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

Monday, May 30, 2016

The Iron Rod: Inspired by an Aqueduct in Rochester?

As discussed in my previous post, RT's response to my defense of the evidence for Lehi's Trail points to a new suggestion from Rick Grunder that perhaps the great and spacious building and the iron rod of Lehi's dream were inspired by Joseph's visit to Rochester looking for a printer for the Book of Mormon. In this scenario, Joseph hasn't written most of the beginning 143 pages (current printing) of the Book of Mormon. He is so impressed by the four stories of the Reynolds Arcade in Rochester, complete with a river a block or two away and its aqueduct with an iron railing,  that he turns it into a major theme in Lehi's dream as he dictates the rest of the Book of Mormon in the remaining days of June. This scenario probably can't work, though, for it appears that Joseph's trip to Rochester was in July, after he had completed the Book of Mormon. Further, Eldon Watson's detailed chronology of the Book of Mormon process puts the drafting of 1 Nephi 8 near the beginning of June, before any possibility of Joseph's trip to Rochester. But there is some uncertainty and in theory it is still possible for Rochester to have influenced Joseph.

The problem with only looking at modern sources to explain the Book of Mormon is that it leaves one blind to the abundant evidence of ancient origins. A fair evaluation should consider the Book of Mormon in the context it offers and determine if it is plausible and weight how the evidence for ancient origins compares to other theories.

Rick Grunder has found a building, a river, and an iron rail, and feels he has an incredibly compelling case. The same case could have been found in many cities of the world, for cities tend to be built on rivers, and tend to have buildings, including buildings at least four stories tall, and iron rails are found all over as well. The question, though, is whether something like an iron rod could have been known in antiquity, It doesn't need to have been used in ancient cities, but needs to have been a concept that could have been understood in a dream with spiritual significance. In the comments section, RT points to the purported problem of the iron rod and suggests that is is clearly a modern concept:
 In my view, the strength of the parallel relates to the conjunction of a long rod of iron and narrow path, a large swift flowing river and nearby falls ("terrible gulf"), and an exceptionally large and lavish building nearby. The appearance of a rod of iron in this setting is particularly important, since it is clearly not an ancient motif. There were no rods of iron set next to rivers at the time of Nephi in the Old World. I have always wondered where the notion could have come from, and so its presence here in a setting highly evocative of Lehi's dream and at a place JS is known to have visited is difficult to ignore.
Is a rod of iron a nineteenth century concept? Is it impossible to have been used in a divinely inspired vision in 600 B.C.? First realize that iron itself is not the problem. The Iron Age was well underway in Lehi's day. Even the "fine steel" of Laban's sword is not anachronistic, as some critics have claimed (especially those in the first few decades after the Book of Mormon, before the history of iron became better known), though high-quality steel could be rare and precious. So the problem raised by RT appears to be not the iron itself, but an iron rod. There were iron knives, iron swords, iron tools, iron cups, iron beds, iron yokes, etc., but is the concept of an "iron rod" so out of place in Lehi's day that it would have been unintelligible to him, like, say, showing him a 64 gigabyte flash drive of fine germanium-doped silicon holding zillions of sacred words? (Sing with me now: "Hold to the drive, the silicon drive...." Care to complete the lyrics for a little added glory?)

Actually, the term "iron rod" occurs in the KJV Old Testament in Psalm 2:9: "Thou shalt break them with a rod of iron; thou shalt dash them in pieces like a potter's vessel." It's not just a quirky KJV thing. The NIV also has "iron rod" while the NASB has "rod of iron."

Jeremiah 1:18 also speaks of an iron pillar: "I have made thee this day a defenced city, and an iron pillar, and brasen walls against the whole land...." The brass walls coupled with iron pillars (rodlike elements?) defend the city. The Hebrew word translated here as "pillar" can also be a platform or scaffold, according to Gesenius (see BlueLetterBible.org), so could this include a fencelike function? Probably not. However, structural iron elements should not be unrecognizable to Lehi, including iron structures used to protect people.

Updated paragraph,  5/31/2016: The KJV also twice mentions iron bars in Psalm 107:16 and Isaiah 45:2. The Hebrew word for "bars" is bĕriyach (בְּרִיחַ), Strong's H1280, which according to Gesenius' Hebrew-Chaldee Lexicon (see the entry for Strong's H1280 at BlueLetterBible.org), can mean a crossbeam or bar used to connect wooden boards of the tabernacle or can be a bolt or bar for shutting doors or gates. Here we have an iron beam-like or rod-like object that appears to be horizontal, again suggesting that iron horizontal objects serving some kind of structural or barrier function would not be inconceivable to Lehi. Interestingly, in Isaiah 45:2, the iron bars are mentioned after stating that the Lord would make that which was crooked (crooked paths, apparently) straight.

