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

Saturday, April 10, 2021

Trying to Take the Shine off Shinehah: Vogel's Response to a Commonly Cited Evidence for Book of Abraham Authenticity

This morning I was reading from what may be the premier work of Latter-day Saint scholarship on the Book of Abraham, the far-ranging magnum opus of Dr. Hugh Nibley with the help of Michael D. Rhodes, One Eternal Round (Provo, UT: Neal A. Maxwell Institute, 2010). On pages 333 to 334, I was reminded that the word "Shinehah," said to be the sun in Abraham 3:13, actually can mean the sun in ancient Egyptian. It's one of the numerous clues in the Book of Abraham that something is going on other than Joseph Smith just making up garbage. Indeed, it's now one of multiple evidences of ancient origins that LDS defenders often refer to in discussing the Book of Abraham. See, for example, "Shinehah, The Sun: Book of Abraham Insight #16," Pearl of Great Price Central, Oct. 23, 2019, https://www.pearlofgreatpricecentral.org/shinehah-the-sun/, and also see the Shinehah entry in the Book of Mormon Onomasticon.

What's especially interesting is that Shinehah was not widely used to mean the sun in ancient Egypt. Use of that term for the sun is only attested during a relatively brief span of about six centuries that overlaps with the likely time that Abraham lived, as John Gee notes in "Fantasy and Reality in the Translation of the Book of Abraham," Interpreter: A Journal of Latter-day Saint Faith and Scholarship 42 (2021): 127-170, published in January this year. Interesting! 

As I read Nibley's observations, I recalled reading about Shinehah several times in Dan Vogel's new book, Book of Abraham Apologetics, criticizing the Book of Abraham and its defenders, but I could not recall how Vogel attempted to refute the main point that Joseph's identification of Shinehah as the sun was plausible in ancient Egypt. Here is where things get quite interesting and even revealing. Vogel has quite a lot to say about Shinehah. He's obviously aware of the importance of this topic. 

A discussion begins on p. 155 (I'm using page numbers from the Kindle edition --  I think the printed book numbers are roughly 21 less, since page 1 in Kindle begins with the preface material, causing chapter 1 to begin on p. 21). Here Vogel claims that Shinehah did not originate with the translation of the Book of Abraham, but as a code name used in the Doctrine and Covenants printing of 1835. He argues that Shinehah came first as a code name and then was added to the Book of Abraham in 1842 when Joseph did the translation of Abraham 3. Here I won't get into the reasons why Abraham 3 was likely translated, at least initially, in 1835, but it's clear that at least some of the Book of Abraham had been translated before the Doctrine and Covenants was printed in 1835. But whether the word Shinehah first appeared as a random code word in the Doctrine and Covenants that would be the same as a word in Abraham 3:13 or was first created for the Book of Abraham and then adopted as a memorable code word for Kirtland, the meat of the argument about Shinehah is that Joseph Smith correctly identified a real Egyptian word as the sun in Abraham 3:13. So how does Vogel deal with that argument? 

Vogel goes on for several pages, arguing that Abraham 3 was not translated until 1842 and that its use of Shinehah may derive from an 1838 revelation that mentions the "the plains of Olaha Shinehah," etc., and argues that Hebrew words in Abraham 3 like Kokaubeam for stars points to an 1842 date of translation, discounting the argument that Joseph's brief 1842 translation work could have included working in Hebrew terms to the existing text, asserting the Hebrew terms in 1842 require Joseph to have done the translation then -- even though the many added foreign code names in the 1835 printing of the Doctrine and Covenants already set a precedent for updating an earlier revelation with added names. 

