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

Sunday, April 17, 2022

What Day Was Christ Crucified? Dr. Jeffrey Chadwick Argues That the Book of Mormon Provides Valuable Information

An archaeologist and professor at BYU, Dr. Jeffrey R. Chadwick, published an article in  that provides a great example of how the Book of Mormon can help us better understand the Bible: "Dating the Death of Jesus Christ," BYU Studies 54, no. 4 (2015): 135-91 (PDF also at BookofMormonCentral.org). In this case, he takes up the debate on which day Christ was crucified. The standard answer we've grown up with, one that is also favored by many scholars, is that Christ was crucified on Friday. But there are also a fair number of scholars who argue for Thursday, and even some who think it was Wednesday. The New Testament record does not make it crystal clear and leaves plenty of room for debate. A key challenge is that the record does not make year of either Christ's crucifixion nor His birth absolutely clear. The year of the Crucifixion is important because that affects the day of the week for the Passover, a key element in the chronology of events around the death and resurrection of Christ. Several years before taking up the debate on the day of Crucifixion, Chadwick had published a highly acclaimed article on the birth of Christ providing clear evidence for a 5 B.C. date. See Dating the Birth of Jesus Christ,” BYU Studies 49, no. 4 (2010): 5–38. 

Building on the 5 B.C. most likely date of Christ's birth, Chadwick shows that a Crucifixion date of 30 A.D. is the most plausible choice, which is also the most common preference of scholars, with 33 A.D. being the second most popular choice. Part of the reason for this is information from the Book of Mormon indicating that Christ lived 33 full years. The Book of Mormon account helps rule out 33 A.D.:

Knowing from the Book of Mormon that Jesus lived thirty-three full years, but not thirty-four years or longer,48 rules out AD 33 as a possible year for Jesus’s death and indeed rules out any year later than AD 30. This is a matter of simple addition. Here is why. It is a historical fact that the death of Herod the Great occurred in April of 4 BC but the birth of Jesus occurred prior to Herod’s death (see Matt. 2:1–20). And as demonstrated in the earlier study, Jesus’s birth cannot have occurred later than eight weeks prior to Herod’s death, meaning that the latest date Jesus can have been born was very early February of 4 BC (although I suggest it was even several weeks earlier, in December of 5 BC).49 Calculating forward to a Passover that fell thirty-three full years after the absolute latest birth date possibility of early 4 BC yields a result of AD 30 as the latest possible year that Jesus can have died. (In counting this, remember that there was no “year zero”—there was only one year from 1 BC to AD 1). Thus, AD 31, AD 32, and AD 33 are all ruled out as years when Jesus can have died. They were too late to accommodate the life span reported in the Book of Mormon. Of the two candidates to which Raymond Brown [a famous biblical scholar who had explored the issue in detail and concluded the Crucifixion had to be in either 30 or 33 A.D.] had narrowed his preferences, the New Testament and the Book of Mormon combine to demonstrate that only AD 30 is a possibility for Jesus’s death.

Then he examines how the details given in the New Testament regarding the day of the week for the Crucifixion. This is quite challenging, for many scholars believe the New Testament provides contradictory accounts, pointing to either the 14th or 15th of the month Nisan for the Crucifixion. 

Chadwick digs into these details and departs from the traditional view of a Friday Crucifixion:

A small number of New Testament scholars have suggested that the crucifixion took place on a Thursday (Brown refers to them as “a few dissenters”),95 but the overwhelming majority of New Testament commentators are strongly committed to the model of Byzantine origin—the traditional Good Friday—as the day of crucifixion, perhaps more so than to any other aspect of the accounts of Jesus’s passion. Two issues, embedded within the texts of the four Gospels, are key to identifying the weekday of Jesus’s death: (1) statements about the length of time from the execution to the resurrection, and (2) statements about the crucifixion having occurred on a preparation day prior to a Sabbath. We will examine these in order.

There are twelve passages in the four Gospels that refer to the length of time between Jesus’s death and resurrection. These are displayed in figure 9. Eleven of these statements are predictions made by Jesus well prior to his execution. Only one, the statement made by Cleopas96 in Luke 24, is a direct report of the time that actually passed between the crucifixion and the Sunday of Jesus’s rising. This statement is the single most important piece of evidence in identifying the day on which Jesus died, since it was originally expressed only after, and directly after, both the crucifixion and the resurrection had occurred. Speaking on Sunday afternoon and having explained how Jesus was executed, Cleopas reported that “today is the third day since these things were done” (Luke 24:21). The King James Version translation of this passage very accurately represents the tense and timing of the Greek original. And the timing is clear: Sunday being the third day since the crucifixion, Saturday would have been the second day since the crucifixion, and Friday would have been the first day since the crucifixion, meaning that Cleopas was referring to the execution as having occurred on Thursday.

An important part of the argument is that the Last Supper would have been on a Tuesday night, the Passover dinner for the Essene community, who always had the Passover on a Wednesday, independent of the phase of the moon. This provides plenty of time on Wednesday for the events between the Last Supper and the Crucifixion, solving many of the problems of the traditional Friday model.

Chadwick notes that the Book of Mormon provides additional evidence confirming the Thursday date:

In addition to the evidence already examined from the Book of Mormon about the length of Jesus’s life and the year of his death, some very specific details are presented in the book of 3 Nephi that relate to the actual day of the week on which he died. The terrible storm described in 3 Nephi 8 is universally understood to have occurred during a three-hour period when Jesus was hanging on the cross outside the wall of Jerusalem, with the end of the storm coinciding with the time of his death. Centuries earlier, Nephi had specifically prophesied that three days of darkness would be “a sign [that should be] given of his death” (1 Ne. 19:10). Samuel the Lamanite foretold three important timing factors concerning Jesus’s death. The first was that a storm (“thunderings and lightnings”) would occur “at the time that he shall yield up the ghost” (Hel. 14:21). The second was that three days of darkness would be a sign of Jesus’s death and, specifically, that the onset of darkness would occur on the day Jesus would die: “In that day that he shall suffer death the sun shall darkened” (Hel. 14:20). The third factor was that the darkness would end at Jesus’s resurrection, lasting “for the space of three days, to the time that he shall rise again from the dead” (Hel. 14:20). The actual occurrence of the storm is reported in 3 Nephi 8:5–19, with the three-hour duration of that storm specified in verse 19. That same verse notes the commencement of the darkness, which is then described as having lasted for three days (3 Ne. 8:23; 10:9). That Jesus had died at the time of the storm seems confirmed by the account of his voice being heard from the heavens, during the period of darkness, by Nephite survivors (3 Ne. 9:1–10:9, esp. 9:15 and 10:3–9).

An eight-hour time difference exists between Jerusalem and the central time zone of the Americas. This means, for example, that an event that occurs in Jerusalem at 3:00 pm is timed as occurring at 7:00 am that same day in the American central time zone. The New Testament Gospels place Jesus’s death around the “ninth hour” (Matt. 27:46, Mark 15:34, Luke 23:44), which would be roughly around 3:00 pm in Jerusalem. This means that his death occurred around 7:00 am in what today is known as the American central time zone (which covers the entirety of Mesoamerica, the likely venue of the Book of Mormon narrative, as well as the largest part of Mexico and the central United States). The onset of the Book of Mormon’s three days of darkness may therefore be estimated around 7:00 am on the first day of that darkness, the day of the crucifixion, with the three-hour storm having commenced around 4:00 am, two hours prior to sunrise (which occurs close to 6:00 am around the beginning of April).

Two facts become obvious from the above information. The first is that three days of darkness cannot be reconciled with a Friday crucifixion model—darkness in America would have occurred only on Friday and on Saturday prior to Jesus’s resurrection, which would have occurred prior to midnight on Saturday night, American central time.111 No darkness could have still been present in America during the day on Sunday (see fig. 11 [in Chadwick's paper]). The second obvious fact is that a Thursday crucifixion model exactly fits the timing necessary for three days of darkness to have occurred in America prior to Jesus’s resurrection (see fig. 12 below). The evidence is clear that Jesus passed away on Thursday around 7:00 am American central time, that the first day of darkness in America was Thursday, and that the second and third days of darkness were Friday and Saturday. Jesus’s resurrection occurred prior to sunrise in Jerusalem on Sunday, which was well prior to midnight Saturday night in the American central time zone. At sunrise on Sunday in America, normal daylight once again appeared, serving as the sign that Jesus had risen more than eight hours earlier in Jerusalem.

Interestingly, Chadwick argues that the Book of Mormon also may contain a scribal error in reporting the date of the great storm. Mormon reports in 3 Nephi 8:5 that it began in "the first month, on the fourth day of the month." But "in Jewish reckoning, as demonstrated earlier, Jesus’s death occurred on the 14th day of the biblical first month." Chadwick cautiously but reasonably explains his speculative proposal:

The second factor (my supposition) is that a dating error existed in the plates of Nephi from which Mormon was drawing data when composing his own narrative in the book of 3 Nephi. Mormon lived centuries after the events of 3 Nephi and had no personal experience with the Law of Moses or its systemic lunar-solar calendar. In a disclaimer quite unique in his account, Mormon admitted the possibility of a calendar error for the events of 3 Nephi 8. In dating the storm to the “fourth day of the month,” he also said, “if there was no mistake made by this man in the reckoning of our time” (3 Ne. 8:2–5). Mormon was careful not to condemn the ancient record keeper, pointing out that he had been a very righteous man (3 Ne. 8:1). But that Mormon would insert his “if there was no mistake made” caveat at this very point in his text suggests, to me at least, that he indeed suspected a calendar error.112 In my opinion, such an error did exist—it was in the plates of Nephi, and it was a ten-day error in which the 14th day of the first month was mistakenly written down as the fourth day of the month.113 If this supposition is correct (and I emphasize again that it is my own theory and not to be demanded), the actual Nephite Law of Moses date on which Jesus died would have been the 14th day of the first month, which would be the same as the 14th of Nisan in the Judean calendar, in the year we know as AD 30.

