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

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

An Even More Embarrassing Issue Involving the Book of Mormon

I may have erred recently when I spoke of the awkward phrase "in them days" as perhaps the most embarrassing language problem in the original text of the Book of Mormon. That phrase only occurs twice and is easy to miss, especially since it's long been edited out of the text. It was interesting, though, that it's not only acceptable Early Modern English, but also occurs in both cases in the midst of what appears to be Hebraic poetry, almost as if it were an ironic marker saying saying, "Look here! This is not as clumsy as you think."

A much better candidate for the most embarrassing language issue in the text is the ubiquitous and often annoying phrase, "and it came to pass." It has offended many, especially those eager to find fault with the Book of Mormon. Though it is biblical, of course, it is vastly overused compared to the Bible, occurring at over twice the rate found in the Bible. Clumsy, dull, awkward, annoying, and downright embarrassing. And it was even worse in the earliest text of the Book of Mormon, since many of its most awkward and annoying occurrences have been edited out to make the text sound like better modern English, though it's still highly loaded with the phrase. So there's my candidate for the most embarrassing aspect of the original Book of Mormon text.

It's also a good candidate for a marker having other interesting meanings, including another "Look here! This is not as clumsy as you think" marker. Donald W. Parry, an instructor in biblical Hebrew at BYU, explained why, as quoted at FAIRMormon.org:
The English translation of the Hebrew word wayehi (often used to connect two ideas or events), “and it came to pass,” appears some 727 times in the King James Version of the Old Testament. The expression is rarely found in Hebrew poetic, literary, or prophetic writings. Most often, it appears in the Old Testament narratives, such as the books by Moses recounting the history of the children of Israel.

As in the Old Testament, the expression in the Book of Mormon (where it appears some 1,404 times) occurs in the narrative selections and is clearly missing in the more literary parts, such as the psalm of Nephi (see 2 Ne. 4:20–25); the direct speeches of King Benjamin, Abinadi, Alma, and Jesus Christ; and the several epistles.
But why does the phrase “and it came to pass” appear in the Book of Mormon so much more often, page for page, than it does in the Old Testament? The answer is twofold. First, the Book of Mormon contains much more narrative, chapter for chapter, than the Bible. Second, but equally important, the translators of the King James Version did not always render wayehi as “and it came to pass.” Instead, they were at liberty to draw from a multitude of similar expressions like “and it happened,” “and … became,” or “and … was.”
Wayehi is found about 1,204 times in the Hebrew Bible, but it was translated only 727 times as “and it came to pass” in the King James Version. Joseph Smith did not introduce such variety into the translation of the Book of Mormon. He retained the precision of “and it came to pass,” which better performs the transitional function of the Hebrew word.
The Prophet Joseph Smith may not have used the phrase at all—or at least not consistently—in the Book of Mormon had he created that record. The discriminating use of the Hebraic phrase in the Book of Mormon is further evidence that the record is what it says it is—a translation from a language (reformed Egyptian) with ties to the Hebrew language. (See Morm. 9:32–33.)
[Ensign (December 1992), 29]
Interesting, no? But it gets even more intriguing.

One of our persistent critics was recently asked on this blog if he could conceive of any evidence in favor of the authenticity of the Book of Mormon that would at least motivate him to admit that it was "interesting." He took up the challenge and kindly responded by listing four things (see the original comment here):
I think all of us doubters would be mightily impressed with a Central American inscription, written in Egyptian hieroglyphics, independently authenticated and dated to 600 BCE, that translated into I, Nephi, having been born of goodly parents....

Pushover that I am, I would personally be satisfied with a Mayan inscription reading And it came to pass.... Or a 1600-year-old skeleton at the base of Hill Cumorah with a steel sword lodged in its ribs. Or the bones of a 1900-year-old horse unearthed amid the wheels and yoke of a chariot.
Nice list. Several are unreasonable and just aren't going to happen, but . . . be careful what you ask for, folks. As one of my other readers quickly pointed out with a link, there is in fact a Mayan glyph meaning essentially "and it came to pass," and a non-LDS scholar is the one who said "it came to pass" is a reasonable translation for it.

The Mayan usage and the whole story around "and it came to pass" is actually much more interesting, as told by Brant Gardner in "Does 'And it came to pass' Come to Pass Too Often?," Meridian Magazine, July 7, 2004. Read this, please. There you will see that "and it came to pass" was actually used frequently by the typesetter as a marker for breaks in the unpunctuated Book of Mormon text, akin to how it was used in Hebrew. You will also learn more about the surprisingly interesting Mayan connection. Since our critic was not, of course, serious in his statement, I can fully understand why none of this will actually be  particularly "interesting" to him and don't expect any softening of his stance, but to those open to investigating the authenticity of the Book of Mormon, this glaring, clumsy weakness in the text may actually be a surprising strength. It's worth thinking about.


Stephen said...

Jeff, you make me smile.

Thanks for this post.

C T said...

He/she wants Moroni's skeleton? Um, Moroni is already resurrected. The skeleton thing ain't happening.

Anonymous said...

When it works in Smith's favor it's called "precision" but when it's an error it's called "loose translation" or "good enough"

I wish you'd make your mind, but I guess that'd mean you'd have to stick with one story and we all know that's not the Mormon way.

Jeff Lindsay said...

What on earth do you mean, "make up your mind?" We don't have a monolithic text with every issue, every bit of language, every story, every chapter, every book, and all the associated evidence of any kind rigidly and precisely being monolithic at every level. No text ever created is that way, not even Finnegan's Wake, which seems to be rather monolithically dialed in at "incomprehensible" but apparently has its own treasures and riches amid the madness.

