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

Monday, February 25, 2019

"A Strange Piece of Work" Poorly Explained by a Non-LDS Witness of the Book of Mormon Translation

Critics of the Book of Mormon like to dismiss the detailed accounts of Book of Mormon witnesses by saying it's simply impossible to know today what really went on back then. Were there really plates? Did the witnesses really see or touch anything? Was the translation done with careful notes and manuscripts or really dictated verbally, from a hat? Who knows? We can't be sure about much of anything regarding the coming forth of the Book of Mormon. It's all just speculation and group-think from the faithful who may have felt compelled to save face and support the party line.

Non-LDS professor Stephen Prothero in "Revelation Revised," Wall Street Journal, Oct. 1, 2009, says this of the coming forth of the Book of Mormon:
[T]he scripture that he [Joseph Smith] brought into the world (as translator, not writer, Mormons insist) was born in an age of newspapers and before a cloud of witnesses. In fact, before the book was typeset it was drawing defenders and detractors alike. So we probably know more about the production of the Book of Mormon, which is holy writ to the world's 14 million Mormons, than we do about any other scripture. With the Yale University Press publication of The Book of Mormon: The Earliest Text last month, we know even more.
We know extensive details pointing to the existence of the plates, the means of dictation, the dates that were involved, the obviously oral nature of the dictation exactly as Joseph and his scribes claimed (made so clear through the analysis of Royal Skousen, including his The Earliest Text), the time of completion, the seeking of the copyright registration and the seeking of a publisher. Details of what Joseph dictated, what his scribes wrote, and what printers typeset have come to light through painstaking scholarship. As Dr. Prothero said, we know more about the coming forth of the Book of Mormon than we do for any other work of scripture, including detailed, reliable accounts from many witnesses who had nothing to gain over their lifetimes by lying or twisting the truth. Several of the witnesses of the gold plates left the Church and Mormon society, yet insisted to their dying day that they had seen the plates and that they were real and divine. But some witnesses were unintentional or even non-LDS. The unintentional witnesses should also count for something.

The first unintentional witness of the plates was Josiah Stowell, who apparently took the plates out of Joseph’s hands as he brought them home. He hefted them and later even stated that he saw a portion of the exposed plates. See Anthony Sweat, “Hefted and Handled: Tangible Interactions with Book of Mormon Objects,” in Dennis L. Largey, et al., The Coming Forth of the Book of Mormon: A Marvelous Work and a Wonder (Provo, UT: Religious Studies Center; Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 2015), pp. 43-59 (relevant passage at pp. 48-49), available at https://rsc.byu.edu/es/archived/coming-forth-book-mormon/hefted-and-handled-tangible-interactions-book-mormon-objects.

Another such witness was the brother-in-law of Joseph's wife, Emma Hale. This non-LDS man, Michael Bartlett Morse (1806-1893), had no affinity for the Church, yet on multiple occasions witnessed Joseph engaged in the translation process, as related in an 1879 interview with W.W. Blair, who was then President of the Reorganized Church. The interview with Blair was published in the Saints Herald, vol. 26, no. 12 (June 15, 1879), pp. 190-91, while Morse was still living. You can read the report of the Michael Morse interview in Larry E. Morris, A Documentary History of the Book of Mormon (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2019), pp. 267-269, a section which fortunately can be viewed at Google Books. A key portion of the interview is shown in the screenshot below, and the text of the full report follows.


Here is the published text:

Sandwich, Illinois.
May 22nd, 1879.
Editors, Herald:

When at Amboy a few days since, I learned from Mr. Michael Morse, brother-in-law of Joseph the Seer, (he having married a Miss Hale, sister to Sr. Emma), some valuable facts in respect to Joseph the Seer and his work. It should be published that Mr. Morse is not, and has never been a believer in the prophetic mission of Joseph.

