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

Monday, December 31, 2012

Daring Young Mom: "Drops of Awesome"

I think some of you might be refreshed and strengthened by reading "Drops of Awesome" from the Daring Young Mom blog of Kathryn Thompson in Seattle. If you tend to discredit the good that you do and focus on your failings, or if you are painfully aware of how often you fall short of your potential in spite of sincere efforts to do good and follow God, this post might help you see things in a new light.

Sunday, December 30, 2012

Grateful for the 2012 Candlelight Christmas at This Is the Place Heritage Park

Salt Lake City's This Is the Place Heritage Park just concluded their 2012 Candlelight Christmas. I was able to attend on Friday night while briefly visiting relatives here in Utah. Visiting the exhibits in the pioneer village was surprisingly interesting in spite of the cold. The biggest surprise to me was the beautiful nativity scene in a real barn with real animals and real smells, with real parents and a baby boy. The setting and the beautiful music being played created a sense of reverence and sacredness that I found refreshing and uplifting. So simple but so beautiful.

Other highlights for me included the dancing (a simplified Virginia reel dance) that our group got to participate in. I also really enjoyed the Christmas carolers outside, the hot chocolate inside the Huntsman Hotel, and the exhibition featuring the mountain man showing us how pioneers and outdoorsmen of the day survived.

Thank you to the many volunteers who support this annual event. I hope I can return from China again next year and visit this special place once more.

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Looking my Christmas Gift Horse in the Mouth

About a week ago in the comments on my post about horses in the Book of Mormon which was inspired by my earlier review of the generally excellent book, An LDS Guide to the Yucatan, I noted that the issue of Book of Mormon horses remains problematic. Then I shared my main wish for Christmas, a horse. Specifically, an ancient American horse that might help clarify this scientific challenge for the Book of Mormon. Here's what I asked for on Dec. 21:
Christmas gift idea for your humble blogger here: This Christmas, I'd like a horse. A Mesoamerican one, preferably. Doesn't have to be in working condition and can be decrepit and rather old, but not too old--about 2000 years old will do just fine. Should be free of problems caused by tunneling cave rats and overly eager apologists. If you find one that meets these simple criteria, it will be an even merrier Christmas than normal.
The comment about tunneling cave rats refers to the possible cause for apparently very old horse bones being found in newer pre-Columbian layers of a Mesoamerican cave. It is entirely possible that some of the scant apparent evidence for horses in Mesoamerica in Book of Mormon times is due to disturbances that brought older remains into new layers, and tunneling cave rats is one possible cause.

While struggling with the various issues related to horses and hoping for some new Mesoamerican finds, I dug into a new gift book that I received recently which provides some valuable new information on horses. The book is Science and the Book of Mormon: Cureloms, Cumoms, Horses, and More (KCT & Associates: Laguna Niguel, CA, 2010) by Dr. Wade E. Miller, a retired professor of geology at Brigham Young University who has done 40 years of research in geology and paleontology, and he continues to be actively involved in multiple field projects in Mexico and the U.S. As an expert on paleontology and dinosaurs, he's been on a variety of TV shows and documentaries, in addition to serving as an advisor to several museums and to the US Bureau of Land Management.

This softbound volume has some hard-hitting information with good documentation. In the course of this book, Dr. Miller explores candidates for what the Book of Mormon calls elephants, cureloms, cumoms, and, of courses, horses. He observes that the latest dated remains of a species need not correspond with the actual extinction date, since pockets of the animals may have survived for centuries or thousands of years without leaving remains that we have found so far.

Dr. Miller proposes that the "elephants" mentioned in the ancient Book of Ether (Ether 9:19) could have been the Columbian mammoth. Based on the research he has done in Mexico, it is the most numerous of late Pleistocene fossils in some area. Evidence from many sources confirms that humans interacted with mammoths in North America. As early as 1952, one scientist concluded that, "There can no longer be any reasonable doubt that man and elephant coexisted in America." (L.H. Johnson, "Men and Elephants in America," Scientific Monthly, 75 (1952): 215-221.) Many more finds since that time confirm that humans associated with mammoths, and increasing evidence points to the survival of some mammoths in some regions past the end of the Pleistocene, with dates later than 3,000 B.C. reported by one source. An even later report of about 2,000 years ago in Florida is interesting, but other scientists feel that the Florida data is invalid.

Dr. Miller's pick for one of the curelom and cumom is the llama, for which fossils in North America allow the llama to have existed in Mesoamerica in Jaredite times in the Book of Mormon. Dr. Miller gets into some of those details and provides references. Interesting.

As for my hoped-for Christmas gift horse, Miller's book provides more details than I have previously encountered from LDS scholars, enough to possibly count as the Christmas gift I was looking for in this book that I received as a gift. Here are some relevant excerpts from page 80:
During the Pleistocene epoch there were many species of horses and a few asses. It is accepted by all paleontologists that these animals existed in North America until the end of this time, 10,000 to 12,000 years ago. Along with other Ice Age mammals listed above, evidences demonstrate that both the horse and ass survived for an appreciable time later. Some paleontologists are reluctant to accept this, though.

It's hard to change old ideas once they become ingrained. However, more and more paleontologists, as well as archeologists, do accept some younger dates for the last native horses in America. A number of Carbon-14 dates on horse fossils, especially in the United States, show ages extending well past the close of the Pleistocene.

Ages obtained from a variety of locations are as follows (these are all in years before the present): 8,240 (Mead and Meltzer, 1984, p. 446); 7,000; 8,000 (Hester, 1960 p. 70); 6,160 (Marcus and Berger, 1984, p. 171); ~5,000 (Martin and Webb, 1974, p. 144); 3,800 (Schmidt, 1988, p. 253). A date of 2,167 B.C. was obtained based on horse bones from the northern part of the Yucatan Peninsula according to John Sorenson (Pers. Comm.).
Miller then proposes that small scattered populations of horses and asses, especially in remote areas, could have survived until shortly before they were reintroduced by the Spaniards. This hypothesis is based in part on some recent Carbon-14 measurements, mostly unpublished, from work tied to a controversial former physics professor at BYU, Dr. Steven E. Jones (Jones is controversial to some people for his conclusions about 9-11 based on his interpretation of the physics of the building collapse that led him to conclude that the factors beyond jet fuel fires and airplane impact must have been at play to bring the buildings down). However, Miller does not appear to be merely relying on Steve Jones alone, but says, "I later worked with him on these" (p. 82).

These unpublished dates for horse fossils include 5,890 B.C. from Pratt Cave in Texas; 830 B.C. from southern Saskatchewan, Canada; 815 A.D. from Ontario, Canada; and 1,260-1,400 A.D. from Wolf Spider Cave, Colorado. There is also a specimen from Horsethief Cave in Wyoming that was dated using a thermoluminescence method to 1,120 B.C.

Miller notes that young dates for horse fossils are not yet common. However, reports of primitive man in association with the horse are common, he feels, citing authors from the 1800s such as Heilprin and Mercer, and more recent reports for various species of Equus associated with humans reported by Mexican paleontologists Joaquin Arroyo-Cabrales and Oscar Polaco from several Yucatan caves, along with several other reports. In light of this growing body of evidence, Miller feels that there is evidence to show that the horse and the ox were in the Americas at the time they were said to be here in the Book of Mormon.

I have some more exploring to do in sorting through the evidence cited by Miller, but feel like the case for actual horses in the Book of Mormon (as opposed to, say, tasty tapir flocks) may be stronger that I previously supposed, though it's a gift horse that we should look squarely in the mouth. Evidence for late pockets of actual horses won't resolve a variety of other questions that can then be asked, but certainly the challenge to the Book of Mormon has become much different than it was in Joseph's day, when it wasn't yet even known that horses (as well as elephants) had been on the continent anciently. After all, if Joseph were fabricating the Book of Mormon based on what was known in his day, why mention ancient horses at all when they were widely understood to have been introduced recently by Europeans coming to the New World? Why take the risk of mentioning them in Jaredite times and beyond?

I especially look forward to more published information on the radiocarbon dating results that he and Steven Jones have worked on. I also look forward to further finds that will might us understand these issues more accurately.

Finally, on Christmas day, I also ran into this interesting video from one of the authors of the LDS Guide to the Yucatan, with some other information relevant to the horse in the Americas. Interesting.

