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

Friday, August 29, 2014

Joseph Smith's Hick Language in the Original Book of Mormon Manuscript: Divine Irony?

Executive Summary

Skousen's study of the first Book of Mormon manuscripts found evidence that the awkward grammar often displayed Semitic influence or, in some cases, came from Early Modern English, predating the English of the KJV. This theory is developed much more fully in a recent Mormon Interpreter article, "A Look at Some 'Nonstandard' Book of Mormon Grammar" by Stanford Carmack. Carmack argues that a close look at the initial language of the translated Book of Mormon reveals that much of the seemingly nonstandard grammar is actually acceptable Early Modern English that is frequently independent of and earlier than the King James Bible, seriously challenging the notion that the Book of Mormon is based on plagiarism from and imitation of the Bible.

However, I felt a weakness in Carmack's paper was neglect of a nonstandard form that to me was particularly annoying: the use of "a" before many verbs, as in Alma 10:8 in the Original Manuscript: "...as I was a going thither...." Isn't that just "hick language"? After posting my question at Mormon Interpreter, I did more digging and found, to my surprise, that this is an important and standard form of the English progressive in Early Modern English, again consistent with Carmack's thesis. Brother Carmack later responded to my query, confirming what I had found and also noting that there are some instances of the "a" + verb form in the KJV, though so far I only know of two and never consciously noticed them in my reading.

But what does this all mean and why would pre-KJV language be used? A hypothesis I offer below is that this is an example of one of God's little ironies jokes, but a meaningful and helpful one.  

Update, Sept. 10: "Joke" in this post was a poor word choice, as a couple readers took offense at the idea of joking God who would therefore seem to not be adequately concerned about the problems of the world. I do not have trouble with a God who embraces humor in addition to all forms of joy even while also fully feeling and knowing our pains, but suggest that "irony" might be better for my post.

If the strange evidence for pre-KJV language is real and did not from Joseph and his environment, then perhaps it will serve as one of the evidences that overthrow some common attacks on the Book of Mormon. If so,  it would be ironic that all these years the hick language we had to correct and apologize for might  actually support the miraculous origins of the book. Ironic. Almost humorous. Not a callous prank, but a hidden little gem that could strengthen faith while still raising many questions for further research and debate. Or maybe all just a human mistake to be eradicated with further research. Stay tuned

God's Little Joke? Divine Irony? Thoughts on the Bad Grammar in the Original Book of Mormon

One of the first anti-Mormon challenges I encountered as a teenager shortly after my own serious study of the Book of Mormon was the claim that 3,913 changes had been made in the Book of Mormon. (That's actually a very poor estimate--way too low!) Looking at the changes and understanding the reasons for them gave a little appreciation for how different the original Book of Mormon was from the way I would put a book together. The lack of punctuation, verses, etc., naturally necessitated a great many changes to prepare the text for a readable edition.

There were other problems, including many typos or other errors due to both the dictated nature of the text and the errors that arose in copying from the original manuscript to the printer's manuscript and then preparing the printed text. Those are understandable. But then comes the problem that makes it easy for critics to poke fun of the book and its miraculous origins: the original text, as dictated by a prophet of God to his scribes, is loaded with bad grammar. Numerous changes would be needed to fix awkward, non-standard phrases that just sounded bad. Why couldn't the Spirit help Joseph dictate proper English?

We've had a plausible answer: the inspired meaning still came out of Joseph's lips in his language, and his own bad, farmboy grammar with a strong dose of "hick language" had to be cleaned up into more proper standard English, but in King James Style. Fair enough. Being a prophet doesn't make one a grammarian.

Some scholars discovered that some of the corrections made over the years in the text were fixing odd patterns that were actually perfectly good constructions in Hebrew. That passage with Moroni impossibly waving the rent of his garment--later scandalously changed to the rent part of his garment to cover up that gaping hole in the grammatical fabric of the book--turns out to make perfect sense in Hebrew. Many other structures that are good Hebrew but bad English have been identified that were in the original text but typically later cleaned up. (Say, if all those Hebraisms were some clever attempt to add credibility to the Book of Mormon, why quietly clean them up and never point them out in Joseph's day? It was only in recent decades that scholars began to observe the abundance of Hebraic forms in the Book of Mormon.)