But I agree with RT in that I'm not aware of any ancient rivers in the Middle East that had iron rods along them, but that does not mean it could not have been an intelligible concept in a dream nor does it require that we look to modern sources for the concept of an iron rod. Given the presence of iron in Lehi's day and specifically of reference to an iron rod in Psalm 2, as well as other structural iron features in the Old Testament, iron in the form of a rod appearing in nothing more challenging than an archaeologically benign dream should not be overly puzzling. 
What I hope is more puzzling to RT is the association of a "rod" with the "word of God":
I beheld that the rod of iron, which my father had seen, was the word of God. (1 Nephi 11:25)
And they said unto me: What meaneth the rod of iron which our father saw, that led to the tree? And I said unto them that it was the word of God; and whoso would hearken unto the word of God, and would hold fast unto it, they would never perish. (1 Nephi 15:23—24)
How does a rod equal the word of God? Isn't that rather odd?

This concept may not have just been an on-the-fly blunder inspired by a last-minute glimpse of an iron fence on an aqueduct. In my previous post, I mentioned that elements from Lehi's dream appear to be interwoven in the remaining text of the Book of Mormon, which was written before 1 Nephi. One of those elements is the idea of "holding" onto the word of God, as in Helaman 3:29-30:
[29] Yea, we see that whosoever will may lay hold upon the word of God, which is quick and powerful, which shall divide asunder all the cunning and the snares and the wiles of the devil, and lead the man of Christ in a strait and narrow course across that everlasting gulf of misery which is prepared to engulf the wicked --

[30] And land their souls, yea, their immortal souls, at the right hand of God in the kingdom of heaven, to sit down with Abraham, and Isaac, and with Jacob, and with all our holy fathers, to go no more out.
Here language is used that echoes Nephi in several ways. In addition laying "hold" on the word of God, like the iron rod, we learn that it serves to lead one in a straight course to eternal life (like the tree of life) and to avoid the "gulf of misery" that Nephi also speaks of (2 Nephi 1:13, possibly building on the "terrible gulf" of Lehi's dream in 1 Nephi 12:18 and the "awful gulf" of 1 Nephi 15:28; cf. Alma 26:20 and Hel. 5:12). The dangerous journey to eternal life is made possible if one will "lay hold upon" the word of God and pursue its straight and narrow course.  The iron rod theme seems to have been part of background in Helaman 3, and this not readily explained by something Joseph saw well after dictating Helaman. But where does this concept come from? A random creation from Joseph inspired by some other modern scene in Rochester or elsewhere?