But through all this talk of Shinehah, a word mentioned 28 times by my count in Vogel's text, and the meandering issues of where it first occurred and when, it was only today when I noticed something astonishing: There is no discussion of why this term is considered evidence for the Book of Abraham or why it matters to Latter-day Saint defenders. It's as if Vogel is just inoculating readers against a commonly cited evidence without creating any awareness of what the evidence is, so that when someone mentions Shinehah, they can shake their heads and repeat the mantra, "That's been totally refuted. Vogel crushed it completely." But unless I'm missing something that escaped my reading and repeated searching, he never says that yes, it can, as a very lucky guess or something, possibly mean "the sun."

Here I was really quite surprised. Here we have an entire book allegedly dealing with LDS apologetics for the Book of Abraham that won't even mention some of the most interesting evidence that the apologists are using, though it tries to indirectly refute the unmentionable evidence without explaining it. It deals with Shinehah in a significant block of text without mentioning why it's important and what argument it supports, and never once cites the foundational works that raise the vital argument. Not only is there no admission that Hugh Nibley and others have pointed out that it is an accurate transliteration of an Egyptian word for the sun, but there is not even a footnote to let readers see what those disreputable Latter-day Saint apologists have said about Shinehah. Indeed, Nibley's One Eternal Round is not even mentioned.

Dan Vogel's book claims to be a fair, dispassionate treatment of the claims of Latter-day Saint apologists that examines all relevant documents. How can this be the case if vital evidence is repeatedly neglected and if arguably the single most important Latter-day Saint work on the Book of Abraham is never even mentioned?

Around and Around Without One Eternal Round?

Often called the father of Latter-day Saint apologists, the extensive writings of the remarkable scholar Hugh Nibley certainly form the foundation for the defense and the understanding of the Book of Abraham and its connections to the ancient world. Nibley had a surprising mastery of many ancient languages and far-ranging knowledge, much of which was brought together in One Eternal Round, which focuses on the facsimiles but naturally deals with much of the content of the Book of Abraham. Some of the greatest insights into the meaning of the various figures and of the epic dramas in the text are brought out as Nibley explores the related ancient myths and rituals. It is a challenging book, to be sure, involving not just ancient mythology and Egyptology but also geometry, astronomy, and a host of other fields. 

This is a book Nibley worked on for years, viewing it as the culminating work of his scholarship. When you see the citation, Hugh Nibley and Michael D. Rhodes, One Eternal Round (Provo, UT: Neal A. Maxwell Institute, 2010), you may be surprised to see that this work was published 5 years after Nibley died in 2005. This work, with many versions of many chapters and large stacks of related notes, was completed and published posthumously with the help of Dr. Michael D. Rhodes, a scholar with the Egyptological and other skills needed to distill and refine the work. He took on the commission from Hugh Nibley on his deathbed to bring his massive, sprawling work to completion, giving us the most updated and arguably the most thorough and most far-ranging of all Nibley's numerous works, and clearly the most important source from Nibley on the Book of Abraham.  It is a book that demands more attention, not just as the foundation for understanding Latter-day Saint apologetics on the Book of Abraham, but for any student of the scriptures who simply wishes to understand the Book of Abraham more deeply. 

Any serious debate over the merits of Latter-day Saint defenses of the Book of Abraham ultimately must revolve around this work (at least for an orbit or two). A work claiming to treat the gamut of Latter-day Saint scholarship defending the Book of Abraham that does not even cite One Eternal Round must utterly lack gravitas. Such is the disappointing case for the apparently polemical magnum opus of a zealous critic of the Book of Abraham and of Latter-day Saint apologetics, Dan Vogel, whose Book of Abraham Apologetics makes the bold statement that no knowledge of Egyptology is needed to refute the body of Latter-day Saint scholarship on the Book of Abraham. Having summarily dismissed the need for the skills and knowledge of Nibley, there is apparently no need to seriously consider the massive core of evidence and perspective from Nibley's uncited magnum opus. Some earlier works of Nibley are cited, but the sweeping vistas of Joseph Smith's views related to the dramas and purposes of Egyptian mythology and Abrahamic lore are given no attention. 

