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

Sunday, January 26, 2020

Three Days to the Valley of Lemuel -- But From Where?

One of the things I enjoy about blogging is having readers with diverse perspectives who aren't afraid to point out flaws in my views. This forces me to either hide my face in shame for a few days or to reconsider what I said. The latter happened this week while discussing part of the evidence for Lehi's Trail, the discovery that a perennially flowing stream in Wadi Tayyib al-Ism appears to be an excellent candidate for the River Laman in 1 Nephi 2 of the Book of Mormon. My blog post specifically looked at the peripheral issue of the "river of filthy water" that can occur when the stream Lehi may have encountered becomes a flash flood, as it did a few weeks ago with video evidence provided at Google Maps.

Some readers wondered what was so special about Joseph guessing that some river or stream somewhere has to flow into the Red Sea, even and holding up the Erie Canal as proposed inspiration for the River Laman. In response, I explained that the "wow" factor of Wadi Tayyib al-Ism isn't the unsurprising encounter with some random river or steam as one moves from inland toward and along the coast of the sea. The "wow" factor involves details such as the correspondence between directions given in the text and the specific location of the candidate stream and valley in an unexpected, arid place. As I consider the response of some readers, it's almost as if our critics have already forgotten that the River Laman for decades was touted as one of the more ridiculous things about the Book of Mormon (up there with the verdant site of  "imaginary" Bountiful, also now confirmed in a plausible place with many supporting details) since "everyone knows" that there are no rivers in the Arabian Peninsula.

Once mocked for being absurd and impossible, Wadi Tayyib al-Ism as apparent Book of Mormon evidence is now mocked for being trivial, an inevitable feature that most farm boys could have guessed with just a moment of thought. But could they have guessed that there would be an almost never-seen perennial stream in such an arid place, adequate to support fruit trees (dates) and grain, in spite of its flow having been significantly diminished in recent years by government wells pumping water out of the region? Could they have guessed that the river/stream would be in a highly impressive valley that would provide shade and could inspire Lehi to wax poetic about the firm walls of the steep cliffs surrounding the River Laman, cliffs that come near the mouth of the "river" but stop before the Red Sea, as Nephi describes? Could they have guessed that this once-said-to-be-impossible Book of Mormon location would be within a plausible radius of three days of travel (presumably with camels) from the beginning of the Red Sea (the Gulf of Aqaba for Lehi and family), as we read in 1 Nephi 2:5-6? And that's where I made a mistake that needs to be corrected today [update: Spoiler alert: I was wrong in thinking that Nephi's statement was ambiguous, not that the candidate for the River Laman is plausible].

Some readers replied that the Book of Mormon says it's three days of cumulative travel since leaving Jerusalem -- not leaving anywhere near enough time to even reach the Red Sea from Jerusalem.  Following George Potter and Warren Aston, I suggested in my comments that 1 Nephi 2:5-6 plausibly refers to a three-day count after the Red Sea is first encountered, and while that reading is plausible, I added my opinion that Nephi's statement is ambiguous and admittedly could be read to imply that the three days began with the departure from Jerusalem:
1 Nephi 2:5-6 tell us that after Lehi left Jerusalem to travel in the wilderness, he then "came down by the borders near the shore of the Red Sea; and he traveled in the wilderness in the borders which are nearer the Red Sea; and he did travel in the wilderness with his family... And it came to pass that when he had traveled three days in the wilderness, he pitched his tent in a valley by the side of a river of water."

