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

Saturday, January 27, 2018

Henry Eyring's Eye-Opening Experience with Councils

Yesterday in Hong Kong I was fortunate to be part of a meeting where Elder Randy D. Funk of the Seventy and Benjamin Tai, an Area Seventy from Hong Kong, provided valuable training to few of us LDS foreigners living in China. One of many inspiring moments came when Elder Tai played a video of Elder Henry B. Eyring describing his experience when he first saw how decision making took place in the top councils of the Church. Elder Tai used this to teach us how to better use the power of councils in our local units of the Church.

The video clip comes from a press conference immediately after Elder Eyring was called into the First Presidency in October 2007, serving under Gordon B. Hinckley. He fielded a question about how his professional background prepared him for what he is doing now. His answer touches upon a surprising experience when he first saw how the top leaders of the Church work in council to make decisions. The story illustrates the beauty and power of councils in the Church and their potential to be places where miracles can take place and where inspiration and wisdom can flow, if we seek to listen and act the way the Lord teaches us. The example of President Harold B. Lee in this story provides an example many leaders should strive to emulate.

Below is the Youtube video and a transcript kindly provided by Richard Alger in his Oct. 10, 2007 post, "Here are the Prophets of God and They're Disagreeing!"

Transcript (slightly edited):
The way to look at Harvard and its effect, at least personally, is with this story:

When I first came as the president of Ricks college, I attended my first meeting that I'd ever been in watching the General Authorities of the church, the First Presidency and others, running a meeting. I had been studying for the ten years I was a professor at Stanford how you make decisions in meetings in groups, so I got a chance, here's my chance to see the way the Lord's servants do it (of which I now am one).

I looked at it with my Harvard and Stanford eyes and I thought. This is the strangest conversation I've [heard]. I mean, here are the prophets of God and they're disagreeing in an openness that I had never seen in business. In business you're careful when you're with the bosses, you know.

Here they were just -- and I watched this process of them disagreeing and I thought, "Good Heavens, I thought revelation would come to them all and they'd all see things the same way, in some sort of..., you know." It was more open than anything I had ever seen in all the groups I had ever studied in business. I was just dumbfounded.

But then after a while the conversation cycled around. And they began to agree and I saw the most incredible thing. Here are these very strong, very bright people all with different opinions. Suddenly the opinions began to just line up and I thought, "I've seen a miracle. I've seen unity come out of this wonderful open kind of exchange that I'd never seen in all my studies of government or business or anywhere else." And so I thought, "Oh, what a miracle!"
It was President Harold B. Lee who was chairing the meeting. It was a board of education meeting. I thought, now he's going to announce the decision, because I've seen this miracle, and he said, "Wait a minute, I think we'll bring this matter up again some other time. I sense there is someone in the room who is not yet settled." And they went on to the next item. And I thought: that is strange. And then I watched somebody, one of the brethren, I think one of the Twelve, walk past President Lee and say, "Thank you, there's something I didn't have a chance to say."

So I want you to know.... This is what it claims to be. This is the true Church of Jesus Christ. Revelation is real, even in what you call the business kinds of settings.

A great man whom I love and will always love, President Harold B. Lee, taught me a great lesson that says. Now, we can be open. We can be direct. We can talk about differences in a way that you can't anywhere else because we're all just looking for the truth. We're not trying to win. We're not trying to make our argument dominate. We just want to find what's right.

And then a man sensitive enough to sense without anybody saying anything, that somebody in the room was not settled. Again, there's a kind of process of openness and yet coming together and having confidence that you know what the Lord wants, not what we want...

I loved Harvard. I loved Stanford. I had a great time there. My wife is --We spent the first ten years of our married life -- I was a professor at Standford. Thought I'd stay there forever; I had tenure. How happy we were. Then [we] went to Rexburg, Idaho from there.

And then [I] came down here and found out that there was a kind of making decisions and working together in groups that I had never seen anywhere else in the world except here.
I've run meetings where my actions were far from the Lord's teachings about how councils should operate. Sure, anybody can get things done and make things happen in a council. Driving a decision and giving out assignments is easy. But the teachings about councils we have in the LDS Handbook and in the scriptures and the teachings of living prophets and apostles is something else entirely.

Councils are designed to open the windows of revelation as we share freely our perspectives and bring new information to the table, helping to make it clear what real problems need to be solved and what can be done. When Saints in unity seek the Lord's help to find solutions and make plans, they can then reach unity and seek revelation that begins with asking the right questions.