He states that he first knew Joseph when he came to Harmony, Pa., an awkward, unlearned youth of about nineteen years of age. This was in 1825. Joseph then in the employ of a Mr. Stowell, a man of some wealth, of mature age, and an active professor of religion. Joseph and others were employed by him to dig for a silver deposit, said to have been made at some time long previous. Joseph and others of the company boarded at a Mr. Isaac Hale's, whose daughter Emma he subsequently married. He states that the sons of Mr. Hale seemed opposed to and at enmity with Joseph from the first, and took occasions to annoy and vex him, and that at one of these times, when out fishing, Joseph threw off his coat and proposed to defend himself.

He states that Joseph told him that he found the gold plates, from whence it is claimed the Book of Mormon was translated, in a stone box. (Some of late have said that Joseph at first professed to have found them in an iron box).

He further states that when Joseph was translating the Book of Mormon, he, (Morse), had occasion more than once to go into his immediate presence, and saw him engaged at his work of translation.

The mode of procedure consisted in Joseph's placing the Seer Stone in the crown of a hat, then putting his face into the hat, so as to entirely cover his face, resting his elbows upon his knees, and then dictating, word after word, while the scribe -- Emma, John Whitmer, O. Cowdery, or some other, wrote it down.

Bro. Caldwell enquired as to whether Joseph was sufficiently intelligent and talented to compose and dictate of his own ability the matter written down by the scribes. To this Mr. Morse replied with decided emphasis, No. He said he [Morse] then was not at all learned, yet was confident he had more learning than Joseph then had.

Bro. Caldwell enquired how he (Morse) accounted for Joseph's dictating the Book of Mormon in the manner he had described. To this he replied he did not know. He said it was a strange piece of work, and he had thought that Joseph might have found the writings of some good man and, committing them to memory, recited them to his scribes from time to time.

We suggested that if this were true, Joseph must have had a prodigious memory -- a memory that could be had only by miraculous endowment. To this Mr. Morse replied that he, of course, did not know as to how Joseph was enabled to furnish the matter he dictated.

In speaking of Mr. Isaac Hale and his daughter Emma, he said Mr. Hale always claimed that he was converted from deism to faith in Christ as the Savior, by a secret prayer of Emma's, when she was but seven or eight years old, which he accidentally overheard when just entering into the woods to hunt. In the course of her prayer she besought the Lord in behalf of her father, and the force and efficacy of that prayer entered into his heart with such power as to lead him to faith in Christ the Lord.

We are glad to be able to say that the Amboy Saints are in the faith and love of Christ. We had large and attentive audiences to hear us, and we look for a goodly increase in that branch at no distant day.

W. W. BLAIR.

Morse's account supports what other witnesses of the translation process saw. His evaluation of Joseph's education is also worth noting, as is the shear implausibility of the only method he can propose for how Joseph did the dictation of the Book of Mormon. To his credit, his theory that Joseph memorized and regurgitated large chunks of text is still frequently relied on today, though still without a plausible explanation for where the memorized text came from in the first place. Honestly, if the book is a fraud from the nineteenth century, someone in that era had to come up with intricate details like multiple Semitic wordplays or the River Laman and Valley Lemuel three days south of the beginning of the Red Sea, then the burial place Nahom/Nehem along a south-southeast trek, and the existence of a miraculous Bountiful due east of Nahom--so who gave us those gems and how? Joseph's awesome memory regurgitating the words of a secret manuscript writer on the frontier doesn't get us past 1 Nephi 1.



Update, Feb. 26, 2019: Here are some details regarding Josiah Stowell as a witness, taken from Anthony Sweat, “Hefted and Handled: Tangible Interactions with Book of Mormon Objects,” as cited above:

Josiah Stowell, the First Unintentional Witness

Josiah Stowell claimed he was the “first person that took the Plates out of [Joseph Smith’s] hands the morning [he] brought them in.”[25] Thus Josiah Stowell would have been the first witness to validate Joseph’s claims of obtaining tangible plates. However, although Stowell’s experience hefting the plates as they were passed to him—feeling of their weight, mass, and shape—constitutes a witness in itself, Josiah Stowell also claimed that he saw (albeit unintentionally) the exposed plates as they were passed to him by Joseph. Historians Michael MacKay and Gerrit Dirkmaat summarize what happened:

In the summer of 1830, after Joseph Smith was charged with disorderly conduct, Stowell was called by the defense and sworn in as a witness. He testified under oath that he saw the plates the day Joseph first brought them home. As Joseph passed them through the window, Stowell caught a glimpse of the plates as a portion of the linen was pulled back. Stowell gave the court the dimensions of the plates and explained that they consisted of gold leaves with characters written on each sheet. The printed transcript of the trial read: “witness saw a corner of it; it resembled a stone of a greenish caste.” Because Stowell also mentioned in his statement that the record was made of plates of gold, it is difficult to know what he meant by this description. He may have seen the band that sealed two-thirds of the plates together, which may have been made of copper that had oxidized over the years and turned green. Alternatively, he may have seen the breastplate, which could have also been made of copper and appeared green from oxidation. In any case, the point Stowell made to the court was that the plates were real and that he had seen and felt them.[26]

Stowell thus becomes the first unintentional witness, having an experience somewhat like that of the formal Eight Witnesses later had as they were allowed to heft and see the plates.
Footnote 25 cites the letter of Martha Campbell to Joseph Smith, December 19, 1843, Church History Library, Salt Lake City. The author observes that "Because both Lucy Smith and Josiah Stowell were present when Joseph handed the plates in at the window, perhaps they both helped or carried them simultaneously."

Footnote 26 cites Michael Hubbard MacKay and Gerrit J. Dirkmaat, From Darkness unto Light (Provo, UT: Religious Studies Center; Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 2015), p. 13.

Update, March 12, 2019: I initially was thinking that Josiah Stowell was also non-LDS, but I apologize for forgetting that he joined the Church in 1830, though did not migrate with the Saints when the left the New York area. He expressed a desire to go west and be with them, but circumstances prevented that. He remained a believer in the Book of Mormon. 

Thursday, February 21, 2019

Alma Son of Judah: The Ancient Bar Kokhba Letters from Israel Refute a Popular Argument Against the Authenticity of the Book of Mormon

One of the more popular "easy" arguments to dismiss the Book of Mormon is that the name Alma is a woman's name. Many critics have pointed out that it's a Latin female name, and some have also argued that while it may be a Hebrew name, it's a woman's name in Hebrew, making the Book of Mormon's male character of that name a dead give-away for Joseph Smith's fraud. Robert Boylan discusses a recent case of this argument being used to summarily dismiss the Book of Mormon.

The exciting news, known to many LDS readers since 1973 when Hugh Nibley reviewed a significant 1971 book by Israeli archaeologist Yigael Yadin, is that Yadin's discovery of the ancient Bar Kokhba letters revealed that Alma actually is a Jewish male name, for one of the documents mentions "Alma son of Judah." In the Hebrew, it's spelled with 4 letters, alef-lamed-mem-alef, and Yadin transliterates it simply as "Alma." Boylan kindly provides the following image of the document bearing that name (on the right side):



The sad thing is that we could have been celebrating this find over a decade earlier, for Yadin mentioned "Alma son of Judah" from that ancient document much earlier in a 1961 publication. If LDS readers had only noticed, then today we could complain about our critics being nearly 60 years behind on Book of Mormon scholarship rather than nearly 50 years behind. Such a lost opportunity.

The earlier publication is Yigael Yadin, "The Expedition to the Judean Desert," Israel Exploration Journal, vol. 12, no. 3/4, 1961 (1962), pp. 227-257 (37 pages), which Boylan also mentions. The journal is a publication of the Israel Exploration Society. You can access it at Jstor.org. Here are images of portions of pages 252 and 253 (click to enlarge): 



As Boylan explains, Alma is also attested in other documents as a legitimate ancient Near Eastern name, but I especially like the clarity of "Alma son of Judah" from the Bar Kokhba Letters.

Many popular arguments against the Book of Mormon have had similar surprises. Not all, but many.

