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

Sunday, June 23, 2019

BYU: A Beautiful Solution for the Needs of Many Families and Students in China

I've come back to Utah for a few weeks to start an exciting and challenging new job. After having lived in China for 8 years, loving almost every day of it, it's hard not to think about China and its people almost every day.

One of the most pleasant parts of my time here has been regular trips to the campus of Brigham Young University for research and potential collaboration. I was a student there long ago, and many things seem familiar, but many things have changed. Was it this beautiful back when I was there? Some of the improvements in buildings and landscaping are really impressive, but so much, even the mountain setting, seems more beautiful than I ever recall noticing before. Maybe it's the contrast to mountain-free Shanghai, maybe it's the blue skies which are not all that common in populated parts of China, maybe it's the extra rich greenery from generous rains this year, but whatever it is, it's just a marvel to set foot on the campus and think of what a treasure this university is.

A few days ago visitor parking was packed, so I ended up parking by the Monte L. Bean Life Science Museum, and felt a need to step inside. Wow, what a treasure (the photos at the end of this post are from the museum, including works of Elder Boyd K. Packer). Much more interesting and beautiful than it was in my day. I was also touched by the artwork on display from Elder Boyd K. Packer, who was a master carver of wood who made lifelike birds and other animals. I had the pleasure of being in his home once or twice when I was a teenager and saw some of his carvings. They are even more beautiful now than I remembered.

As an aside, is there something going on with me, that familiar things from my past seem much more beautiful than they used to? It may be a trend, for it's happening closer to home as well. My sweet wife, who based on logic and science must be getting older, seems more beautiful to me now than when we were very young. If this is some kind of mental problem with me, it's a great one to have.

There is more than just the physical beauty of BYU that make it a beacon to the world. There are many people of all faiths, including no religious faith at all, who are looking for the things BYU stands for. There are people who want to study at a place where education and personal growth is the goal, not binge drinking and debauchery. There are many parents around the world who are looking for a place to send their children where they can not only get a strong education, but will be safe and less likely to be pressured to drink, do drugs, engage in immoral behavior, and mess up their life through the influence of depraved peers and predators. BYU has problems and dangers, like any place that has humans wandering about, but the wholesome environment, its salutary honor code, and the zealous efforts of university leaders to make BYU a safe and decent place make BYU a real gem, a beautiful treasure that invites people from all over the world to participate in one of the best and most helpful educational experiences available on the planet.

This brings me to China. China and the people of China need a place like BYU, in my opinion. So many parents who hope to send their children to get an education in the West are discouraged by what they learn about the debauchery that takes place in student dorms, the crass or perverted professors that influence thousands of young people, the warped sense of values among many university leaders that seem more interested in enforcing thought control or political agendas than in actually encouraging education and protecting the welfare of their students. But when they learn about BYU, there is often some excitement to learn that wholesome environments are possible where their children may be at much less risk.

I have been pleasantly surprised at just how well the values of BYU and its honor code resonate with the values that seem to be a natural part of the culture and mindset of many Chinese people. In spite of the negative things that are often said about China, this is a nation where the average person, in my opinion, really is decent, kind, and moral. It's a place where so many families seem wholesome and healthy, with basic family values. It's a place where the problems of fraud and corruption that the West often talks about are being zealously driven out, though there's much progress to be made. People with those values might be thrilled to learn about the values and environment at BYU. It's not for everybody and the fact that it's a religious university will be a concern for some, but the Chinese people I know who have gone there have generally cherished their time and are grateful for what they had in that environment. It's really a gem, and I hope it will continue to have good ties with China.

Wouldn't it be wonderful if we had a BYU-like campus in China one day to make it even easier for those seeking something like BYU to have it more easily available? Wishful thinking for now, but I'm convinced that China and many Chinese parents need or at least will benefit from BYU, and that BYU needs China, a nation that treasures academic education as well as the moral development of its diverse people. Here's wishing for strengthened interaction between BYU and China in the future!

Some scenes from the Monte L. Bean Life Science Museum:

Some works of Elder Boyd K. Packer on display at the Museum:

Sunday, June 16, 2019

Update on Inspiration for W.W. Phelps' Use of an Archaic Hebrew Letter Beth for #2 in the Egyptian Counting Document

I previously noted that one of the Hebrew books Oliver Cowdery brought to Kirtland, Ohio near the end of 1835 showed an archaic form of the Hebrew letter beth which W.W. Phelps employed in the strange "Egyptian Counting" document of the Kirtland Egyptian Papers, suggesting that the period of Hebrew study that followed had an influence on that document. Since then I've been looking for alternate sources that might have influenced Phelps. I've looked at Hebrew materials, Masonic materials, as well as information ciphers and scripts. I have found an alternate candidate in Thomas Astle, The Origin and Progress of Writing: As Well Hieroglyphic as Elementary (London: T. Payne & Son, B. White, P. Elmsly, G. Nichol, and Leigh and Sotheby, 1784), Table 1, p. 64; available at Google Books, https://books.google.com/books?id=mI3nAAAAMAAJ&&pg=PA64 (scroll down on page to see the table).

