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

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Another Cool Aspect of the Book of Abraham

One of the disappointing things about the response of critics to the Book of Abraham is the general failure to acknowledge anything that looks like Joseph happened to get something right. Elsewhere I've cited examples such as the bulls-eye of linking the four sons of Horus in Facsimile 2 with the four quarters of the earth (see Richard W. Wilkinson, Symbol and Magic in Egyptian Art, (London: Thames and Hudson, 1994), 133-134, 213) or identifying the crocodile in Facsimile 1 as the idolatrous god of Pharaoh -- an apt description of Sobek, the crocodile god long associated with Pharaoh. See Quinten Barney, "Sobek: The Idolatrous God of Pharaoh Amenemhet III," Journal of the Book of Mormon and Other Restoration Scripture 22/2 (2013): 22–27 (link is to a PDF). In addition to many plausible and even impressive elements in the comments on the facsimiles, there are numerous aspects of the text itself with support in ancient documents, most of which were not accessible to Joseph. See especially Traditions about the Early Life of Abraham, edited by John A. Tvedtnes, Brian M. Hauglid, and John Gee (Provo, Utah: Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies, 2001).

One interesting issue I failed to include in previous discussions comes from Barry Bickmore's works on early Christianity. On a page entitled "The Angel of God's Presence in Abraham 1:15-16" (archived), Bickmore observes that the "angel of the Lord's presence" who rescues Abraham on the altar is also identified as Jehovah, and this correlation between Jehovah and an angel makes good sense in light of ancient Jewish beliefs but would be at odds with what Joseph would likely have learned in his environment. Bickmore, after drawing in part upon Margaret Barker'a The Great Angel,  concludes:
We have established that Abraham's identification of Yahweh with "the angel of his presence" was consistent with the earliest Israelite traditions, and also with the earliest Christian traditions. But if we assume, as the critics of the Book of Abraham do, that Joseph Smith created this remarkable document by applying his fertile imagination to the sources he had at hand, how did he come up with this strange designation for Yahweh? The only Biblical source for the phrase would have been Isaiah 63:9, but we have seen that this verse gives no hint that Yahweh was equated with "the angel of his presence". This conclusion can only be drawn when the Greek text is compared with the Hebrew. However, the Septuagint was not translated into English until 1851, so again we are at a loss to find a source for the Prophet. Consider also that we have not been able to find even a single case where Joseph Smith used this title to refer to Yahweh, aside from this solitary passage in the Book of Abraham. Therefore, we are forced to conclude that Joseph Smith was inconceivably lucky in his choice of words, or in fact the Patriarch Abraham chose these words to describe his God.
There are so many intriguing "direct hits" or "bulls eyes" that we find in the Book of Abraham that it would seem unwise to dismiss the book as a mere fraud. Something noteworthy is going on. Indeed, the strengths of the Book of Abraham could soon be more frequently discussed and appreciated, rather than merely discarding the book as a fraud as too many are too quick to do.

Update, Dec. 30, 2016: With helpful input from readers here, I've recognized that it is possible that Joseph could have picked up the concept of equating the angel with Jehovah based on biblical commentary. In fact, through searching commentaries at BlueLetterBible.org, I found that Matthew Henry's eighteenth-century commentary on Isaiah 63 specifically opines that the "angel of the Lord's presence" in Isaiah 63:9 could be Jesus Christ in the role of Jehovah. Henry states:
The person employed in their salvation-the angel of his face, or presence. Some understand it of a created angel. The highest angel in heaven, even the angel of his presence, that attends next the throne of his glory, is not thought too great, too good, to be sent on this errand. Thus the little ones' angels are said to be those that always behold the face of our Father, Mt. 18:10. But this is rather to be understood of Jesus Christ, the eternal Word, that angel of whom God spoke to Moses (Ex. 23:20, 21), whose voice Israel was to obey. He is called Jehovah, Ex. 13:21; 14:21, 24. He is the angel of the covenant, God's messenger to the world, Mal. 3:1. He is the angel of God's face, for he is the express image of his person; and the glory of God shines in the face of Christ. He that was to work out the eternal salvation, as an earnest of that, wrought out the temporal salvations that were typical of it.
So I'll grant that there is a basis for commentary from others to have guided Joseph Smith on this point.

Sunday, December 25, 2016

God Gave His Only Begotten Son

In preparing for the joys of Christmas during our brief return to the winter wonderland of Wisconsin, my wife and I read John 17 and contemplated the ministry of the Messiah and His mission to rescue mankind. As we read the Lord's great Intercessory Prayer, we marveled at how clear Christ's words were regarding unity and His relationship with the Father. To begin with, the very act of worshipful prayer tells us much of that relationship. He also refers to His premortal relationship with the Father:

These words spake Jesus, and lifted up his eyes to heaven, and said, Father, the hour is come; glorify thy Son, that thy Son also may glorify thee:
As thou hast given him power over all flesh, that he should give eternal life to as many as thou hast given him.
And this is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent.
I have glorified thee on the earth: I have finished the work which thou gavest me to do.
And now, O Father, glorify thou me with thine own self with the glory which I had with thee before the world was.

And regarding His disciples and those who would accept Him and follow Him as Savior and Redeemer, He prayed:
18 As thou hast sent me into the world, even so have I also sent them into the world.
19 And for their sakes I sanctify myself, that they also might be sanctified through the truth.
20 Neither pray I for these alone, but for them also which shall believe on me through their word;
21 That they all may be one; as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us: that the world may believe that thou hast sent me.
22 And the glory which thou gavest me I have given them; that they may be one, even as we are one:
23 I in them, and thou in me, that they may be made perfect in one; and that the world may know that thou hast sent me, and hast loved them, as thou hast loved me.
24 Father, I will that they also, whom thou hast given me, be with me where I am; that they may behold my glory, which thou hast given me: for thou lovedst me before the foundation of the world.
25 O righteous Father, the world hath not known thee: but I have known thee, and these have known that thou hast sent me.
26 And I have declared unto them thy name, and will declare it: that the love wherewith thou hast loved me may be in them, and I in them.
From my LDS perspective, I often wonder how did so much misunderstanding arise in debates centuries later about these relationships and the unity of God, which here is held up as the kind of unity Christians should achieve? Not becoming one Being, but united beings, one in purpose and intent. Of course, I recognize that many fellow Christians fully accept the declarations of the creeds arising from those debates, and while we are comfortable with much stated therein, we feel that the earliest Christians understood the unity of Christ with the Father to be a unity in heart and purpose shared between two Beings, between the Father and the Son.

When we read the touching words of how God sent and gave His only begotten Son in John 3:16, in my opinion that loving, poignant sacrifice is best understood as making reference to the love a father naturally has for a son, an analogy that only makes sense to me if they are distinct beings. Yes, of course others will read this differently.

In any case, may we contemplate the teachings of the scriptures about our relationship to Christ, and His relationship to the Father, and pursue paths to help us to become more fully one in them.

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

A Proud Mother and a Little Miracle in the Snowy Chaos of Portland

Sunday services in Shanghai were terrific, as almost always. I got to attend sacrament meetings in two wards and was touched by inspiring talks in both from a strong variety of excellent speakers, including my wife.

One story that I especially enjoyed was shared by Sister Debrah Roundy and used here with her kind permission. Sister Roundy, by the way, is one of Shanghai's more famous Mormons and seems to frequently be on television and in local newspapers for her many dance performances with local Shanghai women and for significant community service as a teacher. Just saw a local TV clip of her tonight. Jimmer, I'm afraid, isn't the only celebrity in our branches.

Here is one of the stories Debrah shared with us Sunday in the Shanghai International Branch:
I opened Facebook and found a little story my son Sam had written. Then that night I was asked to give a talk at church about Jesus and his life. I did not have much time to write a talk but I did have a few minutes to ponder so here are my ponderings and Sam’s story.

Our Savior paid the ultimate price for our sins. I have learned that the price has already been paid. We can heap no more pain on him for he has paid that eternal price, but the man who paid the deepest price in all eternity is also able to feel the deepest joy.