There is ambiguity here in his meaning (is he counting the travel in the wilderness in vs. 6 relative to the immediately mentioned travel in the wilderness near the Red Sea, or back to the earlier departure from Jerusalem into the wilderness? Taking it as a three-day count from the encounter with the Red Sea mentioned just before his three day reference, as Potter did, and using conventional camel speed with full days, then we have a roughly 75-mile journey distance to reach the Valley of Lemuel from the northern tip of the Gulf of Aqaba, which works out quite well. I suppose it would be even easier (requiring a slower pace) if the three day count began when they began traveling in the borders/mountains "nearer" the Red Sea. In any case, three days from Jerusalem would be too far. Potter's plausible reading of Nephi's record allows Lehi to reach the River of Laman. 
Thanks to the challenge from some readers, I reconsidered my views as I looked at what George Potter and Warren Aston had said and reflected on what the text really tells us.  Potter is the explorer who initially found this candidate and reported that it was in a plausible location that could comply with the text. See George Potter, "A New Candidate in Arabia for the Valley of Lemuel," Journal of Book of Mormon Studies, Vol. 8, No. 1 (1999): 54–63, 79; available at: https://scholarsarchive.byu.edu/jbms/vol8/iss1/11. Regarding the location, Potter interprets the text to say, "the valley was located within three-day’s walk or camel ride beyond the northeast tip of the Red Sea (see 1 Nephi 2:5–6)" (p. 57). Why the text requires that view is not explained. Warren Aston, an expert on Lehi's Trail who did the original field work for the most plausible candidate for Bountiful at Khor Karfot in Oman and has some brilliant insights to share from there and also from the Nahom area, says a bit more about the three days journey of 1 Nephi 2:5-6 in his excellent and detailed work on Lehi's Trail, Lehi and Sariah in Arabia: The Old World Setting of the Book of Mormon (Bloomington, IN: Xlibris Publishing, 2015). Though his treatment of the Valley of Lemuel is relatively brief and ultimately calls for more field work to confirm the merits of Wadi Tayyib al-Ism and to consider other potential candidates that have proposed (fieldwork that he recently conducted, as I discussed in "A Feast of Knowledge Awaits"), Aston does say this regarding the location in the chapter "Base Camp in the Valley of Lemuel" in Part 2 (Kindle edition):
A careful reading of [1 Nephi] 2:5-6 makes it clear that it was not from Jerusalem, but rather from the head of the Red Sea, where the twin cities of Eilat and Aqaba now lie, that the Lehites traveled another three days “in the wilderness.” Reaching the Red Sea had already required as much as ten days’ travel from Jerusalem, so the “three days” travel further into the wilderness began at this point. This allows us to identify the general area where this significant campsite must have been as three days’ travel with loaded camels must be in the order of 50 to 70 miles distant from the Aqaba area.

Here, in a valley beside a “river of water,” they set up camp, for what may have been a considerable period. Nephi tells us that their camp was “in the borders nearer the Red Sea” beside a river that “emptied into the Red Sea” (2:5, 8). Lehi used the appearance of the valley, “firm and steadfast, and immovable” (2:10) as an object lesson when exhorting Lemuel, and so the place came to be known as the “Valley of Lemuel” (2:14).

Of their eight years in the wilderness, the majority may have been spent here, in Dedan, ancient Midian, safely distant from Jerusalem. The valley was a base camp for them to more properly prepare for the long desert journey that lay ahead and the epic sea voyage that would then follow. Indeed, most of the Old World account takes place while they were living here. From here, Nephi and his three older brothers would return twice to Jerusalem, firstly to obtain the brass records from Laban (resulting also in the unplanned addition of Laban’s servant Zoram), and the second time to bring additional manpower in the form of Ishmael’s family. Their arrival back at the camp would more than double the size of the group, and the need for adequate food supplies. Nephi’s statement that they “gathered together all manner of seeds” (8:1), apparently to augment those brought from Jerusalem, suggests that their stay in the valley was both preparatory and long enough to include at least one growing season. [emphasis added]
While I also felt that Nephi's wording appears to be referring to the time from the previously mentioned encounter with the Red Sea, neither of the statements from Potter and Aston seem to remove the ambiguity that I could see after consider the views from readers who disagreed with this interpretation. So I went back to the text and reconsidered -- and that's when I discovered I had made a mistake, or been hasty in my conclusion, for Nephi's wording might not be as ambiguous as it seems at first glance.

Here's the text of 1 Nephi 2:1-6:
[1] For behold, it came to pass that the Lord spake unto my father, yea, even in a dream, and said unto him: Blessed art thou Lehi, because of the things which thou hast done; and because thou hast been faithful and declared unto this people the things which I commanded thee, behold, they seek to take away thy life.
[2] And it came to pass that the Lord commanded my father, even in a dream, that he should take his family and depart into the wilderness.
[3] And it came to pass that he was obedient unto the word of the Lord, wherefore he did as the Lord commanded him.
[4] And it came to pass that he departed into the wilderness. And he left his house, and the land of his inheritance, and his gold, and his silver, and his precious things, and took nothing with him, save it were his family, and provisions, and tents, and departed into the wilderness.
[5] And he came down by the borders near the shore of the Red Sea; and he traveled in the wilderness in the borders which are nearer the Red Sea; and he did travel in the wilderness with his family, which consisted of my mother, Sariah, and my elder brothers, who were Laman, Lemuel, and Sam.
[6] And it came to pass that when he had traveled three days in the wilderness, he pitched his tent in a valley by the side of a river of water.
Here I can see why others might think the three days refer to time since leaving Jerusalem, for chapter begins with Lehi being commanded to "depart into the wilderness" (2), and so "he departed into the wilderness" (3), and thus left all his goods except provisions and tents, "and departed into the wilderness." Three times we have this phrase, "depart/departed into the wilderness," and it refers to leaving Jerusalem to begin his long journey. So later in verse 6, after Lehi "had traveled three days in the wilderness" and discovered "a river of water," it is certainly plausible that Nephi means three days since they "departed into the wilderness." One could say that not only is there ambiguity, but the "three days since Jerusalem" reading is more faithful to the text.

