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

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 adds changes a reference to "the sea" to "the Red Sea." I'll consider both arguments below, drawing upon my LDSFAQ page, "Questions about Apparent Problems in the Book of Mormon."

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"?

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.

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, these verse do 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.
Bottom line: we're not really sure, but there are a couple of reasonable possibilities consistent with the concept of the Book of Mormon being an authentic ancient text translated by divine aid (but still going through fallible human hands in the process). There is a plausible basis from the ancient world for referring to the sea as the Red Sea. On the other hand, if Joseph were relying on his knowledge of the Bible and fabricating the text, deliberately changing "sea" to "Red Sea" would make no sense. What would motivate a Bible literate fabricator to make such a change?

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).
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).

Errors are possible and must be expected, in fact, in any work that goes through the hands of mortals, including original authors, editors, translators, copyists or scribes and typesetters. 

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.

Sunday, October 06, 2019

Nathan Arp on an Apparent Egyptian Wordplay on the Name of Moses

One of the joys of living in Shanghai is just how much from around the world comes to this town. Whether you want to find interesting technology,  conferences and trade shows on any topic (usually free), music, or art, or want to meet fascinating people, Shanghai is the place to be. President Russell M. Nelson has stood at the pulpit of our meeting place twice since we came to Shanghai. Many fascinating inventors, business leaders, writers, politicians, etc., have come our way. Even an athlete or two. One of my China highlights was being part of a small group that introduced one of our members, Jimmer Fredette, to a couple of Party officials and a major business leader who were so excited to meet the hottest basketball star in China. One of them was excitedly quoting all sorts of Jimmer stats and factoids to us before Jimmer arrived. It was one of those charming moments that make it so easy to love China and its people. Jimmer's graciousness and kindness to our Chinese friends was also deeply touching.

Today I had the pleasure of meeting Nathan Arp, the fascinating author of a recent 2019 paper published at The Interpreter: A Journal of Latter-day Saint Faith and Scholarship. "Joseph Knew First: Moses, the Egyptian Son" is one of several papers related to the Pearl of Great Price that need to be talked about more in this era when it has become too common for some LDS scholars to talk about the Pearl of Great Price as something of an embarrassment, as if Joseph's "translations" were really just inspiring fiction he used as vehicles to express his own ideas, perhaps dressed up with a few things he might have learned from others. Here is the abstract from Nathan's outstanding publication:
After about 1500 years of slumber, ancient Egyptian was brought back to life in the early 19th century, when scholars deciphered hieroglyphs. This revolutionary success opened the door to a reevaluation of history from the viewpoint of ancient Egypt. In the wake of this new knowledge, the first scholar posited the idea in 1849 that the name of Moses stemmed from the Egyptian word for child. Subsequently, this idea was refined, and currently the majority of scholars believe Moses’s name comes from the Egyptian verb “to beget,” which is also the root for the Egyptian word for child, or in the case of a male child, a “son.” Before this discovery and certainly before a scholarly consensus formed on the Egyptian etymology of the name of Moses, Joseph Smith restored a prophecy from the patriarch Joseph that played upon the name of Moses and its yet to be discovered Egyptian meaning of “son.” This article explores the implications of this overt Egyptian pun and its role as a key thematic element in the restored narratives in the Book of Moses.
One of the most interesting and most pervasive evidences of antiquity in the revealed translations provided by Joseph Smith is the evidence of appropriately applied wordplays in ancient languages. We've discussed many here before, especially those involving Hebrew puns on names in the Book of Mormon. These can be "explained" if one assumes that Joseph had some outstanding Hebrew specialists on his technical advisory team looking for subtle ways to juice up the text for future apologetics purposes -- not for Joseph's day, of course, but for, say, a century and a half after Joseph would be dead (such a visionary charlatan to add many evidences, like all those pertaining to the Arabian Peninsula, that would not even be detected and mentioned until everyone involved with the Book of Mormon had been dead for over a century). But Egyptian puns posed a bigger challenge, for competent specialists who could add anything meaningful to, say, the Book of Mormon or the Pearl of Great Price were not easily acquired in the United States during Joseph's translation work.

In spite of the challenges, though, readers of Nathan's article may see that Joseph managed to build in a plausible and context-appropriate pun on the Egyptian meaning of the name Moses, and did so many years before scholars began writing about the meaning of Moses' name in Egyptian. That's how good his technical advisory team was. Or how lucky Joseph was when just making things up. Your call.

Yes, of course it's possible that such wordplays are artifacts of chance since we don't have the original language text to see what was written, but we can detect a text that appears to knowingly take advantage of the wordplay and can view that as at least an interesting tentative find consistent with ancient origins. A few of these things might just be luck. The dozens we have in my opinion may suggest something other than luck is going on, but of course one is free to believe it's all just luck and artifacts. But for those that already have some faith, understanding the apparent wordplays, poetical devices, Hebraisms, etc., often enhances the meaning and aids our understanding of the passage, and that's where the real value is. Not in proving something to those who don't care, but in showing gems of added meaning to those who do.