We began in 1830 with a text filled with obvious problems: no punctuation, no verses, and way too much bad grammar like a huge overdose of "and it came to pass." Easy to reject. Believers who experienced the power and spirituality of the book could make excuses for those issues, including the very bad grammar in many different ways that marred the original text ("them days", waiving a "rent" in the error, etc.). We could live with that. Artifacts of oral dictation, Joseph's poor education and dialect, etc.

But upon further examination, we find that the lack of punctuation is actually consistent with ancient Hebraic origins. We find that the rate of "and it came to pass" and the nuanced ways in which it was used is actually consistent with ancient Hebrew. (The KJV editors toned it down greatly--had Joseph just imitated the usage patterns in the Bible, based on his allegedly profound knowledge of the text that allowed him to identify and emulate Hebraic chiasmus and other literary patterns before they were generally known in the scholarly world.)

Then, recently, we find out that much of the bad grammar that had to be edited out of the Book of Mormon or is still there is actually reasonable Hebraic grammar patterns that may have survived translation (e.g., using "if ... and" instead of "if ... then"). We learn that waiving a rent of a garment instead of the rent part of the garment is how it is said in Hebrew. We find that the particular manner of usage for "and it came to pass" and also "and now" fit ancient Hebrew patterns quite well--and surprisingly, even have counterparts in at least one major Mesoamerican language, where chiasmus is also found (e.g., abundant in the Popul Vuh).

Now we find that many other mistakes, like "in them days" and "a going" and many other awkward patterns like overuse of "did" for past tense and unnecessarily complex command syntax turn out to be non-standard modern English but not bad Early Modern English. What that means and why is still a matter for debate and investigation, but in so many issues, that which was laughable for years in the Book of Mormon has become interesting, even a strength.

Weaknesses becoming strengths. From the laughable idea of ancient writing on gold plates and burying sacred relics in stone boxes to the laughable names (Alma - hah! a woman's name--until archaeologists revealed a document from Lehi's era showing ALMA was a real man's name in ancient Judah), the laughable grammar, the laughable story of finding Bountiful in the Arabian Peninsula (ditto for the River Laman), etc., we find puzzles and weaknesses that we once had to accept or excuse have now become impressive strengths, or at least can be viewed as consistent with the ancient origins of the Book.

Jeff Lindsay said...

There are still weaknesses and issues for which we believers may require patience, and which critics are free to point to with all the sarcasm they can muster. But there's a track record here of weaknesses gradually being resolved, sometimes spectacularly so, at least giving some balance to the debate, enough to give those with open minds reason to explore more, but never so much to obviate the need for faith.

I'd love to have a peer-reviewed, authenticated inscription from Nephi be found and published. I'm with our critic on that one. I'd love to have more clearcut evidence regarding one of the top puzzles/weaknesses in the book, the mention of horses. There are some responses that can be made, some bits of evidence one can point to, but nothing like the way weaknesses became strengths in the Arabian Peninsula crossing or for many Book of Mormon names. And I'd love more finds that could better resolve questions on the references to metals in the Book of Mormon. Perhaps this was a problem in the Hebrew, a problem with an episode of loose translation, actually just a major blunder, or something with cool supporting evidence waiting to be uncovered in the future. The text isn't monolithic. Some parts have evidence, some parts have puzzles, some parts have language demanding respect and awe, some parts show human error in the printing, editing, or scribal work, some parts still make us scratch our heads, and some parts can powerfully touch our hearts and souls, changing our lives for good. It's not all uniform in any way.

It's not a matter of making up my mind--it's a matter of seeking to understand what we have and what we can learn from the complex and nuanced text. I know, I know, that makes it such a pain when all you're asking for is a nice, simple, stationary target that you can pick off. Make those Mormon commit to perfection in every word so that you can find a wrong word and devastate the whole text. Sorry, that's not a reasonable request.

flying fig said...

I just find it incredibly ironic that Latter Day Saints stake their claim to have finally cleared up all confusion about God, all confusion about the gospel, they've settled one and for all the confusion of Christ's one true church. With the advantage of actual living, modern prophets, operating for the first time in 2000 years with the authority of both the Aaronic and Mechelzideck priesthood, Latter Day Saints facilitate the ordinances of God with bold clarity.
At the same time there's this constant backpedaling and going on from the church and their apologists. "We're not really sure how the BoM translation process worked" "we're not really sure how the Book of Abraham was translated" "we're not sure about becoming gods" "we're not sure why blacks were denied the priesthood" "were not sure about a limited or Hemispheric geography"

Everything's suddenly a mystery.

"When our leaders speak, the thinking has been done. When they propose a plan — it is God's plan. When they point the way, there is no other which is safe. When they give direction, it should mark the end of controversy. God works in no other way." Ward Teachers Message, Desert News, Church Section, p. 5 (May 26, 1945)

Critics are only asking for what this Church claims to possess.

Orbiting Kolob said...

...our critic was not, of course, serious in his statement...

Actually, Jeff, I was making a serious statement in a playful way. (And is it really unreasonable of me to expect archaeological evidence of the BoM's steel swords, chariots, and great battles?)

As for "And it came to pass," yes, I suppose a glyph meaning to happen or to occur could be interpreted as "And it came to pass." It could be, but in any serious discussion what would actually count would be a glyph built up out of Mayan signifiers for and, it came, and to pass.

It should be an obvious point, but this apears to be the sort of blog where the obvious needs to be spelled out. So consider a parallel case involving a more familiar kind of translation:

(1) The Spanish occurio would normally be translated as it happened or it occurred. (Sorry, I can't make the required accent mark here.) It could conceivably also be translated as And it came to pass -- in the same sense that the Spanish Mayo could be translated as In the merry, merry month of May.

