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

Monday, September 30, 2013

Hebraic Language Influence in Ancient America?

I've been reading John Sorenson's Mormon's Codex, whose electronic version happily now includes the maps, added in an update a few days ago. It's a monumental work with many treasures for students of the Book of Mormon. I was disappointed, however, when I read in an LDS forum that Dr. Sorenson had not taken Brant Gardner's work into account, especially his new analysis on directions in Mesoamerica. Gardner's work, including his presentation at a recent FAIRLDS Conference and his publication, "From the East to the West" at MormonInterpreter, helps us understand some of the complexities in Mesoamerican directions and understand why the Book of Mormon may require something other than our standard cardinal directions. Gardner gives us new perspectives showing that the Book of Mormon's use of directions may even be comfortably at home in ancient Mesoamerica. I don't think Sorenson would have had to change very much in his approach, but there was an opportunity to further strengthen some of the correspondences with Mesoamerica. 
However, Dr. Sorenson understandably has just one lifetime to work with, and that has resulted in a need to miss some areas in order to cover the expanse that he has brought together for his work. 

One of the areas where he has fruitfully considered the work of other LDS scholars involves ancient languages in Mesoamerica. I was pleased to see him discuss the work of Brian Stubbs, whose research into the Uto-Aztecan (UA) language group has revealed a very high level of apparent influence from Hebrew or other Semitic languages. One example of Stubbs' work is in a publication for the Maxwell Institute. Here is an except from Sorenson's book (see original for the table and the references):

Brian Stubbs, a recognized expert on the UA language family, later took up a parallel but linguistically more sophisticated comparison of Semitic languages, this time with UA; he was already familiar with tongues of both families. His 1988 report showed a “consistent pattern of sound correspondences” that involved over 200 roots. A brief sample of terms he found illustrates that at least some type of systematic relationship exists [see table 10.1 of Sorenson]).... 
This list has since been greatly expanded and shows several sorts of patterned linguistic correspondences between the two families in addition to vocabulary. In 1996 Stubbs reported, “The similarities (lexical, morphological, and semantic combinations) between UA and Semitic [now] number about 1000.” 23 By 2005 (personal communication) that number had grown greater still, yet Stubbs considered his latest informally published study 24 still exploratory. Now that he has published a major comparative work on UA languages (based on 2,700 cognate sets drawn from 30 UA tongues), 25 he plans to return to a comparison of Semitic with UA. Stubbs’s intermediate conclusion is that perhaps 30–35 percent of all UA words relate in some degree to Semitic languages. 26 
In a forthcoming book he plans to demonstrate that a variety of puzzles in the UA data are explainable by supposing the infusion of two Semitic dialects and Egyptian that creolized with an ancestral UA base tongue. 27 “A salient implication suggested by the data is that Egyptian and two dialects of Northwest Semitic and other unknowns, likely of American origin, had merged by Proto-Uto-Aztecan times. Such is admittedly a strange combination, but many languages are strange combinations—like English. Modern English kept only 15 percent of the Old English vocabulary, . . . having replaced most of the other 85 percent with influxes of Latin and French. . . . Many languages are mixtures to varying degrees.” 28 The Hebrew-language element was apparently incorporated into the developing Uto-Aztecan family between 2,000 and 3,000 years ago. (Compare table 10.1.) 
Data on this scale and with the linguistic sophistication Stubbs brings to it are sufficient to require serious consideration of the hypothesis that UA languages involved a significant Semitic element.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

The Nudge of an Irritating Line Jumper

Here in the Shanghai International District of the Church, our District President, Stephen W. Dyer, shared an interesting experience in his recent remarks at District Conference. He confessed that one of the few things that bothers him in China is the lack of order in lines. When people are queuing, there is a frustrating tendency for people to cut in line and ignore what Americans generally take as basic rules. President Dyer explained that after one tiring and stressful day, he was standing in the line for taxis near the Science and Technology Museum, after having already waited a long time in vain at his office for a taxi. It was a Friday evening and it was raining—two very bad conditions for finding taxis.

As he was in line, he felt someone nudging up behind him and immediately went into defensive mode to prevent line jumping, spreading his arms out a bit and standing to cut off the easiest route for would-be line jumper behind him. After all the things that had gone wrong that day, he didn’t need a line jumper to cause further delay.

He was surprised when the person behind him didn’t seem to get the hint and kept nudging against him as if ready to spring in front any time. President Dyer shifted in response to maintain his blocking effect. The line jumper didn’t back off. Who was this irritating and annoying person who wouldn’t take a hint? Finally, feeling genuinely irked, he turned around to see who this rude person was and perhaps tell him to back off. What he saw left him feeling embarrassed and chastened for the feelings that he had.