Alma not only goes from being a disastrously bad choice of a made-up name to a plausible ancient Hebrew man's name (something that ought to raise a few eyebrows), but the apparent meaning of the name is played upon several times in the Book of Mormon text in the manner of Hebrew word plays, something that occurs with a large number of names in the Book of Mormon, as Matthew Bowen has shown (regarding Alma, see this 2016 article and this 2017 paper). There's always more than meets the eye in these Book of Mormon issues. Always worth digging more.

Sunday, February 17, 2019

The Curiously Unique Book of Mormon

Latter-day Saints often say that the Book of Mormon is obviously highly unusual since this complex text was generated in such a short period of time by a relatively uneducated young farm boy. But in making these assertions, we often may be relying on what we've heard from others without considering the details of how it actually compares to other works in literature. Just how unusual is it?

Our critics these days often point to other works to show that others (e.g., Tolkien) have done similar things. So is it really unusual?

Brian C. Hales gets into solid data and considers the multiple dimensions of the Book of Mormon to help all of us better understand what is going on with the Book of Mormon. I strongly encourage you to read "Curiously Unique: Joseph Smith as Author of the Book of Mormon," just published in The Interpreter: A Journal of Latter-day Saint Faith and Scholarship.

Monday, February 11, 2019

Souls that Expand and Swell: An Intriguing But Not Unique Book of Mormon Concept

One of the Book of Mormon's many concepts not found in the King James Bible is the notion of a soul that expands. This is found in some sermons of Alma the Younger in passages using the verbs expand, swell, or enlarge:
Alma 5:9
And again I ask, were the bands of death broken, and the chains of hell which encircled them about, were they loosed? I say unto you, Yea, they were loosed, and their souls did expand, and they did sing redeeming love. And I say unto you that they are saved.

Alma 32:28
Now, we will compare the word unto a seed. Now, if ye give place, that a seed may be planted in your heart, behold, if it be a true seed, or a good seed, if ye do not cast it out by your unbelief, that ye will resist the Spirit of the Lord, behold, it will begin to swell within your breasts; and when you feel these swelling motions, ye will begin to say within yourselves -- It must needs be that this is a good seed, or that the word is good, for it beginneth to enlarge my soul; yea, it beginneth to enlighten my understanding, yea, it beginneth to be delicious to me.

Alma 32:34
And now, behold, is your knowledge perfect? Yea, your knowledge is perfect in that thing, and your faith is dormant; and this because ye know, for ye know that the word hath swelled your souls, and ye also know that it hath sprouted up, that your understanding doth begin to be enlightened, and your mind doth begin to expand.
Is the swelling soul a well-known term in English that Joseph could have plucked from many of the books in his vast frontier library? Actually, it is possible, but there's more to this issue to consider.

In 1988, Dr. Paul Hoskisson looked at this issue and felt that the specific Book of Mormon usage was rather unusual in English and also is not found in the King James Bible. However, he observed that in the ancient Near East, the concept of the soul expanding was well established, possibly adding credibility to the Book of Mormon's usage. See Paul Y. Hoskisson, “Textual Evidences for the Book of Mormon,” in First Nephi, The Doctrinal Foundation, ed. Monte S. Nyman and Charles D. Tate Jr. (Provo, UT: Religious Studies Center, Brigham Young University, 1988), 283-95.

