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

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Another Surprise in the Dictated Language of the Book of Mormon

For those of you following the surprising findings regarding the language of the Book of Mormon as originally dictated by Joseph Smith, there's a new set of data to consider that shatters some common assumptions.

For many decades, Latter-day Saints naturally assumed that Joseph Smith dictated the Book of Mormon in his own language. Exactly how was always unclear: was he given precise information in his own dialect, or just general concepts that he had to express in his own language with a KJV twist, or was there some other route? From what we learned through Royal Skousen's detailed work on the Book of Mormon manuscripts about the text that Joseph's scribes recorded language directly from his dictation, some of us felt rather embarrassed at just how awkward that dialect was, loaded with objectionable "hick" grammar. Awkward!

Then came further surprising findings from Royal Skousen that many of the things we took as bad grammar are actually acceptable grammar from the Early Modern English era, but with features that cannot simply be obtained by imitating the King James Version of the Bible. This has been expanded with detailed work from Stanford Carmack showing that many features correspond with Early Modern English from a couple of decades or so before the KJV. So strange! But that's what the data demonstrate.

In response, proposals for a non-miraculous translation of the Book of Mormon then included the idea that this non-standard patterns from Early Modern English represented artifacts that persisted in Joseph's dialect while becoming extinct in standard English. For example, the awkward "in them days" found in the dictated text is still found in places like York, England (at least among some of its educated people). So in light of the newly discovered Early Modern English content in the Book of Mormon, it is natural to assume that all those awkward expressions in the dictated Book of Mormon represented fossilized archaic forms in Joseph's dialect, mingled with scripture and scriptural language from the KJV.

However, this latest assumption that all these Early Modern English forms were just part of Joseph's odd dialect can be tested in several ways. The most direct way is to look at Joseph's own language in a time frame close to the Book of Mormon project and see if those fossils of Early Modern English actually exist. This is what Stanford Carmack has done in his latest contribution, "How Joseph Smith’s Grammar Differed from Book of Mormon Grammar: Evidence from the 1832 History," in Interpreter: A Journal of Mormon Scripture 25 (2017): 239-259. Here is an abstract:
Some of the grammar of Joseph Smith’s 1832 History is examined. Three archaic, extra-biblical features that occur quite frequently in the Book of Mormon are not present in the history, even though there was ample opportunity for use. Relevant usage in the 1832 History is typical of modern English, in line with independent linguistic studies. This leads to the conclusion that Joseph’s grammar was not archaizing in these three types of morphosyntax which are prominent in the earliest text of the Book of Mormon. This corroborating evidence also indicates that English words were transmitted to Joseph throughout the dictation of the Book of Mormon.
I previously attempted something similar using the 1835 Doctrine and Covenants, where I was actually surprised at just how different that language was from the Book of Mormon (and also from other scholarship on early New England dialects). See “Did You Notice? What the Doctrine and Covenants Tells Us About the Earliest Text of the Book of Mormon” and “Another Test: The 1835 Doctrine and Covenants Use of Command Syntax and What It Tells Us About the Language in the Book of Mormon,” both from Aug. 2015.

The intricate details of the language in the dictated text suggest that its origins were not merely from Joseph's mind and tongue. Something else was going on. There is a fingerprint in the text that has been before us all these years, only know being brought out through detailed forensics. Call it miraculous or just a perplexingly clever fraud aided by unknown experts in Early Modern English, or maybe something else? In any case, the data compels reconsidering our lazy assumptions about how and what Joseph dictated.

Saturday, June 10, 2017

Bible Scholar Breaks Ranks and Reverses His Views on the Ending of Mark Based on Evidence

The progress of scholarship can be painfully slow when established paradigms are wrong. Even when abundant data and logic support a new way of looking at things, old paradigms can die hard as the guard sticks with what "everybody knows." That's probably why it took over 200 years for the experts of the British Navy to concede that scurvy can be prevented with citrus fruits. It's also why Ignaz Semmelweis would be rejected and scorned for years for his crazy notion that some kind of invisible material (germs) from the unwashed hands of doctors was killing mothers in European clinics after childbirth when they were delivered by medical students who often had been working on cadavers the same day.

I recently ran across an encouraging example of a Bible scholar breaking ranks from the "consensus" of his fellow scholars and completely reversing his position on an important New Testament issue. Scholars for decades have rejected the so-called "longer ending" of the Gospel of Mark (verses 9 to 20 in Mark 16) as fraudulent, a late addition from scribes who were uncomfortable with the "legitimate" abrupt ending at verse 8. But the consensus of scholars on this point may have been largely based on peer dynamics as scholars accepted and repeated what others had said without a careful consideration of the data. The weakness behind that consensus has, in my opinion, been thoroughly exposed by several scholars, most notably Nicholas P. Lunn in The Original Ending of Mark: A New Case for the Authenticity of Mark 16:9-20 (Eugene, OR: Pickwick Publications, 2014), as I have mentioned before here.

In light of Lunn's work, we can see that many scholarly statements on the issue of the ending of Mark are surprisingly wrong and easily demonstrated to be false. A lengthy list of such statements has been compiled by James Snapp, Jr. in Authentic: The Case for Mark 16:9-20: 2016 Edition (James Snapp, Jr: 2016, Kindle edition). For example, numerous scholars have informed their readers that verses 9-20 of Mark 16 “are lacking in many of the oldest and most reliable manuscripts" (Norman Geisler), and that there are "many" ancient Greek manuscripts that simply end at Mark 16:8 (e.g., Larry O. Richards, Wilfrid J. Harrington, Jim Levitt). Eugene Peterson states that the long ending “is contained only in later manuscripts.” Donald Juel even speaks of the "almost unanimous testimony of the oldest Greek manuscripts" in excluding the longer ending. This error is further amplified by Ernest Findlay Scott's claim that the 12 verses of the longer ending “are found in no early manuscript,” and David Ewert takes that error to its zenith with, “All major manuscripts end this Gospel at 16:8.”

Among the many scholars quoted by Snapp is Craig A. Evans, currently the the John Bisagno Distinguished Professor of Christian Origins and Dean of the School of Christian Thought at Houston Baptist University in Texas. Evans had written that “Many of the older manuscripts have asterisks and obeli [the technical term for funny little marks like ÷ or ] marking off the Long or Short Endings as spurious or at least doubtful,” and, “Later copies contain vv. 9-20, but they are marked off with asterisks or obelisks, warning readers and copyists that these twelve verses are doubtful.” Evans stated that these verses “were added at least two centuries after Mark first began to circulate,” which would seem to put the origins of the longer ending to some time after 260. In reality, there is overwhelming evidence that the longer ending as we have it was known and used by Christians long before a few Greek manuscripts were made without it.

After reading Lunn, Dr. Evans wrote:
Nicholas Lunn has thoroughly shaken my views concerning the ending of the Gospel of Mark. As in the case of most gospel scholars, I have for my whole career held that Mark 16:9-20, the so-called "Long Ending," was not original. But in his well-researched and carefully argued book, Lunn succeeds in showing just how flimsy that position really is. [Craig A. Evans, statement printed on the back cover of Lunn, The Original Ending of Mark; see also http://www.jeffriddle.net/2015/04/new-book-defends-traditional-ending-of.html.]
Evans offers a welcome example of a scholar changing his mind in light of the evidence on this matter. Many scholars feel there is no need to even consider the questions Lunn and others raise about the consensus rejection of the longer ending of Mark, but this is unfortunate and might remind us to exercise caution when adjusting our faith based on a purported scholarly consensus. Kudos to Dr. Evans!

This topic is relevant to the Book of Mormon, of course, since the words of Christ to His New World disciples, as quoted by Mormon in Mormon 9:22-25, include words very similar to the great commission Christ gave His apostles in the longer ending of Mark. Knowing that the longer ending of Mark has support as authentic scripture helps solve a particularly interesting Book of Mormon challenge.

Sunday, June 04, 2017

A Shanghai Testimony on the Hidden Wisdom Behind Callings

In the fast and testimony meeting held yesterday in one of the Shanghai branches, I heard a story from a woman who received a calling just weeks before they would be moving out of her US ward. The bishop called her in to issue a calling to serve in the Primary presidency (the children's organization), and said he strongly felt this calling was from God. The woman, who had never had a Primary calling before, was puzzled. She would only be in town a few weeks before they moved away to China, and didn't see what good could come out of being in a presidency position for such a short time. But she accepted the calling.

Later the Primary President came to meet with her. That woman was normally a very calm, steady woman, not known for being emotional or breaking out in tears. But as the President shared her experience in making this calling, she couldn't help but cry. As she prayerfully considered the many women in the ward who might serve with her as a counselor, one name kept coming up, but she dismissed that name because she knew that the candidate would only be around a short while before moving away. Finally, though, she sought the Lord's guidance more fully, and felt a strong impression from the Lord telling her something rather specific: "This woman needs to be in the Primary presidency so she can learn the Primary curriculum." With no doubt now that this calling was from the Lord, the President asked the bishop to extend the calling.

In those days, the Primary curriculum was not online and easy to access as it is today. The woman sharing her testimony explained that when they came to China, they would be part of the small handful of members scattered in a large city with very few foreigners, with little access to Church materials. If she had not come already knowing and owning the Primary curriculum and knowing how to run Primary, her own children would have grown up over the new few years with a pale imitation of a real Primary experience. Her early experience in China showed her that she, her family, and others would be blessed because of that brief calling she held in a Primary presidency. It strengthened her testimony that callings do come from the Lord.

I feel the same way, while accepting the reality that human mistakes can occur along the way, especially when I am involved. But while I have (rarely) questioned the wisdom of a particular calling (either one I extended or one extended to me), I have a testimony as well for the concept of inspired callings driven by revelation and certainly extended through authority that comes from God. And I also have seen the good that can come from callings that can only be held for a very short time. May we elevate our patience and faith when surprise callings come our way, and let the Lord later show us His wisdom in giving us that opportunity to serve.