As with many things in the Book of Mormon and especially in Nephi's writings, there are interesting rhetorical or literary tools employed that often shed added meaning or help reveal the intent from the author.

Looking again at verses 5 and 6, two things hit me that I should have noticed before. First, Nephi is employing an interesting and common literary tool variously called "repetitive resumption," "resumptive repetition," epanalepsis, and Wideraufnahme (taking up again), wherein a parenthetical remark or departure from the main story line is flagged by a repeated phrase or word before and after the inserted remark. For some background and examples, I recommend these resources:
Now consider repetitive resumption in verses 5 and 6 of 2 Nephi 2. Lehi "came down by the borders near the shore of the Red Sea; and he traveled in the wilderness in the borders which are nearer the Red Sea; and he did travel in the wilderness with his family," after which we have an aside or parenthetical remark telling us who was in that family, followed by the flag that is meant to pick up and continue the story from immediately before the aside: "And it came to pass that when he had traveled three days in the wilderness, he pitched his tent in a valley by the side of a river of water."  The three days of travel is a continuation of this episode of traveling in the wilderness in the borders near or nearer the Red Sea. This period of travel is using different language than the phase of departing from Jerusalem. Interestingly, just as "depart/departed into the wilderness" was used three times in the initial departure stage," after they "came" to the Red Sea, we then have three occurrences of a related but different phrase: "travel/traveled in the wilderness." The tool of repetitive resumption flags this action, taking place in the borders near or nearer to the Red Sea, and tells us that it continued for three days.

In light of the literary devices used here, I suggest that I was wrong in my prior statement about the ambiguity of Nephi's statement. I don't think it's actually ambiguous. I think his language requires looking at the three days journey as limited to the "travel" phase that began after meeting the Red Sea. The River Laman and the Valley of Lemuel aren't required to be in an impossible location just south of Jerusalem, where no river can possibly flow into the Red Sea, but south of the Gulf of Aqaba in the borders/mountains near the Red Sea, where it is not only theoretically possible to locate something like the River Laman, but where an excellent candidate has now been found that actually is within a three-day journey by camel from Aqaba (or regions thereabout) to the amazing Wadi Tayyib al-Ism.

Second, Nephi uses "travel in the wilderness" three times, just as he did with "depart into the wilderness," possibly as if this section of travel is parallel with the initial departure scene. One episode begins in Jerusalem with divine revelation and seeing a book in vision, and the next phase of the adventure begins after the encounter with the Red Sea, a phase abounding in miracles, trials, and revelation, along with obtaining a divine book (the brass plates), with both stages rich in Exodus themes.

The significance of this latter phase of travel being associated with "the border near the Red Sea" is again picked up many chapters later in 1 Nephi 16:14, after having left the Valley of Lemuel that was in the borders "nearer the Red Sea," where, after hunting animals in the place called Shazer, they "did go forth again in the wilderness, following the same direction [roughly south-southeast], keeping in the most fertile parts of the wilderness, which were in the borders near the Red Sea." So it seems that after the time in the Valley of Lemuel, they had gone from the borders "nearer" the Red Sea back to the borders "near" the Red Sea, meaning they weren't right next to the Red Sea as they were while in the Valley of Lemuel, but had moved somewhat away from the Red Sea, as seems to be required for the journey to Nahom via the general direction of the Incense Trail. That is consistent with the route proposed by Potter, in which they went away from the Red Sea back to the main trails that connected to the Incense Trail, putting some space and mountains between them and the Red Sea. It's a subtlety in the text I had not noticed before. Something Joseph must have picked up from Joseph's Technicolor Dream Map of Arabia that he used, I suppose. Seriously, there are many delightful details in Nephi's account that correspond with details from antiquity and the Near East. Much to ponder there.

