Discussions of Book of Mormon issues and evidences, plus other topics related to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Sunday, January 10, 2021

A Gift From an Early "Anti-Mormon" Attack on the Book of Abraham: Clear Evidence About the Source of Joseph's Translation

In several posts over the years here at Mormanity and on my website, I've noted that the arguments of our critics against LDS scriptures, our doctrines, and the Restoration are sometimes actually helpful. Sometimes they help us reconsider sloppy assumptions and improve our understanding of the scriptures or our history. Sometimes they drive us to study complex issues more carefully, perhaps even leading to new discoveries that turn apparent weaknesses into strengths. And sometimes they can unintentionally hand us gifts that help us overcome difficult challenges. One such gift can be found in an early "anti-Mormon" attack on the book of Abraham. I use the word "anti-Mormon" infrequently of late, but the introduction (shown below) to the unintentionally beneficent article in question mentions that one of the authors, Jerald Tanner, heads a "professedly anti-Mormon publishing house." I suppose he did not object to the label and as perhaps the most famous if not most successful anti-Mormon crusader who made a career out of his passion, it's probably a fair term. But my focus here is on the gift, not the givers.

For decades, a gift regarding the translation of the book of Abraham has been staring us in the face in the analysis provided by Grant S. Heward and Jerald Tanner in "The Source of the Book of Abraham," Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 3/2 (1968): 92–97. This gift is not obvious until one reads their article and then looks again at Joseph's commentary on Facsimile 2. The gift, though, seems to have remained unrecognized until the 2020 FairMormon Conference when Tim Barker gave a significant presentation pointing out what many of us should have recognized years ago. Tim's presentation, "Translating the Book of Abraham: The Answer Under Our Heads," is available (but behind a paywall) at the FairMormon Conference Streaming 2020 page for those who have purchased the $30 pass to watch the full set of videos from the conference. The transcript with images from the slides, however, is now available at FairMormon.com [link added 1/11/21]. Tim's presentation is not yet on YouTube, unfortunately, but I'll share a touch of the content and hope you'll watch the entire presentation and the rest of a truly excellent conference.

First, here's the introduction to Heward and Tanner's article in a special 1968 edition of Dialogue devoted to book of Abraham issues shortly after the Joseph Smith Papyri were found in the Metropolitan Museum of Art (the Met) in New York City (click to enlarge):

Heward and Tanner make the basic argument against Joseph Smith as a translator by pointing out what nearly every attack on the book of Abraham today relies upon: there are book of Abraham manuscripts in which a few Egyptian characters from one of the Joseph Smith Papyri, now known as JSP XI (viewable on the Joseph Smith Papers website), are in the margins of the manuscripts, as if Joseph had translated each character to give large blocks of English text (sometimes about 200 words for 1 character). You can see these manuscripts on the Joseph Smith Papers website, where the three key documents with Egyptian characters on the left are called book of Abraham Manuscript A, Manuscript B, and Manuscript C. "Translating" many dozens of words from one character is not only utterly ridiculous, but now that ancient Egyptian can be read and translated, it is clear that the characters used have nothing to do with the book of Abraham text and in fact are part of the Book of Breathings. Thus, the book of Abraham is said to expose Joseph as an uninspired and ridiculous fraud. This argument, of course, relies on the assumption that the book of Abraham manuscripts in question are a "revelatory" work product giving us a "window" into how Joseph Smith allegedly translated a handful of characters into the book of Abraham. 

Apologists have responded with a variety of arguments, often pointing out that JSP XI does not match the description of the scroll Joseph translated, that there were other scrolls that were sold after Joseph's death and burned in the Great Chicago Fire that were not part of the tiny collection of fragments that survived (the missing scroll theory), or suggesting that the translation by revelation need not be directly from any of the scrolls that were in Joseph's possession but may have been merely "catalyzed" by the papyri. It has also been argued that the manuscripts with Egyptian characters next to English text appear to be a  product from the scribes done for unclear purposes after the translation had already been done, in which the characters might have been added as decorative elements, as mystic representations being explored in connection with W.W. Phelps' fascination with the hypothesized "pure language" of the ancients, as scribal attempts to crack the Egyptian language based on their assumption that JSP XI must have some connection to the book of Abraham since Facs. 1 was physically connected to it, or as "reverse ciphers" to create a code to convey what was in the book of Abraham text. But we are still left with an apparent association of some kind between characters on JSP XI and the book of Abraham text. If they weren't being translated to give the book of Abraham, what was?

If only we had more information from Joseph about what he did or did not translate. Wonderfully, thanks to the gift from Heward and Tanner, coupled with a straightforward connecting of the dots by Tim Barker, we now can answer the challenge much more clearly. 

Heward and Tanner make the important observation that characters from JSP XI, particularly characters from lines two through four of that fragment, were also used to fill in a missing portion of Facsimile 2, the round figure known as a hypocephalus. The characters on lines two and three are part of the group that were added in the margins of book of Abraham Manuscripts A, B, and C. On p. 97 of Heward and Tanner, Illustration 5A shows how characters from line four of JSP XI were added to three lines of missing text on the right side of Facs. 2 (click to enlarge):

Illustration 5B on the same page shows where characters from lines two and three of JSP XI went on the completed Facs. 2:

As a result, some of the same characters allegedly used by Joseph to translate the book of Abraham were inserted onto Facs. 2 as Joseph and Reuben Hedlock, the craftsman who engraved the lead plates for print the facsimilies,  prepared a portion of the book of Abraham for publication in 1842. Tim Barker shows that the the rim of Facs. 2 also has characters from line 4 of JSP XI which are also used in Manuscripts A, B, and C (click to enlarge):

Thus we have text from lines 2 through 4 of JSP XI, the papyrus fragment said to be the source for Joseph's "translation" that gave us the book of Abraham, inserted into several portions of Facsimile 2.

Now, as Tim Barker so thoroughly pointed out in his August 2020 presentation, note what Joseph Smith said about these characters in his comments on Facs. 2:

The text in three lines on the central right panel, labeled as Figures 13, 14, and 15, and the text in the rim, labeled as Figure 18, are all treated the same in Joseph's comments. The explanations for those characters "will be given in the own due time of the Lord." That declaration is followed by this statement that refers to all the comments made regarding Facs. 2: "The above translation is given as far as we have any right to give at the present time."

Here we have the words of Joseph Smith (or at least words prepared with his authorization and approval) telling us that the characters that are on this Facsimile and on book of Abraham Manuscripts A, B, and C have not yet been translated, and that Joseph had no right at that time to translate them. Whatever the scribes of those puzzling manuscripts,  Frederick G. Williams, Warren Parrish, and William W. Phelps, thought they were doing with the Egyptian characters added to portions of Joseph's revealed text for the book of Abraham, the explanations on Facs. 2 strongly suggest that Joseph had not used characters from JSP XI as the source for the book of Abraham translation. "Joseph clearly indicates that he did not translated JSP XI," Barker explains. The foundation for many attacks on the Book of Mormon simply fails once we understand the significance of the gift we were handed by the astute observation of Heward and Tanner that help us see what Joseph really thought about the "smoking gun" papyrus fragment that they and critics ever since, along with some LDS intellectuals, have been telling us about what Joseph used for his translation. That's quite a gift. 

Some have questioned whether the comments on Facs. 2 really came from Joseph. Barker points to Joseph's journal of March 4, 1842, just a couple days after Facs. 1 and the book of Abraham up to Abraham 2:18 were printed in The Times and Seasons. The text in that installment covered the same scope as the text in the longest of the three book of Abraham manuscripts, Manuscript C. Joseph's journal then describes how he was working with the engraver to prepare additional material for printing:

March 4 Friday Exhibeting the Book of Abraham. in the original. To Bro Reuben Hadlock [Hedlock]. so that he might take the size of the several plates or cuts. & prepare the blocks for the Times & Seasons. & also gave instruction concerning the arrangement of the writing on the Large cut. illustrating the principles of Astronomy.
Joseph was giving directions to the engraver, Reuben Hedlock, regarding the writing on Facs. 2, which was published with text from Abraham 2:19 to 5:21 (the rest of what we have in book of Abraham) about two weeks later. His statement regarding the Egyptian characters on Facs. 2 that are also on JSP XI -- about half of the characters in the book of Abraham manuscripts -- leads to only one plausible conclusion: Joseph was telling us that he had not translated the characters on JSP XI. Those characters weren't the source for Abraham 1:1 to 2:18 nor for the rest of the book of Abraham. The source, if there was one, must be something else.