Hints of something more come from John Tvedtnes in "Rod and Sword as the Word of God," Journal of Book of Mormon Studies 5/2 (1996):
The use of a rod to represent words or speech is found in Proverbs 10:13 and 14:3. In other passages, it refers specifically to the word of God. In Isaiah 30:31, “the voice of the Lord” is contrasted with the rod of the Assyrians. In a few passages, the rod is compared to a covenant with God which, like a rod, can be broken (Ezekiel 20:37; Zechariah 11:10, 14). Micah wrote, “The Lord’s voice crieth unto the city, and the man of wisdom shall see thy name: hear ye the rod, and who hath appointed it” (Micah 6:9). Isaiah wrote of the Messiah, “But with righteousness shall he judge the poor, and reprove with equity for the meek of the earth: and he shall smite the earth with the rod of his mouth, and with the breath of his lips shall he slay the wicked” (Isaiah 11:4). A similar thought, obviously based on the Isaiah passage, is expressed in a modern revelation in which the Lord threatens to punish the unrepentant with “the rod of my mouth” (D&C 19:15).
Even more interesting information came later from Matthew Bowen in "What Meaneth the Rod of Iron?," Insights 25/2 (2005, footnotes omitted):
Further support for the antiquity of Nephi's imagery is detectable in his own comparison of the word to a rod, a comparison that may involve wordplay with the Egyptian term for "word" and "rod." Although we have the Book of Mormon text only in translation and do not know the original wording of the text, we can use our knowledge of the languages that the Nephite writers said they used—Hebrew and Egyptian (1 Nephi 1:2; Mormon 9:32—33) —to propose reasonable reconstructions.
We note that the Egyptian word mdw means not only "a staff [or] rod"2 but also "to speak" a "word."3 The derived word md.t, or mt.t, probably pronounced *mateh in Lehi's day, was common in the Egyptian dialect of that time and would have sounded very much like a common Hebrew word for rod or staff, matteh.4 It is also very interesting that the expression mdw-ntr was a technical term for a divine revelation, literally the "the word of God [or] divine decree."5 The phrase mdw-ntr also denoted "sacred writings,"6 what we would call scriptures, as well as the "written characters [or] script"7 in which these sacred writings were written.
Now consider Nephi's comparison of the word and the rod in the context of the Egyptian word mdw:
I beheld that the rod [mdw/mt.t, Heb. matteh] of iron, which my father had seen, was the word [mdw/mt.t] of God.8 (1 Nephi 11:25)
And they said unto me: What meaneth the rod [mdw/mt.t, Heb. matteh] of iron which our father saw, that led to the tree? And I said unto them that it was the word [mdw/mt.t] of God; and whoso would hearken unto the word of God, and would hold fast unto it, they would never perish. (1 Nephi 15:23—24)
An indication of Nephi's awareness of the play on words is his use of the expression "hold fast unto" the "word of God," since one can physically hold fast to a rod but not to a word (compare Helaman 3:29). Nephi's comparison of the rod of iron to the word of God also makes very good sense in light of other scriptural passages that employ the image of the iron rod.9 But the comparison takes on even richer connotations when viewed as a play on multiple senses of the Egyptian word mdw. Since Lehi's language consisted of the "learning of the Jews and the language of the Egyptians" (1 Nephi 1:2), we would reasonably expect that Lehi and his sons (Nephi in particular) were aware of, and probably even used, the common word mdw/mt.t in at least some of those senses. It seems unlikely that the word's phonetic similarity to Hebrew matteh would have escaped their attention. On the contrary, it would plausibly explain Nephi's apparent substitution of "word" for "rod" in later remarks to his brothers in 1 Nephi 17:26, 29: "And ye know that by his word [mdw/mt.t] the waters of the Red Sea were divided. . . . And ye also know that Moses, by his word [mdw/mt.t] according to the power of God which was in him, smote the rock, and there came forth water."10
Nephi's imagery itself, along with its possible Egyptian language wordplay, further attests the antiquity of the Book of Mormon. Certainly Joseph Smith in 1829 could not have known that mdw meant both "rod" and "word." However, Nephi, in the early sixth century BC likely had a good understanding of such nuances, and he may have employed them as part of a powerful object lesson for his brothers.
Like the white fruit of Lehi's dream, which impressed non-LDS scholar Margaret Barker with its ancient connections to documents Joseph Smith could not have known about ("White Fruit and a Guiding Rod" in The Worlds of Joseph Smith (Provo, BYU Press: 2006)), the ancient Semitic connections around the iron rod symbolism in the Book of Mormon are also rooted in antiquity and deserve more consideration than simply ascribing it to inspiration from a common modern setting (building, river, railing, all in the same city, no less). It requires more explanation than just assuming that the writings of Nephi must have been made up on the fly,  inspired by last-minute ideas Joseph picked up a few days before completing the Book of Mormon from a his late visit to Rochester, a visit so late that the Book of Mormon was probably already finished. Given the evidence from the text of the Book of Mormon, that theory of fabrication is a pipe dream, and if iron, then a heavily corroded iron pipe dream, far more fanciful, far more modern, and far less enduring than Lehi's.

Update,  5/31/2016:  Criticism about the rod of iron as an anachronistic structure to me seems to draw upon our modern views of iron railings. We assume that the rod of iron is a nicely anchored, stationary railing made according to modern standards, nicely cemented into place with supports ever 30 or so centimeters. But the rod of iron in Isaiah 11:4 is used for smiting, a rather dynamic act, and when Mormon appears to refer to the iron rod and other themes from Lehi's dream in Helaman 3:29-30, he urges us to "lay hold upon the word of God which is quick and powerful, which shall divide asunder all the cunning and the snares and the wiles of the devil, and lead the man of Christ in a strait [straight] and narrow  course across the everlasting gulf of misery..." The word, which we must hold, is "quick"--alive, active--and can "divide" (perhaps chop up, whack, or smite) the artifices of the Adversary. This suggests motion, the kind of motion you might get from a rod that is being wielded by a divine agent. In leading us to salvation (or to the tree of life), perhaps its action is also more than merely a passive support. Perhaps the iron rod is pulling us or actively moving us in the right direction. It actively wrecks Satan's deceitful artifices while bringing us, perhaps vigorously, to our goal. Well, it's a dream. We're not sure what he saw. But importing modern images into the dream and then declaring that the dream seems too modern may be a bit fallacious.

