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

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.

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 Kyle 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!