Then came Royal Skousen, the scholar who has done so much to help us appreciate the granular details of the original and printers manuscripts. In 2005, he published a short article for the Maxwell Institute's Insight publication with a shocking statement. In summarizing his findings through studying the early Book of Mormon manuscripts, he begins by listing the following:
1. The original manuscript supports the hypothesis that the text was given to Joseph Smith word for word and that he could see the spelling of at least the Book of Mormon names (in support of what witnesses of the translation process claimed about Joseph's translation).
2. The original text is much more consistent and systematic in expression than has ever been realized.
3. The original text includes unique kinds of expression that appear to be uncharacteristic of English in any time and place; some of these expressions are Hebraistic in nature.
So far so good. Then comes what I would call a shocker:
Over the past two years, I have discovered evidence for a fourth significant conclusion about the original text:
4. The original vocabulary of the Book of Mormon appears to derive from the 1500s and 1600s, not from the 1800s.
This last finding is quite remarkable. Lexical evidence suggests that the original text contained a number of expressions and words with meanings that were lost from the English language by 1700. On the other hand, I have not been able thus far to find word meanings and expressions in the text that are known to have entered the English language after the early 1700s.  [emphasis added]
He then lists some plausible examples. So strange. So unexpected.

That theme is taken up in force in a recent article at the Mormon Interpreter, Stanford Carmack's "A Look at Some 'Nonstandard' Book of Mormon Grammar." Carmack contends that so much of what were dismissing as Joseph's bad grammar actually turns out to be acceptable grammar from Early Modern English, featuring many elements that were from decades before the English of the King James Bible, almost as if the translation given to Joseph by inspiration had been deliberately translated into that slightly earlier English. So strange. What is going on?

As interesting as it was, I immediately thought I saw a flaw in the analysis and posted this comment to Carmack's article:
One of the criticisms the Tanners make of the grammar of the original Book of Mormon when they discuss “the 3,913 changes” of the Book of Mormon is the use of “a” before many verbs, such as “As I was a journeying to see a very near kindred …” [Alma 10:7], “And as I was a going thither …” [Alma 10:8], “… the foundation of the destruction of this people is a beginning to be laid …” [Alma 10:27], “… he met with the sons of Mosiah, a journeying towards the land …” [Alma 17:1], and “… the Lamanites a marching towards them …” [Mormon 6:7].
I’ve heard this described as “Pittsburgh dialect” I think, with a suggestion that it might have been Oliver’s language. But I also read someone say or guess that this construction can be found in Chaucer. Haven’t had time to check. What are your thoughts?
What I didn't say was that this "a going" and "a marching" pattern really annoyed me, for it sounded like "hick language" to my ears. Why no mention of that in the article? I suspected it must be because it didn't fit the Early Modern English hypothesis. After all, Carmack is not claiming that every case of awkward grammar is squarely from standard Early Modern English. But this form isn't Hebraic either, as far as I know--it's just bad, even embarrassing grammar.

Turn out I was wrong.  After posting my comment, I poked around for more information about this verb form. It's very hard to search for since the key term "a" is ignored or obscured in many of the search strings one might try. But I did stumble upon some articles that led me to look up the history of the English progressive form, and that's where I found interesting material.

The best source I found was  The Cambridge History of the English Language, vol. III, ed. by Roger Lass, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 1999, p. 217:
Some earlier scholars (e.g. Jesperson MEG IV: 168-9) espouse the theory that be + -ing goes back to the combination of the preposition on > a + the verbal noun ending in -ing (I am a-reading > I am reading). The available evidence makes it more likely, however, that the verbal type without a preposition and the nominal type with one represent two separate constructions which lived side by side from Old English on. In the course of the Modern English period, the verbal type superseded the nominal one. In the seventeenth century the nominal type can be found even in formal and educated writing, but it becomes non-standard in the course of the eighteenth (Nehls 1974: 169-70). There are only half a dozen Helsinki Corpus instances of the nominal type dating from 1640-1710, all of them in fiction, private correspondence or comedies. Lowth (1775 [1979]: 65) gives the following comment on the principles preceded by a: 'The phrases with a… are out of use in the solemn style; but still prevail in familiar discourse . . . there seems to be no reason, why they should be utterly rejected.'