Monday, December 24, 2012

DVD Recommendation: A Most Remarkable Book: Evidence for the Divine Authenticity of the Book of Abraham

A Most Remarkable Book: Evidence for the Divine Authenticity of the Book of Abraham, written and directed by Tyler Livingston, is a professionally produced DVD from the Foundation for Apologetic Information and Research (FAIR) that will surprise and impress many people interested in some of the complex issues related to the Book of Abraham. While the Book of Abraham has been a favorite “weak spot” of Mormonism for critics to attack, in the past few years substantial breakthroughs in our knowledge of the ancient world have resulted in a large body of evidence actually supporting the divine authenticity of that book as an ancient work that Joseph Smith could not have fabricated based on what was known in his day.

A Most Remarkable Book helps us understand critical issues in the Book of Mormon, both in terms of refuting popular attacks and revealing exciting lines of thought based on outstanding scholarship that help us appreciate the Book of Abraham.

The video consists largely of segments of interview with a series of LDS scholars, including three Egyptologists. The interviewed parties and the description of the person’s credentials shown in the video are:

  • Michael Rhodes, Egyptologist
  • John Gee, Egyptologist
  • Michael Ash – LDS Scholar
  • Kerry Muhlstein – Egyptologist
  • Kevin Barney – Book of Abraham Scholar
  • David Bokovoy - Ancient Near Eastern Studies
  • Jared Ludlow – Near Eastern Studies
A weakness of the video is that the backgrounds of these speakers are not adequately presented apart from the short identifier shown on the screen sometimes when they speak. Several of the speakers are well known LDS scholars but others may be new to LDS audiences. For example, David Bokovoy, who makes only a very brief appearance in the video, has an interesting bio available at FAIRLDS where he was a speaker:
David Bokovoy holds a BA in History and Near Eastern studies from Brigham Young University and an MA in Ancient Near Eastern and Judaic Studies from Brandeis University where he is currently a doctoral candidate in Hebrew Bible and the Ancient Near East.

David is an LDS Institute instructor at the Boston Institute of Religion and a CES Field writer for Institute curriculum. He is a five-time recipient of the Hugh Nibley Fellowship from the Neil A. Maxwell Institute for Religious Studies.

David has published articles in a variety of journals and books including BYU Studies, the Journal of Book of Mormon Studies, FARMS Insights, and the FARMS Review. He is the co-author of the book Testaments: Links Between the Book of Mormon and the Hebrew Bible.
I wish that kind of information were provided for each speaker.

The evidences presented in the video go far beyond the few nuggets currently listed at FAIRLDS’s own Evidence for the antiquity of Joseph's Book of Abraham, and significantly strengthen some of the arguments that I have summarized in my related pages such as my LDSFAQ page on Book of Abraham Evidences from Ancient Texts and my LDSFAQ page on evidences from the Facsimiles and the text. (Also see "Book of Abraham 201: Papyri, Revelation, and Modern Egyptology" by Michael Ash, which is a good review of some common issues and also some interesting evidences for the authenticity of the text.) I feel the evidences on the video are presented fairly and articulately, and are worth reflection and further study by interested viewers.

In my opinion, the evidences in favor of the Book of Abraham might be even harder to brush off than some of the evidences for the Book of Mormon. Because so little was known about ancient Egypt among the scholars of Joseph’s day, the Book of Abraham cannot be explained away with an appeal to secret partnerships with Solomon Spaulding or other highly educated friends, or to imagined access to university libraries or hypothetical vast frontier libraries teaming with the latest scholarly works from all over the world. So when we find remarkably accurate or plausible statements about the ancient world, such as the crocodile being not just an Egyptian god but also specifically “the god of Pharaoh,” or the animal headed figures in Facs. 2 being said to represent the “four quarters of the earth,” or the person on the altar being said to be praying to God when in fact the position of the hands and feet create the Egyptian glyph for supplication or prayer, or when “the god Elkenah” is shown to make a great deal of sense when plausibly interpreted as the god El of the Canaanites, then for these and many more interesting “bulls eyes” from Joseph Smith, we are left with nothing but blind luck as the only secular explanation. But after viewing the video, I hope viewers might wonder of more than dumb luck is involved.

Turning to details of the content of the video, it begins with a brief review of the origins of the Book of Abraham and quickly gets into the most common attack against it, namely, the claim that the tiny group of fragments found in 1967 is the original text Joseph was attempting to translate, and now that we can read Egyptian, we see that it has nothing to do with the Book of Abraham. The response to this involves an appeal to the other scrolls that were part of the original collection, and the fact that the recovered fragments do not match the long scroll that Joseph had identified as the Book of Abraham. The length of the scroll is important here. A variety of peripheral related issues are touched upon, such as the tendency for Egyptian scrolls to have seemingly unrelated documents on the back and the calculation for the length of the original scroll giving an estimate of 40-44 feet.

Other arguments treated include the claim that Joseph said the scroll was crafted by the hand of Abraham, when it obviously is much later. Of course, the statement that the text was written “by his own hand” does not mean that Abraham physically prepared the copy that we have. Further, “by his own hand upon papyrus” in Joseph’s translation is actually attested in another Egyptian text where it need not mean anything more than authorship. Further, a Hebrew idiom beyadh meaning “by his own hand” means “by the authority of” and could simply mean that the original Semitic text was prepared under the direction of Abraham. In any case, when copied over and over through the centuries, that phrase indicating the authorship or the authority behind the document would be copied again.

The Bonus Features section also explores the argument that Facs. 1 was drawn incorrectly.

The meat of the video, though, is not in refuting popular attacks, but in exploring the evidences for plausibility of Joseph’s translation.

The video covers evidences from the facsimiles and the text itself. Other topics covered include the heliocentric model of the Book of Abraham, some specific names and terms in the translated text, the ancient Near Eastern concept of the Council of the Gods (or Divine Council), and the relationship of the Book of Abraham to other ancient texts such as the Apocalypse of Abraham, a ancient pseudepigraphic work with strong correlations to the Book of Abraham. This text was not available to Joseph Smith and was not yet translated to English in Joseph’s day. The abundance of ancient texts providing remarkable correlation to Book of Abraham material is the topic of one of the most impressive scholarly works on the Book of Abraham, Traditions about the Early Life of Abraham, edited by John A. Tvedtnes, Brian M. Hauglid, and John Gee (Provo, Utah: Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies, 2001).

Some of my favorite items from the video include the discussion of Facsimilies 1 and 2. Facs. 1, for example, is clearly not a typical funerary document as some have claimed, but is unique and different in many ways and contains elements that actually do relate to the translated text. It is consistent with the story of Abraham on an altar, and an Egyptian priest offering up a human sacrifice. This is strengthened by numerous ancient texts and traditions describing Abraham as a rebel against the idol worship of his day, resulting in attempts on his life by the religious establishment he threatened. The Facsimile

A few other items where the Book of Abraham makes Egyptological sense:
  • The central figure in Facs. 2 and its Egyptian role in representing the center of creation, as Joseph identified it. Also relevant and interesting is the relationship between the word “Kolob” and words meaning “near” and “center,” fitting Joseph’s description.
  • A bird as angel of the Lord in Facs. 1.
  • Figures 5-8 in Facs. 1: these were actual gods worshipped in the Near East. Indeed, there is evidence for the plausibility of the actual, specific names given in the Book of Abraham. Elkanah, or El, the principal god of the Canaanites, could well be associated with human sacrifice.
  • The crocodile as the god of Pharoah, has strong evidence in favor of Joseph Smith. The crocodile god Soebek was not only an ancient Egyptian god, but the god of Pharoah, exactly as Joseph said. “The king appears as the crocodile god Soebex” is from one of the Pyramid texts.
  • The lotus flower, an Egyptian symbol for a foreigner, a good way to describe Abraham, as Joseph said of the lotus flower in Facs. 1.
  • The pillars of heaven identified by Joseph.
  • Abraham as a substitute for Osiris, attested in several texts.
There is also a brief discussion of the “J-Red” theory of Kevin Barney, which suggests that to understand the Book of Abraham, turning to Egyptologists alone will not suffice. Instead, we should consider how a Jewish redactor might view Egyptian elements through a Hebrew lens. So while we can certainly say that some of Joseph’s interpretations are correct based on how Egyptologists now view these things, if we look at the documents in light of how a Jewish redactor might have understood it, we may find many more things that are right.

While Abraham’s map of the cosmos is interesting in light of the ancient geocentric model (stars nearest god, different revolution times or “set times” for different tiers, etc.), something which would be utterly foreign to Joseph, David Bokovoy explains that it becomes even more astounding when we understand the imagery that is deliberately used to invoke themes from the Council of Gods theme in the ancient Near Eastern perspective. David explains that stars are linked with human beings and the heavenly host, and in bis view the imagery used with Kolob identifies it with Jesus Christ – the Being who is nearest God. An interesting segment!