But the fact that such a translation is possible, as one secular scholar apparently has done, doesn't really tell us anything. For Jeff to suggest that this secular scholar has given us some sort of independent, secular verification of the BoM is laughable.

(2) As opposed to occurio, a phrase like Y vino a pasar really would mean something in this discussion, because its rendering as And it came to pass would be not merely a possibility, but the most natural and obvious translation. It would suggest some deep relation between the translated phrase and the original Hebrew idiom -- you know, because it actually reproduces the definitive features (the conjunction and the two verbs) of that idiom.

So, does the Mayan utchi combine the Mayan and, it came, and to pass?

Tell me, if you know. If it doesn't, please stop trying to wear us all out with such inanities.

Your claim about "them days" is also foolish. Here we have a phrase that was a common element of a contemporary nonstandard dialect (aka "hick grammar"). But remember, if a construction was easily available to JS as a linguistic resource, that fact by itself disqualifies it as evidence for BoM authenticity. The fact that a contemporary construction also turns out to be used in EModE means nothing. The question is only whether a 19th-century writer had that construction available.

Think about it. A lot of EModE -- not just them days, did eat, etc. -- was still in circulation in JS's time. Heck, a lot of EModE is still in circulation right now.

Consider this EModE sample from Caxton: So when he came to the churchyard, Sir Arthur alighted and tied his horse to the stile, and so he went to the tent, and found no knights there, for they were at the jousting.

Starting with sentence-initial so, every grammatical, syntactic, and semantic element of this EModE sentence is still in use today. Were I to use any of them in my own writing, could we thereby deduce some familiarity on my part with EModE? Of course not. Such things happen only in the overheated imagination of the LDS apologist.

As for the idea that them days is "an ironic marker," it appears we have progressed from "God's little joke" to "God's little irony" to "God's ironic marker," which, being interpreted, means, "Jeff has still not learned to avoid blatantly ad hoc explanations."

But all was false and hollow; though his tongue / Dropped manna, and could make the worse appear / The better reason.

– John Milton, Paradise Lost

everythingbeforeus said...

I always love spending a few moments with "Orbiting Kolob"

Ryan said...

Interesting that you should bring that up, Orbiting. It actually turns out that neither the Reina Valera bible nor the Spanish Book of Mormon ever use the phrase "vino a pasar" or the more accurate "llego a pasar" for "and it came to pass." Know what they do use? There are 4 different Spanish verbs that show up in place of "and it came to pass" in both. They are "ocurrio," as you mention, and also "suceodio," "acaecio," and most prominently in both cases, "acontecio." They all show up at least once in both the Reina Valera Bible and the Spanish Book of Mormon in place of "and it came to pass," and all translate as "it happened."

So in Spanish it seems that it's okay to replace "and it came to pass" with "it happened." Why not in Maya?

Ryan said...

"Suceodio" should read "sucedio"

everythingbeforeus said...

Well, then we need to figure out why the English version evidently got it so wrong. If Joseph Smith was really reading reformed Egyptian, a written alphabet in which spoken Hebrew could be transcribed to convey the spirit of a Mayan hieroglyph that means "...it happened..." why did he translate it into English borrowing the KJV oddity we all know and love as "and it came to pass,...?"

everythingbeforeus said...

Is the Spanish translation of the English Book of Mormon more inspired and accurate than the English version?

Anonymous said...

I think that the discussion deals more about the narrative style. The Hebrew of "it came to pass" is וַֽיְהִי - va-yeh-hee. Genesis 1:3 uses this:

And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light.

yeh-hee or, va-yeh-hee or.

The narrative style in this case God commanding light to be created, and it happened that light is created. There are numerous ways to translate this, it came to pass was vogue back in the day. "It happened" works along with "it came to be" etc. So, it isn't so remarkable that Maya has a glyph for "it happened" but what could be remarkable is that the Mayan inscription starts off its narrative form with this phrase.

Again, not so much what va-yeh-hee translates to (it happened, it came to pass, it fell (Italian)) but that the narrative form is there.

Joseph got it right by using "it came to pass" and the Church still got it right by using "it happened" for Spanish.


Ryan said...

The point, EBU, is that the translators of the RV Bible apparently found Spanish equivalents of "it happened" to be just as good as the KJV translators found "it came to pass" for whatever the original Hebrew phrase was. Two languages translating the bible from Hebrew coming up with separate, albeit perfectly useful translations of the same Hebrew phrase. Is it so impossible, then, that the Maya, influenced by the cultures around them, might have adopted that same phrase (or a similar one) in the way they did?

Is it more inspired to say "it happened" than "it came to pass"? No, of course not. Nor is it more inspired the other way around. Either phrase conveys the same meaning.

Why did Joseph translate it the way he did? Don't know, don't care. It doesn't interfere with my understanding of the teachings. However, I think one reason the Spanish BOM DOESN'T directly translate "and it came to pass" is because "vino a pasar" doesn't really make sense in Spanish, nor even "llego a pasar."

Orbiting Kolob said...

So in Spanish it seems that it's okay to replace "and it came to pass" with "it happened." Why not in Maya?

Heck -- why not in English? The simplest explanation is that Joseph Smith was trying to mimic the KJV style, whereas the Church functionaries who later translated the BoM into Spanish were not. No mystery here, since the KJV was an English and not a Spanish translation to begin with. Why mimic an English version for a Spanish-speaking readership?

Why did Joseph translate it the way he did?

Because he wanted to infuse his own creation with the considerable social and religious authority of the KJV. (Of course, he never truly translated the BoM or the BoA at all.)

In any event, the DNA evidence says the Maya are not Lamanites. Nor is there any evidence they possessed steel swords or horses, nor is their language even remotely descended from Hebrew or Egyptian. This is all very silly.

