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

Tuesday, November 19, 2019

Review of Terryl Givens and Brian Hauglid, The Pearl of Greatest Price: Mormonism's Most Controversial Scripture

A new book related to the Pearl of Great Price has just been published by two well-known LDS scholars, Dr. Terryl Givens and Dr. Brian Hauglid, both currently associated with the Maxwell Institute at BYU. The book is The Pearl of Greatest Price: Mormonism's Most Controversial Scripture (Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press, 2019). Givens, one of my favorite LDS thinkers and writers, is noted for intelligent treatments of Latter-day Saint scripture and life in works such as The God Who Weeps and By the Hand of Mormon, etc. Hauglid has years of experience in dealing with the Book of Abraham in particular and is one of the co-editors of the high-profile Book of Abraham volume from the Joseph Smith Papers Project. Unfortunately, I and John Gee have independently felt compelled to point out some serious gaps and biases in that volume, some of which appear to have been imported into The Pearl of Greatest Price (my review and John Gee's review are both at The Interpreter, and I provide some additional information in an article for Meridian Magazine). The cover of The Pearl of Greatest Price indicates it is by Terryl Givens “with Brian Hauglid,” perhaps indicating that Hauglid’s contribution is secondary or perhaps largely focused on the Book of Abraham material.

The Pearl of Greatest Price explores the history and impact upon the Church for each of the several parts of the Pearl of Great Price, namely, the Book of Moses, the Book of Abraham, the History of Joseph Smith, and the Articles of Faith. In general, these are presented with scholarly attention to detail, and with a broad awareness of how members and critics have responded to the content and occasionally misunderstandings about the content of these work. That alone makes the book a worthwhile read.

I offer praise for most of this work, in spite of occasional disagreement, particularly a few aspects of  the treatment of the Book of Abraham.

I particularly enjoyed the insights into how the Articles of Faith responded to the environment of persecution the Church faced and yet took strong stands on some issues that would further ruffle feathers of our religious critics, while avoiding a number of more sensitive issues.

The treatment of Joseph Smith’s history was also thorough and insightful. Givens plausibly suggests that Joseph initially saw his sacred experience as a very personal, private experience, but gradually saw the need to let others know some of what happened, in part at least to correct misinformation that his enemies were spreading about him. There is a tendency for some to interpret his various accounts as if Joseph were making the story up and simply adding grander embellishments over time. Here it might have been helpful to point to some of the early evidence showing that Joseph had shared key parts of his First Vision account that did not make it into his public written accounts until years later. There is no mention of an important work, Richard L. Anderson's "Circumstantial Confirmation of the First Vision Through Reminiscences," BYU Studies 9/3 (1969): 1-27, or a variety of other resources on the issue. If elements from the later versions of Joseph's First Vision account were already known to some others years before they were put into print for the public, then hostile arguments about Joseph fabricating new embellishments to his story over time become less tenable. Of course, Givens is not seeking to resolve heated debates, but to explore Joseph's teachings, his views and his journey as he shared different aspects of his experience over time. As such, his treatment is a worthwhile and interesting contribution to understanding the First Vision.

The treatment of the Book of Moses, as thorough and scholarly as it is, seems to take it as an evolutionary product of Joseph’s ideas rather than leaving the door open to the possibility that it might have been a revelation in some way related to an ancient text. Givens discusses the intertextuality of the Book of Moses with the Doctrine and Covenants, but would have been more complete if he had noted the surprising elements of intertextuality with the Book of Mormon that suggest a one-way dependency of the Book of Mormon with the Book of Moses, or perhaps an ancient related document on the brass plates that had a significant impact on several Book of Mormon writers, particularly Nephi, Jacob, Alma, and Mormon. The foundational work in this area was published by Noel Reynolds years ago and has recently been significantly expanded. If there were is an ancient Book of Moses related to ours that was had on the Nephite’s brass plates, then we may need to look at the Book of Moses as something more than Joseph’s personal but inspired or inspiring musings. See Noel Reynolds, “The Brass Plates Version of Genesis” (link is to a PDF of a scanned image of pages from a book) in John M. Lundquist and Stephen D. Ricks, eds., By Study and Also by Faith: Essays in Honor of Hugh W. Nibley on the Occasion of His Eightieth Birthday, 27 March 1990, 2 vols. (Salt Lake City and Provo, UT: Deseret Book and FARMS, 1990), 2:136–173, recently republished in The Interpreter (I recommend the latter version for enhanced readability). For additional data extending Reynolds' work, see Jeff Lindsay, “‘Arise from the Dust’: Insights from Dust-Related Themes in the Book of Mormon (Part 1: Tracks from the Book of Moses),” Interpreter: A Journal of Latter-day Saint Faith and Scholarship 22 (2016): 179-232.

Givens recognizes the debate that exists regarding evidence for ancient origins of at least some of the content in the Book of Moses. He notes that there is an affinity with 1 Enoch, a text that Joseph theoretically could have encountered after its translation into English in 1821 in London, and cites voices on both sides of the debate. For the argument that Joseph must have had access to and relied on First Enoch, he cites Michael Quinn and Salvatore Cirillo's 2010 thesis, while noting on the other hand that Richard Bushman finds it "scarcely conceivable" that Joseph could have known of 1 Enoch. Givens moves on and says he is not interested in resolving the debate but in "plumbing" the nature of the parallels between the Book of Moses and the Enoch tradition and the modifications that Joseph produced, "asking what they reveal about his prophetic project, and how they factored into the shaping of Latter-day Saint writings and teachings" (p. 47). Fair enough, but perhaps a word or two more on the debate would have been worthwhile.

What is overlooked is that while the relationships to the Enoch tradition include some interesting parallels to 1 Enoch, anyone examining that text will be hard-pressed to explain how it could have served as a source for Joseph. Its major themes and most striking elements are generally absent in the Book of Moses. Further, some of the most striking parallels to the ancient Enoch tradition are not found in anything Joseph could have theoretically accessed in 1830, but are found in later publications of ancient texts such as 2 Enoch, 3 Enoch, and the Qumran Book of Giants. It is in these sources, especially the Book of Giants, where the strongest evidences for ancient origins in the Book of Moses may be found. Such evidence may have been overlooked to hastily. Givens does not mention, for example, the occurrence of the names Mahujah and Mahijah in contexts that are consistent with their ancient occurrence. Attempts to explain away the multiple detailed connections between the Book of Moses and ancient Enochian traditions fail on multiple counts, as explained in detail by Jeffrey M. Bradshaw and Ryan Dahle in "Could Joseph Smith Have Drawn on Ancient Manuscripts When He Translated the Story of Enoch?: Recent Updates on a Persistent Question," Interpreter: A Journal of Latter-day Saint Faith and Scholarship 33 (2019): 305-374.

The treatment of the Book of Abraham, as noted above, was the primary source of disappointment with this generally useful volume.  I was disappointed but not surprised at the blind spots in the treatment of the Book of Abraham, given that many of these gaps were already identified in the approach of the recent publication by Brian Hauglid and Robin Jensen as co-editors for Joseph Smith Papers Project volume on the Book of Abraham. Readers of this blog may already be familiar with my concerns. For a summary, see Jeff Lindsay, "A Precious Resource with Some Gaps," Interpreter: A Journal of Latter-day Saint Faith and Scholarship 33 (2019): 13-104, and Jeff Lindsay, "Dealing with 'Friendly Fire' on the Book of Abraham," Meridian Magazine, 2019. Many of the same problems are found here, resulting in flawed conclusions that suggest the Book of Abraham was more of a product of Joseph's environment and own imagination than the product of actually translating or restoring something ancient, whether it was physically on the papyri or not.

One positive difference in this volume relative to the Joseph Smith Papers' volume on the Book of Abraham, involves Dr. Hugh Nibley, the most prolific and arguably most influential LDS scholar to have tackled many aspects of the Book of Abraham, the papyri, and the Kirtland Egyptian Papers. Nibley's name is not mentioned once in any of the extensive commentary or 1000-plus footnotes of the Joseph Smith Papers volume that Hauglid co-edited, consistent with his recent "coming out" as one who finds LDS apologetics to be "abhorrent." Fortunately, this gap has been overcome in The Pearl of Greatest Price. Not only is Nibley cited and discussed, but a few of the views of LDS apologists are also mentioned. For example, the book cites the views of Nibley, Stephen Smoot, and Quinten Barney on the relationship between ancient temple texts and practices and the Book of Abraham (p. 152). Also mentioned is the appearance of Abraham's name in a variety of texts and ancient traditions related to temple worship, a pet theme of Nibley. He is mentioned many other times. That's a welcome relief.