In the video, Egyptologist Kerry Muhlstein makes this statement:
It is interesting that the text of the Book of Abraham presents us a picture that even ten years ago, Egyptologists would have thought that that doesn’t fit with what we know of ancient Egypt. But now we see that it is a perfect fit. It weds together abolsutely perfectly with what we find in Egyptian history. The key is that no one had ever sat down and looked at it carefully. If we do the Egyptology correctly, it supports what we find in the Book of Abraham.
I know people who left the Church over the apparent weakness of the Book of Abraham. I wish they had been a little more patient, because now we have the luxury of not only having some good answers to at least a few of the most common attacks on the Book of Abraham, we also have some compelling evidence to argue for the divine authenticity of this remarkable book. Faith and patience is still required, and we should never expect to be able to "prove" the Gospel based on evidences. But we can strengthen faith and help overcome attacks on faith with a growing body of evidence that something besides fraud and dumb luck is involved in the Book of Abraham, though some puzzles and problems certainly remain.

Kudos to Tyler Livingston and his team for this excellent video. Length is slightly over 1 hour. Cost is $13 at FAIRLDS. Highly recommended!

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Women (and Men, Too) Are That They Might Have Joy

Over at Mormon Scholars Testify, Valerie Hudson Cassler has en eye-opening and I hope mind-opening contribution that I think is worthy of discussion and reflection by many of us in the Church. In "I am a Mormon Because I am a Feminist," she provides an important perspective and some great reminders about our approach to core LDS doctrine. Here is one of several interesting quotes from her:
‎I remain a steadfast member of the Mormon Church because, for the first time in my life, I understand why it is not a curse to be born a woman, and how it can be said with a straight face that men and women stand before God and before each other as true equals. I understand now that women are that they might have joy (2 Ne 2:25).

I'm grateful for her voice and the many contributions she has made to the world in her journey.

Hat tip to David Grant.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Yay, Yay or Neigh, Neigh? Horses, Pranks, and Book of Mormon Evidence

Book of Mormon defenders and enthusiasts have a lot to be excited about. From the discovery of carefully crafted chiasmus in the Book of Mormon to the discovery of intricate details in the Arabian Peninsula that add plausibility and insight to First Nephi, the march of time has resulted in many advances in our appreciation of the Book of Mormon as an ancient text. That enthusiasm sometimes gets out of hand as Mormons sometimes fail to remember just how much faith is still required to accept the Book of Mormon (or the Bible). Regarding the mention of "horse" in the Book of Mormon, it's fair to recognize that we have a genuine trouble spot. In light of some glimpses of possible evidence pointing to late pockets of horses that survived long past the generally assumed New World horse extinction date of around 11,000 B.C. into pre-Columbian times, some LDS folks argue that there is no serious problem with accepting mentions of "horses" in the Book of Mormon as genuine horses as opposed to perhaps some other species. Unfortunately, the scant evidence that is often cited has some problems. Some finds of bones or teeth in the Yucatan in recent layers may have been due to disturbances from digging caused by animals or humans, or may have been curious humans transported from other locations. There is no clear evidence of horses being present among the early Mayans, for example.

There remains the possibility that horses persisted much later than the last ancient bones that have been found. Finding remnants is a rare thing, especially when they need to be found by someone able and willing to recognizing their importance and pay for the testing needed. Intriguing evidence that groups of horses may have persisted much later than the apparent extinction date comes from recent analysis of DNA preserved deep in permafrost in Alaska. See "Mammoths Hung On Longer? Late-Surviving Megafauna Exposed by Ancient DNA in Frozen Soil" (American Museum of Natural History, Dec. 15, 2009, ScienceDaily, accessed December 15, 2012). This is far from Book of Mormon territory, but it makes a relevant point. Researchers examining the soil and its DNA fragments found fairly clear evidence that horses were present in the New World as much as 5,000 years later than previously assumed. Moving the extinction date from 11,000 B.C. to 6,000 B.C. in this initial forensic effort doesn't solve the puzzle for the Book of Mormon, but if we can have that big of a surprise in Alaska, could there be even later dates that will surprise us in Mesoamerica? Well, maybe, and maybe not. This issue is far from a slam dunk for the Book of Mormon and still needs to be considered a genuine issue for further research.

I wish I could report that Mesoamerican documents have now been unearthed that confirm the existence of pre-Columbian horses, and, while we are at it, Nephites. Give us some slam dunk evidence to end the debate and convert the critics, eh? There is abundant evidence to strengthen the case for plausibility, or rather, to strengthen faith once exercised or to overcome some common objections that might be total roadblocks to faith. But I actually think it would frustrate the nature of faith and religion and God's desires for us if we could simply take Michael Coe or any other top scholar to a site in Mesoamerica, point to a carved monument, and say, "See? This city was named Zarahemla, its people were named Nephites, its enemies were called Lamanites, the worshipped the Messiah named Jesus, and here is the entire text of Mosiah 2 and 3 Nephi 12 inscribed on this wall from 75 A.D. So when would you like to be baptized? We've got an open slot on Tuesday night, right after we finish the mass baptisms of that tour group from Harvard." But when everything is that crystal clear, it might just be too a little too late.

In our zeal to overcome objections and point to evidence for plausibility, we sometimes need to add a little skeptical "neigh, neigh" to our "yay, yay." Yay for the evidences that are authentic, but a firm nay when the evidence proves to be completely worthless or occasionally, even fraudulent. That appears to be the case with a commonly cited bit of pro-horse evidence from Wisconsin, where a horse skull was found in a pre-Columbian mound. It's in many books and some of these are cited by Mormon defenders who probably haven't yet learned the humorous story behind that skull. The story of a prank. See "There Were No Ancient Vikings in Wisconsin? Prank at Spencer Lake Mounds" by K. Kris Hirs at About.com. Some of us were pretty intrigued when we first heard of this find. But there is compelling and credible evidence from a reliable source that the skull was planted there as a prank. Radiocarbon dating apparently confirms that. Kiss that evidence good-bye, folks. That's definitely a neigh, neigh sound I'm hearing.

Patience. For now.

Sunday, December 09, 2012

"I'll Wait": Composed and Performed by Blythe Bailey

One of Shanghai's finest LDS young single adults composed and performed this song, "I'll Wait" by Blythe Bailey. I think some of you might like it as much as we did. We first heard this song in Nanjing at a talent show, and then again this morning on iTunes (happy to have paid 99 cents for this!). We're so glad we got to know Blythe here in China. The calling my wife and I have as District Co-Chairs for the Young Single Adults Committee (Shanghai International District, with branches in Nanjing, Shanghai, Suzhou and Hangzhou) is the best calling ever. We get to meet, learn from, and sometimes even feed or otherwise help some of the most interesting and inspiring people in the Church.

We also heard her sing something else last night with one of the choirs at our hugely successful Christmas Open House in Shanghai, where about 500 people came, with perhaps roughly 200 being non-LDS visitors. It will be even bigger next year, but Blythe, unfortunately for us, is heading back to the U.S soon. We'll miss her!

You can listen to it on YouTube but the recording on iTunes is better--and worth it!

Gift suggestion: If you know anybody waiting for a missionary, or about to wait, this could be especially meaningful. Or someone waiting for their overseas soldier to return.

On iTunes, just search for Blythe Bailey. Oh, and there's also her song, "What If?" Yeah, I bought that one, too. Nice!

Saturday, December 08, 2012

Liberated? As in, Liberated Lungs?

"An Ancient Prejudice Has Been Removed!" and now women can can take off the chains that kept them captive. Liberated at last, now women, too, can enjoy the many benefits of, uh, smoking, proclaims the cigarette add in this classic and instructive Lucky Strike ad from 1929, preserved at TobaccoDocuments.org.

The full text of the ad:
An Ancient Prejudice Has Been Removed. Today, legally, politically and socially, womanhood stands in her true light. AMERICAN INTELLIGENCE has cast aside the ancient prejudice that held her to be inferior. "TOASTING DID IT"-- Gone is that ancient prejudice against cigarettes -- Progress has been made. We removed the prejudice against cigarettes when we removed from the tobaccos harmful corrosive ACRIDS (pungent irritants) which are present in cigarettes manufactured in the old-fashioned way. Thus "TOASTING" has destroyed that ancient prejudice against cigarette smoking by men and by women. "It's toasted" No Throat Irritation-No Cough.
A related version of the ad is displayed in a must-read BBC article by William Kremer, "James Buchanan Duke: Father of the Modern Cigarette," (BBC News Magazine, Nov. 12, 2012), which I encountered in the course of looking at case studies of innovators and entrepreneurs. James Buchanan's success story in business is a dark story of exploiting human weakness and spreading suffering to millions. This brings two passages of scripture to my mind. First, consider 2 Peter 2:18-19, where we learn that the liberty offered by the world and its glib marketers is not always liberty at all, but often servitude:
18 For when they speak great swelling words of vanity, they allure through the lusts of the flesh, through much wantonness, those that were clean escaped from them who live in error.