Vogel's treatment of Shinehah reveals that he knows the argument and must know it's important to us, but apparently does not wish to address it or the works that deal with it. Unfortunately, that calls into question the alleged approach being taken. 

Back to Shinehah and the Apparently Early Use in the Doctrine and Covenants

A stronger argument, at least in appearance, than Vogel's treatment of Shinehah can be made against the Book of Abraham being the source of the use of Shinehah in the Doctrine and Covenants. It's a simple as pointing to a document in the Joseph Smith Papers website from Revelation Book 2, specifically the 1833 revelation that is now our Section 96, where we can see a scrap of paper that was attached to Section 96 with the word "Shinehah." So Shinehah had been written down already in 1833, right? That's a visually compelling argument. But not so fast. That slip of paper is not part of the dictated revelation from 1833, but was obviously added later. But when? Here the incomplete information on the JSP website seems to leave readers with the impression that this slip has the same date as the revelation it was pinned to. That would be an inaccurate impression. 

At a time when the Church had much to fear from enemies, there was a perceived need to reduce risk by using code words for some information in multiple sections of the 1835 printing of the Doctrine and Covenants. None of the original revelations have the code names in them. The code names were added s insertions in some places or on separate small scraps of paper pinned to the original or on a full sheet when needed. For  details, see Christopher C. Smith, "The Inspired Fictionalization of the 1835 United Firm Revelations," Claremont Journal of Mormon Studies 1, no. 1 (April 2011): 15–31. Christopher Smith writes:

The changes to Sections 93 and 96, which appear in the handwriting of Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery, could theoretically have been made as early as the spring of 1834, when these men were appointed to a committee to publish the 1835 D&C. This too is unlikely, however, because changes made by Cowdery to Section 86 and by Phelps and Smith to 75 and 98 cannot have been made until Phelps and Revelation Book 1 arrived in Kirtland on May 17, 1835. Probably all five revelations were altered within a few days or weeks of each other.

Not until Phelps's arrival did work on the D&C begin in earnest. The "Six first forms" (48 leaves or 96 pages) of the D&C were printed by May 26, and printing proceeded rapidly until its completion sometime around August 17. The revelations containing code names appear near the end of the printed book, so the changes could theoretically have been made as late as early August. A date in May or June seems more likely, however. Certainly Phelps and Smith seem to have been reading the "Sample of pure Language" on or before May 26, when Phelps copied an expanded "specimen of some of the pure language" into a letter to his wife. The "Sample" immediately preceded Section 75 in Revelation Book 1. The emendations to 75 are in Phelps's handwriting and include the word "Ahman" from the "specimen". Perhaps the idea to substitute fictitious names in these revelations was first conceived in order to address the concerns implied by John Whitmer's scrawled note at the top of the Section 75 manuscript: "Not to be published now." (C. Smith, pp. 18-19.)
So it's possible that the slip of paper pinned to Section 96 mentioning the code word Shinehah was prepared after initial translation efforts for the Book of Abraham had begun and before printing commenced on Aug. 17. It would be in October 1, 1835, per Joseph's journal, when "The system of astronomy was unfolded," which is often taken to mean that either Facs. 2 or Abraham 3 was translated on or near that date. If Abraham 3:13, identifying Shinehah as the sun, was not translated until Oct. 1, I suppose it's still possible that Shinehah as an Egyptian term had been revealed to Joseph in his earlier work with the scrolls. But it's also possible that Abraham 3 was translated before Aug. 17 and the "unfolding" of astronomy refers to translating Facs. 2, or perhaps it could refer to just understanding the import of what had been translated in Abraham 3. 

Whatever the sequence of events, the real bottom line is that against all odds, Abraham 3:13 declares that an unusual word, Shinehah, is the sun, and in fact that's an actual Egyptian word for the sun that applied during a narrow span of about 6 centuries  comprising the likely time of Abraham's life.  Even if Shinehah had been written before the Joseph Smith papyri came to town in early July 1835 and was just a random nonsense word, like a few other code words seem to be, for Joseph to later pick that random word and plausibly state that it meant the sun is still remarkable. 

