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

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Janus Parallelism: Book of Mormon Hints? Part 2

In Part 1, we looked at some tentative possibilities for Janus parallelism in the Book of Mormon, drawing upon examples identified by Scott Noegel in his masterful work, Janus Parallelisms in the Book of Job. Here are a few more for consideration, all uncertain, of course.

Possibility #4: Jacob 7:25 may offer another example of the Janus parallelism proposed in Example 3 of my previous post, building upon dual meanings of "rock" and "enemy" from a single Hebrew word.
25 Wherefore, the people of Nephi did fortify against them with their arms, and with all their might, trusting in the God and rock of their salvation; wherefore, they became as yet, conquerors of their enemies.
If the word translated as "rock" could also convey the meaning of enemy, then the "enemy of their salvation" would look forward to the end of this verse which speaks of the Nephites becoming "conquerors of their enemies." Meanwhile, "rock of their salvation" naturally looks backward to God in whom they trust.

Possibility #5: On page 112 of Scott Noegel's book, he examines a Janus parallelism in Job 31:35 in which a single Hebrew word can mean both "mark" (as in a visible marking) and "desire." Perhaps something similar occurs with the only occurrence of "mark" from the small plates of the Book of Mormon in Jacob 4:14:
14 But behold, the Jews were a stiffnecked people; and they despised the words of plainness, and killed the prophets, and sought for things that they could not understand. Wherefore, because of their blindness, which blindness came by looking beyond the mark, they must needs fall; for God hath taken away his plainness from them, and delivered unto them many things which they cannot understand, because they desired it. And because they desired it God hath done it, that they may stumble.
A reading of "desire" instead of "mark" might be viewed as "looking beyond the desires [of God]," which would relate to the two instances of "desired" in the last part of this verse. The meaning of "looking beyond the mark" naturally fits the preceding passage, which refers to the "words of plainness" which can be viewed as the written "mark" from the prophets whom the Jews killed. By rejecting those words and the prophets, the result is blindness, which, like "desired," is mentioned twice before the pivotal word and relates well the concept of a visible mark. In short, this verse has blindness, blindness, mark/desire, desired, desired.

Possibility #6. Noegel on page 74 discusses a Janus parallelism from Job 21:12-13 which turns on a Hebrew word that can mean both "waste away, consume" and "carry, bear along." This may be at play in 2 Nephi 4:25-26:
25 And upon the wings of his Spirit hath my body been carried away upon exceedingly high mountains. And mine eyes have beheld great things, yea, even too great for man; therefore I was bidden that I should not write them.
26 O then, if I have seen so great things, if the Lord in his condescension unto the children of men hath visited men in so much mercy, why should my heart weep and my soul linger in the valley of sorrow, and my flesh waste away, and my strength slacken, because of mine afflictions?
The reading of "waste away" naturally relates to the slackening of his strength that follows, but the alternate reading (tentatively proposed, of course) of "carry, bear along" might relate to the preceding words about lingering in the valley of sorrow and especially to his body "being carried away" in verse 25. [Note: In Part 3, under Possibility #9, we will see that this passage has another Janus parallelism. Indeed, the majority of proposed Janus possibilities in the Book of Mormon are from Nephi, which I find interesting.]

Possibility #7. An even more tenuous example might be proposed for 1 Nephi 14:34, based on the observation that a Hebrew word, נָגַף (nagaph, Strong's H5062) can mean both "stumble" and "smite." While the grammar may not work out (not sure), consider how such a word could fit Nephi's text:
34 And it came to pass that the angel of the Lord spake unto me, saying: Behold, saith the Lamb of God, after I have visited the remnant of the house of Israel -- and this remnant of whom I speak is the seed of thy father -- wherefore, after I have visited them in judgment, and smitten them by the hand of the Gentiles, and after the Gentiles do stumble exceedingly, because of the most plain and precious parts of the gospel of the Lamb which have been kept back by that abominable church, which is the mother of harlots, saith the Lamb -- I will be merciful unto the Gentiles in that day, insomuch that I will bring forth unto them, in mine own power, much of my gospel, which shall be plain and precious, saith the Lamb. 
"Stumble" fits the immediately following description of the hindrance created by the removal of plain and precious parts of the Gospel, while the alternate reading (tentatively proposed) of "smite" relates to the immediately preceding description of the remnant of Israel being smitten by the Gentile.

The linkage of "stumble" and "plain and precious" in this passage also seems to have inspired Jacob in the above-mentioned passage of Jacob 4:14, which has its own proposed Janus parallelism.

Feedback is welcome. There are a couple more possibilities I am still exploring, but now it's time to run for another dive adventure here in southern Thailand (Ko Lanta as our base). Wish you were here!

Sunday, January 29, 2017

Janus Parallelism: Book of Mormon Hints? Part 1

In my previous post on Janus parallelism in the Hebrew Bible, I noted that if this poetical technique were used by any Book of Mormon authors, it would be very difficult to detect since all we have is the English translation. The double meaning of a Hebrew word facing forwards and backwards might be guessed based on the English translation if the translation is sufficiently literal to help point to the relevant words of the original and if it preserves the order of the original units of text before and after the pivotal word.

Even if the Book of Mormon is an authentic ancient Semitic record as claimed, and even if one or more authors chose to employ Janus parallelism, recognizing its presence now would seem to be unlikely. Any tentative finds may simply be fallacious. Yet a cautious look still seems warranted, given the frequent occurrence of other ancient Near Eastern literary devices in the Book of Mormon, including a wide range of structured parallelisms including chiasmus.

For low-hanging fruit to explore, why not start with the examples of Janus parallelism that have already been identified by scholars exploring the Hebrew text? Scott Noegel’s outstanding Janus Parallelism in the Book of Job identifies over 50 cases. A few of these employ concepts that are also treated in the Book of Mormon, and thus it might be interesting (though ultimately fruitless) to examine relevant portions of the Book of Mormon text for possible indications of Janus parallelism.

My brief and unlearned application of Noegel’s work does not point to anything strongly suggestive of original Janus parallelism in the Book of Mormon. On the other hand, there are a few possibilities that others may wish to explore. Here I'll mention three, and will share a couple more later. Page numbers below refer to pages in Noegel's Janus Parallelism in the Book of Job.

Possibility #1. On page 39, Noegel examines Job 3:23-24 and the dual meanings of וַיָּסֶךְ from the roots סָכַךְ (cakak, Strong’s H5526) meaning “hedged in, fenced in, enclosed, cover, covering” and the root סוּךְ (cuwk, Strong’s H5480) meaning “pour out, anoint.” In Job 3:23, this word plus the preceding text can be translated as “to a man whose way is hidden, whom God has fenced in.” But if given the alternate meaning of “poured out,” then “whom God has poured out” anticipates “my groans are poured out for me as water” in the last part of Job 3:24. It's a nice example of the two-sided technique of Janus parallelism. Turning to the Book of Mormon, we find a use of “poured out” in Alma 8:9-10 that might play a similar dual role:

9 Now Satan had gotten great hold upon the hearts of the people of the city of Ammonihah; therefore they would not hearken unto the words of Alma.
10 Nevertheless Alma labored much in the spirit, wrestling with God in mighty prayer, that he would pour out his Spirit upon the people who were in the city; that he would also grant that he might baptize them unto repentance.
Satan is gaining hold upon the hearts of the people, and in response Alma seeks to gain a hold upon God as he wrestles in might prayer. If the word original word translated as “poured out” also means “enclosed, fenced in, or covered,”  then the preceding concepts of “getting hold upon” and “wrestling” may be echoed, while the other meaning of “poured out/anoint” naturally fits the following text regarding the sought after influence of the Spirit and Alma’s desire that the people might be baptized. But this is highly speculative and those skilled in Hebrew may see this as impossible or improbable.

Possibility #2. On page 43, Noegel discusses a Janus parallelism in Job 4:2–3 in which one Hebrew root, יָסַר (yacar, Strong’s H3256) in verse 3 plays a Janus role with its meanings of “bind” (primarily in Aramaic) and “chastise, admonish.” As “you have chastised” it related to the reference to words and speaking in verse 2. As “you have bound,” it relates to the following “you will strengthen/bind,” where “strengthen” comes from the root חָזַק (chazaq, Strong’s H2388). The word pair yacar-chazaq can also be found in Isaiah 8:11 and Hosea 7:15, strengthening the significance of the pairing in this case of apparent Janus parallelism.

Mosiah 23 may offer something similar in a passage that begins and ends with a discussion of events in Helam, under the guidance of Alma the Elder. Here the key word is “chasten,” which is one of the ways the KJV translates yacar (e.g., Proverbs 19:18 has yacar behind the KJV “chasten thy son”):

18 Therefore they did watch over their people, and did nourish them with things pertaining to righteousness.
19 And it came to pass that they began to prosper exceedingly in the land; and they called the land Helam.
20 And it came to pass that they did multiply and prosper exceedingly in the land of Helam; and they built a city, which they called the city of Helam.
21 Nevertheless the Lord seeth fit to chasten his people; yea, he trieth their patience and their faith.
22 Nevertheless -- whosoever putteth his trust in him the same shall be lifted up at the last day. Yea, and thus it was with this people.
23 For behold, I will show unto you that they were brought into bondage, and none could deliver them but the Lord their God, yea, even the God of Abraham and Isaac and of Jacob.
24 And it came to pass that he did deliver them, and he did show forth his mighty power unto them, and great were their rejoicings.
25 For behold, it came to pass that while they were in the land of Helam, yea, in the city of Helam, while tilling the land round about, behold an army of the Lamanites was in the borders of the land. 

Here the word “chasten” in vs. 21 with the meaning of “chastise or admonish” fits the following statement that God “trieth their patience and faith.” But if “chasten” in the Book of Mormon comes from Hebrew yacar, it could also have a meaning of “bind” which, as Noegel points out, can be paired with the concept of strengthening. If so, the preceding text may link up with that sense of yacar, as it describes the nourishing given to the people and their prospering under the help of the Lord. An interesting aspect of this passage is that the name Helam may mean “to strengthen” according to the Book of Mormon Onomasticon. The name also occurs as a geographical name in 2 Samuel 10:16–17 (חֵילָם, cheylam, Strong’s H2431). While the etymology may be uncertain, Blue Letter Bible gives a meaning of “stronghold.” Helam obviously comes from a different root than chazaq which is paired with yacar in Job 4:2–3 and in 2 other verses in the Old Testament. Nevertheless, Helam instead of chazaq with its meaning related to strength could also fit the “bind” or “bind up” sense of yacar and possibly form part of a Janus parallelism akin to that in Job 4:2–3.

The sense of “binding” for yacar, the tenuously proposed source for “chasten,” not only looks backward to Helam and related concepts in Mosiah 23, but may also foreshadow “bondage” in verse 23.

Possibility #3. On page 60, Noegel introduces a Janus parallelism from Job 18:4–5 based on “rock” and “enemy” being possible readings of a single Hebrew word, צוּר (tsuwr, Strong’s H6697), with the concept of “enemy” deriving from the root צָרַר (tsarar, Strong’s H6887) which can mean “to show hostility toward” or “to bind.”
If the Book of Mormon takes advantage of a single Hebrew word meaning both “rock” and “enemy,” perhaps we should examine Nephi’s psalm, 2 Nephi 4, which has the Book of Mormon’s highest concentration of the word “enemy/enemies” (7 times in one chapter, with 6 occurrences in verses 27–33) and also employs the word “rock” in the very center (vs. 30) of the final string of 6 instances of “enemy/enemies,” with two more occurrences of “rock” in the closing verse, vs. 35. A dual meaning is inappropriate in most of these occurrences, but a Janus function might be possible in verse 33:
33 O Lord, wilt thou encircle me around in the robe of thy righteousness! O Lord, wilt thou make a way for mine escape before mine enemies! Wilt thou make my path straight before me! Wilt thou not place a stumbling block in my way -- but that thou wouldst clear my way before me, and hedge not up my way, but the ways of mine enemy.
If the second sentence of verse 33 employed tsuwr, then “escape before mine enemies” might also have the sense of “escape before my rock” suggestive of deliverance before the eyes or under the oversight of the Savior. “Before my rock” would look back to the first sentence of verse 33 and the beginning of the second sentence of verse 33, both of which are addressed to the Lord, identified as the rock of Nephi’s salvation (vv. 30, 35). But read as “before my enemies” as we have in the English translation, the meaning naturally points to the latter half of verse 33, where Nephi seeks a clear path to escape and asks that his way not be hedged up, but the ways of his enemies.

The tentatively proposed alternate reading of “rock” in this case would not only look backward to “Lord” but forward to the “stumbling block in my way” – a contrasting, negative sense of a rock-like object that instead of providing escape can cut off escape.

None of these may have any merit. But for fun, I'll raise a few more possibilities in a subsequent post.

Naturally, I welcome further exploration and feedback. But is there really any hope of finding traces of actual Janus parallelism with only an English translation to go on, even if it were present in the original ancient text? I'm not sure, but maybe it's a question worth considering. Yes, of course, any tentative finds could easily be false positives.

As a final note for today, Janus parallelism is something I would not expect to be added by Mormon, in my opinion, for he I think he understood his writings would probably only be known after translation into a remote foreign language in the future where something like Janus parallelism simply would not survive. Nevertheless, he might preserve parallelism that was already present in records from other writers whom he is quoting or drawing upon in his compilation, and certainly would not remove it from the small plates in particular. Possibilities 1 and 2 above, if they have any merit, would thus might need to be viewed as cases of text from earlier Nephite authors being preserved.

For more, see Part 2, Part 3, and Part 4.

Sunday, January 22, 2017

Janus Parallelism in the Hebrew Bible: Could It Also Be in the Book of Mormon?

One of the most interesting books that I have read recently is Scott B. Noegel's excellent research work, Janus Parallelism in the Book of Job (Sheffield, UK: Sheffield Academic Press, 2009).

After all the centuries of biblical studies that have been conducted, I am intrigued at how much continues to be found in the pages of the Bible. For example, in the heavily investigated area of poetry and especially parallelisms in the Hebrew Bible, it was only recently that scholars began to uncover evidence of an intriguing form called Janus parallelism. Referring to the two-faced Roman god, Janus, this form of parallelism uses a single word with two meanings has one meaning complete or relate to the immediately preceding text and a second meaning that relates to the following text. It is a clever word play in which one word works in two ways, looking forward and backward.

Cyrus Gordon discovered and named this technique in a 1978 publication,"New Directions," The Bulletin of the American Society of Papyrologists, vol. 15, no. 1/2 (1978), pp. 59-6. Gordon found a verse in Song of Solomon 2:12: "The blossoms appear in the land || the time of the zâmîr has arrived || and the song of the turtle-dove is heard in our land." Gordon noted that zâmîr means either the "pruning season" or "music" and can thus relate appropriately to the preceding and following phrases, using both of its meanings. Since then, other scholars have examined possible cases of Janus parallelism, but the most thorough and ground-breaking work appears to be that of Scott Noegel, whose book is based on his Ph.D. dissertation.

If nothing else, Noegel's work should greatly enhance our appreciation of Job as a literary marvel. The onslaught of cunning puns in that text astounds me, in particular the sophisticated use of Janus parallelism, for which Noegel has uncovered several dozen. The Book of Job is like the transcript of a heated contest of punsters battling for literary mastery, with God being the ultimate victor. Noegel also reveals several other Janus parallelisms in other parts of the Hebrew Bible that have not been previously noted. It is a thorough, intelligent, thought-provoking work and a significant contribution in biblical studies, in my opinion. Kudos to the author for terrific scholarship.

Noegel's analysis also may give future scholars a handful of tools for further investigating some of the many apparent Hebraic word plays already noted in the Book of Mormon, as well as tools for further tentative analysis of other passages in the Book of Mormon, perhaps especially among those most familiar with the brass plates and Jewish poetical forms (e.g., Nephi, Jacob, and Alma). Of course, the task is terribly obscured by our lack of the ancient text. Looking at a translation complicates the recognition of word plays, and this is particularly the case for Janus parallelism where we need to know what word with two meanings was used, and what words were used before and after if. Translation can obscure not only the original words but the order or adjacent phrases. In spite of the difficulties, and yes, the high risk of false positives via the "Texas Sharpshooter Fallacy," there may be some plausible Janus parallelisms that can be rooted out by those familiar with ancient Near Eastern languages.

As a first pass, the Janus parallels of Job can be compared to some Book of Mormon candidates to see if there is a chance that Book of Mormon writers may have employed some of the same instances. In a later update, I'll list some of the findings from Noegel and a very tentative cases in the Book of Mormon where there may be a very tenuous hint of some connection. There may not be anything interesting here, and it may be a tool that wasn't appreciated or used much or at all by Nephite writers. Or it may have been used with great skills in a few cases that are obscured by the translation. In any case, I'd like to encourage other to consider the possibilities of Janus parallelism in our own Book of Mormon (or maybe even the Book of Moses).

Update: A dozen tentative Book of Mormon examples of proposed Janus parallelism are given in subsequent posts under the title, "Janus Parallelism, Book of Mormon Hints," Part1, Part 2, Part 3 and Part 4

The Christian Watchman and Its Misguided Jab at Bountiful in the Book of Mormon

One of the earliest criticisms of the Book of Mormon anticipates some of the most recent. For example, a modern critic writing for Faith Promoting Rumor finds it improbable that an ancient place like Bountiful, a rare green treasure among the vast deserts of Arabia, could possibly have been uninhabited as Nephi's record implies (details of the criticism and my response are in "Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dream Map, Part 2" as well as Parts 1 and 3). 

Obviously, a place with fresh water, abundant fruit, etc., would attract a large population, right? This argument does not require the benefits of recent scholarship from someone with an advanced degree from Harvard, for it was one of the earliest recorded objections to the content of the Book of Mormon. Just a few months after the Book of Mormon was published, a writer under the name of "Gimel" wrote a critical review of the Book of Mormon for The Christian Watchman, vol. 12, no. 40 (1831). One of his most specific and pointed arguments against it involved the implausibility of a place like Bountiful existing, especially an uninhabited place like that:
To believe the book of Mormon, we must suppose that these emigrants traversed almost the whole length of the Arabian Gulf … and that they discovered a country almost equal to paradise, where no body else can find any thing but a sandy, barren desert.
Kudos to Book of Mormon Central for their recent article on Bountiful in the Arabian Peninsula that called this 1831 criticism to my attention. You can see images of the original article on a page from a BYU collection of early materials related to the Book of Mormon.

Yes, a place like Bountiful has long been thought to be implausible, and the idea such a place, if it existed in Arabia, could remain uninhabited seems wildly implausible -- or rather, I should say seemed implausible, until the day that a weary Warren Aston and his 14-year-old daughter made a surprising discovery of a verdant, green, and surprisingly uninhabited spot on the east coast of Oman. As described in Warren's brilliant DVD, Lehi in Arabia, they set foot there at what seemed like an unpromising spot at the suggestion of Warren's daughter as he was about to give up after a long day of cruising in a small boat along the coast of Oman. 

He had been looking for potential Bountiful candidates that fit Nephi's description of being nearly due east from the recently identified ancient candidate for Nahom. No candidate they had looked at in previous work met the 12 criteria he had extracted through careful analysis of Nephi's writings. He felt there had to be something better and, using his own finances, began searching. 

When he yielded to his daughter's suggestion to stop and explore one last spot, it was only after getting out of the boat that they were able to see over the natural sand bar that blocked a view of the very plush parts of Khor Kharfot from the view of travelers on the sea. 

Further investigation would show why the miraculously green mouth of the long wadi known as Wadi Sayq has been relatively uninhabited over the centuries: it hidden by the terrain around it, making it hard to recognize as anything special from the sea and making access by land very difficult unless you know which wadi to descend about 25 miles inland. It truly is a miraculous gem, almost as if designed to be uninhabited in preparation for a prophet and his family one one of the greatest treks in the scriptures.

The miracle of the Nahom discoveries, including hard archaeological evidence confirming the existence of the NHM tribe in the right region and time to support the plausibility of Nephi's record, is now being treated by some critics as a simple matter of Joseph plagiarizing the account by noticing the name Nehhem on a rare European map, in spite of the improbability of having ever seen it. But the hard evidence for a plausible Bountiful candidate, indeed, an uninhabited Bountiful candidate, almost exactly "due east" of Nahom, and accessible from inland as described, and meeting all other criteria one can extract from the Book of Mormon text, is a matter that is not so easily dismissed as the inevitable result of getting a brief glimpse at somebody's map. 

There is no Bountiful to be plucked on those maps. What scholars might have known of Felix Arabia (south of Nahom) was not adequate to guide Joseph's placement and description of Bountiful. If the critics cannot do better than simply remind us why a place like Bountiful is not likely to be uninhabited, when the leading candidate for Bountiful, drenched in layers of surprising plausibility, is still to this day largely uninhabited in spite of fresh water, fruit, etc., then they are not really engaged in a meaningful debate of the evidence. May the discussion of Book of Mormon evidence do more to consider the strengths of the evidence for plausibility rather than repeat ancient criticisms that have been thoroughly addressed. 

The account of Lehi's trek through the Arabian Peninsula was downright laughable in 1830. Today it is one of the most interesting strengths of the Book of Mormon in terms of evidence for plausibility. How things have changed!

Friday, January 20, 2017

Publication on the Reynolds Arcade as the Great and Spacious Building in Lehi's Tree of Life Vision

My recent exploration of Rick Grunder's genuinely creative theories for the alleged fabrication of Lehi's tree of life vision ended up in a more formal article for The Interpreter, just published last Friday. Here is the abstract for "The Great and Spacious Book of Mormon Arcade Game: More Curious Works from Book of Mormon Critics," Interpreter: A Journal of Mormon Scripture 23 (2017): 161-235, by Jeff Lindsay:
Abstract: A novel theory for the origins of Lehi’s vision of the Tree of Life has been offered by Rick Grunder, who argues that the story was inspired by a June 1829 visit to Rochester where Joseph could have seen a “great and spacious building,” a river, an iron railing, and even fruit trees. The purported source for the great and spacious building, the Reynolds Arcade, has even been suggested by one critic as a place where Joseph might have found “rare maps,” such as a map of Arabia that could have guided his fabrication of Lehi’s trail. As beautiful as such theories may be to their champions, they utterly fail to account for Nephi’s text.

Among the shortcomings of Grunder’s theory and creative extensions of it, the timing is problematic, for Joseph’s visit to Rochester likely occurred well after 1 Nephi was dictated. The proposed parallels offer little explanatory power for Book of Mormon creation. (For comparison, two online appendices for this article have been provided to illustrate how interesting random parallels can be found that may be more compelling than those Grunder offers.) Further, any inspiration from a visit to Rochester as the plates of Nephi were being translated fails to account for the influence of Lehi’s vision and Nephi’s text on other portions of the Book of Mormon that were translated long before Joseph’s trip to Rochester. Finally, Nephi’s account of the vision of the Tree of Life and surrounding text cannot be reasonably explained by Grunder’s theory of last-minute fabrication inspired by Rochester or by any other theory of modern fabrication, as it is far too rooted in the ancient world and far too artfully crafted to have come from Joseph Smith and his environment.
Someone commented that I pointed to pretty much out all the evidences for authenticity of the writings from the small plates of Nephi, but this is certainly not the case. There are many more issues that could be raised. For example, given that the translation of 1 and 2 Nephi apparently came near the very end of the translation process, I show several instances in which Nephi's words and images, especially from the tree of life account, appear to influence the later writers for whom the translation came first.  This contradicts the idea that Nephi's words were being crafted on the fly as a very late addition. But the examples I give are not comprehensive.

An example I did not mention is the wording of Lehi's address to his sons in his final speech. In 2 Nephi 4:3-4,  Lehi says, "Behold, my sons, and my daughters, who are the sons and the daughters of my first-born, I would that ye should give ear unto my words. For the Lord God hath said that: Inasmuch as ye shall keep my commandments ye shall prosper in the land; and inasmuch as ye will not keep my commandments ye shall be cut off from my presence." These words are echoed in Alma's carefully composed chiasmus that refers to Lehi and subtly draws upon themes in Lehi's speech (see my article on "rising from the dust" in the Book of Mormon. In Alma 36:1-2, Alma say, "My son, give ear to my words; for I swear unto you, that inasmuch as ye shall keep the commandments of God ye shall prosper in the land." Three elements are shared in order: my son, give ear to my words, and then the foundational quotation from Lehi on prospering in the land. Alma does that again in Alma 38:1. To me it makes much more sense that these words and themes from Lehi influences later writers rather than Joseph managing to speak these words from a hat on the fly to create that sense of unity in the text.

A more dramatic series of examples comes from new analysis from Matthew Bowen on biblical wordplay on the name Joseph used expertly in the writings on the small plates. Impressive for someone who had not yet studied Hebrew, doing it on the fly, no less. One of many interesting features in the writings of Nephi that defy easy theories of Joseph as fabricator. The growing number of identified plausible Hebraic word plays in the translation of the small plates is worthy of careful consideration.

I hope you'll take a look at my article and share your feedback. It has several tangents -- perhaps one or two might be interesting to you.

Monday, January 16, 2017

To Rule with Blood and Horror: Shouldn't We Be Paying More Attention?

This morning I awoke with a chilling dream. I was a technical advisor helping in the deployment of a bomb. I was on the airplane carrying the first bomb as it flew over Hiroshima (or at least as it was being prepared--details were murky). As I contemplated what was about to happen, I revolted and wondered why we must slay civilians, tens of thousands of them. If a show of force was needed, why not drop it on small island or in the ocean somewhere? And as I awoke, I recalled that Japan had already tendered an offer to surrender several days before the bomb was unnecessarily dropped (IMHO). This was, in my view, not an act of necessity, unless the necessity that really counts is ruling with blood and horror.

Yes, of course, I'm aware of the arguments that this was a humanitarian slaying because even more would have died if we didn't massacre civilians. Great horror always requires stout defenses to get people past the moral revulsion to what the military establishment needs to have done to advance their business model. Whether it's bombing wedding parties in Afghanistan, giving guns to drug gangs in Mexico (via the "Fast and Furious" program), burning German cities to the ground, dropping napalm on children in Vietnam, or provoking war with foreign powers such as Russia or China, those who have no loathing of bloodshed always have strong reasons and media lackeys who tells us we be patriotic and ramp up the horror for the good of humanity, or at least to create more jobs by helping the oil industry (one of the ugliest and final excuses used for the Persian Gulf War).

Latter-day Saints would do well to ponder the teachings of the LDS Temple on Satan's business model and modus operandi for success on earth. He boldly declares that he will buy up and control military forces to rule with blood and horror. That should be chilling, especially when combined with the powerful teachings of the Book of Mormon about the role of secret combinations in bringing down nations into bloody disasters as power-hungry maniacs usurp ever greater power and launch ever growing cycles of war and bloodshed. Those images are intended to reveal something about our day, and it's time we start paying attention.

My testimony of the Book of Mormon has grown greatly in the past couple of years as I dig into various aspects of this genuinely ancient document. Not only is it an authentically ancient document, but it is a genuinely prophetic document, and the power of its prophetic guidance is especially strong when we review its teachings on the goals, agenda, and operations of corrupt leaders and secret combinations, where we are given a prophetic lens to international events in our days (particularly in a few gems in the Book of Ether). We Latter-day Saints tend to ignore all that, but that Book of Mormon, like the Temple, is more relevant and needed than ever. May we pay attention.

Many voters have sensed that something is wrong in this nation. Some wondered how one leader could get a Nobel Peace Prize and then be at war every day non-stop for 8 years, dropping bombs ceaselessly in undeclared wars against powers that have not invaded us. Now the people have voted for what they thought was change, putting in a bold new hero who would "drain the swamp" and cast out the forces of evil from the Establishment and make America great again. Perhaps even be fiscally responsible! Then came the announcement that a representative from Goldman Sachs would reign over the US Treasury, keeping the banksters firmly in control. Our foreign policy will be run by a former Exxon leader. They are already stirring up animosities with China and telling that nation what to do with its borders and lands. Outrageous military spending will continue or be increased. The swamp is hardly being drained, just stirred and refreshed and definitely, absolutely, fed very, very well.

The new leader will take on the problem of burgeoning debt by, uh, spending one trillion dollars right away while lowering taxes, perhaps finding a way to outpace his predecessor who doubled 200 years of accumulated national debt in just 8 years. Faster debt creation can only increase the pain of the pending disaster. But the swamp will thrive. The Gaddiantons and their military-industrial complex will do well. Their stocks are up. Their power will be firm. There will be blood and horror. And not just in 3rd-world lands. Not to mention the dangers of economic disaster as debt becomes unsustainable and a credit collapse shocks the economy, with many painful consequences in the streets and homes of once wealthy lands.

So what is a Latter-day Saint to do? I think we must begin by taking what we have been given very seriously. More thoughts next time.

Saturday, January 14, 2017

A Biblical Feast at a Hole in the Wall: Khirbet Qeiyafa’s Second Gate

Great meals are sometimes found in small little places dubbed "holes in the wall." This seems especially true in China. But in Israel, a literal hole in the wall in an archaeological site south of Jerusalem is providing a rich meal of information about the controversial era of King David and the United Kingdom. At the site Khirbet Qeiyafa, excavations led by Yosef Garfinkel and Saar Ganor revealed a fortified city from the time of King David with evidence of a major administrative center, pointing to a well developed Kingdom of Judah in that era. Especially noteworthy was a surprise discovered by a non-archaeologist accompanying the scholars, Joseph Baruch Silver, a supporter of the excavation. As he looked at the pattern of rocks in the city wall, he realized that he was looking at a previous second gate that had been filled in with rocks. Further investigation proved that he was correct.

A city with two gates, with radiocarbon dating of olive pits pointing to about 1000 B.C., around the time of King David, in a time when no other Jewish city had two gates, could well be the ancient biblical city Sha’arayim, Hebrew for “two gates” (Joshua 15:36; 1 Samuel 17:52; 1 Chronicles 4:31).  This is a fascinating find for those interested in biblical history, and yet another nuisance for those who wish to dismiss the historical content of the Hebrew scriptures.

The scholars conducting the excavation chose to include Joseph Silver as a co-author in the article they submitted to the Biblical Archaeology Review. The result was a swift rejection because the journal does not welcome attempts to reward amateurs for their financial role by listing them as co-authors.

After some explaining, the article has now been published under the title, "Rejected! Qeiyafa’s Unlikely Second Gate" (membership required for access) by Yosef Garfinkel, Saar Ganor and Joseph Baruch Silver (BAR 43:01, Jan/Feb 2017). A brief overview of the story is available at no cost in the Bible Archaeology Society's website: see Robin Ngo, "Biblical Sha’arayim: Khirbet Qeiyafa’s Second Gate Discovered" (Jan. 5, 2017), an excerpt of which follows:

Some scholars view King David’s kingdom as a simple agrarian society, sparsely inhabited, with no fortified cities, no administration and no writing,” write BAR authors Garfinkel, Ganor and Silver. “These scholars find it very hard to accept the new discoveries at Qeiyafa, which have completely dismantled these hypotheses.”

Indeed, the excavations at Khirbet Qeiyafa show that Biblical Sha’arayim, mentioned in the David and Goliath story in 1 Samuel 17:52, was no ordinary city:

“At the summit of the site, we found a palatial structure that probably served as the central administrative building for this area of the Davidic kingdom,” explain Garfinkel, Ganor and Silver. “This, along with the rest of the site, disproves the early assumption by some scholars that David was simply a local chieftain who ruled the area around Jerusalem at most. Excavation showed that more than 200,000 tons of stone was required to construct this administrative center.”
In the primary article, "Rejected!," the authors explain the significance of Joseph Silver's contribution in recognizing the second gate. They cite the letter they wrote to the editor after their initial rejection, addressing the editor's incredulity that experts would have missed the gate so long only to have an amateur notice it:
“Dear Hershel,” I (Yossi) replied. “To notice a blocked gate is not so easy. It is a matter of how you look, where you stand, the light, the vegetation and so on. The fact is that Joey was the first to notice the second gate of Qeiyafa. He made a great contribution in this respect.”

Our (Yossi’s and Saar’s) first reaction to Joey’s identification of a “gate” was to dismiss it as an “amateur” discovery: It couldn’t be. We had already excavated a major city gate on the western side of the circular wall. Could there be another gate on the southern side of the wall? No city of this period in Israel had more than one gate.

A test excavation, however, confirmed that Joey’s identification was indeed correct. It was a city gate—a second one. And it turned out that this was the key to identifying the ancient name of the site: Qeiyafa was Biblical Sha’arayim, Hebrew for “two gates” (Joshua 15:36; 1 Samuel 17:52; 1 Chronicles 4:31).

Qeiyafa lies about 20 miles southwest of Jerusalem, on the summit of a hill on the northern border of the Elah Valley. This is a strategic location—on the main road from Philistia and the coastal plain to the hill country of Judah. Our excavation uncovered a city dated radiometrically (by carbon-14 tests on 27 olive pits) to Iron IIA (c. 1000 B.C.E.), the time of King David....

Of course, our prize find at Qeiyafa was a five-line inscription inked on a broken piece of pottery (an ostracon). While scholars have proposed several different decipherments of the text, it is clear that this is not simply a commercial text; it is a literary text, reflecting ethical principles, and was penned by a professional scribe.c It also clearly includes the word melekh (king). According to the Hebrew University of Jerusalem epigrapher Haggai Misgav, this is the oldest Hebrew inscription ever discovered.
Kudos to this team for terrific work and for strengthening our appreciation of the reality of the Kingdom of David.

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Many Great New Resources at LDS.org and on the LDS Gospel Library App

I am impressed with how rapidly the Church has moved in the past couple of years to make more information readily available to its members and the public. Have you explored the new features on the LDS Gospel Library app and at LDS.org?

In the Church History section of the LDS Gospel Library, you will find the Gospel Topics Essays that take on some of the toughest or most controversial issues in Mormonism, the various accounts Joseph Smith gave of the First Vision, the new book, Daughters in My Kingdom about the history of the Relief Society, details on the lives and teachings of the prophets, some basic books and manuals related to Church history (including the Church History Study Guide for this year's Gospel Doctrine course), and a valuable new resource written by authors whose names are listed, Revelations in Context, giving historical information related to each of the sections of the Doctrine and Covenants. This is a significant departure from standard manuals prepared by committees that allows individual historians to share their work. I presume that this may have a positive effect on the quality of the scholarship and writing.

A few examples include Jed Woodworth's "The Messenger and the Manifesto" (pertaining to Official Declaration 1 ending polygamy) in Revelations in Context, the Gospel Topics essay, "Race and the Priesthood" (I'll also mention the essay on the Book of Abraham since it's relevant to some recent posts here), and the essay on the First Vision accounts of Joseph Smith, complete with links to the Joseph Smith Papers material where you can see the actual documents and read the transcript. A wealth of resources awaits you. Kudos to the many programmers, researchers, writers, editors, and others who have worked so hard to make all this possible.

Saturday, January 07, 2017

For the Glory, the Biography of Eric Liddell: Why a Gold Medalist Gave Up Everything for God and China

You may have seen the highly acclaimed movie Chariots of Fire about the 1924 Olympics victory of Eric Liddell (rhymes with "riddle"), the Scottish runner and devout Christian who was ready to walk away from the Paris Olympics rather than compete on the Sabbath day. If you enjoyed the movie, you might be interested in learning the more complete story behind his controversial refusal to run on Sunday in the event he had trained for, settling instead for a different event, the 400 meter run where he stunned the world by winning it with ease and setting a new Olympic record.

Far more important than where and how he ran, though, is how he lived his entire life, especially his life after 1924. Eric Liddell, born to missionary parents in 1902 in Tianjin, China, returned to China to serve God as a missionary under dangerous circumstances that would cost him his life. He willingly gave up what could have easily been more Olympic medals in 1928 and a lifetime of honor and comfort as one of the world's best athletes. His story is told in great detail in one of the most thoroughly researched biographies I have read: For the Glory: Eric Liddell's Journey from Olympic Champion to Modern Martyr by Duncan Hamilton (New York, Penguin Press, 2016). In addition to Hamilton's book, additional photos, videos, and other primary information can be found at the Eric Liddell Center's website.

If you pick up For the Glory, either the tangible (best: made with real paper!) or electronic book (actually, I bought both), start by turning to the back and reading the acknowledgement to get a feel for just how much work has been put into this biography. Then read the Notes to see the myriad interviews and primary source materials behind the content. Then look at the extensive index. Having done an index myself for a book, I know how much work that takes.

This is not a casual biography. It is thorough, reflecting a profound fascination in the life of  a rare and puzzling man of enormous faith, who is proudly claimed by Scottland as well as China. While China in general doesn't get his religion, love cuts past all boundaries, and those who knew him here know that he loved and served China heroically. He deserves to be honored and cherished here, and indeed, the Chinese government has established a museum honoring him.

He died in captivity in a prison camp for foreigners during the Japanese occupation of China in World War II. But even in the midst of desperate circumstances, Liddell lived out the Sermon on the Mount in quiet service, helping people daily to survive, to have hope, to feel love, and to find joy in Christ when they were willing.

Duncan Hamilton is careful to warn the readers that when one reads nothing but praise for the goodness of a character in a biography, one obviously must suspect that a great deal of truth has been ignored by a biased author. But he pleads for understanding because in the case of Eric Liddell, it seems that every witness, everyone he could find who knew him, could only speak words of praise. He was the real thing: a man who lived the Christian faith in purity, honesty, and self-sacrifice, willing even to sacrifice his life for the kingdom of God. Nobody among the many the author interviewed could recall a single act of pettiness, malice, or selfishness from Liddell (p. 8).

Even in the midst of competition, he was a gentleman and humble servant. He would lend his trowel (used to dig holes at the starting line for a better push off) to runners who didn't have one. He would trade positions with others to let someone on the outside get a more desirable inside lane. He would seek out those who seemed troubled and talk to them, even sharing tips on sprinting with his competitors. In freezing cold weather he once loaned his jacket to a competitor, going without to serve someone else. But once the race began, "he was fearsomely focused," never letting his empathy for others diminish his urge to win (p. 10).

To Liddell as a humble servant of God, the Olympics victory was simply a tool or rather a gift from God to help him reach others in sharing his faith. He took no credit for his victory. He spoke kindly of his rivals, attributing their losses to bad luck or a bad day, hardly noting his own achievement. The glory of men was not what his life was about. As a result, he was quite willing to walk away from fame and mortal glory to pursue a higher cause. "A fellow's life counts for far more at this [missionary work] than the other [running]" (p. 352).

Regarding the story of the 1924 Paris Olympics told in the movie, the commitment of that 22-year-old young man to the Sabbath day was remarkable and could well be included in future lesson manuals or General Conference sermons. The movie, though, makes it seem as though the Sunday schedule for the 100 meter event came as a big surprise to Eric as he was boarding the ship from England to France. It makes it seem that he struggled with the decision. But his decision was easy and had been explained to the British Olympic Association many months before he boarded that ship. There was no contest. His stand was non-negotiable.

The controversy over his refusal to run and the turmoil it caused as the Olympics approached was the British Olympic Association's fault for not taking Liddell seriously and thinking they could simply talk him into running his event on Sunday after all. Further, they had the preliminary schedule in 1922 (p. 71), but didn't pay attention to the Sabbath day issue (an issue that had marred the previous Paris Olympics in 1900) and didn't give a copy of the schedule to Liddell and his coach until the fall of 1923. The two men immediately pointed out the problem: all the events Liddell had trained for included Sunday races that would not be run.

Had the British Olympic Association done their job properly, they probably could have worked with the International Olympic Committee many months before the event to adjust the schedule and avoid trouble. There was no need for a crisis or any surprise. Liddell had already dropped out of a major event in 1923 to avoid running on the Sabbath. The British Olympic Authority waited until it was too late to deal with the situation, putting Liddell in a very difficult and unpopular situation. To many in the media and throughout the land, it looked like this gifted runner was abandoning his country at the last minute in favor of his own needs and preferences. His position was not commonly held up as an example of a good man abiding by his personal convictions, but as an example of selfishness and even cowardice (perhaps he is afraid of those fast American runners, it was suggested, and so is using this as an excuse to avoid an embarrassing loss). Liddell faced a great deal of criticism and pain, but refused to back down.
Liddell had been naive. He'd expected his decision to be seen as an honest matter of integrity. He consequently assumed it would pass without much adverse comment, which goes to show that those incapable of malice rarely suspect it in others. However muh he pretended otherwise, the backlash wounded him. Only much later did Liddell admit this to a friend. (p. 75)
The BOA tried to suggest a compromise based on French practice, where the Sabbath day ended at noon. Thus, Liddell could pray in the morning and then run in the afternoon. Problem solved. But Liddell was also quick on his feet in this situation: "My Sabbath lasts all day" (p. 73). The BOA then tried catechism, arguing that God's gift to Liddell would be wasted if he didn't run, and wouldn't that be the best way to serve Him? "Such an approach seemed entirely logical to anyone who was not devout -- and entirely misguided to those who were" (p. 73). Liddell explained that he had a commandment from God and he would keep it. To his credit, Liddell's coach, Tom McKerchar, understood and supported Liddell's decision. McKerchar's dedicated role was enormous in helping Liddell prepare for the race and cope with many other challenges along the way.

Abandoning the various events that the young sprinter had prepared for and settling for a very different event, the 400 meter run with a Sabbath-friendly schedule, logically reduced whatever chances Liddell had for a medal. His final run in that race was one of the great moments in Olympic history, especially in light of the background and the improbability of adapting to a radically new race in just a few short months of preparation. He ran for glory and won it -- for God's glory. But that was just the beginning of the course Eric Liddell would run. His was truly an endurance course that would sap all his strength in the end, while crossing the finish line again in glory and for the glory of God.

Liddell was just reaching his prime and could easily have won more medals and more fame in the 1928 Olympics. Instead he chose to prepare to minister to others and in 1925 would go to China to serve in a land where he would be a stranger and foreigner, not one of the greatest celebrities in the land. There he would meet and marry another missionary servant, Florence Mackenzie.

The greatest achievements and losses in Liddell's life may have been during the war he endured in China. It was a war that separated him from his family -- he would die without having ever seen his youngest daughter (their third child) and having not seen his wife for four years. The emphasis of the book is on his life during the Japanese occupation of China and especially in a prison camp, where he would die of a brain tumor. "In his own way he proved that heroism in war exists beyond churned-up battlefields. His heroism was to be utterly forgiving in the most unforgiving of circumstances" (p. 9).

The author, perhaps dazzled by the saintly image of Eric Liddell, struggles to raise a pointed question about Eric's decision to leave his family and stay in China when it was clear that missionaries should be evacuating. The London Missionary Society, out of touch and irresponsibly bureaucratic, even negligent, it seems, required him to stay, and Liddell felt obligated by his contract. At this point the author could well have raised the question, shouldn't Liddell's contract/covenant with his wife have been given higher priority? If the contract says stay in your office, shouldn't one ignore the contract and flea when the building is burning down? His decision would have painful consequences, and glorious examples of love and service as well. He and other missionaries would soon be arrested by Japanese authorities and sent to dismal camp where Liddell would pass away, after lifting nearly everyone else and showing how a true Christian can live as a Christian in the midst of the darkest corners of mortality.

He helped many fellow inmates in camp and set a sterling example, as always, of love and service, becoming the key force that people looked to for leadership and help. But the scope of his preaching was greatly curtailed, his life cut short, and his widow and children left in lasting sorrow for the man who stayed behind. Perhaps it was God's urging to do what he did, but perhaps this was one of Liddell's few serious mistakes in life.

Yet even if leaving his family to stay in China in the midst of a brutal war was a mistake, it must be considered in the context of Liddell's upbringing. At age 7, he and his nine-year-old brother Rob were left behind in Scotland by his mother so they could attend school there while she returned to China to be with his father serving as missionaries in China, his birth place. As a child, he had been taught, at least through example, that missionary work must take precedence over family togetherness. He would not see his mother again for over 4 years. Perhaps if his family life had been more traditional, he would not have considered long-term and possibly permanent separation from his own children and his wife for the missionary cause.

In exploring such issues, I don't mean to deride this saint of man who is far better than I am. Instead, as I consider the many factors that lead good people to feel they must leave family behind for long periods of time (a common challenge in China for both local Chinese and foreigners living here), I feel it is valuable to explore and challenge the assumptions that are made and to ask sincerely, "Is this a mistake? Is there a better way?" For Liddell's case, I don't know the answer, but feel it merits discussion. I wish the issue had been explored more fully in the book. But this is hardly a criticism of the this excellent biography, only a suggestion and personal wish from me.

Why did Liddell abandon everything his Olympic victory made possible? "'Because I believe God made me for China,' he always replied" (p. 124). In reading about his life, we can learn much about what it means to serve China and its people, a land to which many others are drawn. Liddell often quoted Robert Louis Stevenson: "There are no foreign lands. It is the traveler only that is foreign." Eric became a traveler that knew and loved the land and its people. But it was not just the Chinese he loved. He even treated his captors with kindness and patience, even when he was being harassed. "Take it all with a smile," he would sat. "However troublesome, don't get annoyed" (p. 216). "The angrier someone [such as the soldiers in his camp] would become, the more measured his response. Liddell behaved toward them in war exactly as he would have done in peace because he knew no other way to act. Tact, cheerfulness, and the warmth of his personality defused confrontations.... He even refused to condemn or criticize the soldiers who attempted to bully him" (p. 218). One of his colleagues explained that for him, he saw the Japanese soldiers not as enemies or bullies to be feared or hated, but men to be "sought as sheep far from the fold" (p. 218).