19 While they promise them liberty, they themselves are the servants of corruption: for of whom a man is overcome, of the same is he brought in bondage.
Then look at the 1833 revelation known as the "Word of Wisdom" recorded in Doctrine & Covenants 89, where we learn, prophetically, that tobacco is not for man and should be avoided as a key part of the Lord's health guidance for mankind.
4 Behold, verily, thus saith the Lord unto you: In consequence of evils and designs which do and will exist in the hearts of conspiring men in the last days, I have warned you, and forewarn you, by giving unto you this word of wisdom by revelation--
Conspiring men in the last days just here apparently includes the clever marketers of tobacco, alcohol, and other harmful drugs. Liberation through a smoking addiction? But powerfully marketed, it has sold and continues to sell and destroy the lives of those who become "liberated." I'm especially sensitive to this issue in China, where 1 out of 3 of the world's cigarettes are smoked by Chinese men, with a little help from some excessively liberated Chinese women. The sound of hacking and snorting on the streets of China from smokers (mostly) is one of the few truly unpleasant things I have to deal with in this beautiful country. The fruits of smoking are ugly, stinky, debilitating and deadly, yet so much money continues to be spent to market this pestilence.

Here are a few excerpts from Kremer's outstanding article on James Buchanan Duke (often called Buck Duke), the master entrepreneur whose innovations have brought death across the globe (with the help of many other soiled hands):
Jordan Goodman, the author of Tobacco in History, says that as a historian he is careful about pointing the finger at individuals, "but in the history of tobacco I feel much more confident saying that James Buchanan Duke - otherwise known as Buck Duke - was responsible for the 20th Century phenomenon known as the cigarette."

Not only did Duke help create the modern cigarette, he also pioneered the marketing and distribution systems that have led to its success on every continent....

"The problem was he produced more cigarettes than he could sell," says Goodman. "He had to work out how to capture this market."

The answer was to be found in advertising and marketing. Duke sponsored races, gave his cigarettes out for free at beauty contests and placed ads in the new "glossies" - the first magazines. He also recognised that the inclusion of collectable cigarette cards was as important as getting the product right. In 1889 alone, he spent $800,000 on marketing (about $25m in today's money).

We now know that cigarettes are far more addictive than cigars. The fact that the smoke is inhaled - which it is not traditional for cigars - also makes them more dangerous. But a correlation with lung cancer was not made until the 1930s and the causal link was not established until 1957 in the UK and 1964 in the US.

Cigarettes were in fact promoted as beneficial for health. They were listed in pharmaceutical encyclopaedias until 1906 and prescribed by doctors for coughs, colds and tuberculosis (a disease which the World Health Organization now links with tobacco).

There was an anti-cigarette movement in the early 1900s, but it was more concerned with morality than health. A rise in smoking among women and children fed into a wider concern about the moral decline of society. Cigarettes were prohibited in 16 different US states between 1890 and 1927.

Duke's gaze shifted overseas. In 1902 he formed British American Tobacco with his transatlantic rival, Imperial Tobacco. The packaging and marketing would be tweaked for different consumers but the cigarettes would remain largely the same. More than a decade before the creation of the Model T Ford, Duke had a universal product.

"To him every cigarette was the same," says Goodman. "All of the globalisation that we are now familiar with through McDonald's and Starbucks - all of that was preceded by Duke and the cigarette."

The global reach of cigarettes is still extending today. Although smoking in wealthy parts of the world is in decline, cigarette demand in developing countries is increasing by 3.4% a year, leading to an overall growth in cigarette consumption.
Kremer also reports that "Buck Duke is said to have marched up to a map of the world and planted a finger on China, saying: 'This is where we're going to build our empire!'" And so Big Tobacco has indeed. Tragic.

Turning again to women, a sidebar on the BBC article has a version of the Lucky Strike ad with this information:
Dr Robert K Jackler of Stanford University Medical School explains how women were persuaded to smoke in the early 20th Century.

The industry had a problem. You can't advertise your way into convincing women to smoke - you have to change cultural expectations.

A woman smoking on a street corner was a signature of prostitution. A polite woman would never be caught smoking in public.

Edward Bernays - who was actually Sigmund Freud's family member - was engaged by the American Tobacco Company to work out a public relations strategy to enable women to smoke.

So in the late 1920s, for example, they hired a bunch of young women to march down Fifth Avenue in the Easter Parade, holding their "torches of freedom" - their cigarettes. And this then became a symbol of women's emancipation.
Great swelling words and symbols of vanity, promising liberty, but leading into captivity, addiction, and corrupted lungs.

How liberated are your lungs now? Or are they, perhaps, as the Lucky Strike ad says, toasted?

The bogus liberty promised to women and men by clever marketers and conspiring men is not limited to tobacco products. I will leave it as an exercise for the reader to find and share instructive parallels.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

The Pew Forum Study on Mormons: Understanding the Limitations

The infographic from the LDS Newsroom in my last post, "Mormonism 101 Inforgraphic," raised a few questions and concerns. First, it helps to recognize that infographics of this kind are condensed little factoids aimed at raising awareness and perhaps entertaining, but complex details aren't going to be conveyed well. It also helps to know that this particular batch of factoids is partly based on a recent outside study of Latter-day Saints which, like all studies, has inherent limitations that need to be understood. I discuss the study and the info graphic briefly on my Introduction to the Mormons (LDS Intro) page at JeffLindsay.com.

"Mormons in America: Certain in Their Beliefs, Uncertain of Their Place in Society" was published in January 2012 by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life. In the full report (a 2 MB PDF) we learn that the study was conducted via phone interviews in late 2011. I believe that means that participants naturally were those who were willing to identify themselves as Mormon to a stranger and who cared enough about religion (or about surveys) to endure the interview. This will skew the results toward active Mormons. The survey, for example, reports that 77% of Mormon say they attend church weekly. But most Mormons know that in their wards or branches, average weekly attendance is under 50% (say, 30-50%) of listed members. So take these factoids with a grain of salt! But the Pew study may be helpful in roughly comparing some traits across religions, if we understand the limitations of the study. For example, after carefully considering this study, you may conclude that active Mormons, unlike most other active Christians, stand out in being much more interested in talking about their religious activity in random surveys. Ah, the fruits of Mormon missionary zeal!

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Mormonism 101 Infographic

"Mormonism 101" at the Mormon Newsroom site offers an interesting infographic about the Church. If one more factoid were to be added, what would you recommend?

By the way, if you have contact with Church website folks, let them know that the embed feature for this graphic at Mormonism 101 doesn't work. I think the URL for the image they give is wrong. The Church is still true, even if their HTML sometimes isn't.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Intelligent, Fun, and Beautiful: An LDS Guide to the Yucatán by Daniel Johnson, Jared Cooper, and Derek Gasser

An LDS Guide to the Yucatán by Daniel Johnson, Jared Cooper, and Derek Gasser (Springville, Utah:  Cedar Fort, 2012) is probably my top recommendation for an intelligent, fun, and beautiful LDS book that you will want to own and give to others. It is available as a PDF directly from Cedar Fort (just $9.99), or for Kindle via Amazon. “Intelligent, fun, and beautiful” are compliments I don’t give easily and rarely give all at once, unless, of course, I am talking about my wife. Speaking of my wife, we read this book together during some of our recent travels in China, which have increased our interest in the ancient world and our respect for those who undertake adventure in foreign lands.

We both found An LDS Guide to the Yucatán to be enlightening, entertaining, and inspiring. We loved the many sidebars with tangential information on Book of Mormon topics and evidences and on practical travel tips and experiences. We also loved the photography that brings many beautiful Mayan sites to life. I especially appreciated the caution and restraint generally exercised by the authors as they refrained from leaping to extreme conclusions, recognized weaknesses and problems in some pro-Book of Mormon positions, acknowledges alternate explanations, and let the reader know when they were offering speculation or tentative suggestions in applying Mesoamerican finds and legends to Book of Mormon topics.  Finally, what I like about this book is the on-site, real-world experience the authors have with their subject matter. It is one thing to discuss what others have written about a site in Mesoamerica. It is another to have been there and examine the terrain and the ruins in detail, to have spoken with its curators and to have witnessed what the state of excavation actually is. There is both a great deal of homework coupled with hands-on investigation behind this book, yet it is presented in a highly readable form with great attention to layout and aesthetics. It’s truly a pleasure to read, to view, and to digest.