But many problems remain. Givens and Hauglid discuss 19th century Egyptomania and recognize that it was fueled by the artifacts Napoleon brought back to Europe, but fail to recognize that foremost among these artifacts was the Rosetta Stone, and that Egyptomania was fueled by the artifact in particular and especially by the widespread recognition that Champollion had to some degree cracked the code of Egyptian by seeking to translate it. This was big news and a quick search of early nineteenth-century newspapers in the US shows that Champollion's name was a household item, even in Ohio, in Joseph's day. I can't fathom widespread Egyptomania in 1835 without Champollion and a basic understanding of what Champollion had done. However, the The Pearl of Greatest Price, like Hauglid's volume for the Joseph Smith Papers, assumes that Joseph did not know that Egyptian had been determined to be a largely alphabetic language, and that Joseph somehow still clung to the very old notion that it was a mystical, oracular language in which one character could contain a world of meaning, thus explaining how Joseph allegedly and foolishly "translated" many dozens of English words from a single character, as critics claim Joseph Smith did and as the Joseph Smith Papers volume tends to suggest in its biased discussion of the Book of Abraham manuscripts that have some characters in the margins. Such notions are belied by Joseph's own statements regarding "reformed Egyptian" and by the statements in the Book of Mormon about the nature of the language being used. I was disappointed that this flawed view persisted in this volume. Articles criticizing Hauglid's errors in this regard and on many other issues had been published long before this volume came out, though he and Givens may not have noticed them or may not have had time to reconsider prior to the publication.

Another issue is the tendency to favor the Book of Abraham as a translation produced in some kind of evolving intellectual process using the Grammar and Alphabet of the Egyptian Language or the Egyptian Alphabet documents in the Kirtland Egyptian Papers, though the authors at least recognize that the possibility that Joseph dictated the Book of Abraham "in a flow of oracular inspiration cannot be entirely ruled out" (p. 174). An examination of the texts in the Kirtland Egyptian Papers, in my opinion, shows that the most plausible viewpoint is that the translation came first, followed by use of the translation to support whatever intellectual objective was being pursued with the Kirtland Egyptian Papers. For example, the "twin" manuscripts with characters in the margins and translated text in the right should not be seen as "windows" into how Joseph translated text in live dictation, as Hauglid has argued, but as a product of Joseph's scribes as they work with an existing text of Book of Abraham translation to create more entries for a particular unfinished section of the Grammar and Alphabet of the Egyptian Language. One of several important and hard-to-miss clues for that conclusion is the very title given at the top of the twin manuscripts. Given what we know from the translation process Joseph used to create the Book of Mormon and the Book of Moses as well as the restoration of an ancient text in Doctrine and Covenants Section 7, there is no reason to believe that Joseph went about the translation of the Book of Abraham in any other way. The KirtlandEgyptian Papers do not give an window into his translation method, but tell us something else about an intellectual project whose objectives and reasons for abandonment are unclear. Further, Joseph's journal mentions creating an alphabet "to" the Book of Abraham, not "for the translation of the Book of Abraham," as if the translated text were the source for creating the alphabet.

Givens and Hauglid rely on the  common assumption that Doctrine and Covenants Section 9's language about studying things out in one's mind applies to the translation process, but this is another assumption that may be flawed. Important scholarship on this issue needs to be considered. See Stan Spencer, "The Faith to See: Burning in the Bosom and Translating the Book of Mormon in Doctrine and Covenants 9," Interpreter: A Journal of Mormon Scripture 18 (2016): 219-232. Also see my post, “It Depends on What the Meaning of ‘It’ Is: Reconsidering the ‘Burning in the Bosom’ and ‘Studying It Out’ in Doctrine and Covenants 9,” Mormanity, Dec. 12, 2018.

In By the Hand of Mormon, Givens evinces good familiarity with many of the evidentiary strengths of the Book of Mormon and shows no inherent aversion toward apologetics. For example, he discusses the discovery of the male name Alma in an ancient Jewish land deed and even shows an image of the document validating the much-maligned male name Alma in the Book of Mormon. He discusses apparent  Hebraisms, chiasmus, and other strengths of the Book of Mormon, and discusses recent findings that may fortify some of the potential weak spots. In The Pearl of Greatest Price, however, there seems to be somewhat less awareness of the evidence supporting the ancient roots of the Book of Abraham and the Book of Moses and perhaps more reluctance to point out the strengths of both, but perhaps that would be outside the intended scope of the work.

However, in the section on the Book of Abraham, Givens and Hauglid do mention the discovery of a plausible candidate for Olishem mentioned in Abraham 1:10 (p. 168) and note Kerry Muhlenstein's work showing that human sacrifice did occur in several forms in ancient Egypt, adding plausibility to the account in the Book of Abraham (p. 168). Parallels to the ancient biography of Idrimi are also mentioned (p. 169). Awareness of these issues is much appreciated. Many more could be mentioned, such as the various issues that have been raised at Pearl of Great Price Central and many other sources.

Granted, Givens' purpose is not to resolve debates on the origins of the Book of Abraham, but for some of the controversies and issues that are raised, I wish there had been slightly more awareness of the strengths of that text and the weakness in some of the arguments against it.

Overall, though, there is much to learn from The Pearl of Greatest Price and a few things for healthy debate. The book a valuable contribution, in spite of my objections on a few points.

Sunday, November 10, 2019

Travel Tip for the Netherlands: Visit the Amsterdam Ward!

Some of the best experiences on my travels to various parts of the world have occurred when I was able to attend local a local church service. Always something interesting to experience and learn and we will often find new friends and intriguing people whose stories add rich color to the travel experience.

On Sunday, October 20, I was in Amsterdam at the beginning of an intense trip involving an intellectual property event there and a business trip to Cambridge in the UK. One of the best short trips of my life with so many highlights, but I think the best part of that wonderful visit to Europe was the chance to visit the Amsterdam Ward on Sunday. What a delightful, loving group of people from all over the world.

The Amsterdam Ward building is on a quiet, narrow street, a facility that the Saints in Amsterdam built and funded themselves at great sacrifice with financial donations and donated labor. It was truly a work of love from deeply faithful people. The couple below, the Jansens, and their son gave me permission to share the photo.  They were part of the group that built the building and were so happy to have it be finished and dedicated in 1971. Another son of theirs, Johan Jansen, is the head chef for the dining establishments at the Joseph Smith Building in Salt Lake City, where I have sampled the good and affordable food at the Nauvoo Cafe, maybe the most casual and inexpensive place there. Love their chicken pot pie and salads. Johan is also known for his "Cooking with Johan" videos on Youtube.

Here are some views of the building and the neighborhod.

The main speaker in the sacrament meeting at the Amsterdam Ward impressed me with what seemed like a solid, scripturally-rooted talk with strong delivery that made it interesting, even with the inherent limitations of on-the-fly translation. But an extremely delightful highlight was the musical number, a soloist with piano accompaniment of "Oh the Song We'll Sing." As performed, it may have been the most beautiful hymn I've heard, but it's one I've somewhat neglected all my life. So beautiful. The soloist was so good I suspected she was a professional singer. When I chatted with her and some of her fans afterwards, I learned that this was Sister Angela Bower, a professional opera singer from the States who was here in the Netherlands performing in the Mozart opera, Cosi Fan Tutti, and just had a couple performances left before completing that significant project and returning the U.S. She was remarkably gracious and it was so kind of her to share her skills and devotion for the Lord in that performance that the Ward requested from her. Unforgettably beautiful. Bravo! And unlike many celebrities who do attend sacrament meeting, I was impressed that she stayed for Sunday School and actively participated. Cool!

I also met some wonderful missionaries who impressed me. Took a photo of one, Elder David Gerrits, shared with permission. He has been in the Netherlands serving in Amsterdam for many weeks while waiting for his visa to Dutch-speaking Surinam to be granted, and now is finally on his way to the MTC briefly and then on to Surinam. Had a great conversation with him and found he was highly interested in many Book of Mormon issues and evidences, which we discussed for a while before sacrament meeting began. Sharp Elder and very interesting.