Barker says that his response to Heward and Tanner and all the countless critics since who claim that Joseph Smith translated the book of Abraham from a few lines on JSP XI is this:

Joseph Smith concretely provided direct evidence in Facsimile 2 that he never translated JSP XI and that the answer has been under our heads this entire time, if we would have taken Heward and Tanner's work one step further. 

An important answer to the accusations of many critics has been staring us in the eyes for over 50 years. Kudos to Tim Barker for making such an important observation. 

Barker goes on to make some important observations about the Kirtland Egyptian Papers and other issues pertaining to the scrolls and the book of Abraham. For example, he notes that if Joseph had assumed that the book of Abraham text must be the characters next to Facs. 1, as if often argued, why do none of the characters in the panels immediately adjacent to that Facsimile show up on the book of Abraham manuscripts and even though some of those characters do show up in the Egyptian Alphabet documents, why do none of them have a translation given?  The slide from this portion of his presentation is shown below, with the adjacent panels boxed in red:

Barker's presentation nicely supplements another gem on the book of Abraham at the FairMormon 2020 Conference, the presentation of Kerry Muhlestein, "Egyptian Papers and the Translation of the Book of Abraham: What Careful Applications of the Evidence Can and Cannot Tell Us," available on YouTube and viewable below.  Muhlestein also deals with the translation of the book of Abraham and tests the widespread assumption that Joseph Smith translated it by first creating the Grammar and Alphabet of the Egyptian Language (GAEL) as a translation tool. It's a seemingly strange notion, for how can you translate an unknown language by first making a dictionary or textbook on the language in the absence of a translation to hep crack the code? In any sane scenario, dictionaries and guides for foreign languages are developed after translated text is available, not the other way around, but Joseph was supposedly so ignorant (ditto for his associates) that he could not realize the impossibility of what he was allegedly doing. 

The assumption that the GAEL and related documents were being used as translation guides is widely accepted among both critics as well as some LDS intellectuals, including those who produced the Joseph Smith Papers volume on the book of Abraham, while other LDS scholars argue with much greater plausibility and evidence that the Grammar and Alphabet was obviously a work derived from the existing translation. Dr. Muhlestein looks at this issue from several angles and makes it overwhelmingly clear that the GAEL simply was not a translation tool that was used to create the book of Abraham translation. 

Tim Barker's presentation and Kerry Muhlestein's are wonderful ways to help anyone interested in better understanding important issues around the origins of the book of Abraham. The simple arguments made by many critics rely on terribly flawed assumptions which are rarely addressed in their attacks. It's time to be better prepared and better able to articulate why those assumptions fail. While we still don't know exactly what ancient document, if any, was involved in the revealed book of Abraham text, it's improper to dismiss this revelation because of Egyptian characters on some copies of the translated text or because W.W. Phelps' GAEL attempts to connect phrases from the translation to various Egyptian characters in an unusual project that was never completed and apparently quickly aborted. The puzzles of the Kirtland Egyptian Papers are still unsolved, but the revealed texts in the Pearl of Great Price still stand as revealed scripture rooted in antiquity, however Joseph received the revelations.

Monday, January 04, 2021

Understanding the God of the Old Testament: An Evangelical Scholar Explains the Meaning of "God Is Love"

Evangelical Bible scholar Ben Witherington has written a deeply interesting essay on the meaning of "God is love" for Biblical Archaeology's "Bible History Daily" column.

After explaining the wrong assumptions many people make about the meaning of "love," Witherington teaches us about the love of God in "What 'God Is Love' Actually Means":

In 1 John 4, where God is called love not once but twice, God is called agape, a very different word for love than eros. The verbal form of the noun agape (agapao) is used to say God loves the world of humanity in perhaps the most famous verse in the New Testament, John 3:16: “God loved the world in the following manner—he gave his only and beloved Son so that whoever believes in him shall not perish but shall have everlasting life” (author’s translation). There, we hear about a self-sacrificial God.

Clearly enough, the sort of love predicated of God is not any mere human love, certainly not any sort of narcissistic self-directed love, search for personal fulfillment, or expression of strong personal desires. No, to say God “is love” is to say that God is the most self-sacrificial being in the universe, and as such he was prepared to go to incredible lengths to set humankind right. The writers of the New Testament would clearly have nothing to do with any attempts to define God on the basis of merely human notions of love or, worse still, define love “as our god.” For Christians, God is the very definition of self-sacrificial love and what it truly means. We should have long ago stopped trying to define God and the divine character on our very partial understandings of human love and human feelings.

But there is much more to be said. This love described by the author of 1 John 4 implies something fundamental about the freedom of God. Love cannot be compelled, manipulated, or predetermined if it is to be genuine love. It has to be freely given and freely received. God did not have to love a world full of self-centered and sinful human beings, but he chose to do this—and this accorded with God’s very nature. Even more interesting and surprising is that 1 John 4 also tells us that God’s love comes to its fullest expression not merely in creation, but in the lives of his “beloved humans,” about whom it is said that God’s perfect love casts out all fear of punishment, as well as other fears.

In the Bible, indicative statements about God often become imperatives for his people—“be holy as God is holy” (Leviticus 11:44), for example. This is also true in regard to love. “We love (agapomen),” says the writer, “because he first loved (egapesen) us” (1 John 4:19). But our response is also free. We are to freely obey the great commandment to love God with all that we are and to love our neighbor as ourselves.

Yet just because the response is free, doesn’t mean it is optional. No, for Christians it is required. And the specific kind of love that Jesus, the author of 1 John, and the apostle Paul have in mind is a holy love, a righteous love, and a merciful love, which we have received from God and now in some measure are returning.

It is, of course, true that in the great commandment, “You shall love (agapeseis) the Lord your God with all your being” (Mark 12:30), the writer is not referring to feelings. No one can command their own feelings. You can’t get up in the morning and say, “I command myself to have warm, mushy feelings all day.” Feelings come and go and are subject to a million factors—circumstances, personality, health, and so on. The commandment to love God has little to do with that. It has to do with self-sacrificially loving God and others just as we have been loved by God.

It was Jesus himself who once said, “Greater love (agape) has no one, than he lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13), and Jesus himself was to do this very thing on Good Friday. There, paradoxically, is the place we see most clearly both God’s great love for us all and his holiness as well. Not love without holiness and righteousness, but not righteousness without love either. This is the character of God in both the Old Testament and New Testament. And the final proof of that comes once more in 1 John 4—for it is the person Jesus called Father, the very God of the Old Testament, that is said to be love in that text.

I find that helpful and clear. The commandment to love God requires self-sacrifice, commitment, service, and action, all so perfectly illustrated in the loving ministry of the Son of God. 

With that in mind, the closing words of an epistle from Mormon recorded in Moroni 7 in the Book of Mormon seem particularly relevant:

[46] Wherefore, my beloved brethren, if ye have not charity, ye are nothing, for charity never faileth. Wherefore, cleave unto charity, which is the greatest of all, for all things must fail --

[47] But charity is the pure love of Christ, and it endureth forever; and whoso is found possessed of it at the last day, it shall be well with him.

[48] Wherefore, my beloved brethren, pray unto the Father with all the energy of heart, that ye may be filled with this love, which he hath bestowed upon all who are true followers of his Son, Jesus Christ; that ye may become the sons of God; that when he shall appear we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is; that we may have this hope; that we may be purified even as he is pure. Amen.

This divine love, the pure love of Jesus Christ, requires a miracle. It depends on grace. It is not something we just naturally pick up. It requires putting off the natural man and allowing God to transform us and give us this great gift. We can walk away from that gift and grace at any time. Indeed, we can shatter it and shatter our lives. But without it, without that miraculous expression of God's mercy and Christ's love and atonement, we are nothing. It's worth seeking and pleading for with all the energy of our heart.

Thursday, December 31, 2020

More on the Limits of "Endless" and "Eternal" in the Book of Mormon: Awaking from "Endless Sleep" and the "Eternal Band of Death"

In a recent previous post, "'From Whence They Can No More Return': What Lehi Teaches Us About the Book of Mormon's Harsh Language on Hell," I noted that a passage in Lehi's farewell speech gives insight into the limits on the "eternal" nature of hell that has confused many readers of the Book of Mormon. Such limits, of course, are consistent with an important revelation given to Joseph Smith Section 19 of the Doctrine and Covenants where we learn that while God's punishment can be called eternal since He is eternal, that does not mean that those who experience eternal punishment are never freed from their pains. 

The Book of Mormon provides another example that should immediately help us calibrate the intent behind some uses of the words "eternal" and "endless" in the scriptures. In Mormon 9:13, Moroni writes, 

And because of the redemption of man, which came by Jesus Christ, they are brought back into the presence of the Lord; yea, this is wherein all men are redeemed, because the death of Christ bringeth to pass the resurrection, which bringeth to pass a redemption from an endless sleep, from which sleep all men shall be awakened by the power of God when the trump shall sound; and they shall come forth, both small and great, and all shall stand before his bar, being redeemed and loosed from this eternal band of death, which death is a temporal death. 