There's a definite case that this word came from Joseph's early translation work of the Book of Abraham and was then used as a memorable code word in the Doctrine and Covenants, and this adds weight to arguments of John Gee and Kerry Muhlestein that much of our current Book of Abraham had been translated in July 1835, with the Grammar and Alphabet and the Book of Abraham manuscripts with Egyptian characters coming later. But again, even if Shinehah first appeared on a scrap pinned to Section 96 of the Doctrine and Covenants before Joseph got to Abraham 3, the "bull's eye" of Shinehah as the sun needs to be addressed. 

The fuss over where Shinehah first showed up is a sideshow.  How did Joseph correctly give its meaning in Abraham 3:13? Vogel never addresses this important issue in Book of Abraham apologetics, nor does he even cite what may be the most important and comprehensive Latter-day Saint book on the issue of the Book of Abraham that abounds with evidences that are not treated by Vogel. The reason, of course, is that the purpose of Vogel's book is not to consider the most relevant or significant apologetic works nor to treat the best arguments of Book of Abraham defenders, but to present Dan's polemical case against it. He does that very well, but at the cost of not living up to his bold claims early in the book. It's a great work of polemics and one that merits attention, but not a reasonable or fair treatment of Book of Abraham apologetics.

Friday, April 09, 2021

New Scholarship on the Influence of the Small Plates on Mormon's Writings

One of the things that fascinates me in my role as a co-editor for the Interpreter Foundation's journal, Interpreter: A Journal of Latter-day Saint Faith and Scholarship, is seeing how different scholars using different methods and working independently come up with new concepts that fit nicely together. A new article published today illustrates this effect. I refer to Val Larsen's outstanding advance in Book of Mormon scholarship in "Josiah to Zoram to Sherem to Jarom and the Big Little Book of Omni," Interpreter: A Journal of Latter-day Saint Faith and Scholarship 44 (2021): 217-264. There's so much that this article does to help us appreciate the ancient setting of the Book of Mormon, including the conflicts between different religious factions in Jerusalem that may have carried over into the New World. This article is especially interesting when combined with another recent work of scholarship published just a few weeks ago, Clifford P. Jones, "That Which You Have Translated, Which You Have Retained," Interpreter: A Journal of Latter-day Saint Faith and Scholarship 43 (2021): 1-64. 

A key theme in Larsen's article is the clash between Mantic and Sophic views, or the views of Lehi with a living God with a Son, with angels and a divine council, a God who provides ongoing revelation prophets, versus the views of God as a remote, distant Entity who has given statutes and laws for the scribes and scholars to figure out. A clash that was well underway in Jerusalem of 600 B.C. continued throughout the Book of Mormon. 

Larsen frames the situation nicely in his abstract:

The first 450 years of Nephite history are dominated by two main threads: the ethno-political tension between Nephites and Lamanites and religious tension between adherents of rival theologies. These rival Nephite theologies are a Mantic theology that affirms the existence of Christ and a Sophic theology that denies Christ. The origin of both narrative threads lies in the Old World: the first in conflicts between Nephi and Laman, the second in Lehi’s rejection of King Josiah’s theological and political reforms. This article focuses on these interrelated conflicts. It suggests that Zoram, Laman, Lemuel, Sherem, and the Zeniffites were Deuteronomist followers of Josiah. The small plates give an account of how their Deuteronomist theology gradually supplanted the gospel of Christ. As the small plates close, their last author, Amaleki, artfully confronts his readers with a life-defining choice: having read the Book of Mormon thus far, will you remain, metaphorically, with the prophets in Zarahemla and embrace the Restored Gospel of Jesus Christ, or will you return to the land of Nephi and the theology you believed and the life you lived before you read the Book of Mormon?

