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

Sunday, October 30, 2016

If You're Supporting Mormon Candidate Evan McMullin, At Least Understand Why: A Hint for Principled Conservatives

In response to my post on not hating those who vote for either of the troubling top candidates for president in the U.S., one LDS reader breathlessly praised Marybeth Glenn's article, "Ten Reasons Why You Should Support Evan McMullin" at The Collision Blog (collisionofchurchandstate.com). Marybeth is a delightful writer, but I hope she'll forgive me for expressing some mild confusion about the reasons she has offered.

Marybeth is writing to conservatives, "principled conservatives" in fact, a label that fits many Mormons, especially in the states of Utah and Arizona, where McMullin seems to be growing in popularity. She repeatedly links McMullin to conservatism and conservative ideals, and as a refreshing alternative to Hillary or Trump:
Win or lose, he has the power to carry the conservative principles away from the shark infested waters and to the shore....
Conservatism needs a dog in this fight because not only would we like her to lose, as well, we can’t allow conservative ideals to be mistakenly chained to Trump’s ankles.... We need to separate out the ideals, we need to be able to say, “This over here is Conservatism, that over there is Fascism.” Having someone in the race who represents conservative ideals – more so than many of the other candidates we had, I might add – is going to help us achieve that goal....
He’s standing up for the conservative values currently in jeopardy.
Bonus points for recognizing that Trump is no conservative and that Fascism, a form of totalitarian big government that may have a nationalist flavor sometimes allied with big industry, is not conservatism. Of course, the Left loves to present the political spectrum as if it only has totalitarian flavors, with Communism on the left and National Socialism/Fascism on the right, leaving no place for the small government Republic our Founding Fathers tried to give us.

So what are the principles of conservatism and who is defending them?

For me (you can feel free to disagree), principled conservatism for an American citizen means a respect for the ideals of the Constitution. If you are "conserving" something that is outside the core intent of the US Constitution and contrary to the principles of liberty that this nation once sought, then "conservatism" might not be the best word.

For me,  principled conservatism should include a desire to keep government small, not just bigger in "better ways" by cutting "better deals" closed by "smarter" autocrats. It means seeking to let people run their own lives. It means having deep respect for religious liberty--something both leading candidates lack. It means enthroning liberty and limiting the power of would-be autocrats, not giving them unlimited funds and powers. It means not being tricked into fighting no-win wars declared by foreign powers like the UN or by lone autocrats, not by Congress as the Constitution requires, in which we waste our resources and many lives among our rising generations in fighting with people who weren't threatening our borders.

It means not spending like drunken sailors/Senators to feed what Eisenhower properly called the "military industrial complex." It means not going into insane debt to implement failed economic policies that create monstrous bubbles, massive corruption, and misallocation of resources that have already eroded the value of our dollar, crippled our economy, and put the world at risk of further economic disaster. It means distrusting and thwarting when possible the elitists of the Establishment who have given us massive government, massive debt, and endless war.

It should be no surprise, from this perspective, that principled conservatives would have trouble embracing Hillary, who is intimately tied with big if not super-sized government and has become something of an Establishment woman who circulates its lofty but shadowy halls with ease. Those principles also make Trump a troubling choice as well, for he seems to have no knowledge of Constitutional limits apart from his personal moral deficiencies. On the other hand, some of you, perhaps among the more elite citizens of our day, may feel that a viable candidate must have major big government credentials and needs to be able intimately acquainted with the labyrinths of power in Washington, Wall Street, and the United Nations. If so, feel free to vote for Hillary.

But principled conservatives should vote for Evan McMullin, right? Marybeth Glenn shares this perspective, which many LDS people seem to share, and explains why. Her explanation emphasizes his deep experience and connections:
He was a senior adviser for the Committee on Foreign Affairs in the U.S. House of Representatives on national security issues, was the Chief Policy Director with the House Republican Conference, and is also a term member of the Council on Foreign Relations.
In short, the man knows his way around foreign policy like Trump knows his way around bankruptcy laws....