All men must die, and by so doing, we enter into a state that Moroni describes as "endless sleep" where we are bound with the "eternal band of death." It would last forever were it not for the redemption from death made possible by the Resurrection of Christ. Though the state of death, a function created by the Eternal God, can be called an eternal and endless state because He and His works are endless and eternal, it will be temporary for all of us.  If physical death can be called endless and eternal and yet be temporary, entrance into hell, spiritual death, can also be temporary. You may disagree with the way those words are used, but the Book of Mormon itself makes it clear that these words in the context of death and hell may need to be understood in the way they are explained in Section 19 of the Doctrine and Covenants.  

Update, Jan. 11, 2020: Robert Boylan has provided some valuable articles dealing with the meaning of "eternity" in the scriptures that can add further context to some of the issues raised here. Please see his "Resources for 'We Agree with Moroni 8:18' day (18 August)" at https://scripturalmormonism.blogspot.com/2018/08/resources-for-we-agree-with-moroni-818.html. Among these, be sure to see "Moroni 8:18, Psalm 90:2, and the Latter-day Saint Understanding of Deity."

Janus Parallelism in Alma 32 and 33?

Alma uses the verb "spring" in an interesting way in his sermon to the Zoramites in Alma 32 and 33:

But if ye will nourish the word, yea, nourish the tree as it beginneth to grow, by your faith with great diligence, and with patience, looking forward to the fruit thereof, it shall take root; and behold it shall be a tree springing up unto everlasting life. (Alma 32:41)

And now, my brethren, I desire that ye shall plant this word in your hearts, and as it beginneth to swell even so nourish it by your faith. And behold, it will become a tree, springing up in you unto everlasting life. And then may God grant unto you that your burdens may be light, through the joy of his Son. And even all this can ye do if ye will. Amen.(Alma 33:23)

Others have noted the intriguing reference to tree of life symbolism here, drawing upon themes in the ancient Near East, not to mention related themes in Mesoamerica. But here I wish to consider the possibility of a potential word play or poetical device in the form of a Janus parallelism.

Janus parallelism refers to the two-headed Roman god, Janus, who could look forward as well as backward. In Janus parallelism, one word or phrase serves in two parallel structures by also looking both forward and backward, relying on a double meaning to connect in both directions to nearby words or phrases. Over at Interpreter: A Journal of Latter-day Saint Faith and Scholarship, I once reviewed Scott Noegel's excellent book on the abundant use of Janus parallelism in Job and also tentatively proposed several possible examples of Janus parallelism in the Book of Mormon based on the presumed Hebrew words behind the English translation. More recently Paul Hoskisson has proposed a possible example of Janus parallelism in 1 Nephi 18:16. By the way, I find it interesting that most of the examples with potential Janus parallelism come from Nephi, the man closest to the deep details of Hebrew poetry. In fact, chiasmic structures and parallelism in general is not distributed uniformly or randomly in the Book of Mormon, but has a distribution that is consistent with the details of the book's claimed ancient origins as opposed to being the fruit of Joseph Smith's mind. On the fascinating distribution of parallelism among Book of Mormon texts, see Carl J. Cranney's analysis in "The Deliberate Use of Hebrew Parallelisms in the Book of Mormon," Journal of Book of Mormon Studies 23 (2014):140–65.

Getting back to the verses from Alma, in English, readers may note that "spring up" naturally relates to the sprouting, growth, and flourishing of the tree that is nourished in the first portion of both verses. But "springing" and "everlasting life" seem less related. I have previously felt it was a somewhat odd word choice for discussing entry into eternal life, though it does convey a dynamic, vibrant sense that relates well to the tree. Recently I wondered if considering possible Hebrew roots behind this word might be useful.

The Hebrew word for "spring" can be Strong's H6779, tsamach, to sprout or spring up. This can refer to plants, hair, and figuratively to speech, and can also mean to grow abundantly or thickly, or to cause to grow.  This is translated 13 times as "grow" in the Old Testament, "spring forth" six times, "spring up" four times, and twice each for "grow up," "bring forth," "bud," and "spring out."

Strong's H6523, parach, can mean to bud, to sprout, to bloom, to blossom or send out shoots, as well as to break out (for leprosy) and to fly. It is most commonly translated as "flourish" (10 times), followed by "bud" (5 times), "blossom" (4 times), etc., with "spring" occurring twice and "spring up" occurring just once.

More interesting might be Strong's H5927, 'alah, which can mean to ascend or climb, as in to spring up or grow for vegetation, or to come up (before God), to go up, to excel, to be superior, and even to be exalted. This combination of meanings, the vegetative springing up of a plant but also the rising up to exaltation or coming up before God could make this an ideal word to use in Alma 32.  

By using 'alah or a related word that can both reflect the climbing or growing of a tree as well as being exalted or coming up into the presence of God, then both Alma 32:41 and Alma 33:23 could function as a Janus parallelism in which that word does double duty, creating a parallel with the preceding portion of the verse related to the growth of a tree  while also creating a parallel related to entering into eternal life in the final portion of the verse based on an additional meaning related to exaltation or coming up before God.

This is a tentative proposal that has not been subject to peer review. As always, I may be completely wrong and, as always, I welcome your relatively civil feedback on this topic.

Saturday, December 19, 2020

The Jewish Copper Plates of Cochin, India and a Hint of an Ancient Jewish Tradition of Writing on Metal Plates

A recent post here critiqued an attempt to explain the origins of the book of Ether based on inspiration from a rare book, A Key to the Chronology of the Hindus from a man named Alexander Hamilton (not the US statesmen). After substantial revision, my post was just published on the Interpreter Foundation's blog as "Was a Rare Book on the Hindu Religion a Source for the Book of Ether?" To my surprise, a comment was posted there suggesting a more relevant book from Alexander Hamilton. It turns out this was yet another Alexander Hamilton, a Captain Alexander Hamilton who had experience in the "East Indies," including India. He published his story in another large book almost a century before his namesake's book on the Hindus came out. It's actually relevant to the Book of Mormon in a couple of ways.

Here is the comment made by someone posting as "RM":

Both Lindsay and Toponce swing and miss. I recommend reading the earlier texts of Alexander Hamilton, particularly those describing members of the House of Manasseh and their brass/copper plates containing “their own history from the reign of Nebuchadnezzar to this present time”. – A New Account of the East Indies

As in there were historical Israelites from the Tribe of Manasseh in this region of the world, and the accounts given by Hamilton were an accurate telling of their history.

Now that sounds much more interesting than what one can find in the later Hamilton's book, which is frankly a very poor candidate as a source for the Book of Mormon. Captain Alexander Hamilton first published his book in 1723, with some later editions. The 1744 edition is available at Google Books: https://www.google.com/books/edition/A_New_Account_of_the_East_Indies/-jNagGDT-PsC?hl=en&gbpv=1. Was A New Account of the East Indies available in the US for Joseph Smith the bookworm to access? Or could it at least have influenced his technical advisory team or Joseph's broad circles of literati

Unlike the later Hamilton's book, which wasn't widely distributed even in England where it was published, this earlier book had made it to the shores of the US by 1830 since the 1830 catalog of the library at Harvard shows it listed. However, it still may have been rather rare, for the Library of Congress, building upon Thomas Jefferson's vast library, did not obtain the book until 1904, based on my query with the extremely helpful Rare Books Collection team (email received Dec. 15, 2020). It wasn't in the noteworthy Rochester City Library in 1839. The 1821 catalog at the very large library of Allegheny College also fails to show this book. But at least we know that Harvard had it, so it's possible that Joseph's better educated farmer friends knew all about it, though given that its topic that would seem to have no value for Joseph or his peers and given the few words of material that intersects with Book of Mormon issues, it's unlikely this had any impact on Joseph and his environment. But if Joseph did read it, what would he have gleaned?

In discussing travels to India and beyond, the book raises the issue of the diaspora of the Jews on pages 323--325 (1744 edition), and mentions that some Jews in India said to be descended from the Jews who were carried away to Babylon during the Exile had a tradition about preserving their history on metal plates. Jews writing their history on metal plates? I've heard that somewhere before....