Resuming where I left off, I believe I was wrong in my comments about the three days issue, for I don't think that Nephi was truly ambiguous about where the three days' journey began. Based on his structure and his use of repetitive resumption, the time assigned is surely intended as the time in that second phase, the phase that began after reaching the Red Sea, the time since traveling in the borders near the Red Sea (or nearer the Red Sea -- perhaps there's a touch of ambiguity there after all). Aston and Potter instinctively understood that this was Nephi's message, and I think considering the literary devices involved shows that Nephi was not being sloppy in his wording, but relatively clear. As with all texts and translations especially, there's room for misunderstanding, but the case for dismissing the "wow" of Wadi Tayyib al-Ism because of the impossibility of reaching the Red Sea in three days relies on a weak reading that strives to miss misses the plain significance of some very interesting evidence.

30 comments:

Anonymous said...

I’m sorry I claimed I was right—I was really right. Nice apology in the spirit of a humble brag.

Anonymous said...

Weird, there was a goalpost around here just a moment ago. Somebody must have moved it.

Jeff Lindsay said...

No, I said Nephi was ambiguous. No, don't think he was.

Jeff Lindsay said...

But your point is a valid one and I was certainly too smug/flippant/annoying in saying I made a mistake and getting people's hopes up that there was to be a correction favoring the critics rather than the coolness of the Book of Mormon. Should have just said I was revising my evaluation of ambiguity due to added evidence regarding the intent of the author. I'll try to approach such situations without being so annoying next time!

Anonymous said...

“This period of travel is using different language than the phase of departing from Jerusalem.”

Your assertion here is simply not true. This may have been be the case if he hadn’t mentioned the wilderness in association with his departure in verse 4, “And he left his house, and the land of his inheritance, and his gold, and his silver, and his precious things, and took nothing with him, save it were his family, and provisions, and tents, and departed into the wilderness.” This description establishes that his departure from Jerusalem was into the wilderness. He left his house and departed into the wilderness, he didn’t describe leaving his house, journeying for a few days, then entering the wilderness. To this day, the land immediately south of Bethlehem is still wilderness (officially designated as such by the local government).

Therefore, any subsequent talk of wilderness is outside of Jerusalem (again, literal and figurative separation). A more accurate reading would be to consider the information in verse 5 as interstitial details with resumption of the main narrative taking place in verse 6.

Thank you for introducing me to the concept of repetitive resumption—a concept I was unfamiliar with. I found a summary version of its definition as “everything between the first mention . . . and the second mention . . . is a supplement . . . the intervening material [should] be read as an aside.”

There is also this from the first article you cited above:

“the ancient scribe would restate or paraphrase the last point in the narrative before the extra piece was added. It functioned similar to the stock subtitle ‘meanwhile back in the ranch’ from silent westerns. It would remind the readers what happened last, which the narrative that follows is continuing.”

The repetition in verse 5 doesn’t seem to qualify as repetitive resumption as presented by your source. Verses 2-6 seem to be an attempt at “polyprosopon’” which is biblical repetition with variation—found throughout the Bible, especially in the Old Testament.

I would advise caution. Your unwarranted smugness is rivaling that of JoePeaceman—not a happy association.

Anonymous said...

Ano 11:22 - It is all part of the learning process, the goal post are constantly on the move.
Every year the goal post get closer to telling us what the Book of Mormon is true means.

Jeff Lindsay said...

Yes, he departs into the wilderness, and then in the second phase, he travels in the wilderness near the borders of the Red Sea. The whole 8 years is mostly in wilderness, but there are different wilderness regions. The difference in language is "departing into the wilderness" versus "traveling in the wilderness (near the Red Sea)".

To think that Joseph was saying that Nephi traveled less than 3 days then hit the Red Sea is to suggest he knew nothing about the location of Jerusalem and had never seen a map, when our critics also require that he had access to detailed maps of the region in order to pluck Nehhem off the map and plot the basic journey with its various details.

Less than three days to the Red Sea doesn't make even sense if Joseph is fabricating the text. Whether Joseph or Nephi wrote this, the more plausible reading is three days from the encounter with the Red Sea, and consideration of Nephi's wording and repetitive resumption helps confirm that.

Anonymous said...

“To think that Joseph was saying that Nephi traveled less than 3 days then hit the Red Sea is to suggest he knew nothing about the location of Jerusalem and had never seen a map“

You said it, not me.

All maps have locations—not all maps show distances. He would have had to have access to detailed maps or be familiar with the area to know how long it would take to get to the Red Sea (Reed Sea by the way) from Jerusalem. Obviously the author of these 6 verses had no such knowledge or information, and that is the point.

Anonymous said...

“The difference in language is ‘departing into the wilderness’ versus ‘traveling in the wilderness (near the Red Sea).’”

