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

Sunday, April 05, 2015

Easter Musings

It's Easter Morning here in China. I'd like to share a few recent scattered thoughts as I begin listening to LDS General Conference.

I'm listening to the Priesthood Session live as I begin this post. President Henry B. Eyring's talk reminds us of how much we need to rely on personal revelation to meet the challenges of our callings and our lives. There are great risks, great opportunities for good that can be missed, and abundant opportunities for our own failure and destruction. Daily guidance from the Holy Ghost is needed, and this requires "more than casual listening and reading." Serious study, reflection, and seeking the Spirit must be a part of our lives and ministries. His stories are touching and instructive. He's one of my favorite speakers.

I really appreciate Elder Russell M. Ballard's call for the greatest generation of young adults. When I was young they told me that we were the greatest generation, but I think this would be a good time for the real greatest generation to step up and rise to the increased challenges of our era. I really admire so many of the young people I see in the Church today, and hope they will take on the challenge. (I'm back now from our fast & testimony meeting in Shanghai, where the young people of our ward really wowed me and many other adults. Most of the meeting involved teenagers and pre-teens coming up on their own and sharing sincere observations about their faith and living the Gospel. Quite inspiring! The future is in good hands, at least in some sectors.)

In another talk, Elder Dale G. Renlund of the Seventy reminded us of an important truth: “God cares a lot more about who we are, and who we are becoming, than about who we once were.... He cares that we keep on trying.” Exactly. Whatever messes we've made of our lives, God is anxious to welcome us back and move us in surprisingly better new directions, if we'll let Him.

It came as a surprise for me that Elder Michael T. Ringwood of the Seventy selected the easy-to-overlook Book of Mormon character Shiblon as his personal hero from the Book of Mormon. Shiblon is an example of someone who wanted to serve rather than have fame and dominion, and quietly went about doing what was most important. Good observation on his part.

Look out, I sense a tangent coming....

The name Shiblon, by the way, is also a unit of weight (not coinage!) in the Book of Mormon, according to Alma 11:15. This name may be related to a Jaredite king's name, Shiblom, one of a number of Jaredite names that crop in Nephite culture, consistent with the persistence of Jaredite influence among the later Nephites, (e.g., Corianton, Noah, Korihor/Corihor, and Nehor). There is also a Nephite unit of weight called a shiblon, "for a half measure of barley." According to the entry for Shiblon in the online Book of Mormon Onomasticon, a terrific resource to explore possible meanings and connections for Book of Mormon names, this usage of shiblon might derive from Hebrew Å¡ibbolet, "ear of grain."

LDS folks have long assumed shiblon was related to the next unit of weight mentioned in Alma 11:16, the shiblum. But the detective work of Royal Skousen leading the Critical Text of the Book of Mormon shows that what Joseph dictated in his translation was actually shilum, and that is what the Yale Edition of the Book of Mormon now has. The Book of Mormon Onomasticon's entry for shiblum explains what happened:
SHIBLUM has been the reading in Alma 11:16, 17 since the 1830 edition. It was written down as SHIBLUM in the original manuscript by Oliver Cowdery (probably based on the reading of the word SHIBLON in Alma 11:15, 16. O [the original manuscript] was then corrected by him to SHILLUM by overwriting the b with an l. Then (possibly with the assistance of Joseph Smith) he crossed off the overwritten l to produce SHILUM. In the printer's manuscript it appears only as SHILUM. The 1830 typesetter erroneously set shiblum (in what is now verse 16), which it has remained through the current edition of the Book of Mormon. In verse 17 both O and P [the printer's manuscript] have only shilum, but the typesetter repeated the mistake of verse 16 by setting shiblum, the reading in 1830-2013.[1] While the derivation of shiblum from ancient HEBREW is somewhat problematical, shilum is not. Its derivation from the HEBREW shillum, "reward, payment, compensation" is found in Micah 7:3 in the context of bribing judges.[2] According to Hoftijzer, in Northwest Semitic inscriptions slm has the meaning "to be paid, repaid."[3]
  1. Royal Skousen, Analysis of Textual Variants of the Book of Mormon. vol. 3. (Provo, UT: FARMS, 2004), 1810-11.
  2. Ludwig Koehler and Walter Baumgartner, eds. The Hebrew & Aramaic Lexicon of the Old Testament, vol. 4. (Leiden: Brill, 1995), 1511.
  3. Jacob Hoftijzer, Dictionary of North-west Semitic Inscriptions [Leiden: Brill, 1995], 2:1145.
If you don't have the Yale Edition of the Book of Mormon, you might want to mark your printed or electronic Book of Mormon in Alma 11 with a note explaining that shiblum should be shilum, meaning "reward, payment" in Hebrew. This is one of numerous examples of Hebraic influence that Joseph probably could not have appreciated since he didn't study Hebrew until around 1835. Without the recent investigation of Skousen into the original Book of Mormon text, it's something we probably would not appreciate today.

