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

Monday, June 24, 2013

From a Tiny Village in China: A Thank You to Foreign Friends

I'd like to introduce you to the most self-reliant people I have ever met. Noble people who have a message to some of my readers and friends: "Thank you for helping our son!" This is the family we met in Shanghai, where destiny and, in my opinion, the hand of the Lord brought us together. It is the family I previously discussed whose son has long been in need of surgery to correct a serious deformation of his leg (see the story on my personal blog at JeffLindsay.com/blog). We came to visit and see how their son is recuperating from a first flawed surgery. He is recovering well and is now able to stand, with the help of his friends. With a future surgery, we hope he will be able to walk more normally.

We left our comfortable, convenient city of Shanghai Friday night and flew out to Nanchang in Jiangxi Province, a smaller city with just 5 million people. From there we took a train to a much smaller town that many people here have never heard of, though it is about the same size as my hometown of Salt Lake City.  From there we took a car into farm territory and arrived at a tiny little farming village of just 180 people, with a handful of cement and brick buildings clustered together.

After living two years in one of the world's largest cities, spending some time in a tiny farming village was a completely different experience, and probably our most magical time in China so far. Along with some gifts, we brought them some cash that some of you donated to help them pay the debt they have for the surgery their teenage son had in Shanghai. And now we are preparing for the next surgery that he going to need, this time the most important surgery, the operation to rebuild his knee that has been grossly deformed ever since a severe infection when he was a toddler. 

This family may be poor in monetary wealth but they are rich in the the things that matter most like love, integrity, and, as we also discovered, good food. Lots of good food that they planted and prepared themselves. The rice, the peanuts, the bitter melon, the various greens, the two kinds of herbal tea we tried, the beans, the chicken, the eggs, etc. I didn't ask where they got the water snakes that turned out to be one of the especially delicious parts of our second meal in their home (I'm serious--I was really surprised), but I suppose they captured them out in their rice paddy. A small fraction of our feast had been purchased or traded with neighbors, but the vast majority was the work of their toil.

This rugged, self-sufficient family was impressed us with their love, goodness, and their competence in what they do. When we spent time with them in Shanghai, they seemed lost and confused, truly in need of someone to help look out for them, but on the farm, in their environment, they stood as masters, savvy, wise, competent, and fascinating. They were not the ones helping and lifting us.

They took us around to the various parts of their territory to show us the many crops they raised. We met relatives and friends with whom they share and cooperate, a wonderful example of what a community based on solid family values and love for one another can be. This was a happy place with the elderly and children spending time together, passing on values and principles. I saw no televisions. Water came from a well requiring a rope and a bucket. Luxuries were scarce. Chickens were abundant and roamed freely in some of the homes.

They were poor by our standards and by Shanghai standards, but they had everything they needed, with the obvious exception of competent health care for serious issues. Another child there was in need of surgery for a foot problem (I think it is clubfoot). With some additional help (use the PayPal button at the right if you wish), we can assist our family in getting the surgery they need for their son. If by chance we get more than is needed, I think this village will be a worthy target for ongoing external support. And perhaps some of you can join me one day in a future visit to this little piece of heaven on earth, hidden in the middle of China. They seem closer to having a Zion society than almost anyplace I've seen, and I pray that the few things they are missing might be made available soon, when the time is right.

The foreign friends they wish to thank include some of you from the States and also some friends from Taiwan living here in China who have been wonderfully generous. Thank you!

A few photos follow.

Utah's Obesity Problem: Not Quite What You've Heard

Turns out that some questions are quite stupid after all, or at least highly uninformed. "Why are Mormons so exceptionally fat?" is the common and uninformed question that Daniel Peterson takes on in his highly informed blog at Patheos. It's a question worth attention because it is raised fairly often by those who look down on Utah and Mormonism.

Yes, obesity is a problem in Utah and a genuine health problem for many Mormons, but not quite as big of a problem as it elsewhere. In the 2011 State-by-State Obesity Rankings, Utah is #47. To me, it looks like the top 20 most obese states are dominated by the Bible belt, where some feel that anti-Mormon influence is the weightiest. I suppose there's another impolite and still rather silly question there that could be asked in return, but I won't ask it here.