I find that observation to be reasonable. It's quite interesting that Mormon raises the possibility of error in the record at this point. 

Chadwick observes that the consensus on Friday as the day of the Crucifixion represents "a curious failure" among scholars:

The notion that Jesus died on a Friday preparation for a Saturday Sabbath is incompatible with the report of Cleopas in Luke 24, where it is clear that Jesus was executed on a Thursday. In my opinion, John was aware of this potential disconnect and purposefully crafted his own report in John 19 to clarify the story presented in the synoptic Gospels, in an attempt to assure that later readers would understand Jesus had not died on a Friday preparation day prior to a Saturday Sabbath, as might be inferred from the imprecise references in the synoptics, but on a Thursday Passover preparation day prior to a Friday Passover that was also a Yom Tov festival Sabbath. That gentile Christians in subsequent centuries failed to appreciate how megalē hē hēmera (“an high day”) meant a Yom Tov festival Sabbath and also failed to consider John’s reference to the “preparation of the Passover” (John 19:14) in its correct context is a curious failure of religious history, probably due to the general gentile unfamiliarity with Jewish terminology.

John’s careful clarification of the preparation day for the Yom Tov (“high day”) Passover festival Sabbath as the day of Jesus’s death, rather than a preparation day for a Saturday Sabbath, paired with the specific report of Luke and Cleopas that the Sunday of the resurrection was the third day since Jesus had been executed, and added to the very specific prophecy of Jesus that he would be in the grave for three days and three nights as well, all combine to point to Thursday as the day of his crucifixion, the vague and less-specific references to “sabbath” in the synoptic Gospels notwithstanding. When all the evidence from both the New Testament and the sources that describe Jewish practice in the first century are considered, that Jesus was crucified on a Thursday is a clear and logical conclusion. [emphasis mine]

Chadwick's conclusion reminds readers that there is a strong argument for Thursday that does not require faith in the Book of Mormon:

The numerous avenues of inquiry explored in this study together demonstrate that Jesus died on Thursday, April 6 (Julian), AD 30, which was the 14th day of Nisan in the Judean calendar, the day of the preparation of Passover. The evidences from the New Testament, the Book of Mormon, the Mishnah, and from historical, archaeological, and astronomical studies all combine to endorse this dating beyond any reasonable doubt. Jesus died at the location known popularly as Golgotha, outside the northern wall of Jerusalem, and his body was laid, late that Thursday afternoon, in a rock-hewn tomb located in an olive garden, probably just east of the crucifixion site.114

To readers of this study who may not be Latter-day Saints—those of other faiths and backgrounds, Christian and otherwise, who may hesitate to give credence to evidence from the Book of Mormon—I would suggest that the issues presented in this study from the New Testament, the Mishnah, and the historical and astronomical studies alone are more than enough to definitively demonstrate the dating of Jesus’s death to the year AD 30, to the 14th of Nisan on April 6, and to the Passover preparation on a Thursday. It is my hope that New Testament scholarship in general will take note of this evidence. That said, as a Latter-day Saint, I am not only duty-bound but personally grateful to accept and present data from the Book of Mormon, the genuine historical reliability of which I am both spiritually and materially convinced, to corroborate the evidence of the New Testament and the other avenues explored. To all this I add my additional conviction that three days later, prior to dawn on Sunday morning, the 17th of Nisan, April 9 (Julian), AD 30, that same Jesus rose from the dead, walked away from that garden and tomb, and was seen by witnesses to whom this study has referred.115

The Book of Mormon is a remarkable witness for the reality of Jesus Christ and of His divine role as our Savior and Redeemer, with eyewitness accounts of His glorious, tangible resurrected body. It also bear witness of the Crucifixion and the infinite Atonement of the Lord. This Easter, let's ponder the profound contribution to our knowledge of the risen Lamb of God as we celebrate the Resurrection. 


Update, 4/28/2022: James Tabor, professor of Christian origins and ancient Judaism and Chair of the Department of Religious Studies at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, just published an article explaining why the Crucifixion had to be on Wednesday. See James Tabor, "The Last Days of Jesus: A Final 'Messianic' Meal," Bible History Daily, Biblical Archaeological Society, April 17, 2022. One subtle point he makes is the significance of the plural "Sabbaths" used in the original Greek of Matthew 28:1:

The confusion arose because all the gospels say that there was a rush to get his body off the cross and buried before sundown because the “Sabbath” was near. Everyone assumed the reference to the Sabbath had to be Saturday—so the crucifixion must have been on a Friday. However, as Jews know, the day of Passover itself is also a “Sabbath” or rest day—no matter what weekday it falls on. In the year a.d. 30, Friday the 15th of the Nisan was also a Sabbath—so two Sabbaths occurred back to back—Friday and Saturday. Matthew seems to know this as he says that the women who visited Jesus’ tomb came early Sunday morning “after the Sabbaths”—the original Greek is plural (Matthew 28:1).

He overlooks an important argument made by Chadwick that the Last Supper could have been on a Passover dinner after all, but for the Essene community, if held on Tuesday night. This gives adequate time for the events that followed.

Friday, April 15, 2022

What to Make of "Plagiarism" of the Bible in a Purportedly Ancient Text? A Jewish Scholar Offers a Thoughtful Perspective

The Book of Mormon's frequent "plagiarism" of passages from the Bible is one of the most common criticisms raised against it's authenticity and antiquity. It's actually not very much like the way plagiarism is done in modern times, when an author uses someone else's words as if they were the author's creation. The Book of Mormon usually explicitly indicates that Isaiah or some other writer is about to be cited, or when, for example, Christ repeats the Beatitudes for His New World audience, it is clear what is being done: Christ is the author of those words, not Joseph Smith, with King James language used in the translation not as plagiarism but as appropriate language for a sacred text. 

Citation of well known works with attribution is not plagiarism. But there are other times when passages from Isaiah or others are used without explicit acknowledgement. As John Tvedtnes noted in "Was Joseph Smith Guilty of Plagiarism?," FARMS Review 22, no. 1 (2010): 261–75, "following the insertion of chapters 2–14 of Isaiah into his own book (2 Nephi 12–24), Nephi gave his own prophecy (in 2 Nephi 27) in which he cited snippets of Isaiah’s writings and even a paraphrase of Isaiah 29." Such plagiarism of the Bible is highly contrary to our modern sensibilities. Shame on Nephi or Joseph Smith, depending on your views on authorship. 

Our modern views, though, may not be appropriate in assessing plagiarism in a potentially ancient text. In a recent post,  "The Words of Gad the Seer: Thoughts on a 'Lost Book' Preserved by the Jews at Cochin, India," I discussed an apparently ancient Hebrew work, only recently translated and published, The Words of Gad the Seer. Professor Meir Bar-Ilan, a Jewish scholar at Meir Bar-Ilan University in Israel (named after his famous grandfather) and an expert in pseudepigrapha (the class of ancient works, often in Hebrew, often dating from 300 BC to 300 AD and generally falsely ascribed to more ancient, prominent figures) has done a great deal of work on this text. He critiques claims that the book is relatively modern (dating to the medieval era) and instead argues for its antiquity in "The Date of The Words of Gad the Seer," Journal of Biblical Literature 109,  no. 3 (1990): 477-493 (also available at Jstor.org). He estimates its origins to be in late antiquity, in the first centuries of the Christian era, though it could still be older than that, as I argue in my prior post.

His peer-reviewed publication offers nine arguments for the antiquity of The Words of Gad the Seer. The first argument deals with the issue of biblical plagiarism, which makes up a large fraction of the book without any attribution to the actual biblical sources. Shame on "Pseudo-Gad"! -- or whoever authored The Words of Gad the Seer. But let's withhold the shaming for now and consider Professor Bar-Ilan's first argument for antiquity:
The Words of Gad the Seer incorporate three chapters from the Bible as if they were part of the whole work. Chapter 10 here is Psalm 145, chapter 11 is no other than Psalm 144, and chapter 7 is a kind of compilation of 2 Sam 24:1-21 with 1 Chr 21:1-30, a chapter that deals with the deeds of Gad the Seer. As will be demonstrated later, the Biblical text in Gad's book is slightly different from the masoretic text, with some 'minor' changes that might be regarded as scribal errata, though others are extremely important. In any case, this phenomenon of inserting whole chapters from the Bible into one's treatise is known only from the Bible itself. For example, David's song in 2 Sam 22:2-51 appears as well in Psalm 18:2-50, not to speak, of course, of other parallels in Biblical literature. It does not matter where the 'original' position of this chapter was. Only one who lived in the 'days of the Bible', or thought so of himself, could have made such a plagiarism including a Biblical text in his own work. [emphasis mine]

Fascinating! This is not some unschooled Latter-day Saint apologist desperately trying to argue that heavy biblical plagiarism is not a reason to reject the antiquity of an allegedly ancient document like the Book of Mormon. It is a prominent scholar of Hebrew literature writing in a respected peer-reviewed journal on biblical literature stating that the extensive "plagiarism" of biblical material in a work is a characteristic of ancient literature that helps rule out a relatively modern origin for the text. The things Nephi and other Book of Mormon writers do with other biblical texts, widely condemned as blatant modern plagiarism by our critics, might actually be indicators of antiquity, not modernity. 