This book is a follow-up to an earlier book based on travels in Mesoamerica, An LDS Guide to Mesoamerica (Cedar Fort, 2008) which dealt with related Book of Mormon topics based on travels in the adjoining regions of Guatemala, Mexico, and Honduras. Some  material on the Yucatan was meant to be included in that volume, but could not be for space considerations. This new volume includes significant added information based on further travels and study. I’m glad they waited for this second book.

The authors caught my attention in the opening pages with his discussion of a prophecy from the Book of Chilam Balam, a book with origins in the Yucatan Peninsula . He presents the following tidbit in the context of answering the question, “Why Go to the Yucatan?”--or rather, why should fans of the Book of Mormon care about the Yucatan?
The Yucatán is also a great introduction to traveling in Mesoamerica because of the safety and ease of traveling around there. That is why it is such a popular tourist destination. There are also intriguing bits of history to consider. One that is of interest these days is the Book of Chilam Balam. Local variants of this collection of writings and prophecies by the ‘Jaguar Priest’ were kept in towns throughout the Yucatán Peninsula. Written early during the Spanish conquest, they draw upon older hieroglyphic texts which contain cyclical prophecies, each lasting a katun, a period of years in the Maya calendar lasting almost 20 years. In the early 1500s, the original prophet, or chilam, for whom the collection is named, lived in Maní and predicted the coming of bearded men from the east bringing a new religion. It is believed that he had in mind the return of Quetzalcoatl and his white-robed priests,3 but ironically, the Spanish arrived right on schedule, bringing Catholicism. His words seemed to foretell the event: “A new day shall dawn in the north, in the west ... . Our lord comes, Itzá. Our elder brother comes, ... . Receive your guests, the bearded men, the men of the east, the bearers of the sign of God, lord. Good indeed is the word of God that comes to us. The day of our regeneration comes ... . The First Tree of the World is restored; it is displayed to the world. This is the sign of Hunab-ku (the true and living God) on high. Worship it, Itzá ... . They will correct their ways who receive him in their hearts ... .”4 
But what is not often remembered is what the Chilam Balam said of these newcomers: “Behold, when they come, there is no truth in the words of the foreigners to the land.” He ends his prophecy by asking, “Who will be the prophet, who will be the priest who shall interpret truly the word of the book?”5 
Who, indeed?
My guard was up, though, since intriguing passages of this nature of are often misquoted, taken out of context, or sometimes completely mangled as internet rumors become promoted to faith-promoting stories. But as with so much in this book, the authors have done their homework and have shown care and caution in what they present. The citation has been accurately made from The Book of Chilam Balam of Chumayel. You can read about this Mayan book in the Wikipedia article at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chilam_Balam by Ralph L. Roys. You can download the book for free at ForgottenBooks.org and verify the citations from pages 116 and 117.

The book takes you step-by-step through a trip into the Yucatan. The sites covered are Ek Balam, Chichen Itza, Uxmal, Loltun Cave (an amazing site where pre-Columbian horse remains were found), Kabah, Xpujil, Calakmul, Becan, and Coba.  There is also an appendix that discusses the Mayan site of Cancuén (not to be confused with the resort of Cancún). For each site, the primary text discusses the history and significance of the site, accompanied with some great photography, while sidebars provide information on how they traveled there and on some specific Book of Mormon topics such as horses, metals, elephants, fortifications, warfare, the honeybee, Quetzlacoatl, and gold plates. Gold plates? Yes, the section on metals has some interesting material not widely known to Latter-day Saints. Here is an excerpt from page 49:
Notwithstanding the popular belief that the Maya did not have metal, most museums will have a small display of copper and bronze objects in their Mesoamerican section. We were fortunate enough to have been granted a research visit at the Peabody Museum at Harvard in April of 2007. During this visit, we saw and handled blades and knives of various sizes and configurations from their collections in storage. Some are rough and green with age, but some are still smooth and without copper’s green corrosion, indicative of an alloy like bronze. We also saw large copper spearheads, something we had not known of before and did not expect. Surprisingly, included in this collection are some iron blades and implements, which we saw as well. They are pre-Columbian and were found in mounds in Costa Rica. See the chapter on Kabah for more information. 
Those who still assert that the Maya had no metal implements must not have visited many museums or read Landa’s description of metal blades and tools. [Landa, Yucatan Before and After the Conquest, pp. 50, 90, 94.] While they did primarily use stone and obsidian as cutting blades, it is certain that they had weapons and tools of metal as well. Just how common these were will probably remain unanswered, as the damp climate of Mesoamerica is not conducive to the preservation of metals.

Later some highly interesting material is presented under the header, “Plates of Gold?” They discuss the dredging of an ancient Mayan cenote (water hole) by Edward Thompson, who roughly a century ago found numerous artifacts that he shipped to the Peabody Museum at Harvard, unbeknownst to Mexican authorities.
Because of Thompson’s work, the Peabody Museum has perhaps the best collection of Mesoamerican artifacts outside of the region. However, because of space and financial issues, most of these objects are not on display, but rather archived in the museum’s immense storage facilities. Thompson found carved jade, wooden objects, tools, gold ornaments, copper axes, other obscure metal items, and of course, human remains. Many people know about some of these artifacts, but very few know about the gold plates and sheets he found. Many of them are decorated with images of warfare and sacrifice, showing bearded Toltecs.71 Some have Mayan hieroglyphics carved around the edges. The gold came from as far away as Panama, and it is possible that it was brought to Chichén as blank plates to be engraved by the local Maya.72 They date to the ninth century AD.73 
These gold plates are quite remarkable. The detail is astounding, with precise and tiny designs. After inspecting them up close, it is our opinion that very precise and delicate metal tools would be necessary to do such work. The gold itself is very thin, but quite strong and stiff. Most had been crumpled up into balls, either on purpose or by the action of centuries of mud and water, so they have been carefully opened and flattened out as much as possible. Scholars refer to them as disks and believe they are pictured worn or carried by the Toltecs on the murals of the Temple of the Jaguar. For them, they were important symbols of authority and represented portals into the next world and a means of obtaining revelation and prophecy.74 Other gold objects we saw at the museum are small, rectangular sheets, some flat and some curved. Most of these are plain, but some have designs carved into them…. 
Are these plates directly linked to the Book of Mormon? Obviously not, but they do show that such technology and skills existed by around 400 years after the end of the record. Needless to say, the existence of such artifacts was not even imagined in Joseph Smith’s time. Now, as then, people scoff at the idea of writings on plates of gold in ancient America. However, we suspect that if more people knew of what has been kept in the Peabody for almost a century, the laughter would be less loud. 
Provocative as these aforementioned metal items are, it is obvious that they are not old enough to be directly related to Book of Mormon events. We must admit that metallurgy does not appear to have been an integral part of the Maya culture until late in their history, and then, perhaps only to a limited extent. The Yucatán Peninsula does not even have the necessary ores for metalworking, so these weapons, tools, and ceremonial items had to be brought in from other lands, probably through trade. (pages 51-53)

The authors not only provide photos of some of these finds, but identify the item numbers at the Peabody Museum and give a URL for the museum. The most interesting gold plate is item number 10-71-20/C10049. At the Peabody Museum Collections Online site at http://pmem.unix.fas.harvard.edu:8080/peabody/, simply enter the item number in the search box and you will be presented with the following photo of a pre-Columbian gold plate from Chichen Itza in the Yucatan Peninsula, with a small amount of additional information:

This delicate gold plate contains Mayan glyphs and, though dated too late to directly fit into Book of Mormon timelines, still should be of some interest to Book of Mormon enthusiasts, especially in light of increasingly antiquated objections made to the Book of Mormon based on questions involving metals and writing on gold plates. The authors recognize the limitations of these finds and may even error in understating the significance of the finds. But restraint and caution is a virtue in these matters.