Evan worked for the CIA from 2001 – 2011, specifically on counter-terrorism and intelligence operations in the Middle East, North Africa, and South Asia. Not only was he nose deep in foreign affairs from a legislative level, but he has first hand experience on the proverbial front lines.
What a second--I thought that was why we are supposed to vote for Hillary!  She's the experienced, super-connected candidate of the elite who knows her way around the halls of power--such as the shadowy and hyper-elite Council on Foreign Relations who surrounded the Clinton Presidency (as they did the Bush Presidencies and the Obama Presidency) and the politicians and diplomats seeking to turn the United Nations into an ever bigger power that threatens national sovereignty.

If I am reading The Collision Blog accurately, some of McMullin's most important credentials, like Hilary's, are his ties to the Establishment/Deep State: the CIA, the United Nations, and the Council on Foreign Relations, whose policies and goals have been so at odds with the principles of conservatism over the decades. So principled conservatives are supposed to vote for him? My head feels like I just listened to another presidential debate. Ouch. Yes, Evan's a good man who has personal morals and does not appear to have covered up major crimes or exploited his office to obtain huge amounts of wealth. That's wonderful. For me, it's just not enough. (Note: there are good people in all these groups, but the organizations themselves today if not historically are organs of big government that may often be at odds with conservative ideals. Being part of them does not make one evil. But it makes one more subject to powerful influences and mindsets that I take issue with.)

I think there is widespread confusion in the LDS community about how to act on the principles some of us want to support. I can sympathize with the excitement in considering a way to stand for principle and vote for someone other than the two unsavory candidates that most Americans think they must settle for. But there have long been third party options such as the Constitution Party (disclosure: at least some parts of their platform line up nicely with my personal views), a party that is actually on the ballot in most states and whose principles seem to align with old-fashioned conservatism. Or you can vote for other 3rd parties or write-in a name of someone you trust. You don't have to embrace big government and the current powers that be if your intent is to take a principled stand and remind the world that there are still principles to stand for.

Of course, we're going to end up with a would-be autocrat no matter what you do this year. The real issue before us is not which would-be autocrat is the lesser scoundrel, but how we can revive Congress to follow the Constitution and properly check the power of the Executive to limit the damage that will be done in coming years. Congress is the key, IMHO. This is where individuals at the grass-roots level can help support candidates who will stand for the Constitution again and prepare to limit the brazen power grabs of whoever wins the election. Restoring checks and balances in Washington--that's my kind of principled conservatism. 

Thursday, October 27, 2016

The Home Teachers Who Were Told to Go Away

At the recent District Conference of the Shanghai International District, Elder Randy Funk of the Seventy shared an experience he had as a new bishop. As he reviewed the names of their less active members, he felt that he should go visit one particular family, but others told him that he shouldn't since this family had asked to not have home teachers sent anymore and apparently didn't want to be bothered. He took that into consideration but still felt he should go. When he arrived and explained he was from their LDS ward, he was surprised at how warmly he was greeted. The family invited him in and treated him like a friend. Eventually he asked them if they would mind having home teachers come. "Sure, of course! We'd love to have them. We just haven't seen any for quite a while." Elder Funk then brought up the comments he had heard from the previous home teachers about not wanting home teachers any more. The family was surprised and explained what happened.

On their last visit, the home teachers came just moments after the family's dog had thrown up in front of the door into the home. They had just notice the problem and were about to begin cleaning when the home teachers knocked at the door. "Sorry, but don't come in!" A momentary inconvenience was mistranslated into a permanent ban on contact from home teachers, who dutifully respected the bogus injunction.

I hope that kind of mistake is rare, but it may be part of a painfully broad class of mistakes we make.

How many misunderstandings have allowed us to completely drop people from our circles of friendship who otherwise might have appreciated and needed some degree of contact? How many others would welcome contact and fellowship when the circumstances are right? Thank goodness for leaders who, seeking guidance from the Spirit, dare to go out and visit members that might otherwise be forgotten. Of course, there are people on our records who don't want any contact, and we need to respect their wishes as well, once we understand them, while still leaving the door open for their return.

Sunday, October 23, 2016

Washing Clay from the Eyes: How Enoch Became a Seer

Recently I have observed how the Book of Mormon uses ancient themes related to rising from the dust to convey meaning related to covenant keeping, repentance, resurrection, and enthronement, with Isaiah's call to "rise from the dust" in Isaiah 52 playing a key role throughout the Book of Mormon (see "Dusting Off a Famous Chiasmus in the Book of Mormon, Alma 36" and "Possible Hebrew Wordplay in 2 Nephi 1:23?" (a more thorough related work in three parts will be published at MormonInterpreter.com beginning November 4). The ancient complex of themes related to dust can also be found in the Dead Sea Scrolls in, for example, Hymn 10. See Geza Vermes, “The Thanksgiving Hymns,” in The Complete Dead Sea Scrolls in English (London: Penguin Books, 2004), 337–360; https://books.google.com/books?id=r3dh4GjzuPQC&pg=PT337).

That hymn resonates with Nephi’s psalm and the chiasmus of Alma 36, speaks of the bonds of hell, the author’s grief at his sins, misery and torment, cleansing and deliverance, and divine destiny amid the heavenly council, consistent with Book of Mormon themes and the analysis of Walter Brueggeman on rising from the dust.

Further, Hymn 10 connects being “shaped from the dust” with “a creature of clay, kneaded with water,” showing that wet clay can represent God’s creative work just as dust can. This is relevant to the symbolism of John 9:6–7, where Christ anoints the eyes of a blind man with clay that He forms from spittle and the dust of the ground. After anointing, He instructs the man to wash the clay from his eyes, resulting in miraculous healing.

The early Christian leader, Irenaeus, argued that the use of clay here was an allusion to God’s creative work in forming man from the dust (Genesis 2:7; see Irenaeus, Against Heresies, Book V, 15:2), but others have disputed that, arguing that clay is not the same as dust. Recently, however, Daniel Frayer-Griggs has shown that three documents from the Dead Sea Scrolls and other Near Eastern documents provide compelling support for Irenaeus’ view that anointing with clay refers to the Creation and particularly the creation of man. See Daniel Frayer-Griggs, “Spittle, Clay, and Creation in John 9:6 and Some Dead Sea Scrolls,” Journal of Biblical Literature 132/3 (2013): 659-670.

In light of Frayer-Griggs work, a possible connection to the Book of Moses occurs in Moses 6:35, where the Lord instructs Enoch to anoint his eyes with clay and to wash them, after which Moses 6:36 tells us that Enoch could then see “the spirits that God had created; and he beheld also things which were not visible to the natural eye; and from thenceforth came the saying abroad in the land: A seer hath the Lord raised up unto his people.” By virtue of anointing the eyes with clay, Enoch becomes a seer who could see the invisible things of the Creation, including the spirits God had created. It would seem that it is not so much the clay itself that adds vision and new light to Enoch or the blind man, but the washing off of the clay/dust from the eyes.

This symbol of cleansing, repentance, and receiving light from God would seem to fit the complex of dust-related themes I have been exploring. The role of a seer, after all, is to see divine light to reveal what is not visible to the rest of us.

The seer Enoch was said to have been “raised up unto his people” by the Lord (Moses 6:36), in parallel to the words of recorded on the brass plates from Joseph of Egypt: “A seer shall the Lord God raise up, who shall be a choice seer unto the fruit of my loins” (2 Nephi 3:6) and the Lord’s promise to Joseph, “A choice seer will I raise up…” (2 Nephi 3:7). Consistent with the “rise from the dust” theme of the Book of Mormon, the choice seer is “raised up” by the Lord. Seers are raised up by the Lord as part of God’s creative and revelatory work to raise up all of us if we will let Him.The word "raise" is important in the context of dust themes in the Book of Mormon and, of course, in Isaiah 52.

2 Nephi 3:5–7 tells us that this “choice seer” would help bring Israel “out of darkness unto light … and out of captivity unto freedom” and Mosiah 8:17 reiterates that through seers, “hidden things shall come to light.” By washing off the clay/dust that brings darkness, access to light and knowledge is made possible, revealing the hidden things of the Creation and assisting in God’s ongoing creative work as He helps His children rise from the dust and enter into light and life.

This may be something to consider in exploring the role of dust/clay in the scriptures and the role of seers in the ancient and modern worlds. 

Sunday, October 16, 2016

What Ammon's Story Can Teach Us About Blessing China

There are many Christians who want to do something to help China and the Chinese people. Latter-day Saints who are interested in China often consider the story of Ammon in the Book of Mormon and wonder if it could apply to China one day. I think that's a useful question to consider. Ammon, as a reminder, was the son of a Nephite king who turned down the opportunity to rule in order to go on a self-selected mission among the Lamanites. He managed to become a servant to a local Lamanite king and through his work there miraculously helped bring about his conversion, opening the doors for the Gospel to be preached in a land that was once hostile to the Nephites and their religion.  So sometimes LDS people contemplate his example of service, and wonder if they can help China through compassionate service if they were to come here. Some then come here to teach English or to study, for example, and they may hope that perhaps by being very kind and service oriented, it will open doors for the Gospel to be more fully present in China.

However, Ammon's success came not because he was so warm and loving as he mingled with the locals, though he undoubtedly was kind. He touched the heart of King Lamoni by surviving what might have been a suicide mission, surprising opponents and fellow servants with his military skills. Ultimately it was his brilliant expertise with the sling and the sword, coupled with fast thinking, sound strategy, great courage, and a heavy dose of assistance from the Lord, that touched the heart of the king and opened wide the doors for the Gospel to be taught among that people.

The fact that Ammon humbly continued carrying out his orders as a servant after his victory in defending the flocks of the king was a moving bonus. But it was his excellence and expertise in battle that catalyzed a monumental change among the Lamanites. Meanwhile, the other sons of Mosiah in other Lamanite towns who tried the direct approach of preaching (no doubt coupled with kindness and service) got nowhere and were quickly thrown in prison, as you will be in China if you don't respect the regulations here.

From what I've learned these past 5 years in China, I'd say that China (at least at the upper levels of government) does not want your service. (Even when disaster strikes, China is often suspicious of foreigners coming to serve and would rather use their own capable resources to deal with the crisis.) It doesn't want your missionaries. And now, China might not even want your singers and dancers. Though I love what BYU's Young Ambassadors have done for China for the past 30-something years, I think government leaders are no longer impressed by sweet young people who can sing and dance well. What China wants and needs now is expertise and excellence that can lift China in key areas. Talented, capable, intelligent individuals that can help China achieve its goals such as strengthening its economy, increasing innovation, enhancing the environment, and alleviating illness.

If you want to change China with your love of its people and your love of God, first develop the skills and know-how that can help China in the areas that matter to the leaders here, and prepare to do it with courage and a touch of divine help to inspire and open doors. Develop skills that will help you stand out and inspire others. How, I don't know. I haven't done that. Not even close. But there are people out there who can. There are some great ones over here now, but we need more. There are some incredible Christians, including some great Mormons, with the vision and the skills to be instruments on the hands of God here to open doors that are not fully open yet. If you've got the talent and the faith to take on the impossible and prevail like Ammon, then please weave China into your plans. China is calling. It's the most exciting and wonderful place I've ever been, and there's an incredible journey waiting for you here, especially if you have the track record, the credibility, and the skills to make a difference here. Language skills also help!

Meanwhile, I hope BYU will recognize that if it is going to play a role in China, it must be through something more than song and dance, as useful as that has been. China is rising. The way to China's heart and soul requires more relevant paths. This is a time for bold, aggressive cooperation and investment, in my opinion, to allow the deep expertise of BYU in numerous practical fields to inspire and bless China. So much good can be done with the right talent and expertise in the right place. And the right place, in my opinion, is China. And to be more specific, the place in China that seems most open and hungry for the skills that BYU and other Christian experts can bring is probably right here in Shanghai, a remarkably open community hungry for growth and the next generation of expertise.

China is calling.

Sunday, October 09, 2016

Don't Hate Voters Seeking for the Lesser of Two Deplorables

A young blogger known for advocacy of progressive causes in the name of tolerance and empathy recently expressed how angry she gets when she encounters those with different viewpoints on the social issues she cares about. This is a common problem these days. Some people who feel they are fighting intolerance and supporting diversity cannot tolerate those with diverging views. The reaction is highly emotional, even irrational, but very human. It's easy for people on both sides of many issues to see disagreement as evidence of hate and stupidity without the least empathy for their opponents, unable to imagine that it might be possible for an intelligent person to have coherent reasons for disagreeing.

During this election season, may we refrain from hating those who vote for either of the two deplorables seeking to be the next autocrat of the United States. Yes, I recognize that there are  reasons for believing that a vote for Candidate A (not to name names) would be a vote for unbridled greed, for corruption, for expanding the military-industrial complex, for intolerance, and for economic and social disaster. Perhaps Candidate A should be locked up for past crimes and scandals, and certainly kept out of office for crimes likely to be committed and for the utter disrespect of the Constitution. Yes, that candidate would be shame to America and weaken our freedoms. But there are two Candidate A's and plenty of people who recognize enough of the villainy of one that they may wish to vote for Someone Else, and unfortunately may feel they have no choice but to support the other Candidate A in this election that seems to represent the will of the Party and its media organs more than the will of the people. Give them a break. Perhaps they are making a mistake, but when given such terrible choices, who can really whose the right instead of trying to choose the less rotten?

Nephi's Larger Chiasms: New Insights into His Intentional Craftsmanship

The issue of chiasmus in the Book of Mormon has been a hot topic ever since John Welch discovered this interesting ancient Semitic form of introverted parallelism in the Book of Mormon. Some say Joseph could have picked up the technique of introverted parallelism by osmosis. Others argue that Book of Mormon chiasmus is accidental, the result of searching for patterns that aren't really there. These theories don't account for the Book of Mormon's tendency to use chiasmus laden with meaning in ways that are consistent with ancient Semitic poetry.

Alma 36 has often been used as the poster child for intentional chiasmus where the meaning fits the structure beautifully (e.g., the center of the chiasmus, where emphasis is given by the structure, focuses on the primary message of the Book of Mormon: turning to Jesus Christ to be redeemed, and the two halves of the chiasm strongly contrast Alma's state before and after that turning). There are arguments against Alma 36 that I've addressed here before and will address in more detail in an upcoming article for The Interpreter. However, Alma 36 is just one of many valuable examples of what appears to be intentional, clever chiasmus. The larger chiasms of Nephi also deserve attention, especially in light of the latest publication at The Interpreter, Dennis Newton's "Nephi’s Use of Inverted Parallels" (Interpreter: A Journal of Mormon Scripture 22 (2016): 79-106).

Newton's work, in my opinion, is a significant advance in our understanding of chiasmus in the Book of Mormon. He shows that the larger chiasms of Nephi show a transition over time in his writing and thinking, beginning with an emphasis on obedience and then toward the end of his life showing a focus on redemption through Christ. Here is the abstract:

Abstract: Did Nephi intentionally use chiasmus in his writings? An analysis of fifteen multi-level chiasm candidates in Nephi’s writings demonstrates a high statistical probability (99%+) that the poetic form was used intentionally by Nephi but only during two specific writing periods. This finding is buttressed by further analysis, which reveals a clear and unexpected literary pattern for which Nephi seems to have reserved his usage of chiasmus. The nature of obedience is a major theme in Nephi’s writings, and he regularly employed chiasms to explore the topic early in his writings. After a period during which he discontinued use of the technique, he returned to the poetic device toward the end of his life to signal a significant shift in his thoughts on the topic of obedience.
Newton's analysis not only strengthens the case that individual chiasms from Nephi are intentional, but shows how they fit into a pattern that adds integrity and purpose to his work.  Cumulatively they greatly increase the probability that Nephi was intentionally using chiasmus as a tool to convey meaning. In my view, it also greatly weakens the theory that Joseph was the author of 1 Nephi and 2 Nephi.