Do any of the myriad of modern books that are claimed to be sources that Joseph drew upon likewise plagiarize large chunks of the Bible?  Some pseudobiblical works like the First Book of Napolean or Gilbert J. Hunt's  The late war, between the United States and Great Britain may use some biblical phrases and imitated KJV language, but I don't recall seeing plagiarism of significant passages from the Bible. It's interesting that a primary "weakness" of the Book of Mormon, it's shameless use of significant portions of biblical text, is actually an indicator of antiquity, per a scholar keenly familiar with ancient Hebrew and biblical texts. "This phenomenon of inserting whole chapters from the Bible into one's treatise is known only from the Bible itself.... Only one who lived in the 'days of the Bible', or thought so of himself, could have made such a plagiarism including a Biblical text in his own work." This certainly changes things relative to the plagiarism argument against the antiquity Book of Mormon. Once again, an apparent weakness of the Book of Mormon may have just become a strength, thanks to modern non-Latter-day Saint scholarship. 

But surely there must be some modern examples where similar biblical plagiarism has occurred, for while Professor Bar-Ilan may not be aware of away, there are millions of texts he has never seen. If you know of some relevant counterexamples to help add nuance to his argument and the debate over biblical plagiarism in the Book of Mormon, please let me know.

His second argument is also of interest, pointing out that the way Bible content is merged and reworked in the document is also uncharacteristic of modern writings but is an indicator of antiquity.  That is also a characteristic of Nephi's writings, for example, in the Book of Mormon as he combined various passages and reworked them in elegant ways, something Matthew Bowen and others have discussed, See, for example, Matthew Bowen, "Onomastic Wordplay on Joseph and Benjamin and Gezera Shawa in the Book of Mormon," Interpreter: A Journal of Latter-day Saint Faith and Scholarship 18 (2016): 255-273. The unattributed plagiarism example cited by John Tvedtnes in 2 Nephi 27 is such a case of combining and reworking biblical passages. Common in antiquity, not so common in our era, adding another argument for Book of Mormon antiquity.


Wednesday, April 13, 2022

About That Burial Marker in Yemen for a Man Named Ishmael: Impossible That He Was a Hebrew?

In a November 2021 post, "Recent Discoveries and Advances Published by Interpreter, Part 1," I discussed a recent publication by Neal Rappleye, "An Ishmael Buried Near Nahom," in Interpreter: A Journal of Latter-day Saint Faith and Scholarship.  He reported an intriguing find among roughly 400 burial markers in Wadi Jawf, a place very near or within ancient tribal lands for the Nihm tribe, whose influence and name in Yemen during Lehi's day is now attested in 3 ancient altars bearing the NHM name given as gifts to a temple at Marib, raising the possibility that the rare place name "Nahom" (which would have been written without vowels in the Hebrew of the days, or simply NHM) mentioned in the Book of Mormon as the place where Ishmael was buried may have been associated with the Nihm tribe. 

Based on multiple inscriptions regarding Nihmites in the region, several scholars not affiliated with the Church believe that the ancient Nihm tribe was in or near the Wadi Jawf region in antiquity (see Rappleye's footnote 4). Significantly, Wadi Jawf makes a great deal of sense as a region associated with Nahom in the Book of Mormon, for it is in just about the only place where one can turn nearly due east from the Incense Trail or any other south-southeast route from the River Laman and Shazer and still have a chance of making it to the eastern coast of Oman alive. An eastward route a few miles to the north (or along nearly all of the hundreds of miles of Lehi's Trail to the north) or a few miles to the south of Wadi Jawf would result in crossing great sand dunes in the Empty Quarter to the north or another dessert to the south that would be too difficult for Lehi's group, especially given the general lack of sources of water. But the trek due east from the Waid Jawf region avoids the great dunes and presents no serious natural obstacles, and can, with a little guidance, take one into the right wadi to find a reasonable candidate for Bountiful. That eastward route also has terrain that can capture pools of water that persist after the rainy season. Not easy, but vastly more likely to encounter water than other routes. In fact, as discussed in my "Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dream Map: Part 1 of 2" in Interpreter, turning east at the proposed Nahom site near Wadi Jawf may put one on a route with higher annual rainfall than routes slightly north or south of that path, at least based on a 2012 CIA map of rainfall, shown combined with a map from Warren Aston below (click to enlarge).

Map of average rainfall in Yemen superimposed on Aston’s topographical map of southern Arabia. The upper green branch (5–10 inches/year) extending from Nahom east toward Oman corresponds well with the route proposed by Aston that provides inland access to Wadi Sayq and Khor Kharfot, Bountiful.

Getting back to Rappleye's article, one interesting and possibly controversial aspect of the funerary stela bearing the name "Ishmael" is that it also has a crude line drawing of man's face carved into the stone:

Funerary stela YM 27966 bearing a name in Epigraphic South Arabian
equivalent to the Hebrew name “Ishmael,” dated to ca. 6th century BC,
from Neal Rappleye, "An Ishmael Buried Near Nahom."

Scholars examining the collection of stelae propose that they were made either for foreigners from the north passing through the area or for the members of the lower ranks of society. In either case, this could fit the case of Lehi's family, traveling as nomads without the gold and silver Lehi once had in Jerusalem. 

Rappleye's conclusion is appropriately cautious:

At the very least, it seems reasonable to suggest that if the Ishmael of the Book of Mormon was buried with some sort of identifying marker, it probably would have looked something like the Yasmaʿʾil stela — a crudely carved stela typical of foreigners traveling through the area, who lacked substantial time or resources to afford a more extravagantly carved and engraved burial stone.

Although a firmer conclusion eludes us, the very fact that an Ishmael was buried in close proximity to the Nihm tribal region around the very time the Book of Mormon indicates that a man named Ishmael was buried at Nahom is rather remarkable. Such a fact certainly does not weaken the case for the Book of Mormon’s historicity.

Rappleye also makes the case that the name on the marker most likely has Hebrew rather than Arabic origins. If so, it could also be another Semite named Ishmael, not the Book of Mormon Ishmael. We know there were Hebrews that fled to Yemen anciently, and one speculative possibility is that a Hebrew colony in Nihm tribal lands might have provided the assistance needed for a proper burial of Ishmael. But a Jewish/Hebrew man being buried in Nihm tribal lands dated to an era compatible with the time of Ishmael's burial in the Book of Mormon is definitely an intriguing tidbit that would be, as Rappleye puts it, "worth considering."

Could this at least have some relevance to the Book of Mormon? Absolutely not, according to some of our critics, for everyone knows that Jews are forbidden from making graven images or images of any kind of humans, animals, etc., based on the second of the Ten Commandments, "Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image" (Exodus 20:4). 

In fact, David Bokovoy has made this argument, though perhaps in haste on a bad day. Apparently a Facebook comment from Bokovoy is being quoted on a Reddit page under the title, "Bokovoy smacks down Nahom and Ishmael" (accessible via tinyurl.com using "smackdownfail"). The smack down features the "no graven images" argument:

Moreover, the grave marker features an anthropomorphic representation of the man, Yasmaʿʾīl. Hence, whoever this man was, his family did not feel obligated to obey Exodus 20:4: “Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of any thing that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth.”

So there is no reason to believe that this person from Arabia was even Israelite, let alone a worshipper of the god Yahweh from the Hebrew Bible. And remember, Ishmael from the Book of Mormon is described as an Ephramite from Jerusalem.

The "common knowledge" that faithful Israelites would shun any artistic representation of an object may not be as reliable as the smack down implies. The point of the Second Commandment is to avoid idolatry. But any Bible scholar should understand that this cannot be taken to mean a universal prohibition ever since the time of Moses against any artistic depiction. When I saw this "smack down" argument, I wondered if its source had taken time to recall the lengthy descriptions in the Old Testament of the various artistic work commanded by God to decorate the Tabernacle and then the Temple. 

When I first read the Bible all the way through as a teenager, one of the main questions I had was why images of pomegranates were such a big deal to the Lord? He commanded there to be pomegranates of blue on priests' clothing (Exodus 28:33-34, 39:24-26) and then when the Temple was built, Solomon was commanded to make pomegranates, pomegranates, and more pomegranates -- literally hundreds of pomegranates all over the place (1 Kings 7: 18, 20, 42; 2 Chronicles 3:16 and 4:13), apparently of brass or other metal. What was up with all these images of fruit? Certainly not fruit worship, I am relieved to report. 

But the making of graven images by faithful Jews in the Bible goes beyond mere garden-variety objects such as images of fruit, the apparent image of the tree of life in the menorah, or the lovely stained-glass images of trees (as well as human hands, etc.) in the Great Synagogue in Jerusalem, where I attended a beautiful service a few years ago. I'm disappointed that many people who thought Bokovoy's argument was a smack down didn't recall the art of the Tabernacle and later the art of Solomon's Temple, including the massive figures of cherubim. Here are a few verses to consider. First, from Exodus 25, the commands for the construction of the Tabernacle:

18 And thou shalt make two cherubims of gold, of beaten work shalt thou make them, in the to ends of the mercy seat.

19 And make one cherub on the one end, and the other cherub on the other end: even of the mercy seat shall ye make the cherubims on the two ends thereof.

20 And the cherubims shall stretch forth their wings on high, covering the mercy seat with their wings, and their faces shall look one to another; toward the mercy seat shall the faces of the cherubims be.
What kind of face? Using my newly downloaded Sefaria app and searching for "cherubim," I see that Rashi (originally known as Shlomo ben Yitzhak, born about 1040 AD in France) commenting on Exodus 25:18, said that the cherubim "had the form of a child's face." Presumably, a human child.

Cherubim are also big, if not bigger, in 1 Kings 6, as the Lord gives commands for the construction of Solomon's Temple:

23 And within the oracle he made two cherubims of olive tree, each ten cubits high....

27 And he set the cherubims within the inner house: and they stretched forth the wings of the cherubims, so that the wing of the one touched the one wall, and the wing of the other cherub touched the other wall; and their wings touched one another in the midst of the house.