That’s not a difference in language, it’s a difference in action based on what has occurred in the narrative. In order to “travel in the wilderness,” one must first “depart into the wilderness.” Then after both of those events occurred (3 days after, according to the simple narrative), they pitch their tents. You’re bringing hopes to your reading of the narrative that it has trouble fulfilling.

Jeff Lindsay said...

Different verbs to express travel are differences in language to me. Sometimes you saunter, sometimes you wander, sometimes you journey, sometimes you come and go, sometimes you depart to or into an area, and sometimes you flea, travel, march, trek, peregrinate, traverse, or emigrate. They all represent differences in language. Then further descriptors can be added to further distinguish one phase from another. "Depart into the wilderness" strikes me as a first phase, repeated three times, and then, after they "come" to the Red Sea, we have three references to "travel in the wilderness" and this is "near" or "nearer" the "borders of the Red Sea." His three days of travel falls in that phase. It's describing their travel then, not the clearly much longer initial trek south of Jerusalem.

Apart from the clear meaning of Nephi's text, if you want to insist that the three days must be three days from Jerusalem, then how could Joseph be as Bible savvy and map savvy as he must be for any fabrication theory, and yet make such a monumental blunder? I mean, if Joseph had a high-tech map with enough detail to suggest locations for the then-unimaginable places of the River Laman and Bountiful nearly due east of Nahom/Nehhem, Joseph surely would have noticed that the distance from Jerusalem to someplace past the beginning of the Red Sea would be about as long as the journey from Egypt to Israel. For a Bible brainiac smart enough to absorb and reproduce chiasmus, repetitive resumption, Hebraic parallelism, and numerous subtle features of the Bible through osmosis, along with creating extensive intertextuality with the Bible while dictating on the fly, then with that map in hand and with his profound familiarity with the Exodus and other journeys in the Bible, it seems unfathomable that he could have imagined that the major journey from Jerusalem to past the beginning of the Red Sea could be done in 3 days. But it's also quite intriguing that if we read Nephi more carefully and recognize that, of course, the three days begins with the Red Sea, then -- surprise -- now we have the ideal candidate for the River Laman within a 3 day journey. isn't that at least a little cool? No? Really?

No, because it's such a small stream/river. But guess what, not only was the river surely bigger in the past before a large amount of the water was removed from the area, but the text itself also implies that this was not a big river. It was one they could simply cross when they left, as we read in 1 Nephi 16. It's also small enough that it's easy to miss and not really the kind that can support a large population. The Book of Mormon implies it was uninhabited. What? That's impossible some learned folks have said recently, because anyone knows that water is a super valuable treasure in the desert and if there were a river, it would attract a big population. But hey, take a look, it's still uninhabited today. Small, easy to miss, not even on any maps, not easy to notice when sailing by, and not on a route that people tend to take. It's a surprise in a huge canyon that's a diversion from the main trails and roads. Uninhabited, like Bountiful.

Lehi's Trail begins and ends with "impossible" places with a surprising and previously unknown (to most of the world) water source. Yet those places are there, right where the Book of Mormon predicts. Trying to minimize that find by quibbling over an alternate reading of how to make the "three days" journey seem off is a nice try, but I think you should look at the Potter videos on the river and the Aston videos and book on the overall trail and especially Bountiful, and recognize that there is more to this Book of Mormon story that you've been led to disbelieve. These are genuinely cool evidences that should motivate people to dig a little deeper. They aren't there as proof, but as encouragements.

Anonymous said...

For a Bible brainiac smart enough to absorb and reproduce chiasmus, repetitive resumption, Hebraic parallelism, and numerous subtle features of the Bible through osmosis, along with creating extensive intertextuality with the Bible while dictating on the fly....

This is just silly, Jeff. Anyone imitating the style of the KJV will naturally reproduce many of the features of that style, including every single feature you mention above.

Everyone else: the Book of Mormon is not an ancient text. This is demonstrated beyond any reasonable doubt by its many anachronisms, such as its quotations from Deutero-Isaiah and its rehashing of Protestant theological issues, by its inclusion of 17th-century KJV translation errors, by its obvious origins in contemporary debates over Indian origins, and by much else. None of these problems have ever been adequately addressed by apologists.

While Jeff continues to fight his rearguard action, other faithful members are acknowledging the book's modern origins and finding ways to accommodate it to LDS theology (e.g., by characterizing the book as an inspired midrashic exercise). They are the future.

-- OK

Anonymous said...

OK - Watching Amy Walker teach accents on youtube may be an example. Accents imitation is an innate ability for her and when she imitates an accent she imitates the facial expression, mannerisms, word choice, and idiosyncrasies that come with it.