My son Sam went to Portland, Oregon in the USA the same time that a blizzard hit the Portland area. It was in all the newspapers and news reports. He was staying in a hotel and this is the story Sam wrote.
If you have never been to Portland in the snow, wow, craziest thing I have ever seen, cars everywhere. Trucks stopped in the middle of the freeway putting chains on, abandoned cars everywhere. I went to my hotel room and I saw a car just off the road. It appeared like I would be able to help them so I went over. There was an older couple in the car, a Toyota Four Runner, actually, and I asked if I could help them. I told him it would probably be best if I got in his car and drove it for him and so I did.

Then they told me they were going to sleep in the car. I have an extra bed in my room which I have been bummed about wasting, so I told them that I was kidnapping them and they had to come with me. They tried to say no, but then they said "We just got done working at the Portland LDS temple and we had been praying that someone would help us because we came and worked in the temple all day even when we knew the roads would be bad." They added, “Is that why you are trying to help us.”

I said, “Actually, I was just going to go get a milkshake and watch the chaos, but yes that is why I am here helping you.” I’m glad I did not listen to my coworkers who were making fun of me for going and watching the chaos.
I found tears of gratitude and joy spring into my eyes as I read this little story. My son was doing right. He was attuned to the spirit and following promptings. My little momma heart soared. All those fights that began and ended in prayer we call Family Home Evenings, all the scripture studies wedged into busy lives, all the chats and sharing family stories of the gospel were now bearing fruit and the fruit is good.

Then I thought of my Savior. He must feel the same way when we, his children, do right and are tuned into promptings given us. We can make is big generous heart soar. We can make his sacrifice and pain all worthwhile and we can do it again and again.

I know he lives and loves me and I am grateful I could raise four beautiful children who are attuned to the spirit at this time in their lives.

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

More Than Just a Faith Promoting Sports Rumor: Jimmer in Shanghai

When you attend church services in the Shanghai branches, you never know who you'll meet. Recently some of us have had the privilege of receiving the sacrament from a tall, energetic, youthful man who humbly serves others in spite of being a celebrity both in China and in the US. This particular celebrity, Jimmer Fredette of BYU fame, has energized Shanghai, at least for sports fans, with his athletic prowess. Jimmer has temporarily left the NBA and is playing this season for Yao Ming's team, the Shanghai Sharks, and is drawing a lot of attention and a lot of fans. But when you meet Jimmer off the court, you wouldn't know he's a star. Just seems like a cheerful, outgoing, courteous young man who has deeply impressed those who are close to him.

Jimmer scored 47 points last week, and 51 a while before that. He has helped the Shanghai Sharks have 8 straight victories recently. The Chinese state media, CCTV, did a 5-minute clip about him (I think this link from a WeChat source requires WeChat or other software to view the video). Awesome. I'll be attending a Shanghai Shark's game next week (sold-out tickets hindered my first attempt). Can't wait! If you're a Jimmer fan, come join us in Shanghai! I bought two extra tickets, and don't know yet who we'll be bringing along. Could it be you?

Sunday, December 04, 2016

The Church in a Changing World: Robert Griffiths Answers the Question, "What if I'm Uncomfortable with the Church's Position on Social Issues?

The author of the guest post below, Robert D. Griffiths, is one of the most impressive men I know. I interacted with him frequently while he was serving as the US Consul General for the State Department's Consulate in Shanghai (2011-2014) and continue to learn from him. His profound experience as a diplomatic and his deep knowledge of Asia and humanity in general add depth to his counsel. I should also observe that he and his wife are two of the most genuine and loving Christians I know. Here he shares some important thoughts about dealing with the discomfort that some people face regarding the Church's position on social issues. I think his guidance should be considered by those in and out of the Church. — Jeff L.

The Church in a Changing World

What if I'm uncomfortable with the Church's position on social issues?

By Robert D. Griffiths 

I was struck when someone close to me, in reaction to the Church’s newly launched effort to aid refugees, blurted out, “Finally, something about the Church we can be proud of!”

This got me thinking about the pressures that are put on Church members in a day when society, in an effort to be accommodating to people of all persuasions, becomes distorted by single-issue politics. Social media and a 24-hour news cycle flood us with narrowly-focused information and criticism and it is easy to miss the big picture. In such an environment, it is too easy to either feel embarrassed that the Church is not more responsive to the social issues of the day, or to hunker down in traditional Mormon culture and wait for the Second Coming.

I was born in Utah, but have lived overseas in developed and developing countries for some 30 years, and in the big cities of the U.S. East and West Coasts for another 11. These years have provided rich and perspective-broadening experiences. Yet when I consider what I have seen in the world, and the challenges and changes that pummel societies across the globe, and in “Zion,” it seems to me that the world could really use what the Church has to offer.

Oh, I am well aware that the Church is not perfect. It has made mistakes historically and continues to fall short of its ideals today. And there are those whose personal experiences and circumstances lead them to believe that the Church is not for them. But in a plea to not throw the baby out with the bath water, consider the following:

Belonging.   The refugee crisis in the Middle East reflects a resurgence in hatred among ethno-religious groups such that murder of “the other” is hardly given a thought. In some places in Africa, there is similar strife. The hateful rhetoric between China and Japan and that coming out of North Korea--while not yet having led to blows--is growing uncomfortably harsh. And then there is the anger directed at the United States from many quarters. All of this is disturbingly reminiscent of pre-world War II rhetoric that justified hatred of other peoples as sub-human and deserving of persecution, even death.

Even at home, inter-racial tensions are becoming ever sharper in many of our cities. Many political attitudes reflect not only a zero-sum mentality, but in some quarters “understanding” “empathy” and “compromise” have become vilified. One national political commentator famously declared on national TV that he wanted to kill someone for holding different political views. On a personal level, one result of the disintegration of the nuclear family in many people’s lives is an increase in loneliness and a sense of rootlessness. While friendships can be rich and wonderful, they do not carry the same level of commitment, and sense of belonging, that family relations do.

One of the often overlooked, but profoundly significant, teachings of the Church is that all human beings are brothers and sisters. Not just in some metaphorical sense, or as a warm and fuzzy social attitude, but literally we are all children of Heavenly Parents. That teaching alone, if internalized throughout the world, would significantly mitigate war, hatred and strife and replace them with a sense of common roots and shared interest with all in the human family.

Since the LDS Church was relieved of the burden of discrimination against blacks and the priesthood some 40 years ago, Mormons, for the most part, have readily re-embraced the fundamental LDS doctrine of the human family. In a recent stake leadership meeting I attended, most of the well-informed and well-received discussion was led by Hispanic and black leaders. And more striking, I think, was a sales flyer I received in the mail from an orthodontist in a small Utah town. To make his practice more attractive to conservative Mormons--the majority of his potential patients--he highlighted a picture of his own large family, which includes four well-dressed and smiling (with straight teeth!) children of African descent (presumably adopted) along with four biological children. In dealing with minorities, Mormons may lack the nuance that will come in time from greater exposure, but their hearts, most of the time, are in the right place.

While our numbers are still small, the expansion of the Church with its fundamental teaching of the human family acts as a hatred-absorbing control rod as it expands its presence in communities at home and in nations abroad. And the lonely soul is comforted.

Forgiveness. As imperfect people and nations perpetrate injustices on one another, grudges grow. Revenge can motivate otherwise peaceful people to commit cruelties and even atrocities in an effort to even the score. Justice, it seems, demands it. No one wants to be played for a sap. Without a mechanism to mitigate a desire for revenge and deflate feelings of vengeance, injustices can pile up until enmity replaces humanity. This happens on the international level—witness the ethnic and clan-based violence that undermines Mid-East peace today—and on the personal level when perceived injustices cause friends to backstab or family members stop talking to each other.

In a complex world, it is human nature to try to simplify wherever possible. We want to separate the good guys from the bad guys, despite a more honest recognition that no one is all bad, or all good. Americans are rightly proud of the rule of law and the ability to sue for justice, but we too readily mark for life those who have committed crimes, even after they have paid their debt to society. Just ask anyone who has ever had a felony conviction how easy it is to apply for a job. While there are certain individuals who may always be a danger to society, we create a huge, benighted underclass of our fellow citizens simply because it is easier to pigeon-hole “bad guys” rather than allow for the possibility that people can put past mistakes behind them.