28 And he overlaid the cherubims with gold.

29 And he carved all the walls of the house round about with carved figures of cherubims and palm trees and open flowers, within and without....

32 The two doors also were of olive tree; and he carved upon them carvings of cherubims and palm trees and open flowers, and overlaid them with gold, and spread gold upon the cherubims, and upon the palm trees.

33 So also made he for the door of the temple posts of olive tree, a fourth part of the wall....

35 And he carved thereon cherubims and palm trees and open flowers: and covered them with gold fitted upon the carved work.

Lots of cherubim! Carved, graven images of an angelic being with wings and a face.

The non-idolatrous graven image making gets even more intense in the next chapter, 1 Kings 7:

27 And he made ten bases of brass; four cubits was the length of one base, and four cubits the breadth thereof, and three cubits the height of it.

28 And the work of the bases was on this manner: they had borders, and the borders were between the ledges:

29 And on the borders that were between the ledges were lions, oxen, and cherubims: and upon the ledges there was a base above: and beneath the lions and oxen were certain additions made of thin work.

30 And every base had four brasen wheels, and plates of brass: and the four corners thereof had undersetters: under the laver were undersetters molten, at the side of every addition.

31 And the mouth of it within the chapiter and above was a cubit: but the mouth thereof was round after the work of the base, a cubit and an half: and also upon the mouth of it were gravings with their borders, foursquare, not round....

36 For on the plates of the ledges thereof, and on the borders thereof, he graved cherubims, lions, and palm trees, according to the proportion of every one, and additions round about.

37 After this manner he made the ten bases: all of them had one casting, one measure, and one size....

40 And Hiram made the lavers, and the shovels, and the basons. So Hiram made an end of doing all the work that he made king Solomon for the house of the Lord:

41 The two pillars, and the two bowls of the chapiters that were on the top of the two pillars; and the two networks, to cover the two bowls of the chapiters which were upon the top of the pillars;

42 And four hundred pomegranates for the two networks, even two rows of pomegranates for one network, to cover the two bowls of the chapiters that were upon the pillars;

43 And the ten bases, and ten lavers on the bases;

44 And one sea, and twelve oxen under the sea....

Oxen, lions, cherubim (with faces, no doubt), palm trees, and of course, hundreds of pomegranates, all tasteful, non-idolatrous graven images that faithful Jews put in their most sacred place. 

Yes, Josiah would later destroy some of relics of the temple and leave the Holy of Holies an empty cube, and at various time other some Jews would prohibit images more generally, especially when living among opponents of Judaism, intensifying their rules to make more clear dividing lines between the good and the pagan. But there are many examples of ancient Jewish sites with artwork, including murals showing humans and animals or even figurines. And today, art of various kinds can be found in synagogues and in the homes of faithful Jews, as I saw a couple weeks ago while visiting devout Jewish friends, when a significant part of the evening involved admiring their abundant artwork. When I visited Jerusalem a few years ago, works of art were easy to find. The stained glass in the Great Synagogue was beautiful. Images of all kind were sold by Jews and Arabs alike, as far as I could tell.

In recent issues of Biblical Archaeology Review, which I subscribe to, there have been reports of ancient Jewish sites, including a temple near but outside Jerusalem, with human figurines, raising new debates about their purpose. I'll provide some more information later in an update. But there apparently have been many discoveries in the past few decades making it clear that the "common knowledge" about Jews prohibiting all artwork or depictions of humans was not necessarily the way that Jews saw things anciently. So no, I don't think Bokovoy's argument was carefully considered. There's no reason to rule out the possibility that a Jewish man named Ishmael might have been buried with a grave marker having a crude two-dimensional drawing of a face on it. If cherubim in the Tabernacle can have faces, I guess a grave marker can, too, as long as no idolatry was intended.



Wednesday, April 06, 2022

Prayers for China


A view from Xi'an, China,
the beginning of the Silk Road
China has been in my prayers daily for a long time. It's a land I love and respect with marvelous people, strong family values, great diversity, and many people of faith, including local and foreign members of the Church. It's a land of beautiful culture and traditions. And contrary to what you have probably heard, it's a land of creativity and innovation, in spite of a recent history of rampant intellectual property theft,. China actually has some of the best intellectual property laws and systems on the planet, having made incredible progress in the past few years. The IP laws and systems of China actively promote and reward invention and innovation. Yes, China is a land of many contradictions and endless enigma. Sadly, it's also a land with less religious freedom especially religious freedom, than it had when I was there. There are many problems, but also much that is praiseworthy. I pray that we might have peace with China and that the many poor of China and the many suffering in various ways might have their burdens lifted, not made worse.

China is finding that its zero-tolerance policy for COVID has resulted in precious little natural immunity across the nation, leaving it, in my unschooled opinion, inadequately prepared for the realities of COVID. As nations all over the world are finding, the vaccines don't really stop the spread of the disease. Now as Omicron and its variants spread, China is resorting to the only tools that authoritarians anywhere can imagine: compulsion and force, locking citizens into their compounds in aggravating lockdowns or forcing individuals into government quarters for quarantine, and even separating parents from children in their fearful zeal. This headline from yesterday, for example, is much more than just sensationalistic fake news: "China Sends Military into Shanghai, Separates Children from Parents over Coronavirus." Friends of mine in Shanghai are struggling as they are often unable to travel and visit family, unable to take critical tests needed for their career, unable to get to their job at all, unable to go shopping, unable to take their pets out of the apartment (with many practical problems as a result), unable to get medical treatment they may need, etc. Some recently watched their companies be crushed due to sudden new regulations. But the threat of having government take children away from parents is an ultimate nightmare for some of us, especially a young child. It's a time to pray for China. 

In one protest, citizens in Shanghai at one apartment complex argued with police, asking "Why don't you just lock us up in prison?" Be careful what you ask for. We had a maid in China who spent six months in jail after she tried to stop a fight at a mahjong parlor (avoid those places!), just waiting for the judge to rule that there was no evidence against her. It took a heavy toll on her. But she was lucky, perhaps in part due to the help of a good lawyer, for others involved who didn't have a lawyer to help received received sentences of three years or more. Being in jail can be vastly more difficult than being confined to your apartment, though both are forms of imprisonment and in both, it's possible to go hungry or suffer many other hardships when one is at the mercy of others for all services, including periodic delivery of food rations.

Two of my American friends, Jacob Harlan and Alyssa Petersen, are in jail in China. I pray that China will be merciful and say that nearly three years in jail, still waiting for a verdict from the trial, is enough. Just boot those foreigners, please, and let them return to America, never to come back to China. I do not endorse any violation of Chinese laws, urge all foreigners and nationals to respect China's laws, and understand that China views this as an internal matter based on their regulations regarding visa requirements for foreigners performing work in China. But the message has been clear and these foreigners won't repeat any  mistakes again in the business model for their educational business. Can they please come home now? They have been in my prayers every day, I think, for about two and a half  years.

Here's an excerpt from the story cited above:

China used massive transport planes to fly hundreds of military personnel into Shanghai on Sunday to assist with a three-day mass coronavirus testing program for the city’s 26 million imprisoned residents.

Fear and discontent are growing as the Shanghai lockdown becomes more severe, with residents complaining they have been locked in their homes without access to food or medicine.

The Shanghai lockdown was originally pitched as a carefully-implemented multi-stage refinement of China’s “dynamic zero-Covid” strategy, with due allowances made for the size and economic importance of the immense city. 

Most of that special deference to Shanghai’s unique status dissolved over the weekend, as coronavirus case numbers kept rising, reaching a record high of 13,146 reported cases on Sunday. 

As always, coronavirus figures provided by the Chinese Communist government should not be taken at face value, but whatever the true number of infections and deaths might be, local and national officials were clearly willing to admit the situation is getting worse, and they tightened the Shanghai quarantine in response....

The Financial Times (FT) on Monday found Chinese state censors struggling to delete “cries for help” from Shanghai residents online:

Residents on social media said online grocery stores had run out of food while others complained that they could not buy their regular medication. “Who can tell me how to get medicine? I am so hopeless. I want to leave Shanghai,” said one resident.

Some Shanghainese, who have been unable to leave their homes for more than two weeks owing to restrictions that predated the lockdown because of positive cases in their buildings, have relied on government grocery deliveries.

It was the discovery of the benefits of economic freedom that led to China's great economic revolution, a revolution that we may need to bring to the West someday soon. See my story on the Xiagang revolution in "Desperate Heroism and the Thunder of a Quiet Revolution: The Rise of China’s Economy and IP System" at IPWatchdog. There are lessons from China's success that we must not forget, or must begin to recall. Now I pray that China can rediscover the blessings of more freedom for its people. The virus will do what it wants and all our mandates and lockdowns and seizing of ore power over the lives of others won't stop it. By relaxing the reigns of power and letting people shop, travel, and live their lives again, there will be spikes in cases, just as there will be with lockdowns, but in the end China and its people will be stronger, more successful, and happier. I'm praying for elevated happiness for China and its peoples, as well as its guests. 

There are also people in this land who aspire to the kind of power over other people's lives that the Party has in China. There can be all sorts of noble justifications for taking such power, and some good men and women strive sincerely to make the world a better place once they have the reins of power. But usually the result is unsatisfactory, especially when that power is expanded to the point of being absolute. There are good reasons for the inspired counsel of Alma the Elder to his people in: "Trust no man to be king over you" (Mosiah 23:13). 

As we pray for peace and not war in Ukraine, let's also pray that many afflicted nations might also have peace. We may wish to pray for peace in Yemen, for peace in Africa where violence remains a critical danger in many nations, for peace and not war with Russia, and for peace and relief in China where desperation is mounting in some regions. 