There should be nobody in the council who feels they have to bite their lip and say, "Must ... keep ... mouth ... shut," doing all they can avoid trouble by sharing their differing perspectives. Sadly, good people sometimes feel they had better just stay quiet and stay unsettled. Leaders must be sensitive to that and draw out the perspectives of all present, especially those who might be sitting on their hands trying not to be annoying when they really have something that might help if others would listen.

Astonishing Correlations: The Book of Moses and Ancient Texts

Jeffrey Bradshaw's latest publication, "Could Joseph Smith Have Drawn On Ancient Manuscripts When He Translated the Story of Enoch?" at The Interpreter, offers some simply astonishing evidence for the ancient roots of portions of the Book of Moses. The publication begins with this overview:
Question: Some say that Joseph Smith drew on ancient stories about Enoch not found in the Bible as he translated the chapters on Enoch in Moses 6-7. How similar are the stories of Enoch in ancient accounts to modern scripture? And could Joseph Smith have been aware of them?

Summary: Although an English translation of the Ethiopian book of 1 Enoch appeared in 1821, the ancient manuscripts that are most relevant to the LDS story of Enoch were not available during Joseph Smith’s lifetime. The Qumran Book of Giants, discovered in 1948, contains striking resemblances to Moses 6-7, ranging from general themes in the story line to specific occurrences of rare expressions in corresponding contexts. It would be thought remarkable if any nineteenth-century document were to exhibit a similar density of close resemblances with this small collection of ancient fragments, but to find such similarities in appropriate contexts relating in each case to the story of Enoch is astonishing.
That brief summary doesn't convey just how extensive and surprising the parallels are, and how strong the case is that something remarkable is going on in the Book of Moses. Please read Bradshaw, to discover the surprisingly intricate correlations that seem rather bizarre if Joseph were just making this up and drawing upon his environment.

Since some of you have mentioned the thesis of Salvatore Cirillo, I'll note that his work is addressed by Bradshaw. Here's an excerpt related to Cirillo:
Could Joseph Smith have borrowed significant portions of his accounts of Enoch from other sources? In his 2010 master’s thesis from Durham University, Salvatore Cirillo[8] cites and amplifies the arguments of Michael Quinn[9] that the available evidence that Joseph Smith had access to published works related to 1 Enoch has moved “beyond probability — to fact.” He sees no other explanation than this for the substantial similarities that he finds between the book of Moses and the pseudepigraphal Enoch literature.[10] However, after having reflected on the evidence with the more rigorous approach of a seasoned historian about the availability of the 1821 English translation of 1 Enoch to the Prophet, Richard L. Bushman concluded differently:[11] “It is scarcely conceivable that Joseph Smith knew of Laurence’s Enoch translation.”

Just as important, even if 1 Enoch had been available to the Prophet, a study by LDS historian Jed Woodworth reveals that the principal themes of “Laurence’s 105 translated chapters do not resemble Joseph Smith’s Enoch in any obvious way.”[12] Indeed, apart from the shared prominence of the Son of Man motif in 1 Enoch’s Book of the Parables and the book of Moses[13] and one or two general themes in Enoch’s visions of Noah,[14] little of great substance in common between 1 Enoch and modern scripture. After careful study of the two works on Enoch, Woodworth succinctly concluded: “Same name, different voice.”[15]

Note that since Joseph Smith was aware that the biblical book of Jude quotes Enoch[16] — more specifically 1 Enoch itself — the most obvious thing he could have done to bolster his case for the authenticity of the book of Moses (if he were a conscious deceiver) would have been to include the relevant verses from Jude somewhere within his revelations on Enoch. But this the Prophet did not do.

For such reasons, it is increasingly apparent that despite all the spilled ink spent in looking for significant parallels to the Prophet’s revelations on Enoch in 1 Enoch, the most striking resemblances are not found in that work, but rather in related pseudepigrapha such as 2 Enoch, 3 Enoch, and the Qumran Book of Giants.
As time passes, the Book of Moses has become increasingly remarkably rather than easier to explain away as a clumsy fraud.  A fascinating text indeed.

Also consider the intriguing relationships between the Book of Moses and the Book of Mormon in the articles by Noel Reynolds and myself cited below. The relationships suggest that there is a connection between the Book of Moses and the brass plates used by several authors in the Book of Mormon, with a one-way relationship between the Book of Moses as an influence on the Book of Mormon.

Related resources:

Friday, January 19, 2018

Science: "How a Mormon Lawyer Transformed Mesoamerican Archaeology—and Ended Up Losing His Faith"

Lizzie Wade, an excellent science writer with impressive experience and credentials (see LizzieWade.com), just published a touching and beautifully written story about Thomas Ferguson in the illustrious journal Science. Her valuable but slightly flawed essay is "How a Mormon Lawyer Transformed Mesoamerican Archaeology—and Ended Up Losing His Faith," Science,  vol. 359, issue 6373 (19 Jan 2018): 264-268 (DOI: 10.1126/science.359.6373.264), at http://science.sciencemag.org/content/359/6373/264.full. It is also available as a PDF.