The full form of the preposition on is much less common than the weakened a in Early Modern English. Also other prepositions are possible; instances with upon can be found as late as the eighteenth century (159)….
So yes, that annoying verb form is also good Early Modern English. Carmack's thesis still works on that issue as well. I'm surprised, though pleasantly.

By the way, for an interesting theory of the development of the "on" construction in Middle English and Early Modern English, see Casper de Groot, "The king is on huntunge: on the relation between progressive and absentive in Old and Early Modern English" in M. Hannay and G. Steen eds., The English Clause: Usage and Structure, 175-190, Amsterdam: Benjamins 2007).

Carmack would later respond to my comment by confirming that it is an Early Modern English form, and one that can even be found in the Bible. He mentioned Luke 8:42 and 9:42. Sure enough, there's "a dying" and "a coming." Never noticed that, and haven't found other examples of this in the Bible yet. Do you know of any? Seems like a rare occurrence to me. 

So yes, much of the awkward grammar of the original Book of Mormon appears to reflect language that is not typical of the KJV, being earlier than the KJV era and earlier than Joseph's dialect, though remnants persisted in his day and in ours as nonstandard forms in modern grammar. Carmack sees this as evidence against a modern, fraudulent origin and evidence for divine translation--but why would a divine process result in English forms predating the KJV? Was some sort of Celestial Translator Device set the wrong century by a clumsy angel? However the divine translation process worked, however the language was selected or "seasoned" for delivery to Joseph's mind, what came out can no longer be explained as mere imitation of the KJV or as a modern fabrication that Joseph and his friends or family were capable of.

Here's one hypothesis: The translation into language actually predating the KJV is an example of one of God's little ironies jokes. A helpful little joke, that is, a almost humorous gem to bless and strengthen those willing to pay attention, offering surprising evidence that there is far more to this text than meets the eye. Yes, it is quiet and easy-to-overlook evidence that the Book of Mormon is not a modern translation, is not merely drawn from the KJV or any other modern source. It's a little joke, but the real joke is on those who cry plagiarism. Now the difficulty of explaining the origins of the Book of Mormon text is far may be greater than we imagined.




Friday, August 22, 2014

Daniel Peterson Quotes a Questionable LDS Apologist, But the Rest of His Presentation Was Good

At the recent FAIR Conference, among the very interesting presentations was Daniel Peterson's excellent reminder about the gaps and fallacies in the commonly mentioned CES Letter. His talk, "Some Reflections On That Letter To a CES Director," was generally thoughtful and intelligent, though it begins with a rather embarrassing gap in which he quotes from a highly questionable amateur LDS apologist, whose frequent gaffes and missteps have been regularly called out right here on this blog (so I am often told). Apart from that little blunder, his presentation was pretty solid and worthy of consideration and debate (the kind where actual logic and factual analysis are used, not just sarcasm).

If you had only 45 minutes to respond to the Big List of anti-Mormon attacks, what points would you want to make? Did Daniel's selection of topics and responses make sense to you? I liked it and appreciate the way he calls attention to some of the big picture issues as well as touching upon some salient details. Of course, there are many, many ways in which a short time can be used to address what could really take weeks or months to be thorough. I am curious to know how any of you fellow LDS defenders would have handled it?

Sunday, August 17, 2014

No Evidence at All?

One critic posting on my comments pages recently explained why he didn't believe in Jesus. The argument he offered looked logically constructed and was presented with a "slam dunk" air. It was just one argument, though I'm sure he must have many more, but he presented it as if this was a sufficient reason to reject Christianity. The argument is based on the New Testament statement from Christ when He is discussing the events of the last days, and says, "Verily I say unto you, This generation shall not pass, till all these things be fulfilled" (Matthew 24:34, also see Mark 13:30 and Luke 21:32). Here is the argument, as presented:
I'm a pretty good reader, and I think I know exactly what Jesus meant when he said (for example) that the judgement would arrive before his listeners' generation passed away. He meant that it would happen when he said it would happen, and since it didn't happen then, he was wrong, and because he was wrong he was not (and is not) God.
Boom. One verse that is an apparent mistake, and now he can handily conclude that Jesus is not divine. When I read this, I was disappointed. The author obviously has an education and prides himself on logic and intelligence, but the argument, as presented, shows no apparent effort to understand and interact with Christian responses to the problems in this verse. It shows no desire to consider the reasons why Jesus might still be the Son of God in spite of confusion about one verse. Five seconds on Google would present him with reasonable Christian defenses of this problem. One quick Google search brought up one common response which explains that the generation of "this generation" was the generation that would be around when the prophecies of Matthew 24 begin to occur. Possible. But there are other approaches to consider, including discussions of what is meant by "generation" and the possibility of human error in recording and transmitting the statement. In any case, I was both saddened and frustrated by his easy argument for rejecting Jesus. I'm sure he has more than that, but it's frustrating to see seemingly lazy arguments with apparent lack of serious research presented as if they represented a serious and decisive victory, as if no plausible response had ever been offered by the other side.