There is a nest built by storks on the top of the building, which has been taken as an auspicious sign by some of the members, one of whom spoke to me about "the miracle of the storks." Amazing birds. Saw the nest but didn't get to see any storks on my visit.

This was my third trip to Amsterdam. Love the people there and the food, especially the cheese, bread, and butter. I was honestly stunned by how good the butter is -- such a simple material, one might think, but to me the local butter there is the best I've ever tasted. Simple bread and butter can be a feast there. And one that's easy on the wallet.

One of the benefits of visiting a local church unit is that you can usually get a free copy of the Book of Mormon in the local language and often in English (which everyone seems to speak in Holland) that you might be able to give out later. I picked up an English copy with the help of the Elders and was able to give it out to a very interesting man I met two days later. He turned out to be a minister and a man with a rich faith in Christ. It was a pleasure to hear his story and learn from his experiences as we discussed some things of common interest. Was grateful I had a copy of the Book of Mormon to share with that fine man.

Holland is a place really worth visiting, and I hope you'll be sure to include a visit to the Amsterdam Ward. It was a highlight, maybe the top highlight, of this trip.

Much Ado About Creation Ex Nihilo

Robert Boylan in Ireland makes some salient points in his review of a recent debate between the Latter-day Saint Kwaku El and the Evangelical Jeremy Howard. I especially liked Robert's scholarly insights into Romans 4:17, which is often misused to support the doctrine of creation ex nihilo. What follows is that portion of Boylan's post (footnotes deleted), which contains some useful scriptural, theological, and historical insights:

When the Bible speaks of God “creating,” [Jeremy Howard] reads into that “ex nihilo.”
With respect to Rom 4:17, as Blake wrote in his article, Paul is speaking of the future resurrection:

Romans 4:17. Copan and Craig next cite Romans 4:17 KJV: "even God, who quickeneth the dead, and calleth those things which be not as though they were (καλοῦντος τὰ μὴ ὄνταὡς ὄντα)." There are two possible translations of Romans 4:17. The majority translation does not entail creation out of nothing: "[Abraham] is our father in the presence of God whom he believed—the God who makes the dead alive and summons the things that do not yet exist as though they already do."[15] Another translation indicates that God "calls into existence the things which do not exist" (New American Bible, NAB). The first translation is preferred for several reasons. First, Keith Norman has pointed out that it is contradictory for God to call to that which does not exist.[16] Second, as Moo stated, "this interpretation fits the immediate context better than a reference to God's creative power, for it explains the assurance with which God can speak of the 'many nations' that will be descended from Abraham."[17] Thus, the preferred translation merely states that God summons the future reality of the resurrection as if it already existed. This seems to me to be a far better fit with the context.
Third, as Hubler comments: "The verse's 'non-existent' need not be understood in an absolute sense of non-being. μὴ ὄντα (mē onta) refers to the previous non-existence of those things which are now brought into existence. There is no direct reference to the absence or presence of a material cause."[18] In other words, the Greek text suggests the view that God has brought about a thing that did not existas that thing before it was so created. For example, this use of μὴ ὄντα is logically consistent with the proposition that "God called forth the earth when before that the earth did not exist." However, the fact that the earth did not exist as the earth before it was so created does not address the type of material that was used to make it.
Note also that Romans 4:17 uses the negative μή, which refers to merely relative nonbeing and not to absolute nothing, as required by the doctrine of creation ex nihilo. At this point it is important to understand a bit about the ancient concept of matter in the Greek-speaking world and the distinction between relative nonbeing (Greek μὴ ὄντα) and absolute nothing (Greek οὐκ ὄντως). Platonic philosophy—both Neoplatonism and Middle Platonism—posited the existence of an eternal substratum that was material but was nevertheless so removed from the One Ground of Being that it was often said to not have "real" existence. As Jonathan Goldstein observes: "Platonists called pre-existent matter 'the non-existent.'"[19] This relative nonexistence is indicated by the Greek negative μή, meaning "not" or "non-," in conjunction with the word for existence or being.[20] When the early Christian theologians speak of creation that denies that there was any material state prior to creation, however, they use the Greek negation ουκ, meaning "not in any way or mode." As Henry Chadwick explained the usage in Clement's Stromata: "In each case the phrase he employs is ek me ontos not ex ouk ontos; that is to say, it is made not from that which is absolutely non-existent, but from relative non-being or unformed matter, so shadowy and vague that it cannot be said to have the status of 'being', which is imparted to it by the shaping hand of the Creator."[21] Edwin Hatch explained that, for Platonists, "God was regarded as being outside the world. The world was in its origin only potential being (το μὴ ὄν)."[22] He explains more fully:
The [Platonic] dualistic hypothesis assumed a co-existence of matter and God. The assumption was more frequently tacit than explicit. . . . There was a universal belief that beneath the qualities of all existing things lay a substratum or substance on which they were grafted, and which gave to each thing its unity. But the conception of the nature of this substance varied from that of gross and tangible material to that of empty and formless space. . . . It was sometimes conceived as a vast shapeless but plastic mass, to which the Creator gave form, partly by moulding it as a potter moulds clay, partly by combining various elements as a builder combines his materials in the construction of a house.[23]
Aristotle wrote that: "For generation is from non-existence (ἐκ τοῦ μὴ ὄντος) into being, and corruption from being back into non-existence (εἰς τὸ μὴ ὄν)."[24] Generation is the act of a new animal being derived from an existing one, or a plant deriving from an existing plant. It is new life from life. He used the phrase from non-existence in a sense of relative nonbeing, where "things" do not yet exist and there is only a formless substratum that has the potential or capacity to receive definite form. This substratum is not absolutely nothing but is not yet a thing. It is "no-thing." Thus, to say that God called to existence that which does not exist, as in Romans 4:17, actually assumes a preexisting substrate that God, by impressing form upon it, organizes into a thing that exists. Copan and Craig simply fail to note this important distinction, and thus their exegesis is critically flawed.
In their book, Copan and Craig cite a number of evangelical scholars who share their theological presuppositions and who opine that this verse refers to creation out of nothing (CON, pp. 75-78). Yet none of these authors provide any analysis or exegesis beyond asserting that the "non-existent" must mean that which does not exist in any sense. For example, Copan and Craig quote James Dunn's commentary on Romans 4:17, which reads in the relevant part: "'As creator he creates without any precondition: he makes alive where there was only death, and he calls into existence where there was nothing at all. Consequently that which has been created, made alive in this way, must be totally dependent on the creator, the life-giver, for its very existence and life'" (NMC, p. 117).[25] However, it is easy to see that the scriptural analogy of God bringing the dead to life in the same way that he creates "things which are not" does not support creatio ex nihilo. Resurrection does not presuppose that the dead do not exist in any way prior to their resurrection, nor does it presuppose that previously they did not have bodies that are reorganized through resurrection. Just as God does not create persons for the first time when he restores them to life through resurrection, so God does not create out of absolute nonbeing.
Moreover, note that Romans 4:17 doesn't expressly address whether things are created out of nothing or from some material substrate. It simply says that God "calls" things into existence that are not. Moreover, such a statement in no way entails or requires creation out of nothing implicitly. If I create a table then I create a table that did not exist before I created it, but it doesn't mean that I create it out of nothing. In this text, the word create is not even used. Rather, what God does is to "call forth" the non-existent. The verb καλέω means to call out loud to something, or to invite.[26] It presupposes something there to be called to or invited. God calls out to the non-existent by his Word, an act described by a verb used elsewhere in Paul's writings (Romans 9:11; 1 Corinthians 12:3; Galatians 5:8; 1 Thessalonians 5:24). Thus, the most natural reading of this text is that the "non-existent" or μὴ ὄντα refers to a preexisting reality that does not yet exist as God calls it to be. Such a reading has nothing to do with creation out of absolute nothing.

Monday, November 04, 2019

Caffeine Update: Prenatal Risks

Many members of the Church interpret the Word of Wisdom's prohibitions on tea and coffee as a hint that caffeine itself should be treated cautiously. But many feel that drinking caffeinated soft drinks is OK and the Church does not require people to avoid them. While there's a lot of evidence that soft drinks of any kind aren't the best thing for your health, one interesting aspect of caffeine itself that many people might not know about is its potentially harmful effect on unborn children.