This find may not be as stunning as the Mahujah/Mahijah bull's-eye in the Book of Moses (also see "Joseph’s Luckiest 'Guess' From the Book of Moses" at Third Hour), but it still should be interesting for students of the Book of Moses. Please read Nathan Arp's article and let me know what you think.

Here is one excerpt from Nathan's work that highlights one of the most important aspects of the sense of son related to Moses' name:

Moses as a Type of Christ

Moses’s sonship becomes a key theme in restoration scripture. Specifically, the restored narrative contained in the Book of Moses in the Pearl of Great Price focuses on Moses as a son of God and a type of Christ through the repetitive use of the words son and begotten, which are also related to the etiology of the Egyptian name Moses. For instance, note God’s heavy use of these terms:
And I have a work for thee, Moses, my son; and thou art in the similitude of mine Only Begotten; and mine Only Begotten is and shall be the Savior, for he is full of grace and truth; but there is no God beside me, and all things are present with me, for I know them all. (Moses 1:6)
The connection between Moses, God’s son, and Christ, God’s only begotten, can become a signal to the witting reader that Moses’s Egyptian name is a central theme in this narrative. Moses is not the only prophet the Lord called his son, but the frequency with which the Lord refers to Moses as his son is uniquely pronounced.

Moses and Satan’s dialogue further emphasizes Moses’s divine sonship. “Satan came tempting him, saying: Moses, son of man, worship me” (Moses 1:12). Moses, who has just learned his true patronage, corrects Satan, “I am a son of God, in the similitude of his Only Begotten” (Moses 1:13). Moses not only refuses to worship Satan but also calls for Satan to leave. “Get thee hence, Satan, deceive me not; for God said unto me: Thou art after the similitude of mine Only Begotten” (Moses 1:16). This episode with Satan ends with Moses’s confirming his relationship as a son of God and expelling Satan in the name of the Only Begotten.
Thank you, Nathan, and thanks for chatting with me today in beautiful Shanghai!

Saturday, October 05, 2019

The Book of Mormon's Ties to the Northern Kingdom of Israel: New Research from Dr. Richley Crapo

One of the more novel arguments I've seen against the Book of Mormon was the graduate work of Kevin Beshears, “Davidic References in the Book of Mormon as Evidence Against its Historicity,” who argued that the Book of Mormon was obviously not from an ancient Hebraic group because it gave so little attention to King David. It didn't praise him as a role model and even criticized him. It didn't evaluate the goodness of kings by comparison to David. And it hardly mentioned the great king at all -- giving us a book very much unlike much of the Bible.

I dealt with Beshears' arguments in detail in my article for The Interpreter, "Too Little or Too Much Like the Bible? A Novel Critique of the Book of Mormon Involving David and the Psalms." One of my peripheral arguments there is that the David-centric aspects of the Old Testament reflect views from the Kingdom of Judah, which may not have been shared by those with roots in the Northern Kingdom such as Lehi.

Now a new publication in The Interpreter by Dr. Richley Crapo adds a new dimension to understanding the Northern Kingdom influence in the Book of Mormon. In "Lehi, Joseph, and the Kingdom of Israel," Dr. Crapo offers some significant new perspectives that greatly contribute to Book of Mormon scholarship. Here's the abstract:
I present evidence of two priesthoods in the Jewish Bible: an Aaronite priesthood, held by Aaron and passed down through his descendants; and a higher Mushite priesthood, held not only by Moses and his descendants but also by other worthy individuals, such as Joshua, an Ephraimite. The Mushite priests were centered in Shiloh, where Joshua settled the Ark of the Covenant, while the Aaronites became dominant in the Jerusalem temple. Like Joshua, the prophet Lehi, a descendant of the northern tribe of Manasseh, held the higher priesthood. His ministry, as recounted in the Book of Mormon, demonstrates four characteristics that show a clear connection to his ancestors’ origins in the northern Kingdom of Israel: (1) revelation through prophetic dreams, (2) the ministry of angels, (3) imagery of the Tree of Life, and (4) a positive attitude toward the Nehushtan tradition. These traits are precisely those which scholarship, based on the Documentary Hypothesis, attributes to texts in the Hebrew Bible that originated in the northern Kingdom of Israel rather than in Judah.
Dr. Crapo draws upon advances in understanding Biblical origins, including the Documentary Hypothesis, and the important of specific themes found in the northern Elohist text, and find the Book of Mormon to be surprisingly comfortable as an ancient text with Northern Kingdom/Elohist ties. Some of the subtle details are truly worth noting. His analysis related to the two priesthoods found in antiquity may be especially interesting, with implications beyond the Book of Mormon alone. Outstanding work!