In claiming to "know exactly what Jesus meant" and in claiming that Jesus must be wrong since his literal reading does not appear to perfectly conform to his expectations, the author reveals a  simplistic and rather "fundamentalist" attitude about the scriptures. It's an outlook infused with numerous hidden assumptions that can result in unrealistic expectations that are easily burst, resulting in quick loss of faith for unprepared believers who finally encounter, say, geologic evidence for the earth's age, evidence of abundant human influence and error in the scriptures,  or the many other complexities of faith. It's a danger that many ill-prepared Latter-day Saints face as well.

Now imagine that somebody, let's say a former Christian priest and religious instructor, took that argument and published it in a Big List with dozens of other arguments, all claiming to be carefully researched slam-dunk arguments against Christianity but all showing a lack of familiarity with actual Christian scholarship and the vigorous defenses that have been offered to the arguments. That Big List would be offered as his shocking reasons for departing Christianity. Each argument might have excellent refutations, but readers of the Big List would have no idea, and ill-prepared Christians might be swayed. That would be tragic.

That's pretty much how I feel about the CES Letter by a former LDS member who offers a Big List of reasons why he left the Church. It's filled with dozens of assertions and seemingly slam-dunk arguments, but, as Daniel Peterson observed in his recent FAIR Conference presentation on the CES Letter, shows no familiarity with the abundant research and scholarship in many of the areas he touches upon. It occasionally reveals a simplistic, fundamentalist outlook, in which human error, uncertainty, and complexity are not tolerated. The many evidences for things like the Book of Mormon and Book of Abraham are treated as nonexistent. Not merely inadequate or not convincing, but as though there was nothing there at all, as Daniel Peterson properly observes.  The evidence is ignored, huge bodies of scholarship are rendered invisible, and answers that a few moments on Google could offer appear to have not entered into the vast research said to be behind the list of arguments. It's tragic, painful, puzzling, and quite unnecessary.

Feel free to disagree and choose your reasons for believing or not, but don't pretend that it's all a slam-dunk without any arguments or evidence on the other side. There is evidence, there are interesting and sometimes very convincing arguments on the other side, and people exposed to the Big List at least should know that such things exist.

Saturday, August 16, 2014

2014 Fair Conference: Ty Mansfield on Sexual Identity and Same-Sex Attraction from an LDS Perspective

The recent 2014 Fair Conference, held Aug. 7-8, 2014 in Provo, offers a great selection of faith-strengthening perspectives from a broad mix of speakers. Topics include same-sex attraction, the Book of Abraham, the CES Letter, the role of women in the Church, the authorship of the Book of Mormon, etc. 

In this post I'll call attention to Ty Mansfield's excellent presentation on same-sex attraction and the LDS experience. His talk, "'Mormons can be gay, they just can’t do gay'? Deconstructing Sexuality and Identity from an LDS Perspective," discusses the complexity of sexual attraction and reminds us to be careful about thinking we know things that still puzzle the experts:

So much of the controversy happens around unexamined premises and conclusions drawn, often simply accepted without any real critical thought at all. Once we can understand how these have harmed our understanding, we can then move to a better place to articulate a reasonable response to those who question or criticize the Church’s teachings….
The popular cultural myths that either people are “born gay” or that they chose to be homosexual or that their homosexuality is caused by parental nurturing (or lack thereof) are all reductionistic and cannot explain much, if anything, about the development of sexuality and sexual desire.