Val Larsen's article explores some of the literary methods that relate the book of Omni and particularly the words of Amaleki in that book to the rest of the Book of Mormon. There's so much more going on in that small book than I had ever realized. The parallels and other relationships that Larsen explores suggest that Mormon deliberately drew upon small plates material, but this should be unlikely in the standard model that has emerged for the production of the Book of Mormon and especially the writing of the Words of Mormon. 

In that model, after the 116 pages were lost, the translation continued with the book of Mosiah and on until the very end of the large plates, followed by the translation of the added small plates of Nephi and finally the Words of Mormon, which tell us that Mormon has just discovered the small plates and felt inspired to add them for a wise purpose (which we now know was to make up for the loss of the 116 pages), even though it overlapped with what he had already written from the large plates. 

That standard model has the Words of Mormon being just about the last thing Mormon would write, apparently written right after he added the material from the small plates. That would seem to come after the large plates material had been abridged. How, then, can we understand Larsen's well-supported proposal that the book of Omni was influential in Mormon's writings? You can say it was just because Joseph made it all up himself, so everything should be related, but as always, the artfulness of the relationships seems beyond what one would expect from Joseph Smith just making things up on the fly.

Clifford Jones' essay provides background that fits in perfectly with Larsen's work. Clifford does some remarkable sleuthing and concludes that we've been looking at the Words of Mormon in the wrong way for many years now. He provides strong evidence that what we call the Words of Mormon was actually an editorial insertion by Mormon in what originally was part of the book of Mosiah. It was in reading about the transfer of the small plates from Amaleki to King Benjamin that Mormon was motivated to search and find the small plates record, and that is when he was inspired to not only add it at the end of his compilation, but to draw upon its teachings in the rest of what he would write. 

Jones provides annotation and emphasis for Words of Mormon 1:6, where Mormon writes, "I choose these things [these prophecies recorded on the small plates] to finish my record [the balance of my abridgment] upon them [making these prophecies the subject or theme of the rest of my record — it will be about them], which remainder of my record [the balance of my abridgment] I shall take from the plates of Nephi [the large-plate record]." There Jones notes that The Oxford English Dictionary lists one sense of upon as “Denoting the subject of speech or writing.” So it seems that Mormon is indicating that he is so impressed with the content of the small plates that he will finish his record drawing upon them for influence or guidance as he completes the abridgement of the large plates. In other words, the Words of Mormon are actually the earliest text from Mormon in the Book of Mormon, and they signal his deliberate intent to draw upon the small plates in the rest of his work. Some of the evidence for such influence is brought out in Larsen's analysis. 

It is amazing how much work was required to bring out a clearer understanding of these intricate details, beginning with the life's work of Royal Skousen in poring over the details of what survived from the Original Manuscript of the Book of Mormon and the Printer's Manuscript to help us understand what was dictated, followed by the Joseph Smith Paper's project which has made those documents more readily available to scholars, which played an important role in Clifford Jones's discoveries. Drawing upon that scholarship, others have now sought to develop an understanding of what happened when in the translation of the plates, and then Val Larsen built on that as did Clifford Jones with painstaking evaluation of many clues from diverse sources to give new hypotheses which shook up old ways of thinking. What we are left with is a stronger vision of how intricate, consistent, and carefully crafted the Book of Mormon is, and how closely related it is to the impact of Josiah's reforms and other sources of religious conflict in pre-exilic Israel. The combined effect of Larsen's and Jones' works is an abundance of new evidences for the divinity and antiquity of the Book of Mormon. 

A Choice to Make: Do We Read the Book of Mormon through a Sophic or Mantic Lens?