The possibility of the rod playing an active, dynamic role is not just Mormon's idea in Helaman 3. Nephi, in explaining the significance of the rod of iron to his brothers, states that "it was the word of God, and whose would hearken unto the word of God, and would hold fast unto it, they would never perish; neither could the temptations and the fiery darts of the adversary overpower them unto blindness, to lead them away to destruction" (1 Nephi 15:24). Thus, as Tvedtnes has noted, "This makes the rod both a source of support (as the word of God) and a weapon of defense against the devil’s 'fiery darts'...." Nephi's concept, nicely built into Helaman 3, suggests the role of the iron rod is more than just a static railing.

If the rod Lehi saw was an exaggerated iron scepter, a symbol of God's power and also of the word of God, building on the clever wordplay suggested by Matthew Bowen above, then in the dream it could have served as a barrier/railing but also as a dynamic tool to protect people and draw them home. Lehi doesn't say it was anchored, just that "it extended along the bank of the river and led to the tree" (1 Nephi 8:19). There was a path along the rod of iron (1 Nephi 18:20) and since a path is static, the rod may have been, but this is not necessary. The people who reached the tree of life "caught hold of the end of the rod of iron" and then pressed forward, "clinging to the rod or iron" (1 Nephi 8:24). So it had a finite length, and the key was grabbing the end of it and holding on. That makes sense for a static structure, but need not be, especially in a dream.

What if we compare the rod of iron with another metallic symbol of power, a sword? As we can see in Vol. 4 of Skousen's online Critical Text of the Book of Mormon, 1 Nephi 12:18, which currently has "the word of the justice of the Eternal God" serving to "divide" the wicked from the blessings of eternal life, but Skousen shows that this was a mistake and it should be the "sword of the justice of the Eternal God" that is doing the dividing, which is more logical and consistent with ancient usage and with the dividing action in Hel. 3:29, though there it is the word of God carrying out that action. As Tvedtnes has pointed out, rods, swords, and the word of God may all be connected.

Another connection occurs in 1 Nephi 15:30, when Nephi explains "that our father also saw that the justice of God did also divide the wicked from the righteous; and the brightness thereof was like unto the brightness of a flaming fire,..." The bright, flaming justice of God, a sword (as originally in 1 Nephi 12:8) that divides or separates the wicked from the tree of life, here appears to draw upon the image of the cherubim and flaming sword of Genesis 3:24, placed there by God "to keep the way of the tree of life." The "way" is derek, Strong's H1870, which means road, path, etc. I think Lehi's dream builds on that concept nicely, and we Latter-day Saints may have overlooked this connection to Genesis. We don't know the details of how the dream was presented and if Lehi saw a rod and a sword at the same time, far apart or somehow related, but his dream and Nephi's version were fairly sweeping with many features and scenes.

One of the most interesting aspects of the dream is the relationship between its stages and the three stages of the Jewish temple. This goes far beyond anything Joseph could have concocted, in my opinion, and nothing in Rochester would have helped here. See my first post on this, "A Temple Gone Dark."

There's much more to the iron rod than meets the modern eye, and much more to the Book of Mormon's use of that theme than Joseph would have gleaned from a quick glance at a Rochester aqueduct in his frantic final moments of dictating the beginning of the Book of Mormon, a beginning that is interwoven in many ways with the rest of the already-dictated text. The alleged weakness of an anachronistic iron rod structure in Lehi's dream may actually be a strength pointing to sophisticated usage drawing upon ancient concepts and even Semitic wordplays. The theory that Joseph came up with Lehi's dream almost as an afterthought in the last few hours of dictating the Book of Mormon just doesn't work.


Ian Harvey said...

I really enjoyed his article, thanks!

Everything Before Us said...

The Hebrew word for "rod" in Psalm 2:9 can also be translated as staff, scepter, or pen. Thus, I would suspect that it is referring to a handheld cylindrical object of relatively small size, rather than a handrail fixed into the ground that leads from a Point A to a Point B.

The context of the Psalm also gives this indication. You don't break something with a handrail of iron. But you do break things with a staff of iron.

James Anglin said...

A rod that you can use to break things is a short rod, that you can pick up and swing. A rod that you hold onto as a guide, and it leads you to some destination, is a much longer rod; today we'd probably call it a railing. So I'm afraid I don't buy this Old Testament precedent for an iron rod. The Iron Age knew iron tools, but architectural rods of iron that stretched over long distances didn't happen until the Industrial Age, as far as I know.

I suppose it's still conceivable that an ancient person might have dreamed of such a fabulous thing. Dreams are often bizarre. The Revelation that came to John of Patmos features a city whose gates were pearls and whose streets were gold. But arguing that iron guide rails were known in ancient times seems too much of a stretch, for me.