See Ellis Voerman, Vincent W.V. Jaddoe, and Olta Gishti, "Maternal caffeine intake during pregnancy, early growth and body fat distribution at school-age. The Generation R Study," Obesity (Silver Spring), 24/5 (May 2016): 1170–1177; doi: 10.1002/oby.21466. Here is the abstract:
We examined the associations of maternal caffeine intake during pregnancy with offspring growth patterns, and body fat and insulin levels at school-age.

In a population-based birth cohort among 7,857 mothers and their children, we assessed maternal caffeine intake during pregnancy by questionnaires. Growth characteristics were measured from birth onwards. At 6 years, body fat and insulin levels were measured.

Compared to children whose mothers consumed <2 units of caffeine per day during pregnancy (1 unit of caffeine is equivalent to 1 cup of coffee (90 mg caffeine)), those whose mothers consumed ≥6 units of caffeine per day tended to have a lower weight at birth, higher weight gain from birth to 6 years and higher body mass index from 6 months to 6 years. Both children whose mothers consumed 4-5.9 and ≥6 units of caffeine per day during pregnancy tended to have a higher childhood body mass index and total body fat mass. Only children whose mothers consumed ≥6 units of caffeine per day had a higher android/gynoid fat mass ratio.

Our results suggest that high levels of maternal caffeine intake during pregnancy are associated with adverse offspring growth patterns and childhood body fat distribution.
This is one of several studies suggesting that expecting mothers should be careful about caffeine. Good to know. 

Sunday, November 03, 2019

An Alphabet TO the Book of Abraham: What Did Joseph Mean?

Here's another look at some minor issues around the Book of Abraham and some of the gaps in the treatment in The Joseph Smith Papers, Revelations and Translations, Volume 4: Book of Abraham and Related Manuscripts, eds. Robin Scott Jensen and Brian M. Hauglid (Salt Lake City: Church Historian’s Press, 2018), hereafter JSPRT4.

In a previous post on the importance of word order in the Grammar and Alphabet of the Egyptian Language, I noted that Joseph Smith's History from July 1835, p. 597, speaks of working on an "alphabet to the Book of Abraham." Not for production of the Book of Abraham, but simply to the Book of Abraham. The transcript is on the Joseph Smith Papers Project website:

July 1835 <​Translating the Book of Abraham &c.​> The remainder of this month, I was continually engaged in translating an alphabet to the Book of Abraham, and arrangeing a grammar of the Egyptian language as practiced by the ancients. [emphasis added]
Reader "Joe Peaceman" suggested that this suggest whatever the alphabet was, it seems to have been produced as a companion to the Book of Abraham (or whatever portion had already been translated) based on this language, rather than as a tool for translating the Book of Abraham. I agreed and argued that this wording "creates the logical though debatable presumption that the Book of Abraham is controlling the creation of the GAEL and not the other way around." This is in contrast to the various sometimes subtle positions taken in JSPRT4 that favor the theory that at least part of the Book of Abraham evolved from the Kirtland Egyptian Papers or was being developed at the same time, as if dependent on the human efforts with various "Egyptian" characters.

Today I'm considering the question about the meaning of that phrase, "an alphabet to the Book of Abraham." One of the meanings of "to" is to describe what role something will play or what purpose it will serve, as in "a guide to the city of Lisbon," "an assistant to the chairman," or "an invitation to disaster."  So does Joseph's usage most plausibly mean something derived on or created for an existing Book of Abraham translation (as in "a companion/appendix/guide/ to the Book of Abraham"), or something that would be used to create the Book of Abraham from the papyri? For the latter, I would expect something like "an alphabet for the translation of the papyri" or "an alphabet for [translation of] the Book of Abraham." But let's see how others use language similar to Joseph.

To begin, I considered how other English speakers have used the phrase "alphabet to." I searched in  Google Books from 1500 to 1900 for the phrase "an alphabet to" or "alphabet to the" and eliminated instances where "to" pertains to a verb (e.g., "the Phoenicians gave the alphabet to the Greeks" or "an alphabet to decode text") or other noun (e.g., "the adaptation of one alphabet to the needs of another language") or is part of a separate phrase or sentence. I found just a few relevant examples:

First there is the 1805 book Materials for an Alphabet to the Science of Medicine published in Philadelphia by a writer from Virginia. This book presumes the existence of the science of medicine, and wishes to clarify uncertainty about its principles by creating an alphabet "or a correct view of its fundamental principles." This usage would be consistent with Joseph's statement if Joseph were talking about a tool extracted from an existing Book of Abraham translation.

Next is the 1690 book, An Alphabet to the Calendar of Acts of Parliament from Henry 7th to King Charles the 2nd, which is in the British Museum and apparently not online. This appears to be a guide to understanding the Calendar of Acts of Parliament, another case where an "alphabet to" refers to something derived from an existing source.

Turning closer to Joseph Smith's day and Yankee locale, in The Public Statute Laws of the State of Connecticut (Hartford: State of Connecticut, 1835), p. 549,  there is reference to "an index or alphabet to the same" for lists of mortgages, grants, deeds, etc., to be kept in alphabetical order. Naturally, the records come first, then the alphabet follows.

In Index to the Laws of Maryland, from the Year 1818 to 1825, another 1835 publication, we find a resolution "to make a general alphabet to the land records" related to a William Bateman. Elsewhere in this volume we read of "a general alphabet directed to be made to the land records belonging to Anne Arundel county." Here the "alphabet to" in both cases seems to be an index or guide to assist in understanding existing land records and is clearly derived from those records, not a tool to create them.

Moving away from legal records, in William Philips' An Introduction to Mineralogy, (London: Longman et al., 1837), 4th ed.,  we read that "Mineralogy, therefore, is in reality essential to the geologist; it is the very alphabet to the older rocks." [emphasis original] Once again, "alphabet to" is like a "guide to" something that already exists.

In The Quarterly Musical Magazine and Review, vol. 9 (1827), p. 22, a publication from London, the skill of reading music is described as "an alphabet to the science" of music. Here the skill helps unlock the understanding of music, and is not described as the key to creating the music in the first place.

In the world of accounting from Joseph's day, The American System of Practical Book-keeping by William James (New York: Collins and Hannay, 1829), p. 9, has a page with the heading, "Alphabet to the Leger," wherein the "alphabet to" obviously represents organization of existing information. 

That's pretty much it from my searching. Searching for "alphabet for" or "alphabet of" yields many finds pertaining to language, as expected. But based on other uses of the phrase "alphabet to," it would seem the most reasonable way to parse "an alphabet to the Book of Abraham" would appear to refer to a tool derived from or based upon existing Book of Abraham materials. In other words, the translation came first, then the alphabet. Of course, this is what Champollion was doing with his alphabet. It was the existing translation of the Rosetta Stone that allow him and others to begin cracking the code of Egyptian to form what was commonly called in newspapers and articles of Joseph's era an "alphabet" for the Egyptian language. Whatever Joseph and his scribes thought they were doing with their "alphabet," it appears that it was a case of the revealed translation coming first, followed by some puzzling human work with the translation and with various characters (most of which were not even Egyptian) to create the strange Kirtland Egyptian Papers.

To interpret Joseph's declaration about his "alphabet to the Book of Abraham" to argue that alphabet came first involves some questionable assumptions and what appears to be a sloppy reading of what Joseph said. The best reading would seem to be "an alphabet to [the existing (portion of)] Book of Abraham" and not "an alphabet [for translating] the Book of Abraham [from the papyri]," a proposition that gets especially questionable when one realizes that the most of the characters in the various Egyptian Alphabet documents, the Egyptian Counting document, and the Egyptian Grammar and Alphabet are not Egyptian characters at all.