This would be a good time, though, to remind people to be less judgmental about obesity. Some people use great restraint in eating and still struggle to take off weight while others pig out on unhealthy food and manage to stay relatively slim for a long time. For many people, their genes plus their environment and diet in early life can greatly influence obesity later. But even if all obesity were directly a result of an adult's poor choices, being judgmental and unkind is inappropriate. It's such a superficial thing, but sometimes it's hard for people to look past the dimensions of the body to appreciate the deeper dimensions of the soul.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

America's Privacy Problem (That Other Problem)

America has shifted its attitudes on privacy. While some Americans remain uncomfortable with a government that can step into their private lives at any moment to listen to their conversations, read their email, or inspect their online actions and purchase history, many Americans are accepting the call by their leaders to surrender a little privacy in the name of being protected against miscellaneous enemies. The message is that privacy in America is no longer a supreme right, and many, perhaps most, citizens and politicians are comfortable with that stance, though they may agree that there have been some extreme invasions of privacy that need to be corrected in the future. 
So if attitudes and, for the matter, law is shifting regarding personal privacy in America, may I suggest that it's time to address America's most serious privacy problem? You know, that other privacy problem? The one where the government has told us that the right to personal privacy allegedly trumps all rights of others, including the right to life, when that other is an unborn child? If our politicians are now telling us that privacy is not such a big deal anymore and that privacy is something we must be willing to part with for our own good and especially for the good of others, perhaps this would be a good time to revisit Row vs. Wade and ponder whether this right to privacy actually exists in the 14th Amendment, where no hint of privacy as a fundamental right appears to be present to most readers. Perhaps this would be a good time to recognize what science is telling us about the life of that unborn child in the womb, correcting the very bad and primitive science used to justify the unnecessary extinction of that life.

Frankly, if we're willing to give up enough privacy to let officials view our bodies in nude scanners and listen in on our conversations without a warrant, maybe we should be willing to drop the myth that our right to privacy trumps the right to life. Let's start the conversation about that other, bigger privacy problem. 

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Useful New Resource to Explore Meanings of Book of Mormon Names

The plausibility of Book of Mormon names has been an interesting and fruitful area for students of that ancient volume of scripture. There are many stories to be shared such as the 20th century discovery of archaeological evidence showing that the name Alma in the Book of Mormon was not necessarily a silly blunder ("everyone knows it's a modern female name as in alma mater") since it actually was an ancient Jewish male name. For those interested in the possible ancient roots of Book of Mormon names, now there is a large online resource compiling extensive research. The Book of Mormon Onomasticon project at BYU is worth exploring, a point that is made over on the FAIR Blog in the article "Names and Meaning: Zoram as a Case Study" by Neal Rappleye.

Based on the proposed Hebraic meanings related to the concept of "rock," Neal finds it significant that name of Laban's servant or slave is not revealed as Zoram until he takes an oath to be a free man and leave Jerusalem with Nephi. This has parallels to being given a new name. He finds his identify or obtains a new one as he is made free and enters a covenant, and then he becomes a rock, solid and faithful. It's an interesting thought, and Neal feels that Nephi is being deliberately symbolic in withholding the name of Zoram until he makes the covenant. An interesting hypothesis. One of many areas to explore and ponder as we learn more about the Book of Mormon and its ancient touches.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

A Father on Loan

In the early 1950s, my father, a young man on a small farm who loved sports and fishing, was drafted out of his familiar mountain village and sent into the hellish ferocity of war. In this case, it was an undeclared no-win war, or technically a "police action" as it was called then. But the Korean War was war enough for anyone. He wasn't sure about God and religion when he left for this war. But he came back convinced that there must be some purpose to his life, and that Someone had helped him survive when he had no right to be alive. 

Seven times he had close calls where his survival seemed like extreme luck or something beyond luck alone. Responding to various promptings, for example, he would get up and leave an area, only to have it be blown up moments later with an incoming shell. Once a mortar shell landed in his foxhole, just inches from his back. He braced for death, but the shell proved to be a rare dud. A trickle of smoke rose from the hole in the soil it had made, but the blast never came. Through multiple experiences like these, he came to realize that somehow his life had been protected. He returned from the war beginning to believe in God, and deeply puzzled about why he had been spared so many times, when other good men would die. 

When he came home, he would learn that his mother had been pleading with the Lord to preserve his life, and had received what she felt was an inspired promise from a church leader she respected that his life would be spared. Of course, all mothers make these pleadings. Why he would be so fortunate, I do not know, but his fortune was my fortune, too, and I am so grateful. 

After he returned with his embryonic faith, the significance of his experiences made him conclude that God must have something for him to do, so he resolved to go on a mission, but it was very difficult. You cannot put a man or woman on the front lines of an artillery-based war or any other setting where one is constantly exposed to explosion, where one must constantly dive for cover with no notice, reacting to every sound as a matter of life and death—you cannot put a human through this for months on end without severely affecting the nervous system and the mind itself. For many, the damage is severe and often permanent. In his day, this was not understood and people just used terms like "shell shock" to describe the many problems that can be found under the modern term, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). 