A rod of iron running through a mist along a riverbank would also be an odd choice of material to symbolize the guiding Word of God in an ancient dream, because iron rusts. The railing on the Rochester bridge might also have rusted, I suppose, if it wasn't somehow protected. Coating iron with zinc ('galvanizing' it) or painting it with waterproof paints that stick to metal are old anti-rust techniques, but not ancient.

I'm also a bit perturbed by "strait and narrow". "Strait" means "narrow", in the sense of being a tight squeeze. Geographically, "straits" are narrow channels of sea between arms of land, and since running aground was always a basic danger for sailing ships, straits were often "dire". And if money is tight, you're in "straitened circumstances".

Jesus's famous phrase is "strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life." The things which are strait and narrow, respectively, are two separate things (the gate, and the road or way). To call the same thing "strait and narrow" might perhaps be poetic; but was Hebrew poetic parallelism really so baldly redundant? At any rate, Jesus's phrase wasn't.

The "straight and narrow path" is in contrast not redundant — and not Biblical. It's from Pilgrim's Progress. People have been confusing the two expressions ever since 1678. That's not to say that an ancient person might not have dreamed of a road that was both straight and narrow, long before Christ. And "strait" might just be an archaic spelling for "straight". But "strait and narrow course" seems even more likely as a 19th century expression, after both Jesus and Bunyan.

Anonymous said...

Anglin, see Skousen, ATV, 174ff (about 8 pages on strait/straight in the BofM), since you seem interested.

James Anglin said...

Thanks for the suggestion. Skousen's opus is freely available online at MormonInterpreter.com, so it was easy to look this up. To summarize the eight pages on strait vs. straight: everything I posted here about the two words and their meanings is correct. I also learned from Skousen that the two words have entirely different etymologies, despite their similar spellings.

Skousen reports that both spellings have been mis-used for both words in different early editions of the Book of Mormon. As a correct version, he advocates the reading "straight and narrow" for paths, since "strait and narrow" would be redundant, as I noted. He also notes that there are straight paths in the Bible, and also a narrow one, but the only combination is "strait gate and narrow way".

He does not mention the fact that "straight and narrow" had been a common phrase in English ever since the 1678 publication of Pilgrim's Progress — a popular book among English-speaking Protestants well into Joseph Smith's time. I don't know whether Bunyan confused "strait" and "straight", and thought he was echoing the Bible, or whether no-one of his time would ever have confused the two words, and he simply decided that in his allegory the narrow way that led to Life should also be straight, like the path prepared in the wilderness to which John the Baptist referred.

I still can't say that a "straight and narrow" path couldn't have appeared in an ancient Jewish text. But if you're thinking about fraud, the echo of Bunyan has an anachronistic ring. Jewish writers got through the whole Bible without once mentioning a straight and narrow path or course or way, but the phrase crops up several times in the Book of Mormon ... which was dictated in a time and place where, if anyone had a book besides the Bible, the most likely second book was Pilgrim's Progress.

Anonymous said...

"You don't break something with a handrail of iron."

Obviously you haven't watched enough YouTube skateboard videos.

Jeff Lindsay said...

It could have been an iron scepter in the dream. How long does a scepter need to be to guide one past a gulf toward a tree? 10 meters? 50 meters? Yes, that's a wildly long scepter. But it's a dream, folks, and doesn't need to comply with manufacturing regulations and practical considerations. We are projecting a lot of modern views into the dream to then call it too modern.

Christian Adams said...

Where did the idea of Lehi's iron rod being equivalent to a handrail come from? I can remember reading those BoM children's picture books from the 1970s...with a giant handrail leading to the tree of life. How the symbolism of a rod, staff or sceptre got equated with a handrail is beyond me.

Darren said...

"The problem with only looking at modern sources to explain the Book of Mormon is that it leaves one blind to the abundant evidence of ancient origins."


And I have been thoroghly impressed with Matt Bowen's linguistic insights into the Book of Mormon for about a year or two now. I was very happy to see him cited here and reading the stated passage above regarding Lehi's dream using the Egyptian words as fillins allowed me to see a deeper meaning into that deam.

Great stuff!

Anonymous said...


Perhaps it was the description of the vision in which it sounds much more like a handrail Than a staff or scepter:

19 And I beheld a rod of iron, and it extended along the bank of the river, and led to the tree by which I stood.

20 And I also beheld a strait and narrow path, which came along by the rod of iron, even to the tree by which I stood; and it also led by the head of the fountain, unto a large and spacious field, as if it had been a world.

Anonymous said...

Spare the rod, spoil the child.

There is a obvious and distinct difference between the rods of the Old Testament and the iron rod described in the BoM. This large stretch appears to have led to an overstretch on Jeff's part. I guess it's a dream anyway so anything goes, right?