Last night we have a group of young men from Africa in our home practicing the song, "There is Peace in Christ." All of our guests came to the US a refugees because of war and violence in Eastern Africa (DRC Congo, Burundi, and Rwanda). It was great to see their faith and to hear them learning a beautiful hymn of peace and hope. The words and music touched me long after our event was over. May the peace of Christ be brought to more and more of God's children across this troubled globe. China is one of many places that needs more of that hope. I will continue to pray for China.

Saturday, April 02, 2022

The Words of Gad the Seer: Thoughts on a "Lost Book" Preserved by the Jews at Cochin, India

The cover of the Hebrew edition of
Meir Bar-Ilan's The Words of Gad the Seer

An old Jewish manuscript said to contain writings of Gad the Seer, one of the "lost books" mentioned in the Bible was found among Jews in India and after much drama has recently been published in English. It's an intriguing story that I think should be given more attention, especially among Latter-day Saints.

Gad was a prophet living at the time of David who seemed to have special status based on 2 Samuel 24:11, which speaks of "Gad, David's seer." But like many prophets, Gad was not afraid to speak unpleasant things to his King (e.g., see 2 Samuel 12:1-13). One of the very few mentions of Gad occurs in 1 Chronicles 29:29 when it mentions that the acts of David the king were written "in the book of Gad the seer." I have occasionally cited that verse in discussing the scriptures with others who accept the Bible to illustrate that the Bible we have might not contain all the scripture that has been written in the past. A common rejoinder is, "There may have been such a book, but if God didn't preserve it for us in the Bible, it's not scripture." I guess there can be no such thing as lost scripture with that definition. And if it can't be lost, I guess it can't be found. In reply, I have asked others what they would do if a book that ancient Jews or Christians regarded and preserved as Biblical scripture became lost, and then was found again? 

Surprisingly, my theoretical question became a little less theoretical with the fairly recent discovery, translation, and publication of a long-lost manuscript that may have connections to the ancient lost book of Gad the Seer, just published in 2016. The document has been through many human hands and may have some of the corruption common to non-canonical works such as the Apocrypha and pseudepigrapha, but the scholar who has explored this text in the most detail and provided the translation believes it has ancient roots and is worthy of our attention. The story of this unusual text may be relevant to our own and much more miraculous story of the finding, translation, and publication of the ancient books of scripture from ancient Hebrews and Christians that we have in the Book of Mormon.

The Story Behind the Words of Gad the Seer

The story of coming forth of The Words of Gad the Seer is a story that involves the the scattering of Israel and a Jewish colony in India, and may raise interesting issues about ancient Jews not only in India but also in Yemen with possible relevance to Lehi's Trail. This story also touches upon themes of lost and restored ancient scripture, apocalyptic literature like the Book of Enoch and our own Book of Moses, writing on metal plates, and other Latter-day Saint themes such as free agency, three main categories of outcomes in final judgment, and even Alma's discourse on the word as a seed in Alma 32. 

There may be much food for thought as we contemplate the  story behind the text and the words themselves now published in a very short book, The Words of Gad the Seer translated by Professor Meir Bar-Ilan (Scotts Valley, CA: CreateSpace Publishing, 2016), available in paperback and Kindle editions. His much more extensive scholarly edition is available only in Hebrew at the moment. Professor Bar-Ilan has been a professor for decades at a prestigious university in Israel, Bar-Ilan University, named for another Meir Bar-Ilan (perhaps his grandfather?), a prominent figure in Israeli history. Bar-Ilan University is often abbreviated as BIU, not to be confused with BYU. At BUI, Bar-Ilan teaches in both the Talmud and Jewish History departments and has an interesting list of publications, a number of which are related to the Words of Gad the Seer. 

Before you rush to buy Meir Bar-Ilan's English translation of the Words of Gad the Seer, you should know that what is currently available is a bare-bones paperback just 23 pages in length giving the 5000+ words of the pseudepigraphal text without any explanation, background, footnotes, etc. With the Kindle edition, you can't even figure out who published it. The Barnes and Noble page for the book indicates that the publisher is CreateSpace Publishing, something I could not find at Amazon, and a search then revealed Scotts Valley, CA as the likely location for the publisher. Wikipedia's entry for "The Book of Gad the Seer" indicates that one there is a scholarly edition in Hebrew that I presume will be more complete. But you can access a variety of articles in English that Professor Meir Bar-Ilan has written about the book that I'll discuss below. Meanwhile, I hope you will still buy the book, perhaps the Kindle edition, and begin exploring this unusual text. 

Slightly more information and a slightly different translation is available in Christian Israel's independently published 2020 version, The Words of Gad the Seer: Bible Cross-Reference Edition, available in paperback only (no Kindle edition so far). 

The largest English volume available as far as I know, with both Kindle and paperback editions, is Ken Johnson's Ancient Book of Gad the Seer: Referenced in 1 Chronicles 29:29 and alluded to in 1 Corinthians 12:12 and Galatians 4:26 (Ken Johnson, 2016). This has extensive and  questionable commentary from Ken Johnson, who appears to be an evangelical seeking to strongly guide the reader toward his preferred readings, stressing Messianic themes [some of which may be valid] and other favorite topics. For example, he sees the condemnation of Edom as a condemnation of Rome, even inserting "[Rome]" after Edom and stating bracketed text that the fall of a"terrible nation" refers to the destruction of Byzantine. The insertion of altered text in brackets that push his pet themes is annoying. Fortunately, Johnson has provided his translation without all the commentary and with fewer bracketed insertions in a free PDF that you can read online or download. 

The translation I trust the most is that of the Jewish scholar, Professor Bar-Ilan in The Words of Gad the Seer. Any quotes from the book of Gad the Seer will be from his translation, unless otherwise indicated.

What follows is an overview of the book taken from Barnes and Noble (also provided at Amazon) which I believe is just a translation from the Hebrew describing Bar-Ilan's 2015 scholarly edition, which I hope will soon be available in English. I say that because this overview describes a book with an index,  a vast bibliography, a description of its origins, comparisons to others texts, and scholarly analysis of literary genre, scribalism and scribal techniques, none of which is in the English translation, but much of which should be fascinating for Latter-day Saint scholars.

Gad is a prophet most associated with King David in the Holy Bible. This book is the outcome of a prolonged study of a manuscript that was found serendipitously 34 years ago. Actually, this was a re-discovery of a text that for some reason had escaped the eyes of many. It is a story of the survival of Jews remote in place and time, and of their books, visions, angels and divine voices, combined with their belief in God and his covenant with King David and Israel. There is no other book that resembles this one.

A book by the name Words of Gad the Seer is mentioned at the end of I Chronicles, presumably one of the sources of the history of King David. Ever since the book was considered lost and it is mentioned nowhere. In the 18th century Jews from Cochin said that their ancestors have had several apocryphal books, including Words of Gad the Seer, and this statement was published first by Johann Gottfried Eichhorn (1789) and translated by Naphtali H. Wesseley who publicized these fantastic claims (1790). Since none saw the book, it was probably considered to be an oriental legend. So when Solomon Schechter, in 1894 (just before he became occupied with the Genizah), checked manuscripts at the Cambridge library, bought at Cochin around 1806, [he] not only ... described the specific manuscript improperly but he also failed to make the right connection to earlier knowledge of that book and thus he under-evaluated the text. In 1927 Israel Abrahams published a paper on this manuscript, but his analysis, once again, had several improper descriptions, and hence the text of Words of Gad the Seer went into oblivion.

This book presents the text of Words of Gad the Seer for the first time. First comes an introduction where the history of the manuscript is discussed. Later the characters of the text described and analyzed one feature after the other. The text is found to be having many similarities with the Book of Revelation and several pseudo-apocryphal and apocalyptic books such as 2 Baruch, 4 Ezra and others.

Then comes a diplomatic edition of the manuscript where each and every letter (by special fonts) is presented similarly to the manuscript. Later the book is divided to 14 chapters, each is a literary unit by itself, and each has its own introduction and a commentary. Each and every verse is explained in a "multi-focal" commentary in a manner similar to publishing a Biblical book: literary criticism, lexicography, philology and alike. A special treatment is given to the scribal practices that are reflected in the text: the only non-canonical book with a Massorah, Qeri and Ketib, total number of verses and more.

The book is 5227 words in length written in a pseudo-Biblical Hebrew intended to be a book written by the Seer of King David in the 10th century B.C.E. The text is an anthology and varies in style and character: 3 chapters are apocalyptic in nature, 2 chapters are a "mere" copy of Ps 145 and 144 (with different superscriptions and all sorts of different readings, some of them highly important); one chapter is a harmonization of 1 Sam 24 with 1 Chr 21 (that resembles ancient harmonizations of texts as found in the Samaritan Pentateuch and Qumran alike). One chapter is a kind of addendum to 2 Sam 13 (a "feminine story"), one chapter is a sermon, one chapter is a folk story, and there are more blessings, liturgies and other issues. Literary genre, scribalism and scribes' technique are described and analyzed. The book comes with an index and a vast bibliography. The appearance of the text will add a great deal to our understanding of Jewish History and religion.