Monday, October 28, 2019

Romancing the Rio Wreck: Evidence for Ancient Transoceanic Contact in the Americas vs. a Romantic Notion of Peer Review

As a Ph.D. linguist providing his peer-review of Brian Stubbs' work on linguistic evidence of ancient Old World contact with the Americas as evidence by the Uto-Aztecan language family, Dr. John S. Robertson explained why the academic community is likely to continue treating Stubbs' work with the inadequate attention it seems to have received so far:
It is academic dogma that any prehistoric migration from the Middle East to the Americas never happened, nor could it ever have happened. Any scholar’s work would be anathema if it made such a claim. Some say Stubbs’s work is anathema — but only at the expense of ignoring the breadth and depth of the actual data. There is actually existing evidence that favors such a migration — not an archeological artifact, nor a recorded manuscript — but evidence in the form of factual, predictive, lawful linguistic data found in Stubbs 2015. Such evidence of borrowing exists in abundance, available for proper review and criticism.
In my recent post discussing Robertson's evaluation of Stubbs' work, certain critics of the Church took the stance that the work is meaningless -- no need to consider the extensive data -- until it gets formal peer review. Dr. Robertson kindly chimed in and explained that he, as a Ph.D. linguist familiar with the issues and the work, actually is a peer and is providing review. Ah, but that doesn't count, we were told, because Robertson is a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and thus has an interest in the outcome, making his review unreliable. Only non-LDS academics can be trusted on such matters because, of course, non-LDS people in general naturally won't have any interest in the outcome and can be trusted to give us a fair evaluation of paradigm-busting, controversial evidence relevant to the Book of Mormon, no matter how much they may dislike the controversial book or the religion that relies on it.

Granted, bias is a perpetual problem in any debate. Latter-day Saints can unfairly see things in ways that favor us, and our critics can also be blind to other possibilities. Everyone is at risk of having some interest or some bias, perhaps completely unconsciously, in how they look at almost any issue. The key issue is whether their scholarship is sound and their approach reasonable. Is Chris Rogers' review of Stubbs' work inherently trustworthy or untrustworthy because he's associated with BYU professor and is a member of the Church, like John S. Robertson? One dismisses Stubbs' work, the other finds it impressive. If you examine the writings of both of these professors regarding Brian Stubbs' 2015 book, I would suggest that both are sharing what they think based on their training, not based on their religious biases, and whether they are right or wrong depends on their logic and understanding of the data, not their affiliation (Robertson wins handily on that count while Rogers has completely misunderstood what he reviewed).

Peer review is vital for the progress of science, but often runs into snags when academic evidence challenges a major paradigm. It may be an unreasonable expectation to think that those doing the review, whether professors, funding officers, corporate scientists or whoever, will be objective and even-handed in dealing with controversial results that threaten "what everybody knows" or touch upon some highly sensitive issue, as is the issue of how New World civilizations arose.

There is a rather romantic notion of peer review at play here, a notion that many people have, rooted in a trust that academics and the organizations that fund and influence them (universities and governments, for example) will tend to embrace truth and knowledge, even when it defies conventional wisdom and preconceived notions. It does happen, but it takes courageous people and often a great deal of time before paradigms can be overthrown, as Ignacz Semmelweis found in trying to get the medical community to practice basic hygiene to reduce the transmission of disease from invisible agents (germs). Have any of you seen the play Semmelweis? Very touching production. Saw it at BYU when I was a student.

One critic guffawed at the idea that peer review might not give a fair shake to work that had any merit and claimed there was no evidence for such concerns and specifically criticized Robertson's claim that a fair evaluation of Stubbs' work might be impeded by academic dogma against ancient contact between the Middle East and the New World.

If there actually were any legitimate evidence for pre-Colombian Old World contact with New World peoples apart from a few Vikings making a hut or two in Canada, surely that evidence would be carefully considered by the powers that be and, after careful vetting by open-minded scholars in the academic community, would be openly published and shared with the world, let the facts declare what they may.  Right?

To shed some light on that romantic notion of disinterested, fair peer review of controversial reports that clash with reigning paradigms, let's consider an event involving several nations speaking Romance languages, Brazil, Portugal, Spain, and Italy. The story is told in a delightful and thorough book that I highly recommend, Ancient Ocean Crossings: Reconsidering the Case for Contacts with the Pre-Columbian Americas by Stephen C. Jett (Tuscaloosa, Alabama: Univ. of Alabama Press, 2017). It draws upon works of the colorful but sometimes controversial underwater explorer Robert F. Marx, widely known  for his daring treasure discoveries. The story could also begin with an Oct. 10, 1982 article in the New York Times, "RIO ARTIFACTS MAY INDICATE ROMAN VISIT" by Walter Sullivan.

Here is an excerpt from Stephen C. Jetts' book in the section "Rio’s Roman Wreck" in Chapter 10, "The Mystery of the Missing Artifacts" (Kindle edition, footnotes deleted):
Politics not infrequently plays a role in distortion and suppression of evidence. Fuller discussion must await a future book, but the case of Robert Marx and a seeming Roman wreck in Brazil is worth detailing here.

Brazil is home to many undated rock inscriptions translatable as Phoenician, Greek, Latin, or even Norse. In 1975, a diver reported retrieving ship’s fragments as well as amphorae in the Rio Urumbo of Brazil’s São Paulo state. They were allegedly Phoenician.

In 1976, a local diver discovered Roman-style amphorae on the bottom of the Bay of Guanabara, that marvelous harbor on whose shore lies Rio de Janeiro. Over the years since the mid-1960s, fishermen had found more than fifty intact specimens of these liquid-storage jars. Beginning in 1979, Robert Marx, an American adventurer and underwater archaeological investigator, interviewed local divers and fishermen who had brought up such jars, and he examined two intact examples. He asked several oceanographers to independently examine the barnacles and other marine creatures on the containers, and the organisms were determined to be from Guanabara Bay and not from the Mediterranean and to have required centuries to develop; some of the encrustations carbon-dated to about AD 500.

In 1982, Marx dove on the site, where he found that most of the pottery fragments were cemented to the bottom rock by coral. He had experts investigate representative sherds. Radiocarbon dating put their age at around 2000 years ago, plus or minus 140 years, and thermoluminescence dating gave a nearly identical age. The leading expert on sourcing and dating amphorae, the University of Massachusetts classicist Elizabeth Lyding Will, concluded that the containers were of the second or third century AD, made at Roman Kouass, the ancient port of Zilis (present Dehar Jedid) on the Atlantic coast of Morocco to the southwest of Tangier.

Using sub-bottom-profiling sonar, the MIT electrical engineer and Jacques-Yves Cousteau collaborator Harold E. Edgerton identified two targets that were consistent with their being parts of a wreck. Later probing by Marx verified the presence of wood. “Shortly after Edgerton’s report [on the sonar findings] appeared, the Portuguese and Spanish governments expressed great concern to the Brazilian government about the possibility that this discovery could displace Cabral as the discoverer of Brazil and Columbus as the discoverer of the New World” and could—as claimed Italy’s ambassador—give unrestricted rights of citizenship to Italian immigrants to Brazil. Soon afterward, the Brazilian government, initially calling the wreck Phoenician, declared the site to be a restricted zone and had a dredge barge dump tons of earth atop it for “protection”—protection of the reputations of the Renaissance explorers, it would seem, and to squelch any claims to Brazil that Italy might make. Following this literal cover-up, all further underwater archaeology in Brazilian waters was banned. [emphasis added]
So painful. Ouch!

The Brazilian side of the story may be that Robert F. Marx had taken some gold or other artifacts from Brazilian sites and was a bad actor. Thus, there was a need to ban all underwater archaeology all along the coasts of Brazil. See another New York Times article on this, "UNDERWATER EXPLORING IS BANNED IN BRAZIL" by Marlise Simons, June 25, 1985. Maybe Marx did some things improperly. Maybe he was a rogue explorer. But the reaction to ban all exploration, and the apparent dumping of dirt over the key site, makes me suspect something else was involved besides concern over one famous explorer.

It seems that a reigning paradigm or two was threatened (once the significance of the find was recognized, a process that took a little time for the antibodies to be activated) and, as is sometimes the case with big reigning paradigms, there were peripheral implications (political ones here). The response was not just silence, but an active hostility that not only suppressed the evidence, but caused harm to the already stressed ecosystem in Guanabara Bay by those who were responsible to protect it. Protecting Brazil's political interests may have came first. Welcome to the romantic version of peer review. OK, this wasn't academic peer review per se, but the results of government review, the powers that fund and influence the academics.

Politics are only occasionally the problem. Jetts illustrates other painful examples of evidence for transoceanic contact being suppressed or ignored because of assuming that the evidence must be wrong given the paradigm that "everyone knows," or because of fear that treating it seriously would result in trouble. Academics commonly won't take the possibility of pre-Colombian transoceanic contact seriously until there is suitable evidence, but what may be part of the needed suitable evidence is rejected or suppressed because everyone knows there was no pre-Colombian transoceanic contact between the Old World and the New. A lovely Catch-22.