James Anglin said...

About projecting modern views into the text, and about letting modern sources blind one to ancient sources:

Both ancient and modern parallels suggest possible explanations for curious features in the Book of Mormon, but no such parallels can be decisive proofs of anything. The point of finding parallels is not to prove conclusions, but to induce pattern recognition: "Wow, the Book of Mormon fits so neatly into this larger real-world pattern; this can't just be a coincidence."

To Mormons the larger real-world pattern into which the Book fits so snugly may be the pattern of ancient language, geography, and culture. To non-Mormons it is instead the culture, language, and geography of 19th century New England that form the larger real-world pattern into which the Book of Mormon fits too well to be coincidental.

Pattern recognition is a powerful tool, and we couldn't live without it. But any pattern becomes more likely to be recognized if you go looking for it, and focusing on any pattern tends to blind you to others. If the scene before you can be perceived in two different ways, as two different patterns, then switching between the two views is a mental operation that isn't just about accumulating evidence to a point of conviction, because as long as you're seeing one pattern, you're profoundly biased against the other. Nonetheless people do switch views. How does that happen? I don't know. That's the main reason I follow Jeff's blog.

The fact that patterns can be ambiguously recognized doesn't necessarily mean that all patterns are equally correct. Only a few rather special images, like that one with the vase and two faces, are really perfectly ambiguous that way. Sometimes no pattern is correct: the cloud is neither a ducky nor a horsy, but a cloud. Most often, one pattern is right and the other is wrong. It's not a bear, it's a tree stump. But at dusk your brain can tell you that the stump is a bear for quite a while. That lumpy part there is clearly its head, and that's its shoulder ... look there, it just moved! Or wait. Did it?

Anonymous said...

Jeff's Helaman example above seems to be evidence that rod imagery in latter portions of the BoM is different than the rod imagery of Lehi's dream. Helaman says the word is "quick and powerful, which shall divide asunder all the cunning and the snares and the wiles of the devil." Compare that word which is very much action based to Lehi's rod, which "extended along the bank of the river, and led to the tree by which I stood." Lehi's rod is passive. It is an ever present constant that can lead one to the tree. Also, it doesn't lead across a gulf, but through mists of darkness. It is indeed a railing which provides support and guidance, not a weapon to be used for breaking: "they did press forward through the mist of darkness, clinging to the rod of iron." No crossing of a gulf, and no action from the rod.

Everything Before Us said...

Anon 8:31

The word being "quick and powerful" is not a BoM original. It is described as such in Hebrews 4:12. More evidence of the plagiaristic spirit of the BoM. There is very little of the BoM that is original. It bears the stamp of the Bible all through it. There are the obviously long quotations, but even beyond those, there Bible pops up again and again.

For instance, in Ether we have a "who's who" of the faithful. This reads in the same way as what appears in Hebrews 11.

Jeff Lindsay said...

EBU, the Book of Mormon is a translation. To deliberately use KJV words and even phrases that are "close enough" or good fits is perfectly fine in translation work if one wishes to use scriptural language. Just as "straight and narrow" was a widespread term popularized by Bunyan (but also used by much earlier Christian writers as well) and had entered into the vocabulary of religious writing, using that term in a translation is not an act of "plagiarism" but an act of translation.

We often find that original Book of Mormon terms are criticized as being unattested by the Bible, and that terms found in the Bible are criticized as examples of plagiarism. Sigh.

Jeff Lindsay said...

Anonymous said, "Lehi's rod is passive. It is an ever present constant that can lead one to the tree." Are you sure about that? I address this issue in the 5/31/2016 update to this post.

Clark Goble said...

The weird thing about RT's post on this parallel from New York is how unnecessary it is. If you think it's all made up, then "rod of iron" (irrespective of the underlying Hebrew) is a much better explanation than this building. Likewise there are abundant parallels to the tall and spacious building in 1 Enoch and other places. (And critics end up appealing to 1 Enoch for parallels at various points, so why not here?)

There's also Isaiah 11 which fits the imagery of Nephi's vision in that it comes out of a tree. Again a close reading shows the parallel breaks down but for how RT is seeking for parallels that's not necessarily a problem.

Don't get me wrong, if there was a real Nephi (as I think) and he had Hebrew scriptures then parallels like Psalms or Isaiah's rod become a bit more problematic. But RTs already rejected that.

Regarding necessarily whether the rod is a railing or a rod ala the OT and pseudopigrapha parallels, we should note the verse is fairly ambiguous. It does at first glance sound like a railing. But the text just says, "it extended along the bank of the river, and led to the tree." The length isn't given. We assume it's a railing extending for a long section of the river. But others have speculated (quite independent of apologetics) that it's just a regular rod of short length extended along the bank to keep people from falling in. It's impossible to tell from the text although clearly the way it reads in English and our culture incentivizes the railing reading.