Date: The text assumed to be written either in the Land of Israel at the end of the first century or in the Middle Ages

More information on the background is provided by Ken Johnson on pp. 8-9 of his book:

The History of the Book
German Protestant theologian Johann Gottfried Eichhorn was born in Ingelfingen, Germany, on October 16, 1752. He was the professor of Oriental languages at Jena University from 1775 to 1788. While there, he authored several books including, Introduction to the Study of the Old Testament, and Introduction to the Study of the Old Testament - Scholar's Choice Edition. While studying the Aramaic New Testament, he came across a legend called the Chronicle of the Jews in Cochin. A chronicle is the earliest history of how a people got to a remote region. Chronicles frequently begin with the world-wide flood and traces one of Noah’s sons down to the founder of that particular country. According to the Cochin chronicle, Shalmaneser, King of Assyria conquered Samaria in the ninth year of Hoshea. This event is also recorded in the Bible:  

“In the twelfth year of Ahaz king of Judah began Hoshea the son of Elah to reign in Samaria over Israel nine years. And he did that which was evil in the sight of the LORD, but not as the kings of Israel that were before him. Against him came up Shalmaneser king of Assyria; and Hoshea became his servant, and gave him presents.” 2 Kings 17:1-3

The Codex Judaica states in the Hebrew Year 3195 AM, Shalmaneser exiled the tribes of Zebulun and Naphtali. The chronicle describes how during Shalmaneser’s attack and resettlement of the nation, four hundred sixty of these Jews escaped and went to Yemen under the leadership of Rabbi Simon. They took with them their holy books (the Old Testament) and, in addition, they preserved the books of the prophets Gad, Nathan, Shemaiah, and Ahijah. Several hundred years later they were again exiled. They knew of Jewish settlements living in relative peace in Poona and Gujarat, India, so they left Yemen and migrated to India. About seven hundred years later, forced conversions began. A group of less than three hundred Jews moved to the Malabar region in India, where they were welcomed and protected. Most stayed in the port city of Cochin (also called Kochi). A Jew named Leopold Immanuel Jacob Van Dort translated the Hebrew text from the Patriarch of the Jews in Cochin into Dutch in 1757. It was later translated into German and sent to Eichhorn. He published that copy in 1786. Naphtali Herz Wessely republished the Hebrew version. In the nineteenth century, another copy reportedly emerged from Rome and is now housed in the Cambridge Library in England. The University of Bar-Ilan in Tel Aviv, Israel, has published the Hebrew text, and in 2015, Professor Meir Bar Ilan of Bar Ilan University published a Hebrew version of the text with commentary (it also includes an English translation).

There is a Gnostic version by the same name; but any real book that the Lord has seen fit to preserve would, of course, have a Satanic counterfeit with the same name. Anything Gnostic or Kabbalistic had to be a false work or, at least be heavily edited by the cults of that time.

The translation of Gad the Seer in this book is a modern English translation with commentary based on Scripture from a conservative Christian perspective. [emphasis mine]

A similar account with more detail is provided by Prof. Meir Bar-Ilan in "The Discovery of The Words of Gad The Seer,"  Journal for the Study of Pseudepigrapha 11 (1993): 95-107 (footnotes omitted):

Some two centuries ago, a very puzzling testimony was published in Germany; no one could tell what in it was true and what was false. One of the founders of modern Biblical scholarship, J. G. Eichhorn, published an unusual document he had received indirectly from the Jews of the remote community in Cochin, India. This publication struck the imagination of many people, and it was soon translated into Hebrew by one of the eminent scholars of the time, Naphtali Herz Wessely. Wessely not only translated the material, but wrote a commentary on it, trying to evaluate some of the unusual statements in that document. In his article in one of the first academic Hebrew journals, HaMeasef, he began by discussing the geographical discoveries that led to a new concept of the world, facts that might help to find the lost Ten Tribes. His discussion was some kind of 'foreword' to the main evidence he took from Eichhorn in order to discuss the history of the Jews in Cochin.

According to Wessely, the source of the testimony was a man by the name of Marcellus Bless, a clerk in the Dutch East India Company. This man got his information from a converted Jew, Leopold Immanuel Jacob Van Dort. In 1757 Van Dort copied extracts from a Hebrew book that belonged to the Patriarch of the Jews in Cochin. Van Dort found this so interesting that he translated it into Dutch and gave it to the above-mentioned clerk in Ceylon. Some thirty years elapsed before the evidence was brought to the attention of a man by the name of Ruetz who translated the extracts in Dutch to German and sent them to be published in Eichhorn's Bibliothek. Strange as it sounds, these people did exist and quite a bit is known about some of them.

Thus, this chain of languages - Hebrew, Dutch, German, Hebrew (and now, English) - is unusual, and is part of the unusual evidence the testimony bears. At any event, the Jews in Cochin relate their history and wanderings in a unique story, of which only a few lines interest us. According to that 'Chronicle of the Jews in Cochin', their special history began in the exile caused by Shalmaneser, King of Assyria, who conquered Samaria in the ninth year of Hoshea the son of Elah (2 Kgs 17:1 ff.). Shalmaneser exiled 460 Jews to Yemen, and the chronicle says:

These exiled people brought with them (to Yemen) a book of Moses' Torah, book of Joshua, book of Ruth, book of Judges, first and second books of Samuel, books of: 1 Kings, Song of Songs of Solomon, Songs of Hallel - David, Assaf, Heiman and the sons of Korah, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes of Solomon, as well as his Riddles, prophecies of Gad, Nathan, Shemaiah and Ahijah, age-old Job, Jonah, and a book of Isaiah, etc.

These books were preserved under the authority of the patriarch of the Jews, 'Shimon Rabban from the tribe of Ephrime, who was the first (patriarch) in the period of Yemen captivity who attempted to preserve the books'. The Chronicle of the Jews of Cochin continues with a description of the history of those books which, according to it, were confiscated by the king, and only after a fast and prayers were the books returned to the Jews - 10 years later. For our purposes it should be added that some 500 years later the Jews in Yemen were exiled by King Prozom.

Since the exiled people had known of the Jews in Poona and Gujarat in India, they preferred to go there, and they and their descendants lived there for some 600 or 700 years. Almost all of those Jews were forced to convert, and less than 72 families moved from Poona and Gujerat to Malabar. Those who moved were welcomed by the governor, Cherman Perumal, who gave them privileges to encourage them to stay there, as is written on copper plates, and there in Cochin, the copper plates have remained until this day, in the days of the patriarch of the Jews Joseph Hallegua. Bless mentioned that this Joseph was a brother-in-law of Ezekiel Rahabi (who will be mentioned later). We can determine that this 'Chronicle of the Jews of Cochin' is from the first half of the 18th century.

Bar-Ilan notes that the Jews of Cochin had other documents as well such as the writings of Nathan, Shemaiah and Ahijah, texts that are mentioned in the Bible, as well as the Riddles of Solomon which is not mentioned in the Bible. There may be much more to mine from the treasures related to the Jews of Cochin.

Connections to Explore

There is much more to the story as Bar-Ilan explores the various efforts to publish information about the Words of Gad the Seer. In spite of all that he describes, it's amazing how poorly known this text is. Bar-Ilan in "The Discovery of the Words of Gad The Seer" offers a reason why this has occurred:

This intriguing story of the lost books at Cochin is near its end. It is hardly credible that books that were mentioned in three languages, and especially in so many Hebrew editions were later overlooked. The only possible reason for that, I assume, is that the fascinating stories emerging from Cochin were considered to be legendary in character, such as any modern scholar should ignore. When one of [these] 'legends' became true [discovery of the manuscript for The Words of Gad the Seer], its source was already forgotten and the whole issue was misunderstood and misjudged. However, in future studies I hope to demonstrate the significance of The Words of Gad the Seer, its date, its geographical source, and much more.

As we see in the accounts of the background story, the Words of Gad the Seer may have roots in scriptures brought by ancient Jews who fled to Yemen. Perhaps this happened near the time when the Ten Tribes were scattered, with some from the Ten Tribes seeking new homelands. Ancient Jewish colonies in Yemen are an important aspect of the diaspora (see "Jews of Yemen – History – When did Jews Settle in Yemen?" at Wysinfo.com, and "Yemenite Jews" at Wikipedia). As I discuss in my Interpreter article, "Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dream Map: Part 1 of 2," Warren Aston has suggested that a Jewish colony in the area of Nahom/Nehem in Yemen may have assisted in providing a proper Hebrew burial for Ishmael. Jewish burials in Yemen are attested no later than 300 BC, and since we know of later Jewish presence in the Nihm area, it is possible that Jews could have been there earlier and could have been able to assist in proper burials. See Warren Aston, Lehi and Sariah in Arabia, Kindle edition, Part 3, sections “Ishmael’s Death,” “Nahom Today,” and “Where the Jews Once Part of the Tribe.” See also Part 1, section “Religion in Arabia,” where Aston notes Yemeni Jewish traditions of seven ancient Jewish migrations into Yemen. Further, there is evidence that Jewish traders and merchants were interacting with Yemen before Lehi’s era. It would be fascinating to know what versions of a book from Gad the Seer might have been brought to Yemen anciently, perhaps both by Jews who established colonies in Yemen and by Lehi on his brass plates. 

One aspect of the story of ancient texts among the Jews at Cochin, India is the issue of writing on metal plates. The Jews at Cochin were said to have kept their ancient history on copper or brass plates,  consistent with traditions of using copper plates in India for important legal documents going back at least to the 3rd century BC. A hint about scriptures written on metal comes from one source who visited the Cochin colony several times early in the 1700s, Captain Alexander Hamilton (a British sailor, not the US statesman). He stated that they had kept their history recorded on copper plates stored in a synagogue. This statement is found in A New Account of the East Indies, vol. 1 (London: 1744), 323–24, available at Archive.org (https://archive.org/details/in.ernet.dli.2015.278509/page/n375/mode/2up) and Google Books (https://www.google.com/books/edition/A_New_Account_of_the_East_Indies/-jNagGDT-PsC??hl=en&gbpv=1&pg=PA323&printsec=frontcover). He reports:

They [the Jews in Cochin, India] have a Synagogue at Cochin, not far from the King’s Palace, about two Miles from the City, in which are carefully kept their Records, engraven in Copper-plates in Hebrew characters; and when any of the Characters decay, they are new cut, so that they can shew their own History, from the Reign of Nebuchadnezzar to the present Time....  