I hate war. I hate what it does to people, both civilians and soldiers. I hate what it does to economies and cultures, landscapes and lives. I am pained that my good father and good men I know today in China were on opposite sides, trying to kill each other. My father tells me that one of the most troubling parts of his war experience was not just seeing many Americans and many Koreans die, but also seeing many Chinese people sacrifice their lives as they fought, often without adequate weapons and clothing, bravely throwing their bodies onto barbed wire or doing whatever they were ordered to do. He felt so sorry for them. That’s one thing that I respect about my father. While he was a fierce soldier, he hated bloodshed and felt sorry to see enemy lives lost.

As he began his mission, he was still a mess, often feeling panicked in small rooms or hitting the ground when he heard an unexpected sound. He received a priesthood blessing that he believed would help him, but the deliverance did not come right away. It came one month later, on the day he completed reading the Book of Mormon. As he finished the book, he was deeply touched by its power and message. He jumped up, holding the book in his hand, and said to his startled younger companion, “This thing is true!” It's a vivid memory for him and he still testifies, as I do, that that thing is true.

With that change in his spiritual life came an even more dramatic change in his temporal life: all symptoms of PTSD left him, as far as he can remember, on that day. It was a genuine miracle, in my opinion. He would lead a successful mission, applying the leadership skills he had developed in the battlefield as a leader of 50 men, and help bring many souls to Christ.

This miraculous deliverance from PTSD would last for over 50 years, finally returning recently after a recent heart attack caused permanent damage to his heart. Now he’s struggling again. But for over 50 years, he was whole,  on loan from God as my father. Thanks to this gift of deliverance, he would become a young father with the energy to run and play with me, his first child. He would take me fishing and camping, play Stratego and other games with me, sometimes trying hard to lose so I wouldn’t cry in my early days of game playing, and give me the love, time, and guidance I needed. I never realized until now what a miraculous blessing it was to have him. I never understood that he had cheated death and the ravages of war and had been loaned to me, a tender mercy that cannot be taken for granted in this complex world. 

I am so grateful for this gift that I had in my life. I pray that more young men, young women, children, elderly, everyone, might be delivered from war and senseless slaughter, and, when possible, experience the joys, the growth, and even the pains that come from serving others in the sacred roles of fathers and mothers. 

(Slightly updated and corrected on July 3, 2012. A related post with a little more detail and a different angle will be published soon at The Nauvoo Times.)

Saturday, June 15, 2013

How's Your Family Tree?

Just checking. Here's one model family tree from the Shanghai Wildlife Park. 

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Chewed Out Some People Today--And Stirred Up a Bitter Memory of Failure on Mission Street

A Time to Speak Out

As a stranger and guest in China, I've tried very hard to not make a fuss and generally just quietly accept the way (or rather, the many ways) people do things here. I don't want to offend or ruffle feathers. Trying to be a good and humble visitor has meant biting my lip on many occasions. Today, though, I couldn't keep quiet and chewed out someone. Actually two different parties on two occasions for the same offense. And it felt great, though difficult and awkward. It felt and seemed like the right thing and I could see others were glad someone spoke up.

We were at the Wild Animal Park in southern Shanghai, a large sprawling complex with wild animals you can view from a bus that goes into their territory. It also has more traditional zoo displays you walk around, along with numerous signs warning people not to feed the animals. While watching a large chimpanzee in his somewhat natural area, I was astonished to see that he was attempting to eat an aluminum can that someone had thrown to him. Then I noticed a pile of food packaging garbage in front of him, and lots of plastic bottles on the grass and in the water of the moat around his area. Then, to my shock, I saw another bottle go flying over the moat into the grass near the chimp. I looked over at the young man, maybe 22 years old, who had thrown it, and sensed that he was getting ready to throw more. At this point, I dropped my "ambassador of niceness" pose and spoke out.

I walked over to him and in a loud voice, heard by several dozen people, I gave this lecture in Chinese, drawing upon several recent additions to my vocabulary: "Hey, don't throw garbage in there. That's unacceptable. It can hurt and kill the animals. This is uncivilized behavior and I really can't stand it. We need to show respect for natural (sic! here I used the wrong word, "natural" instead of "nature," but he seemed to understand). I'm sorry about this, but I have to say something." The young man was surprised, maybe shocked, especially to get a lecture from a foreigner, but was respectful and looked very embarrassed at what he had done. I think he understood. It felt great to get that off my chest. An older man nodded vigorously and thanked me as I laid into the garbage flinger, and I could see others were grateful that someone, finally, had said something. But why did it have to be a foreigner? I am glad, however, that I was not alone.