The person who had been irritating him so persistently was obviously not attempting to line jump. The reason he was standing so close was that he needed to stand that close—in order to keep holding his umbrella over President Dyer. This stranger in China had been striving to serve, naturally sharing his shelter from the rain with a stranger from America. President Dyer was ashamed to have felt so irritated and was touched by the charity he had received.

That’s a scene from the China I love where the goodness of the people can easily catch you off guard.

It’s also a symbol of the Lord’s love for us. His efforts through other people or various means to shield and protect us in love are sometimes perceived as threats and irritants that we must block and avoid. This is especially true for those who are annoyed by persistent efforts from church leaders or other church members to help them or bring them back to activity or keep them out of danger, but it can apply to all of us in other settings. It is easy to take offense and misjudge others when their intentions are quite different than what we assumed. And it’s easy to see the hand of the Lord in our lives as the work of an irritating line jumper trying to delay us, when if we would turn around and soften our hearts, we might be astounded at the help being offered.

By the way, President Dyer has informed me that the same thing happened to him and his family at the same taxi queue many months later. This time they were waiting for literally hours in a cold drizzle. A woman behind them held her umbrella over his daughter and her friend for more than an hour. He was again very touched and grateful for this charitable act.

Friday, September 20, 2013

Mormon's Codex by John Sorenson Is Finally in Print; Kindle Edition Comes in October

Book of Mormon students should be glad to know that they can now finally purchase the hardcover tome of extensive scholarship by John L. Sorenson, Mormon's Codex: An Ancient American Book (Salt Lake City: The Neal A. Maxwell Institute for Religious Scholarship & Deseret Book Company). It offers over 800 pages of detailed scholarship exploring the connections between Mesoamerica and the Book of Mormon. As one who was highly influenced by his insights in his earlier works, especially An Ancient American Setting for the Book of Mormon, I am anxious to get my own copy and further explore the many parallels and relationships that support Mesoamerica as the proper setting for the Book of Mormon. Getting books shipped to China can be a challenge, though. Wish me luck.

Update: Hurrah! As a comment from Lisa revealed, the book is available now in electronic form at Deseret Book. Readable with their free Bookshelf app. Just got mine and have started reading. Nice!

Update 2: Sigh. The electronic version from Deseret Book is missing all of the maps that are so important for understanding this book. I've sent emails times to Deseret Book's customer service to inquire but have received no response after several 4 days. And of you having this problem? Am I missing something?

Sunday, September 15, 2013


This beautiful 3-minute video from Thailand should be viewed while recalling the words of King Benjamin, who taught that we are all beggars before God. (Mosiah 4:19 in the Book of Mormon, plus see the whole passage around that verse on the issue of how we treat those who ask for our help). Sometimes glorious and noble souls are disguised by the illusion of poverty. How sad that we don't see who they are and miss the opportunity to share with them and be blessed through connecting even briefly with them.

And yes, people are noting that this simple production beats the socks off the films Hollywood produces these days.

Look past the poverty of others and see the potential, then help in appropriate ways.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

28 Square Meters

We had a Chinese family of four over for dinner lately. Just the mom and one of her boys, a 5-year-old, were able to make since dad needed to mind their business that evening. They were so happy to be inside the apartment of a foreigner to see how we live. First time for them visiting foreigners.  While our apartment is cramped by American standards, their eyes were wide with how big and spacious it is. The  mom almost went into shock when she saw the spacious kitchen that was a main reason for choosing our apartment (we have lots of people over and my wife needs space to cook safely). During dinner, the little boy was bouncing up and down on his soft chair with obvious delight. "We don't have chairs like this at home. Everything is just wood," he said. And then after dinner, he delighted in jumping on the floor and bouncing on more furniture. His mom explained that their whole apartment is just 28 square meters for a family of four, about the size of many single rooms in US homes, with no bathroom, and that the floor is so thin that they have to walk very softly and certainly not jump lest they get complaints from the people below them. A tough place to be an energetic 5-year-old. 
They are better off than many, but it reminded me how many things we take for granted are luxuries in this world. It also reminded me how great the need is to lift the standard of living of many in this world. It's one of the reasons why we should seek to do well in our professions, for many jobs when done well create wealth and strengthen the economy for others. It's a reason to get all the education we can and to be as productive as we can in our lives: not just to provide for ourselves, but to strengthen businesses and communities in ways that lift others. Naturally, don't forget to give generously along the way. 

Now get out there and stimulate the economy. 