To those of us outside the fold, there's really nothing mysterious or inexplicable about the BoM. It's a fascinating and highly successful instance of Christian-nationalistic mythmaking -- an effort to write the United States into the Christian sacred story -- and in these terms it's a considerable human achievement. But it's not in any sense a history or a literary masterpiece.

Anonymous said...

Scientific Anerican on August 8, 2015 published an article about an excavation of a sink hole taking place in Wyoming that started last month.

They found CHEETAHS, HORSES, WOLVES, and other animals.

Cheetahs and horses aren't in the Americas. The paleontologists must be wrong, don't know what they are seeing, don't know their animals. Yeah, that's it. They are hacks, gotta be.

Anonymous said...

Sorry, Scientific American

Orbiting Kolob said...

Anon 4:32, the Scientific American article refers to "creatures that disappeared during the Ice Age extinction more than 10,000 years ago." These are prehistoric animals, not animals from Book of Mormon times.

Sorry, but the article provides no evidence whatsoever for the historicity of the BoM.

Anonymous said...

Hi OK,

Hmmm... sounds like you have a vial of Lamanite DNA that no one else has ;)

And, no one made the claim that the Mayan languages come from Hebrew or Egyptian. Just like Urdu has many Arabic influences, Urdu is essentially the same as Hindi. The Mayan languages could have been influenced by other languages including a possible narrative style by using "And it came to pass" or "It happened," etc. at the beginning of a narration. And it could also be their own narration style without any outside influence.

You are correct that there isn't any evidence of steel swords or horses.

So your conclusion is that the whole Mormon thing is made up. For me and as far as the physical evidence is concerned, I will sit still and wait. However, when I have felt that I have been touched by the Divine, I'll stay with the Church.


Orbiting Kolob said...

Steve, for those of us who don't already believe in the BoM, the idea "that the whole thing is made up" is not really a conclusion. It's the default position, from which we will depart only on the basis of sufficient evidence.

I trust you find this to be reasonable on our part. Perhaps you would even find it in yourself to agree that on balance, and in the absence of the kind of spiritual prompting to which you refer, the material evidence available thus far is just not all that persuasive.

Jeff Lindsay said...

Orbiting. I'm surprised that you've escalated your wish list to require the Mayan inscription to be literally linked to "and it came to pass," to the point of using three characters for "and" + "it came" + "to pass". Wow, really? Not really serious, are you?

In case you are, I'll point out that languages rarely work that way in translation. A single word or two sometimes translate most effectively into a longer phrase, and visa versa, and literal word-for-word patterns in common expression are rare. The Hebrew phrase that gives us "and it came to pass" in KJV language is a simple marker that is easy to use on the text for the kind of purposes we also see in the Book of Mormon, not a long awkward phrase like out English has. If for some reason the Hebrew influenced Mayan, which I don't really expect (the evidence for Hebrew influence on neighboring Uto-Aztecan languages, however, is a much different storing with compelling evidence from Brian Stubbs), then we wouldn't expect the Mayans to have used multiple glyphs for such a marker. One glyph would be more logical. One Mayan glyph for "it happened/it came to pass" and one for "it happens/and now" (like the Hebrew that gives us the marker "and now") sounds pretty reasonable.

Look, there's no question that the language of the Book of Mormon is closely related to the KJV. Some other modern translations of ancient texts have also adopted that convention. But within that reasonable selection of a language style, what is interesting is that the many and often systematic departures from the KJV are not easily explained as just being Joseph's words. The things that seemed like hick grammar but are actually good EModE do not find support for just being Joseph's natural language. Characteristic features of New England dialect don't explain the Book of Mormon. Details of how Joseph wrote other documents like the Doctrine and Covenants do not provide support for the idea that Joseph's attempt to use KJV language somehow just naturally led him to emulate pre-KJV elements. The D&C superficially sounds similar to the Book of Mormon --it is in KJV language in general, of course--but the intricate details of syntax depart from the Book of Mormon in the areas I've explored so far (e.g., command syntax and "did" for the past tense).

The issue of "and it came to pass" is far less interesting that the other issues around EModE, but the fact that it has been used with nuance and sophistication, in ways that closely follow the Hebraic use, and at a rate more similar to the Masoretic text than the KJV itself, suggest that the BOM's use is not just clumsily imitating the KJV. It's nuanced--not using it in poetry and quotations, using it in ways that are very unnatural for an English speaker, but in ways that follow Hebraic usage.

I haven't even raised the nuanced use of a companion marker, "and now," for which similar arguments can be made.

Jeff Lindsay said...

Fig, life is a mystery. Religion is a mystery. Much we don't know, though some of the big things we do know are amazing and awesome. But we've never had total clarity and have long "seen through a glass darkly." The statement "When our leaders speak, the thinking has been done" was disclaimed long ago by a President of the Church and was a sad blunder from someone editing a home teaching message. It's not how we see things. But it's one of those obscure little errant quotes that critics love to dig out from the past and wave around for effect.

Anonymous said...

Jeff you cannot deny that the church has pretended in the past to have the answers to the concerns Fig listed, and used them as selling points. In spite of the side-stepping and subterfuge so many infer from the mormonessays.com articles, Fig's points were taught openly. Much more openly and frequently than anything about seer stones or marrying other men's wives.

flying fig said...

Anon 12:16 is correct.
Jeff, you're clearly rewriting history. It doesn't take much digging at all to find prophet after prophet, apostle after apostle declaring an end to confusion, an end to controversies. Latter Day Saints regularly promote themselves on the fact that modern day prophets not only clarify past confusion but answer today's questions where the bible falls short.
But now it's "life is a mystery, Religion is a mystery. Much we don't know, ...we've never had total clarity"
One by one, every unusual teaching that was once proudly revealed as unorthodox has been reduced to "a mystery", "we're not clear about it". From the translation process to theosis, it's all now a mystery.