Jeff Lindsay said...

OK writes, "Anyone imitating the style of the KJV will naturally reproduce many of the features of that style, including every single feature you mention above."

There are many texts imitating Biblical style. Any that come anywhere close to the Book of Mormon in, say, Hebraic poetical structures and, for example, repetitive resumption?

Anonymous said...

It feels like Deja Vu all over again. Volley goes like this:

Jeff says an untrained, simpleton, novice author can't insert hidden Hebraisms into a fictional story.

OK says any genius imitating the KJV would do that by happenstance.

Jeff asks for examples.

OK provides examples.

Jeff concedes but insists none of the examples give rise to the complexity of the Book of Mormon.

OK concedes Joseph Smith was better at it, so what? Prodigies are better at things.

Jeff: While JS was no idiot, he wasn't a Prodigy.

OK: His other works show a pattern of exceptional ability.

Jeff those were not JS works, they were of God.

OK regardless if it JS mind alone, or a mystical power being channeled through his mind, it is the same consistent ability.

Jeff it was not JS, it was God, no human could produce those things.

OK: Oh, right, because you said so. Humans produce amazing things all the time and underdogs are always surprising us.

Jeff: But not like this

On and on and on ......

Anonymous said...

Seems like it takes faith to be a non-believer too—faith in human ability and resourcefulness. Anything falling from the sky, including a Coke bottle, must be from a higher power.

Anonymous said...

Anon 6:50 -- Yes, exactly: "Prodigies are better at things."

Jeff 1:15 gives us a good example of one of Jeff's favorite rhetorical moves, which is to suggest that something is impressive simply because one can attach an impressive technical term to it. Hence he expects us to be impressed that, in the course of imitating KJV style, and in spite of his limited formal education, Joseph could produce Hebraic poetical structures and use repetitive resumption.

Well, guess what? There are actually children --- mere children, I say --- who can, without any formal education at all, simply by imitating the language around them, use complex grammatical structures such as adjectival phrases and subject–auxiliary inversion using finite forms of the copula be when forming interrogatives.

This sounds pretty impressive until you realize it means merely that children can say things like Look at that big dog and Has Dad come home yet?

The fact that technical grammatical terms can be used to describe these utterances does not mean there's anything in the least remarkable about children uttering them, and it certainly doesn't mean that children need to be formally trained grammarians to utter them.

Yet apologists continue to make precisely this kind of bogus claim when they argue, for example, that Joseph could not have used chiasmus or repetitive resumption because he lacked formal education in Hebrew poetic and narrative techniques.

-- OK

Anonymous said...

“It's describing their travel then, not the clearly much longer initial trek south of Jerusalem.”

You’ve again allowed your hopes for the text to influence your reading of the text. The text itself makes no distinctions between the departure and the pitching of tents. It tells us what happens between those two events (travel in the wilderness), but doesn’t tell us there was a portion of travel that counts as wilderness, and a portion that doesn’t. As stated earlier, the land south of Jerusalem is wilderness.


“Bible savvy and map savvy as he must be for any fabrication theory.”

Describing general directions and including place names he either saw or heard does not make him a “Bible brainiac.” We’re discussing an instance that bears out a lack of knowledge. Not only does your proposed location not fit descriptions of distance or the size of the water source, the timeframes involved are unrealistic.

“Yet those places are there, right where the Book of Mormon predicts.”

But as we can see, the Book of Mormon doesn’t predict where they are, especially in this case. You are forced to produce a creative reading of the text in order for your candidate to work. Isn’t that at least a little desperate?

“Trying to minimize that find by quibbling over an alternate reading of how to make the ‘three days’ journey seem off is a nice try”

It’s not a quibble, nor is it an “alternate reading.” My interpretation of the text requires no qualifiers—yours does. I take the text at what it says, and you take the text for what you wish it says (or what it could be saying).

Anonymous said...

Anon 8:13 -

I guess that depends on how we define faith and non-believer.

In this context, it may be the LDS that are non-believers, for they do not believe in the Coptic scripture, Mohammed's scripture, or Strangite scriptures. The non-LDS here are more agnostic on the subject, merely observing similarities in human ability and resourcefulness, without demanding God not believe in some of it.

Anonymous said...

You are my hero OK. Thanks for standing up to Jeff.

Looking forward to seeing his response. So far his response is no other man-made KJV imitation has done those fancy name things and those things they do do, they did not do them with the same complexity. If this is true, I imagine it is only because of the limited length and number of texts imitating KJV scriptural verse.