Liddell showed genuine heroism during the war scenes he faced and during his imprisonment. Before he was forced into a camp, he showed extreme courage in rescuing two Chinese soldiers as an unplanned detour on a dangerous trip of his own. While traveling by bike from Tianjin to Xiaochang where he was stationed, he learned that a wounded Chinese soldier had been laying in a derelict temple for five days without treatment. The locals were afraid that if they offered help, they and the entire village might be punished by the Japanese. Like a true good Samaritan, Liddell could not simply pass by and ignore the dying man. He went out of his way to arrange for a cart to get the man to a hospital, and convinced a local carter to come with him as Liddell rode on his bicycle to assist. If he was caught by the Japanese en route, he could have been executed. During their dangerous trek, he learned of another wounder soldier in need of help, and also rescued him. Miraculsouly, the small group avoided detection as Liddell prayerfully pursued back roads, worried about the approaching troops heralded by a Japanese plane overhead. The first man died, but the second wounded man, who had been the subject of a sloppy attempted execution by a sword-wielding Japanese commander, survived in spite of a terrible gash to his face. Touched by the way Liddell risked his life to save him, that man became a Christian. Perhaps he has family still here in China who are also Christian and remember Eric Liddell. I would love to meet them!

I hope you'll read For the Glory and learn about one of Christianity's great hero's.

Wednesday, January 04, 2017

The Egyptian Context for the Book of Abraham: Why Hor, Priest of Thebes, Might Want an Abraham Text

One of the important but often overlooked issues in the debate over the origins of the Book of Abraham is why the ancient Egyptian owner of the Joseph Smith papyri might have been interested in a biblical figure like Abraham.  Egyptians in general were not, but in Hor's era and vicinity, a group of priests were fascinated with biblical lore. Hor, the Egyptian priest in Thebes around the 2nd century B.C., owner of the papyri that Joseph Smith would later obtain, had interests and motives that add plausibility to the notion that he might have had an interest in Abraham lore. An academic publication, for those who demand such things, from an LDS Egyptologist, is Kerry Muhlenstein, "Abraham, Isaac, and Osiris-Michael: The Use of Biblical Figures in Egyptian Religion," in Achievements and Problems of Modern Egyptology, ed. Galina A. Belova (Moscow: Russian Academy of Sciences, 2012), 259. A version of this paper was published by the Maxwell Institute as Kerry Muhlenstein, "The Religious and Cultural Background of Joseph Smith Papyrus I," Journal of the Book of Mormon and Other Restoration Scripture 22/1 (2013), 20-33. (The link is to the PDF document with several helpful figures, including an Egyptian scene of a lion couch with Abraham listed among the names below it; a text-only HTML version is also available.)

Critics have alleged that Egyptians would not create scrolls about Abraham and that the whole idea of a Book of Abraham from ancient Egypt is ridiculous. They have also raised the objection that the Book of Abraham is allegedly from the very old era of the Patriarchs, while the Joseph Smith papyri date to around 200 BC or later. Muhlenstein's work helps resolve these objections. Here is his abstract, followed by the conclusion, both taken from the Maxwell Institute version of the paper (footnotes omitted):
 Throughout its history, ancient Egyptian religion showed a remarkable capacity for adopting new religious ideas and characters and adapting them for use in an already existing system of worship. This process continued, and perhaps accelerated, during the Greco- Roman era of Egyptian history. Egyptian priests readily used foreign religious characters in their rituals and religious formulas, particularly from Greek and Jewish religions. Religious texts demonstrate that Egyptian priests knew of both biblical and nonbiblical accounts of many Jewish figures—especially Jehovah, Abraham, and Moses—by about 200 bc. Knowing this religio-cultural background helps us understand how the priest in Thebes who owned Joseph Smith Papyrus I would have been familiar with stories of Abraham.
While there is much more research to be done, a few things have become clear in this survey that are of interest to Latter-day Saints. First, in Ptolemaic and Roman Egypt, biblical stories and characters were employed in Egyptian religious practice. These stories and characters were added to the already existing repertoire of Egyptian, Canaanite, and Greek gods and mythical characters. Biblical figures were used in a manner similar to Egyptian figures. They were used in a variety of contexts with no clear pattern emerging. Two of the characters who loom largest in the Jewish canon—Abraham and Moses—were used in contexts that were in keeping with their biblical stories. These uses demonstrate that the creators of these religious texts were thoroughly familiar with both canonical and noncanonical texts about these characters. Our current evidence indicates that a group of priests from Thebes possessed, read, understood, and employed biblical and extrabiblical texts, most especially texts about Abraham and Moses.

This process likely began around 200 BC and continued for hundreds of years in a pattern that eventually morphed into Christian practices in Egypt. While a few textual examples from elsewhere in Egypt suggest that this practice was widespread, at this time our sample of evidence only allows us to make these conclusions for the Theban area, the area in which the priest who owned the original of Facsimile 1 lived and served. Further discoveries may allow us to refine or expand these conclusions.

As a result of these conclusions we can better understand why Hor, a Theban priest in 200 BC, would possess papyrus associated with Abraham. He was a product of his times who was informed by his culture and in turn had opportunity to inform that culture. His interest in biblical characters and his possession of both biblical and nonbiblical stories about these characters was part of his occupation. Hor would undoubtedly have been interested in any religious stories that could have been incorporated into, and thus given more power to, his priestly duties.

Interestingly, we know that Hor was involved with rituals that had to do with calling on preternatural aid to ward off potential evil forces. These rituals often involved either real or figurative human sacrifice. Now that we know that priests from Hor’s era and geographic location would have used biblical figures to augment their religious rituals and spells, we better understand why he would have been interested in the story depicted on Facsimile 1, that of a biblical figure who was saved from sacrifice by divine intervention. It is likely that Hor sought out appropriate stories, and then used his knowledge of the story of Abraham to add further numinous power to his appeal for preternatural aid in keeping destructive forces at bay. Hor’s possession of this drawing matches what we would expect of a priest in this time and place based on the understanding of that culture gained from this study.
How interesting that the one time and place in ancient Egypt where we know priests to have been employing biblical figures in Egyptian documents, ca. 200 B.C. in Thebes, corresponds to the time and place of the Egyptian owner of the Joseph Smith papyri. It's also interesting that Abraham was one of the popular figures to include. It's also interesting that the themes of the translated Book of Abraham appear to be the kind of thing that the priest Hor was interested in.

Muhlenstein's work provides a helpful background for understanding the nature of the relevant Egyptian documents involved in the Book of Abraham.