It’s interesting to me that our popular and media culture seems to be so sure about something that science and the academy are not. The American Psychological Association’s official pamphlet addressing sexual orientation concedes this point, noting that ultimately, “There is no consensus among scientists about the exact reasons that an individual develops a heterosexual, bisexual, gay or lesbian orientation. Although much research has examined the possible genetic, hormonal, developmental, social, and cultural influences on sexual orientation, no findings have emerged that permit scientists to conclude that sexual orientation is determined by any particular factor or factors. Many think that nature and nurture both play complex roles.” Some researchers have postured that there is no such thing as “homosexuality,” but rather “homosexualities”—that there are multiple sub-populations with different etiologies making for qualitatively different experiences of sexuality that all lay within a broad and diverse umbrella we call “homosexuality” or “same-sex attraction.”

He also addresses issues of identity and the shackles (my term) that we can impose on ourselves or others with terminology that pigeonholes people into an "identity" based on the attractions they feel.

In an LDS context, people often express concern about words that are used—whether they be “same-sex attraction,” which some feel denies the realities of the gay experience, or “gay,” “lesbian,” or “LGBT,” which some feels speaks more to specific lifestyle choices. What’s important to understand, however, is that identity isn’t just about the words we use but the paradigms and worldviews and perceptions of or beliefs about the “self” and “self-hood” through which we interpret and integrate our various experiences into a sense of personal identity, sexual or otherwise. And identity is highly fluid and subject to modification with change in personal values or socio-cultural context. The terms “gay,” “lesbian,” and “bisexual” aren’t uniformly understood or experienced in the same way by everyone who may use or adopt those terms, so it’s the way those terms or labels are incorporated into self-hood that accounts for identity. One person might identify as “gay” simply as shorthand for the mouthful “son or daughter of God who happens to experience romantic, sexual or other desire for persons of the same sex for causes unknown and for the short duration of mortality,” while another person experiences themselves as “gay” as a sort of eternal identity and state of being….

As a final note here, however one chooses to self-identify here in a fallen, temporal world limited by human culture and human language, I firmly believe that, like Daniel’s interpretation of Nebuchadnezzar’s dream in which all social and political constructs were swallowed up in the gospel stone that rolled forth to consume the nations, so will the spiritual ideals and identities of the kingdom of God and the Celestial nature swallow up all of our social identity constructs that blur eternal identity (see Daniel 2:31-45).

While I identified as gay for a time, at one point I had a very strong spiritual prompting that if I continued to identify as gay, it would limit my progression. I believe that the more deeply we understand and feel spiritually connected to eternal realities and our eternal identity, the less meaningful any proximate, mortal identities feel to us. If others refer to me as gay, I typically tolerate it for practical purposes, but it’s not how I see myself, and occasionally it can feel particularly oppressive when others seem to insist on projecting and LGBT identity construct on me even after I’ve specified that that is not how I see myself. It’s not a construct that adequately captures who I am, what I believe, or how I feel.

He then explores the issues of chastity and consecration, and the speculation of others that Church will change regarding its stance on same-sex issues. See the transcript at FairMormon.org.

What American's Open Borders Mean in a World with Ebola: An Easy But Hopefully Wrong Prophecy

Have you read Laurie Garrett's piece for ForeignPolicy.com, "You Are Not Nearly Scared Enough About Ebola"? It deserves more attention and perhaps a bit more healthy fear.

Join me in wishing for my complete failure as I make what looks like an easy prophecy regarding health care: Ebola is coming to America. May I be ridiculously wrong. Hopefully Ebola will be swiftly contained and not hurt any more in Africa or anywhere else. But the chances of it spreading eventually could be high, and when it does, it could spread swiftly. Yes, airport security is increasing and many steps will be taken to reduce the risk of Ebola coming through airports. Technology exists to check every passenger coming through our official ports of entry for fever (this is already in place in some Asian airports, for example, to help reduce the risk of spreading bird flu). That's great, but it won't affect some of the most important routes for the spread of infection into the US.

Between terrorists who want to hurt us and virus-infected people who might not intend any harm, our porous borders are a dangerous health care menace. Both of America's political parties seem thoroughly committed to not properly sealing our borders lest they lose votes or be called racists (perhaps am I overly harsh here in explaining their obvious gross negligence), so there is little chance of any serious, life-saving border-security steps being taken (not without your voice, anyway). We face extensive risks of serious disease walking across our borders undetected.