There is now a good body of evidence showing that other Jews and Semitic peoples had put various writings on metal (see https://scholarsarchive.byu.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1695&context=msr), but it was a source of mockery in Joseph’s day. For that Jewish colony in India, I don’t know what became of their recorded history on metal plates, if they really had one — there may be a sacred treasure waiting to be revealed sometime soon, for all I know — but the Jews of the colony appear to have had at least one important document on metal plates, an engraving of a royal charter for their colony from the king of Kerala about 1000 years ago and at least a replica of the plates still exists. See "Jewish Copper Plates of Cochin," Wikipedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jewish_copper_plates_of_Cochin. More on that issue in a moment.

Here is the relevant passage in Captain Alexander Hamilton’s book on p. 324:

They [the Jews in Cochin, India] have a Synagogue at Cochin, not far from the King’s Palace, about two Miles from the City, in which are carefully kept their Records, engraven in Copper-plates in Hebrew characters; and when any of the Characters decay, they are new cut, so that they can shew their own History, from the Reign of Nebuchadnezzar to the present Time....

They declare themselves to be of the Tribe of Manasseh....

While we don't know the details, this at least suggests that in a colony founded by ancient Jews there was an old tradition about preserving important documents on metal. Interesting.  Also interesting is the connection to the tribe of Manasseh, part of the tribe of Joseph, giving another connection to the Book of Mormon.

RM also offered a link to a source in India raising questions about the authenticity of the royal charter on copper plates. See "Few Translations of the Jewish Copper Plates and the Doubtful Authenticity of the Plates," Geopolitical Strategic and Security Studies Institute (GSSSI), India (no date). This reviews the history of the plates with the purported royal charter on them, discusses attempted translations, and raises questions about their authenticity. The focus is on Claudius Buchanan, who visited Cochin decades after Alexander Hamilton and allegedly purchased the plates with the royal charter and had a replica made. The replica had engravings on one side of two plates, while the original allegedly had both sides of a plate engraved. Here is an ancient drawing made of one part of the plates:


Jewish copper plates of Cochin (plate I, side I), a photo of 2-D artwork created before the 11th-century CE. Royal charter issued by the Chera/Perumal king of Kerala, south India to Joseph Rabban, a Jewish merchant magnate of Kodungallur. The charter shows the status and importance of the Jewish colony in Kodungallur (Cranganore) near Cochin, India. There were 28 lines on three sides of two copper plates dating to the early 11th century AD. Script: Vatteluttu (with Grantha/Southern Pallava Grantha script) Language, an early form of Malayalam. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons, Wikipedia, "Jewish Copper Plates of Cochin."

What happened to the plates? Were there ever real plates? Is it all just some kind of joke or fraud? GSSSI has many doubts, but, as shown in the paragraph below, they strike me as having a rather strong bias when they interpret the University of Cambridge's answer to their query as evidence of the "non-existence or loss of the original brass plates" when it seems that the reply simply means the University hasn't done any research on the plates yet. Plates that have a manuscript number in a university catalog is not the normal way of treating items that simply don't exist:

Buchanan writes in his Annual Report that the plates were originally in brass of which he made copper facsimiles. The original was engraved on both sides while the facsimiles were on two separate plates. He mentions that these plates were deposited in the Public Library at the University of Cambridge. But Thoufeek Zakriya, a researcher, mentions that in response to his inquiry to the Cambridge University, Ms. Catherine Ansorge, Head of Near Eastern Department, (manuscripts and printed Collections, Cambridge University Library) replied by a personal mail about the MsOo.1.14, Charter of Jews of Cochin, which was submitted by Dr. Claudius Buchanan stating “Oo.1.14 -- the texts are all written on rectangles of copper. I do not know of any studies which have been carried out on these” thus confirming the non-existence or loss of the original brass plates even in the Cambridge University or it is that the original brass  plate was never deposited by Claudius Buchanan but instead what he deposited was a copper facsimile. Buchanan also writes that the plates were taken to London. Does the brass plate still exist in London and if so in whose possession and why it has to be kept secret even from Indian historians is a ‘mystery’ yet to be solved.

Meanwhile, multiple studies have been published on the plates and scholars seem convinced that these are real, ancient, and non-fraudulent. See the Wikipedia article cited above and its sources, as well as the following: 

1.  Barbara C. Johnson, "New Research, Discoveries and Paradigms: A Report on the Current Study of Kerala Jews" in Indo-Judaic Studies in the Twenty-First Century, ed. Nathan Katz et al. (New York: Palgrave MacMillan, 2007), 129-146, online at https://link.springer.com/chapter/10.1057%2F9780230603622_8. Here is an excerpt from pp. 129-130:

Fresh historical insight into the early Jewish community in Keralahas emerged from new publications by the esteemed Kerala historian M. G. S. Narayanan, professor and head of the Department of History Emeritus at Calicut University. More than thirty years had passed since the publication of his definitive analysis of the eleventh century Jewish copper plates, still a basic source for all scholarship in the field, when his very welcome renewal of interest in the Kerala Jews was marked by participation in two scholarly gatherings, in Oxford in 2002 and in Israel in 2005. In a 2003 article, he once again turned his scholarly attention to the copper plates, enriching his earlier analysis of their sociopolitical context, and in 2005 he analyzed the leadership position of copper plate recipient Joseph Rabban in the context of eleventh century Kerala society and politics. Both these papers drew extensively from and expanded on material and analysis in his recently published monumental study on Kerala in the ninth to twelfth centuries, Perumals of Kerala. It is hoped that this volume will soon be published for wider circulation.

In addition to the important work in this volume by Chakravarti and Weinstein on ancient and medieval contacts between India and Jews in other lands, mention should be made of a 1992 article by the Israeli scholar MeirBar Ilan, exploring contacts between the Jewish communities of Yemen andSouth India. This study is based on interpretation of the controversial eigh-teenth century Cochin Jewish chronicle “Maggid Hadashot,” which is unusual in locating the origin of the Kerala Jews in Yemen. Bar Ilan relates part of its contents to similar eighteenth century Hebrew compositions from Yemen about the history of the Yemenite Jews. He then investigates the possibility that at least some of the manuscripts which are mentioned in the chronicle were actually copies of ancient “lost” apocryphal books, preserved in Yemen and brought to Kerala at a much earlier time.Whatever questions there might be about his analysis of the origin of the chronicle and of the “lost books” mentioned in it, Bar Ilan’s article is valuable in its identification of sources on early contacts between Yemen and Kerala. This topic is of particular interest to scholars exploring Yemenite liturgical and musical influences in Kerala, and to those examining Malabari alternatives to the “Joseph Rabban/Cheraman Perumal/Kodungallur” legends, as found in several other Cochin chronicles and at least one Malayalam folksong.

2. M. G. S. Narayanan, "Further Studies in the Jewish Copper Plates of Cochin," Indian Historical Review, 29/1–2 (Jan. 2002):19-28, online at http://www.mei.org.in/uploads/jijscontent/59-1534436177-jijsarticlepdf.pdf.

Narayanan explains that the language on the plates is consistent with other engravings in that part of India anciently and follows unusual ancient patterns in which dates were sometimes split up, perhaps out of superstition. Such elements are subtle indications of authenticity and antiquity.

It's interesting that engravings on both stone and copper in that part of India were part of the local elite culture anciently. Did the Jewish tradition of engraving on metal influence their environment, or did the Jewish interest in metal engravings derive from their environment, or were both independent? I'm not sure and would appreciate your input if you're familiar with this issue.

In any case, while the 1821 book of Alexander Hamilton on the Hindus is not of much interest for understanding Book of Mormon, a Captain Alexander Hamilton almost a century earlier had one brief section in his large book that hints at what we know from other sources: some ancient Jews may have had a tradition of recording scripture and their own history on metal plates. In spite of his brief hint on this topic, the idea of ancient Hebrews writing on metal plates was widely mocked in Joseph's day and was not part of common knowledge in Joseph's environment. 

Also of interest is the connection of the Cochin Jews to the ancient Jews in Yemen, some of whom Lehi and his family may have encountered, especially when they came to the place that others, perhaps local Yemeni Jews, called Nahom, likely in the region of the tribal lands for the ancient Nihm tribe of Yemen. That region is about 25 miles north of Sana'a and in just about the only place where one can leave the general scope of the Incense Trail and turn nearly due east with a chance of surviving and not only reaching the coast of Oman, but reaching the miraculous but real place called Bountiful. 

For Lehi's family, meeting a group of Jews at Nahom would have been a miraculous blessing that would have made it possible to give a proper Jewish burial to Ishmael, whose burial at Nahom is recorded in 1 Nephi in the Book of Mormon.  Note that Captain Hamilton is not aware of the Yemen connection and writes that the Jews of Cochin fled from Babylon after the Exile. But if they were from the Northern Kingdom, as suggested by their tribal affiliation, they might have been part of the many Hebrews who fled the Assyrian invasion by going to Yemen. Perhaps some later sailed from there for India?