Old flawed paradigms do get broken and overturned eventually when enough data comes to light and enough voices dare to accept the new theories needed to explain the growing body of evidence. But at the moment, there is great risk that much of the evidence of Old World contact with the Americas has been ignored, rejected prematurely, or even covered up, as we apparently see in a dramatic and environmentally harmful form from Brazilian authorities. If Jetts' account is correct, it's quite discouraging.  But perhaps the broad linguistic evidence pointing to such contact may play a role in helping to shake off an old reigning paradigm that can allow more open consideration of other evidence as well. 

Monday, October 21, 2019

John S. Robertson Offers Strong Support for Brian Stubbs

Recently Brian Stubbs, a leading and widely respected expert on the Uto-Aztecan language family, provided a guest post with his detailed response to a harshly critical review of his work from a BYU professor, Chris Rogers, that was published by the Maxwell Institute. Stubbs has thoroughly documented the existence of strong influences in Uto-Aztecan from apparent infusions (borrowing) of Old World languages, including Hebrew and Egyptian, in ways that meet and exceed typical requirements in linguistics to establish a legitimate connection between languages. It's fascinating work, but work that clashes with the reigning academic paradigm of isolation of the New World prior to Columbus. Rogers' critique sadly seems to completely misunderstand what Stubbs has done and almost seems to let the paradigm pass premature judgment without engaging with Stubbs actual work.

Now a respected linguist, John S. Robertson (retired from BYU), has also written a formal response to the misguided negative review by Rogers. See John S. Robertson, "An American Indian Language Family with Middle Eastern Loanwords: Responding to A Recent Critique," Interpreter: A Journal of Latter-day Saint Faith and Scholarship 34 (2019): 1-16. Robertson clearly explains why Stubbs' case is vastly stronger than Rogers imagines, and radically different from Rogers' caricature of Stubbs' work. In his detailed review, not only does he expose the many painful mistakes in Rogers' publication, but shows us just how much there is to Stubbs' work.
Abstract: In 2015 Brian Stubbs published a landmark book, demonstrating that Uto-Aztecan, an American Indian language family, contains a vast number of Northwest Semitic and Egyptian loanwords spoken in the first millennium bc. Unlike other similar claims — absurd, eccentric, and without substance — Stubbs’s book is a serious, linguistically based study that deserves serious consideration. In the scholarly world, any claim of Old World influence in the New World languages is met with critical, often hostile skepticism. This essay is written in response to one such criticism. 
Robertson's article provides significant praise of what Stubbs has achieved and demolishes Rogers' case against. It's time that we pay more attention to what Stubbs has delivered. Meaty, almost overwhelming evidence of some kind of ancient contact. Fascinating.

Sunday, October 20, 2019

Puzzling Statement from Joseph Smith III May Raise a Book of Abraham Question: Could More of the Original Papyri Have Survived?

After a long trip from Shanghai to Amsterdam via Dubai yesterday, I awoke this morning with an intriguing question sent from Ryan Larsen, a fellow member of the Church and an intriguing researcher who has a knack for looking at details related to the LDS scriptures in interesting new ways. He wondered if it might be possible that more of the original Egyptian papyri from Joseph Smith's collection may have survived. His question comes from a puzzling statement attributed to Joseph Smith III indicating that his uncle William Smith sold the papyri and mummies (or could it be just part of the collection that he had access to?) years before Emma's second husband, Lewis Bidamon, allegedly sold the whole collection papyri to Abel Combs. The latter sale is described by John Gee on p. 6 of his Introduction to the Book of Abraham:
On May 26, 1856, less than two weeks after Lucy Mack Smith died, Emma Smith (Joseph’s widow), her second husband (Lewis C. Bidamon), and her son Joseph Smith III sold the mummies and the papyri to a man named Abel Combs. Abel Combs split up the papyri. Some he sold to the St. Louis Museum, including at least two of the rolls and at least two of the mummies; some of the mounted fragments he kept. The St. Louis Museum sold the rolls and mummies to Colonel Wood’s Museum in Chicago. Wood’s Museum burned down in the Chicago Fire of 1871, and presumably the papyri and mummies were destroyed with it.
Ryan found the statement that follows from Joseph Smith III in an unlikely source, "Smithianity;  ... OR ...  Mormonism Refuted by Mormons, Part II," by R. B. Neal, Grayson, Ky., 1899, made available at OliverCowdery.com where it is listed under "Anti-Mormon Tracts, No. 4." I don't see this letter cited or mentioned in any other source, causing me to wonder if it is real, but I can see no gain for the anti-Mormon cause achieved by fabricating such a letter. Do any of you have further insights on this document? It may be a late recollection and Joseph Smith III may be conflating the Egyptian materials he saw in Chicago before the fire of 1871 with those that he believed William Smith had sold (but it is possible that scrolls allegedly sold by William Smith and those sold by Abel Combs all ended up in the Woods Museum in Chicago). The purported sale by William Smith would have taken place when Joseph Smith III was about 14 years old, if I understand correctly, and thus, as Ryan puts it, he would have been old enough to know what was going on.

Here's the letter quoted by R.B. Neal:


Bro. Herman C. Smith: In compliance with your request, the papyrus from which the Book of Abraham was said to have been translated by father, was, with other portions, found in a roll with some Egyptian mummies, pasted upon either paper or linen, and put into a small case of flat drawers, some dozen or sixteen in number. This case, with two cases of mummies, containing five persons, one much smaller than the others, were in the keeping of Grandmother Lucy Smith, father's mother, for some time before father's death, and were still in her possession both at the time he was killed and after. She then took them from our house, some time after father's death, and had them at her daughter's, Lucy Milliken's, when they moved into Knox County, Ill., not far from Galesburg. I can not give you dates, but during a part of 1846-47 mother and family were away from Nauvoo, and grandmother was at Lucy Milliken's. Grandmother finally came back to Nauvoo with Lucy's family, but came back without the mummies and case of drawers. We learned that while living near Galesburg, Uncle William undertook a lecturing tour and secured the mummies and case of records, as the papyrus was called, as an exhibit and aid to making his lectures more attractive and lucrative.

Uncle William became stranded somewhere along the Illinois River, and sold the mummies and records with the understanding that he might repurchase them. This he never did.

Part of the stock, one case of mummies, and part, or all, of the case of drawers, found their way to Wood's Museum, Chicago, and a part to St. Louis -- where, we never learned.

I, personally, in company with Elder Elijah Banta, of Sandwich, Ill., saw the mummies and case of drawers in the museum in Chicago, before the great fire in 1871, in which they undoubtedly perished, with the rest of the accumulated relics and curiosities.

Uncle William never accounted for the sale he made, except to state that he was obliged to sell them; but fully intended to repurchase them, but was never able before the fire, and of course could not after they were burned.

So far as anything is known by us about the fate, or final disposition of the papyrus is correct, and I was knowing to the facts as they occurred; and saw the mummies and case of drawers in Wood's Museum. Chicago, not long before the fire of October, 1871. I was at the time living at Plano, Ill., fifty-three miles west from Chicago. and did business m the city in behalf of our publishing department and Herald, and visited the city frequently.

The generally accepted history of the papyri does not refer to William Smith selling them, though it is known he lectured with them for a while. The letter makes it sound like William Smith sold the whole collection, both scrolls and mummies, when we understand that scrolls and mummies (apparently) were sold by Lewis Bidamon. So my gut reaction is that Joseph Smith III's third-party hearsay is based on a jumbled account that has confused who sold the collection, but on the other hand, could it be that part of the collection actually was sold by William Smith? And if so, could there be some additional Joseph Smith papyri out there waiting to be found? Of course, taken at face value, the statement tells us that what William Smith sold perished in the Great Chicago Fire.

If this has been hashed out elsewhere and I'm raising a ridiculous question, let me know! My brief searching didn't turn up anything. 

Update, Oct. 22, 2019: Ryan turned up a valuable source that helps resolve confusion about William Smith's sale, and still leaves open a slim hope that there may yet be a mummy or document or two waiting to be found. See Stanley B. Kimball, "New Light on Old Egyptian Mummies 1848-71," Dialogue (Winter 1983): 72-90. Fascinating history!

