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

Monday, July 30, 2012

Beware a Hacked Site Related to John Sorenson's Open Letter to Michael Coe

"An Open Letter to Michael Coe" by John L. Sorenson is an outstanding reminder of the dangers of taking a casual approach in confronting the Book of Mormon. Yes, it's easy to regurgitate old objections and feel like the case against the Book of Mormon is overwhelming. It's another matter to consider what the text really says and determine how it relates to scholarship in the relevant fields. Sorenson's response to Michael Coe merits careful consideration, though it's just a prelude to much more significant information and analysis that he is publishing shortly.

Unfortunately, there's one serious problem in his letter. He refers to an article of his that can be found on a website that, sadly, has now been hacked. The website is Sino-platonic.org. Don't go there. If you do, you'll see a page proclaimed that it has been hacked. There's a risk that you'll be infected by malware if you go there, though I think I escaped unscathed. In this case, however, you can turn to the Way Back Machine at http://archive.org to view the site before it was hacked. The site in 2011 can be observed at http://web.archive.org/web/20110719183522/http://www.sino-platonic.org/. The paper John Sorenson refers to, "A Complex of Ritual and Ideology Shared by Mesoamerica and the Ancient Near East" can be found at http://liveweb.archive.org/http://sino-platonic.org/complete/spp195_mesoamerica.pdf.

If someone could let John or the site's owner know of the hacking, it would be appreciated. I only have a couple of minutes tonight and have to run.


Allen Wyatt said...


The link in the footnotes (#41) is to a PDF paper on the website. That link has not been hacked and the paper can be downloaded without problem. If the link is modified (perhaps someone wants to see the main page of the website), then it has been hacked, as you say.

So, if you want to see the source document, go to the link for the PDF. Don't modify the link and go elsewhere on the website.


Martin said...

"Yes, it's easy to regurgitate old objections and feel like the case against the Book of Mormon is overwhelming."

It's also easy to regurgitate old apologetics as if they've never been refuted.

Sorenson makes a few good points in this letter. Michael Coe made some factual errors in the interview with John Dehlin. However, Sorenson falls back to his old apologetic tricks of saying that words don't mean what they would normally mean. A sword is a macuahuitl? Yes, someone could be decapitated with a macuahuitl, but could you use one to strike off somebody's scalp without crushing his skull? (Alma 44:12-13) No. And does a macuahuitl have a point? It has many points, so to refer to its "point" in the singular doesn't make sense. He refers to the mention of steel swords made by the Jaredites as an anomaly. How is it an anomaly? It doesn't contradict any internal evidence. What about it is anomalous? Its conflict with external evidence? That's Coe's point. Deal with it honestly. Don't dismiss it as an "anomaly." Sorenson makes his own factual error here. It isn't biblical "steel" that's translated by experts as "bronze." It's "brass."

The animals in 1 Nephi 18:25 weren't initially domesticated? Then what's the difference between a "goat" and a "wild goat?" A cow and an ox?

Sorenson's methodology includes two types of reinterpretation of words in the Book of Mormon. 1. Hebrew words denoting old world objects were applied to different but similar new world objects. 2. Nephite objects with which Joseph Smith was unfamiliar were translated as similar but different objects with which Joseph Smith was familiar. The problem with #1 is that Joseph Smith was translating a Nephite record, and as apologists are fond of pointing out, he didn't know Hebrew. So, for example, when Joseph Smith encounters the Nephite word for "deer," (or tapirs or whatever Sorenson counts as donkeys), which is rendered as "asses" in Ether 9:19, is it reasonable to say that even though these animals were not asses, the word encountered by Joseph Smith in the text was actually the Hebrew word for "asses," so JS translated it that way? How would Joseph Smith know that? He wouldn't. The claim here is that the Hebrew word for "asses" equals the Nephite word for "deer." However, JS was ostensibly translating Nephite, not Hebrew ("none other people knoweth our language," Mormon 9:34. That would include the Hebrews.). So the translation would give the object denoted by the Nephite word, not a sound-alike Hebrew word.

The problem with #2 is that there are several examples of Nephite objects with which JS was ostensibly unfamiliar which he left untranslated (cureloms, cumoms, ziff, neas). This isn't consistent with the idea that he would simply substitute a different but similar object with which he was familiar.

Larrin said...

What will Sorenson be publishing shortly?

Anonymous said...

Good points Martin, however, when the Spaniards first showed up, the locals used wooden sticks with very large obsidian blades on either side of them as weapons. Theses could easily cut off someones scalp. I used an obsidian rock to cut a soda can with, it sliced through very easily.

Are there any steel blades from Europe that were burried around 400 AD that have been dug up? I haven't been able to find pictures of any on the net. Would there be anything left?

Martin said...

I disagree, Weston. The obsidian is certainly sharp enough to cut a scalp, but it's embedded in a wooden club that would come into contact with the victim's skull before the scalp is completely removed.