There's much to explore here. I'm grateful for the kind leads provided by RM and welcome any further information you may have. 

Here are some images the Library of Congress kindly sent me of two of their copies of Captain Hamilton's books in their Rare Books Collection, both showing acquisition long after Joseph Smith's day. Beautiful books! And they come with a tiny treasure that intersects lightly with our  Book of Mormon and hints at further treasures to uncover.


Friday, December 11, 2020

Religious Liberty: Have We Forgotten the Pain of the Hutterites?

College students these days learn what a wise leader President Woodrow Wilson was, a good progressive. An example of the positive summary of his work is the historical summary of President Wilson offered in the Obama White House Archives at Archive.org. Nothing to dislike there. But  President Wilson needs to be remembered every time we think about religious freedom, for reasons you aren't going to hear from the progressive media or from typical college professors. 

Wilson's stance on religious liberty is one that should give us more than pause. It should motivate us to stand up against the increasing spirit of hostility toward religious liberty that is rising in this and other nations. More on that later, but first let's review what happened to religious liberty under Wilson. We'll see that we Latter-day Saints, as much as we love to recall the religious persecution our people faced in the distant past, aren't the only ones who have suffered and even died for our religion within the borders of this free land. The story of the Hutterites, the small religious group that ended up fleeing from our nation to seek relief from religious persecution, is one that we need to review and teach to our people, our families, and our communities that we may not let such persecution arise again. 

Please read "How Woodrow Wilson Persecuted Hutterites Who Refused to Support His War" by Lawrence W. Reed at the Foundation for Economic Education (FEE.org). It describes the background of the Hutterites, a religious minority that came to the US to escape persecution in Europe. Their refusal to participate in war would make them a target when Wilson sought to bring "unity" to America to ensure that everyone supported World War I, the war Wilson claimed would make the world "safe for democracy." The Hutterites, however, due to their religious beliefs, were not willing to take up weapons and support his war. Lawrence Reed's article explains the price they paid for following their religion. Here is an excerpt:

Wilson signed the Selective Service Act into law in May 1917, setting the stage for the administration’s inevitable conflict with conscientious objectors, for whom no provision or exception was made. A quarter century later during World War II, objectors were offered alternative service, but not under Wilson, the “compassionate” progressive. 
At induction centers where young men reported for military duty, Hutterite men were pressured both physically and psychologically. This passage from Hostetler’s book will leave you wondering how such a travesty could ever occur in the land of the free and the home of the brave:

At Camp Funston some of the men were brutally handled in the guardhouse. They were bayoneted, beaten, and tortured by various forms of water “cure.” Jakob S. Waldner, who retains an extensive diary of his experiences in the camp, was thrown fully clothed into a cold shower for twenty minutes for refusing a work order. After such cold showers, the men were often thrown out of a window and dragged along the ground by their hair and feet by soldiers who were waiting outside. Their beards were disfigured to make them appear ridiculous.

One night, eighteen men were aroused from their sleep and held under cold showers until one of them became hysterical. Others were hung by their feet above tanks of water until they almost choked to death. On many days they were made to stand at attention on the cold side of their barracks, in scant clothing, while those who passed by scoffed at them in abusive and foul language. They were chased across the fields by guards on motorcycles under the guise of taking exercise, until they dropped from sheer exhaustion. In the guardhouse they were usually put on a diet of bread and water. Such experiences were common to all sincere conscientious objectors, including Mennonites and those of other religious faiths.

A delegation of Hutterite ministers traveled to Washington in August 1917, hoping to advise President Wilson personally of their concerns. The most they got was a meeting with Secretary of War Newton Baker, who blew them off with meaningless assurances and did nothing. The guilt for what happened next lies not only with the men who personally perpetrated the deed, but also just as surely with the administration that allowed it to happen and that cared nothing for those to whom it happened.

At Fort Lewis, Washington, four Hutterite men reported as ordered but refused to sign admission papers or put on army uniforms. For their sincere, faith-based convictions, they were tossed into the guardhouse for two months, then sentenced to 37 years in prison. Hostetler reveals,

They were taken to the notorious military prison at Alcatraz, attended by four armed lieutenants who kept them handcuffed during the day and chained by the ankles to each other at night. At Alcatraz they again refused to put on military uniforms. They were then taken to a ‘dungeon’ of darkness, filth and stench and put in solitary confinement out of earshot of each other.

Four months later, the men were remanded to Fort Leavenworth in Kansas to serve out the remaining years of their sentences. The abuse heaped upon them there was unspeakably worse than at Alcatraz. Two of the men—brothers Joseph and Michael Hofer—became so ill from the experience they required hospitalization. Their wives, suspecting the worst, traveled by train to Kansas to see their husbands. Citing Hostetler once again,

After losing a day, the women arrived at midnight to find their husbands nearly dead. When they returned in the morning, Joseph was dead. The guards refused his wife, Maria, permission to see the dead body. In tears, she pleaded with the colonel and was finally taken to the casket only to find that her husband’s body had been dressed in the military uniform he had so adamantly refused to wear. Michael Hofer died two days later. The wives and a few other relatives accompanied the bodies to their home community, where their enormous funeral seared Hutterite minds with the price of true apostolic faith.

All through the summer and fall of 1918, the Hutterite colonies in the Dakotas and Montana suffered intolerable abuses from local citizens and officials for their German ancestry, their opposition to military service in general, and their refusal to buy the government’s Liberty Bonds in particular. Their sheep and cattle were seized and sold at auction to purchase the bonds their rightful owners would not buy. Finally, the Hutterites did what they had been forced to do so many times before: Nearly the entire population of Hutterites in America—an estimated 11,000—left the country. They migrated to Canada.

What did Woodrow Wilson say or do about the atrocities against the Hutterites? Sadly, just about nothing. Historian Stoltzfus reports that when businessman Theodore Lunde published pamphlets about what occurred at Leavenworth, Wilson tried to silence him and the journalists he was collaborating with:

…Wilson urged Attorney General Gregory to consider charging Lunde with treason for publishing criticisms of the government. “There are many instances of this sort and one conviction would probably scotch a great many snakes,” the president said.

Wilson had no qualms about jailing people he disagreed with, even after the war was over in November 1918. With Wilson’s full support, the Palmer Raids rounded up thousands of Americans in 1920—the vast majority of them for no greater offense than opposing the Wilson administration.

May we remember the Hutterites, their courage and their pain.  May we resist increasing intrusions of religious liberty in our day. Fortunately, conscientious objectors to military service are treated better these days. But I worry at the numerous governors and mayors who see religion as such an annoyance or threat that religious communities need to be forbidden from meeting while massive marches and protests are viewed with approval, while gathering by the hundreds at Walmart and other well-connected establishments is a sacred privilege. In many communities, rules for religious gatherings have been imposed that are far more stringent than rules for liquor stores or marijuana ships, and some have the gall to lecture religious people about the adequacy of praying in private. 

Government has no right to tell us how to worship. The vast majority of our nation's religious groups have show a willingness to take the COVID virus seriously, and many have shown that gatherings can still occur without creating great pubic danger. American's religious groups in general have taken the virus far more seriously than the politicians and petty tyrants who tell us to stay home while they travel freely, who tell us to celebrate the holidays alone while they and their families gather together,  who arbitrarily tell us which businesses must be shut down and be sacrificed while their pay checks are secure at our expense, who tell us to quit traveling while they vacation where they want to, who tell us to eat at home while they eat out in groups at the lucky restaurants they haven't destroyed yet. And then these great theologians tell us that we don't need to gather as religious communities, because the important thing is that we can always pray to God while we cower alone in our basements hiding from the world and from life as they command. 

Let them worship as they will, but respect the religious liberty that is supposed to be at the heart of this nation. 

May we not forget the Hutterites. It happened to them under the watch of a supposedly compassionate, humanitarian man who proclaimed the importance of liberty and democracy. It can happen again, in different ways, for different reasons, if we neglect our rights and allow them to be trampled upon.

Saturday, December 05, 2020

"From Whence They Can No More Return": What Lehi Teaches Us About the Book of Mormon's Harsh Language on Hell

The Book of Mormon's teachings on hell sometimes sound much harsher than what we understand from modern revelation. From Joseph's Smith's revelations, such as his vision on the three degrees of glory in Section 76 of the Doctrine and Covenants and his revelations pertaining to the salvation of the dead and baptism for the dead, we know that many who die without having accepted Christ or without even having heard of Him will have a fair chance to hear and accept the Gospel. We also know that for almost all the wicked who have lived on this planet, the place or condition we call hell is ultimately only temporary for them, though the concept of hell itself is eternal and language about eternal punishment is ambiguous on purpose to stir men up to repentance, as explained in Section 19 of the Doctrine and Covenants (but yes, those who go to the Telestial Kingdom after suffering for their own sins in hell are eternally cut off from the presence of God and Christ, and do not return to them in the Celestial Kingdom).

