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

Monday, November 25, 2019

The Christ Child: Best Nativity Video I've Seen, New from LightTheWorld.org

This 18-minute video about the Nativity is beautifully filmed and sweetly conveys some of the joy and hope that came with the birth of the Savior. It's the best version of the Nativity that I've seen. A new Christmas gift for all of us from LightTheWorld.org.

The dialog is all in Aramaic Hebrew without subtitles, but they aren't needed. 

Tuesday, November 19, 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, November 10, 2019

Travel Tip for the Netherlands: Visit the Amsterdam Ward!

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

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

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

Here are some views of the building and the neighborhod.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Much Ado About Creation Ex Nihilo

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

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

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

Monday, November 04, 2019

Caffeine Update: Prenatal Risks

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, November 03, 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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