They declare themselves to be of the Tribe of Manasseh...

I have previously discussed Hamilton's statement on my blog at https://mormanity.blogspot.com/2020/12/the-jewish-copper-plates-of-cochin.html. 

Many decades after Hamilton's various visits to Cochin, Claudius Buchanan visited the Hews there and reported on them in his 1811 volume, Christian Researches in Asia, but he makes no mention of their records on plates stored in a synagogue. He does mention a plate of brass from a local king used to grant rights to the Cochin Jews is on p. 172. The royal charter granted to the Jews of Cochin by a king of Kerala, India engraved on copper plates is now well known. See "Jewish copper plates of Cochin" at Wikipedia. The set of three plates associated with the charter have a traditional date of 379 A.D. but are more likely to date to around 1000 A.D. 

But Claudius Buchanan did far more than merely mention the brass plate of the Cochin Jews. He had a replica made and transported to Cambridge, but there is controversy about whether he actually kept the original and gave the replica back to the Jews at Cochin. In fact, the original owners of the royal charter may have been left with nothing. It's a messy story in need of scientific testing of the plates, as discussed by Thoufeek Zakriya of India in his blog post, "The Copper Plate and the Big Sahib,"  Jews of Malabar, Aug. 19, 2013, http://jewsofmalabar.blogspot.com/2013/08/the-copper-plate-and-big-sahib.html. It's a powerful reminder of how important it is to keep precious writing on metal plates out of sight and out of the hands of others. Hurray for burying plates in stone boxes!

Did the Jews at Cochin really have more ancient records of their history on copper or brass plates, or did the story of their one small document become inflated when it was told to Hamilton? He gives enough detail that it doesn't seem possible he got confused a story about one or two plates, but was he given correct information? Did the Jews at Cochin have much more than they did not risk discussing with Buchanan? Are there records on plates still in hiding somewhere? I have no idea, but would be thrilled if such a thing did exist and could be brought to light. For now, we just have Hamilton's report and the tradition of writing on copper plates in India that might add to the plausibility of the story. The document from the Cochin Jews bearing the Words of Gad the Seer was not written on metal plates.

Update, 4/4/2022: A reader with the moniker "RM Zosimus" posted a comment here pointing to what may be the earliest published mention of the copper plates of the Cochin Jews:

As far as I can tell, the first western account of metal plates among the Jewish and Christian communities of Cochin comes from Damião de Góis in his "Three Letters of Mar Jacob". Mar Jacob, the Bishop of the Thomas Christians between 1543 and 1545 mentioned two copper plates with inscriptions in Pahlavi, Cushic (sic) and Hebrew script. These plates are unrelated to the chronicles of the Cochin Jews that were said to have been destroyed when the Portuguese burned down the synagogue in 1662 AD. This history was inexplicably called the sefer ha yashar or the Book of the Upright One or the Book of Jasher.

The "Three Letters of Mar Jacob" are not easily found online, but were discussed by Georg Schurhammer in The Malabar Church and Rome during the early Portuguese period and before (Trichinopoly [the British India name for Tiruchirappalli city in Tamil Nadu], India: F.M. Ponnuswamy 1934), pp. 14 and 22-23 (esp. footnote 69) available at https://archive.org/details/malabarchurchrom00schu_0/page/22/mode/2up. The "Three Letters of Mar Jacob" are reproduced in Portuguese early in the volume with an English translation at the side, and the mention of a copper plate in the second Portuguese letter has "do que temos hua [dua?] lamyna [lamina] de cobre asselada de sseu sselo," with the given translation "of which we have a Copperplate sealed with his seal" (p. 14).  On pages 22-23 is mention of several plates, some now lost. Fascinating!

A few more connections to explore will arise when we examine some passages from the text below. 

Assessing the Words of Gad the Seer

So what of this strange document from Cochin, India, the Words of Gad the Seer? Is it just pious fiction made up by some Jews in India? A 1927 article argued that it was likely written in the 13th century AD. See I. Abrahams, "The Words of Gad the Seer" in Livre d'hommage a la mémoire du Dr Samuel Poznański (1864-1921) (Vienna: Adolphe Holzhauzen, 1927), pp, 8-12. On the other hand, Professor Bar-Ilan in "The Date of The Words of Gad the Seer," Journal of Biblical Literature 109,  no. 3 (1990): 477-493,  has examined the text in detail and argues that it has more ancient roots. He estimates its origins to be in the first centuries of the Christian era. 

Could it be earlier? Bar-Ilan says no, for the book is written as an apocalypse, and biblical scholars generally maintain that such literature, including First Enoch, the book of Daniel, and the book of Revelation, is a literary genre generally limited to roughly 200 B.C. to 200 AD., characterized by similarity to the book of Revelation, with secret divine revelation about the end of the world and the nature of heaven. See John J. Collins, “Introduction: Towards the Morphology of a Genre,” ed. John Joseph Collins, Semeia 14 (1979): 1, though Collins notes a later example of Jewish apocalyptic literature, the Sefer Hekalot (3 Enoch), which some have dated to the 5th century AD. Being apocalyptic, the argument is that Words of Gad the Seer cannot represent biblical literature from the time of David or otherwise much before 200 BC. (Some of us Latter-day Saints, however, may be open to more ancient origins for some apocalyptic literature like the material on Enoch in our own Book of Moses.)    

Bar-Ilan in the above-cited Journal of Biblical Literature article (also available at Academia.edu) considers the arguments made for a medieval origin and refutes them in detail, and then argues the case for late antiquity. His first argument will be of interest to Book of Mormon students:

The Words of Gad the Seer incorporate three chapters from the Bible as if they were part of the whole work. Chapter 10 here is Psalm 145, chapter 11 is no other than Psalm 144, and chapter 7 is a kind of compilation of 2 Sam 24:1-21 with 1 Chr 21:1-30, a chapter that deals with the deeds of Gad the Seer. As will be demonstrated later, the Biblical text in Gad's book is slightly different from the masoretic text, with some 'minor' changes that might be regarded as scribal errata, though others are extremely important. In any case, this phenomenon of inserting whole chapters from the Bible into one's treatise is known only from the Bible itself. For example, David's song in 2 Sam 22:2-51 appears as well in Psalm 18:2-50, not to speak, of course, of other parallels in Biblical literature.26 It does not matter where the 'original' position of this chapter was. Only one who lived in the 'days of the Bible', or thought so of himself, could have made such a plagiarism including a Biblical text in his own work. [emphasis mine]

Now that's fascinating. This is not some unschooled Latter-day Saint apologist desperately trying to argue that heavy biblical plagiarism is not a reason to reject the antiquity of an allegedly ancient document like the Book of Mormon. It is a prominent scholar of Hebrew literature writing in a respected peer-reviewed journal on biblical literature stating that the extensive "plagiarism" of biblical material in a work is a characteristic of ancient literature that helps rule out a relatively modern origin for the text. The things Nephi and other Book of Mormon writers do with other biblical texts, widely condemned as blatant plagiarism by our critics, might actually be indicators of antiquity, not modernity.

His second argument is also of interest, pointing out that the way Bible content is merged and reworked in the document is also uncharacteristic of modern writings but is an indicator of antiquity.  That is also a characteristic of Nephi's writings in the Book of Mormon as he combined various passages and reworks them in elegant ways, something Matthew Bowen and others have discussed, See, for example, Matthew Bowen, "Onomastic Wordplay on Joseph and Benjamin and Gezera Shawa in the Book of Mormon," Interpreter: A Journal of Latter-day Saint Faith and Scholarship 18 (2016): 255-273.

His third argument involves differences in the way the Psalms are quoted, particularly the changes in superscriptions that seem authentic. But another interesting and possibly authentic twist is the addition of the missing "nun" verse in Psalm 145, a Psalm where each verse begins with a letter from the Hebrew alphabet forming an acrostic, with an apparent defect due to the absence of the letter "nun" that should be between verses 13 and 14 (see the missing verse discussion in "Psalm 145," Wikipedia). The added verse reads "All your enemies fell down, O Lord, and all of their might was swallowed up." Bar-Ilan feels that "the style and content of the verse give good reason to believe that it is authentic." But even if it were made up by a creative editor, he says "it still would be interesting, since the sages of the Talmud did not know it, and the invention of fictitious Biblical verses is not known in the Middle Ages either." The added verse combines the falling of enemies and swallowing up, a combination also seen in the Book of Mormon in 2 Nephi 26:5, where Nephi speaks of the coming destruction of those that kill the prophets, warning that the depths of the earth "shall swallow them up" and "buildings shall fall upon them." Likely a random parallel, but possibly interesting, coming from one of the Book of Mormon writers most attuned to the Psalms (see my "Too Little or Too Much Like the Bible? A Novel Critique of the Book of Mormon Involving David and the Psalms" in Interpreter).

His fourth argument also sounds somewhat like a common defense of the Book of Mormon as he summarizes the diverse literary styles and tools in the text, and highly creative visions and stories that seem unlikely to have been fabricated. 

There are nine arguments in total for antiquity, followed by reviewing two recent cases where a text was deemed by experts to be relatively recent, only to have later discoveries such as a related document from Qumran proving that the document was ancient after all. 

Perhaps there will be something to learn as we explore relationships between The Words of Gad the Seer with other overlooked or denigrated texts from the Restoration, namely, the Book of Mormon, the Book of Moses, and the Book of Abraham. For now, let's consider an overview of the text and look at just a few interesting passages. 

