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

Sunday, February 28, 2021

A Gift from Biblical Reproductions: Alma the Son of Judah on a Bar Kochba Letter

There's an interesting business, Biblical Reproductions, selling authorized reproductions of artifacts and documents related to the Bible. One of the products is a reproduction of 5/6Hev 44 Bar Kokhba, a deed found in the Bar Kochba letters from ancient Israel dating to around 150 A.D. When published, this little document turned a long-standing weakness in the Book of Mormon into a strength. Critics had long mocked Joseph's foolishness in assigning a female name to an ancient Hebraic man, Alma. With this document, though, we read of "Alma son of Judah." What was once a "howler" suddenly became evidence in favor of the antiquity and plausibility of the Book of Mormon. 

Here's the description of this letter from BiblicalReproductions.com. I suspect the final paragraph may  have been written to attract LDS buyers, but what it says is nonetheless completely accurate and good to know.

Description

The Bar Kokhba Letter (5/6Hev 44 Bar Kokhba) was found amongst other manuscripts in the Cave of Letters in the Nahal Hever. This particular papyrus contains the details of the division of the land lot that was leased from Simeon Bar Kosiba (Bar Kokhba). This letter dates back to middle of the second century C.E. and was written in Mishnaic Hebrew.

Of their own free will, on this day, have Eleazar son of Eleazar son of Hitta and Eliezer son of Samuel, both of En-gedi, and Te?innah son of Simeon and Alma son of Judah both of ha-Luhith in the (coastal) district of Agaltain, now resident in En-gedi, wished to divide up among themselves the places that they have leased from Jonathan son of MHNYM the administrator of Simeon ben Kosiba, Prince of Israel, at En-gedi.

One of the men mentioned in this historical record is Alma son of Judah. This certainly provides the evidence that the name Alma was used as a male name and not exclusively as female, as it was earlier assumed. [emphasis added]

A hat tip to a video for Saints Unscripted, where the Biblical Reproductions website is flashed for a few seconds while discussing some of Joseph's many "lucky guesses" that were supported by later discoveries. 

Friday, February 12, 2021

Why Does the Book of Mormon Say the Nephites "Had Come Down to Believe in Their [the Gaddianton Robbers'] Works"?

No, I'm not saying anything in this post about secret combinations and how to identify them, but rather pointing out a minor detail that is part of a massive pattern in the Book of Mormon. 

Helaman 6:37-38 contains a description apparently written or at least edited by Mormon about the success of the conspiratorial, murderous, wealth-seeking "model citizens" and influencers in Nephite society, those aligned with the successful business model of the Gaddianton robbers. 

And it came to pass that the Lamanites did hunt the band of robbers of Gaddianton. And they did preach the word of God among the more wicked part of them, insomuch that this band of robbers was utterly destroyed from among the Lamanites. And it came to pass, on the other hand, that the Nephites did build them up and support them, beginning at the more wicked part of them, until they had overspread all the land of the Nephites and had seduced the more part of the righteous until they had come down to believe in their works and partake of their spoils and to join with them in their secret murders and combinations. (Helaman 6:37–38)

Curiously, the acceptance of these trendy connivers by the Nephites is described as "coming down," a term that strikes me as odd in English for this sentence.  Should it just be "had begun to believe"? Matthew L. Bowen helps us see the potential significance of this language in terms of what may be happening in the Hebrew, where "coming down" in its various forms can be a reference to the Jaredite people and their failure do to being dominated by secret societies. In his latest article,  "Coming Down and Bringing Down: Pejorative Onomastic Allusions to the Jaredites in Helaman 6:25, 6:38, and Ether 2:11," Interpreter: A Journal of Latter-day Saint Faith and Scholarship 42 (2021): 397-410, he notes that the likely Hebrew for in this passage for "had come down" is yārĕ or yordû, very similar to the Hebrew for "Jared." This follows a warning in Helaman 6:25 against sharing details of the secret oaths had among the Jaredites “lest they should be a means of bringing down [cf. lĕhôrîd] the people unto destruction.” In fact, there are three cases of  apparent wordplays in the Book of Mormon casting a negative light on the Jaredites and their descent due to secret combinations. Bowen writes:

All three of these onomastic allusions constitute an urgent and timely warning to latter-day Gentiles living upon the land of promise. They warn the Gentiles against “coming down” to believe in and partake of the works and spoils of secret combinations like the Jaredites and the Nephites did, and thus “bringing down” their own people to destruction and “bringing down” the “fullness of the wrath of God” upon themselves, as the Jaredites and the Nephites both did.

Bowen cites Brant Gardner's insightful view on how Mormon viewed the Jaredites, blaming the greatest problems of the Nephites on the Jaredites, as if their secret societies were an ancient infection that had spread among the Nephites. It makes sense, then, that Mormon would strengthen his case against the Jaredites with pejorative wordplays pointing to the danger that had come from their influence. We shold note that while two major Jaredite armies wiped each other out, there is evidence in the Book of Mormon that Jaredite influence remained in the land, as we see Jaredite names persisting among the Nephites, generally associated with rebels and wicked people. (Some of these names are listed in the Book of Mormon Onomasticon at https://onoma.lib.byu.edu/index.php/Reuse_of_Jaredite_Names_Among_the_Mulekites,_Lamanites_and_Nephites.)

All of this is a reminder that the Book of Mormon often has much more going on than meets the eye. There are allusions, wordplays, unusual phrases rich in meaning, and details that become more meaningful when viewed with the perspective of antiquity. This use of wordplays around the name ared are a very small but interesting aspect of this broad pattern in the Book of Mormon.