She looks respectfully at his life, first reviewing his early enthusiasm for Book of Mormon evidence that he hoped to find easily and quickly by going to Mesoamerica. She recognizes the great good that has come from the efforts that he initiated through the New World Archaeological Foundation (NWAF) that he founded in 1951. She quotes Michael Coe, the famous archaeologist and professor emeritus at Yale University: "They were working in a part of Mesoamerica that was really unknown. NWAF put it on the map."

Wade kindly and appropriately recognizes NWAF's ongoing work, and gives some insight into the Church's ongoing role in the research work being carried out:
“It's such a stimulating place to work,” says Janine Gasco, an archaeologist at California State University in Dominguez Hills, who began working with NWAF in 1978. “It's been a force in my life.”

In the years after Ferguson drifted away from the church and the foundation, NWAF continued to lead excavations, fund graduate students, publish an impressive amount of raw data, and store archaeological collections. Thanks to its work, a region that once seemed an archaeological backwater compared with the nearby Classic Mayan heartland in the Yucatán, Guatemala, and Belize has been revealed as the birthplace of Mesoamerican civilization and an economic and cultural hot spot, where people from all over the region crossed paths. “We wouldn't know anything about [central and coastal] Chiapas if it wasn't for [NWAF],” García-Des Lauriers says.

“Their work set the stage for everything I've done,” says SUNY Albany's Rosenswig, who led recent excavations at Izapa to study the origins of urban life in Mesoamerica. When his graduate student Rebecca Mendelsohn, now a postdoc at the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute in Panama City, excavated in Izapa in 2014, NWAF's original map of its mounds and monuments served as a vital field reference (Science, 16 May 2014, p. 684). “I've been surprised at how sound the work from the 1960s still is,” she says.

NWAF is still run by BYU, which means its funding comes from the Mormon church and all its directors have been Mormons. But aside from a ban on coffee at headquarters, the archaeologists who work here barely notice its religious roots. “There aren't conversations about religion,” Gasco says. “The archaeological community has a lot of respect for the work done here.”
As an aside, I'm pleased to see this acknowledgement for the pro-scholarship, hands-off approach the Church is taking. Research finds do not need to be vetted by General Authorities to ensure they are faith-promoting. This is in contrast to the New York Times harsh obituary on Thomas S. Monson that stated that the Church usually vets publications from historians who are given access to church documents, a claim sharply disputed by Scott Gordon at FairMormon as I discussed in my previous post.

One aspect of Wade's essay that is especially interesting was her treatment of his loss in faith. She states that the real catalyst was disappointment over the Book of Abraham rather than issues over Book of Mormon evidence per se. Unfortunately, she may have missed some important facts about Ferguson and his testimony on both of these issues, which I'll touch upon below.

As for Ferguson and the Book of Abraham, I would not expect Wade to have known this, but Wade's struggle is based on a serious misunderstanding of a fundamental issue, a misunderstanding that our critics tend to propagate. The papyrus fragments discovered in 1967 that drew Ferguson's interest were remnants of the original collection of papyrus scrolls in Joseph's collection, a tiny fraction of the original set. There are good reasons to doubt that those fragments came from the same scroll that Joseph identified as the Book of Abraham. Ferguson's faith crisis was fueled by sloppy methodology, but having gone through roughly the same faith crisis over the Book of Abraham, I can understand how easy it is to not ask the right questions and come to the wrong conclusions, especially when people like the fraudulent "Egyptologist" Dee Jay Nelson are spinning the data for you. I'm grateful that I had the patience to keep learning and get past that.

Thomas Ferguson is a favorite topic for some of our critics because his story supports such a perfect narrative for criticizing LDS claims. Here is my paraphrase of the typical argument:
A scholar decided to dig into the evidence, literally, for the Book of Mormon in the Americas. He went to the only reasonable location for Book of Mormon events and looked for the archaeological evidence that the book requires. To his great dismay, he couldn't find anything and lost his testimony. This courageous scholar dared to speak out and let us know that instead of proving the Book of Mormon to be true, as he intended, he discovered it was fiction.
Lizzie Wade is much more even-handed. This is not a hit piece but a carefully considered and respectful retrospective. (Of course, one can ask why the focus on a disillusioned lawyer trying to do hasty archaeology?) To Wade's credit, rather than just regurgitate anti-Mormon websites, she has actually interviewed and included quotes from a couple of people that knew Thomas Ferguson, namely, John Clark and John Sorenson. I commend her for that.