It is only the sons of perdition who seem to be cast into hell forever, those who fully know the reality of God and Christ and openly fight against them and consent to the killing of Christ--but even then we don't actually know what their end is, if any, so it may not be fair to assume their suffering is endless. Section 76 tells us that the sons of perdition go "into everlasting punishment, which is eternal punishment" (Doctrine and Covenants 76:44). Here we must note that God's punishment by definition is "eternal punishment" since God is eternal, as explained in Section 19, but that doesn't mean that those who suffer such punishment suffer it forever.  Is that the case here as well? We don't know, for the next verse tell us this about their torment: "the end thereof, neither the place thereof, nor their torment, no man knows" (Doctrine and Covenants 76:45). If we don't know the end, it's possible there is one. We don't know. 

Likewise, the warning against falling into "eternal death" (2 Nephi 2:29) does not mean one will never be resurrected, but that one is cast out from God's presence and will "die as to things pertaining to things of righteousness" (Alma 40:26), things which I suggest relate to the majesties of the Celestial Kingdom that the unpenitent wicked will not experience. 

I raise these points because language in the Book of Mormon seems to reflect the view that there is either eternal heaven or eternal hell. Perhaps the strongest language on this point speaks of "never returning" from that state. For example, King Benjamin in Mosiah 2 said:

23 And now I have spoken the words which the Lord God hath commanded me.

24 And thus saith the Lord: They shall stand as a bright testimony against this people, at the judgment day; whereof they shall be judged, every man according to his works, whether they be good, or whether they be evil.

25 And if they be evil they are consigned to an awful view of their own guilt and abominations, which doth cause them to shrink from the presence of the Lord into a state of misery and endless torment, from whence they can no more return; therefore they have drunk damnation to their own souls.

26 Therefore, they have drunk out of the cup of the wrath of God, which justice could no more deny unto them than it could deny that Adam should fall because of his partaking of the forbidden fruit; therefore, mercy could have claim on them no more forever.

27 And their torment is as a lake of fire and brimstone, whose flames are unquenchable, and whose smoke ascendeth up forever and ever. Thus hath the Lord commanded me. Amen. 

Then in 3 Nephi 27, Christ says something similar. Speaking of those who build up false churches not founded upon His Gospel and in His name, He said:

11 But if it be not built upon my gospel, and is built upon the works of men, or upon the works of the devil, verily I say unto you they have joy in their works for a season, and by and by the end cometh, and they are hewn down and cast into the fire, from whence there is no return. 

 Then speaking of the day of judgment, He said:

16 And it shall come to pass, that whoso repenteth and is baptized in my name shall be filled; and if he endureth to the end, behold, him will I hold guiltless before my Father at that day when I shall stand to judge the world.

17 And he that endureth not unto the end, the same is he that is also hewn down and cast into the fire, from whence they can no more return, because of the justice of the Father. 

So it sounds like those who build up false churches or those who fall away from and reject the Gospel will suffer in hell forever. Isn't that rather harsh? How can that be squared with the Restored Gospel of Jesus Christ?

Please note that these scriptures may be examples of the forceful but ambiguous language Doctrine and Covenants 19 speaks of. In fact, they do not say that the wicked or those who rebel will be in hell forever. They will be cast into the fire/torment/hell, but rather than saying they remain forever, instead these verses declare that they don't return. Return? Return to where? This is a critical issue for understanding the scriptures. The verb return requires a frame of reference. Return to where? If I leave Wisconsin by going to China and never return, that doesn't require that I stay in China forever. I may be in China for a week, then go to Europe or New Zealand for years. 

The Book of Mormon concept of "from whence" one does not "return" has to be considered in light of the earliest use of this language in Father Lehi's farewell speech: 

Awake! and arise from the dust, and hear the words of a trembling parent, whose limbs ye must soon lay down in the cold and silent grave, from whence no traveler can return; a few more days and I go the way of all the earth.  (2 Nephi 1:14)

Lehi is bidding farewell to his family and speaks of going soon to the grave, "from whence no traveler can return." So did Lehi mean that for him there would be no resurrection? That he would be dead forever? If so, why did he then go on to bear witness of Christ and the Resurrection, telling us that Christ would "bring to pass the resurrection of the dead" (2 Nephi 2:8)? But here it is clear what Lehi's frame of reference is: the mortal world. Lehi will die and will never return to be among his family and be part of this mortal life. But he knew that he would rise again and have eternal life. But once he died, he would never return to mortality.

So what is the frame of reference in the other verses speaking of the wicked never returning? Obviously, once the wicked are judged by Christ, they are sent out of His presence and will not return to Him and the Father. The language in Mosiah 3:25 is explicitly in the context of the day of judgment, where Christ is the judge. The frame of reference is the presence of Christ. 3 Nephi 27:11 is implicitly referring to the results that come on the day of judgement and 3 Nephi 27:17 also follows an explicit reference to the Father and the Son and the day of judgement in the previous verse. 

The wicked who are cast out of the presence of Christ do not return to Him, but that does not mean they suffer as if they were sons of perdition. Their pains will be great (thus Christ begs us to repent that we may be spared from the pain our sins can bring in Doctrine and Covenants 19), their regret may endure, but they will not rot in hell forever and will at last obtain a merciful kingdom of glory, though far short of what the Father hoped they would receive.

Like Lehi never returning from the grave, the language about the wicked never returning from hell needs to be followed by the simple question: return to where? With the right frame of reference, and through considering the Lord's intent in motivating us to repent, the Book of Mormon's language may fit the more extensive revelations of the modern Church better than we may have realized. 

Update, Dec. 31, 2020: Mormon 9:13 provides another clear indication about the limits on the words "eternal" and "endless" as Moronu  explains that through the Resurrection of Christ, we will all awake  from the "endless sleep" of death and be freed from the "eternal band of death." I discuss this in a subsequent post.

Saturday, November 28, 2020

Four Types of Chiasmus in Deuteronomy and Jeremiah, with Implications for the Book of Mormon

Students of biblical literature and of the Book of Mormon can now access an important new volume on chiasmus, Chiasmus: The State of the Art, just published as a special supplement to the journal BYU Studies Quarterly. For subscribers (or everyone?), the PDF of the entire edition can be downloaded or individual articles can be viewed as HTML or PDF files.
Today I'd like to discuss an excellent article by Dr. David Rolph Seely, “'With strong hand and with outstretched arm' (Deuteronomy 4:34); 'With outstretched hand and with strong arm' (Jeremiah 21:5): Chiasmus in Deuteronomy and Jeremiah" from pages 129 to 150. He discusses four different kinds of chiasmus that are shared in Deuteronomy and Jeremiah, and also compares these types to what he sees in the Book of Mormon. Here is an excerpt:

Four Kinds of Distinctive Chiasmus in Deuteronomy and Jeremiah

Various scholars have identified four distinctive forms of chiasmus in Deuteronomy that may have provided a rhetorical prototype for Jeremiah. This does not necessarily mean that these forms of chiasmus are unique to Deuteronomy and Jeremiah but that they are suggestive of Deuteronomy providing a prototype for similar figures in Jeremiah. It could be argued that these four distinctive forms of chiasmus are representative of seventh-century Judahite rhetorical tradition. The four distinctive forms are: 
  1. Chiasmus of Speaker
  2. Chiasmus in the Position of Completing a Unit of Text
  3. Chiasmus Where Particles Create Semi-chiasmus in the Middle Two Cola of Four Cola Units
  4. Chiasmus Where Rhetorical Questions Occur in the Middle of the Structure
After examining these, Seely also considers examples of chiasmus in the Book of Mormon and shows that all but the first form are present in the Book of Mormon. Below I will tentatively propose that one famous chiasmus in the Book of Mormon may also share features of that first form, chiasmus of the speaker.

Here is what Dr. Seely writes on this category of chiasmus:
1. Chiasmus of Speaker: A distinctive form of chiasmus in Deuteronomy is the chiasmus of speaker. This means that the inversion in the chiasmus is not with the themes or the keywords of the passage, but rather with the speakers. Deuteronomy 1:20–31 illustrates a chiasmus of speakers. This type of chiasmus was first noted by Lohfink in 1960 and later discussed by Moran. Lundbom describes this chiastic structure as follows: “In Deut. 1:20–31, Moses narrates in the first person, introducing the direct address of each of the participants in the discussion—including himself—in chiastic fashion.”