There are some reasons to think there are parallels to 1 Enoch here (both for critics who see a naturalist 19th century setting and Mormons who tend to see an ancient setting). However in 1 Enoch the strongest parallels are to a valley in a mountainous area. In which case the rod as something to grab to avoid falling makes sense.

Anonymous said...

Do you guys believe in UFOs and multi-level marketing schemes too? Cause why bother being persuaded by logic when there's something that gives you a little spine tingle, right?

suord said...

Good point, Jeff: "We often find that original Book of Mormon terms are criticized as being unattested by the Bible, and that terms found in the Bible are criticized as examples of plagiarism. Sigh."

I invite all to check out Nick Frederick's presentation on NT usage in the BofM. Interesting material.

Nick's work leads to different conclusions depending on one's POV.

Joseph Smith had mastery over biblical material since his culture was imbued with such language. He managed to interweave biblical language throughout the BofM virtuosically because of innate ability and his cultural and familial upbringing, doing this on the fly by dictation.

The Lord accomplished a (non)literal translation of the BofM. This included quoted and modified biblical language. The Lord did this as he saw fit, and transmitted the rendered text to Joseph Smith who relayed it to his scribes.

Everything Before Us said...

EBU, the Book of Mormon is a translation. To deliberately use KJV words and even phrases that are "close enough" or good fits is perfectly fine in translation work if one wishes to use scriptural language. Just as "straight and narrow" was a widespread term popularized by Bunyan (but also used by much earlier Christian writers as well) and had entered into the vocabulary of religious writing, using that term in a translation is not an act of "plagiarism" but an act of translation.

I don't completely agree. Up to a point, sure. But to me, this would indicate a very very loose translation. So loose that I'd have a hard time calling it a translation. So loose that the original text isn't even all that important. That would be like finding a text in French in which the protagonist is quoted as saying, "I wonder if I should kill myself," and translating that as, "To be or not to be."

That is not what I call a translation. And I don't think if anyone opened up such a book that they would consider that a fair translation, either.

That is why these common expressions (not single words) of the 19th Century showing up all through the Book of Mormon is not a good thing for those who believe in it as an ancient document.

Expressions communicate concepts and ideas. Single words stand in for single words, usually, not complete concepts and ideas. And in the BoM, these concepts and ideas are uniquely European and Christian and they date after the existence of the Nephites. They are not Pre-Columbian American and Jewish from between 600 BCE and 400 CE.

Their existence is sufficient evidence that the Book of Mormon is. at the very least, not exactly what it claims to be in terms of its antiquity.

Anonymous said...


You're grasping at straws here. Your update has done nothing but embellish the description we have of the vision in the BoM to fit your theory. What if my theory is that the rod spoken of in Lehi's vision is actually a snake? We have biblical precedent of rods, or staffs, turning into snakes. Lehi's rod, in the end, should be able to transform into a snake and devour all of the people who have fallen away, just like Moses' staff. Is that supported by the description? If not, it's just because we're bringing modern-day perspective to the interpretation, right? That doesn't fit? It's a dream so anything could happen--it doesn't matter what the actual description is. It's not a rod, it's a snake!

It doesn't make sense based on the information available.

Anonymous said...

A borrowed concept I have encountered recently is the idea of opening the scriptures to someone (or explaining them):

Alma 21:9
9 Now Aaron began to open the scriptures unto them concerning the coming of Christ, and also concerning the resurrection of the dead

Alma 12:1
and to explain things beyond, or to unfold the scriptures beyond that which Amulek had done.

3 Nephi 1:24
24 And there were no contentions, save it were a few that began to preach, endeavoring to prove by the scriptures

This is a New Testament concept, not an Old Testament one:

Luke 24:32
32 And they said one to another, Did not our heart burn within us, while he talked with us by the way, and while he opened to us the scriptures?

Luke 24:45
45 Then opened he their understanding, that they might understand the scriptures

Everything Before Us said...

Anon 2:15


This idea of "opening the scriptures" is a New Testament concept precisely because in the New Testament, the scriptures were the words of the prophets of the Old Testament, the Law, and the Psalms, and these scriptures were not obviously speaking of Jesus of Nazareth. They had to be reinterpreted to speak of him, or in other words, "unfolded," "opened."

The word of God in its fullness was not revealed until Christ came to earth. Paul says so:

Colossians 1:25,26: I have become its servant by the commission God gave me to present to you the word of God in its fullness— the mystery that has been kept hidden for ages and generations, but is now disclosed to the Lord’s people.

Therefore, the Nephites and the Lamanites couldn't have possessed the fullness of the Gospel. It had been a mystery for ages and generations until the Son of God appeared.

And therefore, the Mormon belief that the Gospel has been taught in its fullness in all dispensations is not Biblical, either. This is actually an occultic/Masonic/Hermetic doctrine. The idea is found published in a book in 1801 by George Oliver, in which he claims that the true "masonry" was taught in the Garden of Eden to Adam and passed down to Seth, being corrupted along the way.

James Anglin said...

This is an interesting discussion. We've had RT posting here, and now also Clark Goble, whom I recognize as a serious guy from Times and Seasons.Let the good times roll. Perhaps my best contribution as a non-Mormon physicist is just to note that one rod is exactly 5.0292 meters.

More seriously: Jeff, however you measure it, a rod of iron that you can swing to break things is too short to serve as a guide through dark mist. That doesn't invalidate Lehi's dream as an ancient Jewish dream, but I think it does mean that the OT parallel doesn't fit. On the other hand, "straight and narrow" as good translation, precisely because it was a standard English phrase in Smith's day, does make sense. Back on the first hand, EBU has a point in rebuttal. If you're picking out familiar phrases in a language more than two thousand years removed from your original text, you're doing a good but pretty free translation — to the point where one would hardly expect to see any Hebraisms in the Book of Mormon. At some point, you can't have it both ways.

I also think that Clark is right that at some point this whole discussion becomes silly for skeptics, because if the Book of Mormon is simply made up, then would Joseph Smith really have had to see buildings and guardrails in Rochester to make up Lehi's dream? It's a dream. It might well be weird. It might even have been the dream of Joseph Smith, Sr., long before it made it into the revelation of his son Joseph Jr. If Smith were just making things up — as I myself am inclined to believe — then I think he could have made up this dream without the stimulus of the Rochester aqueduct. So whether Reynolds Arcade and the bridge nearby it were a source for the imagery is an academic point. There's no sense getting too excited about it, either way.

Glenn Thigpen said...

This is a bit of a puzzling passage from any viewpoint. The word "rod" evokes, to me, the idea of something short that can be wielded. Yet Lehi is describing a long, rail like object, extending along the bank of the river and a strait (straight) and narrow path up to the tree with the amazing fruit, but offers no further description, and leaves it hanging in air, so to speak. And, that is just how I pictured it in my mind, for some reason.
Somehow the picture of that sometimes zig zagging iron fence that follows the curving aqueduct across the Genesee River does not evoke a picture of a guide rail, but I guess that it will suffice for someone who cannot countenance anything but a natural explanation for the Book of Mormon.
However awkward the usage is, the word rail would have been completely out of place because it is only used a verb or a verbal in the scriptures. Somehow Joseph dodged making that blunder.


Anonymous said...

Remember that even works we think are incredibly creative generally have roots somewhere (every poet is a thief). The imagery could have been created out of whole cloth, but that likelihood is extremely low.

James Anglin said...

@Glenn Thigpen:

It's true that "rail" would have sounded more modern than "rod". But if the original Hebrew account of Lehi's dream really described something more rail-like than rod-like, and if the Book of Mormon was being miraculously translated into English for a 19th century audience, why wouldn't God have used the clearest English term for the object in question? I mean, I can understand a fraudster taking care not to sound too modern. But why would God care about something like that? Why would God consider it a blunder to be avoided? The Book of Mormon certainly uses many modern-sounding words in other places.

@Anonymous 8:23:
Yeah, people often find sources. But Smith's source for the rod in Lehi's dream could have been a dew-covered spiderweb that he saw stretching through morning mist and glittering like iron, back on the farm when he was twelve. Or mis-heard song lyrics that prompted a curious mental image for him. Or almost anything.

Everything Before Us said...

I haven't seen anyone state the obvious, which is that the Tree of Life dream is borrowed from Joseph Smith, Sr's dream. Who needs to see an aqueduct or a large building in Rochester when your father tells you about a dream with a river, a large building, and a tree in 1811?

Glenn Thigpen said...

@ James Anglin

I don't know why God did it the way He did. I don't know why the Book of Mormon English has so much Early Modern English rather than Biblical English. But just maybe, Lehi was recounting what he saw.

@EBU, Maybe Joseph was "borrowing" from his father's dream. Or maybe Joseph Sr. had had a vision similar to the one that Lehi saw, or just maybe Lucy Mack Smith conflated the two, maybe she was "borrowing" from Lehi's vision in the Book of Mormon when she penned her memoirs fifteen some years after the publication of the Book of Mormon and over thirty years after the dream was divulged.