Unfortunately, the story leaves out some important information and ultimately relies on a critical narrative (from others, I think) that makes far too much of Ferguson's loss of faith and leaves little room for readers to appreciate that there are serious LDS scholars with the training Ferguson lacked who can delve into Mesoamerican archaeology or Egyptology without losing their faith, scholars who understand that scientific research especially in archaeology is messy, difficult, and often takes a great deal of time to get meaningful results. Read alone, her story may create the impression that the evidence related to the Book of Mormon and Book of Abraham is so weak that a serious scholar could not maintain their faith if they seriously considered it.

One reading Wade's essay might conclude that Ferguson is the prime example of a Mormon scholar who actually dared to pursue and accept the evidence from archaeology (or Egyptology). One might conclude that it's a foregone conclusion that Ferguson's reaction to the evidence is the only intellectually honest response possible. But such conclusions do not fit the data. There is much that is left unsaid by Wade here that might be relevant. On the relationship between academic scholarship and the Book of Mormon, consider this excerpt from "Book of Mormon Archaeology and Agenda-Driven Narratives" at Studio et Quoque Fide by Neal Rappleye, 2013:
The problem with this agenda-driven narrative [regarding common treatments of the Thomas Ferguson story of his loss of faith] is it ignores the lives of countless others, like M. Wells Jakeman (deceased), Gareth Lowe (deceased), Bruce W. Warren (deceased), John L. Sorenson, John E. Clark, V. Garth Norman, F. Richard Hauck, Brant A. Gardner, Mark Alan Wright, Allen J. Christensen, and Joseph L. Allen. These 11 individuals all have 3 things in common: (1) They each have advanced degrees that in some way focused or emphasized pre-Columbian Mesoamerica; (2) They each have participated in on-site research at archaeological sites in Mesoamerica; (3) They all believe the Book of Mormon is true and has some basis in Mesoamerican history.

There are others who have those same 3 things in common with the above individuals, but I have chosen to limit my list to people who have publicly made their views clear by having published on the topic. Of course, just because I can rattle off a long list of such individuals does not mean that the Book of Mormon is true, and I want to be clear that is not what I am arguing. But surely what they think about the Book of Mormon is at least as relevant as Thomas Stuart Ferguson’s ultimate stance on the matter, if not more so. They all are more qualified than Ferguson, and most of them have spent much more time than Ferguson ever did thinking about how the Book of Mormon fits into the larger picture of Mesoamerica. John L. Sorenson, for instance, just published a lengthy volume summing up some 60+ years of research on the topic. More to the point, however, these people directly undo the agenda-driven narrative of the critics. As it turns out, it is not inevitable that if you seriously investigate this you will come up empty handed and lose your faith. They all believe in the Book of Mormon, and they insist that there is evidence which supports that belief. What’s more, many of them demonstrate a more sophisticated understanding of the limitations of archeology and thus have more tempered expectations of what kind of evidence it can produce. Those (on this list) who knew Ferguson have reported that he had rather naïve expectations of archaeology and evidence.
The title of Wade's essay promises to explain "how" Ferguson lost his faith. But before addressing the "how," it's fair to first ask about the "did" in this story. What exactly is the evidence that Ferguson actually and fully lost his faith? It seems that he did, but some parts of the story are unclear and some may be speculation. Unfortunately, Wade provides no footnotes or bibliography for her essay. What are her sources? She mentions several of Ferguson's letters and quotes several people who knew him, but is she relying on other secondary sources as well?

In my opinion, her presentation of information seems to draw upon the writings of Stan Larson, who appears to be the source for much of Wade's research on this topic. Larson has two related publications on Ferguson. First, "The Odyssey of Thomas Stuart Ferguson" in Dialog: A Journal of Mormon Thought, vol. 23, no. 1 (1990): 55–93. The other is Stan Larson's book, The Quest for the Gold Plates (Salt Lake City, UT: Freethinker Press, 1997). I don't yet know if the details Larson provides can be extracted from the unpublished letters of Thomas Ferguson, but in both Larson's book and his article, he describes a scene from one of Ferguson's early adventures with three companions in January 1948, giving details that I haven't found in other sources: "Lying in his jungle hammock at the site of Aguacatal during a heavy tropical rain, Ferguson wrote the following by the light of a small flashlight: 'We have discovered a very great city here in the heart of "Bountiful" land' [emphasis added]." Wade also has this:
Thomas Stuart Ferguson lay in his hammock, certain that he had found the promised land. It had been raining for 5 hours in his camp in tropical Mexico on this late January evening in 1948, and his three campmates had long since drifted off to sleep. But Ferguson was vibrating with excitement. Eager to tell someone what he had seen, he dashed through the downpour to retrieve paper from his supply bag. Ensconced in his hammock's cocoon of mosquito netting, he clicked on his flashlight and began to write a letter home.

“We have discovered a very great city here in the heart of ‘Bountiful’ land,” Ferguson wrote. [emphasis added]
The details of the hammock, the rain, and the flashlight seem like the kind of thing one would not bother to record in one's letters or journal. Where does that come from? Let me know if you've got a primary source. A search for "Thomas Ferguson" plus "hammock" or "Mormon" and "hammock" for me yields only two relevant hits: Larson's article, and now Wade's publication in Science. Searching at Google Books also reveals Wade's book at the top of the list and the only relevant candidate I could find.

Larson has been criticized for  employing apparent gifts of mind-reading in understanding what Ferguson thought and how he felt in the absence of solid information, and Wade seems to have outdone Larson a time or two in her article. Literary license, perhaps, or maybe she has other sources I am missing. Larson also makes much of the Book of Abraham as the turning point for Larson, which is also a major point for Wade. I think it's fair to conclude that Larson's thinking if not a few of his specific words have played a role in what Science has published. Wade may, for example, have relied on Larson's account of Ferguson's struggle with the Book of Abraham as the initial cause of Larson's weakened or destroyed testimony and ultimate loss of faith. It may be accurate, but there is more that needs to be said and much that Larson overlooks in his more complete treatment.

Recognizing Stan Larson as the possible source for at least some of Wade's approach, it is appropriate to consider the limitations of Larson's work. An important and arguably devastating rebuttal to Larson's widely adopted spin on Ferguson was offered by Daniel C. Peterson and Matthew Roper in "Ein Heldenleben? On Thomas Stuart Ferguson as an Elias for Cultural Mormons," FARMS Review of Books, 16/1 (2004). Here is an excerpt:
At several points in Larson’s book, judgments are pronounced without a clear basis to justify them.... Consider ... the following: “Disenchanted, he became a Mormon ‘closet doubter'”—that is, someone who “privately disbelieves some of the basic teachings of the Church but keeps that disbelief hidden from his/her public image. Typically this state of skepticism is preceded by an extended period of strong belief in those same tenets” (p. 134). What undergirds Larson’s judgment here? A survey? Personal experience? ... More importantly, after noting that Ferguson’s beliefs subsequent to the early 1960s can be known only from “his conversations and letters” (p. 135), Larson declares that the years 1969-70 “are a documentary blank with no known letters” (p. 136). Undeterred by this lacuna, though, he proceeds to tell us what happened during that time period: Ferguson went through “a period of soul-searching and reflection” and “agonized to find a spiritual meaning to his beliefs. He reexamined his assumptions about the Book of Abraham and even began to question the historicity of the Book of Mormon” (p. 136). Fawn Brodie herself could hardly have bettered this.

Nevertheless, we are quite prepared to entertain the idea that Thomas Stuart Ferguson lost his faith. It seems the most plausible reading of some of the evidence. There are, however, several contrary indications that muddy the waters a bit. For instance, the 1975 symposium paper on which Larson places such weight can be read, in a few passages, as expressing at least a hope that the Book of Mormon might be true. And Thomas Ferguson’s son Larry recalls sitting on a patio with his father shortly after his father had returned from a trip to Mexico with Elder Howard W. Hunter of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. It was only one month before the senior Ferguson’s entirely unexpected death. “For no apparent reason, out of the blue,” Larry recalls, Thomas Stuart Ferguson turned to his son and bore his testimony. “Larry,” he said, “the Book of Mormon is exactly what Joseph Smith said it is.” Sometime earlier, Ferguson had borne a similar testimony to his wife, Larry’s mother, and, during the year before he died, he had participated in an effort to distribute the Book of Mormon to non-Latter-day Saints. He included his photograph along with the following testimony in several copies of the book:
We have studied the Book of Mormon for 50 years. We can tell you that it follows only the New Testament as a written witness to the mission, divinity, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. And it seems to us that there is no message that is needed by man and mankind more than the message of Christ. Millions of people have come to accept Jesus as the Messiah because of reading the Book of Mormon in a quest for truth. The book is the cornerstone of the Mormon Church.

