, "A Bayesian Cease-Fire in the Late War on the Book of Mormon" by G. Bruce Schaalje. Bayesian statistics--now that's something to bring in the holiday spirit! On average, that is, and after the fact.

Update, Nov. 8, 2013: You can read the text of the Late Great War at Archive.org. Brace yourself, fellow Mormons. There are some interesting, non-trivial parallels such as the phrase "curious workmanship" and arguable parallels in some of the military conflicts. Maybe not as interesting as the parallels in The Leaves of Grass, but that's for you to decide.

Meanwhile, over at BYU Studies, you can also scan the list of books that were in the Manchester library, potentially available to Joseph Smith during preparation of the Book of Mormon, and see that The Late Great War was not there. Is there any evidence that he or anyone close to him was familiar with it?

Tuesday, November 05, 2013

Hush, He Was Christian: Remembering Lao She, One of China's Favorite Authors

When my wife and I were in Beijing last year, we visited a small memorial and museum dedicated to one of China's most famous and beloved novelists, Lao She.

Tucked away in the small alleys of old Beijing, the memorial was his former residence starting in 1950. Almost as soon as one departs from the mundane and chaotic world of Beijing's alleys and crosses the threshold into his former habitat, one can sense that this is a sacred place, a place for reverence and remembering. Part of that sense comes from the attitude conveyed by the staff working or volunteering there. One man in particular, the main caretaker I think, had a spirit about him and his work that made this visit unlike any other visit I've made to memorials, residences, temples, and shrines in China. He was not just doing a job there, but somehow serving a mission. He was more like an LDS temple president than a museum worker, and he was delighted to have two people asking golden questions that allowed him to share more.

During the inspiring visit to Lao She's memorial, I resolved to not forget Lao She. Yesterday I completed his most famous novel, Rickshaw Boy. Brilliant, beautiful, and depressing. I finished a recent and excellent English translation. I'm almost halfway through the Chinese, which is too difficult for me but so rewarding, though slow. His language is captivating and so effective, in spite of being a foreigner missing much of the power that is there. My experience with Rickshaw Boy has given me much to ponder and several dreams as well, and moves me to mention Lao She today.

At the memorial and in subsequent reading, we learned that Lao She was a member of a poor family in the Manchu minority which suffered and lost much as the Han majority overthrew Manchu rule in China in the founding of the Republic. As he grew and matured, he was a patriot who spoke out against foreign intrusions in his own land. During the Second Sino-Japanese War (1937-45), he led an organization of writers in boldly speaking out against their invaders. Later, while in the U.S., he would return to China to add his strength to rebuild China as the Revolution was moving forward. Though loyal to China, in 1966 during the darkest days of the tragic Cultural Revolution, a foreign couple would interview him and quote him as saying something critical of the Party. Hours after the published account was read and reported to authorities, Red Guard soldiers came to his home and beat him. According to some accounts, they destroyed some of his works and promised to return tomorrow to continue their vengeance for his alleged crime. Feeling all was lost and not willing to bring any further shame upon himself and his household, he left and apparently drowned himself in nearby Taiping lake that evening, Aug. 24, 1966. Or perhaps he was "suicided"--helped along in the suicide. It was a terrible time and a painful loss for the world.

Lao She, was actually a Christian, though that seems to be something of a secret over here in atheist China, where millions have read and studied his words probably without knowing of his belief in God and Christ. His connection with Christianity is also a secret in Wikipedia and Britannica, though perhaps that missing fact will be added sometime soon. A good overview of his life recognizing his Christianity is available at the New World Encyclopedia, though that site is not fully reliable. In Ranbir Vohra's 1974 book, Lao She and the Chinese Revolution (Cambridge, MA: Harvard College, p. 13), we read a little about his conversion:
Some doubt remains about the exact time of Lao She’s conversion to Christianity but it is certain that he did become a Christian at one time or another. From the facts available it seems more likely that it was before, rather than after, his visit abroad [to London in 1924]. From all that has been said earlier in this chapter, Lao She’s life seems to have been extremely difficult before 1924. He gave up his job and was not able to marry the girl he loved; he was poor and his work was taxing. He could easily have lost faith in the new Republican China, which took away much more than the Manchu pension from his mother. It had taken away Lao She’s identity. He had to search for a new value system; and the self-denying Christian faith, which provided ultimate hope to its followers, may have proved the spar that saved him from drowning.
Frankly, it appears that little is known about his conversion and his private beliefs. It also seems unclear what role Christianity played in his life after his voluntary return to an officially atheist nation. But I'm pleased to count him as a Christian brother, secret or otherwise. Further, I think we also share great hope for the future of China and its peoples. May he be remembered.

Update, Nov. 6, 2013: While Wiki and Britannica are silent on the issue of religion, China's own Baidu.com has a biography of Lao She that acknowledges his belief in Christianity. Kudos!

Other resources:
  • "Lao She," The Columbia Encyclopedia of Modern Drama, Vol. 1.
  • "Lao She," Britannica.com
  • "Lao She," Baidu.com (in Chinese),

Saturday, November 02, 2013

Glitch at the Maxwell Institute: Website Redesign Breaks Hundreds of Links

UPDATE, Nov. 3, 2013: The good folks at the Maxwell Institute are aware of the website glitch (that's my little euphemism for disaster) and are working on a fix (a few hours of adding redirects on their site ought to do it, in my opinion). The promise of a fix means this: "If you liked your links, you can keep them." Now that's a promise I hope we can trust. I think they won't even need any superstars from Google for this little Mormon tech rally. And with luck, they won't be getting any government help for their website. But if the fix can't be done in a day or two, then it's back to doom and gloom since I'll need to spend a large chunk of my free time manually repairing all my links to articles on their website. 