It might be worth observing that Jeff has manufactured an unfalsifiable hypothesis here (either deliberately or subconsciously) because any recent demonstration of bright young writers picking up these items will be dismissed by Jeff as deliberate training. So the limited sample space of texts is exactly where Jeff wants it, in a neatly packaged realm where he compartmentalizes everything as just nearly plausible, nothing less, nothing more, allowing him maximum flexibility and mobility for mental gymnastics.

Jeff Lindsay said...

Anon says, "OK says any genius imitating the KJV would do that by happenstance.

Jeff asks for examples.

OK provides examples."

Which examples of KJV imitators doing what the Book of Mormon does did you see? I think my browser is missing something.

While I disagree with OK's interpretation regarding 3 days, one thing should be unmistakable: that the text claims that after they encountered the Red Sea, they traveled further and then found a river of water flowing into the Red Sea. Whether it was three days of slow travel from the beginning of the Red Sea or three improbable days of racing horses galloping south, there should be no question that the text says that there should be an impressive valley and flowing fresh water that flows into the Red Sea, probably not too far from where the Red Sea begins (Gulf of Aqaba). Can we at least agree on that?

Given that claim, a claim which has long been mocked as impossible, would you not say that the discovery of Wadi Tayyib al-Ism and its perennially flowing stream accompanied with date trees and a reasonable place to stay for a long period of time is at least an interesting and very fortunate bit of evidence that potentially favors the plausibility of Nephi's text?

Anonymous said...

I will say that your claim of "long been mocked" is a persecution complex and the LDS have longed mocked others more than they have been mocked. The definition of Nephi's text is constantly changing to match the non-LDS, not the other way around.

Jeff Lindsay said...

Anon state, "But as we can see, the Book of Mormon doesn’t predict where they are, especially in this case."

There are two possible readings, one that I think reflects the intent of Nephi and one which makes less sense even for the case of Joseph as a fabricator but with maps. BUT IN EITHER CASE, in either reading, the Book of Mormon CLEARLY makes a prediction about where the River Laman must be: near the Gulf of Aqaba, not far from where the Red Sea begins.

(1) For the stronger reading (IMO), it must be within a three-day's journey probably by camel from the beginning of the Red Sea, which is enough to reach Wadi Tayyib al-Ism.

(2) For the weaker reading, to reach the Red Sea within 3 days means they are traveling very fast - horses?? -- or that Joseph was making stuff up, as you wish to argue, but in any case, it still claims that not long after reaching the Red Sea, they found a river and an impressive valley. And Wadi Tayyib al-Ism also works, but it's a more difficult reading because they probably couldn't go that far with camels, a popular and successful mode of travel in that region.

Close to the Red Sea, close to Aqaba, if there is any merit to the Book of Mormon, there should be a place that at least as of 2600 years ago had a continually flowing river/stream then flowed into the "fountain" of the Red Sea and was in a big impressive valley that provided a place where they could be safe, where they could obviously be alone (what, uninhabited? yes, as it still is today), raise crops, eat, have shelter, and then walk over the river and move on. Many subtle details, all fulfilled at Wadi Tayyib al-Ism.

That doesn't count for anything at all? Really?

Jeff Lindsay said...

"The definition of Nephi's text is constantly changing to match the non-LDS, not the other way around." Care to expound on what you need? If you mean that it's non-LDS archaeologists who made the critical finds at Nahom/Nehhem and other finds that shed light on the Book of Mormon, that's true, and yes, as we learn more, we sometimes need to adjust our assumptions about what the text means. For example, we might think Nephi walked to Bountiful, but when we learn that the tents typically used in that time frame are heavy, it surely required a pack animal such as a camel (probably a group of camels) to carry tents, provisions, etc. That adjusts our thinking, yes, but it's not a retreat from anything -- it's progress. Are you sure that's a bad thing?

Anonymous said...

For example, the LDS view is progressing towards the non-LDS view that the Lamanites are not the principal ancestors of the Native Americans, the events in the Book of Mormon can not be clearly identified to have occurred in any particularly part of the Western Hemisphere, and the horses and metal swords mentioned might be something else, etc. The non-LDS agree such progress is a good thing, who said otherwise? I am not sure what you mean by "shed light on the Book of Mormon" I think you mean existing things in the area can be view in light of any book that references the area. The non-LDS have always agreed.

Anonymous said...

I’ve been thinking about this a bit and I think I’ve come up with a parallel that illustrates the shortcomings of Jeff’s “there’s no way Joseph could have done this” argument.