The Chinese people are hard to figure out. The longer I stay here, the less I understand (in some ways). Of course, there is no one "Chinese people." In the people and its many diverse individuals, there are layers upon layers with complex relationships, apparent contradictions, and a multitude of attitudes, paradigms, traditions, and behaviors that require a great deal of effort, patience, and respect to understand. In this case and in many public settings, the Chinese people often endure problems and even misbehavior from others with patience and politeness, sometimes I think too much politeness, when many would like to say something like, "Hey, could you please go outside to smoke?" or "Excuse me, but could you stand on the right side of the escalator so the rest of us can walk on the left side?" or "What kind of idiot are you throwing garbage at a beautiful animal in the zoo?" Other times they are feisty and outspoken and some of them seem way too loud and outspoken for my tastes. For the future, I hope speaking out against blatantly bad behavior at the zoo won't be left to strange foreigners.

Here's the chimp (click to enlarge). That's an aluminum can in the first photo and, moments later, a plastic bottle in the second.

A few minutes later at an alligator exhibit, I saw an apparently wealthy man and his wife or girlfriend throw in a chicken sandwich wrapped in foil and plastic, trying to hit a resting crocodile and stir up a little action. Somehow I just didn't want to cause trouble again, but I could see that the woman was preparing to throw in another a sandwich or hamburger in a plastic bag and felt once again that I couldn't just stand there, so I quickly went over and gave a shorter version of the lecture: "Hey, that's unacceptable. That garbage is unhealthy and can kill the animals. Don't do that." She nodded and seemed to get it, but I hung around a little longer because I didn't trust her and her friend or friends. They noticed I was watching and resisted the impulse to throw stuff at the animals.

Many foreigners have observed that people throwing food and garbage to the animals in Chinese zoos is an outrage that needs to be stopped. I wish the authorities would pay attention to this problem more thoroughly. (Tip: A few garbage flingers dragged away in handcuffs and shown on the evening news would really help! Word travels fast in China.) I hope the people I lectured today and those who heard the lectures will think more carefully in the future and help others to know that abusing animals like that is bad for the animals, bad for nature and ugly for China.

Bitter Failure on Mission Street

It felt good to speak out, awkward as it was. As glad as I was to have done something that felt right, it also stirred up one of the most painful memories in my life, a time when I should have spoken out in the midst of another crowd but was too afraid. (For those very few of you who put me on a pedestal because I'm an LDS apologist of something, you can skip my embarrassing revelation below and just click on the donation button at the right instead.) This was many years ago when I was in San Francisco on a business trip. It was the night before I was to give an important presentation at a large conference as a representative of my employer. I had a little time and thought I would walk along famous Mission Street around the corner from my hotel to see what was there. I soon heard and saw a group of maybe four very tough looking men, a gang I think, following a severely overweight woman and mocking her cruelly. Hundreds of people where there on this crowded street, observing this abuse and doing nothing. Nothing. Not a word. Not a sign of courage. Is that how my nation has become?

I scanned the crowd walking nearby to see if anyone shared my concern and outrage, and felt totally alone in that bustling, indifferent mass of humanity. I suspected that if anyone was going to help, it had to be me, but I couldn't get my fear out of my head, and specifically fear of someone in management: "You couldn't speak at the conference why? What were you doing getting into trouble and getting beaten up in a rough city like that? Why were you out on the street at night? How irresponsible! And what happened to your nose?" A ridiculous, selfish, petty concern, but that was the fear going through my head, almost more severe than the fear of being physically hurt. I tried to come up with some safe way of helping, gradually trying to stand between them and the girl and maybe slow them down or something, maybe distract them, but what was needed was quick and courageous action. Merely yelling a simple, "Hey, leave her alone!" might have been all that was needed, some voice to let that poor woman know that someone cared and that she was not as alone and rejected as she felt. Maybe there were a dozen others like me who would have been thrilled to find someone give them courage to also speak out. But I kept us all separated and alone, silenced with indecision and fear. Is that how my nation has become? Or was it just how I became?

I was trying to find a way to help that wouldn't get me hurt or in trouble, but before I could crawl out of my foxhole to take any kind of action, the gang took a turn down some other street to find some new victims to torture, and a lonely hurting woman returned home alone and in pain. I saw the pain on her face for a moment. I will not forget it. It's a memory of failure that haunts me to this day. One of many sins and mistakes in my life, but one that I count among my most painful failures. There are many other failures and perhaps many that should be causing me more shame than that memory, but that sin of omission on the ironically named Mission Street is one I can't and don't want to forget.