Martin said...

As for sword artifacts, there are plenty of iron swords from the Roman period before 400AD that have been recovered. Steel swords from this period are harder to find because they were rare. See http://romanofficer.com/PermcolA.html

Anonymous said...

Thanks, I'll check it out.

hilda dada said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Papa D said...

A spam comment in a thread about a hacking.

Jeff, I love the irony.

Jeff Lindsay said...

Martin, the Spaniards had no trouble describing the weapons of Native Americans as various kinds of "swords," You're making the mistake of insisting that the image of a sword you conjure up from your cultural perspective is the only possible meaning for the word in a translated text. Understanding the flexibility and range of translation that can occur--from Native American terms to Hebrew to English--is essential for a meaningful discussion of these items.

When the Bible says "corn", it doesn't mean the maize we think of today. When it says "steel", sometimes copper-based alloys are meant. When it says dragon, leviathan, whale, and other terms, there may be different species actually referred to. Ditto for the translations in the Book of Mormon.

The steel anomaly in Ether is readily accounted for as meteoric steel that in fact was known and used by the Olmecs. We have artifacts that survived as precious polished mirrors made from such iron/steel (the alloys with nickel and other metals can qualify it as steel). But again, since a Jaredite term was translated into a Hebrew word and then into English, it could very well have the same issues as "steel" in the Bible.

It is quite right to recognize the one-time mention of steel in the Jaredite text as a puzzle where much can affect the interpretation of the word, whatever it was. "Anomaly" is a good way of dealing with this. It is an anomaly and foolish to make it a decisive factor in the case for or against plausibility.

Martin said...

Hi Jeff,

I explained above why the native weapons apparently referred to as "swords" by the Spanish cannot do what a Nephite sword is said to do.

The use of the word "steel" in the OT of the KJV is a plain mistranslation. It does not imply that "bronze" can be correctly translated as "steel." Unless you're arguing that "steel" in the Book of Mormon is also a mistranslation, this is a false analogy.

Other analogies you referred to are false as well. The word "corn" in the Bible did not mean "maize" to the audience for which the KJV was translated. It was understood by contemporary English speakers to mean a kind of grain. "Dragon" and "leviathan" actually do mean dragon and leviathan, creatures from Canaanite and other near eastern mythology. Regardless, I explained above why word substitution theories are problematic when applied specifically to Joseph Smith.

If we allow your flexible definition of steel, then steel is a naturally occurring substance that predates the advent of humans on Earth because all naturally occurring iron, meteoric or otherwise, is alloyed with nickel in varying degrees. Clearly this is not what “steel” means. We don’t mine steel.

Let’s also consider the possibility that Jaredite swords were made of meteoric iron. Since antiquity, one-handed swords have weighed about 2 to 5 pounds. To arm 1000 men would require at least one ton of meteoric iron. I doubt if there’s enough meteoric iron in the proposed limited geographic region of the Book of Mormon to mass-produce swords. And speaking of mass production, you wouldn’t want to use meteoric iron to equip an army anyway because the nickel content would be variable and the behavior of the soldiers’ weapons unpredictable. Furthermore, the finding of Olmec artifacts made of meteoric iron further weakens the case: if we can find polished mirrors, why can’t we find swords?

Anonymous said...

Steel doesn't necessarily mean an iron-based alloyed metal.

To "steel" means to strengthen. So "steel" as a metal can mean any metal substance which has been "steeled" or "strengthened" by the addition of alloys.

Therefore, in the generic, "steel" means a metal which has been alloyed to make it stronger.

Anonymous said...

The macuahuitls, wooden swords with obsidian cutting surfaces, were not round clubs like a baseball bat.

They were flat paddles, with the obsidian inserted and tied down to the edges.

There was not one long smooth obsidian cutting surface. Each piece of obsidian was fashioned in a way so that the ends were not sharp and could be held down against the wooden edge (actually a trough cut in the edge) with string or leather.

The macauhuitls were therefore rather jagged.

But yes indeed, they could scalp someone, or cut clean through bones.

Martin said...


According to your definition, bronze and brass are steel. The rest of the world doesn't define them that way.

If a macuahuitl can cut clean through bone, how do you use it to scalp someone without penetrating their skull? You could do it by holding the victim by the hair of the head and carefully sawing through the scalp, but this requires subduing the victim first, and it would be awkward to use a long cutting weapon rather than a knife. There's no way to do it with a single stroke.

cursor said...

Please note that http://sino-platonic.org/ is currently operating without any digital infection. Whatever problem there might have once been has now been healed.

My name is Curtis Sorenson (John Sorenson's son). I am currently in the process of creating ebook or other digital versions of all of my father's writings. I've set the launch date of 10.11.12 for the official launch of JohnLSorenson.com | .org | .net.

Anonymous said...

The real question you should be asking is when was the macuahuitl invented?