Thursday, September 05, 2013

A Chinese Fruit Vendor Hunted Me Down

I've had two similar experiences in the past few weeks from Chinese fruit vendors.
There are about 8 different fruit vendors within a 5-minute walk from our apartment. There are 3 that I have used most, but we tried a new one down a less-visited street recently where my wife and I bought several bags of fruit. We paid, grabbed our bags, and began strolling home. We were nearly home a few minutes later when a motorcycle raced up to us. On it was the fruit vendor we had just visited with a bag of fruit. He explained that we had left one of purchases there at the store, so he had left his store to hunt us down, which wasn't completely trivial since there was a complicated intersection and at least one turn involved in finding us. Amazing that a vendor would be so honest that he would rush into the streets to find a customer who left a little fruit behind. 

That was about 3 weeks ago. More recently, I went to my closest and most frequented vendor to get some fruit for the dinner we were having at our apartment for a group of Young Single Adults in Shanghai (LDS members and investigators). The fruit vendor, a sweet Shanghai woman, said, "Hey, I think you are the same American that bought some fruit here a couple weeks ago but left behind a watermelon. Go pick another melon and you get it free of charge." Wow, how interesting. 

The honesty and integrity of the common people in China frequently touches me. It's part of the real China that I love. Sure, I know there is a lot of fraud and corruption, but there is so much goodness and so many great values that are naturally expressed in the lives of common people, especially those who don't bear the burden of wealth, which seems to corrupt far too easily. 

God bless China, a land rich in great people. 

Monday, September 02, 2013

Syria and the Book of Mormon: Hints to Help Us Avoid Further Disaster

My youngest son, freshly returned from his mission, shared with me his observations on the Book of Mormon's message for our day regarding war. War, of course, is one of the most common topics in that book. So much of the record describes people dealing with times of war. And one of the strongest messages about war is that while war is justified in defending one's nation from the attacks of an enemy, my son wisely observed that the Book of Mormon teaches that invading an enemy for vengeance or preventative purposes is unjustified. Not just unjustified, but often disastrous. Well, it doesn't take a rocket science to figure out that invading a foreign land, surrounded by the enemy in its strongholds, can be costly and disastrous. But is one of the best ways to crank up the profit machine for the organizations and the elite who profit from the carnage of war. 
While recognizing the warnings against wars of aggression and proactive strikes, we also need to remember the Book of Mormon's warnings that there are very evil people seeking power and wealth who use war as a tool. They have powerful P.R. engines--today we might call them the mainstream media--who work to stir people up to anger against a selected target. This happened regularly among the Lamanites but also among the Nephites. The Book of Mormon warns against "secret combinations" where elite power-seekers connive and make bloody deals to gain power and prestige, and along the way have no qualms about creating mass carnage in their quest for power. We see in the Book of Mormon that such people will stoop to killing their own people, and will not hesitate to frame someone for a vicious crime, as Amalickiah framed the servants of the king after his assassin killed the Lamanite king. 

I hope we can learn a few lessons from the Book of Mormon and have the imagination to question some of the things we are told regarding Syria and the need for us to invade and attack this foreign country. Are there forces that can profit from the attack? Do those forces faithfully represent us? Could great evil and disaster, not to mention more ridiculous debt, come from another foreign war?

I read headlines on CNN the other day and shook my head at the lack of journalism in our society. Headlines touted the "clear evidence" of Assad's guilt in chemical weapons attacks, and the "strong case" for attacking Syria. Nowhere was there any journalistic inquiry into what that evidence was and whether it may have been fabricated. Where was some healthy skepticism about the too-stupid-to-be-true concept of launching a chemical weapons attack the day after a UN chemical weapons inspector arrives in your country? Even brutes like Assad are not completely unaware of the stupidity of such a thing, about the only thing they could do to guarantee international opposition and invasion from powerful foreign forces. Was he suicidal? 

Fortunately, there is still a touch of inquisitive journalism left in the world, evidenced by one reporter with CBS News, Tucker Seals, who dares to ask good questions. I wish him well in his IRS tax audit. There is also breaking news about evidence from some of the rebels in Syria that they were unintentionally responsible for the chemical weapons attack. On the other hand, an intentional attack on their own people to gain immediate support from the U.S. in overthrowing their enemy is exactly the kind of sickening act we can expect from some of the secret combination-like forces in the Middle East and elsewhere (doesn't it raise questions when we are being asked to take the same side as Al Qaeda forces on anything over there?). It's at least a topic for inquiry. But all such discussions will be silenced if possible, and we will be called upon to be "patriots" willing to march our young into harm's way to support hidden objectives of elitists that have precious little to do with actually defending our borders, which generally remain wide open to any rogues who wish to amble across. 

It's time to take the Book of Mormon's messages on war more seriously. And whether you believe that book or not, this is a good time to speak out and demand that we not fall into yet another foolish, no-win war, lured in once again by allegations of weapons of mass destruction.