What a chance that was to make a difference and show a little faith and charity, but I did nothing. Worthless. May I be prepared and more faithful the next time it's my turn to speak out.

Yes, I have sought to repent and believe that the grace of Christ has washed that sin away, like many others. I also hope and pray that the Lord was able to help that woman who needed but didn't receive any help from me. I desperately hope she didn't give up. I hope she overcame the pain inflicted that night and can forget. But I don't want to forget it, I can't just let it go, because there is a lesson about my weakness that I don't want to overlook. I want to be stronger next time. Faster, more prepared, more willing to help. I don't want to let fear stop me from doing what's right as it has too many times. I hope I have learned from that failure, though I'm not completely sure. I'm actually still afraid of how I'll handle the next unexpected challenge when I suddenly find myself feeling very alone and frightened in a crowd, or too concerned about my needs to even see that someone in front of me needs my voice. I hope we'll all be more ready the next time someone needs our courage and help on our personal Mission Street.

Postscript: On the Other Hand...

Update, 6/13/2013: Writing this post also stirred up memories of yet another painful failure where speaking out in the face of opposition and pressure was precisely the wrong and stupid thing to do, deeply offending a well-meaning person over an issue where biting my lip and enduring something only slightly inappropriate (in my opinion) would have been best. I'll share details some other time, maybe, but it is very easy to cross the line of righteous indignation and courage and to step into the mine fields of clumsy offense and unfair criticism. That's sort of how a lot of feuds and wars get started, including the Mormon War of 1838 in Missouri, where there were faults on both sides leading to unnecessary conflict.

There are many ways inappropriate courage can be manifest. Imagine a would-be Messiah smashing the tables of money changers at the temple, but accidentally including a young child's humanitarian aid fundraiser project in the mix. Or today, imagine someone whose sense of fairness for others leads them to condemn the Church and its leaders for its policies on marriage and the family without seeking to fully understand how people trying to be fair and compassionate can have a difference of opinion on such matters. Issues of social and religious policy are far more complex than the simple, blatant case of someone throwing trash to a chimp when the abundantly posted policies of the zoo forbid it. When we are outraged by a difference of opinion in such matters, before we condemn and especially before we point our finger and condemn in public, it may be wise to first seek to understand and learn from the other party, and, though we may still disagree, avoid hasty assumptions of stupidity and evil intent.

There is a time to speak out boldly and a time to be silent, patient, and generous. Life, of course, is complicated. This is where heart and mind both need to operate, and where we certainly should strive to seek the Lord's guidance and listen to the Spirit.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Did Joseph Smith Blunder with an Impossible Quote from Malachi Before He Was Born?

In my last post, I mentioned that someone who left the Church cited the alleged plagiarism of Peter in Acts 3 as the first evidence in his list of objections to the Book of Mormon. He immediately followed with Nephi's alleged quotation of Malachi 4:1 as another reason to reject the Book of Mormon. Malachi hadn't been born when Nephi was writing. This issue has been a popular attack on anti-Mormon websites. Is this another case of utterly incompetent plagiarism by Joseph Smith? If so, it's puzzling and almost inexplicable because Joseph definitely was aware that the Nephites would not have Malachi's words on the brass plates. In fact, a section in 3rd Nephi, probably translated before Nephi's writings on the small plates appended to the Book of Mormon, makes a big deal about this point. When the resurrected Christ visits the Nephites, He gives them some of Malachi's prophetic words in 3 Nephi 24 and 25, then refers to them in 3 Nephi 25:2 as "These scriptures, which ye had not with you...." Those recited scriptures include Malachi chapter 4, the very chapter that Nephi is allegedly quoting. So if Joseph Smith was the author, clearly he knew that Malachi was not part of the brass plates with the scriptures the Nephites brought. So why on earth would he then flip open his Bible to Malachi to grab a phrase or two? Perhaps he was just randomly snatching memorized phrases from his mind without stopping to think about the source? Such incompetent plagiarism is, again, puzzling, and almost inexplicable once you study the text and realize how carefully crafted the Book of Mormon is. So what's up with a ridiculous quotation from Malachi?

Well, it may not be a quotation at all. If Nephi said, "Here is a passage from Malachi" and then gave a lengthy verbatim section, then we would clearly have a quotation. What we have are a few common elements that are mentioned, and perhaps famous language in the KJV that fit as good language to use in a discussion of related concepts. Look, there is no question that King James language is used heavily in the Book of Mormon, and many times it seems that when a KJV phrase or passage fits, it is used as a matter of style. This does not mean that impossible quotations of nonexistent text were taking place in the Book of Mormon narrative. Sometimes the issue is one of confusing the style of the translation with alleged anachronistic plagiarism of specific passages.

