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

Monday, January 15, 2018

A Surprise in Alma 7:11

Thomas Wayment's "The Hebrew Text of Alma 7:11" in Journal of Book of Mormon Studies 14/1 (2005) makes a surprising observation (the link is to the PDF file -- there is also an HTML version for faster loading of the text). Alma quotes a small phrase from the brass plates, and the quoted passage turns out to be Isaiah 53:4. But it doesn't follow the KJV for Isaiah. It doesn't follow the KJV in Matthew when Christ quotes the same line. It doesn't follow the translation given in the Septuagint. But it does rather precisely follow what the Hebrew text has. One tiny little detail, but rich in significance.
Masoretic Hebrew: Surely he has borne our pains and sicknesses (MT ʾākēn ḥôlāyēnû hūʾ nāśāʾ ūmakʾōbênû sebālām)
LXX: Thus he bears our sins and our pains (LXX outōs tas amartias ēmōn ferei kai peri ēmōn odunatai)
Isaiah 53:4 KJV: Surely he hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows
Alma 7:11: he will take upon him the pains and sicknesses of his people
Matthew 8:17 KJV: Himself took our infirmities, and bare our sicknesses (autos tas astheneias ēmōn elaben kai tas nosous ebastasen)
Compare to Alma 7:11: "he will take upon him the pains and sicknesses of his people."

While the KJV seems to be used heavily when it is "good enough" to keep things familiar to the audience, Hebraic subtleties come through in many cases that are difficult to explain with the theory of Joseph as the author of the text.

There's always more than meets the eye in the Book of Mormon, waiting for the open-minded reader to explore and discover.

Monday, January 08, 2018

The Valley of Alma and Another Candidate for Janus Parallelism in the Book of Mormon

In my last post, I offered an update to my article at the Interpreter on Janus parallelism in the Book of Mormon, suggesting that there were additional reasons to suspect that Alma 8:9-10 employed a known Janus function in which one word can mean "hedge in, fence in" and "pour out." In pondering that this morning, I realized that I had been too quick to dismiss the first potential candidate I had noted in the Book of Mormon.

Mosiah 24:21 also uses "poured out":
Yea, and in the valley of Alma they poured out their thanks to God because he had been merciful unto them, and eased their burdens, and had delivered them out of bondage; for they were in bondage, and none could deliver them except it were the Lord their God.
This was the first verse I identified as a potential Janus parallelism in my notes as I read Scott Noegel's book,  Janus Parallelism in the Book of Job. But dismissed it or overlooked it after that because it didn't seem very solid. Alma and his people had just been liberated from captivity in Helam and were now passing through the Valley of Alma and apparently holding a ritual of thanksgiving there. They weren't really hedged in. Sloppily, I forgot about this candidate and moved on as I prepared my research note for The Interpreter.

Mosiah 24:23 provides the clue that I should have remembered that reveals why the Valley of Alma is associated with the sense of being "fenced in" or "hedged up." After the people give thanks, the Lord speaks to Alma in Mosiah 24:23:
And now the Lord said unto Alma: Haste thee and get thou and this people out of this land, for the Lamanites have awakened and do pursue thee; therefore get thee out of this land, and I will stop the Lamanites in this valley that they come no further in pursuit of this people.
The Valley of Alma, given great emphasis and mentioned three times in short order before "poured out" in Mosiah 24:21, is the place where the enemies of Alma's people will literally be blocked by the Lord, hedged in or fenced in. If the Book of Mormon were fiction, we'd probably have an omniscient narrator tell us how that happens. But the Book of Mormon consistently offers clear provenance about where information came from in its written record, and since no witnesses to the miracle of hedging come into the circle of Nephite writers, we never find out how it was done. But the Lord promised to "stop" them there, and we can safely trust that they were in fact stopped, or rather, hedge in, fenced in, or perhaps enclosed in some way. While the vital clue about the hedging occurs after the Janus pivot in Mosiah 24:21, the pivot read as "hedge, fence in" looks backward to the Valley of Alma in the first stich which shortly would be the place of hedging, while also looking forward to the following "Spirit" which is the natural object of the meaning of "pour out" or "annoint."