The benefits of forgiveness are widely recognized, at least on a certain level. Putting historical grievances to rest can provide a foundation for peace between previously hostile nations and peoples. Nelson Mandela’s extension of forgiveness to those who had terribly wronged him created a template for an entire nation to move forward in peace. It is also widely recognized, if not widely practiced, that people are psychologically much healthier when they stop carrying burdens of self-pity and revenge. But it is hard for forgiveness to get traction when it seems to undermine justice.

The Church has had its share of injustices perpetrated upon it, and has perpetrated some of its own, but the overwhelming strain in church teaching and practice is to do right and forgive wrongs. The Saints are in fact told to “forgive all men.”   But the real power behind the Church’s doctrine of forgiveness is the understanding that justice is not undermined when we forgive. As we are patient, a just God will right all wrongs. Moreover, we believe that people’s hearts can truly be changed and the ‘natural man’ can be overcome.

Knowing that justice will be served, and hearts can be changed, the Mormon practice of forgiveness provides the world a welcome and powerful tool for the amelioration of ill-will and improved human relations at all levels.

Hope. Traditional values and religion have taken a beating as the scientific revolution reduced the need for Divine explanations of natural phenomena, as greater transparency has revealed hypocrisy in religious institutions, and as almost unrestrained freedom to think and act as individuals has become the norm in many societies. It is good for falsehoods to be exposed and for new and worthwhile ideas to enrich humankind. But in the very imperfect and sometimes cruel process of tearing down traditional institutions, a price is paid. While Karl Marx may have dismissed religion as “the opiate of the masses,” the fact is that religious faith has provided a vital measure of hope to the vast majority of the world’s people throughout the ages, especially those who have not been privileged to enjoy material abundance and a life where things go their way.

It is hard for secular society to provide hope, in an existential sense, because its time horizon is so short. Our material well-being, our health, our reputation, even our lives, can be overturned in moment by a lost job, a hurricane, a diagnosis, a lawsuit, a vengeful social media attack, or a speeding dump truck. And while data for historical comparison are hard to come by, the incidence of depression, loneliness and suicide is high and rising in the world today.

Few, if any, religions provide as much information, from as many sources, regarding the afterlife as does Mormon theology. For anyone with an open-minded interest in the possibility of life after death, affirmations from four separate books of historical and modern scripture, fervent testimonies of modern day prophets, and countless stories from family histories and contemporary accounts among the Saints cannot help but provide food for thought, if not the seeds of hope and faith. Moreover, the picture of the afterlife revealed by Church teaching and testimonies is relatively detailed and wonderfully comforting and reassuring. We will see our loved ones again. We will be made whole. We will enjoy both justice and mercy. We will be happy.

Even in this life, the Church offers a lot of hope of the short-term kind. The Church organization of bishops’ storehouses, social and counseling services, job placement assistance, and home and visiting teaching, and the community of Saints, provide tangible help and hope when life happens. Not to mention the spiritual comfort that believing Saints can tap into through individual prayer and blessings.

Naturally, most of the hope that the Church and its teachings can provide is contingent on some level of faith and commitment. But that does not change the fact that in a world where hope for so many is in short supply, where hopelessness for almost anyone is so easily stumbled into, and where humans continue to yearn for an identity that is more than a bunch of chemical interactions brought together by random chance, the Church and its offers of hope shine like a beacon.

Development. There are religions in the world that aspire to a monastic separation from the world, where an individual ultimately progresses by inner devotions with little connection to other people. There are animal rights advocates--modern-day Taoists--who believe that it is wrong for humans to infringe on the natural world. There are those who seek to fix their societies in a past time, believing that modernity is to be shunned. For better or worse, the Church is not like these, but is “full in” with the use of all resources, especially new technologies, to make the world a better place. And consistent with a rapidly developing world and continuing revelation, the Church’s efforts are changing and increasing.

The Church, understandably, focuses mainly on its core expertise, the spiritual development of the sons and daughters of God, where it is best positioned to make its greatest contribution. As David O. McKay said, in the language of the time, the purpose of the Church is to “make bad men good and good men better.”

However, Church efforts do extend outside the spiritual realm. Regardless of what one might think of what goes on inside LDS chapels and temples, one must admit that the grounds outside are generally quite pretty. LDS facilities visually enhance their communities. Perhaps this is a small thing, but it does reflect consistency in our regard for beauty, inside and outside, without being ostentatious.

In fact, the Church spends a lot of time and resources to make the world a better place. Often working in tandem with other organizations, such as Catholic Charities, the Church has a long history of charitable giving. And charitable service, such as the Helping Hands program, is getting considerable emphasis. The willingness of church members to spring into action after natural disasters has drawn a lot of media attention in recent years—the thousands of members from neighboring states who volunteered to “de-muck” homes of members and non-members alike after the flooding in Louisiana is only the most recent example. Effective charitable giving is not really that easy to do—it is not clear to me that what Syrian refugees need most are the quilts and toothbrushes that our ward is preparing to send them—but the Church works hard to find niches where it can make a difference. Wheelchair donations, digging rural village wells, and providing neo-natal care are three areas where I have seen the Church be particularly effective overseas. All LDS missionaries have charitable service built-in to their routines, and Charitable Service missionaries do charity work full-time. Welfare Square is widely renowned for its model stressing the dignity of work even as the needs of people who cannot work are also met. Charitable giving for all members, in tithing and fast offerings, is a fundamental part of Church membership and develops the soul.

The development of people gets top priority. Education has always been valued among the Saints. The Church’s universities serve several purposes, but providing top-level curricula and facilities reflects the respect that Mormons have for the world’s professions. The grassroots functioning of the Church requires literacy; the rotation of opportunities to serve in a lay ministry is predicated upon members having the needed skill sets. In addition to (sometimes seemingly endless!) training programs, chapels worldwide have long been venues for language classes, and there is a new effort to utilize chapels for a wide range of non-religious education efforts. For example, new programs in peer-counseling to support self-reliance help to create sustainable employment opportunities. Public speaking skills, gained from a very early age among active members, boost confidence. Church meetings provide a life-long venue for the development and practice of musical skills. The Perpetual Education Fund is a remarkable, ultimately self-sustaining, program that enables advanced education and family-supporting vocational skills to expanding thousands of members in developing countries. A fundamental LDS teaching undergirds all these efforts: All honest labor is noble. And because of the education, industry and discipline that members gain in the Church, members of LDS congregations around the world tend to be more productive than their peers outside the Church.

Civility. I smiled when a friend of mine in Washington, D.C., whose lifestyle and values would put him in contrast with most Mormons, commented on a recent trip he had taken through Utah. “The people are so nice!” I know there are exceptions, when members of the Church have been unkind or thoughtless or ideological, but I think they are exceptions. Generally, Mormons treat other people as brothers and sisters, willing to trust and forgive, imbued with the optimism that comes from being rooted in hope for the future. We believe in being nice!

Almost without realizing it, Mormons teach themselves civility by attending church. The geographical delineation of ward units causes us to associate with people we might not otherwise choose as friends, and we learn to get along. It is very different from the practice where a church-going family new to town might visit different congregations until they find where they feel most comfortable. We learn to be patient in fast and testimony meetings when speakers say things that are, well, off the mark. We learn to buoy up and strengthen each other, and the constant practice of being nice would help refine anyone’s character.

Although many Mormons have strong political views, our church meetings are strikingly apolitical. When members do speak in public venues and with those holding different political views, President Hinckley counseled us that if we must disagree, we should do so without being disagreeable. There has to be room for different views.   It would be a dull world if everyone saw everything the same way. The tens of thousands of missionaries who return home annually certainly have had to learn how to cope with disagreement, shunning and rejection and come away smiling.

One of the most oft-quoted scriptures is from Doctrine and Covenants 121, which makes clear that we are to seek to influence others only by persuasion, long-suffering, gentleness, meekness, kindness and love unfeigned. That counsel is a blessing for the rest of the world as well.

