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

Friday, September 30, 2005

We All Need a Little More Education

"Education is the ability to listen to almost anything without losing your temper or your self-confidence."

- Robert Frost

We get to listen to a lot of things from some of our critics. We all need a little more education so that we can avoid losing our temper over some of the things they dare to say. And more education will help us avoid losing our confidence in the Restored Gospel of Jesus Christ. Serious study of the Book of Mormon is one way to be more educated about the Gospel. If it's true, a lot of things fall into place. If it's not, there's no need to pay tithing. If Joseph Smith were a fraud, the Book of Mormon should provide ample proof, fall more valuable that the hearsay of critics or interpretations of historians about whether or not he did or said this or that. And if he were a prophet of God, the Book of Mormon should be the surest way to test that hypothesis. So let's get more educated, starting now.

Thursday, September 29, 2005

The 80s Scare on Ritual Child Abuse and the Church's Paradoxical Position: Taking Allegations Too Seriously?

In one of life's little ironies, someone who has deceptively posed as member of the Church on this blog has made several (deleted) efforts here to stir up fear about the possibility of child-abusing Satanists posing as faithful members of the LDS Church. Look, this is a dangerous world. There are hypocrites who pose as good members when they in fact are not. We need to be cautious to protect ourselves and our children, and we need to recognize that established safety principles for child protection (e.g., those of the Boy Scouts) are vitally important. Right here in my home town, in the high school my kids attend, the long-trusted police liaison for the high school, the man who had close access to the most troubled and love-starved kids in the school, turned out to be a predator with homosexual leanings who sexually abused many boys. That case was just exposed this year. And Wisconsin is still rocking with the tragedy of sexual abuse from multiple Catholic priests who infiltrated the priesthood and exploited the access their position gave them to abuse young men. (Heterosexual abuse also occurs frequently, but the homosexual version has been particularly traumatic in my part of the world in recent months.) So yes, there are grave dangers when wolves in sheep's clothing are on the prowl.

As for the allegations of ritual child abuse among religious groups (Mormon, Catholics, etc.), this became a very hot topic back in the 1980s. A Satanist scare swept much of the country, not just the Intermountain West. One educator from Wisconsin told me about the big money that consultants were making as they fueled and exploited the scare. They were frequently hired to train educators on the dangers of the occult. Naturally, they drew large audiences - it's much more interesting to hear someone describe shocking stories of burning babies rather than sharing tips on teaching syntax (people still remember the stories about the babies, but when was the last time you or your kids heard anything about syntax?). In saying this, I do not discount that there have been very evil people, including Satanists, who have done evil things. But there has been a great deal of hype and overreaction, including highly publicized stories that turned out to be clearly fraudulent or devoid of any support. And there were "therapists," "experts," and consultants who made big bucks fanning the fires of fear. Ironically, the LDS Church may have set itself up for undue criticism from anti-Mormons by taking sensational allegations of ritual child abuse too seriously. (Note: Allegations need to be taken seriously - and as a former Bishop, I can attest to repeated training about the need to listen carefully to reports of possible abuse and immediately call the Church's child abuse hotline for guidance. My experience in dealing with the folks in Salt Lake on child abuse cases confirmed that Church truly is very serious about dealing with this problem and protecting children.)

For those who wish to delve into this complicated and sometimes disturbing topic, there is a responsibly written article (free from, say, the pornography you might find one some of the anti-Mormon websites that deal with this topic in a way that surely pleases ol' Beelzebub himself). The rather scholarly article is "A Rumor of Devils: Allegations of Satanic Child Abuse and Mormonism, 1985-1994" by Massimo Introvigne, presented at the Annual Conference of The Mormon History Association (MHA), Park City, Utah, May 21, 1994.

If you are interested in this topic, please read the entire article. To whet your appetite, here are two paragraphs from near the end (references deleted):
It is not surprising that anti-Mormons, including the Tanners, use the Satanism scare in Utah (in itself a part of the national Satanism scare) to attack and embarrass the LDS Church. It is, also, not surprising that the same conflict between believers (mostly in the mental health profession) and skeptics (mostly in academic settings and among sociologists) on the factual truth of the survivors' claims, which has been going on at a national level in the United States (with international connections) for more than a decade, has reproduced itself in Utah. What is surprising is that the main religious organization in Utah, the Mormon Church, has apparently decided to align itself with one party in the controversy, and has released official and semi-official documents proclaiming that survivors should be believed. As sociologist Jeffrey S. Victor has observed, the Mormon Church position is somewhat unique. Although individual activists and members of the clergy of many denominations have supported the survivors' claims, so far no Church has ventured to take an official stand. As mentioned earlier, authoritative voices in the Evangelical community, including Christianity Today, have rather sided with the skeptics. In the Roman Catholic Church, the commission appointed by four Vatical Secretariats to examine "cults" and new religious movements decided to hear in a session held at Creighton University in Omaha, Nebraska on May 10-12, 1991, as the only expert on the Satanism scare, the skeptic Anson D. Shupe, whose report was warmly endorsed by the commission [87]. The attitude of the Mormon Church is, as Victor remarked, "paradoxical", since they are "lending authoritative credibility" to anti-cult and counter-cult sources who normally also attack Mormonism as a "cult" [88]. In the first LDS Church document (unpublished, but mentioned in Bishop Pace's memo) dates back to 1989, it seems that the first interest of the Church on ritual abuse may have been connected to the Lehi case, based on allegations made by children. The concern of the Mormon Church on a sad and widespread phenomenon such as child abuse is understandable, although we have mentioned that child abuse does not appear to be significantly more frequent in Utah than elsewhere in the United States. Nothing in this paper is intended to minimize the very real danger of child abuse, nor to suggest that Churches should not be involved at their best in fighting and preventing this tragedy. It is also possible, as some cases outside Utah seem to suggest, that occasionally abusers scare children by using Satanic symbols and paraphernalia. However, there is no evidence of national or international Satanic conspiracies. What is more dangerous, looking for such conspiracies may lead the efforts astray from the identification of real perpetrators on a case by case basis. It had been suggested that when social workers, therapists and law enforcement officers become too concerned in finding evidence of Satanism, they may end up by making the defense of the guilty abuser easier (and, sometimes, by prosecuting the innocent) [89]. It is also essential that stories told by children about abuse that occurred in the last few weeks be not confused with stories told by survivors about abuses that they claimed occurred decades ago. The two narratives belong to different categories. . . .

At the May 1993 meeting of the Mormon History Association in Lamoni, Iowa, LDS sociologist Armand Mauss noted among other evidences of a Mormon "retrenchment" from the 1960s to the 1990s an increased "susceptibility to fundamentalist 'scare' scenarios." Mauss - who used "fundamentalist" in the national meaning of "conservative evangelicals", as opposed to the Utah meaning of "polygamous splinter Mormon groups" - argued that an "indication that [LDS] church leaders, as well as the folk, might be susceptible to fundamentalist scare scenarios can be seen in the credence which a member of the Presiding Bishopric gave a couple of years ago to stories of satanic child abuse." Mauss, who does not believe that these stories are factually true and rather supports the "general debunking of such satanism stories by social scientists", sees in the church involvement in the Satanism scare evidence of "the process by which folk fundamentalism gets disseminated upward into the leadership echelons and then back downward to the folk with an authoritative aura." Mauss, on the other hand, does not believe that "folk fundamentalism" reflects the collective consensus of the general authorities, nor of the whole Quorum of the Twelve. The lack in recent years of "a full and vigorous First Presidency" has, Mauss thinks, made it very difficult to rein in the "folk fundamentalist" preferences of individual general authorities, but this does not necessarily mean that these preferences are shared by the majority of the brethren. [100] An indication that cautious voices on the Satanic abuse issue also exist among general authorities came from Apostle Richard G. Scott's speech at the General Conference of April 1992. Although Elder Scott deplored the "tragic scars of abuse", he also cautioned against "improper therapeutic approaches," "leading questions," and "excessive probing into every minute detail of past experiences". The LDS Apostle argued that such techniques may "unwittingly trigger thoughts that are more imagination or fantasy than reality. They could lead to condemnation of another for acts that were not committed. While likely few in numbers, I know of cases where such therapy has caused great injustice to the innocent from unwittingly stimulated accusations that were later proven false. Memory, particular adult memory of childhood experience, is fallible. Remember, false accusation is also a sin" [101].
As for those who try to distort the Church's response to the Satanism scare to suggest that we have a serious problem or that the Temple is a Satanic place because of alleged imitation by Satanists, get serious. This is a low and dirty tactic to paint others as evil when evil is what they were fighting.