By way of background, here is what I said of this particular form of Janus parallelism in Job in my article at the Interpreter:
On page 39, Noegel examines Job 3:23–24 and the dual meanings of וַיָּסֶךְ from the roots סָכַךְ (cakak, Strong’s H5526 ) meaning “hedged in, fenced in, enclosed, cover, covering” and the root סוּךְ (cuwk, Strong’s H5480 ) meaning “pour out, anoint.” In Job 3:23, this word plus the preceding text can be translated as “to a man whose way is hidden, whom God has fenced in.” But if given the alternate meaning of “poured out,” then “whom God has poured out” anticipates “my groans are poured out for me as water” in the last part of Job 3:24. It’s a nice example of the two-sided technique of Janus parallelism.
Mosiah 24:21 is part of a moment of pious praise to the Lord, and an appropriate time for poetical elements like Janus parallelism. The same parallelism apparently is later used, as I have previously discussed,  in Alma 8:9-10. It is possible that both were in the original records from Alma and Mormon has preserved them in his account, and that's what I presume, but it is also possible that Mormon as editor worked them into his account. In either case, the fact that the hedged in/ pour out parallelism seems to neatly fit in a couple of places and is used meaningfully and appropriately might increase the odds that "something interesting is going on here" versus just making too much of random word patterns.

Sunday, January 07, 2018

Update on Tentative Proposals for Janus Parallelism in the Book of Mormon

About a year ago I published several articles here at Mormanity on the topic of Janus parallelism, where one Hebrew word or phrase with dual meanings can invoke both, one linked to or looking back to the preceding words and the other meaning looking forward to the following words. It's a fascinating case of deliberate ambiguity in the Hebrew, and it is used heavily in Job, as scholar Scott Noegel has demonstrated with his exploration of over 50 examples in Janus Parallelism in the Book of Job. Building on my past posts, I recently published a book review of Noegel's work in The Interpreter, and then on Friday The Interpreter also published my follow-up research note on the possibility of Janus parallelisms in the Book of Mormon. I tentatively look for examples of known cases that Noegel has identified by searching for related English words and usages in the Book of Mormon. It's a very speculative effort fraught with risk of false positives, of course.

There's an update to that note already that might be of interest to some of you. Still speculative, of course, but I'd appreciate any feedback.

One publication that would have been useful to cite, had it come out a little earlier, is the work of Matthew Bowen published a few weeks ago: "Jacob's Protector" also at The Interpreter. Bowen explores several subtle themes in the Book of Mormon involving the patriarch Jacob, and in discussing Jacob’s divine “wrestle” in Genesis 32, observes that the word "wrestle" can also mean "embrace." To me, this strengthens the proposed Janus parallelism for Alma 8:9-10 (my tentative Example #1), where I proposed that a Hebrew word meaning "poured out" that can also mean "hedge in, enclose," looks back to the earlier "wrestled" in that passage. The "enclose" sense would seem to be particularly suitable for alluding to a Jacob-like divine embrace/wrestle in seeking aid for the people Alma is ministering to.

Bowen sees a reference to a wordplay involving Jacob's wrestle/embrace in this passage. In light of the possible Janus parallelism in Alma 8:9-10 and Bowen's discussion of Book of Mormon word plays involving wrestling, there may be even more parallelism to consider in this possibly artful passage.

If the use of "wrestling" deliberately alludes to Jacob, perhaps we should consider that possibility as well in the opening stich regarding Satan's "hold" upon the hearts of the people (Alma 8:9). Could this use the same root that Gen. 25:26 uses to describe how Esau "took hold" of Jacob's heel? The Hebrew root is Strong's H270, 'achaz. This root can also mean to enclose (Piel), which might resonate with embrace/wrestle and the potential dual meaning proposed for "pour out" in the passage in question.