UPDATE 2, Nov. 4, 2013: Sigh. I must abandon hope for a swift fix. My contact at the Maxwell Institute has informed me that the project to fix the numerous broken links with redirects is a "massive project" that will take much longer than the day or two that I expected. I cannot understand this, but apparently things at BYU complex and difficult. I'll still offer my humble suggestion that perhaps the old website can be resurrected until the knew one is ready to go live. But for now, I guess I need to start manually fixing links myself. Now that's a massive project.


Just in time for Halloween, something frightening rises from the cyber crypts over at the Maxwell Institute, with vaults of extensive scholarship of much interest to defenders of the LDS faith. Great website, rich legacy, and lots of good people make it possible--but an eerie website "glitch" over there threatens to leave many without access to vital information, and is making at least one webmaster and blogger howl.

Thousands of people have been aided by various documents available there, especially the scholarship in a great LDS publication, The Review of Books on the Book of Mormon published by the Maxwell Institute, originally called The FARMS Review of Books. Defenders of the LDS faith have found some of the most useful information in the many pages of those volumes, where many scholars have reviewed and responded to anti-Mormon publications as well as neutral and pro-LDS books. This blog (Mormanity) and my website at JeffLindsay.com,  especially the LDSFAQ area, have frequently found useful information at the Maxwell Institute and linked to it. Hundreds of links, actually. And now many have been broken in a puzzling redesign of MaxwellInstitute.com. It may be slicker in some ways, but if links are broken, it's a serious problem.

Please, don't break links to publications that many people use. [Again, they know this, of course, and are working on a fix. Wish it had been noticed though before the launch.]

Long ago the leaders at the Maxwell Institute (previous leaders) had expressed a commitment to keeping their online content available with links that would function even when the website was redesigned. They learned the importance of this over a decade ago when one of the early redesigns of their database caused links to break and forced webmasters like myself to manually repair broken links one at a time in a painful process. Many users explained the problem and we were relieved to hear that the leadership there was committed to never making such a mistake again. Well, here we go again. 

The old Review is now hard to access, in my opinion. Trying to pull it up brings not a page about the review or anything that one would expect, but partial search results that show a few volumes, obviously with a bug in the sorting algorithm. The volume/issue data are presented in this order: 1/1, 2/1, 3/1, 4/1, 5/1, 6/1, 17/1, 20/1, 7/1, 7/2, and 8/1. Huh? What are volumes 17 and 20 doing between vol. 6, no. 1 and vol. 6, no. 2? Three of the four search results pages have similar oddities, with only the last page of results having things in proper order. 

The real problem for me, though, is that past links to the content in the Review are now broken, and it isn't obvious how to fix them. For example, on my LDSFAQ page on the Book of Abraham,  I cite a 1992 article from John Gee in this way, but here showing my HTML: 
John Gee,  <"http://maxwellinstitute.byu.edu/publications/review/?vol=4&num=1&id=92"  target="_blank">A Tragedy of Errors</a>," Review of Books on the Book of Mormon, Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies, Provo, Utah, 4 (1992): 93-119.
It looks like something like this when viewed in a browser: 
John Gee, "A Tragedy of Errors," Review of Books on the Book of Mormon, Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies, Provo, Utah, 4 (1992): 93-119.
But that link, which has been in place for over a decade and has been helpful to many people, now fails. Clicking on it simply takes a person to the publications page of the Maxwell Institute where readers will be puzzled to see a blurb promoting Mormon's Codex (yes, a great book) but not the article they were looking for. The link is broken and there's no clue how to get to John Gee's article. A dedicated user can surmise that the "Review" link lower on the page should be pursued, and then can find volume 4 in the search results, and then can scroll down and see John Gee's article is actually there, thankfully. The new URL for the HTML version of the article is: http://publications.maxwellinstitute.byu.edu/fullscreen/?pub=1427&index=15. The numbering system and the address convention is quite different than the previous now defunct URL, http://maxwellinstitute.byu.edu/publications/review/?vol=4&num=1&id=92. That means a global search and replace won't help, and a simple algorithm for revising the URLs won't work. Lots of manual work (searching, copying, pasting) will be needed to fix the failed links. Aargh. 

In the case I cited above, at least the failed link brought the user to a publications page where further searching or exploring could be done at the Maxwell Institute. It wasn't a dead link, the kind that gives the dread 404 "page not found" error. Sadly, I wasn't so lucky on the second Maxwell Institute link that I tested today. Again on my Book of Abraham page, I had a link to another article by John Gee. The link is to a 2007 article in PDF form. Here is the URL I have been using for years: http://maxwellinstitute.byu.edu/pdf.php?filename=MzAwOTM3NTgzNy0xOS0yLnBkZg==&type=cmV2aWV3

Lest you think the mistake may be mine and that this link never worked, you can verify that the link was correct by using Archive.org. See, for example, Archive.org's 2009 archived document at that URL

Painfully, the previous Maxwell Institute URL that is in place at the moment on my website now gives a disastrous 404 error. It's the kind of error that Google and other search engines punish (having dead links with 404 errors is a cardinal sin, one that can lower your visibility in search results). It's an error that loses credibility with readers and makes them give up on what could have been a meaningful exploration. A fundamental tenet of web design is that if you must make changes that remove pages or kill links, don't let the reader be chased away with a "404 page not found" error, but with a custom 404 error page that redirects users to a useful page of some kind within the targeted domain. I'm shocked that many recently functioning links to Maxwell Institute pages will now give direct 404 errors. 

If you must break links, don't just surrender with a 404 error, but take the reader someplace useful. At least have a custom error page in place. Still not nearly as good as links that are properly redirected, but better than booting readers out into the cold. 

I'm disappointed. But this problem can be fixed.