The greatest witness to the truthfulness of the Book of Mormon is the book itself. But many are the external evidences that support it.
Ferguson also called Robert and Rosemary Brown of Mesa, Arizona, and told them that, yes, the writings of the amateur Egyptologist Dee Jay Nelson had caused him a brief period of doubt about the Book of Abraham. But, he said, their devastating exposé of Nelson’s charlatanry had turned him right around. Shortly before his death, he also told the Browns that Jerald and Sandra Tanner had been publishing material from him without his permission and indicated that he was contemplating a lawsuit against them. He even declared that some of what had been published as coming from him was a forgery.
That last paragraph is important, bringing us full circle to the root cause of Ferguson's faith crisis. If the Book of Abraham was only a temporary albeit years-long crisis for him, and if his faith was at least partially recovered after considering the clear evidence of fraud from one of the "scholars" who had convinced him to abandon the Book of Abraham, then the story of Thomas Ferguson has quite a different flavor to it than readers of Science might get. In addition to Peterson and Roper, also see several serious issues raised by John Gee in "The Hagiography of Doubting Thomas," FARMS Review of Books 10/2 (1998).

Ferguson clearly had a faith crisis and may have doubted either the Book of Abraham or the Book of Mormon for years, but it is not clear that he permanently lost his faith or if permanent, how much was lost. He may have been a closet doubter for years, but he remained in the Church. Michael Coe is quoted as feeling sorry for him because of this, as if Ferguson lacked the courage, the strength, and the resolve to leave the Church he knew was false. But Ferguson clearly was a man of courage, strength, and resolve, ready to take swift and bold action, even if over-zealous and unrealistic. That he stayed in the Church even with his doubts, however long they lasted and how deep the ran, may say more about how much of his faith actually stayed intact than Coe or Wade have given him credit for.

Whatever degree of faith was lost, what do Ferguson's setbacks regarding LDS scripture really tell us? Does it reveal fundamental about the plausibility of the Book of Mormon or conflicts between  archaeology and religion or faith and science? Or does it just stand as a warning against unrealistic expectations in any new field without proper preparation and training?

Wade's article assumes that the narrative on Thomas Ferguson's loss of faith in the Book of Mormon is accurate, in spite of some evidence to the contrary, but she may be right. But if so, what makes this newsworthy or even interesting? "The apostasy of prominent religious figures is hardly a novelty" as Peterson and Roper point out. If this lawyer did truly lose his faith when he failed to realize his unrealistic hopes of finding dramatic evidence through amateur jackpot-seeking, why is this significant? What does this tell us about science or faith? Why is this worthy of so much attention, including the pages of Science magazine? It's a question Neal Rappleye already asked back in 2013:
There are a few questions worth asking at this point. Why is the story of a single, amateur archaeologist worthy of constant retelling, but those of 11 persons with relevant training and field experience not even worthy of acknowledgement? If the loosing of faith is inevitable for those who honestly look at the evidence (or lack thereof), why is it that those in the best position to know what the evidence is continue to believe? Why aren’t there more stories like that of Ferguson’s among LDS archaeologists? Is it honest of critics to use the story of Ferguson while not mentioning these others, and often ignoring the large body of work they have assembled on the subject?
For Peterson and Roper, the key lesson from Ferguson's story is not the one that Larson and other critics would draw. Rather, his story warns us about the needs for realism and proper preparation in any scientific, scholarly, or even religious pursuit:
Stan Larson apparently sees the doubting Thomas Stuart Ferguson as a significant harbinger, a role model, and wants his readers to see him in the same way. But is this justified? “The odyssey of Ferguson,” wrote Larson in the earlier printed version of this work, “is a quest for religious certitude through archaeological evidences.” Precisely. And there’s the rub. Larson refers to Ferguson’s growing conviction of his personal role to demonstrate to the world the authenticity of the Book of Mormon, “His major goal in life” was “proving that Jesus Christ really appeared in ancient Mexico after his crucifixion and resurrection” (p. 69). This sort of language, if it accurately reflects Ferguson’s self-image, perhaps offers a clue to the reason for his possible loss of faith. He was distressed, for example, that inscriptions related to the Book of Mormon were not forthcoming. But it is only within the past few years that any inscriptional evidence even of the biblical “house of David” has been found. The earlier incarnation of Larson’s book quotes a letter from Ferguson to his friend Wendell Phillips, telling about his plans for a trip to the Near East in April 1961. Ferguson intended to travel, among other destinations, to Oman, where, he said, he would “climb to the top of the mountain nearest the sea in Oman and look around for any inscriptions that might have been left on the mountain by Nephi, where he talked to the Lord.” Was he serious? Ferguson’s feeling that one of his early manuscripts “would be a powerful influence for world peace” (p. 16), if it is accurately reported, suggests some degree of estrangement from reality. Likewise, his prediction—following brief remarks about the problem of identifying the Preclassic inhabitants of the Upper Grijalva River basin—that “the solution may well have far-reaching implications and results for the general welfare of the present inhabitants of the earth” clearly seems to ask of archaeology far more than it can ever possibly deliver.