The phrase in verse 9, "Satan had gotten great hold upon the hearts of the people," is paralleled in verse 11 by the response of the people to Alma's words: "Nevertheless, they hardened their hearts...." Could "hardened" here be related to Strong's H2388, chazaq? This root can mean to harden or to hold or contain. It is translated as "harden" 13 times in the KJV, as in the hardening of Pharaoh's heart in Exodus 4:21, 7:13, and 7;22, But it is also translated as "hold" 5 times.

Chazaq and 'achaz may be part of an intriguing passage with meaningful parallelism and potential word plays.

It might be tentatively structured like this:

A. Now Satan had gotten great hold ['achaz = hold / enclose] upon the hearts of the people of the city of Ammonihah ...

B. Nevertheless Alma labored much in the spirit, wrestling with [embracing, being enclosed by] God in mighty prayer,

B. that he would pour out [Janus pivot: enclose, fence in, hedge in / pour out] his Spirit upon the people who were in the city; that he would also grant that he might baptize them unto repentance.

A. Nevertheless, they hardened [chazaq = harden or hold] their hearts....


A. Hold ['achaz] on hearts
B. labor + wrestle [embrace, wrestle] in Spirit
B. pour out [looking back: hedge in, enclose / looking forward: pour out] Spirit
A. Harden [chazaq] hearts

Possible? In any case, the passage is even more interesting now. Feedback is welcome.

Saturday, January 06, 2018

Lengthening Our Stride: Globalization of the Church: A Valuable Book for the Increasingly International Church

The day I learned of the passing away of President Monson was a rainy day here in Shanghai. It was a day on which I would contemplate his legacy and the new role that Russell M. Neslon would play. My pondering led to thinking about President Nelson's unique ties to China and his recent visa to Shanghai, where he shared some of his thoughts on the international role of the Church. He is profoundly qualified and prepared to continue and accelerate the momentum of the Church internationally and to further develop its potential to do good and make life better for people across the globe. (See my previous post at Mormanity, "Learning from Russell M. Nelson's Response to an Inspired Recommendation from President Kimball.")

On rainy days, I usually try to take a bus to work instead of riding my bike, resulting in some extra time to read. That day began with a glance at newly received, still unopened book, Lengthening Our Stride: Globalization of the Church, edited by Reid L. Neilson and Wayne D. Crosby (Provo, UT: Religious Studies Center, Brigham Young University, and Salt Lake City, UT: Deseret Book, 2018). On something of a whim, I put Lengthening Our Stride in my heavily worn black bag before I rushed out the door, hoping to catch the next bus and have time to read instead of walking for 30 minutes in the rain. Mercifully, I caught the bus with only seconds to spare and peeled of the plastic wrap and began reading. It would prove to be the most inspiring bus rides I've had in a long time, and what I read that morning influenced my thinking when I learned later that day of President Monson's passing. With many other tasks before me since then, I've been drawn to that book and its many intriguing perspectives. It has been a valuable read and I would recommend it to anyone seeking to understand the growing international presence of the Church, the role it can play in blessing others around the globe whether they care about our missionary message or not, and the challenges yet to be overcome in many lands in a world that desperately needs the Gospel to be preached to every people and in every tongue

 Lengthening Our Stride has 5 parts with 21 chapters from a host of prominent thinkers and servants with deep international experience. Part 1, "Poverty and Humanitarian Work," addresses some of the global needs that are addressed by the teachings, programs, and resources of the Church. Part 2, "Public Perceptions and Relations," deals with the international public relations progress the Church has made along with ongoing challenges to overcome, as well as perceptions of the Church related to its humanitarian work. Part 3, "Peacemaking and Diplomacy," is a reminder of the need to continue proclaiming and promoting peace in spite of the ongoing tragedy of war between nations and among peoples, one of the most crucial things the global Church can do, in spite of our small numbers. I found particular value in Part 4, "Religious Freedom and Oppression," a section treating the brutal reality that many people in the world lack religious liberty, a need often marginalized these days when it can be just as important to many as access to food and water. Finally there is Part 5, "Growth and Globalization," dealing with some of the challenges and opportunities the Church faces in the global community, including issues such as migration, tension between religion and law,  as well as the tension between the Church and the Islamic world.