The Church, of course, does not have a monopoly on any of these virtues. Some people may practice them better than we do. As Mormons strive, however imperfectly, to live up to the teachings of the gospel and their ideals, even a modicum of the tolerance that Church critics generally extend to those who disagree with the Church should allow for cutting the LDS Church some slack. Even if the gospel message of the Restoration is not wholly believed, the Church should be given credit as a force for good that the world could surely use. And that is something to be proud of.

About Robert D. Griffiths  

Recently retired as a Senior U.S. Foreign Service Officer, rank of Minister Counselor, Mr. Griffiths is currently an instructor in Chinese politics at the University of Utah and at BYU.  He previously taught economics and Chinese studies at the National Defense University in Washington, D.C.  As part of his 34-year career with the State Department, he lived and worked in greater China for 14 years, most recently as U.S. Consul General in Shanghai (2011-14).  Previous postings abroad included Beijing, Bangkok, Taipei, Kaohsiung, and Bogota.  He served in the U.S. Senate for a year as foreign policy advisor to Harry Reid, (D-NV), and worked in the Asia Policy shop in the office of the Secretary of Defense.  He has a B.A. in Asian Studies (summa cum laude) from BYU, and a master’s degree in Public Policy from the Harvard Kennedy School.  He has spoken frequently at universities in the U.S., China and Thailand, and been interviewed on National Public Radio and other programs both in the U.S. and abroad.  He has lived in or visited 35 countries on every continent and speaks Chinese and Thai.  He is married to Jeanne Decker Griffiths and they have three grown children.

Friday, December 02, 2016

Uto-Aztecan and Its Connection to Near Eastern Languages, Part 3: The Egyptian Infusion, Plus the Explanatory Power of Stubbs' Framework

In Part 1 and Part 2 of this series, we introduced examples of cognates characteristic of two Semitic infusions into Uto-Aztecan, named by Stubbs as the Semitic-p and Semitic-kw infusions, which could correspond well with the infusions of Semitic language from the Nephites and later from the Mulekites into the Americas. These two groups existed for several centuries in different environments, presumably interacting with different peoples and languages, before merging into Nephite society. Finding significant elements of two distinct Semitic infusions is truly fascinating, both from a purely academic perspective but especially for students of the Book of Mormon.

Things get especially interesting, in my opinion, when we look at one further streak of Near Eastern linguistic influence in the Uto-Aztecan language family. Stubbs has identified over 400 cognates with Egyptian, far beyond the level of cognates often used to establish linguistic connections among New World languages. A remarkable phenomenon is that the Egyptian cognates generally have the same sound correspondences as the Semitic-p data, such as b > p, etc. The Egyptian infusion is not as strong as the two Semitic infusions, but on its own still exceeds the threshold in terms of number of cognates that are required to establish a language family. If this came from Lehi's group and the early Nephites, it would suggest that their spoken language was influenced by both Semitic (a flavor of Hebrew in particular) and Egyptian, possibly from the influence of the brass plates.

Stubbs leads the Egyptian discussion in Changes in Languages with the observation that -i, the old perfective/stative verb suffix in Egyptian corresponds with -i in UA, which is the intransitive/past/passive/stative verb suffix. Further, “the stative of Old Egyptian 3rd person verbs ended with -i and perfectly matches UA *-a/-i ‘alternation on the end of verbs, i.e., UA *-a ‘transitive, active’ and *-I ‘intransitive, passive, stative’ (Stubbs, Changes in Languages from Nephi to Now, 104). Further, Egyptian’s -w / -iw ‘passive verb suffix’ appears to be reflected well in UA -wa / -iwa, a ‘passive verb suffix’ (ibid., 105). But generally, the grammar of both Egyptian and Semitic is much different than that of UA.

A few examples of Egyptian cognates follow, taken from Changes in Languages from Nephi to Now, pp. 104–106:

(115) sbk / *subak ‘crocodile’ > UA *supak / *sipak
‘crocodile’ (b > p)

(124) tks ‘pierce’ > UA *tïkso ‘pierce, poke’

(125) km ‘black’ > UA *koma ‘dark, gray, brown, black’

(126) nmi ‘travel, traverse’ > UA *nïmi ‘walk around’

(129) wnš, pl wnšiw ‘jackal’ > UA *wancio / woncia
‘fox’ (-ns- > -nc- as in sense/cents)

(131) šm ‘go, walk, leave’ > UA *sima ‘go, leave’

(219) iqr ‘skillful, excellent, capable, intelligent’
> UA *yikar ‘knowing, intelligent, able, good’

The subak/supak cognate between Egyptian and Nahuatl was actually noted by Cyrus Gordon before Stubbs completed his work. As Stubbs puts it, “I merely added another 400 Egyptian-with-UA similarities to what he started” (Brian Stubbs, “Changes in Languages from Nephi to Now,” FAIRMormon Conference presentation, Aug. 2016). As seen in the subak/supak example above, the Egyptian infusion is like Semitic-p in the way b becomes p in UA. Several examples include:

(132) sbq ‘calf of leg’ > UA *sipika ‘lower leg’ (b > p)

(133) sbty ‘enclosure’ > UA *sapti ‘fence of branches’

(134) qbb ‘cool; calm, quiet, cool breeze’ > UA *koppa ‘quiet, calm’

(137) bbyt ‘region of throat’ > UA *papi ‘larynx, throat, voice’

(138) bši ‘spit, vomit’, bšw ‘vomit, vomiting’ > UA *piso-(ta) ‘vomit’

(139) bnty ‘breast’ > UA *pitti / *piCti ‘breast’

(141) bit ‘bee’ > UA *pitV > *picV ‘bee, wasp’

(142) bik ‘falcon’ > UA *pik ‘hawk species’

(154) sb’ ‘star’ > UA *sipo’ > *si’po ‘star’

Also following a trend in the Semitic-p data, Egyptian x > UA *k, as in:

(170) txi ‘be drunk, drink deep’, txw ‘drunkard’ > UA *tïku ‘drunk’
(294) xpš ‘foreleg, thigh’ > UA *kapsi ‘thigh’
(295) xpd ‘buttock’ > UA *kupta ‘buttocks’
(295) xpdw ‘buttocks’ > UA *kupitu ‘buttocks’…
(452) xt ‘fire, heat’ > UA *kut ‘fire’

The Egyptian infusion also demonstrates other sound changes found in the Semitic-p infusion, including “Egyptian glottal stop ’ > w, or glottal stop next to round vowels (o, u),” for which many examples are given, and “Egyptian initial pharyngeal ђ > UA *hu, and non-initially ђ > w/o/u.” Among the many examples of the latter, two should suffice:

(181) ђnqt ‘beer, drinkers’ > UA *hunaka ‘drunk, alcohol’

(182) ђtp / hotpe ‘be gracious, peaceable, set (sun), bury’
> UA *huppi ‘peaceable, go down, sink, dive’

UA *huppi is related to the Hopi tribal name, meaning “peace.” Stubbs discusses this word in a section on sound clusters and their behavior on sound change patterns. Sound clusters often lose some of the original sounds, just as the -ght- in “daughter” and “night” has become merely -t- as pronounced in English . A sound cluster can also preserve a sound that otherwise would have changed. For example:
[M]any UA languages have intervocalic *-p- > -v-. That happens in Hopi, the Numic languages, and others. So when we see a -p- between vowels, it is due to an underlying consonant cluster being reduced to -p-, but showing -p- (instead of -v-) because of -Cp- or the cluster strengthening the -p-: [thus] Egyptian ђotpe ‘peace’ > UA *hoppi > Hopi hopi ‘peace, peaceable’; otherwise, *hopi > hovi (Stubbs, Changes in Languages from Nephi to Now, 55–56).
Stubbs also notes that Egyptian d corresponds to Semitic ṣ, so there are many examples of Egyptian d > UA *s, just as Semitic ṣ > UA *s in the Semitic infusions. A few of many examples include:

(200) dbt / *dubat ‘brick, adobe brick’ > UA *supa ‘adobe’
(199) db’ ‘to clothe, garment, clothing’ > UA *sipu’ > *si’pu ‘slip, skirt, shirt, clothing’…
(197) dʕb ‘coal-black’, dʕbt ‘charcoal’ > UA *so’opa ‘black, dark’
(194) d’i ‘pierce, transfix’ > UA *so’a/*so’i ‘pierce, sew, shoot arrow’
(390) dwt ‘mosquito, gnat’ > UA *suti ‘mosquito, gnat’ (Stubbs, Changes in Languages from Nephi to Now, 108.)