Jeff Lindsay said...

Naturally the critics WANT us to be backed into the "EVERYTHING IS KNOWN, EVERYTHING IS PERFECT" corner to be a nice sitting target, and are frustrated to find that Mormons refuse to accept that position. They are frustrated to find a variety of defenses may be used to deal with questions or attacks. For example, in dealing with problems in the Book of Mormon, they are frustrated to find that we sometimes appeal to Hebraisms, alternate interpretations, the possibility of scribal error, printing errors, errors in current understanding, or even an appeal to Early Modern English issues. How exasperating! But it is a complex text and the many issues are not monolithic.

But the idea that we don't know everything and still have many things to learn and discover is not new (nor, of course, is the idea of Church leaders being fallible). It dates back to the earliest days of the Restoration. The Book of Mormon, for example, was taken from just 1/3 of the gold plates. The bulk of what was there we don't have. In fact, even a big chunk of the unsealed plates we don't have because of a serious mistake by a prophet. Yep, human error and incomplete knowledge go back to the early days of the Church, and it was in after episode that the Lord told Joseph, "you [the prophet!] cannot always judge the righteous, or ... cannot always tell the wicked from the righteous" (D&C 10:37).

The Book of Mormon tells of many other records yet to come forth. Section 101:32-38 and also section 121:26-30 tell us of the many big things yet to be revealed in the Millennium, reminding us of just how little we know right now. The scriptures we have clearly do not answer all questions, and we are repeatedly commanded to seek learning and wisdom from the best books, to be aggressive learners.

Meanwhile, to see George Albert Smith's renunciation of the "the thinking is done" quote, which clearly should not have been printed and does not properly express LDS beliefs, see http://latterdayspence.blogspot.hk/2014/05/when-prophet-speaks-is-thinking-done.html.

Jeff Lindsay said...

But yes, in spite of that background, in spite of the obvious limitations in what we know and the obvious potential for human error in many ways, we Latter-day Saints have often been too confident and too quick to act as if all were known and no issues remained. Yes, that has been a problem, and I welcome the recent efforts of top Church leaders (and thinkers like Terryl Givens) to more openly address the issues of doubt and uncertainty, and the many things we don't know. On specific issues such as Book of Mormon geography, for example, there's been a lazy tendency to take simple statements or easy assumptions and then to draw vast unfounded conclusions based on that. It's only when people start to dig into the details and discover what is actually there that we begin to ask the right questions, re-examine lazy assumptions, and better understand what we can know and don't know. It's that more complex process, with a great deal of additional homework required, that has led many thought leaders in the Church to now recognize that a Mesoamerican model with limited geography makes much more sense for the setting of the Book of Mormon, which is why it's clearly unreasonable to expect to find ancient Nephite or Jaredite bones and weapons around the tiny Hill Cumorah in New York state.

Ditto for the details of the translation. Digging into the details of witness accounts and the compelling record from the earliest manuscripts, we are now learning much, more more about the process. It is painful in some ways as it challenges easy assumptions and simple, easy views that were long taught in seminary, Sunday School, etc. But this detailed investigation provides strong support for the witnesses's accounts that Joseph dictated the text. It wasn't someone else's manuscript just handed to a printer. It wasn't a carefully prepared manuscript with all the punctuation and careful editing one would expect from a forgery, but an oral text dictated and written without punctuation--just as we would expect from a miraculous process coming off an ancient Semitic text, and many of the warts and apparent blunders in the raw, dictated text actually point to authentic Semitic origins. So while challenging old, lazy assumptions, we are learning vastly more and gaining a deeper appreciation of the mystery--yes, still a MYSTERY--of the translation of the Book of Mormon.

This pattern of learning more and gaining new knowledge is part of the process of taking the Book of Mormon seriously, as we are commanded to do, and part of the process by which additional knowledge and truth is gradually revealed. Like it or not, there are still many mysteries to be revealed. We know so little, in spite of the MANY exciting things we do have and want to share. And a vital corollary to that is this: we don't have a monopoly on the truth. That also is hardly a new idea, in spite of assertions to the contrary that various members may have made in the past.

Orbiting Kolob said...

Jeff, why would I (or anyone else) be impressed with the bare fact that the Mayans had a word for "happen"? Presumably every language has such a term. I just don't see the significance, and in my earlier comment I was, of course, asking for something significant.

Would it be too much to ask for the courtesy of taking my claims and requests a bit more seriously -- you know, as they were intended -- rather than glomming on to that one trivial sense which is most easily refuted? One of the things I like about you and your blog is the way you almost always manage to be enthusiastic and entertainingly sharp in debate, but without engaging in the sort of supercilious snottiness of a Dan Peterson type. But in this particular case you've left me thinking, O come on -- you know what I meant, rather than about the substance of your claims. (In the same spirit, I'll continue to try to respond to what is actually said on this blog, rather than shooting at the easy targets provided by certain regrettable statements made by past LDS leaders.)

And, as always, I'm still waiting for Carmack to submit his research to independent professional scrutiny. Don't you think it would be nice to find out whether the "complexity" and "subtlety" you keep talking about are really there, rather than being mere artifacts of the collision of wishful thinking with bad methodology? I keep asking you about the peer-review camel, and you keep straining at gnats.

It's quite possible that peer review would do more than merely reveal flaws. It might also uncover ways for you and Carmack and other apologists to do a much better job of what you're trying to do (and probably save yourselves some forehead-smacking embarrassments down the road).

So here's a suggestion: perhaps you could review and summarize all of the peer-reviewed academic research on the language of the Book of Mormon, just to see where matters stand right now in the world beyond the apologetics bubble.

everythingbeforeus said...