The vision of the book expressed in the Preface captured my imagination and turned my mind to the inspiring words of President Kimball many years ago when he expressed the need for the Church to prepare for its global mission (see the July 1979 First Presidency Message, "The Uttermost Parts of the Earth," which could well have been reprinted in  Lengthening Our Stride). Those words, spoken while I was on my mission in the international hot spot of Switzerland (taught people from a total of 56 countries while there, by my count), inspired me to sign up for Mandarin Chinese classes when I got back to BYU to continue my chemical engineering education. Those few extra-major classes gave me a head-start when I came to live in China decades later and helped open doors for numerous friendships and cherished experiences. If only I had been more diligent!

The decision to begin the book with consideration of the painful needs of people in many parts of the world was a wise one, in my opinion. It sets the stage for why the Church needs to be increasingly global.  It is not about expanding numbers of members, but expanding the good that the Church can do in a world with perpetual poverty and pain. Many of the programs and activities of the Church as well as the service and zeal of numerous members internationally will often make little sense unless one understands the caring that ultimately motivates the globalization of the Church and the expansion of its influence in the world.

As I began reading Part 1, I was completely captivated by Valerie Hudson's essay, "Demographic and Gender-Related Trends," a rather tame title compared to her moving and eye-opening discussion on gendercide and the "profound devaluation of female life" in many parts of the globe. I recalled the Hmong woman we once had over for dinner, a refugee from genocide in Laos who had been able to flee to Wisconsin. In our conversation, she explained to us in all seriousness that as a woman, her opinion did not matter and that her voice and her life was just "a leaf blowing in the wind." We tried our best to persuade her otherwise, but it was not easy. In her experiences and in later tragic experiences we would share in part with her older daughter, my wife and I could see up close some of the sorrow that the devaluation of female life brings.

Hudson, well known as a Mormon feminist and intellectual, has a perspective that needs to be shared and contemplated. After raising the devastating problems of gendercide, devaluation, and abuse facing women across the globe and exploring the different stages of evolving misogyny in society (sometimes celebrated as liberation and progress), Hudson then offers a profound vision of how these problems can be cured: "The restored gospel of Jesus Christ is the strongest and most progressive force for women in the world today. The most profound feminist act one can commit is to share the gospel." She explores the revolutionary views the restored gospel brings and points out that the Church is the place to find the kind of men who have been trained to respect women, to be faithful to them, to actively take part in raising children, and to abhor abuse and neglect.
As the Church rises in support of women and as priesthood holders begin to conceive of themselves as part of a covenant of brotherhood that has sworn to uphold, among other things, the equality, safety, and flourishing of all the daughters of God, you will see the eyes of all women turn to this Church. And as the eyes of the women turn and they begin to assess their men according to the Lord's criteria, you will see men begin to turn as well. For men are clearly no victors in any of the forms of civilizational misogyny -- they suffer profoundly a well. Misogyny breeds misery for men as well as women. (p. 13)
How great the need to let the women and men of this planet know who they are!

There are many other outstanding chapters. Sharon Eubank's discussion of LDS Charities in "Zion's Foundations" reminds us of the importance of our humanitarian work -- not because of its potential to lead to missionary work later, as many wrongly assume, but because our brothers and sisters around the globe are in need and need our love. Many underestimate how sincere and intense Latter-day Saint yearning for the physical welfare of others is. My years in China have shown me numerous examples of Latter-day Saints doing much to help others faced with poverty or illness with no absolutely no hope of converting others or expectation that missionary work would be done. Silent, selfless service abounds in the Church and is one of the key things that members naturally do around the world on the own and with the help of Church organization as well.