Egyptian initial r- > UA t-, though the Tarahumara (TR) language retains r-. Thus, for example, Egyptian rmt “man, person” > UA *tïmati “young man” but TR ŕemarí (ibid.).  The behavior of Tarahumara in this aspect is one of several puzzles in UA studies that Stubbs’ work helps resolve. The puzzle, discussed in detail in Exploring the Explanatory Power, is that the initial t in Proto-UA was retained in all UA languages except Tarahumara (TR), where it become initial r; i.e., PUA *t- > UA t- but TR ŕ-, yet surprisingly, TR also retains initial t in many words. Stubbs states that this is explained by Egyptian and Semitic t and d sounds being retained as t in TR, while initial r in Egyptian and Semitic are retained as r in TR, while Egyptian and Semitic r > t in the other UA languages.

Of the 40 TR words with initial r- or t- having cognates with Near Eastern languages, 37 (93%) follow the pattern that TR initial r- corresponds to Semitic or Egyptian initial r, while an initial t- corresponds to Semitic or Egyptian initial t or d sounds: t, t, or d in Hebrew or t, d, or ṭ in Egyptian (Stubbs, Exploring the Explanatory Power of Semitic and Egyptian in Uto-Aztecan, 303). The 93% correlation is meaningful if the identification of cognates was done by considering TR initial t as possibly coming from either initial t- or r- in Near Eastern languages, which appears to be the case, otherwise possible Near Eastern cognates that underwent the r- > t- sound change would have been excluded and the (already high) number of cognates under consideration would have been reduced in a way that would skew the numbers. The resolution of this puzzle is one of many subtle indicators that Stubbs’ work is not an artifact chance alone and does indeed provide explanatory power.

In addition to resolving the puzzle of initial t- in Tarahumara, there are six other technical and fascinating UA puzzles that Stubbs’ work clarifies, treated in Chapter 6 of Exploring the Explanatory Power.

Stubbs argues that “the language of the Egyptians” spoken of by Nephi in 1 Nephi 1:2 “means the language of the Egyptians and that the learning of the Jews means the education Lehi received in the Jerusalem environment for writing Hebrew (or Aramaic) in the Phoenician alphabet, and that Lehi, Nephi, and later record keepers to varying degrees (lesser degrees later) knew both Hebrew and Egyptian” (Stubbs, Changes in Languages from Nephi to Now, 86).

In Changes in Languages, Stubbs provides 100 cognates with Egyptian, a small fraction of his total but enough, as with the Semitic cognates, to be startling and often impressive. The relationship between Egyptian stative/passive features and Uto-Aztecan was particularly surprising and nicely documented (ibid., 64–65).

An Example of Explanatory Power: The Lamanite Term Rabbanah

Stubbs’ framework also helps resolve questions about a rare glimpse at a Lamanite term in the Book of Mormon record, where a Lamanite servant after Ammon’s miraculously victory at the Waters of Sebus addresses him with the honorific title Rabbanah. Stubbs adds this insight:

Returning to Rabbanah, the final -anah may be entirely different than any of us are guessing, possibly an unknown suffix from a deceased Native American language. However, in agreement with [the Book of Mormon Onomasticon at] https://onoma.lib.byu.edu, I think it more probable that Rabbaan- has the Semitic noun suffix -aan (Book of Mormon orthography does not distinguish long and short vowels). As mentioned in the Onomasticon, -aan (in Aramaic and Arabic) is cognate with Hebrew -oon due to the Canaanite vowel shift of long aa > oo. LDS scholars have tended to contort explanations for Aramaic in Lehi lingo, because the assumption has been that the Lehi-Ishmael party spoke Hebrew, not Aramaic, which I assumed also, until after I found UA suggesting much Aramaic, and after I found renowned Semitists also suggesting a continued Aramaic substrate among northern Israel’s areas…. Nevertheless, UA shows both -aan in some terms and -oon in other terms (though Hebrew also has some -aan terms among the more frequent -oon), and the UA -aan / -oon mix is consistent with what we see as Lehi’s Semitic being a heavy Aramaic-Hebrew mix. The New Testament Rabboni ‘my master’ (John 20:16) has the same Semitic stem rabb- with the Hebrew suffix -oon and -i ‘my’. Yet interestingly this Lamanite term has the -aan suffix like Aramaic and Arabic, not the -oon more common in Hebrew, because the Lamaniyyiim would be continuing the spoken language of the Lehi-Ishmael party, without access to the records containing Egyptian and Hebrew writing and vocabulary. In other words, the evidence in UA would suggest that the Lamanite languages would probably have had more Aramaic and less Hebrew and Egyptian than the Nephite languages had, and Rabbanah is consistent with that….

After the -aan, the Onomasticon suggests a feminine abstract noun ending -aa. Possibly. However, more likely in my mind is a continuation with Aramaic morphology in the suffix -aa ‘the’. In some Syriac / Aramaic dialects, the suffix -aa ‘the’ becomes part of the citation form or part of the noun, similar to English ‘the horse’ to mean ‘horse’, and to Aramaic reemaan-aa ‘antelope-the’ > UA *tïmïna ‘antelope’. Similarly, Aramaic Rabbaan-aa ‘great one-the’ or ‘great one’, consistently Aramaic throughout all 3 morphemes, seems at least as viable as other proposals, if not more so (Stubbs, Changes in Languages from Nephi to Now, 142–143).

This is one of many tentative insights that Stubbs offers from his analysis. There may be many more to consider in the future.

Broad Explanatory Power

It is the explanatory power of Stubbs’ work that most clearly points to the value of his find. This is not just a zealous hodge-podge of rather meaningless random parallels like, say, the parallels often collected through the passionate work of some Book of Mormon critics whose theories of plagiarism and borrowing fail to provide any explanatory power for Book of Mormon origins and leave the strengths of the Book of Mormon untouched or even ironically amplified. The parallels between Semitic languages and UA identified by Stubbs follow demanding methodologies and show consistent, plausible sound changes that not only provide large groupings of related words, but also help explain some previous puzzles in UA, including:

  • The phonology of medial (middle) consonant clusters, a topic that Stubbs describes as a huge problem in UA, is clarified by considering the influence of Semitic and Egyptian on the effect of adjacent consonants (see Section 7.2 of Exploring the Explanatory Power, 10).
  • Proto Uto-Aztecan (PUA)’s *p has clear reflexes (sound shifts) in the various UA languages. But five languages (Tarahumara, Mayo, Yaqui, Arizona Yaqui and Eudeve) show both initial b and p corresponding to PUA *p (ibid.). This is generally viewed as an inconsistency, but Stubbs’ work adds a significant insight: “The initial b forms in these languages correspond to Egyptian b or Semitic b of Semitic-p, and the initial p forms in these languages to Semitic/Egyptian p. How can such an alignment be coincidental? For the various UA forms of b vs. p to match Semitic/Egyptian b vs. p is significant” (ibid.). See Section 6.2 of Exploring the Explanatory Power, where numerous examples are analyzed, including the Hebrew word for lightning, baraq, which became *pirok / perok, “lightning,” in UA, while the initial b is preserved as berok- in Mayo (My), be’ok in Yaqui (Yq), or becomes a v in ve’okte of Arizona Yaqi (AYq), viriki-t of TaraCahitan (TBr), and vonaq-q Serrano (Sr). Many more examples are offered. The great majority of these puzzling occurrences of both p- and b-/v- from PUA *p- can now be explained by origins from Near Eastern words with initial p and b.
  • PUA initial t* at the beginning of words corresponds to the initial t in most of the UA languages, with a notable exception of Tarahumara initial r. “So if PUA *t became Tarahumaran r, then where does Tarahumara initial t come from? The data in this work suggest that Semitic/Egyptian initial r became t, so in most UA languages initial r and initial t merged to look like PUA *r, but Tarahumara kept them separate. Thus [Section] 6.1 [of Exploring the Explanatory Power] clarifies the Tarahumara r vs. t puzzle, which see” (ibid., 10).
  • A variety of other issues in sections 6.3 though 6.7 of Exploring the Explanatory Power are also explained by Stubbs’ work.

Many specific puzzles are also explained as an understanding of the Near Eastern roots of UA helps clarify relationships between many of the words in UA languages. For example, Hebrew makteš “mortar, grinding stone” is reflected in *ma’ta of Proto-UA, “mortar, grinding stone.” But in Cahuilla (Ca), the noun-made-verb mataš suggests derivation from a verb that has the geminated *-tt- (< *mattaš) because otherwise a single *-t- will become -l- in Cahuilla. The geminated *-tt- could readily derive from a cluster such as -kt-, and helps explain why the Ca word preserves the -t-. The final š is also more consistent with Hebrew makteš, strengthening the case for Hebrew makteš > PUA *ma’ta (Stubbs, Changes in Languages from Nephi to Now, 111. ).

One phenomenon of interest is the occasional existence of two related UA words from related Semitic cognates, one from Semitic-p and one from Semitic-kw. An example is item 617, UA *ti’na ‘mouth’ < Aramaic diqn-aa (Semitic-p), and item 628, UA ca'lo ‘chin’ < Hebrew zaaqn-o ‘chin-his,’ where the Hebrew and Aramaic words are a cognate pair (Stubbs, Exploring the Explanatory Power, 362).This is consistent with two infusions that evolved differently or among different groups of people before being united in some way. Stubbs’ work may help explain the presence of some pairs of similar words in UA.

Impressive Depth

The entries in Exploring the Explanatory Power are far more than the amateur list of stray parallels that some critics are imagining from Stubbs. I’ve been impressed with how consistently deep and expansive Stubbs’ analysis is, though I speak as a non-expert. To let readers judge for themselves, I provide a couple of his 1500 entries.

824 Hebrew hayyownaa / hayyoonat ‘dove’: UA *hayowi ‘dove’.

Note loss of -n- also in Ktn[Kitanemuk] payo' ‘handkerchief’ < Spanish paño; similarly, Sapir claims that single *-n- disappears and only geminated *-nn- survived in SP:

UAcv-696 *hayowi 'dove': M88-h03; KH.NUA; KH/M06-h03: Two languages (Hp, Tb) agree with *howi: HP höwi, pl: höwìit 'dove, mourning dove, white-winged dove'; Tb 'owii-t 'dove'. In contrast, three Numic languages show hewi: Mn heewi' 'mourning dove'; TSh heewi-cci 'dove'; Sh heewi 'dove'. Numic forms showing hewi (Mn, TSh, Sh) leveled the V 's from -ai- / -ay- in *hayowi > heewi, o shortened to be perceived as part of-w-; so as CU 'ayövi and Wc haïmï suggest the first vowel was a. Kw hoyo-vi 'mourning dove'; CU 'ayövi 'dove'; Ch(L) hiyovi; and Sapir's SP iyovi- 'mourning dove' with the final syllable as part of the stem, as in CNum, all show -y-. Kw and CU seem to have reinterpreted the final -vi as an absolutive suffix, but Ch, SP, and CNum suggest otherwise, and we again see -w- > -v- in Num. Most of NUA suggest *hayowi. NP ihobi 'dove' transposed the h.
*hayowi          > hewi (Sh, Mn, TSh)
> hayo            >          'ayö- (CU), iyovi (SP)
> hoyo- (Kw), hiyo(vi) (Ch) > ihobi (NP)
> *howi           > höwi (Hp)
> 'owii-t (Tb)

Only the -n- is missing. Wc haïmï/’áïmï 'dove' and the -howa- of Tr čohówari / čohóbari 'turtle dove' are probably related as well. Wc ï could be a leveling of -yow- (*hayow > haï). TO hoohi 'mourning dove' is probably related in some way, perhaps with preservative consonant harmony (*howi > hoohi), and TO does keep PUA *h sometimes.

[TO keeps *h; wN>m in wc?, -n- > Æ] [1h,2y,3w,4n] [NUA: Num, Hp, Tb; SUA: Tep, TrC, CrC] (Stubbs, Exploring the Explanatory Power, 210)

Having recently discussed the significance of several Hebrew words related to dust-motifs in the Book of Mormon, particularly ’pl related to darkness and obscurity, where an interesting wordplay may occur with the word ’pr meaning “dust” in 2 Nephi 1:23, I wished to look at the details Stubbs had uncovered regarding a relevant term:

871 Hebrew 'pl 'be dark'; Hebrew 'opel 'darkness'; Hebrew 'aapel 'dark'; Hebrew 'apelaa 'darkness'; Arabic 'afala (< *'apala) 'go down, set (of stars)'; like 'set' and 'go down', this Semitic root also means 'be late, in the day or in the season'; a causative Hebrew form in Jastrow's Aramaic(J) is later Hebrew he'epiil 'make dark' with unattested impfv ya'piil (m.) and ta'piil (f.). The unattested huqtal 3rd sg masc and fem passive of the above root would be Hebrew *yu'pal and *tu'pal 'become dark, be gone down (light)' aligning perfectly with UA *yu'pa(l) and *tu'pa(l) in the sets below; in UA *cuppa, the palatalization t- > c- due to the high vowel u, and the cluster doubles the -pp-: Semitic *tu'pal > cuppa:
UAcv-891 *cuppa 'fire go out': M67-171 *cupa 'fire go out'; 236 'go out (of fire)'; M88-cu9; KH/M06-co21:
Tb cupat, ’ucup 'be out (of fire)' ; Tb(H) cuppat 'fire to be out, go out'; Wr co'a 'put out fire'; Wr co'i 'be out (of fire)' ; Tr čo'á-ri- 'have another put out fire’; Tr čo'wi 'dark'; NV tubanu 'bajar de lo alto [go down from high up)'. …

In the following, the semantic tie goes from 'set, go down, end (day)' to 'end (of whatever)':
UA cv-871a *cuCpa/i / *cuppa 'finish, be end of s.th.': I.Num258 *cu/*co 'disappear'; M88-cu1 'finish'; KH/M06-cul: Mn cúppa 'disappear'; NP coppa 's.th. sinking'; My cúppe 'terminarse, vi'; My cúppa 'terminar, vt';
AYq čupa 'finish, complete, fulfill (vow)'; AYq hi(t)čuppa 'completing, fulfilling (vow), harvesting', AYq čupe 'get completed, finished, married, ripe'; AYq čupia 'be complete'; Yq čúpa 'terminar (bien)'; Wr cu'piba-ni 'acabar'; Sr 'ičo'kin 'make, fix, finish'; Wc sïï 'finish'. Note Mn 'disappear' and NP 'sinking' reflect 'sun going down'. The over-lapping semantics (finish/harvest) in Cah (My, AYq) may have us keep in mind *cuppV 'gather, close eyes'. Does Sr ‘ičo-kin 'make, fix, finish' have hi- prefix or is it from Hebrew ya-suup 'come to an end'?

UAcv-871b *copa / *cupa 'braid, finish weaving': Tr čobå/čóba- 'trenzarse, hacerse la trenza', Tb tadzuub 'braid it'; CN copa 'finish weaving/constructing s.th.'; CN copi 'piece of weaving or construction to get finished'…. [NUA: Num, Tak, Tb; SUA: TrC, CrC, Azt] (Stubbs, Exploring the Explanatory Power, 218)

Other groups of UA words related in different ways to Hebrew *yu'pal and *tu'pal include, in the abbreviated format from Changes in Languages:

(872) ’pl / *yu’pal ‘be dark, go down, m’ > UA *yu’pa > *yuppa ‘be dark, black, (fire) go out’

(873) ’pl / *yu’pal ‘be dark, go down, m’ > UA *yu’pa(l) > Aztecan *yowal, CN yowal-li ‘night, n’ (The Aztecan branch regularly loses a single -p-) (Stubbs, Changes in Languages from Nephi to Now, 99)

Several other dust-related correspondences from Exploring the Explanatory Power include item 591, Hebrew ’adaama and UA *tïma, “earth”; item 150, Egyptian t’, “earth, land, ground, country,” cf. Coptic to, and UA *tiwa, “sand, dust,” and also UA *to’o, “dust”; item 162 Egyptian šʕy ‘sand’ (Coptic šoo) > UA *siwa(l) ‘sand’; and item 665, Aramaic ђirgaa’, “dust,” and UA *huCkuN (C again means an unknown consonant and N is a nasal sound), “dust.”

The richness of linkages in the vocabulary related to dirt, dust, earth, and sand is reflected in many other areas, ranging from body parts and functions, animals, pronouns, numerous details of daily life, etc.

A Note on Metals

Stubbs’ work touches directly or indirectly upon a variety of Book of Mormon topics such as the issue of metals. Metals are one of the weak spots in the Book of Mormon, for their presence among the early Nephites is said to be an anachronism in the Book of Mormon. Many scholars claim that metals were unknown in Mesoamerica until roughly 900 A.D. In addition to disputing this conclusion on the basis of numerous finds of ancient metals that can push that the date of metal use to much earlier dates, John Sorenson has also appealed to linguistics to show that metals must have been known much earlier. In Mormon’s Codex, for example, Sorenson states that “decisive evidence for the presence of Classic and Pre-Classic metallurgy” can be found in the linguistic data showing “that words for metal or (metal) bell appear in five reconstructed proto-languages of major families in Mesoamerica: Proto-Mayan, Proto-Mixtecan, Proto-Mixe-Zoquean, Proto-Huavean, and Proto-Otomanguean (John L. Sorenson, Mormon's Codex (Provo: Neal A. Maxwell Institute, 2013), 331–5. See also John L. Sorenson, “An Open Letter to Dr. Michael Coe,” Interpreter: A Journal of Mormon Scripture 1 (2012): 91–109; http://www.mormoninterpreter.com/an-open-letter-to-dr-michael-coe/).

Since Huastecan split from the main Mayan group by 2000 BV and both have words for metal, knowledge of metals must have been very ancient. Data from Proto-Mixtecan also supports a date of 1000 BC or earlier for a word for metal (Sorenson, Mormon's Codex, 331–2). Interestingly, Sorenson then points to an early speculation from Hyacinthe de Charency who suggested that the Mayan term nab (gold) is related to Egyptian nb or nbw (or noub) (Hyacinthe de Charency, “Les noms des metaux chez differents peuples de la Novelle Espange,” Proceedings of the 8th International Congress of Americanits (Paris, 1890; rept. Nendeln, Leichenstein: Draus, 1968), 536–47, as cited by Sorenson, ibid., 343.). Though uncertain of the merit in that proposal, Sorenson also notes that Yucatec Mayan tau or taau (lead or tin, but literally “moon excrement”) may relate to Arabic taws (moon), and wonders if Zoquean hama-tin (gold, silver) might relate to Egyptian hmty (copper), or if Zoquean ?anak (lead, tin) could be connected to Akkadian (Babylonian) annakum (tin) (Sorenson, Mormon's Codex, 343). He calls for further study on this issue, and I would concur.

Stubbs pays little attention to the issue of metals, but some linguistic hints appear in the data. In Exploring the Explanatory Power, item 465 looks at ties to the Egyptian word meaning metal, ore, or iron, as well as sky (the place where [meteoric] iron comes from), though the linkage may point to flint knives. More relevant is item 466, where Egyptian nm, “knife,” and p’-nm, “the knife,” may relate to UA *panomi, “knife, iron, tool,” which undergoes a *p > v/w shift in several UA languages to give words meaning “iron, tool,” “metal, money,” or “knife, metal.

Item 98 brings a Hebrew connection: Hebrew rqʕ ‘stamp, beat out (metal), spread out’; Hebrew raaqiiaʕ ‘extended surface, expanse, sky’ > UA *tukuN- in * tukuN-pa ‘sky’ and ‘metal’. The analysis in Exploring the Explanatory Power has nearly a full page on this connection. “Of interest is that Hebrew *raqiiʕ literally means ‘beat broad or flat,” used in beating metal flat, but also means sky, as a broad expanse, and the Ca [Cahuilla], Cp [Cupeño], Sr [Serrano], and La forms all mean both ‘sky’ and ‘iron/knife’” (tubbs, Exploring the Explanatory Power of Semitic and Egyptian in Uto-Aztecan, 83). A related word in Kw (Kawaiisu) means “pounded metal” (Jane Wheeler Pires-Ferreira and Billy Joe Evans, “Mössbauer Spectral Analyisis of Olmec Iron Ore Mirrors: New Evidence of Formative Period Exchange Networks in Mesoamerica,” in Cultural Continuity in Mesoamerica, ed. David L. Browman (Chiacago: Aldine / Mouton Publishers, 1978), 101–154). Such words need not imply that metallurgy was known, but could point to ancient work with iron ore, a material treasured by the Olmecs (ibid.). The apparent sky/metal correspondences in the Old and New Worlds are worth further exploration.

With further work, perhaps the UA language family might be added to the five Mesoamerican language families Sorenson has listed providing linguistic evidence of an early knowledge of metals in the Americas.


Overall, these two new works are impressive contributions not just to the study of language in the Americas but also to the study of the Book of Mormon. In terms of Book of Mormon evidence, what Stubbs has begun here may be one of the most significant advances in our ability to relate the Book of Mormon to New World data. Stubbs conclusions were driven by data and unexpected discoveries, not by a desire to prove anything or see something that isn’t really there. It can only be hoped that others will consider the data as well and the impressive case it makes for Old World infusions into the New.

Thursday, December 01, 2016

Uto-Aztecan and Its Connection to Near Eastern Languages, Part 2: Evidence of a Second Semitic Infusion

In yesterday's post, "Uto-Aztecan and Its Connection to Near Eastern Languages, Part 1: A Credible Proposal from Brian Stubbs?," I shared examples of cognates that follow a consistent set of sound changes from Semitic, including the change of b into Uto-Aztecan p. Stubbs assigns that group of cognates to the "Semitic-p" infusion. As we'll see in a subsequent post, the sound changes of that group also follow the sound changes seen in a another set of cognates with the Egyptian language. But there is another group of Semitic cognates which follow somewhat different sound changes, most notably the change of Semitic b to kw in Uto-Aztecan. That's my subject for today.

The Semitic-kw Infusion

The data for the Semitic-kw infusion were noticed by Stubbs first as he became curious about the possibility of a Near Eastern connection to UA. The Semitic-p cognates appeared to be exceptions to what he was finding from Semitic-kw, so he overlooked their significance for years until he later noticed Egyptian cognates showing similar sound changes to the Semitic-p “exceptions.” At that point, he realized that there could have been two separate Semitic infusions with different sound changes due to contact with different peoples or being in a different environment.  That was when the current hypotheses came together.