Teryl Givens is not really addressing the issue of doubt. He is addressing the issue of faith, but doing so by talking about doubt. His goal is never to encourage people to really follow their doubts. His goal is really to convince people to believe despite their doubts. He supplies a certain type of acceptable unorthodoxy to those who really can't afford to doubt. His wife said in an interview with John Dehlin that even if it turns out it is all false, she can be happy with her decision to have believed anyway, because of the good life her faith has given her.

In other words, for her, the search for truth has ended. It is no longer about truth at all. It is about comfort. This is the "New Mormon Testimony." I am hearing it more and more.

Anonymous said...

Hi OK,

I don't begrudge the skeptic's approach wanting physical evidence for spiritual matters. I understand from an atheist's perspective that you would not want to start to have faith in spiritual matters so the default position would naturally be that it is all made up. You poke holes and like to have fun, we poke holes and like to have fun.


flying fig said...

How in the world can you tell me "Latter-day Saints have often been too confident and too quick to act as if all were known and no issues remained" and then have the gall to say the critics are "frustrated to find that Mormons refuse to accept that position. They are frustrated to find a variety of defended"

I love how you make it THE CRITIC'S problem.

"we don't have a monopoly on the truth. That also is hardly a new idea"
Again, more backpedaling and downplaying

Doctrine and Covenants 1:30 God says the LDS Church is "the ONLY true and living church upon the face of the whole earth"

"This is not just another Church. This is not just one of a family of Christian churches. This is the Church and kingdom of God, the ONLY true Church upon the face of the earth . . ." (Teachings of Ezra Taft Benson, pp. 164-165)

"If it had not been for Joseph Smith and the restoration, there would be NO salvation. There is NO salvation outside The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints." (Mormon Doctrine, 1979)

“With a regard to true theology, a more ignorant people never lived than the present so-called Christian world” (Brigham Young, Journal of Discourses 8:199).

Sure Jeff, "Mormons refuse to accept that position". Continue to rewrite/downplay/ignore history and then blame the critics for being frustrated. I'm not buying it

Anonymous said...

Hi FF,

You are conflating some ideas here. One idea that you are bringing to the table is priesthood authority. Another idea that you are bringing up is a monopoly on truth. Yes, as Mormons, we claim to have the priesthood authority. Since God is not an author of confusion, there is probably a good chance that the priesthood authority does not coexist with another church or churches.

Will you find the latest ground breaking work on String Theory coming out of SLC? Nope... What about latest Central American archaeological discoveries coming out of SLC? Nope again.... What about atomic theory? Nobel prize winners? Latest in cyber codes? How about the best ideas to deal with raising teenagers? Nope, nope, nope and nope.... Best translations of ancient texts? Well, BYU does have a good department but Mormons don't have a monopoly on that either. Personally, these kinds of truths are a blessing but I also don't care how these truths come to light.

Salt water taffy? SLC is a good place for that. Skiing? You can be in one of 5 ski resorts within an hour after landing at the SLC airport. Fastest cars? Bonneville Salt Flats. University of Utah used to (don't know if this is still the case) have an excellent computer science department.

Again, Mormons do claim to have the priesthood authority. Mormons don't claim to have a monopoly on truth.


flying fig said...

You're right Steve, Mormons dont have the monopoly on that type of truth.

The problem I see is that not too many years ago Mormons were quite proud of the fact that were the one true church to clear up all the confusion concerning God and the gospel, they were even proud of their unorthodox theology, through modern prophets to expand on things that the bible was silent on. As Jeff admits many Mormons were very confident in the church to end controversy.
But as information has become more readily available and more people are learning about the church and church history, people like Jeff are now rewriting history, ignoring statements by church leaders, telling us it's all a mystery, we're not sure of anything, and to just get over it.
The best part of all, he says critics are only frustrated because we can't pin the LDS down on anything.
Who's to blame us? It comes off as very disingenuous, this bait and switch

Jeff Lindsay said...

Fig, not every leaf in a forest belongs to a tree. Don't confuse the clearing of thickets of weeds for felling of sacred redwoods.

When I say I enjoy eating watermelon, it's not deceptive backpedaling if I shun the rind and spit out the seeds. There's a delicious, nourishing, even inspiring core, along with some parts that don't need to be swallowed.

You're confusing core concepts, where there is revealed certainty, with peripheral issues where much remains uncertain.

I have never said you can't pin us down on anything. You can pin us down to these core issues: God lives and is the Creator, Jesus lives and is our Savior, we are God's offspring and have an eternal destiny, faith is needed, repentance is needed, covenants to follow God are needed, the Priesthood has been restored, the Temple is a divine institution, prophets have been called, the Book of Mormon is ancient scripture translated by the power of God, etc. Those are core issues and you can pin me down to all of them, any day. The details, though, involve a great deal for us to learn and figure out. The Book of Mormon was translated by the power of God--pin me down on that--but we seriously don't have any revealed details on how he did. How did he select the words he did? What did he see or feel? How tight or loose was the translation? Why did he make certain editorial changes? And where exactly was Nahom, Zarahemla, etc. - we don't have the answers and need to figure that out on our own, with slow progress, occasionally abandoned assumptions and new theories, and lots of excitement that you, of course, find appalling and disingenuous. There has been uncertainty in the details from the beginning. That should be no mystery to you.

Orbiting Kolob said...

Not every leaf in a forest belongs to a tree.

This puts me in mind of a fun post, "The Boat Is Not the Shore": Shallow Thoughts on Gospel Deepities, put up a few days ago at By Common Consent.

The post opens like this:

"The boat is not the shore."