The Church is not perfect, and there have been lapses among its units in dealing with all sorts of problems, including abuse. I can't accept some of the complaints that critics have made, but there have been abusers and victims. The good news is that the Church is vigorously working to fight such problems. The fact that some of its leaders might have been too inclined to believe some possibly outlandish accusations - if my understanding of the article is correct - can at least be taken as a sign of the sincerity of Church leadership in wishing to protect children and root out evil.

As for comments, the fact that I have raised this topic and provided a resource for further reading does not mean that I will entertain endless RFM allegations of child abuse from Church leaders, links to foul and vulgar sites, pornographic discussions, and the like. Please remember that I have no desire to give more bandwidth to sites aimed at tearing down my Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, or His Gospel or His restored Church. Comments with such links will simply be deleted - but you are free to create you own blogs with your own rules.

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Early Judaism and the Messiah

The Book of Mormon offers us a fascinating view into some of the beliefs within early Judaism, showing that there was an ancient knowledge of the promised Messiah as one who would be a sacrifice for sin and vehicle for grace and salvation. The concept of ancient Hebrews having such thoughts has become a lot less ludicrous with the discovery of many ancient documents in the past century, including the Dead Sea Scrolls. I don't mean "proven" but "less implausible." Lehi's teachings from the sixth century B.C., as recorded in 2 Nephi 2, provide one such example that is worth pondering - especially for its powerful teaching, so needed in our day, on the mission of the Messiah, Jesus Christ:
[4] . . . And the way is prepared from the fall of man, and salvation is free.

[5] And men are instructed sufficiently that they know good from evil. And the law is given unto men. And by the law no flesh is justified; or, by the law men are cut off. Yea, by the temporal law they were cut off; and also, by the spiritual law they perish from that which is good, and become miserable forever.

[6] Wherefore, redemption cometh in and through the Holy Messiah; for he is full of grace and truth.

[7] Behold, he offereth himself a sacrifice for sin, to answer the ends of the law, unto all those who have a broken heart and a contrite spirit; and unto none else can the ends of the law be answered.

[8] Wherefore, how great the importance to make these things known unto the inhabitants of the earth, that they may know that there is no flesh that can dwell in the presence of God, save it be through the merits, and mercy, and grace of the Holy Messiah, who layeth down his life according to the flesh, and taketh it again by the power of the Spirit, that he may bring to pass the resurrection of the dead, being the first that should rise.

[9] Wherefore, he is the first-fruits unto God, inasmuch as he shall make intercession for all the children of men; and they that believe in him shall be saved.
I can understand why some would assume that such material in the Book of Mormon must be derived from modern sources. Many people today have assumed that basic elements of the Gospel of Christ such as forgiveness, mercy, Atonement, baptism, resurrection of the dead, and gifts of the Spirit were unknown on the earth before the coming of Christ. Thus, when they read passages in the Book of Mormon that speak of such Christian concepts before the time of Christ, they find it implausible. Most modern Christians have been taught that the Gospel was not present on earth until Christ brought it. But this assumption is wrong. In Galatians 3:8, Paul wrote that Abraham had the Gospel:

And the scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the heathen through faith, preached before the gospel unto Abraham, saying, In thee shall all nations be blessed.
Further, in Hebrews 4:2, Paul indicates that it was preached to the ancient House of Israel, but without success:
For unto us was the gospel preached, as well as unto them: but the word preached did not profit them, not being mixed with faith in them that heard it.
A variety of early Church fathers also wrote that the ancients had the Gospel long before the coming of Christ. Ignatius, in his "Letter to the Magnesians" (The Apostolic Fathers, 2nd ed., translated by J.B. Lightfoot and J.R. Harmer, ed. and rev. by M.W. Holmes, Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1989, p. 94), wrote of the "godly prophets" who "lived in accordance with Christ Jesus . . . being inspired by his grace in order that those who are disobedient might be convinced that there is one God who revealed himself through Jesus Christ his Son, who is his Word which came forth from silence, who in every respect pleased him who sent him" (8:2, ibid., p. 95). In the following paragraph, he states that "even the prophets, who were his disciples in the Spirit, were expecting [Jesus Christ] as their teacher" (9:2, ibid., p. 95). Interestingly, Ignatius states that these prophets were resurrected by Christ: "Because of this he for whom they rightly waited raised them from the dead when he came" (ibid.). Prophets knowing of Christ and "being inspired by his grace" is inherent to the Book of Mormon, and consistent with the understanding of Ignatius, but certainly inconsistent with many Book of Mormon critics - who surely would reject Ignatius as a non-Christian cultist for his very LDS-like and non-Trinitarian beliefs on the nature of God and Christ.

Eusebius also spoke of Christianity as "the first and most ancient of all religions, and the one discovered by those divinely favored men in the age of Abraham" (Ecclesiastical History 1:4:10, in NPNF Series 2, 1:87-88, as cited in Barry R. Bickmore, Restoring the Ancient Church (Ben Lomand, CA: Foundation for Apologetic Information and Research, 1999).

Had modern Christians better appreciated such statements, they might have been less shocked when the Dead Sea Scrolls emerged, showing that numerous Christian concepts were had among ancient Jews. Baptism for forgiveness of sins, mercy, forgiveness, and numerous other concepts were believed and practices among the Jewish community at Qumran. The documents describing these practices have shaken many old assumptions about Christianity, but are not surprising to those who know the Book of Mormon. "Echoes of New Testament thought and phraseology are clear in the Scrolls; especially those having apocalyptic associations," says non-LDS scholar Bleddyn J. Roberts in an early assessment of their content ("The Jerusalem Scrolls," Zeitschrift für die alttestamentliche Wissenschaft 62 (1950): 241, as cited by Hugh Nibley, The Prophetic Book of Mormon: New Approaches to Book of Mormon Study, p. 76), an assessment which has only been strengthened by further decades of study. The presence of New Testament themes in pre-Christian-era texts has been one of the "blunders" of Joseph Smith that has been most loudly mocked by critics, but we now know that these themes are more ancient than previously assumed.

The Dead Sea Scrolls found at Qumran offer the oldest available extensive manuscripts of the Old Testament, though they are still centuries removed from the original texts. While the Dead Sea Scrolls are largely consistent with the Masoretic text that was used in the translation of many modern Bibles, there are still numerous differences that can give insight into what might have been in the original Hebrew scriptures. A valuable resource for studying the Old Testament from the Dead Sea Scrolls is The Dead Sea Scrolls Bible, translated and with commentary by Martin Abegg, Jr., Peter Flint, and Eugene Ulrich (San Francisco, California: HarperSanFrancisco, 1999). Numerous Old Testament passages are provided from the Dead Sea Scrolls and compared to the Masoretic text or Septuagint. A particularly interesting passage is a "lost" psalm that was included on the Dead Sea Scrolls with the other Psalms that we have in the modern Bible. This psalm, the "Plea for Deliverance," emphasizes the mercy of God in forgiving sins, and describes mercy in terms of God sheltering His people. It is found on page 568 of The Dead Sea Scrolls Bible:

Plea for Deliverance

1 For a maggot cannot praise you, nor a worm recount your mercy.
2 But the living can praise you, all those who stumble can praise you, 3 when you reveal your mercy to them, and when you teach them your justice. 4 For in your hand is the soul of every living being; the breath of all flesh you have given. 5 Deal with us, 0 LORD, according to your goodness, according to your great compassions, and according to your many righteous acts. 6 The LORD has heard the voice of those who love his name and has not deprived them of his mercy. 7 Blessed be the LORD, who performs righteous deeds, crowning his pious ones with mercy and compassions.

8 My soul cries out to praise your name, to give thanks with shouts for your merciful deeds, 9 to proclaim your faithfulness - of praise of you there is no end! 10 I was near death for my sins, and my iniquities had sold me to Sheol; 11 but you saved me, 0 LORD, according to your great compassion, and according to your many righteous acts. 12 Indeed I have loved your name, and in your shelter I have found refuge. 13 When I remember your power my heart is brave, and I lean upon your mercies.

14 Forgive my sin, 0 LORD, and cleanse me from my iniquity. 15 Bestow on me a spirit of faith and knowledge, and let me not be dishonored in ruin. 16 Let not Satan rule over me, nor an unclean spirit; 17 neither let pain nor the evil inclination take possession of my bones. 18 For you, 0 LORD, are my praise, and in you I hope all the day long. 19 Let my brothers rejoice with me and my father's house, who are puzzled by your graciousness. [. . . Fore]ver I shall rejoice in you.

Interestingly, this provides another example of "justice" and "mercy" in the same verse, with strong contrasting between the judgment that man merits for sin and the forgiveness that God offers to those who follow Him. The shelter of mercy that God offers to protect us from the death that our sins demand fits nicely with Book of Mormon theology.

