Tag Archives: book of mormon

BoM 9: First Book of Nephi, Chapters 5, 6

When the boys return, with Laban’s servent Zoram, they find that Sariah, their mother, has been complaining about Lehi’s decision to drop everything and run to the wilderness. But what the description is odd:

For [Sariah] had supposed that we had perished in the wilderness; and she also had complained against my father, telling him that he was a visionary man; saying: “Behold thou hast led us forth from the land of our inheritance, and my sons are no more, and we perish in the wilderness.”

“Visionary” today means far-seeing; it’s hardly derogatory. I’m assuming that it meant something different in Smith’s day.

There is some textual help, though: a cross reference in the on-line version of the Book of Mormon. It refers to Genesis 37.19: “And they said one to another, Behold, this dreamer cometh.”

Slick. Really, a good con — this gives the indication that the Book of Mormon was a translation, and that the term used in 1 Nephi 5.2 is the same Hebrew word in Genesis 37.19. But it doesn’t all add up. To begin with, we have no way to determine what term was used in the original BoM because we don’t have the original text; all we have is a purported translation.

Not only that, but Mormon apologists can’t even agree on the original language used for the plates:

Latter-day Saint scholars have long been divided on the issue of the language in which the Book of Mormon is written. Some have proposed that the Nephite record was simply written in Egyptian, while others have suggested that the Nephite scribes used Egyptian script to write Hebrew text. While either of these is possible, this present study will elicit evidence for the latter.

Non-Latter-day Saint scholars and others have long scoffed at the idea that an Israelite group from Jerusalem should have written in Egyptian and mocked the term “reformed Egyptian” as nonsense. Since Joseph Smith’s time, we have learned a great deal about Egyptian and Israelite records and realize that the Book of Mormon was correct in all respects.

The ancient Egyptians used three types of writing systems. The most well known, the hieroglyphs (Greek for “sacred symbols”), comprised nearly 400 picture characters depicting things found in real life. A cursive script called hieratic (Greek for “sacred”) was also used, principally on papyrus. Around 700 B.C., the Egyptians developed an even more cursive script that we call demotic (Greek for “popular”), which bore little resemblance to the hieroglyphs. Both hieratic and demotic were in use in Lehi’s time and can properly be termed “reformed Egyptian.” From the account in Mormon 9:32, it seems likely that the Nephites further reformed the characters.

While it is clear that the Book of Mormon was written in Egyptian characters, scholars are divided on whether the underlying language was Egyptian or Hebrew. (Source)

There’s a lot in this passage, and not just the admission that there’s no consensus. Most striking is this statement: “Both hieratic and demotic were in use in Lehi’s time and can properly be termed ‘reformed Egyptian.'” I think this is called begging the question. The issue is whether or not there’s something called “reformed Egyptian,” and the authors of the paper simply assume it blithly.

Getting back to Nephi’s first book, the story continues with mother being comforted, everyone offering sacrifices of gratitude, and Lehi finally looking at the critical tablets brought back from Laban. They contain the books of Moses as well as Lehi’s fathers’ geneology, enabling Lehi to trace his lineage back to to the patriarch Jacob.

This should not be surprising, given the fact that Lehi and everyone are Jews.

Lehi gets excited — “filled with the Spirit” — and declares that all nations, all humans, in all times, should see these documents.

Chapter five sets up some heavy expectations: after all, Lehi himself said “Let everyone know.” But chapter six is a disappointment. It reads, in its entirety:

And now I, Nephi, do not give the genealogy of my fathers in this part of my record; neither at any time shall I give it after upon these plates which I am cwriting; for it is given in the record which has been kept by my father; wherefore, I do not write it in this work. For it sufficeth me to say that we are descendants of Joseph.And it mattereth not to me that I am particular to give a full account of all the things of my father, for they cannot be written upon these plates, for I desire the room that I may write of the things of God. For the fulness of mine intent is that I may apersuade men to bcome unto the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, and be saved. Wherefore, the things which are pleasing unto the world I do not write, but the things which are pleasing unto God and unto those who are not of the world. Wherefore, I shall give commandment unto my seed, that they shall not occupy these plates with things which are not of worth unto the children of men.

It’s growing increasingly difficult to take this book seriously.

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If It Looks, Smells, and Tastes Like Translated Hebrew…

There is a lot of effort — all mental, though — trying to legitimize the Book of Mormon. It should be physical effort, in the form of archeology, but that pesky angel took the plates with him.

If we could just get a look at the plates, I’m sure we could do all kinds of analysis — physical and textual — to prove their authenticity. But at least we have the translation, and we can use the translation to look for traces of Hebrew influences that would have been in the original Egyptian-script original.