Let's get into the details and take a look. Here are the relevant passages:

Malachi 4:1 For, behold, the day cometh, that shall burn as an oven; and all the proud, yea, and all that do wickedly, shall be stubble: and the day that cometh shall burn them up, saith the Lord of hosts, that it shall leave them neither root nor branch.1 Nephi 22:15 For behold, saith the prophet, the time cometh speedily that Satan shall have no more power over the hearts of the children of men; for the day soon cometh that all the proud and they who do wickedly shall be as stubble; and the day cometh that they must be burned

2 Nephi 26:4  Wherefore, all those who are proud, and that do wickedly, the day that cometh shall burn them up, saith the Lord of Hosts, for they shall be as stubble.

2 Nephi 26:6  ...and they shall be as stubble, and the day that cometh shall consume them, saith the Lord of Hosts.

The critics ask how it is possible that a Nephite could quote Malachi before the prophet was even born? But wait a moment. How clear is this quotation? A day will come ... proud, wicked, burned...like stubble. Is mentioning that the wicked will be punished and burned as stubble really enough to show Nephi is quoting anybody in particular? If you talk about tacos and hot sauce, are you quoting Taco Bell?

Nephi's discussion about the destruction of the wicked involved some very common elements in the writings of Isaiah and older prophets: the fall and destruction of the proud and wicked. Isaiah 2 and 5 come to mind, for example, as chapters that warn the proud. Isaiah 5:23,24 has the elements of punishment of the wicked, fire, stubble, and the Lord of hosts:
23 Which justify the wicked for reward, and take away the righteousness of the righteous from him!

24 Therefore as the fire devoureth the stubble, and the flame consumeth the chaff, so their root shall be as rottenness, and their blossom shall go up as dust: because they have cast away the law of the LORD of hosts, and despised the word of the Holy One of Israel.
Related imagery is used in Isaiah 33:11-12 to warn the wicked:
Ye shall conceive chaff, ye shall bring forth stubble: your breath, as fire, shall devour you. And the people shall be as the burnings of lime: as thorns cut up shall they be burned in the fire.
See also Psalm 83.

And this goes back to Exodus 15:
6 Thy right hand, O LORD, is become glorious in power: thy right hand, O LORD, hath dashed in pieces the enemy.

7 And in the greatness of thine excellency thou hast overthrown them that rose up against thee: thou sentest forth thy wrath, which consumed them as stubble.
So the concept of the wicked being burned by the Lord as stubble is an ancient one from both Isaiah and Moses. It is possible that Nephi used ancient language to describe this, and that the specific phrasing was close enough to what we have of Malachi in the KJV that it was a suitable fit for translating Nephi's words. It does not mean that Nephi was quoting future passages.

To forestall the allegedly "standard defense" that there might have been an older original source, some critics say that such theories fail because Nephi quotes other nearby parts of Malachi as well. Here is the smoking gun:

Malachi 4:2 But unto you that fear my name shall the Sun of righteousness arise with healing in his wings; and ye shall go forth, and grow up as calves of the stall.1 Nephi 22:24 And the time cometh speedily that the righteous must be led up as calves of the stall...

2 Nephi 25:13 Behold, they will crucify him; and after he is laid in a sepulchre for the space of three days he shall rise from the dead, with healing in his wings...

2 Nephi 26:9 But the Son of righteousness shall appear unto them; and he shall heal them...

The "Son of righteousness" phrase may have been lifted from Malachi as a suitable term that fit Nephi's words, although if meant to use Malachi's words as a close fit (or similar words from an earlier prophet Malachi is quoting?) it has a mistake by using "Son" instead of "Sun." On the other hand, it is possible Nephi may have said something extremely close to what we have in the Book of Mormon. Yes, certainly the translation process of the Book of Mormon relied heavily on the KJV text and there is frequently a human touch, including errors like a scribe hearing "Sun" and writing "Son." But in this case, a few words or a small phrase or two does not make a solid case for plagiarism.

Understanding the details of the Book of Mormon text and its close relationship to the Bible raises some questions, certainly, but is no reason to reject the Book of Mormon. Rejecting the Book of Mormon over Nephi's non-quotation of Malachi is an unjustified over-reaction, I'm afraid.

Monday, June 10, 2013

Does 3 Nephi Wrongly Put Words from Peter in Christ's Mouth? Another Book of Mormon Weakness ... Becomes a Strength?

A popular attack on the Book of Mormon is the allegation of plagiarism, and a leading example cited by critics, including some who have left the Church, is 3 Nephi 20:23, where Christ cites the words of Moses from Deuteronomy 18:18-19, but actually seems to use language that is closer to Peter's paraphrase of Moses in Acts 3:22-23 than it is to the Old Testament. "How can Christ be quoting a New Testament passage that hadn't been written yet?"