The issues around this one word provide one more glimpse into how the Book of Mormon was produced that is consistent with the accounts from witnesses, consistent with some degree of tight control in the translation process, and consistent with ancient Hebraic influences in the text. At the same time, it reminds us of the certainty of human influence and error in the printed product, as is the case with any scripture that goes through human hands, thus pointing to the need for the kind of investigation that Royal Skousen has done in his many years of work leading to the Critical Text of the Book of Mormon.

I look forward to learning more from General Conference. Next weekend is when it is rebroadcast for audiences in Asia (the time difference between Asia and the US can be so annoying), but I've enjoyed getting a slight head start on some of the talks today.

Finally, this is Easter. Let me say that I believe in Jesus Christ as my Savior, my Redeemer, and the author of all hope and salvation. In spite of all its beauty and wonder, this world would ultimately be depressing without the love and hope He offers through the Atonement. Our mistakes can be cleansed, our suffering and death can end in triumph, and anguish can become joy, and with His power, we can have strength to change our crudeness and selfishness into the power to love, to do good, and to help others and ourselves find joy.

I marvel in His creations. I marvel that it was even possible to find the solutions that enabled stars (balanced on the precipice between black holes consumed by gravity and massive explosions into nothingness from the fury of fusion and electromagnetic forces) to not only exist but provide engines for creating carbon, iron, and the elements we need for earth and life itself. I marvel at the beauty of DNA and how much structure, instinct, and machinery can be encoded. I marvel at the joys of human life and our abilities to appreciate art, music, literature, fine cuisine, family life, romance, and philosophy.

There is so much more to our life, so much more beauty and potential, than random chemical accidents creating genetic memes that compete to reproduce for no purpose at all. There is glory, beauty, and wonder in this life, especially when considered in light of God's majesty and His purposes for us. Our lives do have purpose and meaning, in spite of all that we suffer, and that meaning is found most fully by recognizing and kneeling at the feet of Jesus Christ, who personally knows our pain, takes it upon Him, and offers us freedom and joy. How wondrous Easter is!


Tony said...

According to the post, Oliver Cowdery originally wrote "shiblum" which was later corrected to "shilum." The typesetter erroneously used "shiblum." Erroneously? What are the chances that the typesetter accidentally used the same word that Oliver Cowdery originally wrote down?

Be that as it may, one of the twelve names for money introduced in chapter 11 resembles a Hebrew word meaning "bribe" or "payment," and this counts as evidence of Hebrew influence. OK.

I still find Alma 11 to be one of the most problematic chapters in the Book of Mormon for a number of reasons. First, the explanation of the Nephite monetary system is unnecessary. The author could simply say that Zeezrom offered Amulek a bribe and leave it at that. For those who say that the Book of Mormon omits things like the existence of indigenous people who intermarried with the Nephites or Lamanites because the author didn't consider such details important enough to mention, the detailed explanation of the monetary system suggests a strange set of priorities for what should be considered important enough to include. Second, Mormon knows the price of barley almost four centuries before his time. Does anybody here know the price of barley in 1600? Third, barley was bought and sold in Mesoamerica in the first century BC, contrary to current Archaeological data. Fourth, the value of barley, gold, and silver were fixed with respect to each other. This doesn't work economically in the real world because the supply of each varies independently. Fifth, Amulek presents a trinitarian point of view. Trinitarians can only wish that the Bible presented the doctrine of the trinity as explicitly as Alma 11 does. Sixth, Amulek says that in the resurrection, not even a hair of "their heads" will be lost. The hairs at the time of death, or the hairs throughout their lives? If someone dies bald, is he resurrected bald?

Anonymous said...

Hi Tony,

I'll take a light hearted stab at your questions:

1: I think you demonstrate that Mormon was not a professional editor.