That restraint weakens slightly in discussing the issue of horses in the Book of Mormon, where the authors feel that multiple finds of actual pre-Columbian horse remains in the Yucatan and elsewhere in the Americans clearly show that ancient horses in the Americas were not completely extinct in at least early Book of Mormon times, resulting in no need to consider the possibility of other species being meant by the term “horse”:
The hard evidence of pre-Columbian horses means that we should not be too apologetic about their appearance in the Book of Mormon, nor do we have to go to extraordinary lengths to explain them. There are still some controversial elements in the scriptural record that we may never be able to explain, but the existence of horses in Ancient America is not one of them. The case is closed on that subject. When Nephite record keepers wrote about horses, they apparently meant horses just as we would understand them. (p. 78)
That may be too strong a position, in my opinion, but the point is logical in light of what they present. However, their multiple finds recited can still be viewed as scant evidence that may leave room to wonder about human error or other anomalies, and further finds or analysis may be needed to before the case is really closed.

The “defense of the Book of Mormon” elements are only a portion of the book, and those not interested in those issues may still enjoy the bulk of the material just for better appreciating the ancient Mayan world and the fascinating experiences of exploring the Yucatan. For me, the mix of Book of Mormon insights, historical insights, photography, and travel experiences made it a constantly interesting and enjoyable book, and one that I intended to share with others as a gift.

The book leaves many questions unanswered, which I think is actually an important lesson from this work. Many times the authors indicate how little has actually been excavated at key sites, how little work is now being done, and how little has been preserved from ancient times, meaning that what we now know is rather incomplete and subject to change. They also bring out several examples of established wisdom from the past having been overthrown by new findings in recent years. For those whose testimonies were weakened by pronouncements about the ridiculousness of ancient writing on metal plates, the impossibility of ancient horses in the Americas, or many other critiques of the Book of Mormon based on the sorely limited knowledge of apparent experts, this volume might also be helpful in several ways, if only to open the door to further patience and more thorough study.

While the documentation is excellent and the authors have done a great deal of homework in addition physically inspecting the sites in this book, they are not professional archeologists, anthropologists, or linguists specializing in Mayan studies. There is some fascinating material discussing Mayan glyphs and their meaning, as well as their ability to express some Book of Mormon names, but one wonders what qualifies the authors to delve into speculative possibilities with the Mayan language. A discussion of Mayan glyphs and Book of Mormon names in an appendix left me wondering if that material should have been included and if it might be far too speculative or whether it has any merit, something I cannot say since I know nothing about Mayan or other Mesoamerican languages. The ability to express random names with the phonetic units of Mayan is not necessarily meaningful nor even a worthwhile exercise on its own.

One of my frustrations about the book is that the authors are not really introduced in the text and the reader is left wondering who these three people are and why they are collaborating for this book. From their blog (http://ldsguide.blogspot.com/), it is clear that the lead author, Daniel, has made multiple trips to Mesoamerica and has led many others to the region on tours. While it is that kind of experience among the authors that adds so much flavor and value to the book, it is not the same as the experience of someone who has been doing the excavating and has years of archaeological scholarship under their belt. That is not to take away from what has been achieved here in this work, but to remind the reader to approach it with reasonable expectations and the ability to exercise the same kind of caution that the authors generally exercise. If I were a Mesoamericanist scholar, I might have numerous issues to challenge and bones to pick (an easy assumption, since studies in Mesoamerica seem to be characterized by a great deal of controversy among the professionals), but given that I am not, it is harder for me to identify gaps in the analysis and discussion from the book. While there is further homework that I need to do, I can still say that I greatly appreciate what these Mesoamerican enthusiasts have provided for the rest of us. Indeed, both my wife and I are much more interested in actually visiting the region now and viewing some of the sites that the authors have brought to life.

I congratulate the authors, Daniel Johnson, Jared Cooper, and Derek Gasser, for an enjoyable and original contributions, including some gems from Mesoamerica that have been overlooked before. Kudos also to Cedar Fort for another outstanding volume that should appeal to many Latter-day Saints and those interested in better understanding LDS topics.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Mental Illness in the Church: Are We Ministering Effectively? Or Ministering At All?

Today I'll point you to an old post of mine at Times and Seasons on mental illness in the Church and ask for further input here. It's one of the most important issues I faced during my time as bishop of the Appleton Second Ward years ago. It was the area where I had the biggest surprises, and also the biggest miracles. Some of the most dramatic events of my life were in that area, dealing with the generally hidden and painful worlds of pain of those struggling with mental illness, including those who have endured the trauma of abuse.

Mental illness is as real as a broken leg or crushed spleen, but much harder to treat. The support and sympathy provided is typically far less than for someone hit by a car or even an out-of-control shopping cart, because the injury is not easy to see and many of us think it's "just in their head." Sort of like brain cancer is just in your head.

I hope we will be willing to learn more about this area that affects many, many people to varying degrees, and improve our ability to minister with love, the way Christ would if He were here.

If you are aware of good resources and websites that can be especially appropriate for LDS members and leaders to improve our ability to help, please let me know.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Nonbelievers Who Want Mormon Kids

An interesting phenomenon that I've encountered fairly often is the desire of many non-LDS parents to have their kids be Mormon. Sometimes these parents aren't even Christian. This week, for example, my wife and I were blessed to have two wonderful sisters from Thailand teach us how to cook a couple of delicious Thai dishes. In talking with them, we learned of their conversion stories. They are grateful for their non-believing parents who learned about the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and wanted Mormon ways for their children. They had missionaries over, sent them to church, and encouraged them to be baptized and be active in the church, though the parents kept their old ways and beliefs. So why would anyone wish that upon their children? From what I've seen, and in the case of my friends from Thailand, it's usually because the parents know some Mormons and see something tremendously positive that they want their children to have. They see high moral values, healthy living, happy and strong families, nice people, and want that for their kids. The church, of course, is more complicated than that and we have all the problems known to mankind within our ranks, but there's no doubt in my mind that the Gospel of Jesus Christ, as taught and practiced within the Church, in general helps people live better lives, have better families, and find greater happiness.

So if it's great for the kids, why not for the whole family? For every parent who wants their kids to be Mormon and ships them off to a local Mormon church or encourages them to listen to the missionaries and be baptized, there are dozens of children who wish their parents would listen and find the peace and happiness they have. Some of these parents who like Mormonism and even see it as something from God might say "It's too late for me," or "I can't change, but my kids can be shaped." Sigh. We can change, at any age, and live happier, healthier lives as we strive to follow Jesus Christ and learn from him. Come on, parents, lead your kids by example and find increased happiness together. It's not that hard. OK, it can be hard and painful, as many aspects of mortality can be, but even those more difficult parts of the religious journey are worth it.

Tangential note on the name "Utah"

Updated Nov. 19, 2012 with background information about Isaiah 2:

In Isaiah 2, there is a prophecy about the last days that speaks of a temple being built in a mountainous region:

2 And it shall come to pass in the last days, that the mountain of the Lord’s house shall be established in the top of the mountains, and shall be exalted above the hills; and all enations shall flow unto it.

3 And many people shall go and say, Come ye, and let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob; and he will teach us of his ways, and we will walk in his paths: for out of Zion shall go forth the flaw, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem.

4 And he shall judge among the nations, and shall rebuke many people: and they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruninghooks: nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.

The "mountain of the Lord's house" is generally understood to refer to the temple of the Lord, which symbolically is like a mountain. Some LDS people have interpreted this passage, esp. verses 2 and 3, as a prophecy of a future time when a temple will be built in a high, mountainous place that will serve as an international center for the work of gathering the House of Israel. Some have also interpreted verse 3 to mean that there will be two global centers, one in Jerusalem and one in Zion (i.e., the New World Zion), perhaps in the Millennium.

If you're looking for possible correlation of the prophecy in Isaiah in a modern setting, some of us Latter-day Saints have the audacity to point to the Salt Lake City Temple built in the mountain heights where we find the international center of the Latter-day Saints, reaching out to nearly all nations to gather scattered Israel and teach the world the restored Gospel.

Tangential Note:
I have heard many times that the name "Utah," given to the State by non-LDS politicians, means "top of the mountains" in the Ute or Paiute language. I've long assumed this was just a "faith-promoting rumor," but an acquaintance of mine several years ago contacted the Ute Indian Tribal council and was told that Ute means "high place/mountain tops," and was used to name themselves after the terrain in which they lived (Utah territory). However, this contradicts the current website of the Ute Indian Tribe, which has this FAQ information (accessed Nov. 16, 2012):

Is it true that Utah got its name from the Ute Indians?

Yes, However, it is unclear where the pronunciation came from, as the word Ute is sometimes pronounced "Oot", "Yoot" or "Yutah". Furthermore, the word Ute, means "Land of the Sun" in Ute, and they refer to themselves as who call themselves "Nuciu", or "Noochew", which means, "The People".