Another Dead Sea Scroll resource offering insights into the mercy of God is the book of Robert Eisenman and Michael Wise, The Dead Sea Scrolls Uncovered, (New York: Barnes and Noble Books, 1992), which provides the Hebrew test, English translation, and commentary for a variety of excerpts from the scrolls. The scroll 4Q521, a pre-Christian Jewish text given the title "The Messiah of Heaven and Earth," resonates with passages in the Book of Mormon that are said to be anachronistic for a pre-Christian document. According to Eisenman and Wise (p. 20; cf. p. 23):

By far the most important lines in Fragment 1 Column 1 are Lines 6-8 and 11-13, referring to 'releasing the captives', 'making the blind see', 'raising up the downtrodden', and 'resurrecting the dead'. This last allusion is not to be doubted. The only question will be, who is doing this raising, etc. - God or 'His Messiah'?
A related scroll, 4Q285, speaks of a Messianic leader who "could be the one "put to death'" (p. 24).

Messianic themes in the Dead Sea Scrolls led one non-LDS scholar to state, regarding previously known early Jewish texts with Christian themes:
. . . hitherto perplexed exegetes faced with such texts have usually found in them the interpolations of Christian copyists. But now, . . . thanks to the Habakkuk Commentary (one of the Scrolls), such excisions which could formerly be understood are now no longer to be tolerated; these 'Christological' passages, taken as a whole, henceforth seem to be of the greatest worth, and to continue to reject them a priori as being of Christian origin would appear to be contrary to all sound method. . . .

It is now certain -- and this is one of the most important revelations of the Dead Sea discoveries -- that Judaism in the first century B.C. saw a whole theology of the suffering Messiah, of a Messiah who should be the redeemer of the world.

(André Dupont-Sommer, The Dead Sea Scrolls, tr. E. Margaret Rowley (New York: Macmillan, 1952), p. 95, as cited by Hugh Nibley, The Prophetic Book of Mormon: New Approaches to Book of Mormon Study, p.76)

Further insight comes from John J. Collins in "The Suffering Servant at Qumran?" (Bible Review, Vol. 9, No. 6 (December, 1993), p. 26). According to Kerry Shirts' Sunday School Supplement #1 (2003):
Amazingly, the "Suffering Servant" idea in the scrolls is brought out in another fragment (4Q451) which says "His word is like a word of heaven, and his teaching is in accordance with the will of God . . . he will atone for all the children of his generation. . . ." This, according to Collins, shows he is a priest.
Thus the themes of Isaiah 53 and other passages of Isaiah may have been understood by at least some early Jews to refer to a priestly figure who would teach God's word and atone for others.

In another example, baptism and atonement are brought together in a baptismal hymn from scroll 4Q414. This text, probably from the first century A.D., reflects more ancient traditions and shows that the concept of baptism was well established and part of long-standing Jewish tradition. Regarding the text on the fragments of the scroll, Eisenman and Wise state (pp. 230-231):
By baptism, of course, the reader should realize that the proponents of this literature did not necessarily mean anything different from traditional Jewish ritual immersion. The terminologies are synonymous, though the emphasis on baptismal procedures at Qumran is extraordinary. This can be seen not only in texts such as the one represented by these fragments and the well-known Community Rule, iii, 1-4, which in describing baptism makes reference to 'the Holy Spirit', but also the sheer number of ritual immersion facilities at the actual ruins of Qumran - if these can be safely associated with the movement responsible for this literature.

Once again, one is confronted with the vocabulary of 'Glory', this time in terms of 'a law of Glory' (4.3), as well as, if our reconstruction is correct, 'the purity of Righteousness' or 'Justification' (4.4). There is reference to 'making atonement for us', being 'cleansed from pollution' as one 'enters the water', and the usual 'Laws of your Holiness' and 'Truth of Your Covenant'. "
The concepts of cleansing from sins, atonement, baptism, and covenants are expressed in a Jewish document, consistent with doctrines once said to be utterly out of place among the descendents of Hebrews in the Book of Mormon. The authors elsewhere discuss scroll 4Q298 (p. 163), indicates that a leader was to instruct others in "baptismal procedures, which included being 'purified by the Holy Spirit' . . . ."

Scrolls 4Q434 and 4Q436 speak of God's deliverance of the poor. The translated text states (p. 240):

In His abundant Mercy He comforted the Meek, and opened their eyes to behold His ways. . . . And He . . . saved them because of his Grace, . . . He did not . . . judge them with the Wicked, nor kindle his wrath against them, nor destroy them in his anger, though the wrath of His hot anger did not abate at all. But He did not judge them in fiery zeal; (rather) He judged them in the abundance of His Mercy.
Here mercy is shielding God's people from judgment and wrath.

The Dead Sea Scrolls do not prove the Book of Mormon is true, and depart from many of its teachings. But they do demonstrate that many of the pre-New Testament concepts found in the Book of Mormon such as those involving justice, mercy, forgiveness of sins, and atonement were had in that ancient Jewish community, showing that they are not necessarily out of place in the Book of Mormon after all.

Sunday, September 25, 2005

How the Book of Mormon Was Plagiarized

For years I have marveled at the numerous anti-Mormon attempts to find plagiarism in the Book of Mormon. From broad parallels to a few specific words or phrases, many dozens of books, articles, and sermons of others have been mined to "explain" the Book of Mormon as a fraudulent product rooted solely in the nineteenth century. But just pointing to dozens of books and occasional parallels doesn't explain HOW the Book of Mormon was crafted. No one has been able to offer a plausible explanation of how Joseph could have tapped into these sources to craft the Book of Mormon - until now.

Rebuttals, anyone? Could this be the most plausible detailed non-miraculous explanation offered so far for the methods used to create the Book of Mormon?

The Great Spirit?

I received e-mail alleging that the term "Great Spirit" used by some of the Lamanites in the Book of Mormon (Alma 18) is an anachronism in the Book of Mormon. The author alleges that it is not a part of original Native American culture, but is a term they picked up from Christian missionaries. That surprised me, because in my readings of Indian lore over the years, it seemed like it was a pretty pervasisve term and seemed to fit a variety of native beliefs reasonably well. Since I'm short on research time right now, I thought I'd toss this question out for your comments. Is the term "Great Spirit" as used in Alma something that really fits ancient Native American beliefs, or a modern import from contact with Christians?

Saturday, September 24, 2005

Beware Wolves in Sheep's Clothing

Such a fascinating story in the comments of the last couple of posts, where we encounter a classic example of a wolf in sheep's clothing. Yes, it is easy to misjudge a person. I though Corey/CB was sincere, and wasted plenty of time trying to answer his questions. But he wasn't looking for truth, wasn't looking for answers, wasn't a new member of the Church, but was posing as all that in order to create an opportunity to attack the faith of some members by regurgitating worn-out anti-Mormon arguments. Slick. But easily exposed, thanks to Indy's help. Glad Corey/CB 'fessed up and showed his true colors (not much choice except to retreat into silence).

Guess I'm better off dealing with strangers who follow me on the dark streets of downtown Atlanta at night than I am in dealing with anti-Mormon deceivers. The former resulted in a fine adventure and the possibility of forming a real friendship with a sincere and decent homeless person, while the latter just wasted my time. But I remain perplexed at the "end justifies the means" mentality of some of our critics, even those who purport to be following Christ. Maybe somebody is following a different Jesus.

On the other hand, several of you that disagree with the Church have been respectful and open, allowing real discourse to occur. I appreciate that, and do not want to suggest that all or even most critics of the Church are "anti-Mormon deceivers" or wolves in sheeps clothing. Some of you may even be sheep in wolves clothing, and then there are a few ordinary sheep who have just wandered into some dark paths - and we hope you come back soon.

Friday, September 23, 2005

It's Just Too Easy to Misjudge a Person

It's so hard to judge people correctly, so easy to misread their intents. Though some recent comments on my last two posts raise this issue, now I'd like to discuss an experience I just had in Atlanta. Inspired by Book of Mormon in Indy's generous and bold approach to giving out Books of Mormon, I had one handy in my bag as I traveled from the Atlanta Airport to downtown Atlanta last Sunday night. I was supposed to have a rental car, but the agency had a massive pick-up truck waiting for me and I balked. Since they made a mistake on my previous trip as well, giving me a tiny low-riding sports car too small for me, I wasn't happy with them and decided to punt on the rental car altogether. I figured I could get by on public transportation for this trip, so I hopped on the Marta train and rode into downtown Atlanta. The trains was packed with interesting people, but after I got off at North Street, everyone scattered and I was standing there alone at 10 PM on Sunday night as I studied my map to figure out how to get to the hotel. A voice called to me offering to help. I turned to see a man about my age approaching me.