“My personal experience with Tom Ferguson and his evangelism,” recalls Professor John L. Sorenson,
crystallized in a period of 10 days that he and I spent in intensive archaeological survey in April 1953 in the Chiapas central depression. In the field, out of my academic training I saw a host of things which did not register with him. His primary concern was to ask wherever we went if anyone had seen “figurines of horses.” That epitomized his unsubtle concept of “proof.” I could only cringe at this jackpot-or-nothing view of archaeology. No wonder the man’s “quest” failed! He began with naive expectations and they served him right to the end.
“He wondered,” reports Larson, “why the evidence for the antiquity of the Book of Mormon was not coming forth as expected. He was genuinely disappointed that the archaeological support for the Book of Mormon was not being discovered at the rate he had anticipated” (p. 69). Again, though, progress in Mesoamerican archaeology did not destroy the testimony of M. Wells Jakeman. An interesting future question for research would center on why a professional expert in the field remained evidently undisturbed by matters that may have proved troubling to the faith of an amateur. Were Ferguson’s expectations unrealistic? As Sorenson said in 1996 of Professor Jakeman, whose Berkeley dissertation dealt with “the ethnic and political structure of Yucatan immediately preceding the Spanish conquest,” “he remained methodologically cautious his whole life regarding ‘proof’ of the Book of Mormon,” yet “he also still remains a believer in the Book of Mormon.” Are the two facts related?

We argue that Thomas Ferguson was methodologically incautious in his believing days and that this continued into his apparent time of doubt.
Reality is complicated. Archaeology is complicated. Gaining breakthroughs or just insightful knowledge through digging or exploring even in the most fertile fields takes time, sometimes many lifetimes, no matter how sincere and zealous the hopes of a believer may be. Meanwhile, there are LDS scholars who have developed the skills needed for the patient, realistic work in archaeology, Egyptology, linguistics, and other fields relevant to the Book of Mormon, who have over the decades helped us discover and appreciate a growing body of evidence for the very complex and challenging Book of Mormon and Book of Abraham, and I look forward patiently to further discoveries and occasionally revolutions as the research continues.

Ferguson's story does the have the romantic appeal of an amateur dashing off to a mysterious foreign land to search firsthand for evidence related to his faith, ready to go wherever the data leads. But for that angle, a much more interesting headline for Science's next article of this kind ought to be this: "The Warren Aston Story: How An Amateur Mormon Explorer Helped Unveil the First Hard Archaeological Evidence for the Book of Mormon in Yemen and Possibly Found the Mysterious Place 'Bountiful' to Boot." See my Book of Mormon Evidences page and Warren Aston's Lehi and Sariah in Arabia for some details.

Related resources:

Thursday, January 18, 2018

Remembering Thomas S. Monson: The Painful Obituary from the New York Times

Scott Gordon at FairMormon.org offers a firm but gentle rebuke to the New York Times for their embarrassing and painful obituary of one of the world's best men, Thomas S. Monson. The obituary was written by a Pulitzer Prize winning journalist, Robert D. McFadden. Though frustrating to read, it is a helpful piece, for it reminds us how politicized and biased journalism has become, twisting the knife even as its ideological opponents are being buried.

The obituary's opening sentence sets the tone as it complains of Monson's insensitivity to women and the issue of same-sex marriage community: Monson "rebuffed demands to ordain women as priests and refused to alter church opposition to same-sex marriage." And then the opening words of the article continues with this:
Facing vociferous demands to recognize same-sex marriage, and weathering demonstrations at church headquarters by Mormon women pleading for the right to be ordained as priests, Mr. Monson did not bend. Teachings holding homosexuality to be immoral, bans on sexual intercourse outside male-female marriages, and an all-male priesthood would remain unaltered.

Mr. Monson displayed a new openness to scholars of Mormonism, however, allowing them remarkable access to church records. But as rising numbers of church members and critics joined the internet’s free-for-all culture of debate and exposé, his church was confronted with troubling inconsistencies in Mormon history and Scripture.
The negative tone persists with little recognition of who the man was or acknowledgement of his life of loving, Christian service. The article even gives the URL to and quotes from an anti-Mormon website from some Baptist group.  If you read NYT obituaries for others like Hugh Hefner and Fidel Castro (both saints, perhaps, in the NYT worldview), it is clear that President Monson has gotten short shrift. And much less flattering photography.