There in the upper right-hand corner, at the left end of the string next to the "B" on the right edge, is the character that is the same as the number 2 in the Egyptian Counting document. There may be other sources as well, so if you run into any, please let me know.

This finding weakens my "smoking gun" for the influence of Moses Stuart's Hebrew book on the Kirtland Egyptian Papers, for this character could have been seen in Thomas Astle's book or some other source -- the fact that Moses Stuart's book was surely seen by Phelps and contains that character could just be coincidence and need not force the date of the Egyptian Counting document to after Hebrew books came to town in Kirtland.

On the other hand, while Astle’s 1784 book was in the Library of Congress by 1840 and at Harvard by 1830, and probably in other locations in the U.S., it does not show up in nineteenth century catalogs of several other major or relevant libraries that I have searched (e.g., the 1884 Princeton Library from Phelps’ home state, the Pennsylvania State library in 1859, the vast library at Allegheny College in New York in 1823, the Rochester Atheneum/City Library in 1839, Brown University in 1843, the Ohio State Library in 1875, and other major libraries, though it was in the Cincinnati Public Library by 1884), suggesting it may not have been a widely available book.

Thomas Astle's book is actually quite interesting and, like many books displaying archaic Greek alphabets and variants of Phoenician, allows one to recognize a number of characters quite similar to other non-Egyptian "Egyptian" in the Kirtland Egyptian Papers, perhaps due to influence of some Greek study among the brethren. That's a topic for a later post.

Sunday, June 09, 2019

Inspired by Utah: A Warm and Encouraging Welcome for My Temporary Return

I've been in Salt Lake City, Utah for a few days as part of my transition to an exciting new job with a very young and promising consumer products company. Right before leaving China (temporarily -- will return for a while yet), I had a meeting with Shawn Hu, the head of the Utah-Qinghai EcoPartnership, and learned some great news about Utah's progress in building healthy ties to China. It seems that the leaders of Utah (especially Governor Gary Herbert) and also the leaders of universities in Utah recognize the value of building and maintaining connections with China in spite of the trade war and related high-level political tensions. One example of that was the May 31 and June 1 BYU Spectacular production at the stunning Shanghai Culture Square, arguably Shanghai's leading venue for high-end performances. This gigantic production showed BYU's commitment to friendship with the people of China regardless of political disputes above. It was well received and resulted in healthy media attention. Sorry I could not be there -- had to leave China a little earlier than I had expected to participate in some important meetings and events in Salt Lake.

As I flew over Utah at the end of May, I was so impressed with its beauty. There has been a lot of rain recently, so it's greener than normal, and I love that. My encouraging welcome back to Utah continued moments after I stepped off the plane, when a friend and visionary CEO, David G. Brown of Connext Broadband [name shared with permission], a thriving Internet company, met me and kindly gave me a ride to my destination, giving us time for a chat on his innovation and intellectual property goals for his company and his employees. I was inspired by this man's vision. He is looking for ways to use innovation and IP lift his employees, not just in Utah but in several other nations where wages are painfully low. His vision is that by inspiring employees to innovate and then benefit from their innovations, he can not only help his company grow but help employees create growth and business that will lead to much higher long-term income for them. He has some great concepts and a wonderful commitment to helping his employees grow. While my friend really stands out in a world that often seems dominated by pettiness and greed among leaders, I feel that his innovative, win/win spirit is surprisingly common among many businessmen in Utah.

My encouraging welcome back to Utah that day wasn't over! (Fortunately, I was experiencing no jet lag.) While visiting my parents that afternoon, I got a call from another of Utah's coolest CEOs, my own brother, Dave Lindsay of Avalanche Studios, who invited me to sit at the Avalanche Studios table that night at a dinner celebration sponsored by the Salt Lake Chamber of Commerce, Giant in our City. I jumped at the chance. This  fabulous dinner event celebrated two significant figures in Utah and was held at one of the most beautiful hotels I've seen, the Grand America hotel, with over 1,000 people attending. The first honoree, recognized for selfless service in the community, was the remarkable Pamela Atkinson, an advisor to several Utah governors, an Elder in the First Presbyterian Church, and a steady advocate for refugees, the homeless and others in need. I was deeply touched by the video about her life that was played by attendees (produced, by the way, by Avalanche Studios). Then came many speakers praising the 2019 Giant in our City, Fred Lampropoulos, CEO and Founder of Merit Medical. His story of innovation and entrepreneurship was inspiring and entertaining. The event was well produced, inspiring, entertaining, and such a great way to begin my temporary return to Utah.

Utah has its issues, but I love the entrepreneurship, service, and compassion that I see here. And it's so beautiful! I'm also thrilled to be part of a vibrant new Utah company and to be part of one of the most inspiring teams of people I've known. More on that later, perhaps. But I'm so glad to be here and am inspired by what I see in Utah. More than just a lot of rain is behind that.