I'm a trusting kind of person, but what I did probably wasn't safe. He asked where I was going, and I told him I was looking for the Georgia Tech Hotel and Conference Center. Instead of pointing the way, he offered to take me there. I didn't want to be offensive, and went along with him. He told me that he was homeless but not one of those drug-abusing people. I wanted to be nice and trusting, but I did wonder if the bulge in his pocket was a weapon or just a large cell phone. As we walked outside the train station, I figured the streets would be lit and populated. They weren't well lit and were almost completely empty - it was almost a ghost town. I started figuring I was dealing with a criminal. While smiling and talking, I was thinking about the risks of being mugged, about the need to stay on the lit side of the street, etc., as this man walked with me. He must have sensed what I was thinking (well, I dropped the hint of saying I'd like to first make a pay phone call) and so he offered to just point the way and not take me to the hotel. He did want four bucks for the service, which was OK. As we stopped and looked at each other for a moment, I realized that in this case, I was dealing with someone I really liked. I had four dollar bills and was happy to give them to him. We talked some more. I also had a big lunchbag of food that my wife had packed for me that I had not eaten yet, and I asked him if he would like that. His eyes got big and he was happy about that. That was a good sign to me, also - he wasn't just after alcohol or drugs. Then I remembered my Book of Mormon, and asked him if he enjoyed reading and if he'd like a Book of Mormon. He seemed honored to take it, and we had a good but brief chat about that book.

His name is Kevin. I have his full name and address for the shelter where he stays. He has a Book of Mormon and I believe he's reading it. He wanted me to write him, and I have already and plan to continue. I really like this man, and would like to learn his story. Stay tuned.

How sad that I would initially judge him as a criminal and worry about getting away from him, when I was actually meeting someone who could be a friend. Thanks, Books of Mormon in Indy, for inspiring me to be more ready to give out Books of Mormon!

Putting on my safety-first hat, let me encourage the rest of you to not wander through the streets of downtown Atlanta alone late at night. Further, don't tell strangers where you are staying, and don't let strangers accompany you. Don't even think of being that stupid! But do carry some extra Books of Mormon with you to give to new friends you meet. And yes, y'all can do this, whether you are LDS or not.

Meeting Kevin was actually the highlight of that business trip. It was a worthwhile adventure. I'm glad the rental car people disappointed me.

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

King Benjamin's Speech and Parallels to Ancient Farewell Addresses

In my last post, I made reference to King Benjamin's speech, and just had to follow up with some more information. One excellent source providing possible evidence for ancient origins of the Book of Mormon is King Benjamin's Speech, edited by John W. Welch and Stephen D. Ricks (Provo, Utah: Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies, 1998, 661 pages). The book is an impressive collection of essays with extensive references and documentation exploring the richness of King Benjamin's dramatic farewell address in the early chapters of Mosiah.

In King Benjamin's Speech, Chapter 4, "Benjamin's Sermon as Traditional Ancient Farewell Address," John W. Welch and Daryl R. Hague show that King Benjamin's farewell address may qualify as the best existing example of an ancient farewell speech rooted in early biblical tradition. Non-LDS scholar William S. Kurz has examined numerous ancient farewell speeches and identified 20 elements that appear commonly (no one speech has all 20). Sixteen of the elements are directly present in Benjamin's speech, and two others are implied. No other ancient farewell speech has a greater number of these elements. Further, Benjamin's speech is well focused on the most important elements typical of Old Testament traditions. For details, see William S. Kurz, "Luke 22:14-38 and Greco-Roman Biblical Farewell Traditions," Journal of Biblical Literature, Vol. 104: 251-268 (1985); also see William S. Kurz, Farewell Addresses in the New Testament (Collegeville, Minnesota: Liturgical Press, 1990), both as cited by Welch and Ricks, p. 115).

According to Kurz, as summarized by Welch and Ricks (pp. 91-94), the 20 common elements from ancient farewell addresses are:
  1. The summons. The speaker calls people together to here his last instructions.
  2. The speaker's own mission or example. The speaker reviews his life and what he has done, and urges his listeners to follow his example.
  3. Innocence and discharge of duty.
  4. Impending death. The speaker states that death is near, but shows courage rather than fear, sometimes commending his soul to God.
  5. Exhortation. Listeners are urged to follow commandments they have been given by the speaker, to be courageous, etc.
  6. Warnings and injunctions. Consequences of sin are discussed to help the people.
  7. Blessings. In conjunction with the warnings, blessings are also offered (e.g., for obedience).
  8. Farewell gestures. Though more common in Greco-Roman literature, acts such as kneeling can be farewell gestures.
  9. Tasks for successors. Final orders given to the listeners, often conferring specific responsibilities.
  10. Theological review of history. Reviewing the past to show the works of God (e.g., the Creation, delivery from captivity, etc.).
  11. Revelation of the future.
  12. Promises. Biblical farewell speeches commonly include reference to eternal glory (e.g., Christ in Luke 22 and Mattathias in 1 Maccabees 2).
  13. Appointment or reference to a successor.
  14. Bewailing the loss. Friends and followers may mourn the speaker.
  15. Future degeneration. Warnings about the disobedience of future generations are made. The speaker is not responsible for this, however.
  16. Covenant renewal and sacrifices.
  17. Providing for those who will survive. Instructions are given to maintain guidance and comfort for people after the death of the aging leader.
  18. Consolation to the inner circle. The speaker comforts his closest associates.
  19. Didactic speech. Review of principles to teach listeners what to do.
  20. Ars moriendi or the approach to death. Dealing with the approach of the leader to death itself, this element is less common and is found only in a writing of Plato and perhaps implicitly in Josephus.
More of these elements are present in King Benjamin's speech than in any other Biblical farewell address, making it arguably the best example on record of an ancient farewell speech in the ancient Jewish style.

Welch and Hague also point out that Benjamin's speech is soundly aligned with the most important aspects of ancient biblical farewell speeches:
Kurz has singled out four of his twenty elements as fundamentally characteristic of addresses in the Old Testament and the Old Testament Apocrypha, as opposed to the Greco-Roman tradition: (1) the speaker's assertion of innocence and fulfillment of mission, (2) the designation of tasks for successors, (3) a theological review of history, and (4) the revelation of future events. All four of these characteristically Israelite elements appear prominently in Benjamin's speech. Furthermore, Benjamin emphasizes the covenant relationship between God and man, and his text ends with an express covenant renewal. No preoccupation with death occurs here, as it does in the Greco-Roman texts. Benjamin's speech is not only one of the most complete ancient farewell addresses known anywhere, but it also strongly manifests those elements that are most deeply rooted in early biblical tradition.
For Benjamin's assertion of innocence, see Mos. 2:15 (cf. Mos. 2:12-14 and 2:27-28). For tasks for successors, see Mos. 1:15-16, 2:31, and 6:3. A theological review of history is found in Benjamin's review of his administration (Mos. 2, such as verses 11, 20, 31, 34, 35) and his references to Moses and the Israelites (Mos. 3:13-15). Future events are prophesied in Mos. 3: 1,2,5-11, where the coming of Christ is foretold.

Other farewell speeches in the Book of Mormon were given by Lehi, Nephi, Jacob, Enos, Mosiah, Mormon, and Moroni. Adding King Benjamin's makes seven total. Each of them have over half of the 20 elements identified by Kurz, though King Benjamin's speech is the most complete, more complete than any single biblical speech. I find that impressive.

As is shown in other chapters in Welch and Ricks, the speech also offers beautiful chiasms, follows patterns from ancient Jewish festivals, follows ancient patterns of assembly and atonement symbolism, etc. These elements add intellectual plausibility to the claim that the Book of Mormon is an ancient Semitic document, written by ancient prophets with Hebraic roots. None of this "proves" that the Book of Mormon is true, but does make it even more difficult to explain the Book of Mormon as Joseph Smith's fabrication.

Brant Gardner's Multidimensional Commentary on the Book of Mormon

One of the very best commentaries I have found on the Book of Mormon is free on the Internet: Brant Gardner's Multidimensional Commentary on the Book of Mormon. Tonight, for example, it proved helpful in understanding the puzzling story in Mosiah 4:2 involving the recitation in unison of a lengthy statement by the people in response to King Benjamin's fascinating speech. (That speech, by the way, is filled with many powerful evidences of ancient Hebraic origins - something very difficult for critics to explain. Oh, I feel a blog post coming . . .)