Other essays I particularly enjoyed include Cole Durham's significant "Protection of Religious Liberties," coming from one of the world's great advocate of religious liberty. He critiques the world's downplaying of religious liberty, often swept aside as something we can ignore until we've taken care of poverty and other needs. Here he quotes Paul A. Marshall: "It is a travesty of the highest order to maintain that because people are hungry or cold, it is legitimate to repress their beliefs as well." Exactly. Durham treats some of the secular and political threats to religious liberty and discusses initiatives to preserve it. The work he has launched needs ongoing attention and support. Thank you, Brother Durham!

William Atkin's "Let Them Worship How, Where, or What They May," emphasizing the importance of religious liberty, is another valuable contribution, as is "Erosion of Religious Freedom: Impact on Churches" by Michael K. Young, former president and chancellor of the University of Utah.

On the other hand, one of the weaknesses of this excellent book is that some of the essays are dated. Michael Young's valuable contribution is from a 2011 presentation. Much of that essay retains its currency, but a particularly important and alarming portion addresses a pending (at the time) case before the US Supreme Court that threatened the elimination of the "ministerial exemption" that allows churches to select their own clergy without having to comply with local employment laws and their anti-discrimination policies. Young implies that the possible outcomes of that case could include having to apply all employment laws in selecting bishops, stake presidents, and all the other lay leaders we call in the Church. The concern was legitimate and remains a cause for vigilance, but fortunately, the case Hosanna-Tabor Evangelical Lutheran Church and School v. EEOC was decided in favor of religious freedom with a 9-0 vote (for details, see SCOTUSBlog.com). That decision was issued Jan. 12, 2012 -- six years ago. An update of some kind would have been appropriate for the book.

Elder Lance B. Wickman's essay, "The Church in the Twenty-First Century" in Part 2, was from 2008. It discussed the rapidly evolving status of the church in a variety of nations, including Vietnam, China, and one disguised as "Andalasia" due to the sensitive nature of the topic at the time. In the decade since Elder Wickman's presentation, much has changed and the book would be stronger if there were at least an addendum of some kind to update the information. Still, the basic issues and the nature of the challenges we face globally remain valid and for places like Russia (not mentioned, at least not overtly) and China, religious liberty remains a delicate issue requiring faith, patience, and especially caution from members, including visitors who may not understand local regulations. In China, for example, there has been remarkable kindness from the government shown toward the expat congregations of the Church, but the healthy relationship with authorities requires careful observance of the rules we have to maintain trust. I constantly worry that one well-meaning tourist or new resident could result in painful setbacks.

A few others essays would also benefit from an update of some kind, perhaps on a website to support the book. For example, Warner P. Woodworth's chapter, "Private Humanitarian Initiatives and International Perceptions of the Church" is from a 2008 presentation. There is so much more that has happened then. Elder Anthony Perkins' "Out of Obscurity" also helps us understand how the Church has risen in visibility in Asia and elsewhere, but much has happened since his 2012 presentation. Michael Otterson's essay, "In the Public Eye," gives his inside perspective on public relations progress for the Church around the world, from his role as managing director of the Public Affairs Department of the Church, but that was back in 2012 when he gave the speech that is printed here.  His discussion of the impact of LDS celebrities and politicians is now somewhat dated though still useful. I'll also give bonus points to Otterson for mentioning LDS bloggers as having something of a role in the public perception of the Church.

The book would have been stronger with a 2017 addition covering recent development such as the refugee crisis from the Near East and elsewhere and some recent developments on various continents. Being completely current is an impossible moving target for a book, but it would have been helpful to get some updates and added perspectives from 2017.

In spite of such weakness, this is an inspiring book that will prepare us for the years ahead.