Larsen wraps up his article by pointing out that the dichotomy of religious views in Nephite culture, the Sophic vs. the Mantic, is what we also face today. With a Sophic faith to inform us, we can read the Book of Mormon as the work of a lone man, Joseph Smith, whose personal views, environment, and vocabulary stand as the source of parallels, allusions, and intertextuality in the Book of Mormon. We can choose to see its prophecies and sermons as sloppy injections of modern views into an allegedly old record, its language as Joseph crude dialect and awkward grammar warped into a KJV twang, giving little more than simplistic axioms from Joseph's imagined anthropomorphic God in the form of pious fiction. That may be how many of the Nephites viewed the teachings and writings of the prophets of their day. 

Larsen's beautiful concluding words remind us that there is another way to view things:

But if, having read the small plates, we exercise Mantic faith, we will live in a world suffused with the presence and power of God, where to restore lost truths the corporeal Father and Son appear in pillars of fire to prophets, ancient and modern. Elohim will be for us behind the temple veil in the most holy place. Yahweh will be for us an unblemished lamb, sacrificed for our sins upon the altar of the temple, and he will be the atoning Christ suffering for us in the Garden of Gethsemane and on the cross. We will have a Mother as well as a Father in Heaven. We will see richness in the relationships between Book of Mormon authors, Amaleki being a close reader of Nephi and Jacob, Mormon and Moroni close readers of Amaleki. We will adhere to a living faith, animated by manifest gifts of the Spirit and guided by prophets who still walk among us.

While the small plates, as they close, imply that we get to choose which of the two lands we will live in, Sophic Nephi or Mantic Zarahemla, Amaleki makes it clear that we do not fully determine what we encounter in those metaphorical lands. And the outcomes he briefly describes are much more fully revealed by Mormon in the Book of Mosiah. The land of Nephi becomes the debauched, sensual kingdom of King Noah. The temple in the land of Zarahemla becomes the holy place where inhabitants of the land are reborn as purified sons and daughters of Christ through the valedictory ministrations of their prophet king, Benjamin. Decide, Amaleki implicitly tells us, where you want to live.



Thursday, April 08, 2021

Nutrition and COVID: We Need More Science to Follow

While there has been a lot of good news for the country in recent weeks, with millions now vaccinated, with COVID rates plummeting, and with some states now opening now without the constantly foretold doom that should have befallen them, it's still a disease that should motivate us to be cautious. I say this as a relative just flew to Brazil to be there for his 44-year-old brother who is now hospitalized with serious case of COVID. He seemed so healthy a short while ago, and how he's in grave danger. 

We still need more science to follow. Not just science on the best vaccines or best way to deal with hospitalized patients, or the "political science" used to justify the endless whims of politicians, but science on how individuals can reduce their risk of having serious damage from the disease. Early last year I put in a tentative plug for nutrition and nutriceuticals as a possible safe way to reduce risks (see "Coping with the Corona Virus: A New Report on Glucosamine and Other Nutriceuticals, and an Update on Masks," April 7, 2020, and "Requesting Review from Medical Experts: Can Glucosamine Help Reduce COVID-19 Mortality?," Feb. 28, 2020). There I pointed to studies indicating that some materials commonly taken as nutritional supplements or nutriceuticals may be helpful in reducing death from pulmonary disease and thus might be wise to consider in our own preparations against COVID. Those suggestions included N-acetyl cysteine, glucosamine, zinc, and Vitamin D. I was chastised for thinking that nutriceuticals played a role in infectious disease and for offering advice that was not taken from WHO or the infallible Dr. Fauci, etc., all of which is fair. But at some point, I hope people can share hypotheses without being silenced or shamed. My hypotheses were based on multiple peer-reviewed studies that seemed that they ought to be considered. I believe that I even explained that these suggestions were hypotheses in search of further expert review.