Deut. 18:15, in warning those who would not hearken to the future prophet (Christ) that the Lord would raise up, the punishment in verse 19 is that the Lord "will require it of him." But Acts 3:23 warns that the non-hearkeners "shall be destroyed from among the people,"which is much closer to 3 Nephi's warning that such rebels "shall be cut off from among the people." Sure, it seems like a case of clumsy and ignorant plagiarism.

Let me begin with a few observations. First, this is not a case of direct copying, because the Book of Mormon uses "cut off" rather than Peter's "destroyed." Second, the parallel to Acts 3 doesn't only occur here in 3 Nephi 20. It occurs multiple times in the Book of Mormon. The same words from Moses are quoted in much the same way in 1 Nephi 22:20: "all those who will not hear that prophet shall be cut off from among the people." That passage was written at a different stage in the Book of Mormon translation process, so if 3 Nephi 20 was just a sloppy blunder from Joseph the con-man and his vast team of research staff, zealously gleaning, checking, and applying information from many dozens of books and references materials to create a best-selling fraud that would wow and convert folks for many decades, then why was the same mistake made again in 1 Nephi 22? I mean, if you're quoting Moses in a famous passage that every Bible student know in Deuteronomy 18, why open to a lesser known paraphrase in Acts 3 for the quote? And why make that blunder twice?

More than twice, actually. 3 Nephi 21:11 speaks of those who will reject the Gospel of Christ and warns that "it shall be done even as Moses said," namely, "they shall be cut off from among my people who are of the covenant." Not just having some "required of him," but the more serious "cut off" from among the people, or in this case, "from among my people." 3 Nephi 21:20 again warns that the rebellious shall be "cut off from among my people." Now all these 3 Nephi passages could be lumped together and one could argue that Joseph just had that phrase in his head at the time and used it repeatedly during that day or week or writing. But how do we account for First Nephi passage that was probably widely separated in time from 3 Nephi's translation? Didn't it ever occur to him and his scholarly co-conspirators to look up Deuteronomy rather than Peter for a quote from Moses? Sloppy, sloppy, sloppy. And puzzling.

In fact, this is the kind of puzzle that ought to stir some thinking. The change in language from Peter and the persistent use of "cut off" in the Book of Mormon is not consistent with the sloppy plagiarism charge. So what is going on? Great question! Good questions with an open mind and some patience are often rewarded with interesting answers.

There's a further question that students of the Bible might also wish to ask: "Why did Peter himself use language so different from Deuteronomy 18?" It turns out that Peter's paraphrase does not follow the Septuagint in this case, so Peter appears to be departing from both the Greek and Hebrew texts. Why?

A possible answer to these questions, with interesting implications for the Book of Mormon, can be found in the Maxwell Institute's publication, Insights, Vol. 27, No. 5 (PDF file), in the article on page 3, "The Prophet Like Moses" by John A. Tvedtnes and E. Jan Wilson. I recommend the PDF version to see the Hebrew more clearly, but an HTML version of the article is also available.  There is a lot of detail in this short article, but here's one passage with one of the main points:

Based on analysis of the Hebrew in Deut. 18 and several relevant passages elsewhere, a plausible case can be made that the original Hebrew may have read "cut off" instead of "require it" and referred to being cut off "from among the people" or "my people" instead of "of him." Rather than both Peter and Joseph being sloppy in their quotations of Moses, there's a reasonable case that Peter was informed by an ancient Hebrew source using language that differs slightly from the current Masoretic text, language that appears to be consistent with language uses consistently in the Book of Mormon. As for the Book of Mormon's version of Deut. 18, are we dealing with a terribly sloppy but very lucky blunder by a con-man who inexplicably looked up and kept using Peter's words when attempting to quote Moses, or are we dealing with an ancient text prepared by scribes whose version of Deuteronomy on the brass plates led them to understand Deut. 18 in much the same way that Peter did?

In light of intelligent questions coupled with scholarship, the way the Book of Mormon quotes Moses in Deuteronomy 18 is certainly interesting. What initially looks like a blunder upon further examination becomes an inexplicable blunder ("how could anyone be so stupid and sloppy?"), then a puzzle, and then an interesting find where a former weakness may actually be a strength. It's a small thing and is certainly no reason to run off and join the Church, but it's hardly a reason to leave.