First, while the OED might not have much to say about expanding souls, I'd like to point out that the concept of a soul expanding, swelling, or enlarging actually is found in English prior to 1830, as one can see using the expansive data we now have available at Google Books. A search of "soul swelled" (without the quotes in the search) for the years 1500 to 1830 provides a few relevant passages, all in the sense of a soul swelling with emotion of some kind, as opposed to (figurative) enlargement or swelling per se of the soul.  The relevant examples are:
  • his soul swelled with emotions, which diffused themselves over his countenance (1811)
  • The deep Sorrows of his Soul swelled, and rose, and over-flowed (1702)
  • his soul swelled with the tumultuous transports of coming renown (1806)
A search for "soul expand" over the same time frame provides significantly more examples:
  • My soul expanding gives the torrent way (in a poem by Thomas Blacklock, prior to 1791)
  • as a huge range of mountains, the ocean, the vast expanse of heaven, make the soul expand before she can obtain an adequate idea ... (1820)
  • We saw his youthful soul expand, In blooms of genius nurs'd by taste (Thomas Moore, prior to 1535)
  • While hearing an excellent missionary sermon, how did my soul expand its desires for the conversion of the human race (1817)
  • Here Fancy may her soul expand, While Betty fell and rose (1815)
  • Songs that will grow with growing Time, And with the soul expand (1817)
  • it is no wonder he should feel his soul expand in good will to men (1809)
  • but feeling his soul expand and extend in reach and aspiration beyond his avocation and circumstances (1822)
  • How did my flutt'ring soul expand (1800)
  • Oh, then, let thy soul expand whilst meditating on the grace and excellency of Christ (1671)   
  • And if such scenes the rising soul expand (1784) 
  • He feels the dimensions of his soul expand, and the powers of his intellect strengthened (1811)
  • Where liberal sentiments the soul expand (1794)  
  • his great soul swelled beyond and broke the chains that had encumbered its free action and checked its mighty impulses 
A search for "soul enlarge" (again without the quotes) gives these relevant finds:
  • For to bear this I must my soul enlarge (1692)
  • Do Thou their anxious souls enlarge (1787)
  • doth, as it were, enlarge the soul, extend the faculties (1817)
  • Thine own beneficence impart, Enlarge the soul, expand the heart (1773)
Here is an excerpt from Hoskisson:
Alma 5:9 reads in part, “their souls did expand.” The context would call for a meaning such as “they became happy,” to parallel the phrase in the same verse, “they did sing redeeming love” to celebrate their freedom from the “bands of death” and the “chains of hell.” Nowhere in the King James Bible does soul occur in conjunction with the word expand; neither does it occur with the verbs enlarge and swell, each of which accompany soul once in the Book of Mormon (Alma 32:28 and 34 respectively). This phrase appears to be unusual. Why should a soul expand? If this phrase is unique in English to the Book of Mormon, could the phrase reflect an ancient Near Eastern vorlage rather than have its origin in English?

The Oxford English Dictionary (hereafter OED) under soul gives no evidence of the phrase “their souls did expand” occurring in English; neither are there usages of enlarge and swell with soul. This and other evidence appears to indicate that the phrase “expand the soul” does not have its origin in English. If it could be demonstrated that this phrase has an ancient Near Eastern Semitic analog that was not available to Joseph Smith, it might qualify as sufficient evidence of an ancient Near Eastern vorlage for the Book of Mormon.
However, he recognized in his 1988 article that there may be other English examples with similar usages that were not found in his search, but which we now have before us, thus undermining the "expanding soul" as sufficient evidence for Near Eastern influences in the phraseology of the Book of Mormon. Nevertheless, his discussion of the relationships in Hebrew, Ugaritic and Akkadian are interesting and show some significant relationships worthy of note.

There are additional relationship to consider. In the "rise from the dust" theme that I feel is artfully worked into the Book of Mormon almost as a foundational concept in Nephite religion. Rising from the dust represents not only resurrection, but ascension and empowerment in a covenant relationship, as Walter Brueggeman has argued (Walter Brueggemann, “From Dust to Kingship,” Zeitschrift für die alttestamentliche Wissenschaft, 84/1 (1972): 1–18; available with first page only visible at http://www.degruyter.com/view/j/zatw.1972.84.issue-1/zatw.1972.84.1.1/zatw.1972.84.1.1.xml). It means breaking off the chains of death and sin that bind us, and ascending through a covenant of grace into the Lord's present to be enthroned and live endlessly in joy (see the 3-part series at The Interpreter: "'Arise from the Dust': Insights from Dust-Related Themes in the Book of Mormon, Part 1: Tracks from the Book of Moses as well as "Part 2: Enthronement, Resurrection, and Other Ancient Motifs from the 'Voice from the Dust'" and "Part 3: Dusting Off a Famous Chiasmus, Alma 36"). The soul that rises from the dust is very much like a tree of life that sprouts forth from the ground and springs up into abundance and life. In Alma 32, as Alma uses the analogy of a seed to describe the growing and expanding effect of the word in our souls, note how he uses the word sprout in association with the expanding and swelling of the soul:
[30] But behold, as the seed swelleth, and sprouteth, and beginneth to grow, then you must needs say that the seed is good; for behold it swelleth, and sprouteth, and beginneth to grow. And now behold, will not this strengthen your faith? Yea, it will strengthen your faith: for ye will say I know that this is a good seed; for behold it sprouteth and beginneth to grow....
[33] And now, behold, because ye have tried the experiment, and planted the seed, and it swelleth and sprouteth, and beginneth to grow, ye must needs know that the seed is good.
[34] And now, behold, is your knowledge perfect? Yea, your knowledge is perfect in that thing, and your faith is dormant; and this because ye know, for ye know that the word hath swelled your souls, and ye also know that it hath sprouted up, that your understanding doth begin to be enlightened, and your mind doth begin to expand. 
A related phrase Alma uses in this context is spring up, a term that specifically describes a tree, not just the initial sprout:

Alma 32:41
But if ye will nourish the word, yea, nourish the tree as it beginneth to grow, by your faith with great diligence, and with patience, looking forward to the fruit thereof, it shall take root; and behold it shall be a tree springing up unto everlasting life.  

Alma 33:23
And now, my brethren, I desire that ye shall plant this word in your hearts, and as it beginneth to swell even so nourish it by your faith. And behold, it will become a tree, springing up in you unto everlasting life. And then may God grant unto you that your burdens may be light, through the joy of his Son. And even all this can ye do if ye will. Amen.  
"Spring up" adds a dynamic expression to the tree of life imagery. This is a vigorous, rapidly growing, abundant tree--an active, living tree. This is the beginning of an incredible journey. Again, "springing up" is not just describing the initial sprouting, but the everlasting tree itself. I think that's a beautiful phrase which should be considered when we are discussing the visions of Lehi and Nephi that provide the foundation for expansions upon the tree of life theme later in the Book of Mormon.

The term "spring up" or "spring out" occurs in the KJV. For example, in Job 5:5, a reference to trouble springing out of the ground employs the Hebrew root tsamach (צָמַח, Strong's H6779) which can mean "to grow abundantly or thickly" in addition to sprouting or springing up. That might be a good candidate for the word Alma employed.

By the way, it's interesting how artfully later authors draw upon concepts from Nephi and Lehi, even though the text in Nephi's writings was dictated by Joseph at the end of the translation process. Some critics claims that the whole tree of life sequence was a very late, last-minute addition to Joseph's "plagiarism" inspired by his visit to Rochester at the end of the Book of Mormon project when he was looking for a publisher. That makes no sense for several reasons, in my opinion, as I explain in "The Great and Spacious Book of Mormon Arcade Game: More Curious Works from Book of Mormon Critics," but that's another story. 

One more related tangent: Turning again to Hoskisson's article, an intriguing point he makes is that a word often translated as "soul" can also mean "glory." Here is an excerpt:
In Akkadian, an East Semitic language related to Hebrew and Ugaritic, both libbu and kabattu (the Akkadian cognates for lb and kbd respectively in the Ugaritic passage quoted above) can be “the seat of feelings, emotions, thought.” When libbu and kabattu are used with the verb nap?šu (“to enlarge” or “make wide” in the G-stem and “to let breathe again” in the D-stem) they denote secondarily “mind, soul, heart” (italics added). Thus here in Akkadian “the soul (that is, liver) expands with feeling” would seem to be at home.
Psalm 16:9 reads, “Therefore my heart is glad, and my glory rejoiceth.” The Hebrew text, l?khen ?amah libb? wayy?gel kab?d?, translates more literally, “therefore my heart is happy and my liver rejoices.” Here, just as with their Ugaritic and Akkadian cognates, leb and kab?d are the seats of rejoicing. But the Hebrew text does not require the English rendering “soul expanding” with joy. It is Genesis 49:6 that forms the link with soul, biqeh?l?m’al tehad kevod?, “do not unite, my honor, with their assembly.” The Hebrew word in this latter passage, translated in the King James Bible as “honor,” is none other than k?b?d, the same word behind the King James Bible glory in Psalm 16:9 and the cognate of the Ugaritic and Akkadian words used with the verb “to enlarge” or “to swell.” It usually means “weight,” “honor,” “glory,” etc., but can also mean “soul.” It is not translated as “soul” in Genesis 49:6, even though the context would seem to require it, because the more common word for “soul” in Hebrew, nepheš, is the parallel to k?b?d in this verse, and good English style militates against repetition of the same word (just as does Hebrew).
In other words, one translation of the Semitic word for “liver,” etc., is “soul.” And therefore, even though the Hebrew Old Testament does not reflect it, in Semitic languages related to Hebrew (closely, Ugaritic; and more distantly, Akkadian) “the liver expands (with feeling)” can be translated “the soul expands (with feeling).”
Strong's H3519 (kabowd, כָּבו) most often translated as "glory" or "honor" in the KJV, can also refer to the soul. It raises the possibility of double meanings and perhaps may be worth considering as a candidate for tentative Janus parallelism in the Book of Mormon, though that is a speculative exercise in the absence of the original text. 