The Utes are called "the Mountain People," but called by whom? Jan Petit in Utes: The Mountain People (Boulder, CO: Johnson Printing Company, 1990) explains that while the Utes called themselves "Nuche" meaning "the people" or "we the people," the nearby Pueblo people called them "Mountain People" and the Spaniards called them "Yutas" (Petit, p. 1). According to Wikipedia's article on the Ute Indians (accessed Nov. 16, 2012),

The word Ute means "Land of the sun" in their language. "Ute" possibly derived from the Western Apache word "yudah", meaning "high up." This has led to the misconception that "Ute" means people high up or mountain people.

The mountain link for "Utah" may exist, though it may not be because of what the Utes called themselves but perhaps rather because of what the Pueblos, Apaches, and/or Spanish called them. So one can forgive those who have propagated the misconception mentioned at Wikipedia, including the Utah State Government official website (now archived) which used to contain this statement: "The name "Utah" comes from the Native American "Ute" tribe and means people of the mountains." See also the page at http://www.50states.com/utah.htm, which still (as of Nov. 2012) indicates that the name "Utah" comes from the Native American "Ute" tribe and means "people of the mountains." Well, they are the people of the mountains, as Jan Petit's highly acclaimed book title reminds us.

Now if the Utes were and are called the people of the mountains (though not necessarily by themselves), then maybe the name Utah, imposed on would-be Deseret-dwellers by non-Mormons, might fit Isaiah 2 at least well enough for the sake of pleasant irony. Not extremely cool, and maybe not quite as "faith promoting" as some have thought, but still a fun factoid, or semi-factoid in this case.

(This information was used to update my LDSFAQ page on prophecies of Joseph Smith.)

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Facing my Tripping Point—and Finding Selina

There was a crazy moment in Hong Kong where I tripped and nearly crashed forward, with my body plus camera hanging in the balance, at the precise cusp between disaster and recovery. It came toward the end of a nearly perfect day that began with an easy crossing of the border from China (Shenzhen) into Hong Kong, an uplifting visit to the beautiful Hong Kong Temple where we attended a session that by chance was in the Mongolian language for a group of about 20 hardy, stalwart Saints from Mongolia, followed by teaming up with one of our most inspiring Chinese friends, a young lady who is now a student in Hong Kong. We went together to Hong Kong’s Ngong Ping cable cars that took us up high over the rugged hills to an area with a giant Buddha (marketed as “Big Buddha”—where do they come up with these great names?) and then teamed up with another LDS family, new friends of ours living nearby in Hong Kong. and then took a bus down to Tai-O fishing village for other interesting sites and experiences. We went back up to the Big Buddha area, visited the Buddhist temple and monastery there and were on our way back to the cable cars when I stopped to take a few pictures and was then hurrying back to catch up to my wife and our friend.

The crazy moment, the close encounter with my tripping point, happened as I began running.  So much seemed to happen in a few seconds. Coming toward me but a little to the side was a possibly attractive female who may have been dressed inappropriately. Perhaps it will come as a surprise to you but even at my age (the age where age doesn’t matter much anymore, mostly because I can’t remember what my age is), ancient temptations do not necessarily fade away and self-control is needed daily. Even old supposedly trustworthy geezers can fall and hurt others. The natural, curious man in me wanted to understand just what temptation I was resisting, but there was at that moment a distinct instruction to myself like this: “Jeff, keep your eyes focused straight ahead. Don’t give her the satisfaction of drawing your attention. Don’t even turn your eyes for a second.” That's what I told myself, and I’m happy to report that I listened.

At that same instant, the instant I chose to not be distracted for even a second, my right shoe hit a dangerously raised brick in the walkway as I was jogging and I came as close to losing my balance completely as I think is possible without completely falling. With my expensive, semi-precious SLR camera hanging from my neck, I remember feeling chagrinned about the obliteration it was about to face crashing against the rock, and wondered if I could turn my body enough to shield it as I fell. I also remember feeling embarrassed and worrying about what people would say since I had only recently recovered from another bad fall while rushing down the hard, wet marble steps of our local subway. And then there was the thought, “But maybe I can make it!” as my legs began scrambling forward, first at roughly the same speed as my forward falling torso, and then a little faster, and then, recovery, standing stall again. From the tripping point to the recovery took about 20 meters, and must have been a comic sight, though no friends or family saw it. Had there been any kids or other people in my path across those 20 meters, I think I might have crashed or knocked someone down. And one important lesson for me was this: if my head or eyes had been turned a little to the side when the tripping point came, I suspect that the extra fraction of a second required to bring my focus back to the path in front of me would have made the difference between success and failure. I would have crashed.

By the way, I am not saying that it is a sin to even notice a female and that men must walk around with blinders. But for me, in that moment, the counsel to not notice at all, to not be distracted, and to keep my eyes squarely forward was what I needed. Had I ignored that, I am convinced that I would have suffered bodily harm, mental harm (severe embarrassment), and camera harm.

However, the most serious downside to the barely-averted disaster is one I would not have even known: had I fallen, we would not have met Selina. This LDS young single adult from Shanghai would have remained alone on the streets of Hong Kong without a place to sleep and without much money. Though she is resilient and resourceful, she probably would have slept in the wrong airport and missed her return flight to Shanghai the next day. And we would all have missed out on a tender mercy of the Lord and a small but genuine miracle.

Selina (not her real name) is one of many Young Single Adults in our District of the Church who have come to China, typically to teach English or to study. My wife and I have the greatest calling ever: co-chairs of the Single Adult Committee in the Shanghai International District, which involves traveling together to different branches in the District and working to strengthen the single adults. We are so impressed with these young people, but sometimes they face severe challenges in their journey. Selina was one that we were most concerned for given some of the setbacks she had faced in a bad school situation, etc. She had been in our prayers regularly, and while in Hong Kong, my wife privately wrote her name down on a “prayer role” to express her desire for her welfare. She had Selina on her mind in the house of prayer, but neither of us had any idea that Selina was coming to Hong Kong that day.

Selina had come the night before to Shenzhen, China (next to Hong Kong), as had we. She came with another LDS friend who wanted to go to the Temple for our branch temple trip. That friend would go early, and then Selina would cross the border later and the two would meet at the temple later that day. If something went wrong, they would just use their cell phones to reach each other. And finally, they could just meet at Big Buddha, an interesting tourist spot they wanted to see (one of many choices in Hong Kong, and one that I hadn’t even heard of until my Mormanity blog brought me into contact with the new LDS family I mentioned who suggested Big Buddha and the cable cars as a recommended attraction for our visit). Selina’s friend had made the arrangements and had all the details regarding flights and a possible place to stay for their second night. But when Selina crossed the border, the lines were huge and the process confounding. (Hint: use the Luowu crossing and go before 7 am. We had no lines at 6:30 am.) She got to the Temple two hours late, after her friend had given up and gone. What neither of them knew yet was that their phones wouldn’t work at all in Hong Kong. They also didn’t know that it’s not easy to get to Big Buddha, and the normal way involves expensive cable cars that you can’t even get to without waiting in a gargantuan line when they are open (unless you buy tickets ahead of time online, as I did, fortunately)—but I think they were closed or closing by the time Selina managed to get down to that distant corner of Hong Kong. Selina had given up on the cable cars, given up on Big Buddha, and was wondering how she would meet her friend. Not to worry, she thought, as a last resort she could just sleep in the Hong Kong airport that night and hopefully run into her friend there the next day—but that would have been the wrong airport altogether.

Selina had wandered over to a plaza not exactly close to the cable car area, not an obvious destination as far as I can tell for groups going to or from the cable cars. She had bought tickets to see a movie and gone into a Subway sandwich shop to grab a sandwich. As we came down from the cable cars, our LDS friends were taking us to visit their apartments in a nearby complex and led us through a shopping plaza on the way . My wife suddenly said, “Selina!” What? Why yes, it was somebody we knew, one of our single adults. She was just crossing the plaza to go to the theatre. A few seconds earlier or later and we would have missed her, In this city of 7 million people, she was an improbably needle in a vast haystack of people. We soon learned her story and realized that she needed help, though this independent and brave young lady might not have realized it then.

We took her under our wings and brought her with us (reimbursing her for the movie ticket which we encouraged her to forego). In the apartment of our Hong Kong friends, she was able to use the Internet to send a message to her missing friend with instructions on how to reach us (we would get a call around 11 pm that night and all would turn out well). We fed her and then, after parting with our cool Chinese student friend, took Selina back to Shenzhen (crossing the border into China can also be difficult and confusing without experienced help and we were glad to make it easy for her). We put her up in our hotel and then took her with us to the right airport the next morning, and everything worked out.