Today I noticed a 2020 publication raising some related thoughts about N-acetyl cysteine that you may wish to consider: Stelios F. Assimakopoulos and Markos Marangos, "N-acetyl-cysteine may prevent COVID-19-associated cytokine storm and acute respiratory distress syndrome," Medical Hypotheses 140 (July 2020): 109778, doi: 10.1016/j.mehy.2020.109778. As with my posts, the authors are obviously only proposing a hypothesis, but it is based on logical inferences from significant peer-reviewed literature, and calling for more attention to be given to this generally safe nutriceutical. The proposed dose is simply what is normally consumed according to the label on this increasingly popular antioxidant. Before we shame these medical professionals for not keeping their mouths shut, I think there may be merit in their arguments that could be considered and pursued at low risk.

As disclaimer, I should first point out that I'm quite fond of this material, N-acetyl cysteine, found naturally in garlic and onions and a derivative of one of our essential amino acids,  even though I don't take it regularly. I'm fond of it because of its surprising role in my past and ongoing research work related to consumer products. In the fall of 2019, while on vacation in Malaysia aimed at going diving in Borneo, I became ill right as I got off the airplane in Kuala Lumpur. It wasn't the usual upper respiratory infection I used to get occasionally from a cold. It seemed pretty severe and I thought my only choice was to cancel the diving that was scheduled for 4 days later and head home to Shanghai. But the next morning I decided to not travel back to China and wreck the vacation for my wife, but to do what I could to cope, though it seemed clear I would not be diving that week. So the next morning, too ill to go to church in K.L. as we had planned, I went instead to a nearby Malaysian pharmacy to find something that might help. That was the first time I can recall seeing N-acetyl cysteine. It was in a little single dose packet that pretty much just had the name of the compound. Something about the name intrigued me. The package didn't say what it was for, but on a whim, I bought some. 

When I staggered back to my hotel room, I looked it up on the Web and found that it was used as a treatment for cystic fibrosis because of its ability in reducing the viscosity of mucous in the lungs. This made it effective in fighting the pulmonary biofilm in the lungs of cystic fibrosis patients. That got my interest up because I had recently developed a hypothesis that biofilm in clothing might be the cause for the persistent odor that athletic gear frequently develops over time, in which odor seems to persist or can quickly return after washing, unlike the original fresh clothing. How such biofilm could withstand repeated washing and drying in heated dryers seemed like a mystery at the time, but now that I had a natural, even edible material that was known for fighting biofilm in the lungs, I wondered if it could help reduce my hypothesized biofilm in clothing. 

My wife and I had some old athletic gear with us and were able to conduct some initial testing during our week in Malaysia with the help of some great gym equipment a few days later. I combined N-acetyl cysteine with some enzymatic laundry cleaning agents and after washing, tested the odor development after vigorous exercise. I found, to our surprise, that odor seemed to develop much less after an armpit had been treated with the N-acetyl cysteine plus a laundry cleaner versus the laundry cleaner alone. This lead to several patent applications (most recently United States Patent Application 20210032570, with another one to publish soon) and a variety of intriguing discoveries about N-acetyl cysteine, including an apparent discovery and new product opportunity in a cosmetic product trial I did this morning. I can't talk about how these may be used in the future, but it's been a surprisingly exciting journey since that dismal first day in Malaysia. By the way, four days after taking my first dose of N-acetyl cysteine, my congested lungs were clear and, to my surprise, I was able to go diving, though I was still nervous about it. But I survived and really enjoyed it. It was a wonderful trip overall, one of the best trips of my life. I came away loving Malaysia, loving K.L., loving Borneo and its diverse peoples, and would be happy to return. But I am especially grateful for the important conception of several inventions that occurred in Malaysia, thanks to the unexpected encounter with a compound I don't think I had ever seen before. 

So let's get back to the article from Assimakopoulos and Marangos. Here's what they say:

Accumulating evidence suggests that a subgroup of patients with severe COVID-19 might have a cytokine storm syndrome associated with acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS), multiple organ failure and increased mortality. This syndrome is characterised by increased interleukin (IL)-2, IL-7, granulocyte colony stimulating factor, interferon-γ inducible protein 10, monocyte chemoattractant protein 1, macrophage inflammatory protein 1-α, and tumour necrosis factor (TNF)-α .