Kevin Christensen at Meridian Magazine

"Plain and Precious Things Restored: Why Margaret Barker Matters" by Kevin Christensen is a short article at Meridian Magazine that I encourage you to read. Kevin discusses some of the scholarly work of Margaret Baker, a fascinating woman who has provided some startling insights into ancient Judaism that are relevant to Book of Mormon studies.

A hat tip to Dave's Mormon Inquiry.

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

The Sanctifying Power of Parenthood

I recently ran into an acquaintance from about 15 years ago. I don't think she is a religious person and I seem to recall that she and her boyfriend (now husband) were agnostic. But regardless of her religious views, I was truly uplifted to hear her speak about how motherhood has transformed her life. Her boyfriend is now her husband, and they are the parents of two young children. She told me how grateful she was that she could keep her significant job as a part-time position, allowing her to spend more time with the kids and really get to know them and be there for them. She talked about how meaningful it has been for her and her husband to raise children, how precious the experience has been, and how it has changed their lives. Perhaps we are miles apart in our religious views, but I felt like she was my sister in the Gospel of Jesus Christ when we were talking. I felt I was talking to someone with deep spiritual perspectives far beyond mere recitation of dogma, someone who has grasped some of the most important truths of life. My conversation with this wonderful and wise woman made me reflect on the divine gift of parenthood that God shares with us, a role that I think can sanctify us and bring us closer to Him regardless of our religious knowledge.

The emphasis that the Church puts on the family and on the importance of parenthood makes even more sense to me now. It may be vastly more important than most of realize. I, for one, wish to improve and be a better parent.

Sunday, September 18, 2005

The Dangers of Parody

I have received several emails from Latter-day Saints who were troubled by my attempt at anti-Mormon parody, not recognizing my work as a spoof. The parody is "Was the Book of Mormon Plagiarized from Walt Whitman's Leaves of Grass?" I thought I had plenty of clues that this was a spoof, but some people don't get it and think it's serious scholarly work. How can I improve it without destroying the parody? The article begins with an admission that Whitman's work came 25 years after the Book of Mormon, yet suggests that Joseph might have been boyhood friends with a nine-year-old Walt Whitman, from whom he surely gleaned the major themes of the Book of Mormon. The fascinating thing is that an examination of Whitman's work and the Book of Mormon has provided more powerful and convincing parallels than anything I've seen in anti-Mormon works trying to pinpoint the sources of Joseph's alleged plagiarism. The point, however, is that if an impossible source can appear more plausible as a source for the Book of Mormon due to mere chance, then why should the occasional scattered parallels offered by the critics be a cause for concern? If I can find six- and seven-word parallels in Whitman, and many other powerful common elements, why should a random four-word parallel of remote similarity bother me?

But the way I've written it, some people think it's serious. One lest active member trying to come back said it was creating significant doubts for her, and wondered if I was leaving the Church now. Any suggestions?

(More information on the issue of plagiarsim is on an LDSFAQ page.)

Thursday, September 15, 2005

Sherem the Foreigner?

The story of Sherem in Jacob 7 is one of several internal evidences pointing to other cultures and peoples with whom Nephi's family interacted in the New World (something I discuss on my page about the Book of Mormon and DNA). After at most a few decades in the New World, Jacob is sought out by a man named Sherem who attacks Jacob's faith. When they meet, Sherem says: "Brother Jacob, I have sought much opportunity that I might speak unto you; for I have heard and also know that thou goest about much, preaching that which ye call the gospel, or the doctrine of Christ." Well, if Nephi's little boatload of people were the only ones in the New World or at least in the region when they landed, then at the time of Sherem, the Nephite community might have had about 30 or 40 people. Maybe 50 if they were extremely fertile. But there is no way that an adult male would have gone years without knowing Jacob, and have had to seek him out to debate religion - unless that male was an outsider or part of a much larger community of people including those of non-Nephite heritage. As I believe John Sorenson has suggested, the story of Sherem suggests that the Nephite people might have become part of and even leaders over a network of villages or some larger group of people.

When we read Jacob 7 as a family the other night, a couple more details seemed to suggest that Sherem was an outsider. Verse 1 says "there came a man among the people of Nephi, whose name was Sherem," suggesting that he was not originally part of the Nephite group, but came among them, as if he were an outsider. Further, verse 4 says "And he was learned, that he had a perfect knowledge of the language of the people; wherefore, he could use much flattery, and much power of speech, according to the power of the devil." To me, this suggests that he had special education to be able to converse fluently in the language of the people, as if it were not his native language. Other references in the Book of Mormon to people learning the language of the fathers or the language of the scriptures imply that it is not the common spoken or written language of the people (e.g., Mosiah 1), just as Jacob 7 seems to indicate that Sherem had learned a foreign language very well to be able to teach and flatter the Nephite people.

In context, I think a reasonable interpretation of Jacob 7 is that a foreigner named Sherem came among some part of the larger community that included genetic and cultural Nephites, and mastered their common spoken language. He is not identified as a Lamanite (though he would be by one of several Book of Mormon definitions of this term, which sometimes simply meant "not a Nephite") and does not appear to have been part of whatever groups Laman and Lemuel's followers were with. He is simply an outsider, perhaps with a sophisticated accent, who comes among the community of Nephites. That community included the original immigrants from Lehi's boat who remained loyal to Nephi, plus (implicitly) "all those who would go with [Nephi]" (2 Nephi 5:6) when Nephi's followers escaped to the north when Laman and Lemuel and their followers became a more serious threat, and possibly many more people picked up thereafter. These others could have been survivors from the destroyed Jaredite civilization (we do see Jaredite names like Korihor cropping up among the Nephites), likely of Asian origin (Hugh Nibley, for example, was indicating Central Asian origins for the Jaredites decades before DNA testing became an issue), or could have been others from still earlier Asian migrations.

The Book of Mormon seems to be essentially a family record for the descendants of Nephi, but there are actually quite a few hints indicating that they were not in an empty continent. This is something to keep in mind when we try to interpret DNA studies, or when we try to figure out who and where Nephite and Lamanites were.

Religious Bigotry in Science Textbooks

Boy, I thought the Mormons were mistreated in textbooks, but our problems are nothing compared to this blatant example of bigotry from my son's high school science textbook (C. Starr and R. Taggart, Biology: The Unity and Diversity of Life, 7th ed., Belmont, Mass.: Wadsworth Publ. Co., 1995, p. 8):

Hey, some of my best friends are Protistans. I'm proud to have a lot in common with them.

You bet the school board is going to hear from me about this one. It's bad enough to put them on the same plane as bacteria and list them next to fungi, but to talk about their "diverse" lifestyles - well, we all know what that means, and it's just not fair to make those kind of insinuations.

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Thought of the Day from Mike Parker

In a recent post, Mike Parker made the following insightful comment:
"Just because this is God's Church doesn't mean that He has revealed all truth, or enforces the correct understanding of every principle. The purpose of the Church is to bring back the authority, ordinances, and revelation necessary to exalt mankind, not to enforce some sort of perfectionist doctrinal kingdom. God reveals just enough to save us, and leaves the rest up to us to sort out for ourselves. Just because the Saints have some beliefs or interpretations that are not "universally true" (whatever that means) does not mean that the Church should be discarded."
For those of you who expect God to take over the minds of true prophets so that every thought they have is in line with ultimate scientific truth, think again. It wasn't that way in the Old Testament (Moses, for example, classified bats as birds), New Testament writers did not seem to be up on modern scientific findings about the age of the earth, and LDS Church leaders have sometimes failed to be decades ahead of the scientific community in their assumptions and opinions. Maybe someday the Lord will call "science prophets" to the Church whose job will be to satisfy our scientific curiosity and gratify our desire for impressive miracles by answering anthropological and biological questions in ways that will eventually be verified by scientists (plus a few accredited science prophets on FDA panels could be a huge boon in approving new drugs - could completely eliminate the need for lengthy trials). But for now, the Lord seems more concerned with teaching us to repent and love one another than He is in explaining the details of the Creation or of the genetics of the Americas. Sorry about that. It's really bad news, actually: it means we'll have to sort through a lot of things on our own and still exercise faith in the cloudy areas.

B.H. Roberts: No, He Did Not Lose His Testimony!

A popular claim among some critics is that B.H. Roberts, the great LDS General Authority, lost his testimony of the Book of Mormon. This is based on studied ignorance of Elder Roberts. Yes, he prepared a work to show what arguments could be weighed against the Book of Mormon, but it is clear that he believed it and simply wanted to explore what positions the critics could take. His works and his words throughout his life show that he had a deep testimony of the Gospel of Jesus Christ and the Book of Mormon. For details, please read "Evasive Ignorance: Anti-Mormon Claims that B.H. Roberts Lost His Testimony by McKay V. Jones.