2: If I have records and documents before me that show the prices of these commodities then I would have to say yes, I know this information. What you are suggesting is that Mormon has this information available to him since it fits with the narrative that Mormon took the best (best being a personal preference here - personal meaning what Mormon decided what was best) and compiled it together into a book called the Book of Mormon.

3: I think you mean to say in absence of archaeological data rather than contrary to archaeological data.

4: Yes, they are fixed for the purpose of this particular event that is being described. I am pretty confident that Mormon did not say that is was the price for hundreds of years as a result of a centralized government fixing these types of prices.

5: Pretty awesome, I know.

6: Maybe we could look beyond the hairs of our heads and come to a conclusion that Amulek is saying that the resurrection is going to be such a complete event that you will be completely restored. Now, what begs the question is if having hair is a genetic anomaly and baldness the norm or the other way around.

I think I will go and contemplate Adam's navel now.


Tony said...

1. You miss the point about unlikely priorities. If Mormon thought it important enough to explain the monetary system, how likely is it that the existence of indigenous people would be considered unimportant to the narrative?

2. The point is that you don't have such records or documents. How likely is it that Mormon would?

3. No, I mean contrary to Archaeological data.Your comment appears to be related to the old canard that "absence of evidence is not evidence of absence," which is wrong. Absence of evidence is evidence of absence, as illustrated in the following example. Suppose you were to go to the doctor who, after a thorough examination, schedules you for an angiogram. You ask the doctor why, since you have no symptoms of heart disease and he finds nothing to indicate heart disease in his exam. He replies that you still may have heart disease and should therefore undergo an angiogram, because absence of evidence for heart disease isn't evidence of absence of heart disease. You should fire this doctor because he doesn't understand Bayes' theorem.

4. Either they were fixed, or they weren't. Nobody said "for hundreds of years." A fixed relationship between three independently produced commodities is unrealistic, and Mormon goes to great pains to describe a fixed relationship.

5. Why do you think it's awesome? The trinity is a post biblical idea that was repudiated in later Mormonism. It's an anachronism.

6. The problem is the meaning of "completely restored." The form and function of a person vary throughout life, so which version of a person gets restored?

Anonymous said...

Hi tony,

Continuing in the spirit of light heartedness....

1: I don't know. I stand by my previous comment that Mormon was probably a bad editor. And another comment is we can't read Mormon's mind.

2: Since he is abridging all of these records, I would guess that it is more likely that Mormon has these documents than I would.

3: You mean absence of archaeological data unless, of course, we are omniscient then it would be contrary to archaeological evidence. And I do stick by the old canard of absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.

4: Since the monetary system was described for one story, I stick by my previous comment.

5: The trinity is pre-biblical, biblical and post-biblical. Amulek describes the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost as three separate people. That's awesome.

6: I think you missed my point in that I was agreeing with you. Is baldness the proper form or a deformed form? Amulek was making a point about the hairs on your head in that everyone would be restored to proper form. I think your question is what is proper form and I am pretty confident that no one on this blog can answer that question.


Jeff Lindsay said...

The reason shilum can so easily become shiblum is that sheblon is right before it. I think the similarity of b and l in cursive could contribute. Typographical errors tend to follow patterns. The original documents should demonstrate what Skousen reports.

James Anglin said...

Absence of barley pollen is actual evidence of absence of barley, because barley spreads pollen to the winds, and pollen grains are durable and recognizable. Archaeologists routinely determine ancient agricultural practices by identifying ancient pollen in soil layers. If barley were widespread in the Americas in ancient times, there would be ancient barley pollen in the ground. There isn't.

It's conceivable that a small immigrant group planted barley somewhere, and it never spread widely, and the place where it is was never found.

It's also conceivable that when the Book of Mormon says 'barley' it means some other grain that was close enough to barley in nature and use that God just said, "You know what? For you guys, it's barley."

Personally I could probably rationalize quite a lot of apparent anachronism that way; but there would still be a lingering awareness in my mind that fraud and ignorance would also explain all the anachronisms.

For me the problem would then be something like horses, which are described as pulling chariots over distances, when there just weren't any usable beasts of burden in the Americas at the time. I couldn't really rationalize that one, I'm afraid. And then that one bad case would kind of make all the other ones tip over for me like dominoes, and I'd say, "I guess the Book of Mormon really is full of anachronisms."