I say that a lot, usually in meetings. I have no idea what it means. It comes from the misremembered title of a book I saw on a shelf once. I use the expression, not because it conveys meaning, but because it sounds smart. Whenever I say it, people start nodding vaguely while mulling it over. People usually don’t want to admit that they don’t get it, so they start filling in the blanks themselves....

Is Jeff's adage a "deepity"? I'm not sure.

There has been uncertainty in the details from the beginning.

I think what Fig is objecting to is not the uncertainty itself, but the long habit of Church leaders presenting uncertainties as if they were absolutely certain, and thereby leading millions of trusting believers to believe things that were not true, and that at times were racist, disrespectful of other faiths, etc.

This habit -- which extends from Smith expounding on Zelph, to McConkie insulting Catholics and black people, and beyond -- has unquestionably damaged the reputation of the Church, and for many of us it fatally undermines the leaders' status as prophets: why should we believe people who managed to get so many important things so terribly wrong, when the liberals, the atheists, even the Communists of the time managed to get them right?

As for the gist of your comment above, Jeff, I think it's interesting that the Church itself does not seem quite as willing as you are to be "pinned down" on the historicity of the Book of Mormon. At least that's what I infer from the wording of the eighth of the 13 Articles of Faith:

"We believe the Bible to be the word of God as far as it is translated correctly; we also believe the Book of Mormon to be the word of God."

This wording, which we must assume to have been very carefully put together, leaves open the possibility of believing the BoM is not an actual history written in ancient times. After all, a text can be "the word of God" as long as in some way it succeeds in conveying ultimate truth -- even if it is fictional (e.g., myth, parable, or a tale such as Jonah or Job) or midrashic. (The key function of midrash is to "fill[] in gaps left in the biblical narrative regarding events and personalities that are only hinted at" -- basically, it's sophisticated religious fan-fiction.)

I'm not saying the General Authorities themselves do not believe in the ancientness and historicity of the BoM, though quite possibly a few of them do not (maybe Uchtdorf?). But I am saying that the leadership has approved some key "official" wording that allows the necessary leeway for theologically liberal Mormons to decline such a belief without violating the 13 Articles.

It's true that the Church website elsewhere says (e.g. here) that "the Book of Mormon contains the history and God’s dealings with the people who lived in the Americas between approximately 600 BC and 400 AD." As I said, most if not all of the leadership believes in the BoM's historicity, and that belief informs the Church website. But I think it's telling that this belief is not spelled out in the Articles of Faith. Deliberately or not, it has been left out of the list of those beliefs about which the Church is explicitly willing to be pinned down.

Hence my claim that one can reject the historicity of the BoM and still be a true Mormon.

Anonymous said...

Orbiting, you're deluding yourself. Your reading of AF8 is wrong. If top Mormon leaders thought as you do, things would be very different. You're blinded by your twisted perspective, which is common today. One can't be a true Mormon and reject historicity. That means it's fraudulent. Accepting that would lead to Mormonism dwindling away hugely in three generations. You believe the speculations of those who hate Mormonism. Those who reject historicity know very well the game they're playing. Their wrongheaded view undermines the foundation of Mormonism. The manifold witnesses of what went on long ago are solid. You can believe the lies if you want to, and tell yourself some more.

Orbiting Kolob said...

Anon 6:59, I think you're taking your objections too far. My responses to a few of your claims:

One can't be a true Mormon and reject historicity.

Maybe the best answer to this is the fact that no one is excommunicated for rejecting historicity. There are many members who openly consider the BoM a 19th-century text -- yet remain members in good standing. One might get ex'ed for teaching or actively promoting the 19th-century view, but not for believing it, just as one may personally believe in gay marriage or communism. The Church quite admirably and appropriately respects such matters of individual conscience.

That means it's fraudulent.

Not necessarily. JS and others might have been sincere about what they believed, yet wrong. History provides many examples of people who honestly considered themselves to have had visions of God, to have been appointed by God to lead armies and found churches and so on.

Accepting that would lead to Mormonism dwindling away hugely in three generations.

I'm not sure exactly what you mean here by "accepting that." If by that you mean the Church itself officially rejecting historicity, then you're quite possibly right (but not necessarily so--the Church is extremely resilient). But that's not what I was talking about. I was talking about the Church maintaining its official belief in historicity, but not requiring individual members to believe in it. That is in fact the position right now, and so far it does not seem to have hurt the Church one bit.

Far from "deluding" myself, I'm simply describing things as they are.

You believe the speculations of those who hate Mormonism.

Those who hate Mormonism? My own experience says otherwise. I personally know several members who reject historicity but love the Church, feel it has made them better people and the world a better place, etc. I "know" many more such people online. The more liberal precincts of the bloggernacle are full of them.

Finally, to describe my belief in the 19th-century origin of the BoM as mere "speculation" and "lies" is, well, let's just say uncharitable. There's plenty of evidence for such a belief, as Jeff and many other apologists will freely acknowledge.

Anonymous said...

Membership status is irrelevant to the question of being a true Mormon.

Nice try but you left out the plates and the angel. Fraud or real.

Cultural Mormons who reject historicity would inevitably lead the church into being another Christian church without important, bold claims. Then into accepting atheistic ways of thinking. Then into vacuity.

Those who hate Mormonism weigh evidence against historicity much more strongly than evidence for historicity. Cultural Mormons have wrongly accepted this specious weighing of evidence. Thus some cultural Mormons who still love various elements have accepted the speculations of those who hate Mormonism.

You, my friend, are an example of this. You weigh evidence against divine origins much more heavily than strong evidence for divine origins.

Orbiting Kolob said...

Well, let's try this a different way.

Imagine a member who rejects the BoM's historicity but nonetheless obeys all the commandments, completes a mission, goes through all the sacraments and performs all the ordinances, etc.