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Reminder: Don't Overlook Nahom

While on the topic of the Arabian Peninsula, let me just reiterate that there is
solid evidence for the plausibility of First Nephi as an ancient text based on its accurate description of travel through the Arabian Peninsula in ways that nobody could have fabricated in 1830. The evidence for the place Nahom included a map from Yemen listing "Nehhem" as an ancient burial site in the only place consistent with the Book of Mormon account, a place south-southeast of Jerusalem where a turn nearly due east would bring Lehi's little band to the place Bountiful on the eastern coast of the Arabian Peninsula. Critics could still ask if there was any evidence that this ancient burial place was actually known in 600 B.C. by the name Nahom or an equivalent (only the consonants NHM would have been written in Arabic or Hebrew, so a word written NHM could be pronounced as Nahom, Nihm, Nehhem, etc.) Then there was a report of an ancient altar from that era and place containing an inscription about the tribe NIHM. Critics could still nitpick over this, saying that a tribal name does not necessarily provide support for an ancient place name. But even that fragment of an argument against Nahom crumbled away in the light of further evidence reported a couple years ago at http://pub26.ezboard.com/fpacumenispagesfrm63.showMessage?topicID=201.topic by Dr. Kent Brown (see also "Nahom and the 'Eastward' Turn" at FARMS):

May 30, 2003


S. Kent Brown

The recent publication of inscriptions from three limestone altars found in the ancient temple of Bar'an in Marib, Yemen, demonstrates as firmly as possible by archaeological means the existence of the tribal name NHM in that part of Arabia in the seventh-sixth centuries b.c., the general dates assigned to the carving of the altars by the excavators and other scholars (see the summaries by S. Kent Brown, "'The Place That was Called Nahom': New Light from Ancient Yemen," Journal of Book of Mormon Studies 8/1 (1999): 66-68; and Warren P. Aston, "Newly Found Altars from Nahom," Journal of Book of Mormon Studies 10/2 (2001): 56-61). The first altar of three was noted by myself in the French catalogue written by scholars on ancient Yemen antiquities which is titled Yémen: au pays de la reine de Saba and was published by Flammarion, Paris, in 1997. (The exhibit of early Yemen artifacts, which the catalogue described, is currently showing in Madrid, Spain.) In the catalogue's article "Les temples de Ma'rib" written by Burkhard Vogt, the leader of the German team that has now finished excavating at the Bar'an Temple, a reader finds photographs of several artifacts, including an altar on p. 144 which Vogt dates to "viie-vie siècles av. J.-C." (7th-6th centuries b.c.) and whose dedicatory inscription he translates as follows: "Bi'athar, son of Sawâd, son of Naw'ân, the Nihmite, has consecrated to [the god] Almaqah (the person of) Fâri'at. . . ." The other two altars currently rest within the enclosure that surrounds the temple site just to the east of the modern town of Marib. Both altars have been photographed extensively by interested persons, including myself. It is these two altars that Warren Aston has published, taking account of the German preliminary report written by Burkhard Vogt and others, titled "Arsh Bilqis - Der Temple des Almaqah Bar'an in Marib" that was published in German, English and Arabic in Sana'a, Yemen, in 2000.

It is important to emphasize that in the world of archaeology, written inscriptions are the evidence most sought after, for they often establish names and dates, key components for interpreting the past. The inscriptions on the three altars, all mentioning the NHM tribe, prove beyond doubt the existence of this name in the first half of the first millennium b.c.

Tribes, of course, have to live somewhere. It now seems plainly evident that the NHM tribe has resided in its current territory for millennia, that is, in the highlands east of the city of Sana'a, west of the city of Marib and along the south rim of the Wadi Jawf. That the name of the NHM tribe was given to this region in antiquity was suggested initially by Christian Robin in his study Les Hautes-Terres du Nord-Yemen avant l'Islam I: Recherches sur la geographie tribale et religieuse de awl~n Qu~'a et du pays de Hamd~n, published by the Nederlands historisch-archaeologisch Instituut in Istanbul (1982, pp. 27, 72-74). This earlier observation is buttressed by the fact that the three altars dedicated by a member of the NHM tribe came to the Bar'an Temple in Marib during the seventh or sixth century b.c., forming clear indicators that tribal members were living not far from Marib, the capital of the Sabaean kingdom, and had fallen under its political and religious influences. In this light, one can safely conclude that, first, the tribal name and the territorial name have been joined for several millennia, from perhaps 1,000 b.c., and, second, the tribe was living then where it does nowadays. There is more.

Tied to this territorial and tribal name in Nephi's narrative, which he spells as Nahom (see 1 Nephi 16:34), is his mention of an adjustment from the generally southward journey of his traveling party to an "eastward" direction through this part of Arabia.(see 1 Nephi 17:1). This adjustment, not incidentally, shows that Nephi and his party were following the incense trail that offered an infrastructure of wells and fodder to travelers and their animals. For, in fact, all roads turned east in the region of the NHM tribal territory, including the incense road and its shortcuts. Across the Ramlat Sab'atayn desert, east of this tribal region and east of Marib, lay the city of Shabwah. By ancient Arabian law, it was to this city that all incense harvested in the highlands of southern Arabia was carried to be inventoried, weighed, and taxed, with gifts made to the temples at Shabwah (for ancient laws that governed the incense trade, see Nigel Groom, Frankincense and Myrrh: A Study of the Arabian Incense Trade [London: Longman Group Ltd., 1981], 169-70, 181, 183-84; Pliny the Elder, Natural History 12.32 [§63]). After this process, the incense was loaded on camels and shipped toward the Mediterranean and Mesopotamian areas, traveling at first westward and then, after reaching the edges of the region of the NHM tribe, traveling northward to the city of Najran and beyond (these directions are exactly opposite from those that Nephi and his party were going). Even the shortcuts across the Ramlat Sab'atayn desert ran generally east-west. What is important for our purposes is the fact that the "eastward" turn of Nephi's narrative does not show up in any known ancient source, including Pliny the Elder's famous description of the incense-growing lands of Arabia. No one knew of this eastward turn in the incense trail except persons who had traveled it.

Another point may shed light on the length of time required by Nephi's party to reach the area of NHM. The NHM tribal territory lies about 1,400 miles south of Jerusalem and about 1,150 miles south of their first camp (on the location of the first camp, consult George D. Potter, "A New Candidate in Arabia for the Valley of Lemuel," Journal of Book of Mormon Studies 8/1 [1999]: 54-63). In this connection, two observations are significant. (1) Nephi writes about the marriages of himself and his brothers at the first camp (see 1 Nephi 16:7) and later, after noting the arrival at Nahom, mentions the births of the first children from these marriages (see 1 Nephi 17:1). It seems apparent that within the first months of marriage two or more of the brides became pregnant and, after reaching Nahom, gave birth to their first children, thus setting a time parameter of a year or less for the trek from the first camp to the tribal territory of NHM. That Nephi's party could have reached this area within a year is demonstrated by another account. (2) According to the ancient geographer Strabo (ca. 64 b.c. - a.d. 19), in 25 b.c. a Roman military force under general Aelius Gallus marched through roughly the same territory, from just south of the Straits of Tiran in the Red Sea to the region of Marib, taking six months to do so. Because Gallus' army became decimated by disease, he led his men back under forced march in two months to the coastal town where they began, Leuc' Com', which is probably the modern town of 'Aynãnah (see Strabo, Geography 16.4.23-24; on Nabataean artifacts that point to the identification of 'Aynãnah as ancient Leuc' Com', consult Michael L. Ingraham et al., "Saudi Arabian Comprehensive Survey Program: C. Preliminary Report on a Reconnaissance Survey of the Northwestern Province," ATLAL. The Journal of Saudi Arabian Archaeology 5 [1401 a.h. - 1981 a.d.]: 59-84, especially 76-78). Thus, the plausibility that Nephi's party could have reached the NHM territory in less than a year is high.

(Note: all of this material is reviewed in S. Kent Brown, "New Light from Arabia on Lehi's Trail," in Donald W. Parry et al., eds., Evidences and Echoes of the Book of Mormon [Provo, Utah: FARMS, 2002], 55-125.)
Online resources on this topic include a discussion by S. Kent Brown at http://pub26.ezboard.com/fpacumenispagesfrm63.showMessage?topicID=201.topic, noting that inscriptions from ancient altars in Yemen soundly demonstrate the existence of the name "NHM" in a time and place consistent with Nephi's account of the place Nahom. See also my Book of Mormon Evidences page; "The Arabian Bountiful Discovered? Evidence for Nephi's Bountiful" by Warren P. Aston; "On NAHOM/NHM" by S. Kent Brown; "Nahom and the 'Eastward' Turn" at FARMS; the previously cited article by S. Kent Brown, "'The Place That was Called Nahom': New Light from Ancient Yemen," Journal of Book of Mormon Studies 8/1 (1999): 66-68; and Warren P. Aston, "Newly Found Altars from Nahom," Journal of Book of Mormon Studies 10/2 (2001): 56-61).