Moving past the overall negative tone and many omissions from what would have been a fair obituary, Gordon tackles the issue of serious inaccuracies. I'll quote from that part of his excellent rebuttal:

Here they are in the order they appear, not necessarily in order of importance.
  1. “Many Mormons faced sanctions for joining online forums questioning church positions on women’s roles.”
I am not aware of ANY Mormons who have faced sanctions for joining an online forum or for questioning the Church positions on women’s roles. They will need to give examples. We have thousands, and probably millions of members who belong to many forums. We have members who are advocates of women rights and roles who are faithful members. I know some who work in the Church Office Building. I know members who hold differing views on women’s roles, homosexuality, and many political and social issues. Kate Kelly is cited in the article—perhaps the author thinks she is an example of this, but Kate Kelly was not excommunicated for joining a forum or even questioning the Church’s positions. There is a difference between questioning and actively campaigning against the Church and its teachings. Kate Kelly did the latter.
  1. “As the 16th president of the Latter-day Saints, succeeding Gordon B. Hinckley, Mr. Monson faced another test when church members, increasingly scouring online sources, found apparent contradictions between historical records and church teachings, which the church regards as God-given and literally true.”
Perhaps I am nit-picking on this one, but I take some umbrage with the idea that since Gordon B. Hinckley apparent contradictions have been found. The Church has an exceptional history department and there are numerous conferences on Church history – including the FairMormon conference. We have been discussing these topics for years. Additionally, we aren’t fundamentalist evangelicals in that every doctrine and practice is directly from God. This would be especially true with items related to history and science which are full of discovery. Yes, we have divinely inspired teachings, but they typically don’t have anything to do with history.
  1. “Some critics, including the website OnceDelivered.net, which identified itself as an expression of the Baptist faith, said the Latter-day Saints church had previously contended that Smith had been happily married to only one woman, and said the new teaching had used Scripture to “address the inconvenient truth of Smith’s polygamy.””
There are two issues here: First, one has to question why the New York Times reporter sought out a Website that states, “Mormonism fits a classic definition of a cult” and “So, is Mormonism a cult? According to our definition, yes.” Most LDS would rightfully classify OnceDelivered.net to be an anti-Mormon Website. There are many Websites out there that attack Mormonism with little understanding of what we actually teach and believe. It seems odd that the New York Times would be quoting from one for an obituary.

Secondly, the claim that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (the term Latter-day Saints church would be incorrect and is offensive to most Mormons which underscores the lack of source reliability) previously contended that Joseph Smith was married to only one woman is incorrect. Yes, there are critics who have falsely made that claim, but the idea of plural marriage is taught by Joseph Smith and is part of our scripture in Doctrine and Covenants section 132 which can be found online at https://www.lds.org/scriptures/dc-testament/dc/132. That section was written in July 1843. Another activity you can try is to go to the Official Church Website LDS.org and type “Plural Marriage” into the search box. Many of those articles listed were written prior to Thomas S. Monson becoming prophet. There are many books that talk about this. One of our FairMormon volunteers stated he has 40 – 50 books on his shelf that discuss this topic. It was one of the main topics of the Reed Smoot Hearings in congress from 1904 – 1907. There is no new teaching on this. Ask most New Yorkers if early Mormons practiced polygamy and they would say yes. Many probably believe we still do. To say that we taught otherwise would be unbelievable.
  1. “In recent years, the church allowed historians access to church documents and records to a remarkable degree. Some published their findings online and in printed volumes, although they were usually vetted by church leaders.”
Having worked extensively with Church historians and independent historians, I have NEVER heard of Church leaders vetting anything except what is posted on the official Church Website to represent their position. Just the opposite is true. The Joseph Smith Papers are being published in their entirety on the Church Website. I have had complete freedom to publish anything without any vetting or oversight. There are LDS History conferences that are attended by Church Historians and many controversial and difficult topics are addressed. FairMormon has a conference every year where we talk about Church history. No one has ever vetted our talks.

The New York Times Obituary on President Thomas S. Monson needs a retraction and a rewrite. I’m sure the Times is interested in accuracy. Not correcting the record looks mean spirited, or ignorant. Neither of those positions is something that most newspapers aspire to be.
Thank you, Scott, for your response. And thanks to President Monson and his family for giving us a man who did so much to advance the cause of the poor, of the needy, of the hopeless. He brought real relief and real progress to men and women. How incredible that he would be treated so harshly, while the Times would essentially celebrate someone like Hefner, who exploited and degraded thousands of women for his gratification and financial gain. More than a retraction is in order -- if the Times really were about journalism and truth.

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. Nelson 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.