Wednesday, June 05, 2013

More Thoughts on the Heartland Model of Book of Mormon Geography

The Book of Mormon Archeology Foundation (BMAF.org) has a handy short list of major flaws with the recent "Heartland Model" for Book of Mormon geography. While most LDS scholars who grapple with details of Book of Mormon geography see Mesoamerica as the most likely or only reasonably candidate for the ancient New World setting of the Book of Mormon, several people have loudly touted an alternative model in which a portion of our present-day United States was where the Nephites dwelt. In that model, some of the Great Lakes represent the seas referred to in the Book of Mormon, and the great cities and temples of the Nephites and Lamanites are to be found in ancient mounds of dirt created by ancient Native Americans. While there are extensive resources at BMAF.org, the Maxwell Institute, and FAIRLDS.org that can be used to refute the Heartland Model, sometimes it's nice to boil numerous complex issues down to a dew bullet points. Here's a handy list from BMAF.org:

(1) no major river running South to North, Mississippi River flows North to South.
(2) no mountainous strip of wilderness that can hide Gadianton robbers, defend against Lamanites and serve as military dividing line for Captain Moroni (Alma 22:33-34,50:11).

(3) very little gold and silver east of the Mississippi.
(4) no evidence of cement buildings anywhere in eastern U.S. or Canada, archaeologists have determined that the vast majority of discovered archaeological sites dating to the time period of the Book of Mormon are located in Mesoamerica.

(5) no evidence that Adena and Hopewell co-existed for 250 years. We make a grave mistake in trying to piece together the historical puzzle of the Book of Mormon if we ignore the traditional history of Mesoamerica.

(6) Adena and Hopewell were not true civilizations, but were small, loosely knit, family related units with no evidence of a written language. The area in and around the Isthmus of Tehuantepec constituted the embryo for both the calendar system and the written language of the Americas. This fact alone virtually eliminates any other geographical area from being considered as “lands of the Book of Mormon."

(7) So-called DNA "Proofs" use unsubstantiated theories.
(8)  Joseph Smith did not receive revelation where Book of Mormon lands were located, but his last statements about Book of Mormon geography point us to Mesoamerica  (click here to see what Joseph Smith said about Mesoamerica).
(9)  Columbus was directed to "the promised land," yet he never visited North America.

For more information click here and browse through the articles in section 11 "The Heartland Model."

Tuesday, June 04, 2013

Fighting Human Trafficking: Kudos to the American Bar Association

Last night I had the privilege of meeting a pretty famous mom and attorney, Laurel Bellows, president of the American Bar Association, at a private reception for her featuring one of the most spectacular views of Shanghai (35 floor of the IFC 2 tower overlooking the river and the heart of towering Shanghai). In her comments to a group of lawyers and one out-of-place non-lawyer (me), she spoke of the ABA's initiative to fight human trafficking, an alarming and troubling problem. About 27 million people worldwide are trapped in slavery of some kind. Ugly. Here in China, one of the big problems is that small children are stolen and sold to others wanting them, either to raise as their own child or to exploit as a beggar or worker. According to reports printed last week in the China Daily, about 200,000 kids are stolen each year in China. Informed parents of infants and toddlers are especially nervous here and know they have to keep an eye on their kids all the time. Part of the problem here is that the penalties for being involved in human trafficking, including purchasing a human, have not kept up with the profit potential, so the business remains far too lucrative on average. The Chinese government has developed a 7-year plan to fight this plague. May they find rapid success way ahead of schedule.

In her comments, Laurel mentioned that there are also many thousands of Americans who are in slavery here also. But there are many people in slavery in America and almost everywhere else. This is a global problem with many dimensions. It's one that overwhelms me as I contemplate how depraved, painful, and widespread it is. Prostitution is a big part of it, but it also includes forced labor, child soldiers, and other ugly scenarios.

The ABA is helping companies to examine their supply chain to avoid companies and organizations that use slavery or otherwise support human trafficking in order to take away some of the incentive. They've also provided some useful resources, such as their Voices for Victims video and their excellent and detailed human trafficking toolkit for lawyers with lots of good information and resources for the rest of us, too. 
The menace of human trafficking is one that local Church leaders and members need to pay careful attention to. Are we prepared to meet the needs of victims? Are we able to recognize and rescue victims? Are we mindful of the risks to children and others at our events and meetings, and do we take adequate steps to protect our members and visitors? And are we as individuals doing anything to help? 

Some of you have been active in fighting this menace and understand it much more than I do. I'd appreciate your suggestions on what we need to understand and do to protect others and fight this problem.

By the way, the Bible's story of Joseph of Egypt is a classic story of human trafficking but with a happy ending. It's a reminder that in the depths of slavery may be many people with tremendous skills and gifts that could bless the world if only given a chance.