Overall, while the expanding soul is not a unique Book of Mormon phrase that necessarily points to ancient origins, it is part of a complex of related covenant themes that are thoroughly rooted  in ancient Near Eastern themes, including tree of life concepts. For those willing to take the Book of Mormon seriously, I believe there is some fruitful ground to here and hope you'll dig in and share your additional thoughts.




Monday, February 04, 2019

Wordplays on the Name Malachi in the Book of Mormon

Matthew Bowen's latest contribution regarding the Book of Mormon's frequent use of wordplays involving personal names is found in a new publication at The Interpreter. See Matthew L. Bowen, “Messengers of the Covenant: Mormon’s Doctrinal Use of Malachi 3:1 in Moroni 7:29–32,”     Interpreter: A Journal of Latter-day Saint Faith and Scholarship 31 (2019): 111-138. Here is an excerpt from his introduction:
Jesus’s transition to and introduction of Malachi’s prophecies constitute perhaps the clearest juxtaposition of a proper name with its corresponding etymological meaning anywhere in scripture: “Thus said the Father unto Malachi [malʾākî, ‘my messenger,’ or ‘my angel’] — Behold, I will send my messenger [malʾākî; or my angel], and he shall prepare the way before me, and the Lord whom ye seek shall suddenly come to his temple, even the messenger of the covenant [malʾak habbĕrît; or angel of the covenant]” (3 Nephi 24:1).

The doctrinal significance of this onomastic juxtaposition was not lost on Mormon. He employs language that recalls Malachi 3:1 (3 Nephi 24:1) when he expounds the doctrine of the ministering of “angels” (Hebrew malʾākîm, see especially Moroni 7:29–32) and their role in the fulfillment of divine covenants. This he does as part of a wider exposition of the necessity of faith, hope, and charity (Moroni 7). In this article, I will examine the meaning of the name Malachi (malʾākî) and its doctrinal importance in the respective contexts of the canonical book of Malachi and in 3 Nephi 24. I will also compare the language of Malachi 3:1 (3 Nephi 24:1) and Moroni 7:29–32 to determine the nature and degree of Mormon’s use of the former. And finally, I will show how Malachi 3:1 (3 Nephi 24:1) and Mormon’s use of this text enhance our understanding of the nature and function of the ministering of angels.
Bowen's analysis of the scriptural use of the term "angel" shows that in some cases, Christ or Jehovah is actually classified as an angel, as appears to be the case in Malachi 3:1, where the messenger of the covenant appears to be the Lord. The language in 3 Nephi 24 where Christ recites Malachi 3, with an aptly worded introduction, along with Moroni's appear reworking of concepts from that section of the text, appear to artfully reflect an awareness of the Hebrew words behind our English translation, giving us some interesting wordplays.

I am especially intrigued by Bowen's discussion of the role of Isaiah 51:9-10 in understanding themes related to the topics of his paper More on that later.