The  same  rhetorical  figure  of  chiasmus  of  speaker  is  found  in  Jer  8:18–21. In this passage Jeremiah speaks first (v. 8) and then he speaks on  behalf  of  the  people  (v.  19ab).  In  the  center  of  the  chiasmus,  Yahweh speaks (v. 19c), then Jeremiah speaks again on behalf of the people (v. 20), and finally Jeremiah concludes (v. 21).

Another example of chiasmus of speaker is found in Jer 5:1–8 where the chiasmus alternates between the words of Yahweh to the search party and Jeremiah, of Jeremiah to Yahweh, and then of Jeremiah to himself. It begins and ends with the words of Yahweh to the search party (vv. 1–2 // 7–8). The second and fourth speaker is Jeremiah speaking to Yahweh (vv. 3 // 5c–6) and in the center Jeremiah speaks to himself (4–5b).


Later, as Dr. Seely explores the presence of related forms of chiasmus in the Book of Mormon, he presents good examples for three of the four types but not really for the chiasmus of the speaker:

While I have not yet located an example of a chiasmus of speaker in the Book of Mormon, we can point to a similar example  involving the reversal of the subjects in the text. In Nephi’s interpretation of the block of Isaiah chapters that he has inserted into his record in 2 Nephi 12–24 that equal Isa 2–14, he gives a long historical discussion of how these Isaiah passages may help illuminate the history of the Jews, the Lehites, and the Gentiles. Nephi presents this discussion in a chiastic  form—that  also turns out to  coincide with the historical  order of the visit of the Savior to the three peoples and their acceptance of the Book of Mormon:

I find that interesting. But there may be yet another example to consider, one that may come closer to the chiasmus of the speaker form found in Deuteronomy and Jeremiah. Consider Alma 36, where Alma is narrating a sacred experience to his son, Helaman. Technically, everything being said is simply Alma speaking to his son, but in this discourse, he recalls or remembers the words of various parties (his own, his fathers, his father Alma, his father Lehi, the words of an angel, the ministering of the Spirit, and the answer to his plea unto Christ--the latter two, of course, do not involve explicit spoken words, but can be viewed as acts of communication and ministering). There are multiple speakers or "living sources" here with with recipients of communication, whether explicit or implicit.

The structure could be mapped as:

A. Alma urges Helaman to give ear to his words and keep the commandments (v. 1) [source: Alma's words]

B. Alma reminds Helaman of the story of their fathers ("our fathers") and their deliverance (vv. 1-3) [source: "our fathers"]

C. Alms shares his own testimony and story with Helaman, urging him to hear his words and learn that he might be blessed (vv. 3-5) [source: Alma's words]

D. As he sought to destroy the Church of God [by speaking to other against it] (v. 6), an angel descended and spoke to Alma and his brethren, causing Alma to fall and lose strength (vv. 6-11) [source: an angel]

E. Alma, in torment over what he had done (vv. 12-16), recalls the words of his father ("my father") about Christ (v. 17) [source: Alma's father]

F. Alma cries out to Christ, the Son of God (v. 18) [source: Alma, speaking to Christ]

F'. Christ answers Alma with forgiveness and joy (vv. 19-20) [source: Christ answering Alma]

E'. Filled with exquisite joy, Alma sees what Lehi ("our father Lehi") had written, describing what he saw in the heavenly court (vv. 21-22) [source: "our father Lehi"]

D'. Alma regains his strength and stands, is filled with the Holy Ghost, and speaks to others to build up the Church (vv. 23-25) [source: the Holy Ghost]

C'. Alma testifies that the word imparted to him has blessed many and has blessed him (vv. 26-27) [source: Alma's words]

B'. Alma appeals to the deliverance of their fathers ("our fathers") from captivity (vv. 28-29) [source: "our fathers"]

A'. Alma urges Helaman to keep the commandments to be redeemed. "Now this is according to his word." (v. 30) [source: Alma's words]

If we view the text with a lens of the source being cited or referred to and the directionality of communication (including ministering), rather than just key words and concepts, it does seem to divide into sections with a chiastic structure of its own. But some of this structure does rely on repeated concepts or keywords, so it's not entirely based on implied or explicit sources. It could be simplified to something like this:

A. Alma speaks to his son, citing the deliverance of their fathers

B. Alma recounts his "anti-ministery" to destroy the Church

C. An angel descends and speaks to Alma

D. In torment, Alma recalls the words of his father ("my father") about Christ

E. Alma cries out to Christ, the Son of God

E'. Christ implicitly answers Alma with forgiveness and joy

D'. Alma sees what Lehi ("our father Lehi") had seen in the heavenly court

C'. Alma is filled with the Holy Ghost

B'. Alma recounts his ministry to others to build up the Church.

A'. Alma speaks to Helaman, citing the deliverance of their fathers. 

There is certainly some poetic license being used here, but does that exceed the bounds of what might have been intended in the poetry itself by an author familiar with Hebraic rhetorical forms such as chiasmus? In other words, could this be viewed as a form of a chiasmus of the speaker? I'm not sure but welcome feedback.  

The references to fathers is interesting. Referring to Lehi as "our father Lehi" does strike me as a potentially deliberate device to link his and Lehi's vision of God and the heavenly court to his own father's prophecies of the coming of Christ, the Son of God. The tight relationship between the visitation of the angel and his loss of strength and the visitation of the Holy Ghost and his regaining of strength and arising seems to link the ministering of the Spirit to the words of the angel in this parsing of the chiasmus, in spite of the Spirit not using words in filling and fortifying him. 

Alma 36 is a complex chiasm, not just because it has many steps in its fully mapped structures based on related words and themes, but because in the "messy" parts there is actually a lot of structure that seems to call out for additional lenses to be viewed, like the chiasmus of the speaker lens. This may be related to some concepts I once explored in the article, “'Arise from the Dust': Insights from Dust-Related Themes in the Book of Mormon (Part 3: Dusting Off a Famous Chiasmus, Alma 36),” Interpreter: A Journal of Latter-day Saint Faith and Scholarship 22 (2016): 295-318. Speculative, yes, but I think there is more artistry to Alma 36 than anyone simply reading the English translation would have ever noticed until scholars began teaching us about the rhetorical and poetical devices of the ancient Hebrews, which we can still be seem shining through the translation process.

Friday, November 20, 2020

A Most Appropriate Thanksgiving Message for This Day: President Nelson on the Power of Gratitude

I just listened to President Nelson's short message delivered at noon (Central Time) via Youtube. I always enjoy listening to this kind, wise man, but he greatly exceeded my expectations. I feel it was the most appropriate and beautiful message that could be delivered as we approach the Thanksgiving holiday, a message that can our minds away from political strike, anger, and division and instead fill us with the gratitude that can heal us and bring us closer to God. What an inspired message! And he gave us an inspired challenge to spend the next week sharing thoughts of gratitude each day on social media, using the hashtag #GiveThanks, to be a force for good across the globe. Truly inspired!



I'll start with one of the miracles that I ponder almost daily, certainly weekly, that fills me with wonder and delight at the handiwork of God. Can you guess what I'm talking about? Yes, ATP synthase! The amazing complex of proteins that acts like a finely tuned motor with a rotor that spins around 200 times a second cranking out energized reactants as enzyme structures open and close endlessly, turning the oxygen we breathe into the chemical energy that runs every cell and organ of our body. Fiendishly clever is the wrong word, and diabolically clever is worse! We need better words for cleverness. Divinely clever might work, but few use that expression. Why not? Satan's cleverness is a dead end while the Lord's gives us everything, including the breath of life and the motorized enzymes that give us life from each breath we take. 

Here are a couple of videos explaining what go on in mitochondria and show some different animations of the incredible whirling motors that catalyze formation of ATP to give our bodies energy:


These whirling motors of ATP synthase would quickly stall if they were not given the "fuel" of hydrogen ions (protons) atoms pumped into one portion of the mitochondria by another stunning mechanism, a complex of proteins that are precisely tuned to pump protons "uphill" across the membrane into the hydrogen-rich zone that drives the rotors. Check out the electron transport chain:

These wonders are just the beginning of the brilliant molecular machinery that makes life on this planet possible -- and even joyous. We should life our voices in praise of God's Creation every day. I'm so grateful that it's possible to be alive, thanks in part to the miraculous chemical engines in our mitochondria. What a marvel life is!

Monday, November 09, 2020

Video of My Presentation with Noel Reynolds, “'Strong Like Unto Moses': The Case for Ancient Roots in the Book of Moses"

On Sept. 18 and 19, 2020 in Provo, Utah, the Interpreter Foundation sponsored a virtual conference, "Tracing Ancient Threads in the Book of Moses." Dr. Noel Reynolds and I collaborated on a paper that I presented, joined by Noel in the Q&A session. The presentation and our Q&A are in the Youtube video below. You can also read a draft of the paper on the Interpreter Foundation website, where you can also see the video and listen to the audio recording.