Crossing the River Laman

On my Book of Mormon Evidences page, I have long argued that the discovery of an entirely plausible candidate for the River Laman, mentioned in 1 Nephi 2:8, is one of several key findings in the Arabian Peninsula that challenge the notion of Joseph Smith as the author of First Nephi. How could someone in 1830 have described the location and attributes of actual overseas locations that remain unknown to many educated people of our day? Follow the specific directions given in the Book of Mormon, and you can stumble right into the impressive granite valley corresponding with the Valley of Lemuel and find a continuously flowing stream that fits the River of Laman. (Not to mention additional places like Shazer, Nahom, and Bountiful.)

Now the other night, while reading, I noticed a little detail I had overlooked before (though I'm sure it's discussed somewhere by George Potter in his works on the Arabian Peninsula). First Nephi 16:12 says, "we did take our tents and depart into the wilderness, across the river Laman." The subtle detail is that the river was easy to cross, suggesting it was shallow and not dangerous, just as the actual candidate for the River Laman is. No boats, bridges, or perils of swift currents are described - they just simply crossed it.

A small detail, but interesting.

Sunday, September 11, 2005

About that fly . . . and a poem by Gerald Long

I've long been intrigued by Emily Dickinson's poem, "Dying" (a.k.a. "I heard a Fly buzz--when I died"). While I don't think it jives with the fascinating near death experiences of those who have come back (for whatever value they have), I find it to be a clever and beautiful work dealing with her uncertainty about death, with hints of and doubts about an afterlife.

Now I'm pleased to report that a fine poet, Gerald Long, has given me permission to post his intriguing work that builds on Dickinson's poem. Gerald lives in Salt Lake City and is an old friend of mine from my days at Brighton High School. He's a very intelligent and interesting person and an excellent writer. In case you are wondering, he is not LDS and disagrees with many of religious views, which is fine. I have high respect for him.

Interestingly, the insights in the poem below have parallels with some concepts in the Doctrine and Covenants. It is with great pleasure that I present the following work of Gerald Long:
Constructs of an Unseen Fly Buzzing in the Room

1. The Fly Does Not Exist:

This would mean that it consumes nothing: not
air or water, not
food, not sound either
as in the sound of a crouching
spider flecking its beady
consuming eyes. There is nothing
to consume.

2. The Fly is Conscious

It hears itself, that is
if it is not totally contained
in its own sound; that it hears
something besides itself.
Perhaps it feels the sounding
of movement across the cosmos
of things. This would mean
that it is not everything.

3. The Fly is a Part of My Consciousness

I consumer aspects
of the fly; its buzzing, its undeniable
black nature, its movement
behind the curtain. The fly is
big in my brain. It's all
I can think of.

4. I Am the Fly

This is understood by the greater
consciousness. The fly
is not aware of time. The greater
consciousness fills in perimeters
of the fly's world. The fly
has a thousand eyes and a myriad
of visions for each.
The fly does not see
these. The greater
consciousness deciphers and sends
them buzzing out of the fly
and into the room: The way
I dance to its crazy sound.
If I am following the poem properly, it portrays different levels of understanding of the fly. The fly's own self-awareness is trivial - and if it is taken as a symbol of death and decay, then nothingness may be seem to be its nature, at least superficially). At the end of the progression toward higher levels of understanding, a greater, external consciousness can understand the fly so well that it can, in a sense, be the fly, deciphering the meaning of its life and understanding its myriad visions and its sounds. The response to what may seem like a crazy sound can be the beauty of a dance.

When I read this poem, I cannot help but think of one of my favorite passages of scripture, Doctrine and Covenants 76:92-94:
92 And thus we saw the glory of the celestial, which excels in all things--where God, even the Father, reigns upon his throne forever and ever;

93 Before whose throne all things bow in humble reverence, and give him glory forever and ever.

94 They who dwell in his presence are the church of the Firstborn; and they see as they are seen, and know as they are known, having received of his fulness and of his grace.
Those who receive the fullness of the grace of Christ and the indescribable gift of eternal life in the presence of the Father find that they have become part of that "greater consciousness" that allows them to see as they are seen and know as they are known. Right now we hardly know who we are - only God does, He who can truly and beautifully dance to our crazy sound. Becoming one with Christ, becoming like Him (1 John 3:2; John 17), will one day "fill in the perimeters" of our world, give meaning to the seemingly conflicting visions that confuse our eyes and minds, and help us see and decipher what only seems like confusion now. (FWIW, the same passage of scripture was one thought behind an old poem of mine called "Flatland.")

Jerry, thanks for sharing an interesting poem with the LDS community.

FYI, Jerry's most recent poem, not yet published, is brilliant, and I can't wait to see it published. It offers a dark, pained, inquiring view, searching for the possibility of God in a chaotic and troubling world. When you LDS writers finally see it, I hope someone out there might offer an equally brilliant response pointing to the power of Christ and His Atonement to heal, wipe away our tears, decipher the conflicting, anguished visions that assault our gaze, and find meaning and beauty in our crazy buzzing.

BYU Students Most Fit?

I have heard some cynics say that while tea and coffee are religiously avoided at BYU, the real spirit of the Word of Wisdom is frequently violated by overeating, resulting in an overweight student body. Maybe that was true in the distant past, but I'm pleased to report that BYU has been voted as the nation's most physically fit campus by Men's Fitness magazine. Thanks to CJ for reminding me of this story.

So next time you hear the cynics snickering about candy bar abuse by Mormon students, this story might help trim their bloated view of BYU's problems.

Saturday, September 10, 2005

Kudos to BYU

I spent a couple days this week at BYU on behalf of my employer, and came away more impressed than ever with the quality of that university. (Disclosure: yes, I'm an alumnus, and biased.) After seeing some students and talking with a lot of professors, I brushed off my very positive reaction with the assumption that I was seeing what I wanted to see (though there was no way not to be impressed with some of the technology and research programs I encountered). But then I went to another outstanding school in the West and had a meeting with a professor who had been there for over a decade and who recently taught at BYU as a guest professor. She enthusiastically told me how much better she thought BYU students were - brighter, more motivated, more enjoyable to teach. She is not LDS and had no reason to give any spin to her experiences - she just volunteered that information out of the blue when we talked about her experiences at the two universities. Her perspective jived with what I have been seeing recently.

I offer this not to inflate the egos of BYU people, but to encourage those who are considering BYU (but if you are at BYU and tempted to be overly proud, let me offer just one word to humble you: football). The university has made tremendous progress over the years (especially since the dark days of 1984 when BYU won the National Championship in football, bringing academic and spiritual progress to a standstill - yes, I was there then, and saw the disaster firsthand). In addition to a great student body and outstanding professors, it's also a remarkably safe place to go or to send your kids: so much freer of the grotesque vices of the world that destroy thousands of lives at the lauded "top" universities of our nation, including some universities where it's hard to find students who are consistently sober or free of venereal disease.

Kudos to faculty members, students, and administrators who make Church universities such great places to be. I know there are many flaws, but I'm thrilled that my own kids have been leaning toward undergraduate education there.

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

Facing the Shotgun

In dealing with the objections people offer against the Church, many of us have faced shotgun tactics. The objector doesn't just ask one or two questions, but comes in with a long list of objections. Dealing with them one at a time seems futile. In one of my early experiences in responding to anti-Mormon attacks, a newly baptized member was completely flustered by the thick stack of anti-Mormon literature her Protestant minister gave her, filled with hundreds of attacks on the Church. I asked what ones bothered her most, and spent some time systematically responding to them, one at a time. After demonstrating one by one that the key attacks bothering her were based on deceptive tactics or misinformation, she then made an appeal to the shear volume of attacks that remained. She said, "I don't care if you can show that most of what's in here [the anti-Mormon books] is a lie, because even if only 10% of what they say is true, that's enough to make the Church false." It was a sad moment. I appealed to the early Christians. Would she have dropped Christianity based on the shear volume of attacks raised against it? But the discussion seemed doomed from the beginning. She left the Church - and yes, we did leave her alone, as far as I can tell, at her request.