There was once a man named Steve Jobs (not a fan by the way). One day Mr. Jobs decided he was going to make an MP3 player. There were already many players on the market, but he decided he was going to make his own. He worked hard and eventually what he came up with changed the personal electronics industry. One could make the claim that the change was miraculous—it was definitely revolutionary.

Would it be fair to say that the only explanation for what he did was divine intervention? Did Mr Jobs do something new or different? Ultimately he built a version of the MP3 player that was better than what others had done, but it wasn’t extraordinary. It wasn’t something that nobody else could do. He had ideas that nobody else had brought to light and he executed those ideas well. It was exceptional, but not impossible.

I would posit that what Joseph did was similar. What he did was definitely exceptional, but not impossible. To continually make the claim that he couldn’t have done it is disingenuous and myopic. The argument that just because other people weren’t able to do the same thing in their attempts at biblical imitation, therefore Joseph couldn’t have done it, is invalid. Just because others didn’t make the iPod, doesn’t mean Jobs had divine guidance to do it. He had a vision, he took years of preparation to execute it, and he did it in a way that few could have equaled.

Now you may say that he didn’t create the iPod by himself, which is true (many think Joseph had help), but for the sake of the example, let’s pretend he did, and use him as a placeholder for the thousands of other creators who did develop revolutionary technologies all on their own (Nikola Tesla comes to mind). Human creativity and ingenuity should never be discounted. The whole of Joseph’s life and the life of his church, are testaments to his exceptional abilities.

A second, negative thought experiment I think is helpful as well. Let’s suppose I decided to become a copycat serial killer. I was very good, I evaded the police for years, and nearly rivaled the killer I was imitating. When I am finally caught and put before a judge, my defense is “the devil made me do it.” Would the judge immediately order an exorcism then release me? The answer is no because divine (or evil in this case) intervention is never the best explanation for human behavior.

Anonymous said...

Jeff, in responding to Anon, I think you’re missing the significance of the Church’s long-running error about Native American origins.

For generations, the Church taught that Native Americans generally, throughout the hemisphere, were descendants of ancient Israelites. Joseph Smith taught it, Brigham Young taught it, subsequent prophets taught it, and they all taught it, with the full confidence of their (supposed) prophetic authority, as the obvious consequence of the historicity of the Book of Mormon. For generations, the Church committed considerable resources to “Lamanite” outreach. For generations, the Church taught tens of thousands of Native Americans to reject their true identity and heritage in favor of a bogus version cooked up by a 19th-century treasure-hunter.

Then, quite suddenly, in light of new DNA evidence, the Church in effect says “Oops! Sorry, everyone, we goofed! Sorry, all you Native Americans, for leading you to believe a gross falsehood about your core identity! But hey, people make mistakes, even people like us who have a direct conduit to God’s infallible truths. Whoopsies! But despite this one teeny tiny slip, you can still trust us about other stuff, like being gay or drinking coffee.”

Do you have any idea how arrogant and asinine that seems to those outside the bubble?

And please don’t tell me I’m being unfair in my characterization of the Church’s abandonment of its core Lamanitish beliefs. If anything I’m being too mild. Consider, for example, that the Church has never apologized for misleading Native American members about their real heritage. As far as I know it has never even formally acknowledged that its former teachings were wrong.

This issue is not just about the Book of Mormon. It’s about the failed prophetic powers of the leadership, and about the leadership’s failure to acknowledge wrongdoing, demonstrate contrition, seek forgiveness, etc.

— OK

Anonymous said...

The LDS like the Buddhist the blind men and the elephant parable. The LDS believe they are the ones that see the whole elephant and the non-LDS are the blind men that do not.

Interesting how the view of those seeing the whole elephant moves closer to the view of those who only see part.

Anonymous said...

“if there is any merit to the Book of Mormon, there should be a place that at least as of 2600 years ago had a continually flowing river/stream then flowed into the "fountain" of the Red Sea and was in a big impressive valley that provided a place where they could be safe, where they could obviously be alone (what, uninhabited? yes, as it still is today), raise crops, eat, have shelter, and then walk over the river and move on . . .”

All within a 3-day journey of Jerusalem.

Anonymous said...

Jeff agrees, it is probable basic language acquisition explains the Book of Moron use of repetitive resumption, the recently named component of Biblical style. Jeff merely finds it plausible that it wasn't language acquisition because of the Mormons who read the extremely few known KJV imitators with multiple narrators, those Mormons claimed they did not identify the use of repetitive resumption.

I will take probably over plausible.

Anonymous said...

Jeff 6:04 - No follow up to anon 7:20, ok, moving on.