Sunday, October 02, 2016

Robert F. Smith and the Preposterous Book of Mormon

Having raised the issue of linguistics and Book of Mormon evidence in my last post, let me point to an intriguing recent presentation with some weighty discoveries relevant to the much-derided Nephite system of "coinage" in Alma 11. His presentation on "The Preposterous Book of Mormon" A Singular Advantage" is available on Youtube (see below) and the PDF is at FAIRMormon.org. I learned about his paper after reading a valuable comment from Brother Smith in William Hamblin's intriguing blog post at The Interpreter, "Palestinian Hieratic." Interesting tidbits of ancient language and archaeology are transforming one of the most ridiculed weaknesses of the Book of Mormon into surprising strength, an ironic twist which has become rather repetitious in the past few decades.

Let me know what you think. Or should I say, a senine or seon for your thoughts?

Update: Brother Smith makes a brief reference to an apparent error in the current Book of Mormon in which the measure known as a shiblum actually should be shilum. It's a significant issue, actually. Here's something I wrote on this issue last year:

The name Shiblon is also a unit of weight (not coinage!) in the Book of Mormon, according to Alma 11:15. This name may be related to a Jaredite king's name, Shiblom, one of a number of Jaredite names that crop in Nephite culture, consistent with the persistence of Jaredite influence among the later Nephites, (e.g., Corianton, Noah, Korihor/Corihor, and Nehor). There is also a Nephite unit of weight called a shiblon, "for a half measure of barley." According to the entry for Shiblon in the online Book of Mormon Onomasticon, a terrific resource to explore possible meanings and connections for Book of Mormon names, this usage of shiblon might derive from Hebrew Å¡ibbolet, "ear of grain."

LDS folks have long assumed shiblon was related to the next unit of weight mentioned in Alma 11:16, the shiblum. But the detective work of Royal Skousen leading the Critical Text of the Book of Mormon shows that what Joseph dictated in his translation was actually shilum, and that is what the Yale Edition of the Book of Mormon now has. The Book of Mormon Onomasticon's entry for shiblum explains what happened:

SHIBLUM has been the reading in Alma 11:16, 17 since the 1830 edition. It was written down as SHIBLUM in the original manuscript by Oliver Cowdery (probably based on the reading of the word SHIBLON in Alma 11:15, 16. O [the original manuscript] was then corrected by him to SHILLUM by overwriting the b with an l. Then (possibly with the assistance of Joseph Smith) he crossed off the overwritten l to produce SHILUM. In the printer's manuscript it appears only as SHILUM. The 1830 typesetter erroneously set shiblum (in what is now verse 16), which it has remained through the current edition of the Book of Mormon. In verse 17 both O and P [the printer's manuscript] have only shilum, but the typesetter repeated the mistake of verse 16 by setting shiblum, the reading in 1830-2013.[1] While the derivation of shiblum from ancient HEBREW is somewhat problematical, shilum is not. Its derivation from the HEBREW shillum, "reward, payment, compensation" is found in Micah 7:3 in the context of bribing judges.[2] According to Hoftijzer, in Northwest Semitic inscriptions slm has the meaning "to be paid, repaid."[3]
  1. Royal Skousen, Analysis of Textual Variants of the Book of Mormon. vol. 3. (Provo, UT: FARMS, 2004), 1810-11.
  2. Ludwig Koehler and Walter Baumgartner, eds. The Hebrew & Aramaic Lexicon of the Old Testament, vol. 4. (Leiden: Brill, 1995), 1511.
  3. Jacob Hoftijzer, Dictionary of North-west Semitic Inscriptions [Leiden: Brill, 1995], 2:1145.
If you don't have Skousen's Critical Text of the Book of Mormon, you might want to mark your printed or electronic Book of Mormon in Alma 11 with a note explaining that shiblum should be shilum, meaning "reward, payment" in Hebrew. This is one of numerous examples of Hebraic influence that Joseph probably could not have appreciated since he didn't study Hebrew until around 1835. Without the recent investigation of Skousen into the original Book of Mormon text, it's something we probably would not appreciate today.