At least that’s what John A. Tvedtnes argues in an article entitled “The Hebrew Background of the Book of Mormon.”

The essay begins,

The English translation of the Book of Mormon shows many characteristics of the Hebrew language. In many places the words that have been used and the ways in which the words have been put together are more typical of Hebrew than of English. These Hebraisms, as I will call them, are evidence of the authenticity of the Book of Mormon—evidence that Joseph Smith did not write a book in English but translated an ancient text and that his translation reflects the Hebrew words and word order of the original.

I read this and I think, “Are you serious?”

He is.

His essay is an attempt to prove the Hebrew origin of one book by comparing the English translation with an English translation of another book known to be written in Hebrew.

Some choice passages:

Hebrew uses another compound preposition that would be translated literally as from before the presence of or from before the face of. English would normally use simply from. The influence of the Hebrew can be seen in these Book of Mormon passages:

  • “they fled from before my presence” (1 Nephi 4:28)
  • “he had gone from before my presence” (1 Nephi 11:12)
  • “they were carried away . . . from before my face” (1 Nephi 11:29) […]

Hebrew has fewer adverbs than English. Instead, it often uses prepositional phrases with the preposition meaning in or with. The English translation of the Book of Mormon contains more of these prepositional phrases in place of adverbs than we would expect if the book had been written in English originally—another Hebraism. Here are some examples:

  • “with patience” instead of patiently (Mosiah 24:15)
  • “with much harshness” instead of very harshly (1 Nephi 18:11)
  • “with joy” instead of joyfully (Jacob 4:3)

The Book of Mormon uses cognates much more often than we would expect if the book had originally been written in English. These cognates show the Hebrew influence of the original. One of the best-known examples is “I have dreamed a dream” (1 Nephi 8:2). That is exactly the way that the same idea is expressed in literal translation of the Old Testament Hebrew (see Genesis 37:5; 41:11).

Here are some other examples of the use of cognates in the Book of Mormon, each followed by the more normal expression for English:

  • work all manner of fine work” (Mosiah 11:10) instead of work well
  • “and he did judge righteous judgments” (Mosiah 29:43) instead of judge righteously or make righteous judgments […]

For example, Hebrew uses compound prepositions that would be translated literally as by the hand of and by the mouth of. English would normally use just by. The Book of Mormon contains many examples that appear to show the influence of this Hebrew use of compound prepositions:

  • “ye shall be taken by the hand of your enemies” (Mosiah 17:18)
  • “I have also acquired much riches by the hand of my industry” (Alma 10:4) […]

All Tvedtnes succeeds in doing this is the exact opposite of what he’s arguing: he’s providing indications that Smith simply used the old KJV as a model for his writing.

But if “it looks like translated Hebrew” is a good enough argument, well…

And I have taken this computer by the hand of he who is webmaster and have written a fine writing and posted a wonderful post explaining, with much patience, the idiocy of this argument.

And write like Yoda too, I can. A Mormon Jedi must I be!

If a college student were to turn in a paper with this kind of reasoning, the professor would probably write two words at the top of the paper: “See me.”

The idea of “Saac’s sons” can be traced by to J. H. Allen’s Judah’s Sceptre and Joseph’s Birthright, from which Armstrong heavily plagiarized.

Yet this kind of “exegesis” is hardly new. I was first introduced to this kind of thinking growing up in Herbert Armstrong’s Worldwide Church of God. It was there that I learned the true etymology of the term “Saxons.” It came from the old days when the children of the Biblical Isaac were referred to as “Isaac’s sons.” It’s easy to see how one could quickly drop the “I” and simply call them “Saac’s sons.”

There are a few problems with this line of reasoning.

  1. “Saxon” comes from the Anglo-Saxon word “seax.”
  2. There is no evidence that anyone ever used “Saac” as a nickname for Isaac.
  3. This derivation depends on modern English (“Saac’s sons”), which would be several hundred years in the future from the time, Armstrong claimed, people began calling the descendants of Isaac “Saac’s sons.”

But in the world of cultic exegesis and the presumed conclusion, we can overlook these kinds of things.

Hat tip to Mormanity – A Mormon Blog for the initial link to this article.
Tvedtnes’s original article is available here.

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BoM 8: First Book of Nephi, Chapters 2-4

God comes to Lehi, Nephi’s father, in a dream and tells him to take his family to the wilderness. He doesn’t really give a reason, and Lehi complies: “he left his house, and the land of his inheritance, and his gold, and his silver, and his precious things, and took nothing with him, save it were his family, and provisions, and tents, and departed into the wilderness,” setting up camp near the Red Sea.

Here we learn a little about Nephi’s family. His mother is Sariah, and he has three elder brothers: Laman, Lemuel, and Sam.

They come across a river, which Lehi names after Laman, then says to him, “O that thou mightest be like unto this river, continually running into the fountain of all righteousness!” To Lemuel he says, ” O that thou mightest be like unto this valley, afirm and bsteadfast, and immovable in keeping the commandments of the Lord!” Nephi explains that Lehi says this because of the “stiffneckedness” of Laman and Lameul. Much like the first family, there’s some tension, with two of the brothers murmuring against their father and complain about having to follow father into the wilderness and leave behind their inheritance. Lehi puts the fear of God in them and they shape up.

At this point, God comes to Nephi and tells him something, but we don’t immediately know what. Nephi goes to Sam and tells him what God told him; Sam believes — yet we still don’t know what that was. All the same, Lamuel and Laman hear it and don’t believe, at which point God speaks to Nephi again. He tells him that, because he keeps his commandments, he shall prosper, while his brothers shall be cut off. God promises that Nephi will be made a ruler and a teacher.

Chapter three begins with a new command from God, which Nephi explains to his father:

Behold I have dreamed a dream, in the which the Lord hath commanded me that thou and thy brethren shall return to Jerusalem. For behold, Laban hath the record of the Jews and also a genealogy of my forefathers, and they are engraven upon plates of brass. Wherefore, the Lord hath commanded me that thou and thy brothers should go unto the house of Laban, and seek the records, and bring them down hither into the wilderness.

Nephi and his brothers return to Jerusalem, then cast lots to see who exactly is going to go into the house to get the records. Laman gets the short straw and goes to get the plates. Laban refuses, and the boys grow despondent.

Laban, according the the Biblical account (Genesis 24-31), was Jacob’s father-in-law. It was for Laban that Jacob worked seven years for Rachel’s hand in marriage, only to be fooled at the last minute and given Leah instead. Jacob worked another seven years and took Rachel as a second wife.Of course, this can’t be the same Laban, for Jacob is a patriarch: there was not Jewish Jerusalem at that point. It seems, though, that Smith is incorporating Biblical names to further legitimize his book — to give it a more authentic feel.

Then Nephi remembers all the gold they’d left in Jerusalem and they head off to get it. They offer to buy the plates, but Laban, seeing the treasure, decides simply to kill the brothers and take the money. The brothers run off, leaving the treasure behind. They hide in a cave, where the older brothers begin beating Nephi. An angel appears and asks them why they’re beating the one who will rule over them in the future. The angel assures the brothers that God will deliver Laban into their hands. The brothers don’t believe, despite the message having a clearly supernatural source.

The brothers return to Jerusalem at the beginning of chapter four, after Nephi points out that it was an angel that promised them all this — he must have inside knowledge. As they approach Laban’s house, who should appear but Laban himself, drunk and stumbling. He passes out at the feet of Nephi, who takes Laban’s sword and feels the Spirit telling him to slay Laban. But Nephi is a young man; he’s never killed anyone; he’s nervous. God speaks to him, stiffening his resolve:

Behold the Lord hath delivered him into thy hands. Yea, and I also knew that he had sought to take away mine own life; yea, and he would not hearken unto the commandments of the Lord; and he also had taken away our property. And it came to pass that the Spirit said unto me again: Slay him, for the Lord hath delivered him into thy hands; Behold the Lord slayeth the wicked to bring forth his righteous purposes. It is better that one man should perish than that a nation should dwindle and perish in unbelief.

So Nephi pulls Laban up by his hair and decapitates him with Laban’s own sword. He then takes Laban’s armor for his own. He heads to Laban’s house and, predictably, everyone thinks he’s Laban. He gets the plates and much of Laban’s treasure, then convinces Zoram, Laban’s servant, to head back with the now-rich brothers.

It’s striking how similar the actions of Nephi and the others are to the characters of the Old Testament. In a word, barbaric. There are two ways to explain this: the first is that the Book of Mormon is as genuine as the Bible, and thus is a fairly accurate reflection of life in those times. The second is that Smith deliberately chose to pattern his book after the Old Testament — a wise move, considering the claims he makes about it. However, there seems to be a third option, combining the other options: Smith was himself convinced that he was transmitting the word of God, but in fact was deluding himself. This might work if Smith claimed, as Mohammad did, that a supernatural being dictated the words to him. However, Smith claims that he translated plates — in other words, it would be possible to have physical proof of the divine inspiration of the Book of Mormon, if only the plates were still here. That backs Smith into a corner: either he’s telling the truth, or he’s deliberately lying. And if he’s lying, then that means a whole religion was created on one man’s lies.

How many times has that happened?

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BoM 7: First Book of Nephi, Chapter 1

The Book of Mormon opens with something called “The First Book of Nephi.” I sit down to begin reading, and I feel I’m reading Tolkien: I’m wondering when all these names will be explained. People? Places? Creatures? If only Gandolf were here to explain.

Nephi is, obviously enough, the author, and he begins his book by explaining his lineage:

  • “born of goodly parents”
  • “taught the learning of [his] father”
  • lived a life filled with its fair share of trouble but still close to God, and
  • “having had a great knowledge of the goodness and the mysteries of God.”

He is something of a Gandolf: keeper of long-lost knowledge.

Nephi goes on to explain that his chronicle, written in “the language of my father, which consists of the learning of the Jews and the language of the Egyptians,” is true: “I make it with mine own hand; and I make it according to my knowledge.” Evidently it has never cross Nephi’s mind that his knowledge could be flawed.

It’s a strange statement, though, because this is supposed to be a book divinely inspired. Wouldn’t it have made more sense to argue that the book is true because it comes from God? I suppose he’s simply stating here that this is firsthand knowledge, but we immediately see it’s not, for he starts talking about his father’s experiences:

For it came to pass in the commencement of the first year of the reign of Zedekiah, king of Judah, (my father, Lehi, having dwelt at Jerusalem in all his days); and in that same year there came many prophets, prophesying unto the people that they must repent, or the great city Jerusalem must be destroyed.

Finally, we get a known name: Zedekiah. Zedekiah was the successor to Jehoiachin, and the prophet Jeremiah was his adviser.

2 Kings 24.18 explains, “Zedekiah was twenty-one years old when he became king, and he reigned in Jerusalem eleven years. His mother’s name was Hamutal daughter of Jeremiah; she was from Libnah.”

In Jeremiah we read

He did evil in the eyes of the LORD, just as Jehoiakim had done. It was because of the LORD’s anger that all this happened to Jerusalem and Judah, and in the end he thrust them from his presence. Now Zedekiah rebelled against the king of Babylon.

Zedekiah basically stood up to Nebuchadnezzar, who then came down to Jerusalem and destroyed it. With this mention of Zedekiah, we get more than a known name; we get a possible date: between 597 and 586 BCE. This means we get a time frame for the events of the Book of Mormon, a time frame we could use to get archaeological verification.

The first chapter concludes with Lehi, Nephi’s father, getting a visit from God, in the familiar pillar of fire. God warns Lehi what’s coming by giving him a book of prophecy. There is an obvious parallel with Smith here, and if the Book of Mormon is not of divine origin, it’s a smart stroke on Smith’s part to start legitimizing his book within the book itself.

Suddenly, Nephi stops discussing his father’s story:

And now I, Nephi, do not make a full account of the things which my father hath written, for he hath written many things which he saw in visions and in dreams; and he also hath written many things which he prophesied and spake unto his children, of which I shall not make a full account.

It seems like more legitimizing: “this is not the first time we’ve seen books that are critical aspects of God’s revelation to humanity simply disappear,” Smith can argue.

The first chapter concludes by explaining that, after God’s revelations, Lehi did what Smith himself would do later: prophecy. And the result was the same:

And when the Jews heard these things they were angry with him; yea, even as with the prophets of old, whom they had cast out, and stoned, and slain; and they also sought his life, that they might take it away. But behold, I, Nephi, will show unto you that the tender mercies of the Lord are over all those whom he hath chosen, because of their faith, to make them mighty even unto the power of deliverance.

A cliffhanger! Brilliant — I can’t wait to see how Lehi got out of this pickle…

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BoM V: Testimony of the Prophet Joseph Smith, Part 2

After an asterisked break, Smith’s testimony continues:

Again, he told me, that when I got those plates of which he had spoken—for the time that they should be obtained was not yet fulfilled—I should not show them to any person; neither the breastplate with the Urim and Thummim; only to those to whom I should be commanded to show them; if I did I should be destroyed. While he was conversing with me about the plates, the vision was opened to my mind that I could see the place where the plates were deposited, and that so clearly and distinctly that I knew the place again when I visited it.

I must be missing something. We just read the Testimony of the Three, followed by the Testimony of the Eight — both reported seeing the plates. yet here we have Moroni saying, “Don’t show them to anyone.” Of course, I haven’t finished Smith’s testimony, so perhaps Moroni changes his mind.

That in itself would be problematic. Is Moroni speaking for himself, or for God? Certainly for God. No angel would presume to make a decision that would alter the course of human history — at least to some degree — without first consulting the Boss. Would he?

Either way, we have a problem.

If he’s speaking for God, then this is a discrepancy with one of Christianity’s most basic tenants about God: he changes not. In this scenario, God says, “Moroni, go tell Smith not to show anyone those plates” and then later, “Oh, on second though, he might get a lot of flack about the plates. Better let him show people”?

The other option is equally unappealing: Moroni is acting on his own accord. Wasn’t that what Lucifer was doing?

There are two more options, though: Smith could have just disregard it all. Or — and this is the most damning of all — Smith could have invented the Book of Mormon and simply noticed the discrepancy.

Continuing, Smith testifies:

After this communication, I saw the light in the room begin to gather immediately around the person of him who had been speaking to me, and it continued to do so, until the room was again left dark, except just around him, when instantly I saw, as it were, a conduit open right up into heaven, and he ascended until he entirely disappeared, and the room was left as it had been before this heavenly light had made its appearance.

I lay musing on the singularity of the scene, and marveling greatly at what had been told to me by this extraordinary messenger; when, in the midst of my meditation, I suddenly discovered that my room was again beginning to get lighted, and in an instant, as it were, the same heavenly messenger was again by my bedside.

Well, maybe Moroni has changed his mind. He certainly seems fairly indecisive here. It brings to mind the Clash classic.

“Should I stay or should I go?”

He commenced, and again related the very same things which he had done at his first visit, without the least variation; which having done, he informed me of great judgments which were coming upon the earth, with great desolations by famine, sword, and pestilence; and that these grievous judgments would come on the earth in this generation. Having related these things, he again ascended as he had done before.

Why the repetition? Why come back and simply repeat the same information, only to add a bit at the end about the awful things that will happen? Who cares, because there’s a bigger issue here: Moroni says that these things will happen “in this generation.” Humans get end-of-the-world prophecies wrong all the time, but angels, with their unfettered access to omniscient God?

There is a precedent for this, though. Jesus said, in the Olivet Discourse, Verily I say unto you, This generation shall not pass, till all these things be fulfilled” (Matt. 24:34). There are ways to theologize around this, but Jesus’ words are fairly simple, as are Moroni’s: this generation. And in both cases “this generation” is now “that generation”, several generations removed.

At any rate, Smith continues:

By this time, so deep were the impressions made on my mind, that sleep had fled from my eyes, and I lay overwhelmed in astonishment at what I had both seen and heard. But what was my surprise when again I beheld the same messenger at my bedside, and heard him rehearse or repeat over again to me the same things as before; and added a caution to me, telling me that Satan would try to tempt me (in consequence of the indigent circumstances of my father’s family), to get the plates for the purpose of getting rich. This he forbade me, saying that I must have no other object in view in getting the plates but to glorify God, and must not be influenced by any other motive than that of building His kingdom; otherwise I could not get them.

Three visits. There must be some significance to this.

Smith here seems to be countering twentieth century critics who would say, “You’re just making this up to get rich.” Of course that’s an anachronistic reading, but Smith does seem to be trying to head off certain objections before they arise. “Why, if I had plates like that, I’d get myself rich off them,” might have been the common logic he feared, as some sort of argument against the authenticity of his story. It’s about God, not mammon, in other words.

Will there be a fourth? I’ll wager no, in parallel with Jesus’ three days in the grave.

After this third visit, he again ascended into heaven as before, and I was again left to ponder on the strangeness of what I had just experienced; when almost immediately after the heavenly messenger had ascended from me the third time, the cock crowed, and I found that day was approaching, so that our interviews must have occupied the whole of that night.

I shortly after arose from my bed, and, as usual, went to the necessary labors of the day; but, in attempting to work as at other times, I found my strength so exhausted as to render me entirely unable. My father, who was laboring along with me, discovered something to be wrong with me, and told me to go home. I started with the intention of going to the house; but, in attempting to cross the fence out of the field where we were, my strength entirely failed me, and I fell helpless on the ground, and for a time was quite unconscious of anything.

This could be a clue.

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BoM IV: Testimony of the Prophet Joseph Smith, Part 1

After so many assurances that Joseph Smith did receive revelation from God, we might expect to hear from Smith himself.

The Prophet Joseph Smith’s own words about the coming forth of the Book of Mormon are: “On the evening of the . . . twenty-first of September [1823] . . . I betook myself to prayer and supplication to Almighty God . . . . “While I was thus in the act of calling upon God, I discovered a light appearing in my room, which continued to increase until the room was lighter than at noonday, when immediately a personage appeared at my bedside, standing in the air, for his feet did not touch the floor. “He had on a loose robe of most exquisite whiteness. It was a whiteness beyond anything earthly I had ever seen; nor do I believe that any earthly thing could be made to appear so exceedingly white and brilliant. His hands were naked, and his arms also, a little above the wrists; so, also, were his feet naked, as were his legs, a little above the ankles. His head and neck were also bare. I could discover that he had no other clothing on but this robe, as it was open, so that I could see into his bosom. “Not only was his robe exceedingly white, but his whole person was glorious beyond description, and his countenance truly like lightning. The room was exceedingly light, but not so very bright as immediately around his person. When I first looked upon him, I was afraid; but the fear soon left me. “He called me by name, and said unto me that he was a messenger sent from the presence of God to me, and that his name was Moroni; that God had a work for me to do; and that my name should be had for good and evil among all nations, kindreds, and tongues, or that it should be both good and evil spoken of among all people. “He said there was a book deposited, written upon gold plates, giving an account of the former inhabitants of this continent, and the source from whence they sprang. He also said that the fulness of the everlasting Gospel was contained in it, as delivered by the Savior to the ancient inhabitants; “Also, that there were two stones in silver bows—and these stones, fastened to a breastplate, constituted what is called the Urim and Thummim—deposited with the plates; and the possession and use of these stones were what constituted Seers in ancient or former times; and that God had prepared them for the purpose of translating the book.

At last, a question from the Introduction is answered: Moroni is an angel. Yet none mentioned in the Bible. One would think that, if God were going to reveal something through an angel almost two thousand years after his last revelation, that he would set things up in advance, at least mentioning the angel.

Gabriel, Michael, Lucifer — we get these names. Milton gives us others.

And from Smith, Moroni.

DNA and Descendants

“He said there was a book deposited, written upon gold plates, giving an account of the former inhabitants of this continent, and the source from whence they sprang.” Famously, DNA evidence has cast some doubt on Mormonism’s claims. Jeff Lindsay, a Mormon apologist, writes,

The issue of DNA and the Book of Mormon has raised many questions and some inappropriately harsh attacks by critics. Sadly, I even know of one person who claims to have left the Church because the preliminary DNA evidence did not square with his expectations. Still in its infancy, the application of DNA analysis to ancient history has posed tough new questions for those who believe in the Book of Mormon, just as it poses tough new questions for those who believe in the Bible–and for those who “believe” in linguistics, anthropology, and other sciences. DNA evidence is forcing many old assumptions to be reevaluated, but is also causing genuine head-scratching as it sometimes seems at odds with reasonable conclusions drawn from other fields. (Source)

Those “who ‘believe’ in linguistics, anthropology, and other sciences”? My initial reaction: so much for thoughtful apologetics. “Hey, it’s a belief, just like linguistics!” Lindsay continues,

DNA analysis of multiple Native American tribes generally points to Asian origins. Native American DNA does not appear to have distinctly “Jewish” traits. The mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA), which is passed only along maternal lines, primarily falls into four groups — haplogroups — that are termed A, B, C, and D — and these same groups are typical of Asian DNA. Initial studies comparing the mtDNA of Native Americans and other peoples of the world pointed to a definite Asian origin. Latter-day Saints pointed out that Lehi’s tiny group might have had negligible impact on the genes that would persist on the continent if the New World already had thousands or millions of people upon his arrival, as it almost certainly did.

So the argument is, “Well, there were too few to have an impact on the Native American gene pool.” Yet the LDS argument might be stronger than that:

Then it was noticed that 3 or 4 percent of northern Native Americans had a fifth haplogroup called the X haplogroup, which was unknown in Asia but common in Europe and especially the Middle East. Some of us Latter-day Saints pointed to the non-Asian X haplogroup as evidence for possible transoceanic contact with Europe or the Middle East, though probably not as evidence for Lehi’s migration since the estimated date of entry into the New World for haplogroup X was thousands of years before Lehi. But we would emphasize the complete absence of haplogroup X in Asia and its relative abundance in Europe and the Middle East, including Israel.

You see, there is another haplogroups in Native American genes, but even though it would have been present long before Lehi (still not sure who that is — could Google it, but I’ll just keep reading the Book of Mormon and find out like a good, patient reader) migrated. It shows it’s possible, though.

The bottom line, though, is that these criticism of Mormonism are based on a misunderstanding of what the Book of Mormon actually claims: “The Book of Mormon does not claim to explain the primary genetic origins of all Native Americans.”

It explains their geographic origins, but not their genetic origins.

Cognitive dissonance at its finest.

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BoM III: The Testimony of Eight Witnesses

As if three were not enough, we get eight more.

Be it known unto all nations, kindreds, tongues, and people, unto whom this work shall come: That Joseph Smith, Jun., the translator of this work, has shown unto us the plates of which hath been spoken, which have the appearance of gold; and as many of the leaves as the said Smith has translated we did handle with our hands; and we also saw the engravings thereon, all of which has the appearance of ancient work, and of curious workmanship. And this we bear record with words of soberness, that the said Smith has shown unto us, for we have seen and hefted, and know of a surety that the said Smith has got the plates of which we have spoken. And we give our names unto the world, to witness unto the world that which we have seen. And we lie not, God bearing witness of it.

Christian Whitmer
Jacob Whitmer
Peter Whitmer, Jun
John Whitmer
Hiram Page
Joseph Smith, Sen
Hyrum Smith
Samuel H. Smith

Enough with the sales pitch!

There is a big difference, though, between these two testimonies. The Eight claim that they saw and handled the plates; the Three simply saw the plates. Additionally, they claim that Smith himself showed them the plates; the Three claimed that an angel had shown them the plates.

Far from putting me at ease, this makes me even more suspect. Not everyone has an experience of being shown something by an angel; everyone, though, has an experience of being shown something by a fellow human. And like Saint Thomas, the Eight are able to put their hands in the wound, so to speak.

It almost seems planned. And they all seem to eager to convince.

The list of signatories is also enlightening. A little research shows that in fact everyone on the list was either of Smith’s family or the Whitmer family (early followers of Smith). Even “Joseph Smith, Sen.” testified. Apparently, even father vouched for son. If what Joseph Smith claims to be true really happened, then why not? However, if this was a grand hoax, or a case of self-delusion, it’s frightening that Smith Senior would assure us that there really were tablets, that his son was not lying when in fact he knew very well that he was.

Nonetheless, it’s a little like putting your father’s name down as a reference on your resume.

But all of this assumes that these people did see what they claim to have witnessed.

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BoM II: The Testimony of Three Witnesses

After the introduction, the Book of Mormon grows odd: “The Testimony of the Three Witnesses” immediately leaves me suspect. I get the feeling I’m talking to a used car salesman.

Be it known unto all nations, kindreds, tongues, and people, unto whom this work shall come: That we, through the grace of God the Father, and our Lord Jesus Christ, have seen the plates which contain this record, which is a record of the people of Nephi, and also of the Lamanites, their brethren, and also of the people of Jared, who came from the tower of which hath been spoken. And we also know that they have been translated by the gift and power of God, for his voice hath declared it unto us; wherefore we know of a surety that the work is true. And we also testify that we have seen the engravings which are upon the plates; and they have been shown unto us by the power of God, and not of man. And we declare with words of soberness, that an angel of God came down from heaven, and he brought and laid before our eyes, that we beheld and saw the plates, and the engravings thereon; and we know that it is by the grace of God the Father, and our Lord Jesus Christ, that we beheld and bear record that these things are true. And it is marvelous in our eyes. Nevertheless, the voice of the Lord commanded us that we should bear record of it; wherefore, to be obedient unto the commandments of God, we bear testimony of these things. And we know that if we are faithful in Christ, we shall rid our garments of the blood of all men, and be found spotless before the judgment-seat of Christ, and shall dwell with him eternally in the heavens. And the honor be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Ghost, which is one God. Amen.

Oliver Cowdery
David Whitmer
Martin Harris

“This is a good car. Really — a good car. Hey, Tony, tell this guy how good this car is.”

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Book of Mormon I: Introduction

The Book of Mormon begins,

Wherefore, it is an abridgment of the record of the people of Nephi, and also of the Lamanites-Written to the Lamanites, who are a remnant of the house of Israel; and also to Jew and Gentile-Written by way of commandment, and also by the spirit of prophecy and of revelation-Written and sealed up, and hid up unto the Lord, that they might not be destroyed-To come forth by the gift and power of God unto the interpretation thereof-Sealed by the hand of Moroni, and hid up unto the Lord, to come forth in due time by way of the Gentile-The interpretation thereof by the gift of God.

An abridgment taken from the Book of Ether also, which is a record of the people of Jared, who were scattered at the time the Lord confounded the language of the people, when they were building a tower to get to heaven-Which is to show unto the remnant of the House of Israel what great things the Lord hath done for their fathers; and that they may know the covenants of the Lord, that they are not cast off forever-And also to the convincing of the Jew and Gentile that Jesus is the Christ, the Eternal God, manifesting himself unto all nations-And now, if there are faults they are the mistakes of men; wherefore, condemn not the things of God, that ye may be found spotless at the judgment-seat of Christ.

TRANSLATED BY JOSEPH SMITH, Jun.
First English edition published in 1830

Immediately, we seem to be transported into a fantasy world, as when we read the first pages of Lord of the Rings. Questions abound: Who are these Nephi? What about the Lamanites? Are they more important than the Nephi? It seems logical, since this is both a record of the Lamanites and written to the Lamanites. And Moroni? Was he a Nephi (I’m sure that’s a plural form)? Was he a Lamanite? Neither one nor the other?

This is only the introduction, so it’s too much to ask who all these people are, but that leads to an obvious question: what Holy Book has an introduction?

The Hebrew Bible begins,

In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth. And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters. And God said, Let there be light: and there was light. And God saw the light, that it was good: and God divided the light from the darkness. And God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And the evening and the morning were the first day.

The Hebrew Bible jumps right into the thick of things, discussing the origins of life without any introduction or preface. It speaks with authority. This is how it was. There’s no justification: “This is the word of God, to those that eventually will become the Hebrews and later the Jews.”

The Koran begins,

In the name of Allah, the Beneficent, the Merciful. All praise is due to Allah, the Lord of the Worlds. The Beneficent, the Merciful. Master of the Day of Judgment. Thee do we serve and Thee do we beseech for help. Keep us on the right path. The path of those upon whom Thou hast bestowed favors. Not (the path) of those upon whom Thy wrath is brought down, nor of those who go astray.

Where the Hebrew Bible shows, the Koran tells: God is great and all powerful.

Only the New Testament begins similarly:

The book of the generation of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham. Abraham begat Isaac; and Isaac begat Jacob; and Jacob begat Judas and his brethren; And Judas begat Phares and Zara of Thamar; and Phares begat Esrom; and Esrom begat Aram; And Aram begat Aminadab; and Aminadab begat Naasson; and Naasson begat Salmon; And Salmon begat Booz of Rachab; and Booz begat Obed of Ruth; and Obed begat Jesse; And Jesse begat David the king; and David the king begat Solomon of her that had been the wife of Urias; And Solomon begat Roboam; and Roboam begat Abia; and Abia begat Asa; And Asa begat Josaphat; and Josaphat begat Joram; and Joram begat Ozias; And Ozias begat Joatham; and Joatham begat Achaz; and Achaz begat Ezekias; And Ezekias begat Manasses; and Manasses begat Amon; and Amon begat Josias; And Josias begat Jechonias and his brethren, about the time they were carried away to Babylon: And after they were brought to Babylon, Jechonias begat Salathiel; and Salathiel begat Zorobabel; And Zorobabel begat Abiud; and Abiud begat Eliakim; and Eliakim begat Azor; And Azor begat Sadoc; and Sadoc begat Achim; and Achim begat Eliud; And Eliud begat Eleazar; and Eleazar begat Matthan; and Matthan begat Jacob; And Jacob begat Joseph the husband of Mary, of whom was born Jesus, who is called Christ.

Both the Book of Mormon and the Christian New Testament begin with a sense of an author trying to legitimize something. The difference is that the New Testament is trying to legitimize Jesus as the Christ, while the Book of Mormon seems to be legitimizing itself more than anything else. Of course in legitimizing Jesus as the Anointed, the Matthew’s gospel is legitimizing itself indirectly.

The Book of Mormon, though, starts off like a mystery, trying to hook us with the first line. Who are these Nephi and Lamanites?

The mystery is compounded when we read of things being sealed and shut up. It has notes of esoteric antiquity, long lost but discovered and delivered unto a thirsting, ignorant world. That, of course, is the whole premise behind the Book of Mormon, but I wasn’t expecting to find it in the opening lines.

Indeed, it all hints at there being so much more behind the veil: this is an abridgement (Why can’t we have the whole thing?) written to the Lamanites (Who could they be?) and sealed up by Moroni (He must be some supernatural being.) that is a gift of God.

It’s a bold way to begin.

We end with the of-God/of-man dichotomy. “If there are any mistakes in the text,” authors are fond of writing in their acknowledgements, “It lies with me, and not all these wonderful people who advised me.” Thus ends the introduction to the Book of Mormon: any mistakes in here are of human origin, not God. For good measure, we have a dash of submit-for-the-sake-of-your-eternal-life tossed in at the end.

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Blogging the Book of Mormon

I’ve never read the Book of Mormon. I remember seeing it advertised on television — “Another testament of Jesus Christ” or something like that — but to date, that has been the extent of my exposure to it.

In planning this site, I decided that one of the things I wanted to do was to “blog” books: read a book and write a commentary on it as I go along. I’d like to do the Koran, the New Testament, and the Book of Mormon at the very least. So why not start with the Book of Mormon?

I would like to say that I intend on reading it objectively, with an open mind, so to speak. That is to say, without assumptions. However, I hold such a dim view of Mormonism based on the scant knowledge I have of it that it will be difficult to do so.

And so, coming soon: Part I, the introduction.

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