In our paper, we propose that the extensive textual relationships between the Book of Moses and the Book of Mormon is not easily explained by Joseph just relying on Book of Mormon language when he later dictated the Book of Moses, for many of the relationships suggest a direction of dependency from the Book of Moses to the Book of Mormon, as if something like the Book of Moses were on the brass plates used by Book of Mormon writers. In some cases, it is as if the Book of Moses text provides the backstory that Book of Mormon writers allude to, wherein knowledge of the relevant Book of Moses passage adds meaning to the allusions in the Book of Mormon text. Interestingly, writers most familiar with the brass plates like Nephi tend to provide the heaviest textual linkages to the Book of Moses. Further, the heavy relationship between the two texts is not evident when we compare the Book of Mormon with the Book of Abraham. The dozens of textual parallels not based on the KJV may provide an unexpected and fascinating insight into the ancient roots of both the Book of Moses and the Book of Mormon, via its ancient roots in the brass plates. 

We recognize that this is a controversial position, but please consider the data presented in the paper and briefly summarized in the presentation before you dismiss the hypothesis.

An array of other speakers participated in the conference. The Interpreter Foundation is providing free access to the papers and to video recordings of most of the presentations. The presentations include:

Friday, October 30, 2020

The Dangers of Censorship: Static Science, Diminished Liberty, and a Population in the Dark

A few weeks ago I made a post on Linkedin.com that cited a report on the apparent media censorship of information on a certain compound that many doctors were finding helpful in treating COVID patients at an early stage. The article summarized the latest peer-reviewed findings and argued that the media's reliance on only the negative studies, even one that was fraudulent and had to be withdrawn, was putting the nation at risk and reflected harmful and inappropriate bias. I said that "if this story is true, it will decrease my respect for the media." I was not saying that everyone should start taking any particular medication, but was pointing to an article offering a different perspective on the debate around COVID treatments in light of scientific studies. I wanted some feedback and thought it was something worth considering, while also being worried about the possibility of media bias (or censorship) on that topic.

Shortly after sharing that post, a doctor I know who liked what I had shared told me that my post had just been censored. I had received no notice, but when I tried to view it, I saw a warning indicating that I had violated LinkedIn policies. The crime was linking to something not fully aligned with WHO policies. From a scientific viewpoint, I found that troubling, for science is inherently tentative. The scientific method is about continually recognizing that we don't know everything and being willing to test previous conclusions or explore new hypotheses, learning from the surprises, the exceptions, and the unexpected results. To say that what we think we know now is the Final Answer and that data, however anecdotal, challenging the Ruling Paradigm must be hushed is anti-science and potentially dangerous. 

If social media had been in force a century ago, one scientist might have received this notice:

Dear Mr. Einstein, your account has been suspended for providing false scientific information. Scientists have established that Newtonian physics governs the universe. Your statements about "quantum theory" and "relativity" contradict mainstream physics and are thus false. 

The power of elite officials to stifle debate and contrarian data about a reigning scientific paradigm cost the lives of tens of thousands of British sailors who died from scurvy during the two centuries after it was demonstrated that adding fresh fruits and vegetables to the sailors' diet seemed to prevent scurvy. Such data contradicted the proclamations of Aristotle on the source of disease from mysterious vapors. It cost thousands of lives in Europe after the medical establishment rejected the compelling data from Ignacz Semmelweis on the possibility that something unseen on hands (germs) was transmitting deadly disease. Doctors continued to deliver babies or conduct operations without washing their hands, even though they may have been dissecting a corpse shortly before going to the delivery ward in their studies as students in European medical schools. Semmelweis's own supervisor who had seen his excellent results in reducing mortality through careful handwashing and cleansing of medical instruments continued to focus on the hospital's ventilation system as the cause of disease rather than handwashing because, after all, Aristotle must not be doubted. He was rejected and it would be decades before "germ theory" would finally be accepted and safer medical practices would be implemented. (A short summary of his work and life, and his own failure as a change agent, is at "Ignaz Semmelweis and the birth of infection control" by M. Best and D. Neuhauser.)

But the scientific need for openness about scientific information is less important than for America's need for freedom of speech, a freedom viewed by our Founding Fathers as essential for the American experiment. I am not saying that all nations need to emulate that experiment. I'll leave it to other nations to decide how to live and don't want to meddle. China, for example, has quite a different system, and many of my friends in China will tell me that based on China's history, its peoples, and its needs, its approach to government must be different. Further, as an outsider, I have no right to tell China how to do things. But here in America, for our people, our systems, and based on our history, I believe freedom of speech is essential for a free Republic to flourish. And it is essential for religious freedom as well, for minority religions such as ours need to be able to share our information and views without government or coalitions of opponents silencing that voice.

My little taste of censorship was nothing compared to what is happening nationwide. What I am about to say now will be misinterpreted as being politically motivated. Maybe even as Russian disinformation. But as my mentor, Vladimir Putin, instructed me to say in my weekly guidance chat last night, that's ridiculous. I have profound disappointment and concerns about both of our political parties and do not trust either party or their candidates for President. But my trust dips even lower when it comes to our media, including the giants of social media, in their willingness to silence dissent. 

If you get your news from CNN, Facebook, or Twitter, you might not have any idea what I'm talking about. You might not know about a certain insider to one family that has come forward in an explosive interview with a certain journalist Tucker C. (yeah, I'm afraid to give too much info lest I overstep some invisible line for sharing harmful information) confirming many details related to prior story from a New York newspaper that was brazenly censored by social media outlets, another story you may not have heard about, except perhaps for a quick "fact check" declaration that it's all "Russian disinformation -- now move along folks, there's nothing there to worry about." 

Both presidential candidates have serious problems and I can understand why good people might refuse to vote for either one, or might prefer either one over the other. My point is not about which candidate is the lesser evil, but about the brazen censorship on news related to some critical controversies that would be considered news in any other era. Such censorship not only includes blocking links to certain news sources, suppressing videos, or hiding the sources in search results, but shutting down or freezing their accounts or demonetizing their accounts. Even some who rely on Mailchimp for reaching large groups via email are allegedly finding their accounts are being closed and their massive email databases are locked up if they share information that Mailchimp doesn't like, as just happened to two independent news organizations.

It's looking like an all-out war to prevent "harmful information" from reaching the masses, even when that information may be highly credible and confirmed from multiple sources. The media and their allies are creating new standards as excuses to reject and censor information. If you were around in the days of the Watergate scandal, imagine an alternate universe with all the same facts but a media totally dedicated to supporting Nixon. Imagine a populace who had never heard of Watergate, and reporters who were punished for even asking questions about what happened. Imagine having your business suddenly crippled in its ability to market or reach customers because you said something unfavorable to Nixon that social media giants and their allies didn't like. Vote for either party or something else, but please be aware that broad censorship is at play these days. Your help is needed to support freedom of speech and denounce censorship.

In countries where censorship is the norm in the name of national security and stability, people learn to cope and are very careful about what they say. I lived in one such country for nine years, a country I respect in many ways and whose people I love, but it was so strange to come back to the US, relishing the thought of not needing to be constantly cautious and having American-style freedom of speech, only to find that I was now in a land where I had to be exceedingly careful to not express my nn-mainstream political views and where social media censorship would soon be pushed and praised by many. 

Other sovereign nations can choose what they do and I don't believe we should invade or otherwise meddle in their affairs. But the way of censorship, however useful and stabilizing it may seem in other lands, is not supposed to be the way of United States. Our success and our liberty has come from people being able to challenge ruling paradigms, whether political, social, commercial, religious, or scientific, such that we can propose something different or point out what is flawed. We can change and improve our world by speaking out about wrongdoing, bigotry, foolishness, racism, scientific error, bad dance moves, or whatever inspires us to speak. Free speech comes with the danger that many speakers will say things that are foolish or wrong at times, as has often been the case in science and is typically the case in pop culture, religion, and perhaps most fields, but we must never let one mortal man, one party, or one company or coalition of aligned companies like our social media giants assume that they are so wise, so omniscient, so beautifully woke, that they can decide what may be spoken and what may not. In a world that is increasingly politicized, our liberty depends on being able to speak and share information that may clash with the political desires of others, including those who want more power and control over our lives. We need to be civil and respectful in this, but at the same time must not be so hyper-sensitive as to become angry at dissenting voices. Persuasion, not force and censorship, should be the tool for change. 

Freedom of speech supports all our freedoms, and without it, all our freedoms can ultimately be at risk.