Ebola or other disastrous microbes could be brought as humans walk across the border and bring unintended infection. It's also possible for terrorists to bring it across on purpose, possibly deliberating infecting a truckload of undocumented victims right before they cross the border. (This can be done without killing the culprits behind the operation. I won't explain the many paths they can take, but it's not impossible.) Days later, the virus erupts in multiple US cities. It can happen that easily.

An epidemic can happen even if the border is sealed, but to leave it open makes it too easy for intentional and unintentional entry of the virus. This is a time for diligence and strict protection of borders, and careful health screening of anyone coming from a high-risk area. Those without documentation cannot be given a pass and allowed in without consideration of health risks. Those  walking across aren't just from Mexico. They come from many parts of the world, including parts with potentially dangerous viruses.

If Ebola strikes in the US, are you ready? Do you have supplies to clean and disinfect? Do you have plenty of paper goods, wipes, detergents, rubber gloves, face masks, and other tools to help you care for your sick loved ones? Your food storage may be essential if an epidemic is happening, for leaving home to get food could expose you to other infected people. Drinking water may be especially important. Ugh, it's awful even thinking about what can happen when a deadly epidemic breaks out, but it's been a grim reality for millions of our brothers and sisters across the centuries, and while we've been lucky and blessed for many decades, will that luck continue?

Perhaps, but not if we don't take even basic steps to reduce the risks of deadly outbreaks strolling across our borders. Be scared, but more importantly, be prepared.

Monday, August 11, 2014

A Standing Ovation for Sharon Eubank and "This Is a Woman's Church"

At the FAIR Conference a few days ago, a rare standing ovation was given for Sharon Eubank, Director of LDS Charities, who gave a bold talk on women in the Church. The title itself is bold, but appropriate to her message and personal experience:  "This Is a Woman's Church." The transcript of the talk is available, and you might be able to watch the video also, though the server seems to too slow for us out here in China, where access to foreign websites is often unbelievably slow or blocked altogether. 

Find out what Sharon had to say that brought the audience to its feet. She brings several important thoughts together and reminds us of some of the basic elements of the LDS experience. This is a valuable presentation for both women and men.
Kudos to FAIR for a great 2014 conference. Wish I could have been there!

Saturday, August 09, 2014

The Factory Price, Or, The Price of Friendship

A scene from the markets at Dong Tai Road.

Shortly after coming to China, we made friends with some of the merchants in a classic old market street called Dongtai Road, where the Dongtai Antiques Market is a fun attraction for many tourists and a place we liked to shop for gifts. One of our friends was Miss L., a sweet girl who spoke good English and was married to an artist, Mr. T., who created the paintings she sold in her painting shop. We marveled at the diversity of styles he had. While his works were obvious imitations of other popular works, to imitate so many styles so well was quite impressive. All but one of the paintings we own came from her home. We brought friends to their shop also to buy paintings. Great prices. We visited from time to time and also hired her to help with some groups events we had that needed an English tour guide.

We also enjoyed the love story of this couple. They were two artists from north China. She recognized his great talent and decided to start a business selling his art. As they worked together as starving artists, they fell in love, married, and began raising a family.

After knowing them for over 2 years, they told us they had to close their shop because their side of Dong Tai road was being torn down to make a new hotel. They, like others we knew, faced the challenge of much higher rent to open shops elsewhere in town. They would not be able to get the same amount of business in the new hard-to-find location they had to take, and wondered if we could help them by doing an open house. Sure, we'd be happy to help. But first we bought some additional paintings. One we especially loved: it was his original composition of Dong Tai Road itself, a large and pretty painting of the view approximately right in front of his shop. Wow, we were delighted to buy it. It cost 1800 RMB, about $300, frame included. This was a lot more than other paintings we had purchased, but being an original composition and all, it was definitely worth it. The asking price had been 3000 RMB, but, as usual, we got the special "friend discount." But they couldn't discount it too much, of course, because it had taken so much work to create.

We opened our home to them and their friends for a full day on a Saturday in early December. A large crew came with a truck full of paintings, many freshly painted. Mr. T. had been busy! We had told many of our friends and colleagues at work about this young couple, their love story, and Tony's amazing and diverse talent as an artist. Lots of people came and they had some pretty decent sales of paintings during the day. I was disappointed, however, to see that the prices had been jacked up to about double what they normally charged in their original shop. I felt like they were taking advantage of us with that price spike, but didn't say anything, except to quietly suggest to some people that they could negotiate and bring the price down.