Thursday, October 17, 2019

Feeling Blue About the Red Sea in the Book of Mormon?

Criticism about the Book of Mormon's references to the Red Sea came up in some recent comments, so I thought I'd share a couple of perspectives that might be helpful on that topic. There are a couple of arguments regarding the Red Sea that are made to criticize the Book of Mormon. First, it is often said that the Book of Mormon is just copying a KJV mistake in stating that the Israelites crossed the Red Sea, when it really should be the Reed Sea. Second, the Book of Mormon's use of Isaiah 9:1 in 2 Nephi 19:1 appears to mistakenly change "the sea" to "the Red Sea" when the Red Sea is not meant by Isaiah.  I'll consider both arguments below, drawing upon my LDSFAQ page, "Questions about Apparent Problems in the Book of Mormon."

Please not the update from Oct. 20, 2019 below for Point #2. Thanks to great input from two readers, "ATV" and Robert Boylan, I must retreat on my previous position about a scribal error from Oliver Cowdery being a likely explanation for the "Red" in 2 Nephi.

1. Red Sea vs. Reed Sea

The argument here is that the Book of Mormon appears to have a mistake "borrowed" from the King James Version. Many scholars now say that the body of water Moses and the Israelites crossed should be called the Reed Sea, not the Red Sea. Since the Book of Mormon also has this mistake, it suggests the concept was lifted from the King James rather than translated from an accurate ancient text. But the argument fails. For one thing, the two terms, Red Sea and Reed Sea, can be interchanged. Scott J. Pierson received the following explanation from a professor of the Oriental Institute at Chicago University, which I quote with permission (pers. corresp., Nov. 1999):
The Gulf of Suez, or the Red Sea, was known as the Yam Suf, the Sea of Reeds, though this name also covers the stretch of land from the head of the Gulf across the land to the Mediterranean Sea. We do not know if the Gulf of Aqaba was named as a separate entity, and if it was what its name would have been.
D.C. Pyle also offers this insight:
Funny thing is, there are critics of the Church who claim that the Book of Mormon is false because it does not mention the Sea of Reeds when referring to the Red Sea in recounting the Exodus. It is true that the phrase _ym swp_ does literally mean Sea of Reeds. It is also true that the various Biblical scholars are saying that the Sea of Reeds is not the Red Sea.

However, the biblical scholars who make such claims are all wet, in my opinion. Why? First of all, the ancient Greeks called what we know as the Red Sea combined with the Indian Ocean, "Red Sea." Lastly, the Bible text itself plainly states that Eloth (modern Elath [at the northern end of the Gulf of Aqaba, part of the Red Sea]) was on the shore of _ym swp_ (1 Kings 9:26)! Since _Red Sea_ is our modern equivalent for both the Hebrew term and location, it is perfectly acceptable and logical for the Book of Mormon to contain it as it does.

2. Does 2 Nephi 19:1 incorrectly change "the sea" in Isaiah 9:1 to "the Red Sea"?

Update, Oct. 20, 2019: Thanks to excellent feedback from readers, I must admit my error in previously concluding that a scribal error from Oliver Cowdery was the best explanation for the added "Red" in 2 Nephi 19:1.  What follows is a revised response. The original response included these statements, which I no longer accept:
This may be a legitimate problem, perhaps a scribal or copying error from Oliver Cowdery, as John Tvedtnes has argued, though there's an argument that it may be acceptable....

Personally, I suspect John Tvedtnes is right on this point (see "2 Nephi 19:1. Red Sea" in Book of Mormon Research):
In studying the Isaiah variants in the Book of Mormon, it becomes clear that there are a few scribal and printer’s errors. I am convinced that the addition of “Red” in 2 Nephi 19:1 was an overcorrection by Oliver Cowdery, who, as scribe to Joseph Smith during the translation of the Book of Mormon, was probably influenced by the fact that he had already written about the Red Sea in a number of earlier passages (1 Nephi 2:5, 8-9; 4:2; 16:14; 17:26-27).
Here's my new response:

I originally felt this was likely a scribal error from Oliver Cowdery, but there are some good reasons to believe the source of this was the ancient Book of Mormon itself, whether or not it's what Isaiah intended.

In the Book of Mormon, 2 Nephi 19:1 reads:
Nevertheless, the dimness shall not be such as was in her vexation, when at first he lightly afflicted the land of Zebulun, and the land of Naphtali, and afterwards did more grievously afflict by the way of the Red Sea beyond Jordan in Galilee of the nations. [emphasis added]
This verse is a quotation of Isaiah 9:1, which reads in the KJV as follows:
Nevertheless the dimness shall not be such as was in her vexation, when at the first he lightly afflicted the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, and afterward did more grievously afflict her by the way of the sea, beyond Jordan, in Galilee of the nations.
The Book of Mormon deletes "her" from the KJV and changes "sea" to "Red Sea." Based on verse 1 in light of verse 2 from Isaiah 9, many people conclude that the sea is the Sea of Galilee, not the Red Sea. The KJV for Isaiah 9:2 is:
The people that walked in darkness have seen a great light: they that dwell in the land of the shadow of death, upon them hath the light shined.
So yes, this does appear to be a prophecy of the ministry of Christ, and the Sea of Galilee would make sense. So why does the Book of Mormon have the puzzling reference to the Red Sea? Here is a possible explanation offered by D. Charles Pyle in e-mail received June 2004:
There are those who say that this is an error. It is possible that it is a scribal error on the part of Oliver Cowdery in copying the printer's manuscript from the original manuscript. The problem is that this cannot be proven or disproven because this portion of the original manuscript no longer is extant. It also is possible that the Egyptian textual translation of the Hebrew is in error and that Joseph Smith translated it, error and all. On the other hand, it also is possible that it is not an error at all.

The King's Highway also was part of what was known in ancient times as the Way of the Red Sea, which led out of Egypt along the shores of the Red Sea, passed through Edom and changed direction after meeting with the Way of the Sea, in Galilee, to go into Mesopotamia. It is possible that Joseph journeyed this way, or at least part of this way, to avoid going through Judaea when he took Jesus into Nazareth as a young child. If so, it would be quite correct in that the light would pass into the region of Naphtali via the Way of the Red Sea. Joseph sought to avoid contact with Archelaus and a back route would be one of the best ways to avoid contact.

We also know that Jesus went into the wilderness for his temptation after being baptized in a region on the other side of the Jordan. The English Book of Mormon has Bethabara as do several versions of the Bible while [several other translations have] Bethany beyond Jordan. He would then have come down from Galilee to be baptized on the other side of the Jordan (east of the river; 'beyond Jordan' meant to the east of the Jordan River), and come down around the Way of the Red Sea and around the Dead Sea to the Wilderness of Judaea. Remember, Jesus' wandered the wilderness for forty days, plenty of time to travel around the Dead Sea in that manner, that region being one the most inhospitable in the main. There are possible hints that Jesus came through Edom or Idumea. One way that he could have done so is to travel the Way of the Red Sea, which passes through Edom. The records of Jesus' life and travels are scanty at best and it is impossible to know for certainty at this time. In any case, I am not willing to state without good evidence that this passage is in error with any degree of certainty, for in my opinion there is no certainty either way. I have sifted through much contradictory 'evidence' and have formed no solid conclusion on this textual matter.
While we're not really sure, it is possible that the phrase "by the way of the Red Sea" could properly correspond to what Isaiah intended, suggesting that the Book of Mormon verbiage here could have been plausible in an ancient scriptural record.