In other words, imagine someone who is indistinguishable from a "true Mormon" in all that he actually does. Will this person be denied salvation, exaltation, etc.? I'm a mere mortal, so I suppose I ultimately can't say -- but based on what the Church itself says, I see no reason to think that one's position on historicity would trump everything else and harm one in the eternities.

If someone's position on historicity (or their support for gay marriage, or membership in a communist party, or whatever) WILL harm them in the eternities, then it seems to me the Church would be telling them so, rather than telling them that such beliefs are acceptable re membership, Temple Recommends, etc. Why would the leadership lead people astray on such a crucial matter?

Jeff Lindsay said...

To go to the Temple, serve on a mission, etc., you need to be able to honestly affirm that you have a testimony of the Restoration. If you think it's just a human church without priesthood keys and no divine revelation leading to the Restoration, you aren't prepared to go to the Temple or serve as a missionary. Plus if you don't think revelation from God and divine power is behind it, why bother with a mission and all the things that might be asked of a committed, believing member?

As for gay marriage, Communism, etc., I think there is room for people to have a wide variety of views. Good Mormons here among the Chinese may strongly believe in Communism, for example, though many don't buy the theory but just accept its modern form (which is quite far from Marx and Engels) as how things work here. For those with differing views on social and political issues, provided they aren't actively opposing the Church, I don't think such views are a critical problem. But when people become intolerant of other views and spew anger toward, say, Church leaders for teaching something they disagree with, then there will soon be trouble.

James Anglin said...

When I say I enjoy eating watermelon, it's not deceptive backpedaling if I shun the rind and spit out the seeds. There's a delicious, nourishing, even inspiring core, along with some parts that don't need to be swallowed.

I like this point, and that way of putting it. There are core issues, and there are details. Core issues are like headquarters units well behind the front lines. The front-line details may shift back and forth, but the capital does not fall when a foxhole is captured. It would be nice if every belief structure with which one disagreed were a house of cards that would collapse entirely when the right point was struck. But structures like that are straw men. Nobody believes things that way.

Nor should they. Reality has core issues and details. Mormons don't deserve any blame for being fuzzy and flexible on details, but insistent about core issues. On the contrary, that's the right way to think.

It's not a guarantee of being right, however. There's usually a certain challenge in keeping core and details connected. It's easy to get absorbed in some small-scale battle and forget the bigger picture; or to take elaborate care over details, while simply taking the bigger picture for granted. If this happens, then the care over the details can give an impression of diligence and rigor, but in fact the core issues are still just being blindly assumed.

I feel that this is what is happening with the whole Mormon apologetic concept of 'tight control'. One identifies peculiar patterns in the Book of Mormon, and presents them as evidence for divine inspiration of the text. Ta-da! But carefully calculating these patterns is pulling out the microscope prematurely. The premises involved in 'tight control', and the connections to core issues, don't seem to me to be well enough established.

It's tempting to say, Ah, that will come later; for now, we are just pinning down the details. But the details just don't stand by themselves, or speak for themselves. In the absence of a clear connection between Mormon core issues, and particular kinds of pattern in the Mormon text, merely discovering a peculiar pattern is far less impressive than one might think.

If you specify the particular pattern in advance, and then see exactly that pattern in the data, then that's really impressive. So if core Mormon doctrines implied a clear and basic reason why the Book of Mormon should be written with archaic English grammar, then this Skousen and Carmack stuff might be significant. But if I even deal myself a random hand of cards, it can very well be that every red card is odd-numbered, or that I have exactly three spades in my hand, and my lone diamond is a three! What are the chances? Well, the chances of that particular hand are very low; but every hand is very unlikely. You can always find some peculiar and unlikely pattern, even in random data.

It's the Texas sharpshooter fallacy. (Shoot wildly at the side of a barn, then paints bullseyes around every bullet hole.) Early Modern English syntax in the Book of Mormon is a bullet that missed the barn entirely, it seems to me, and hit the tool shed down the lane. Carmack and Skousen are engaged in painting a tidy bullseye around it. And until there is some clear connection between Mormon core issues and this particular detail, that's all this 'tight control' stuff will ever be.

Orbiting Kolob said...

...you need to be able to honestly affirm that you have a testimony of the Restoration. If you think it's just a human church without priesthood keys and no divine revelation leading to the Restoration, you aren't prepared to go to the Temple or serve as a missionary. Plus if you don't think revelation from God and divine power is behind it, why bother...."

Agreed, Jeff. But here's the thing. All of the key terms here -- testimony, Restoration, priesthood keys, revelation, etc. -- are highly subjective and open to interpretation in ways that make them compatible with a lack of BoM historicity.

I think the Church itself has given us examples of using radical reinterpretation and redefinition as a way to accommodate faith to the emergence of new facts. One need think only of the way translation is now being redefined in the case of the Book of Abraham.

If the Church can redefine translation from its mainstream sense to something like use a document as a prompt or catalyst for perceiving divine truth (talk about "loose control"!) what cannot be done with the other terms?

But then, as you say, "Why bother?" Liberal Mormons have many reasons, ranging from a sincere belief in the prospect of spending eternity with their families, to a belief that the Church has made them better people, to a strong sense of identity and belonging. Surely you must know some New Order Mormons of this persuasion, no? (There are quite likely some NOMs among your readers.) Will you tell them they are not Mormons? I suspect there are even atheist Mormons who remain with the Church, for many of the same reasons that atheist Jews still light Sabbath candles and read the Torah.

Note that I'm merely describing things as they are. NOMs exist, and the Church has not excommunicated them merely for being NOMs. Of course you're quite right about the difference between holding dissenting views and actively opposing the Church. The first is fine, the second exposes one to excommunication. In practice the boundary between dissension and opposition can get fuzzy, of course, but that's the line that has been drawn.