One of our Chinese friends from northern China pulled me over in the kitchen for a private talk. "Jeff," she said, "have you ever seen that artist paint anything?"

"Well, sure, I mean, well, I've smelled fresh paint in his shop, but maybe haven't seen him actually painting the paintings at the moment, I suppose, but I'm sure that...."

"I don't trust him. He's from my part of China and I know his type. I don't think he's a real artist. I asked him some direct questions and he seemed evasive. I think he's a scammer."

I was shocked at her assessment and thought she was being way too paranoid and distrustful of one of her fellow Chinese. I smiled and thanked her and said we had known them for a long time and was pretty sure he was for real.

About a week later, another Chinese friend came over to our home for dinner with her son. Her son was amazed at how big our tiny apartment was and felt so happy to be able to bounce on our chairs and run around. It was like he was in heaven. He has to be very quiet in their little old place with a thin floor so he won't bother the quick-to-complain people below them. While visiting with us, his mother, another merchant, looked at our new painting of Dong Tai Road on the wall and asked how much we paid for it. Then she got angry. "1800 RMB? That's way more than the factory price. She should have given you a friend price. They took advantage of you."

"Factory price? Factory? What factory? You mean Mr. T. didn't paint this himself?"

Our friend laughed at our gullibility and explained to us how the budget painting shops in Shanghai work. There is a large factory, perhaps a sweatshop, where artists crank out slight variations of the same paintings over and over and over. Pretty much the same paintings, all imitations of imitations, are sold all over town. Our Mr. T. wasn't doing the imitation--he was just imitating an imitator, pretending to be an artist. His "original composition" was just a factory production that we've now noticed on sale in many other shops.

Sigh. We had been used. Several times. Lied to. Several times. I felt terrible about inviting others to come and meet the amazing artist and buy his works. On the other hand, they probably didn't pay more than they would have on their own, unless they were good negotiators and knew the "factory price," and they were able to choose some fairly attractive works from China's art factories. But I'm embarrassed that were were all being taken for a ride.

My embarrassment was probably not as bad as what many tourists experience in Shanghai when they are completely scammed by friendly, smiling, English speakers who introduce them to the ever popular Chinese tea ceremony scam or the potentially more dangerous karaoke scam. In both cases, people pretending to be friendly are out to rob gullible tourists. After a few sips of worthless tea or a few rounds of karaoke, the victims are presented with huge bills--hundreds or even thousands of dollars--and tough bouncers are there to enforce payment. People go home shaken up, outraged, feeling betrayed and seriously injured financially. One betrayal like that can ruin a visit to China and sour people on this marvelous and usually kind nation. The scammer so a disservice to millions of fellow Chinese citizens who are honest and treat others with great decency.

Be careful whom you trust.

After Joseph Smith had the terrible failure of losing the first 116 pages translated from the Book of Mormon, the Lord told him he should not have entrusted the pages to someone else's care, and said that he had been deceived. Even though he was a prophet, the Lord told him, "you cannot always judge the righteous, or ... you cannot always tell the wicked from the righteous" (Doctrine & Covenants 10:37). This is sound advice for all of less prophetic folks as well. We cannot know that someone is trustworthy just because they smile, seem nice, and have been friendly to us for a while. Being disappointed by those we trusted is going to be a part of our lives. Being exposed to abuse of trust by friends and even loved ones is part of the price of friendship. But sometimes we can minimize the damage with a little caution and common sense.

Be careful out there. Keep your guard up. Ask tough questions and recognize the possibility of risk.

Bonus advise: Don't lend money to friends, if you value the friendship. Money loaned has broken many a friendship. It can turn you from a friend into an evil creditor, a problem to avoided, a source of endless guilt and worry for the person unable or unwilling to pay you back. Why do that to a friendship? If you want to help a friend, feel free to give money as a gift, money that you insist is not to be paid back (OK, pay to charity some day if they insist, but not you), but don't make a loan. Also recognize that money is rarely the answer to the problems others have and sometimes can make things worse, but when the need is real and money really can help, be generous and give. God bless you for caring and trying to help. But don't give more than you actually can. Remember, you are giving, not loaning.