Stubbs sees the Semitic-kw infusion as evidence for the Mulekite’s migration to the Americas and their later merger with the Nephite people. This infusion is suggestive of a Phoenician-like Semitic in which Semitic b > UA *kw (that is, Semitic b became UA *kw). There are other sound logical sound changes for this set of cognates. The change of -r- > -y- is consistent with changes seen in other languages. In contrast to the data from Semitic-p where a final -r causes no vowel change, “the final -r of Semitic-kw causes the last vowel to rise and front to -i or -y.” Further, the voiced pharyngeal ʕ > w/o/u consistently. Some examples follow:

(4) Hebrew baašel ‘boiled, cook, ripen’ > UA *kwasïC ‘cook, ripen’

(5) Hebrew bááśaar ‘flesh, penis’ > UA *kwasi ‘tail, penis, flesh’ (r > y/i)

(6) Hebrew baalaʕ ‘swallow’ > UA *kwïluC ‘swallow’

 (7) Semitic *bahamat ‘back’ > UA *kwahami ‘back’

(24) bky / bakaay ‘cry’ > UA *kwïkï ‘cry’

(19) barr- ‘land (as opposed to sea)’ > UA *kwiya / *kwira ‘earth’ (r > y/i)

(27) brm ‘worn out, weary, bored with’ > UA *kwiyam ‘be lazy, do lackadaisically’ (r > y/i)

(1457) Arabic ṣabba ‘pour, drip, overflow’ > UA *cikwa ‘rain’

(11) Hebrew -dabber ‘speak’ > UA *tïkwi ‘say, talk, speak’ (r > y/i)

(26) Hebrew bεn ‘son’; pl: bəneey ‘children (of)’ > Nahuatl *konee ‘child, offspring’   (bǝ/bV > kwV > ko)…

 (88) ʕalaqat ‘leech’, ʕlq ‘stick, adhere’, > UA *walaka ‘snail’ (of similar slimy adhering texture)

(89) śeeʕaar ‘hair’; Arabic šaʕr / šaʕar ‘hair’ > UA *suwi ‘body hair’ (-r- > y/i)

(92) yáʕar ‘wood, forest, thicket’ > UA *yuwi / yuyi ‘evergreen species’ (-r- > y/i)…

(78) Hebrew ђeṣ ‘arrow’ > UA *huc ‘arrow’

(79) Hebrew ђmr ‘cover with, smear on’ > UA *humay ‘smear, spread, rub, paint’ (r > y/i)

While the glottal stop is often rounded in the Semitic-p data, the Semitic-kw glottal stop is not rounded. Further, it is often lost, as in these examples:

(991) Hebrew ni-qra’ ‘he/it is called/named’ > UA *nihya ‘call, name’

(1214) Hebrew mee-’ayn ‘from where?’ > Tb maa’ayn ‘where from’

In contrast to Semitic-p where doubled *-bb- > UA *-pp-, Semitic-kw data shows doubled *-bb- > UA *-kw-, similar to Semitic b > UA *kw, as in:

(1457) Arabic ṣabba ‘pour, drip, overflow’ > UA *cikwa ‘rain’

(11) Hebrew -dabber ‘speak’ > UA *tïkwi ‘say, talk, speak’

An interesting correspondence with -bb- > -kw- is Hebrew ṣaab, “lizard,” cognate with Arabic ḍabba, “cleave to the ground, take hold, keep under lock.” With Semitic -bb- > UA -kw-, these may correspond with UA cawka that can also mean “grasp, lock, lizard.” 

In reading Stubbs, the proposed change of b to kw initially seemed puzzling. The idea of b becoming p seemed natural enough, but as a non-linguist, a relationship between b and kw struck me as odd. I initially wondered if this might be an implausible sound change that shows more about creative cherry picking or the Texas Sharp Shooter fallacy  than a legitimate linguistic possibility. I think linguists may more readily appreciate the plausibility of such a sound shift since similar relationships are found in other languages and there are linguistic reasons for the relationship between the stops p, b, and kw (see “Labialized Velar Consonant,” Wikipedia).  Stubbs does mention that b > kw proposed for UA is like the relationship between p in Greek and kw in Latin, but this comes in Chapter 8 long after the Semitic-kw hypothesis has been introduced (Stubbs, Changes in Languages from Nephi to Now, 114).  Further discussion and illustration from other languages would be helpful For example, the kw sound of quattro, the number four in Italian, corresponds to the p of patru (four) in Romanian.  Other relationships between p and kw are found in a few Indo-European languages  and even in some Native American languages,  and given the closeness of p and b, to me this strengthens the case for the possibility of Semitic b > UA kw.

A few resources relevant to kw-related sound changes:
  • Henry M. Hoenigswald, “Criteria for the Subgrouping of Languages,” in Ancient Indo-European Dialects: Proceedings of the Conference on Indo-European Linguistics, Held at the University of California, Los Angeles, April 25–27, 1963, ed. Henrik Birnbaum and Jaan Puhvel (Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1966), 1–12; see particularly 7; https://books.google.com/books?id=5pCBRsfJMv8C&pg=PA7.
  • In that volume also see Calvert Watkins, “Italo-Celtic Revisited,” in Ancient Indo-European Dialects, ed. Birnbaum and Puhvel, 29–50; see particularly 33, 34; https://books.google.com/books?id=5pCBRsfJMv8C&pg=PA33.
  • A discussion of the transition of a specific form of p–kw sound changes in several languages, namely *p … kw > *kw … kw, is in L. Nakhleh, “Coding of the phonological characters in the datasets (PDF),” CPHL Project (Computational Phylogenetics in Historical Linguistics), Rice University, July 2007; project page at http://www.cs.rice.edu/~nakhleh/CPHL, PDF file at http://www.cs.rice.edu/~nakhleh/CPHL/code-p-07.pdf. 
  • Further, see Domenico Pezzi, Aryan Philology According to the Most Recent Researches (Glottologia Aria Recentissima), transl. E.S. Roberts (London, Trübner & Company, 1879), 13, 18; https://books.google.com/books?id=wF0MAQAAIAAJ&pg=PA13. See also the discussion of Fick’s hypothesis at 11 regarding two k sounds in PIE, one of which became p in some languages and the other becoming c, with an intermediate sound in some languages similar to kv, which would could be the source for kw in Fick’s view. 
  • On the shift involving p and kw in Irish and Celtic, see Peter Schrijver, Language Contact and the Origins of the Germanic Languages (New York and London: Routledge, 2014), 80–82; https://books.google.com/books?id=MUVJAgAAQBAJ&pg=PA80

Further, in an early publication comparing the vocabularies among several UA languages, B.L. Whorf notes that the kw of PUA, while preserved as a kw in four UA languages, corresponds to b in two languages, Tepecano and Papago.  See B. L. Whorf, "The Comparative Linguistics of Uto-Aztecan,” American Anthropologist, 37/4 (Oct.–Dec., 1935): 600-608, citation at 607; http://www.jstor.org/stable/662643. This seems consistent with Stubbs’ hypothesis, wherein Semitic b was preserved in some cases but became kw or p in other cases. In any case, Whorf provides another example of a relationship between kw and b that strengthens the plausibility of the Semitic-kw hypothesis. (Whorf’s paper, by the way, mentions many words that are treated by Stubbs in Exploring the Explanatory power.) Perhaps Stubbs’ future works for general LDS audiences might include some related examples to help readers better appreciate the plausibility of his argument. In fact, Stubbs himself has already published an entire article (peer reviewed) dealing with the relationship between kw and b in the Uto-Aztecan family, which could be valuable to mention after introducing the Semitic-kw hypothesis. See Brian D. Stubbs, “The Labial Labyrinth in Uto-Aztecan,” International Journal of American Linguistics, 61/4 (Oct. 1995): 396–422; http://www.jstor.org/stable/1265830.

There are many more examples and details in Stubbs’ work from a number of perspectives that strengthen the case for Semitic infusion, whether of the p or kw variety. The parallels between Semitic pronouns and UA pronouns, for example, seem particularly noteworthy (see Stubbs, Changes in Languages from Nephi to Now, 68–69).  There are approximately 1100 Semitic cognates, an overwhelming quantity. Some are easy-to-recognize matches, while others may be more of a stretch but still plausible, such as:

(724) Semitic parʕoš ‘flea (jumper)’ (from the Semitic verb prʕš ‘jump’) > UA *par’osi / *paro’osi ‘jackrabbit’; the jackrabbit, like the flea, is also a jumper, and in UA *paro’osi ‘jackrabbit’ we see all 4 consonants and 2 identical vowels in two of the most extraordinary jumpers of the animal kingdom.

A final example from the Semitic-kw data:
(853) Arabic xunpusaa’ / xunpus ‘beetle’; Aramaic ђippuušiit ‘beetle, n.f.’ > UA *wippusi ‘stink beetle’.… Arabic xunpus shows that Semitic *x was the original consonant, and Aramaic ђippuušiit reflects the Northwest Semitic merger (*x and *ђ > ђ). So UA *wippusi shows Phoenician/Mulekite ђ > UA w, and UA also shows the doubled *-pp- and the exact vowels of Aramaic. An amazing match! (Changes in Languages, 124)
Indeed, there are numerous amazing matches in the body of data Stubbs has provided.

Next up: The Egyptian infusion.