You can call it a chance coincidence, but we are so grateful to the Lord that he would help her and remind her of His love for her through this little miracle.  We hope Selina remember how much she matters to Him and how much He loves her. For us, it was so rewarding to be able to be there at the right time to be a tool to help someone in need. It’s something I would much rather do than picking up pieces of a shattered lens or nursing new cuts and bruises.

How many Selina moments have I missed, though, through my selfishness, through my other stumblings and errors in life? The experience motivates me to want to be more careful, to keep my focus more firmly forward in life and to more stoutly resist distractions that might keep me from being useful when there’s a miracle that somebody needs. Maybe I’m the one that needed this little miracle the most.

P.S. Practical travel tip when sharing your hotel room: I arose early in the morning and realized that there was a risk of an awkward situation when my wife would later use the shower. To avoid unnecessary awkwardness and risk, I showered first, then quickly dressed and left the hotel room to go work on my computer in the lobby until the girls were all ready to leave. This prevented me from being alone with another female in a hotel room. Sure, I consider myself totally trustworthy and all that. but a key to avoiding trouble, misunderstanding, and even lawsuits years later is staying out of questionable or risky situations as much as possible, even when or especially when trying to do good.

Update for gentle readers: In defense of the natural man mentioned above, the natural process of "noticing" people walking toward you is not something to necessarily be shunned. My eyes-to-the-ground approach at that moment could even count as "rude" in some situations. To notice who others are and what they look like is normal--it's lust and inappropriate responses that must be avoided. However, sometimes special eyes-to-the-ground measures are needed in the first place when there might be excessive temptation, or when a klutz is about to plant his face in the concrete.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Chrism, Temples, and Interesting Books and Texts

There are a few books I'd like recommend to serious LDS students of the Temple. Several time previously I've mentioned Sinai and Zion: An Entry into the Jewish Bible by Jewish scholar Jon Levenson. Today I'll mention some LDS books you can read online for free, plus some early Christian writings. Mormonism and Early Christianity, Vol. 4 of The Collected Works of Hugh Nibley (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1987) and Temple and Cosmos, Vol. 12 of The Collected Works of Hugh Nibley (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1992) are well worth your time. Just reading the direct quotes from ancient Christian documents - many of which were not even discovered in Joseph Smith's day - will truly surprise you. I can't help but see the LDS Temple as at a restoration of ancient revealed concepts. The "40-day literature," documents discussing the sacred things that Christ taught his disciples during his 40-day ministry after His Resurrection, are especially interesting. These things were sacred and were not intended to be passed on to the world or put into public texts. Also of great value are Nibley's discussion of ancient writings about baptism for the dead, the early Christian prayer circle, sacred vestments, apocryphal writings, geometrical symbols, and more.

LDS people familiar with the Temple may be interested in reading the works of St. Cyril of Jerusalem from the Early Church Fathers Site at Wheaton College. I particularly recommend Cyril's discourses on the mysteries found in lectures 19, 20, 21, 22, and 23 at the end of Book 1, especially #21, the lecture on "chrism."

For a little more fun than I normally dare to have in public, here's an excerpt from St. Cyril's "On Chrism" (minus the footnotes). Why this passage? Oh, no reason in particular, I suppose, just a random chunk of early Christian text, but maybe some of you will enjoy it. :)
Lecture XXI.

(On the Mysteries. III.)

On Chrism.

1 John ii. 20–28
But ye have an unction from the Holy One, &c..…that, when He shall appear, we may have confidence, and not be ashamed before Him at His coming.

1. Having been baptized into Christ, and put on Christ, ye have been made conformable to the Son of God; for God having foreordained us unto adoption as sons, made us to be conformed to the body of Christ’s glory. Having therefore become partakers of Christ, ye are properly called Christs, and of you God said, Touch not My Christs, or anointed. Now ye have been made Christs, by receiving the antitype of the Holy Ghost; and all things have been wrought in you by imitation, because ye are images of Christ. He washed in the river Jordan, and having imparted of the fragrance of His Godhead to the waters, He came up from them; and the Holy Ghost in the fulness of His being lighted on Him, like resting upon like. And to you in like manner, after you had come up from the pool of the sacred streams, there was given an Unction, the anti-type of that wherewith Christ was anointed; and this is the Holy Ghost; of whom also the blessed Esaias, in his prophecy respecting Him, said in the person of the Lord, The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me, because He hath anointed Me: He hath sent Me to preach glad tidings to the poor.

2. For Christ was not anointed by men with oil or material ointment, but the Father having before appointed Him to be the Saviour of the whole world, anointed Him with the Holy Ghost, as Peter says, Jesus of Nazareth, whom God anointed with the Holy Ghost. David also the Prophet cried, saying, Thy throne, O God, is for ever and ever; a sceptre of righteousness is the sceptre of Thy kingdom; Thou hast loved righteousness and hated iniquity; therefore God even Thy God hath anointed Thee with the oil of gladness above Thy fellows. And as Christ was in reality crucified, and buried, and raised, and you are in Baptism accounted worthy of being crucified, buried, and raised together with Him in a likeness, so is it with the unction also. As He was anointed with an ideal oil of gladness, that is, with the Holy Ghost, called oil of gladness, because He is the author of spiritual gladness, so ye were anointed with ointment, having been made partakers and fellows of Christ.

3. But beware of supposing this to be plain ointment. For as the Bread of the Eucharist, after the invocation of the Holy Ghost, is mere bread no longer, but the Body of Christ, so also this holy ointment is no more simple ointment, nor (so to say) common, after invocation, but it is Christ’s gift of grace, and, by the advent of the Holy Ghost, is made fit to impart His Divine Nature. Which ointment is symbolically applied to thy forehead and thy other senses; and while thy body is anointed with the visible ointment, thy soul is sanctified by the Holy and life-giving Spirit.

4. And ye were first anointed on the forehead, that ye might be delivered from the shame, which the first man who transgressed bore about with him everywhere; and that with unveiled face ye might reflect as a mirror the glory of the Lord. Then on your ears; that ye might receive the ears which are quick to hear the Divine Mysteries, of which Esaias said, The Lord gave me also an ear to hear; and the Lord Jesus in the Gospel, He that hath ears to hear let him hear. Then on the nostrils; that receiving the sacred ointment ye may say, We are to God a sweet savour of Christ, in them that are saved. Afterwards on your breast; that having put on the breast-plate of righteousness, ye may stand against the wiles of the devil. For as Christ after His Baptism, and the visitation of the Holy Ghost, went forth and vanquished the adversary, so likewise ye, after Holy Baptism and the Mystical Chrism, having put on the whole armour of the Holy Ghost, are to stand against the power of the adversary, and vanquish it, saying, I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me.

5. Having been counted worthy of this Holy Chrism, ye are called Christians, verifying the name also by your new birth. For before you were deemed worthy of this grace, ye had properly no right to this title, but were advancing on your way towards being Christians.

6. Moreover, you should know that in the old Scripture there lies the symbol of this Chrism. For what time Moses imparted to his brother the command of God, and made him High-priest, after bathing in water, he anointed him; and Aaron was called Christ or Anointed, evidently from the typical Chrism. So also the High-priest, in advancing Solomon to the kingdom, anointed him after he had bathed in Gihon. To them however these things happened in a figure, but to you not in a figure, but in truth; because ye were truly anointed by the Holy Ghost. Christ is the beginning of your salvation; for He is truly the First-fruit, and ye the mass; but if the First-fruit be holy, it is manifest that Its holiness will pass to the mass also.

7. Keep This unspotted: for it shall teach you all things, if it abide in you, as you have just heard declared by the blessed John, discoursing much concerning this Unction. For this holy thing is a spiritual safeguard of the body, and salvation of the soul. Of this the blessed Esaias prophesying of old time said, And on this mountain,—(now he calls the Church a mountain elsewhere also, as when he says, In the last days the mountain of the Lord’s house shall be manifest;)—on this mountain shall the Lord make unto all nations a feast; they shall drink wine, they shall drink gladness, they shall anoint themselves with ointment. And that he may make thee sure, hear what he says of this ointment as being mystical; Deliver all these things to the nations, for the counsel of the Lord is unto all nations. Having been anointed, therefore, with this holy ointment, keep it unspotted and unblemished in you, pressing forward by good works, and being made well-pleasing to the Captain of your salvation, Christ Jesus, to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen.
Whether this has any bearing on the LDS Temple concept, I leave it to you to decide. But it's certainly interesting. Maybe even fun. OK, not as fun as watching presidential debates or election coverage, perhaps, but there is a fun factor or two buried in there, if you're a Mormon geek like I am.