On the other hand, John Tvedtnes has argued that the addition of "Red" was likely a scribal error from Oliver Cowdery (see "2 Nephi 19:1. Red Sea" in Book of Mormon Research), a position I originally accepted as likely:
In studying the Isaiah variants in the Book of Mormon, it becomes clear that there are a few scribal and printer’s errors. I am convinced that the addition of “Red” in 2 Nephi 19:1 was an overcorrection by Oliver Cowdery, who, as scribe to Joseph Smith during the translation of the Book of Mormon, was probably influenced by the fact that he had already written about the Red Sea in a number of earlier passages (1 Nephi 2:5, 8-9; 4:2; 16:14; 17:26-27).
Yes, errors in scripture are possible and must be expected in any work that goes through the hands of mortals, including original authors, editors, translators, copyists or scribes and typesetters. However, there are some good reasons to doubt that this was a mistake introduced by Oliver Cowdery. In the extremely thorough and thoughtful analysis of the Book of Mormon text in Royal Skousen's  Analysis of Textual Variants of the Book of Mormon (Critical Text of the Book of Mormon), Part Two: 2 Nephi 11 - Mosiah 16 (2005), there is extremely thorough analysis of various aspects of 2 Nephi 19:1. You can read the relevant section on a file kindly provided at The Interpretor Foundation website, where we find this regarding the question of the intruding word "Red":
The Book of Mormon reads "by the way of the Red Sea" rather than the King James "by the way of the sea". John A. Tvedtnes has argued that the extra red is an error (see page 45, "The Isaiah Variants in the Book of Mormon", FARMS preliminary report, 1984 [a related resource from Tvedtnes is "Isaiah in the Bible and the Book of Mormon," Review of Books on the Book of Mormon 16/2 (2004)]). The context implies that this sea is the Sea of Galilee, especially since the inheritance for the tribes of Zebulun and Naphtali was in this region (as described in Joshua 19). Note, in particular, that when this prophecy of Isaiah's is quoted in the New Testament, "the sea" is definitely interpreted as referring to the Sea of Galilee:
Matthew 4:12–15
now when Jesus had heard that John was cast into prison 
he departed into Galilee
and leaving Nazareth he came and dwelt in Capernaum
which is upon the sea coast
in the borders of Zabulon and Nephthalim 
that it might be fulfilled 
which was spoken by Esaias the prophet saying
the land of Zabulon and the land of Nephthalim 
by the way of the sea
beyond Jordan 
Galilee of the Gentiles  
Tvedtnes argues that the change to Red Sea derived from previous references in the Book of Mormon to the Red Sea: “This appears to be a case of scribal overcorrection, due to prior mention of the Red Sea in the [Book of Mormon] text.” The examples in 1 Nephi, however, do not show any particular similarity to the phraseology in 2 Nephi19:1. In particular, the word way never collocates with Red Sea:
1 Nephi 2:5   by the borders near the shore of the Red Sea
1 Nephi 2:5  in the wilderness in the borders which was nearer the Red Sea
1 Nephi 2:8  and it emptied into the Red Sea
1 Nephi 2:9  the waters of the river emptied into the fountain of the Red Sea
1 Nephi 4:2  for he truly spake unto the waters of the Red Sea
1 Nephi 4:2  and were drownded in the waters of the Red Sea
1 Nephi 16:14 which was in the borders near the Red Sea
1 Nephi 17:26  the waters of the Red Sea was divided hither and thither
1 Nephi 17:27 the Egyptians were drowned in the Red Sea
A more likely source for the intrusive red in the Book of Mormon text is the explicit phrase "by the way of the Red Sea", which occurs four times in the King James Bible: 
Numbers 14:25
tomorrow turn you and get you into the wilderness by the way of the Red Sea

Numbers 21:4
and they journeyed from mount Hor by the way of the Red Sea to compass the land of Edom

Deuteronomy 1:40
turn you and take your journey into the wilderness by the way of the Red Sea

Deuteronomy 2:1
then we turned and took our journey into the wilderness by the way of the Red Sea
It appears that familiarity with this specific phrase led to replacing sea with Red Sea in 2 Nephi 19:1. This proposal implies that the intrusive red (actually /suf/ 'reed' in the original Hebrew) may have originally been on the plates of brass or that Nephi himself added the word as he copied the Isaiah text from the plates of brass onto his small plates. Further, there is no evidence within the Book of Mormon manuscripts themselves that any of the scribes ever added red to the word sea (out of 82 occurrences), even as an initial error that was immediately corrected. This evidence suggests that the intrusive red in 2 Nephi 19:1, even though it may be a mistake, is a part of the original Book of Mormon text. Thus the critical text will maintain the earliest textual reading, “by the way of the Red Sea”.
Summary: Maintain the use of “by the way of the Red Sea” in 2 Nephi 19:1; the intrusion of the word red before sea seems to be in the original text of the Book of Mormon.
The detailed analysis of context and language in ATV (Analysis of Textual Variants) is greatly appreciated. Thanks to the anonymous "ATV" who pointed out what the ATV had to say.

Finally, the plausibility of "by the way of the Red Sea" as part of an ancient scriptural record drawing upon Isaiah 9 may be enhanced by look at another ancient example of such language. Robert Boylan made this comment in response to my original post:
Interestingly, in The Chaldee paraphrase of the Prophet Isaiah by Jonathan ben Uzziel, we read the following from Isa 9:1 (italics in original):
For none shall be weary who shall come to oppress them, as at the former times, when the people of the land of Zebulun, and the people of the land of Naphtali, went into captivity: and those that were left, a mighty king led into captivity, because they did not remember the power of the Red Sea, neither the wonders of the Jordan, the war of the fortifications of the nations.[1]
What is interesting about this text is that the translator, C.W.H. Pauli, added "Red" to "Sea," something that also appears in 2 Nephi 19:1 and its version of Isa 9:1. Perhaps Joseph Smith or the translator of the Isaiah text on the brass plates added "Red" as a clarification as to which location was intended by the prophet Isaiah.

[1] The Chaldee Paraphrase of the Prophet Isaiah (trans. CW.H. Pauli; London: London Society's House, 1871), 29-30; online at https://archive.org/stream/chaldeeparaphra00uzzigoog#page/n44/mode/2up
Fascinating! No need to feel blue over this use of the Red Sea in the Book of Mormon.

The entire ATV is online at the Interpreter Foundation website. See their announcement and links to all six sections of the volume. A remarkable resource that I need to use more!

Monday, October 07, 2019

Great New Temple Recommend Questions

The Church has announced a revision in the temple recommend questions. These are the questions that priesthood leaders are instructed to be ask members seeking recommends to participate in Temple ordinances. Of the fifteen questions, eleven have been modified. Here are the questions from the announcement:
  1. Do you have faith in and a testimony of God, the Eternal Father; His Son, Jesus Christ; and the Holy Ghost?
  2. Do you have a testimony of the Atonement of Jesus Christ and of His role as your Savior and Redeemer?
  3. Do you have a testimony of the Restoration of the gospel of Jesus Christ?
  4. Do you sustain the President of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints as the prophet, seer, and revelator and as the only person on the earth authorized to exercise all priesthood keys?

    Do you sustain the members of the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles as prophets, seers, and revelators?

    Do you sustain the other General Authorities and local leaders of the Church?
  5. The Lord has said that all things are to be “done in cleanliness” before Him (Doctrine and Covenants 42:41).

    Do you strive for moral cleanliness in your thoughts and behavior?

    Do you obey the law of chastity?
  6. Do you follow the teachings of the Church of Jesus Christ in your private and public behavior with members of your family and others?
  7. Do you support or promote any teachings, practices, or doctrine contrary to those of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints?
  8. Do you strive to keep the Sabbath day holy, both at home and at church; attend your meetings; prepare for and worthily partake of the sacrament; and live your life in harmony with the laws and commandments of the gospel?
  9. Do you strive to be honest in all that you do?
  10. Are you a full-tithe payer?
  11. Do you understand and obey the Word of Wisdom?
  12. Do you have any financial or other obligations to a former spouse or to children?

    If yes, are you current in meeting those obligations?
  13. Do you keep the covenants that you made in the temple, including wearing the temple garment as instructed in the endowment?
  14. Are there serious sins in your life that need to be resolved with priesthood authorities as part of your repentance?
  15. Do you consider yourself worthy to enter the Lord’s house and participate in temple ordinances?
Church leaders will begin using these questions immediately.

I like the changes. For example, instead of simply asking, "Do you live the law of chastity?," the revised question invites members to consider their thoughts and behavior in terms of the principle of moral cleanliness. The question on honesty is also clarified with the phrase "in all that you do," which is helpful in reminding us of its importance.

These questions are not calling for perfection, but ask us to prepare carefully to be able to enter the Lord's house in good faith.

The Temple has been a significant blessing in my life. It is the powerhouse of the Lord's kingdom, giving purpose and meaning to many aspects of our lives and of the Gospel. To understand its purpose, its beauty, its ancient roots and its covenant nature centered on Jesus Christ can help make our Temple experiences be more meaningful and can give us strength in many of the challenges we face in mortality.