N-Acetylcysteine (NAC), a well-known mucolytic agent used in respiratory infections, is a thiol-containing free-radical scavenger and a precursor of glutathione . Reactive oxygen species and oxidative stress activate important redox-sensitive transcription factors like NF-κB and activator protein-1, which lead to the co-ordinate expression of proinflammatory genes of IL-6, IL-8, and TNF-α .

The beneficial action of 1200 mg/d of oral NAC in respiratory diseases has been previously demonstrated in prevention of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease exacerbations . Moreover, a recent study including patients with community-acquired pneumonia, showed that the addition of this dose of NAC to conventional treatment improves oxidative stress and inflammatory response . The positive effects of NAC in viral lower respiratory tract infections have been associated with inhibition of IL-8, IL-6, and TNF-α expression and release in alveolar type II cells infected with influenza virus A and B and respiratory syncytial virus .

The results of these studies offer reasonable basis for the addition of 1200 mg/d oral NAC on therapeutic schemes of patients with COVID-19, as a measure that could potentially prevent the development of the cytokine storm syndrome and ARDS. This hypothesis is worth clarifying in appropriately designed clinical studies.

That makes a lot of sense. Enough sense that I think it's also reasonable for people to consider having some of this edible antioxidant in their homes and using it in low, recommended doses after exposure to COVID has occurred or the infection has begun. I'd also recommend zinc, glucosamine (for glucoasamine, the proposed benefit may require being on it for a while before infection strikes, but I'm not sure), and Vitamin D3, all safe, natural materials that can be consumed in low, recommended amounts with very little risk. Yes, I know it's heresy to suggest that nutrition might matter, but it's a heresy that I think needs more attention in science to give us better information to follow. 

Why don't I take N-acetyl cysteine regularly? It's a powerful antioxidant, but oxidants aren't all bad and antioxidants don't only do good. In fact, our immune system uses oxidants as part of its arsenal, and they may be useful in attacking cancer cells. There's a balance that is needed. So tanking up on antioxidants all the time might not be wise, though I make sure to get plenty of antioxidant-rich fruits and veggies in my diet. A good perspective on possible risks with steady N-acetyl cysteine intake is offered by Derek Lowe in "N-Acetyl Cysteine: A Warning Shot," Science Translational Medicine Blog, Oct. 4, 2019. 

I'm not a doctor or much of anything else, so use your brain, check things out yourself, and make your own decisions wisely. If that's not convenient, you can always just do whatever politicians and their experts tell you to do. But remember, as the famed scientist Richard Feynman said, "“Science is the belief in the ignorance of experts." That's actually a reasonable though maybe overly iconoclastic expression of what the scientific method is all about: healthy skepticism and a recognition that our past conclusions may be wrong.  Now get out there and follow the science -- which most certainly does not mean to just blindly follow whoever is trotted out by some politician as the expert of the day to tell us, for example, that schools are dangerous and can't be open while they send their kids to in-person classes at private schools, or who tell us that eating out and meeting with friends is deadly while they dine with their friends in five-star restaurants. Always because of science! 

P.S. -- While making dangerously irresponsible hypotheses, here's one more to consider. If the benefit of N-acetyl cysteine in reducing the impact of the cytokine storm that COVID can cause is due to its antioxidant effect, perhaps the underlying oxidative stress (higher level of oxidizing compounds) from obesity is one of the reasons why those who are obese seem to be at such high risk of harm due to COVID. Haven't done much review of the literature here, but I'd appreciate feedback on that hypothesis. Here's one study suggesting the impact of obesity on COVID outcomes may be connected with oxidative stress. Here's another one showing that oxidative stress is also present in obese children (so this effect alone of course doesn't explain why children tend to have so little risk of harm from COVID).