So what do we do when faced with shotgun tactics? Allen Wyatt offers some great advice in his article on answering shotgun anti-Mormonism at FAIRLDS.org. I think it's a good approach if the person raising the attacks is sincere. If someone just wants to tear down the Church and doesn't care about your answers, then you may not want to spend too much time dealing with the critics.

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Insight on the Atonement from My Son

A few days before my son Daniel left on his mission, he was with me on a home teaching visit. He gave a spiritual thought from the First Presidency Message in the Sept. 2005 Ensign by Elder Monson, "The Profound Power of Gratitude." He read the following excerpt:
The beauty and eloquence of an expression of gratitude is reflected in a newspaper story of some years ago:

The District of Columbia police auctioned off about 100 unclaimed bicycles Friday. "One dollar," said an 11-year-old boy as the bidding opened on the first bike. The bidding, however, went much higher. "One dollar," the boy repeated hopefully each time another bike came up.

The auctioneer, who had been auctioning stolen or lost bikes for 43 years, noticed that the boy's hopes seemed to soar higher whenever a racer-type bicycle was put up.

Then there was just one racer left. The bidding went to eight dollars. "Sold to that boy over there for nine dollars!" said the auctioneer. He took eight dollars from his own pocket and asked the boy for his dollar. The youngster turned it over in pennies, nickels, dimes, and quarters--took his bike, and started to leave. But he went only a few feet. Carefully parking his new possession, he went back, gratefully threw his arms around the auctioneer's neck, and cried.

When was the last time we felt gratitude as deeply as did this boy? The deeds others perform in our behalf might not be as poignant, but certainly there are kind acts that warrant our expressions of gratitude.
Rather than focus on the theme of gratitude, Daniel then drew an interesting insight from the story about the Atonement of Jesus Christ. He said we are all like the little boy, always falling short in spite of our best efforts, but Christ in His grace and love reaches out to us and pays (the infinite price of) the deficit. I thought it was a nice twist on the story.

And for the skeptics, yes, I admit that this story fails to give verifiable details. Perhaps it never happened. But there are thoughtful people in the world who make these kind of stories come true. I've been the recipient of that kind of kindness many times, and hope that I can be alert and sensitive enough to be on the giving end when such opportunities arise.

Sunday, September 04, 2005

Visiting Others: A Key Part of Gospel Living

While I feel that some of what I am doing with this rough little blog and my Website (JeffLindsay.com) has value for others (from my biased LDS perspective, of course), on one recent afternoon it all seemed rather trivial after a brief visit to a woman in the area who hadn't had contact with the Church for a while. Some may have thought that she didn't want contact, and her unavailability in the past might have discouraged some from visiting her, but she was quite happy to schedule an appointment and be visited. The timing was right, that's for sure. She was so in need of a visit, so in need of some simple ministering, so grateful to meet and talk and share her worries, that I walked away feeling that I could not possibly have done anything better with my time that Sunday afternoon. Both my son and I were uplifted and strengthened by the visit, as was she. It was a rather random visit, just a little something extra, but it helped make my day feel worthwhile. In comparison, a lot of other things I do seem pretty unimportant.

In pondering this, I realized that no matter who we are and how much we have going on, we must not overlook the call to get out of our shells and visit others. Home teaching and visiting teaching are such inspired programs, as are the other opportunities the Church provides for ministering to others, especially full-time missionary service. Some of my strongest and most testimony-strengthening experiences have come through attempting to minister to others by simply visiting them and trying to help. If you are struggling with your testimony, get out there and serve. Fulfill your calling, seek to minister to others, pray for their welfare and follow what the Spirit suggests to you, get out and do something - and quit wasting so much time on the Internet. At the heart of the ancient and restored Gospel of Jesus Christ is the call to feed the Lord's sheep, to minister to the widows and fatherless, to help the needy, to take the Gospel to others - basically, to visit other people and help them. Sometimes I just get too preoccupied with other things, but I hope I won't forget this lesson.

Friday, September 02, 2005

On Religious Prejudice

In a recent comment, Mike Parker quoted a passage on religious prejudice from Daniel Peterson's 1993 article, " Chattanooga Cheapshot, or The Gall of Bitterness: Review of Everything You Ever Wanted to Know about Mormonism by John Ankerberg and John Weldon." I'd like to share it with everybody as food for thought:
In Cairo some years ago, I spoke at length with a Muslim chemistry professor at the University of Cairo. He was astonished when he learned that I was a Christian. "Do you really," he asked, incredulously, "believe that God had a Son, and that he allowed that Son to be murdered in order to buy himself off?" After expressing some reservations about how he had expressed the doctrine of the atonement, I replied that, yes, I did believe precisely that. "Oh!" he exclaimed. "How can any intelligent person believe in such nonsense?" Well, the fact is that highly intelligent people have accepted Christianity. (Origen, Athanasius, Augustine, Aquinas, Pascal, and Kierkegaard are among those who come immediately to mind.) But it was thought-provoking to find that my most sacred beliefs seemed insanely ludicrous to a highly educated outsider. It was enlightening to find Christianity, for once, in the minority, and Christian assumptions questioned as less than self-evident. How many times have I heard people say things like, "How can any intelligent person believe in Islam?" or "How can any intelligent person be a Catholic?" Yet people like al-Ghazali and Iqbal and Ibn Khaldun have been Muslims, and the Catholic Church has claimed the loyalty of such people as Cardinal Newman and G. K. Chesterton and Jacques Maritain. Reflecting on this, and on my own experience as an Islamicist, I have come to formulate what might be termed Peterson's First Rule for the Study of Other Religions: If a substantial number of sane and intelligent people believe something that seems to you utterly without sense, the problem probably lies with you, for not grasping what it is about that belief that a lucid and reasonable person might find plausible and satisfying.
Let's remember this next time we are tempted to mock another religion.

A Nation Unprepared for Disaster

The grim chaos in New Orleans demonstrates, I'm afraid, that this nation is terribly unprepared for future disasters, including acts of terrorism. It was clear that a hurricane was going to hit several days ago, but look how long it is taking for major, organized efforts to restore order and provide for the basic needs of people. If we wish to be prepared for future disasters, it seems clear that we cannot sit back and expect the government to take care of everything. As I saw firsthand in Florida, the Latter-day Saint organization can step in and begin offering organized relief long before the Federal Government can, but the really important lesson is that each of us has a responsibility to be prepared, to have emergency supplies, food, water, etc., to be able to provide help to our neighbors in case of such a disaster.

The LDS scriptures warn of us of more trouble to come in these days, from the raging of waters to overt acts of hostility from enemies. Be prepared. The lives of many may depend on your preparations now.

Thursday, September 01, 2005

The Godhead and the Trinity

The nature of the Godhead and its relation to the modern Trinity concept is an important topic for LDS folks, one that I write about one my LDSFAQ page on the oneness of God. On this critical topic, FAIRLDS has just published a presentation by David L. Paulsen, "The God of Abraham, Isaac and Joseph Smith: Defending the Faith." He looks at the LDS view of deity relative to other Christian faiths. Part of the presentation deals with an interview of him by the periodical Modern Reformation (MR). Here is one excerpt:
MR: Please briefly explain to our readers how the LDS Church's doctrine of God is similar to or different from the traditional Christian doctrine of the Trinity.

DP: Our first Article of Faith affirms our belief in the New Testament Godhead. It states simply: "We believe in God the Eternal Father, in his son Jesus Christ and in the Holy Ghost." We reject the traditional, but extra-biblical, idea that these three persons constitute one metaphysical substance, affirming rather that they constitute one perfectly united, and mutually indwelling [i.e., referring to whatever John 17:3 means], divine community. We use the word "God" to designate the divine community as well as to designate each individual divine person. Thus our understanding of the Godhead coincides closely with what is known in contemporary Christian theology as "social trinitarianism." This, we believe, is the model of the Godhead portrayed in the New Testament.

MR: Christian theologians from all the major traditions (Roman Catholic, Orthodox, and Protestant) are united in their belief in monotheism (only one God in this and any other universe, existing beyond time and space). Is LDS theology monotheistic or is it polytheistic?

DP: As indicated above, Latter-day Saints, like other Christians and New Testament writers, affirm that there is a plurality of divine persons. Yet, at the same time, we witness (as our scriptures repeatedly declare) that "the Father, Son and Holy Ghost are one God." Given the plurality of divine persons, how can there be but one God? In at least three ways: (1) There is only one perfectly united, mutually indwelling, divine community. We call that community "God" and there is only one such. (2) There is only one God the Father or fount of divinity. (3) There is only one divine nature or set of properties severally necessary and jointly sufficient for divinity.
David offers many interesting insights worth thinking about. It gets into a few heavy areas way over my head, but I enjoyed it. Nicely done, Brother Paulsen!