We are an international Church, and many more of us need now to lengthen our stride to step into the global community. President Russell M. Nelson will continue to be a powerful example of that. In spite of his age, I was deeply impressed when he strode into the ballroom in Shanghai where foreign LDS members meet and walked to the stage. As a very tall man, his physical stride is truly impressive. Ninety-two years old at that time, yet so vigorous. But his spiritual stride is one that will challenge even the fastest of us. May be lengthen ours and prepare for the ongoing globalization of the Church, that we may better bless the lives of our brothers and sisters in every land, whether they care about our missionary message or not.

Tuesday, January 02, 2018

DNA Science vs. Scripture: The Book of Mormon is Not the Only Target for Confused Attacks

Misunderstanding of both DNA-related science and the nature of the Book of Mormon led to premature rejoicing in some circles over the alleged refutation of that key scriptural text for Latter-day Saints, as previously discussed here and on my LDSFAQ essay on DNA and the Book of Mormon. DNA data is only a problem for the Book of Mormon is one makes unjustified and extreme assumptions about what the text requires.

The religious bias and serious misunderstanding shown in some coverage of that story is also illustrated in recent media coverage on the allegedly embarrassing discovery in DNA data that the ancient Canaanites were not wiped out but have descendants alive and well in Palestine. On Dec. 31, Evolution News ran the story, "#2 of Our Top Stories of 2017: Clueless Reporters and Canaanite DNA." There is some terrific irony in the very unintelligent designs of the popular media when it comes to reporting on religion and science. Here is an excerpt from the story:
The science story itself is fascinating and to all appearances solid. Human remains dating to some 3,700 year ago from ancient Canaanites yielded DNA revealing a startling overlap with modern-day Lebanese. The latter thus appear to harbor descendants of the long-ago population (“Continuity and Admixture in the Last Five Millennia of Levantine History from Ancient Canaanite and Present-Day Lebanese Genome Sequences,” American Journal of Human Genetics).

Wow, that is interesting. How will they spin it? The headlines tell the tale:
The only problem with this reporting? The Bible is detailed and unambiguous in relating that the Canaanites survived Joshua’s invasion. So it’s no wonder they have living descendants. I’m not here to pass judgment on ancient Canaanites or ancient Israelites, on the Bible, Joshua, or anyone else. But come on, reporters, where’s your elementary cultural literacy, of which knowing a thing or two about the Bible is a key element?
The author points out that Judges 1 lists all the places where the Canaanites continued living. Interestingly, one of those cities was Sidon (Judges 1:31) where the ancient DNA was found with genes that have persisted to this day in Lebanon.  Yet these stories insist that the Bible has been refuted because the Canaanites were not completely wiped out.
Even the reputable journal Science, in a reporting article, had to backtrack with an editor’s correction, blandly styled as an “update”:
This story and its headline have been updated to reflect that in the Bible, God ordered the destruction of the Canaanites, but that some cities and people may have survived.
Not “may have survived.” In the Bible’s account, they definitely survived, in large numbers. The original headline? “Ancient DNA counters biblical account of the mysterious Canaanites.” It should be, “Ancient DNA confirms biblical account…”
No doubt about it, the war against the Canaanites is among the most politically incorrect narrative elements in the whole of Scripture. That it was incompletely carried out is attested to by the Bible, and now demonstrated by modern genetic analysis. That’s news, whether your interest is religion or science. Who will tell the reporters?
Such irony. DNA data from Lebanon is consistent with or even confirms one aspect of the biblical record, and yet through ignorance it is gleefully painted as yet another embarrassment refuting the Bible. While there are obvious problems in some aspects of that record and in the story of the conquest of the Promised Land, the fact that Canaanites survived and have living descendants today is clearly not one of the challenges Bible believers need to struggle with. Properly understood, the DNA data for the Canaanites considered in light of the Old Testament is what we should expect, actually. What we should expect from the media, though, seems to be very little when it comes to accuracy in reporting religious topics.