Overview of the Content, and a Few Passages of Interest

We turn again to Professor Bar-Ilan for an excellent summary of the chapters of The Words of Gad the Seer, quoting from his "The Date of The Words of Gad the Seer," Journal of Biblical Literature  109,  no. 3 (1990): 477-493:

The Words of Gad the Seer contains 14 chapters dealing with King David and his prophet Gad. The nature of each of the chapters is different than the others, so one who has already read the first chapter, for example, cannot predict any other chapter in the book. The style is Biblical, in accordance with its heroes (some of whom are not mentioned in the Bible or elsewhere). Even when the author writes his own ideas, almost every word or phrase reflects biblical verse. Now, let us consider each of the chapters, one by one.

1. (verses 1-63) God's revelation to Gad the Seer. The Seer sees animals, the sun and the moon, and all that happens is interpreted by the voice of God. The lamb is sacrificed on the heavenly altar but not before he praises the Lord. Gad is told to tell David his revelation, and David blesses the Lord and congratulates Gad for the secret that God has told him.

2. (verses 64-92) A second revelation to Gad concerning the Last Days. There is a prophecy of devastation on Edom that 'dwells in the land of Kittim' while quoting their anti-Jewish opinions. There will be a battle between Michael, the High Prince, and Samael, Prince of the World.

3. (verses 93-104) On Passover a Moabite shepherd asks King David to convert him. David does not know what to do, and he asks the Lord. Nathan the prophet answers in the name of God: 'Moabite male, not Moabite female'. The Moabite stays among David's shepherds and his daughter Sefira becomes a concubine to Solomon.

4. (verses 105-120) A story that praises the nature of King David, the wise judge.

5. (verses 121-130) Before a battle between the Philistines and Israel, the Lord speaks to Gad to tell David not to be frightened. That night a fiery vehicle descends from heaven and smites the Philistines.

6. (verses 131-141) God sends Gad to tell David not to boast of his strength. David admits that all of his strength comes from God. God is satisfied with David's answer and for that reason He decides that He will help the House of David forever.

7. (verses 142-177) David counts the children of Israel. This is a recension which combines 2 Sam 24:1-25 with 1 Chr 21:1-30. Both Biblical known texts, together with some 'additions', appear to be integral chapter in the book.

8. (verses 178-198) God reveals himself to David, telling him he should speak to his people. David gathers the people and preaches to them concerning the Lord's names and titles. David urges his people not only to listen to the Torah but to fulfill it as well.

9. (verses 199-226) Hiram, King of Tyre, asks David to send him messengers to teach him Torah. David answers that Hiram ought to fear the Lord and to fulfill the commandments of the children of Noah. A list of God's attributes is given, and the children of Israel are described as sealed with Shaddai. Hiram and his servants believe in Israel's election and praise Israel. God hears Hiram and sends Gad to tell David that Hiram and his people will prepare His house.

10. (verses 227-249) A praise to the Lord. This is Psa 145 with a different superscription than in the Masoretic text and it includes the missing Nun verse (different from any known version).

11. (verses 250-265) A praise to the Lord. This is Psa 144 with a different superscription than in the Masoretic text (and other minor differences).

12. (verses 266-285) Before David dies he urges his people to adhere to God that it will be good for them forever.

13. (verses 286-353) Except for the first four verses that belong to the former chapter (King David is dead and Solomon becomes King), it is a long story where Tamar, King David's daughter, plays the role of a heroine. This is a kind of addition to 2 Sam 13. After Tamar was raped, she ran to Geshur and later on one of the King's servants tried to rape her. Tamar kills her attacker and she comes back to Jerusalem, praised and blessed by King Solomon.

14. (verses 354-375) A revelation. Gad sees the Lord on His throne judging His people on the first day of the year. An angel brings forward three books in which everyone's deeds are written. The Satan wants to prosecute Israel, but he is silenced by one of the angels. The revelation contains all kinds of details and the Seer does not understand all of them. The revelation and the book end with a blessing by the Seer while an angel answers: 'Amen, Amen'.

There's remarkable diversity in the contents of this brief document. It is a document rich in visions and the ministry of angels, similar to themes in the Book of Mormon. Angels or messengers of God are often said to be dressed in linen, the material of sacred priestly robes. 

Here are a few passages that struck me as interesting from a Latter-day Saint perspective, just for your consideration. The titles are mine, suggesting themes that occur to me. The passages are given with their verse numbers. 

 On Purity

16 And it came to pass when the voice of the lamb was over, and, lo, a man dressed in linen came with three branches of vine and twelve palms in his hand. 17 And he took the lamb from the hand of the Sun and put the crown on its head, and the vine-branches and palms on his heart. 18 And the man, dressed in linen, cried like a ram’s horn, saying: ‘What hast thou here, impurity, and who hast thou here, impurity, that thou hast hewed thee a place in purity, and in my covenant 19 that I have set with the vine-branches and palms’. 20 And I have heard the lamb’s shepherd saying: ‘There is a place for the pure, not for the impure, with me, for I am a holy God, and I do not want the impure, only the pure. 21 Though both are creations of my hands, and my eyes are equally open on both. 22 But there is an advantage to the abundance of purity over the abundance of impurity just like the advantage of a man over a shadow. 

Israel, the Firstborn People

46 And I heard a voice crying from heaven, saying: 47 ‘You are My son, you are My firstborn, you are My first-fruit. 48 Have I not brought you from over Shihor to be my daily delight? 49 But you have thrown my presents away and dressed up the impure with pure, and that is why all these things happened to you. 50 And who is like unto Thee, among all creatures on earth? For in your shadow lived all these and by thy wounds they were healed! 51 For that consider well that which is before thee. 52 And because you have fulfilled the words of the shepherd all the days you have been in the Sun and you did not leave them, therefore all this honor shall occur to you’. 53 And I, Gad son of Ahimelech of the Jabez family of the tribe of Judah son of Israel, was amazed by the scene and could not control my spirit. 

The Seal of Truth

54 And the one dressed in linen came down to me and touched me, saying: ‘Write these words and seal with the seal of truth for “I am that I am” is My name, and with My name thou shalt bless all the house of Israel for they are a true seed. 55 Thou shalt go, for yet a little while, before thou art gathered quietly to thy fathers, and at the end of days thou shalt see with thy own eyes all these, not as a vision but in fact. 56 For in those days they shall not be called Jacob but Israel for in their remnant no iniquity is found for they belong entirely to the Lord. 

David Standing on a Pulpit to Speak to His Assembled People

182 Then David assembled all Israel in Jerusalem, and he made to himself a pulpit of wood and he stood upon it before all the people. And he opened his mouth and said: 183 ‘Hear, O Israel, your God and my God is one, the only One and unique, there is no one like His individuality, hidden from all, He was and is and will be, He fills His place but His place doesn’t fill Him, He sees but is not seen, He tells and knows futures, for He is God without end and there is no end to His end, Omnipotence, God of truth, whole worlds are full of His glory. 

David Teaches the Concept of Free Agency 

184 And He gave each one free choice: if one wants to do good – he will be helped, and if one wants to do evil – a path will be opened for him. 185 For that we will worship our God our king our Lord our saviour with love and awe, for your wisdom is the fear of the Lord and your cleverness is to depart from evil. 186 Remember and obey the law of Moses, man of God, that it may be well with thee all the days. 

Comparing the Law to a Seed and Faith to a Tree

187 Ask thy fathers and they will declare unto thee; thine elders, and they will tell thee. 188 Be strong and valiant to obey the law and not to hear it only. 189 For a deed is like a root, hearing it is like a seed, a belief is like a tree and the fruit is like righteousness. 190 And what shall we do to a smelly and stinky seed if a root will not come out of it? 191 For that, hurry up! be quick and act, hear and act, for you are true seed, for you have belief and righteousness then the Lord will bless you all in peace. 

On Love for Others 

192 Talk peacefully each with one another, and love the deed and those created in the image of the Lord like your own souls. 193 For if you love [man] the created, it is a sign that you love the Creator. 194 And also, thou shouldest take hold of the one; yea , also from the other withdraw not thy hand; love the Lord and also man that it shall be well with thee all the days’. 

Three Outcomes on the Day of Judgement

360 And, lo, a man dressed in linen brought before the glory of the Lord three books that were written about every man. 361 And he read in the first one and it was found to have the just deeds of His people, and the Lord said: 'These will live forever'. 362 And Satan said: 'Who are these guilty people?' And the man dressed in linen cried to Satan like a ram's horn, saying: 'Keep silent, for this day is holy to our master'.  363 And he read in th second book, and it was found to have inadvertent sins of His people, and the Lord said: 'Put aside this book but save it, until one third of the month elapses, to see what they will do'. 364 And he read in the third book, and it was found to have malicious deeds of His people. 365 And the Lord said to Satan: 'These are your share, take them to do with them as seemeth good to thee'. 366 And Satan took those which acted maliciously and he went with them to a waste land to destroy them there. 367 And the man dressed in linen cried like a ram's horn, saying:  368 'Happy is the people that know the joyful shout; that walk, O Lord, in the light of Thy countenance'. 

Conclusions for Now

The Words of Gad the Seer may merit more attention in the Latter-day Saint community, in my opinion. The text has a fascinating story and there may be more to learn from elements that might give us new insights into ancient Jewish thought. There may even have implications for the Book of Mormon. The peripheral issues of writing on metal, of ancient records in Yemen, and the ways in which sacred writings can be corrupted or neglected are fascinating in their own right, but there may be some gems of insight to extract from the text. More treasures from Cochin may yet remain to be discovered. 

Related Resources:

Barbara C.. Johnson, "NewResearch, Discoveries and Paradigms: A Report on the Current Study of KeralaJews," in N. Katz et al. (eds.), Indo-Judaic Studies in the Twenty-First Century (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2007), https://doi.org/10.1057/9780230603622_8 and https://link.springer.com/chapter/10.1057/9780230603622_8.

If you subscribe to the Biblical Archaeological Society, there are a number of articles on the issue of lost books: