Discussions of Mormons and Mormon life, Book of Mormon issues and evidences, and other Latter-day Saint (LDS) topics.

Monday, May 21, 2018

Intriguing Comments on Brian Stubbs' Work on Possible Old World Connections to Uto-Aztecan Languages

After I published "The Next Big Thing in LDS Apologetics: Strong Semitic and Egyptian Elements in Uto-Aztecan Languages" at The Interpreter, I was pleasantly surprised with some of the the comments shared by various readers. Some of the most recent comments are especially interesting to me, beginning with two from Brian Stubbs himself:

1. How delightful to read civil discourse on Jeff’s review of my works! I’ve never experienced such a high percentage of reasonable commentary on such topics. Most of the questions were answered by later commenters. I might add two comments. One, Yes, I returned from two years among the Navajo, and immediately looked into that possibility, but within days of looking at Sino-Tibetan and other Far Languages, I could see that Athapaskan came from across the Bering Strait. So if I were of a mind to “create” something from nothing, it would have been there. Two, all the main UA pronouns are from Semitic or Egytian, as is a relatively high percent of its basic vocabulary: head, eyes, nose, cheek, neck, hair, shoulder, chest, breast, waist, leg, calf, finger/toe, sun, sky, moon, rock, water, several kinds of trees / plants, man, woman, several kinds of animals and insects, etc, etc. Of course, much remains to be figured out of how it all happened, yet it’s beginning to look like, rather than a near east infusion into UA, that other things came into the Near-Eastern base that UA actually is, because both Semitic-kw terms (Mulek) and Semitic-p and Egyptian terms (Nephi) are in all branches of UA, besides the actual Semitic terms for Nephites, both masc plural and feminine pl in some UA languages.

2. Stan Spencer pleasantly asked a fair question about Swadesh word lists, mentioning Tiberian Hebrew and Nahua, which deserves more explanation. Mulekite Semitic-kw would better correspond to Hebrew, but Mulek vocabulary is less prominent in UA than Lehite Semitic-p. UA pronouns are more from Lehite Aramaic and Egyptian, and you Sg is from you pl, just as English ‘you’ (originally pl) replaced ‘thou’ (related to German du, Latin tu, etc). So explainable changes make the Swadesh vocabulary lists problematic. E.g., the Hebrew word ‘ish ‘man’ is minimally found in UA, but the common UA word for man is from Aramaic dakar ‘male’ > UA / Nahua taka ‘man’, etc. The books explain things quite well, but plowing thru such books is not everyone’s priority, tho the smaller, lay-reader friendly Changes in Languages from Nephi to Now explains, in ways, more than the larger. Thank you Stan and all for your congenial discourse.
Then today came an interesting homework from a reader who has done his homework on this topic. Beau Anderson writes:
I know this article hasn’t been commented on recently, but just in case people interested in this subject come across this article, I would like to add to this conversation.

I became aware that Brian was working on this language proposal sometime around 2012-2013. I sent him an email inquiring about it and he very generously made available to me a pre-publication copy of the larger book that Jeff mentions in this article.

I found the proposal so professionally prepared and interesting that I immersed myself in it, trying to see if Brian’s arguments were truly as persuasive as they seemed to be. That pre-publication copy got so over-used that I heard it breathe an audible sigh of relief when I bought Brian’s finished book after it was published.

I also reached out Lyle Campbell, a (non-LDS) foremost scholar in historical linguistics and in Uto-Aztecan languages. Lyle quite literally wrote the book on what it takes to establish “long-distance” relationships between language families.

Lyle was kind enough to provide me with some general feedback regarding Brian Stubbs’ work, language relationships in general, and Uto-Aztecan in particular. I think it is particularly helpful to hear from a prominent non-mormon historical linguist about what he thinks of Brian Stubbs previous Uto-Aztecan publications and professionalism:

“Brian kindly sent me his [Semitic/Egyptian in Uto-Aztecan] work a few months ago, and I haven’t had time to do more than scan parts of it. Brian’s UA Comparative Vocabulary is excellent, the major source for checking UA cognates. It’s based on sound principles and rigorous scholarship. I refer to it often, and am grateful to Brian for sharing it with me.” (Lyle Campbell, personal correspondence, January 2016, shared with Lyle’s permission)

The book “UA Comparative Vocabulary” that Lyle mentions as being “based on sound principles and rigorous scholarship” presents its data in a very similar fashion as the language proposal, although the language proposal tends to provide even more detailed information and much more useful indexes and appendixes.

After working to understand the validity of Brian’s work for several years, I can’t say enough about how powerful I think the case is for significant Semitic & Egyptian influence in Uto-Aztecan languages.
Thank you, Beau!

Note that Dr. Campbell is not directly evaluating the merits of Stubbs' recent work, but is kindly acknowledging his competence in the UA arena. Eventually I hope Dr. Campbell will be able to more directly evaluate the specific findings in Stubbs work, in spite of the sensitivity of anything tied to Book of Mormon evidences. Fingers crossed.

Monday, May 14, 2018

New Document Discovered from a Book of Mormon Witness

From the Juvenile Instructor blog, we have an important new finding regarding a Book of Momron witness. See "1829 Mormon Discovery Brought to you by…Guest Erin Jennings" which shares news about the discovery of an important early letter from Oliver Cowdery regarding the Book of Mormon. The letter had been printed before, but the original was only recently discovered through painstaking work.

Daniel Peterson notes a key learning from this letter in his brief summary at Sic et Non:
Dated 9 November 1829 — which is to say, nearly five months before the actual publication of the Book of Mormon — the account is contained in a letter that was evidently written by Oliver Cowdery to a Mr. Cornelius Blatchly.

Mr. Blatchly had evidently suggested that the Book of Mormon, and the testimonies of the Witnesses to it, might rest upon “juggling.”  Noah Webster’s 1828 American dictionary defines the verb to juggle as  “1. To play tricks by slight of hand; to amuse and make sport by tricks, which make a false show of extraordinary powers.  2. To practice artifice or imposture.”

Oliver Cowdery responded to Mr. Blatchly as follows (with editorial notes from Mr. Blatchly enclosed within brackets), referring to his encounter with the plates and the angel as one of the Three Witnesses:

“It was a clear, open beautiful day, far from any inhabitants, in a remote field, at the time we saw the record, of which it has been spoken, brought and laid before us, by an angel, arrayed in glorious light, [who] ascend [descended I suppose] out of the midst of heaven.

“Now if this is human juggling — judge ye.”

Friday, May 11, 2018

When a Child Has a Fracture, Why Are the Parents Presumed Guilty Until Proven Innocent?

In the end the parents got their children back, but it took two years of separation and harm inflicted to a child by the State of Pennsylvania. You can read the decision from the appeal that finally, after two years, returned a baby to its parents after a rogue judge had decided to take the baby away. It is a case where two loving parents were presumed guilty of something until proven innocent. It's a troubling reading, especially for those of us who have a grandchild with loving parents in Philadelphia, where this travesty occurred. It could happen again and my granddaughter could be next.

[Update, May 13: The URL for the court decision, http://www.pacourts.us/assets/opinions/Superior/out/Memorandum%20%20ReversedVacated%20%2010346885234069864.pdf?cb=1, is on odd one that Firefox displays with spaces that can create problems. I changed the link above to a TinyURL shortcut that seems to help. If you still have trouble, you can also download the PDF file from JeffLindsay.com.]

Simon Black, founder of the SovereignMan service that I subscribe to, shares the story in a recent newsletter. Here is an excerpt:
It started back in 2016… on April 6th to be specific. A Philadelphia-area mother walked into a clinic because her 7-month old baby was being excessively fussy.

The doctor performed a cursory examination, concluded the baby had an ear infection, and prescribed an antibiotic.

Later that day, the mother noticed what seemed like a bone popping in the baby’s side and thought this might be the source of the discomfort.

Concerned, she went right back to the clinic to show the pediatrician.

The doctor claimed that he could not feel any popping and reassured the mother that the baby had an ear infection.

By the next day, the baby was in even worse shape. So the father took her to the hospital and insisted on an X-ray.

The parents’ instinct turned out to be correct-- the baby had a mild fracture of her ribs.

Now-- this is problem #1 in our story. Certainly the US health care industry is filled some incredibly hard-working and talented professionals.

But the system is designed the churn and burn... to push people through the clinics as quickly as possible.

The standard of care now is to prescribe some medication (usually antibiotics) and send people on their way without taking the time to conduct a comprehensive examination....

But this story isn’t about medical care. This is a story about a family being ripped apart by the ‘Justice’ system.

That’s because, after the physicians finally saw the baby’s cracked rib, they called in the local Child Protective Services.

A hearing was immediately convened, and the parents couldn’t explain the injury. Their best guess was that their older child may have accidentally injured the baby, but they didn’t know for certain.

And it was based on this uncertainty that BOTH children were taken away.

The older child was placed in the custody of his grandmother, and the baby was shipped off to a foster home.

This is where things become truly bizarre.

The local authorities conducted an investigation and found no “aggravated circumstances”. So the older child was soon returned to the parents.

But the baby remained in a foster home… in the care of complete strangers.

FOUR MONTHS LATER, there was finally an initial court hearing. The judge acknowledged that the older child had already been returned to the parents and was safe in their home.

But she refused to return the baby.

More importantly, the judge mandated that the parents should have SUPERVISED visitation, i.e. they had to go to the foster home to see their own baby under the supervision of a government employee.

Another four months later (now we’re in December 2016), another hearing was held.

Once again, the judge refused to return the baby… and even refused to transfer the baby from the foster home to the custody of the grandmother.

Bear in mind that the older child had already been returned to the parents several months prior.

So if they’d had any evidence that the parents were unfit, you’d think that BOTH of the children would have been in foster care.

But that wasn’t the case at all. That’s because the investigation showed no evidence of wrongdoing. The police weren’t involved. And no charges were being filed.

This was simply a matter of a single judge abusing her authority to separate a family, solely because she wasn’t satisfied that the parents didn’t know how the baby had sustained her injuries.

At that point the family hired a SECOND attorney who appealed the decision.

Another four months went by, and in March 2017, the judge held further hearings on the matter.

At that hearing, the attorney attempted to introduce evidence supporting the family’s claim, as well as testimony from other physicians citing a number of plausible reasons how the baby could have been injured.

But according to court records, the judge “refused to take any testimony in the case” because she thought the new attorney was “disrespectful and a little bit arrogant”.

The judge concluded the hearing by punishing the family even more-- she suspended the grandmother’s right to visit the baby, denied the parents request for unsupervised visitation, and authorized the city to start the process to put the baby up for adoption.

More hearings took place over the next several months, until, in October 2017, the judge “involuntarily terminated Parents’ rights.”

In other words, the judge stripped the baby away and shipped her off like cattle to another home. Permanently. The parents were no longer the parents.

Now, it took a looong time. But last week the appeal was finally settled, with a different judge in a higher court.

And the appeals court sided with the parents.

More importantly, the appeals court issued a scathing condemnation of the other judge’s behavior, calling it “abuse of discretion” among other choice phrases.

It took more than TWO YEARS for this family to be reunited… not to mention a ton of money in attorney fees and an incalculable amount of stress.
Increasingly, in the United States, the citizens in the "land of the free" find that they are relatively free until one judge, one police officer, or one petty official from a host of bureaucracies and agencies decides to simply take those rights away. Whether it is confiscating your home or car or bank account under the abusive procedure of civil asset forfeiture without a trial, or attempting to take away a child permanently because the parents didn't know when and how a rib was fractured, Americans are increasingly at the mercy of despots.

For Mother's Day, may I suggest that we ponder what we can do to resist the loss of fundamental rights and to better protect the rights of mothers and parents in general. I don't currerntly know who the best organizations are fighting for our rights in this area, but one good group may be ParentalRights.org. I would appreciate your input on key allies we should consider to resist the erosion of parental rights.

Saturday, May 05, 2018

Two Witnesses, Witnessed by Sally Parker

The vast body of scholarship on the witnesses to the Book of Mormon paints a consistent story of real people who really saw something and, in spite of whatever problems or differences with Joseph Smith or others they may have later faced, never denied the reality of their witness. The scholarship on their lives also includes studies on many peripheral figures whose words add to our understanding of what the witnesses said. One such figure is Sally Parker. See Janiece L. Johnson , "'The Scriptures Is a Fulfilling': Sally Parker's Weave," BYU Studies, vol. 4, no. 2 (2005). This publication features a letter written by Sally Bradford Parker to her brother-in-law John Kempton on August 26, 1838. The young convert shares her experience in hearing the testimony of Hyrum Smith and also of Lucy Mack Smith. On page 1 of her letter (I'll use the edited version with conventional spelling and grammar), she states:
And you said you wanted if we could send you something to comfort you, which I don't know as I can. For I have not heard but one sermon since we have been in the place and that by Hyrum Smith. As he was moving to Missouri he tarried with us a little while. His discourse was beautiful. We were talking about the Book of Mormon, [of] which he is one of the witnesses. He said he had but two hands and two eyes. He said he had seen the plates with his eyes and handled them with his hands and he saw a breast plate and he told how it was made. It was fixed for the breast of a man with a hole in [the] stomach and two pieces upon each side with a hole through them to put in a string to tie it on, but that was not so good gold as the plates for that was pure. Why I write this is because they dispute the Book so much.

I lived by his Mother [Lucy Mack Smith, in Kirtland] and she was one of the finest of women, always helping those that stood in need. She told me the whole story. The plates were in the house and sometimes in the woods for eight months on account of people trying to get them. They had to hide them once. They hid them under the hearth. They took up the brick and put them in and put the brick back. The old lady told me this herself with tears in her eyes and they run down her cheeks too. She put her hand upon her stomach and said she, "O the peace of God that rested upon us all that time." She said it was a heaven below. I asked her if she saw the plates. She said no, it was not for her to see them, but she hefted and handled them and I believed all she said for I lived by her eight months and she was one of the best of women. [emphasis added]
She testifies to the character of Lucy Mack Smith and observes that while she had not seen them directly, she had "hefted and handled them" (apparently while covered) and thus, of course, was a witness of their physical reality. Of Hyrum Smith, she heard him directly describe what he had seen. He made it unmistakeable that it was with his real eyes that he saw and his real hands that he handled the plates. These accounts are numerous, consistent, and granular. The witnesses were genuine witnesses and the plates were real. In my opinion, that's the most logical conclusion that can be made in light of their statements and their behavior.

Cultural Misappropriation: Much Worse Than You Thought

Some Americans are steaming about the shocking incident in Salt Lake City when a young Utah white girl demonstrated her white privilege and scandalous racism, imperialism, consumerism, colonialism, narcissism, egocentrism, materialism, highbrowism, astigmatism and even touch of isomerism and dimerism, a loathsome cornucopia of vice all wrapped in one egregious act: wearing a Chinese dress, the elegant qipao. Sadly, most folks here in China don't have the advanced education that is required to get so frothy over someone's dress, as the Southern China Morning Post reports. Chinese mainlanders tend to think Keziah Daum's choice of prom dress was a cool decision and don't understand the vitriol, which is why we need more elite American tourists to come to China and help educate the natives over here. Feel free to educate me, too, when you visit. And then after your lecture, I can show you some of the better places to get nice tailored Asian clothes cheap.

You'll need to know where those places are so you can tell Chinese people where to go after you vent about just how offended you are at their cultural misappropriation of Western dresses, pants, shoes, shirts, and suits, even down to specific Western brands like Nike and Boss. If you enjoy venting, there are bigger fish to stir fry than a Utah prom dress.

Meanwhile, another Westerner who has lived for years in China, Mark Cohen, the US government's former liaison to China from the US Patent and Trademark Office, wrote an article on this incident that helped me realize that cultural misappropriation among Americans is far worse than I imagined.

Critics of Mormonism (another offensive -ism to stir up sensitive souls) will be pleased with the shocking news that scandalous cultural misappropriation is taking place every Sunday in almost every Mormon chapel around the United States and perhaps all over the world. See those men sitting on the stand as if they are some kind of leaders or something? How many of them are genuine Croatians? Almost none. But there they are, egregiously and ignorantly misappropriating the classical Croatian attire. Mark Cohen seems way too calm as he explains this scandal:
One need not travel far to see evidence of cultural borrowings.  Whenever a man wears a tie, he is following a tradition set by Croatians during the Napoleonic wars.  Indeed, the French word cravate is a corrupt French pronunciation of Croate.  The origin of the tie is a source of some pride to the many Croatians I have met over the years.
It's time we stand in solidarity with Croatian pride! So next time you see some white Mormon male  wearing a tie, ask him about his genealogy and see if he's got at least 50% Croatian roots. Once he's admitted that he doesn't, you've got him! Then get on your high horse -- wait, that would be misappropriating Apache and Mongolian horsemanship skills -- or rather, throw down the gauntlet (totally OK if you are descended from medieval French knights), and let him know just how morally superior you are. Eat your heart out, or his -- if you come from an authentic cannibal culture, that is, and if local laws and regulations permit.

Best to keep that Asian-themed tattoos covered up while you do this, just to prevent misunderstanding (especially the kind that comes from understanding, if he understands Chinese -- sometimes those cool Chinese characters people get for tattoos actually say some pretty awkward things).

By the way, happy Cinco de Mayo!

Wednesday, May 02, 2018

Li Jing, China's Mysterious Long-Distance Horse Rider, Has Finally Been Found and Rides Again!

Li Jing has now been found in Russia and connected
to the international Long Riders' Guild
One of the most interesting escapades of my years in China has been the search for Li Jing, China's mysterious long-distance rider who completed a monumental horseback ride of over 9,000 kilometers from Moscow to Bejing a decade ago, and then seemed to vanish as far as the international equestrian community knew. The background story is told in my previous post, "Where Horses Can Take You, and My Quest for Li Jing (李荆)," where I explain how my article on horses and the Book of Mormon for Meridian Magazine resulted in a connection with the illustrious international society dedicated to long-distance riding, the Long Riders' Guild, whose colorful and eloquent president, CuChullaine O'Reilly, asked me if I cold help them in their nine-year quest to find Li Jing. That previous Mormanity post, along with efforts on Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, my Chinese network and Chinese social media, including both Chinese and English comments posted on two Chinese social media sites apparently owned by Li Jing, were part of my effort to help connect Li Jing with the Long Riders' Guild. I had also learned in my searching of Chinese-language websites that Li Jing had moved to Russia, apparently Moscow, and was still riding.

Wonderfully, Li Jing has now been found! A few days after my efforts, CuChullaine O'Reilly was contacted by a Russian organization with information about Li Jing. The President of the National Equestrian Tourism Center (NETO Russia) has connected Li Jing with the Guild, and the Guild will now be able to help support future rides and projects, and share precious information about Li Jing's ongoing work with its international membership.

The news is already spreading around the world. From New Zealand, for example, there is this dramatic story: "World’s most elusive Long Rider finally found, riding toward the Arctic Circle," May 2, 2018, from HorseTalk.co.nz. My minor efforts even get an undeserved mention there.

In an overly kind act, the Guild has officially named me as one of the Friends of the Guild, though I have pointed out that in my recent communication with the leader of the Russian organization, he was not aware of my efforts here in China to connect the Guild with Li Jing. His reaching out to the Guild, which he was already aware of, may have been completely fortuitous. But perhaps the prodding led to a chain of events or conversations that helped make the connection. In any case, I'm thrilled that Li Jing has been found and that another chapter in the great story of horses and humans can be more fully written.

I also hope to meet Li Jing one day, and have contacted NETO Russia to explore such opportunities. Li Jing, a native of Wuhan, China, in the heart of this land, embodies the spirit of adventure and passion that has resulted in so many great things out of China. His story needs to be told more widely here as well as around the globe. I also hope that the Guild's newly kindled interest in the story of horses among the religions of the world will lead to more treasures of knowledge for all of us. Many thanks to Li Jing, to Gennadii Semin of NETO Russia, and especially to CuChullaine O'Reilly of the Long Riders Guild!



Thursday, April 26, 2018

Joseph the Amusing Teller of Tall Tales: Lucy Mack Smith's Puzzling Statement in Perspective

One of the pillars of disbelief for critics of the Book of Mormon is the notion that Joseph Smith was well known as an imaginative story teller. He was allegedly telling wild stories about the ancient peoples of the Americas years before be began the "translation" of the Book of Mormon -- that pretty much is all we need to know to explain the origins of the Book of Mormon.

This mischief begins with a puzzling statement from Lucy Mack Smith that is endlessly used and abused by Book of Mormon critics, and often accepted at face value by Latter-day Saints. But there are enough oddities in her account and a lack of support from Joseph's peers for her statement, as we discuss below, that a little more skepticism might be healthy. It is hardly the kind of evidence that one can hang one's hat on. Here is the statement from her 1853 autobiography:
From this time forth [after the initial visits from Moroni], Joseph continued to receive instructions from the Lord, and we continued to get the children together every evening, for the purpose of listening while he gave us a relation of the same. I presume our family presented an aspect as singular as any that ever lived upon the face of the earth, all seated in a circle, father, mother, sons, and daughters, and giving the most profound attention to a boy, eighteen years of age, who had never read the Bible through in his life: he seemed much less inclined to the perusal of books than any of the rest of our children, but far more given to meditation and deep study. We were now confirmed in the opinion that God was about to bring to light something upon which we could stay our minds, or that would give us a more perfect knowledge of the plan of salvation and the redemption of the human family. This caused us greatly to rejoice, the sweetest union and happiness pervaded our house, and tranquillity reigned in our midst. [p.85] During our evening conversations, Joseph would occasionally give us some of the most amusing recitals that could be imagined. He would describe the ancient inhabitants of this continent, their dress, mode of travelling, and the animals upon which they rode; their cities, their buildings, with every particular; their mode of warfare; and also their religious worship. This he would do with as much ease, seemingly, as if he had spent his whole life with them. [emphasis added]
This is used not only by Book of Mormon critics to suggest that Joseph's story telling skills were remarkable and predated the production of the Book of Mormon, but is also used by some factions within Mormonism who claim that Joseph of course knew all about the details of Nephite civilization and where they were located, so various statements inferring a North American setting must be taken as prophetic certainty, in sharp contrast to what the record really shows about Joseph's evolving views on where the Book of Mormon scenes in the Americas might have taken place.

The abuse of Lucy's quote includes episodes when some critics misuse her statement to imply that Joseph had long been interested in the ancient Americas and was telling stories of life in ancient America before he encountered Moroni and the gold plates. Lucy's statement in context clearly indicates that the occasionally "amusing recitals" were usually quite serious and inspiring, and only began after Joseph was introduced to the Book of Mormon by Moroni, not before. But the way the statement has been edited by the Tanners has caused some confusion in readers. Below is a passage from Mormonism–Shadow or Reality? by Gerald and Sandra Tanner, p. 81, as discussed in a fascinating report by Robert Vukich in "An Incident Concerning Page 81 of Mormonism–Shadow or Reality?" from the 2000 FAIRMormon Conference:
The fact that Joseph Smith had a great interest in the ancient inhabitants of the land prior to his “translation” of the Book of Mormon is no secret to those who have read the History of Joseph Smith by his Mother. Mrs. Smith said: “I presume our family presented an aspect as singular as any that ever lived upon the face of the earth–all seated in a circle, father, mother, sons and daughters, and giving the most profound attention to a boy, eighteen years of age, …During our evening conversations, JOSEPH would occasionally give us some of the most amusing recitals that could be imagined. He would describe the ANCIENT INHABITANTS of this continent, their dress, mode of traveling, and the animals upon which they rode; their cities, their buildings, with every particular; their mode of warfare; and also their religious worship. This he would do with EASE, seemingly, as if he had spent his whole life among them.” (History of Joseph Smith by His Mother, 1954 Edition, pages 82-83)
Lucy's statement in context is the voice of a witness seeing a miracle taking place through Joseph's encounter with Moroni and the Book of Mormon, but the serious and inspiring flavor of her statement becomes a focus on amusing tales from an entertaining story teller who was skilled at making stuff up, thus explaining away Book of Mormon origins as the work of Joseph's imagination. As edited and presented, that's not exactly true to what Lucy's statement really indicates.

Vukich shares his correspondence with the Tanners as he questions their motives and accuracy in their editing of Lucy Mack Smith's quote. It is an interesting exchange that reminds us that some critics in spite of their proclaimed commitment to truth and accuracy might take a few shortcuts that can be questioned. 

The abuse of Lucy Mack Smith's statement to turn the Book of Mormon into the easily explained fruit of an entertaining story teller has been replayed in many forms. A recent example is in a seemingly scholarly work that is unable to get past the author's personal biases to confront the Book of Mormon seriously. The work is Ann Taves, Revelatory Events: Three Case Studies in the Emergence of New Spiritual Paths (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2016), as reviewed by Kevin Christensen in "Playing to an Audience: A Review of Revelatory Events," Interpreter: A Journal of Mormon Scripture 28 (2018): 65-114. Christensen offers some significant analysis regarding Lucy Mack Smith's statement that should be considered the next time someone rattles it off as if it helped explain the origins of the Book of Mormon, or as if it takes away from the miracle of what Joseph dictated from a hat while housed in the information vacuum of Harmony, Pennsylvania (a village that essentially no longer exists and wasn't much in Joseph's day wither), without the aid of manuscripts, a Bible, reference materials, or a technical advisory team scouting the world for Hebraisms, maps of Arabia, details about the ancient Americas, etc.

In response to Taves' excessive reliance on Luck Mack Smith's statement, Kevin Christensen offers the following analysis in his review:
There are some unexamined oddities about the Lucy Smith quote. Before I would take it as an interpretive foundation, I must consider that, even though a first-hand account, it is not an autograph account, and it is late, dating to an 1844 dictation in Nauvoo to the non-LDS, 24-year old Martha Jane Coray regarding events in Palmyra 1823 and then not published until 1853. That is, the quote is six years older than Joseph Smith’s official history from 1838, which Taves takes notable interest in dissecting and comparing with earlier sources. In her discussion of method and sources for Mormonism, she observes:
Apart from the 1825 agreement with Josiah Stowell and the 1826 court record, both of which are preserved in later versions, we have no real-time access to events until July 1828, when D&C 3 — the first real-time recorded revelation — opens a window in the wake of the loss of the first 116 pages of the manuscript. Chapter 1 thus opens with an in-depth analysis of D&C 3, read as a window on that moment rather than as it was interpreted and reinterpreted in later accounts. (21)
The Lucy Smith quote, aside from being a late account, rather than early and contemporary (not “real time access,” not a direct “window on the moment”), turns out to be notably odd and unique with respect to Joseph Smith, rather than well supported from a range of sources. Certainly much in Lucy’s biography is well supported, but let us recognize the anomaly here. Odd accounts do occur in history, yes, but the account raises questions that should be faced and mentioned before building one’s structure there. First of all, the Book of Mormon we have has no descriptions of people riding animals in over 500 pages that include several major migrations and 100 distinct wars. It provides no notably detailed descriptions of clothing (other than armor) and no detailed descriptions of the structure of later buildings. The most detail we get involves descriptions of fortifications with palisaded walls and ditches.

Then there is the unasked question as to why — if Joseph Smith as a youth was capable of this kind of detailed, immersive, evening-filling recital on the everyday particulars of Book of Mormon peoples and culture — do we have no further record anywhere of his performing the same service as an adult? Perhaps the closest circumstance on this topic involves the Zelph story on Zion’s Camp, but in that case the notable differences in the details recorded by the different people who reported it, even those writing close to the event, should give pause to a person trying to build an interpretive foundation on an isolated, late, anomalous account related to far longer and complex narrative than the Zelph gossip. It bears mentioning that if Joseph Smith had been telling stories about the Book of Mormon peoples, animals, clothing, and culture, such stories should have had an obvious influence on Abner Cole’s 1830 parody version, the Book of Pukei, which “tells in mocking fashion about the sorts of things that Joseph’s neighbors expected to find in the Book of Mormon.” Yet the most notable thing about the Book of Pukei is how utterly different it is from the actual Book of Mormon. The book Joseph Smith produced was emphatically not what his neighbors expected.

It is true the Book of Mormon does contain abundant details about “their religious worship” and their “modes of warfare,” but we have no other accounts of Joseph Smith’s filling anyone’s evening or afternoon with amusing or serious recitals on those topics either. Again, why not? This is not a frivolous question but one addressed to a foundation stone upon which Taves chooses to build.
The one notable discussion of ancient buildings from Joseph Smith comes as his surprised and delighted review of John Lloyd Stephen’s Incidents of Travels Central America as expressed in two articles in the Times and Seasons in Nauvoo. I find Michael Coe’s report of Joseph Smith’s encounter with the Stephen’s book particularly telling:
In 1841 — after the Book of Mormon, actually — there was a publication in New York and London of a wonderful two volume work called Incidents of Travel in Central America, Chiapas and Yucatan by John Lloyd Stephens, an American diplomat, and his artist-companion, the British topographical artist Frederick Catherwood, with wonderful illustrations by Catherwood of the Maya ruins. This was the beginning of Maya archaeology, … and we who worked with the Maya civilization consider Stephens and Catherwood the kind of patron saints of the whole thing.
Well, Joseph Smith read these two volumes, and he was flabbergasted, because what he had dictated about the ancient his mind, these were the ancient cities that he was talking about. They weren’t in South America, as he originally thought; they were in Central America and neighboring Mexico.
It happens that there are over 500 passages with geographic details for the New World portions of the Book of Mormon, and they have a remarkable internal consistency. But they are not at all consistent with any location in South America, and more particularly, there is no way to fit the internal travel accounts required to a New York Cumorah and a Land South that includes South America. Coe doesn’t bother to explain how Joseph managed to describe in detail and at length something so very different than he originally imagined, or more accurately, what Coe imagines Joseph imagined. Taves avoids these issues the same way Coe does: by not exploring the Book of Mormon text or Joseph Smith’s history or believing Mormon scholarship in enough detail to encounter or generate such problems. In her account, the Book of Mormon is Biblical sounding, has a bit of distinctive language in chiasmus, and has a story of “shining stones” and divine rebuke she reads as analogous to Joseph Smith and the plates. But for purposes of her discussion, it can be defined simply as “large” and “complex,” just as The Big Book of AA is, and as Schucman’s A Course in Miracles is, and as a range of other automatic writings are. Personally, I find the superficiality of her approach to the Book of Mormon to be astonishing in a book that purports to authoritatively account for its existence. And this is true even considering the comment of another sympathetic Catholic scholar, Thomas O’Dea, who famously observed, “The Book of Mormon is not one of those books that one must read in order to have an opinion of it.” [references omitted]
Lucy's statement is an oddity. Certainly Joseph discussed things that he learned from revelation with his family, but there is no reason to believe that what he would encounter and dictate in the translation process was already part of a worked out collection of stories or from a manuscript he was already familiar with. Joseph the remarkable teller of Indian stories is not the Joseph that anyone seems to have known. After the Book of Mormon came out, he didn't tell such stories, either. From his sermons, we don't see evidence that he was all that familiar with Book of Mormon peoples and details. We don't see that in the statements of others closely associated with him. Lucy's lone statement long after the Book of Mormon was published does not form a solid foundation for understanding the origins of the Book of Mormon.

By the way, an important point overlooked by the Tanners and other critics in their use of Lucy mack Smith's (edited) statement is that Joseph's family believed him. They believed that this young man had seen an angel and been directed to ancient plates with a sacred record. Daniel Peterson underscores this important point from several angles on his post at Sic et Non, “Father and mother believed him; why should not the children?” He quotes, for example,  the 1875 testimony of Joseph’s younger brother, William Smith:
Joseph Smith, at the age of seventeen years, with the moral training he had received from strictly pious and religious parents, could not have conceived the idea in his mind of palming off a fabulous story, such as seeing angels, etc. . . .

There was not a single member of the family of sufficient age to know right from wrong but what had implicit confidence in the statements made by my brother Joseph concerning his vision and the knowledge he thereby obtained concerning the plates.
 
Father and mother believed him; why should not the children? I suppose if he had told crooked stories about other things, we might have doubted his word about the plates, but Joseph was a truthful boy. That father and mother believed his report and suffered persecution for that belief shows that he was truthful.

And again in 1884:
All believed it was true, father, mother, brothers and sisters. You can tell what a child is. Parents know whether their children are truthful or not. . . . Father knew his child was telling the truth.
 His parents knew. His family knew. And millions who give the Book of Mormon a chance have also come to know that Joseph was telling the truth.

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Another Reversal: Why Is King David So Absent in Book of Mormon Discourse?

One of the many curious aspects of the Book of Mormon is the frequency with which arguments against it suffer "reversals" and, upon further investigation, actually become evidences in favor of the plausibility and antiquity of the text. Just a few examples include almost every aspect of Lehi's Trail (the River Laman, the "more fertile parts," the place Nahom and its eastward turn, and especially the place Bountiful), along with other issues such as "the land of Jerusalem" instead of Bethlehem Bountiful as the birthplace of Christ, the girl's name Alma for a man, the bad grammar of the dictated text, the very idea of writing on gold plates, the lack of barley in the New World, cities of cement, etc.

One recent attack on the Book of Mormon may be another example of a reversal. I have previously discussed a recent thesis from a young Bible scholar criticizing the Book of Mormon for its failure to emphasize King David and make heavy use of the Psalms. In reviewing that work recently, it struck me that his argument regarding David really makes a lot of sense from the perspective of a modern reader familiar with the Bible, whether it is a young theologian at a Baptist seminary or a young Joseph Smith in a society familiar with the Bible. In our modern environment and in Joseph Smith's, anyone familiar with the Bible should notice that kings in the Old Testament are routinely evaluated by comparison to King David. David was a big deal to the ancient Jews. Strangely, he gets almost no attention in the Book of Mormon, and even gets criticized rather than held up as a glorious example. Kevin Beshears at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary finds that to be powerful evidence against the Book of Mormon as an ancient Hebrew text, as he explains in detail in his thesis, "Davidic References in the Book of Mormon as Evidence Against its Historicity."

What Beshears overlooks is extensive, but one key gap is failure to recognize that in light of modern scholarship, there are good reasons why a group of Hebrews like Lehi's family with roots from the Northern Kingdom and the tribe of Joseph would not buy into the ruling paradigm among the Judeans regarding the greatness of David and the majesty of the so-called Davidic covenant, which allegedly guaranteed the Israelites that they would be safe and a king would remain on David's throne no matter how bad their behavior.

A basic problem in Beshears' work is assuming that there is a “typical” type of Bible text that should be found wherever we look in the Bible, when that is simply not the case. As mentioned above, a large number of books in both the Old and New Testament fail to mention David at all. Since some authors see the Davidic Covenant as central and all-important,[i] Beshears’ perspective is understandable. But there is not a uniform urge to turn to David and the Davidic covenant of an everlasting throne in Jerusalem, even in books like Daniel that look forward to the end days and the final victory of God. For example, the wisdom literature, a type of literature Beshears errantly claimed was absent in the Book of Mormon but in fact shows a strong influence, tends to ignore the Davidic covenant, as Daniel Peterson noted in his widely cited exploration of some aspects of wisdom traditions embedded in the Book of Mormon:
Biblical scholars recognize a genre of writing, found both in the canonical scriptures (e.g., Job, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, the Song of Solomon) and beyond the canon, that they term “wisdom literature.” Among the characteristics of this type of writing, not surprisingly, is the frequent use of the term wisdom. But also common to such literature, and very striking in texts from a Hebrew cultural background, is the absence of typically Israelite or Jewish themes, such as the promises to the patriarchs, the story of Moses and the exodus, the covenant at Sinai, and the divine promise to David. There is, however, a strong emphasis on the teaching of parents, and especially on the instruction of the father. [emphasis added][ii]
Since the wisdom-heavy founding documents of the Nephite people paid little attention to the Davidic covenant, it should not be a surprise to see other writers like Alma follow suit in their emphasis of similar themes (including the exodus, not normally emphasized in wisdom literature but obviously an important issue for Nephi and Lehi as they made a literal exodus to a promised land) and a lack of emphasis on the Davidic covenant. This is not to say that any Book of Mormon author wrote exclusively in the wisdom tradition, but there is a significant thread of wisdom influence in the book.

Several more noteworthy factors may contribute to the relative lack of interest in David among Nephite writers. Lehi was not a Jew from David’s tribe of Judah, but was descended from the tribe of Joseph, probably with roots in the northern kingdom, where there was less respect for descendants of David on the throne in Jerusalem. More importantly, Lehi may not have accepted some aspects of Josiah’s reforms that began in 622 B.C. These “Deuteronomist” reforms, triggered by the “discovery” of a book of the law in the temple, believed to be the source of our Book of Deuteronomy, sought to impose centralized worship in Jerusalem and may have introduced the concept of the David covenant — the idea that God would always keep a king descended from David on the throne of Jerusalem, no matter how bad those kings might be. Josiah’s reforms were actually violent, causing many priests to be killed and sacred relics from the temple to be forcefully destroyed.

Non-LDS scholar Margaret Barker argues that Josiah’s reforms were largely destroying many of the things in the old Jewish faith, including the idea of the temple as the place where the presence of God could be encountered, the idea of visions and angels that minister to prophets, and the wisdom tradition.[iii] She argues that the reformers, the Deuteronomists, took out much in early Jewish faith during their violent purges. Barker also points to many ways in which the writings of Nephi comply with results of her own research about pre-exilic Jewish religion.[iv] Although LDS scholars disagree with her assessment of Josiah,[v] if she is right, then Lehi the man of visions, the seeker of wisdom, would naturally be at odds with the Deuteronomists and their scribes, who shaped a great deal of the Bible.

Modern scholarship on the origins of the Bible, including the theories related to the Documentary Hypothesis, provides some related insights that can help us understand the significance of the David Covenant that Beshears expects the Book of Mormon to emphasize. In Richard Elliot Friedman’s famous Who Wrote the Bible?, the mystery behind the centralization of worship and the Davidic covenant is unraveled in several intriguing steps.[vi]

There is a mystery here, for in spite of the strict command in Deuteronomy to centralize worship in Jerusalem, we find David, Saul, Solomon, and Samuel making sacrifices in other places as if they had no awareness of this fundamental command attributed to Moses. This and other issues have led multiple scholars to conclude that the long-lost book of the law that was mysteriously found in the temple during Josiah’s reign was in fact composed at that time, being written by someone close to Josiah. And textual and thematic evidence also suggests that the author or school that produced Deuteronomy also produced the following six books: Joshua, Judges, 1 and 2 Samuel, and 1 and 2 Kings. The Davidic covenant given in 2 Samuel 7 was part of that effort. This comes from the Deuteronomists, and not from the other sources proposed for the Bible in the various versions of the Documentary Hypothesis.

The Davidic covenant only makes sense if it was written before the exile, when the confident Jews felt the holy city of Jerusalem could never fall. Lehi, warned of Jerusalem’s destruction, obviously did not see things that way.

An interesting thing about the Deuteronomists, according to Friedman, is how much emphasis they gave to David. In their writings, every king is evaluated by comparison to David. But that emphasis stops after Josiah, possibly because the bulk of the Deuteronomists writings (most of seven books in all) were done in that day, with only minor additions required to cover the tragic fall of Judah and the last four disastrous kings following Josiah. Friedman explains:
That is not the only thing that changes after the story of Josiah. King David figures in a fundamental way in the Deuteronomistic history. Half of the book of 1 Samuel, all of the book of 2 Samuel, and the first chapters of 1 Kings deal with his life. The majority of the kings who come after him are compared to him. The historian states explicitly, several times, that because of David’s merit even a bad king of Judah cannot lose the throne for the family. Especially among the last few kings down to the time of Josiah, the historian reminds us of David. He compares Josiah himself to David, saying, “We went in all the path of David his father.” … Altogether the name David occurs about five hundred times in the Deuteronomistic history. Then, in the story of the last four kings, it stops. The text does not compare these kings to David. It does not refer to the Davidic covenant, let alone explain why it does not save the throne now the way it did in the reigns of Solomon, Rehoboam, Abijam, and Jehoram. It does not mention David at all.

Thus two common, crucial matters in the Deuteronomistic history — centralization and David — disappear after the Josiah section.[vii]
Friedman explains that caution is needed in applying arguments from silence, but here the silence is deafening. When every king is compared to David, and then suddenly the last four kings are not, and when centralization is viewed as essential up to Josiah and then suddenly is not, “we have evidence of a real break and a change of perspective that are connected to that king.”[viii]

While there are some details in the Documentary Hypothesis that can easily be questioned, especially the dating for various sources, the possibility of multiple versions of documents and competing agendas influencing the Bible is actually consistent with information we obtain from the Book of Mormon, not only in terms of how ancient sources were pulled together, but in terms of its report of loss and change that would occur in the records of the Jews.

However the Bible was composed, there is strong evidence that references to David and the Davidic covenant are highly nonuniform in the Bible, and are most concentrated in the documents that are considered to be most influenced by the Deuteronomists. Seeing Lehi as an adherent to the old visionary ways opposed by the Deuteronomists can also help us understand why he might not have bought the new agenda of centralization and the new emphasis on the confident claims of those touting a David covenant that would keep the throne safe, no matter what. The Book of Mormon’s relative silence on David, though not as silent as many other legitimate biblical books, is consistent with the view based largely on Barker’s work that 1 Nephi accurately portrays the complex religious differences and tensions present in pre-exilic Jerusalem, with some groups not accepting the new reforms and possibly not accepting a new emphasis on security through the Davidic covenant.

Jon Levenson’s review of modern scholarship on the problem of the Davidic Covenant reminds us that its presence and influence in the scriptures is not as broad as some seem to assume:
The dynastic Davidic Covenant is of another character. There are only a handful of passages that show awareness of it, and the only two that set it out in any detail at all are those we have already discussed, 2 Samuel 7 and Psalm 89…. Several considerations, however, militate against the idea that this indicates that the Davidic Covenant commanded the same degree of public awareness and loyalty as the Sinaitic. First, we must notice that Abraham himself was the object of far less attention in the history of the tradition than was Moses. For Abraham, for example, we have nothing even remotely resembling Elijah’s rehearsal of Moses’ pilgrimage to Sinai/Horeb (1 Kings 19) or the great pseudonymous Mosaic address that has come to be called Deuteronomy. The second point to bear in mind is that the expansion of the empire is not quite the same thing as the Davidic Covenant. In certain Israelite circles, by no means small or ephemeral, kingship came to be as important as we know it was elsewhere in the ancient Near East. But to say that kingship was central and even that in Judah it happened to be held almost always by a Davidide is very different from the assertion that the Davidic Covenant, with all it entails, was a central concern. The truth is that most glorifications of David or his reign do not mention a covenant. In fact, the only reference to an “eternal covenant” with David in the books of Samuel is in the so-called “Latter Words of David” (2 Sam 23:1–7), and it is by no means certain that even this obscure reference (v. 5) signifies the dynastic commitment of 2 Samuel 7 and Psalm 89. In short, kingship and the Davidic dynasty were not synonymous.[ix]
He also explains that in the daily and religious life of an Israelite, the issue of the Davidic covenant was minor compared to the covenant at Sinai:
Even in the religious consciousness of an Israelite for whom kingship was of central importance, the entitlement of the House of David could remain peripheral. That is why, despite the presence of a great quantity of material bearing on royal theology, the specific covenant with David is expounded in clear form so very rarely. Not all royal theology was Davidic, and not all Davidic theology was covenantal. The average Israelite could probably live his life without giving any more attention to the Davidic Covenant than the average American gives to the 25th amendment to the Constitution, which also at- tempts to regulate the matter of succession to the most important office in the land. The same cannot be said of the Sinaitic Covenant. Therefore, it is wrong to assume, as Bright, for example, does, that emphasis on one must have been at the expense of the other, just as it is wrong to assume, with all the scholars I term “integrationists,” that the dynastic oracle of 2 Samuel 7 and Psalm 89 rests upon an acute consciousness of the Sinaitic Covenant. It appears that the importance of the Davidic-messianic material in subsequent Judaism and especially in Christianity has led scholars to exaggerate its importance (relative to the Sinaitic material) in the Hebrew Bible, even to the extent of their imagining that the two covenants must have been in some kind of constant conversation, either harmonious or discordant.[x]
As for the centralization of worship that Josiah imposed, Lehi and Nephi obviously had no qualms with ritual worship outside of Jerusalem, even to the point of building a temple in the New World, just as Jews at Elephantine in Egypt did.[xi] In fact, Lehi was so at odds with the reigning religious establishment in Jerusalem that his life was in danger. His “apostasy” might have included rejecting some aspects of Josiah’s reforms that began just a few decades before his exodus. Again, what we find in the writings of Nephi makes a good deal of sense in the context of pre-exilic Israel, based on still-tentative research from Margaret Barker and others.[xii]

Joseph Smith could have known none of this. If he were making up the Book of Mormon based on average familiarity with the Bible in his day, or even above average graduate-student level familiarity with the Bible in our day, it is indeed reasonable that we would expect him to pick up on the extensive mentions of David, most of which occur in Deuteronomistic writings, and to then imitate that in the Book of Mormon. Praising King David and comparing good and bad kings to him would be the natural thing to do for a Bible-sponge imitating all things biblical.

Beshears’ puzzlement about David in the Book of Mormon is understandable. It is only through deeper understanding of the complexities behind that statistics on David’s name that we realize the Bible is highly nonuniform regarding David, that there are reasons for sudden changes in the text regarding David, and that there may be good reasons why ancient faithful Hebrews from the tribe of Joseph, ill at ease with the southern Kingdom Jews and their recent violent religious reforms, might not follow suit with the Deuteronomistic writings and their constant awe for David. Those Hebrews, clinging to the old ways of prophecy, revelation, temple worship, and wisdom literature, would respect David as a great but fallen king, and could be frank about his disobedience without betraying their Hebrew roots. They could appreciate the parallels between the young righteous David and Nephi, and could name a land after David, but had no need to make David a touchstone of their faith.

Once again, it seems we have a reversal. A terrible blunder in the Book of Mormon, one that anybody well-schooled in the Bible ought to have avoided, turns out to be just the kind of thing that makes sense for a text from the ancient world with the added complexity of having been written by people derived from the Northern Kingdom and came from the traditions that were being overthrown by the Deuteronomists before and as Lehi escaped Jerusalem.  The role of David in the Book of Mormon is a subtle evidence that it is indeed an ancient text, not a modern forgery.

References:

[i] Michael A. Grisanti, “The Davidic Covenant,” The Master’s Seminary Journal, 10/2 (Fall 1999) 233–250.

[ii] Daniel C. Peterson, "Nephi and His Asherah," Journal of Book of Mormon Studies 9/2 (2000): 16–25, 80–81, quotation at 23; http://publications.mi.byu.edu/publications/jbms/9/2/S00003-50be458eb2b313Peterson.pdf.

[iii] Margaret Barker, “What Did King Josiah Reform?“ in Glimpses of Lehi’s Jerusalem, ed. Jo Ann H. Seely, David Rolph Seely, and John W. Welch (Provo, UT: Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies, Brigham Young University, 2004) 521–42; http://publications.mi.byu.edu/fullscreen/?pub=1081&index=16. See also Neal Rappleye, “The Deuteronomist Reforms and Lehi’s Family Dynamics: A Social Context for the Rebellions of Laman and Lemuel,” Interpreter: A Journal of Mormon Scripture 16 (2015): 87–99; http://www.mormoninterpreter.com/the-deuteronomist-reforms-and-lehis-family-dynamics-a-social-context-for-the-rebellions-of-laman-and-lemuel/ as well as Kevin Christensen, “The Temple, the Monarchy, and Wisdom: Lehi’s World and the Scholarship of Margaret Barker,” in Glimpses of Lehi’s Jerusalem, 449–522; http://publications.mi.byu.edu/fullscreen/?pub=1081&index=15 and Kevin Christensen, “Prophets and Kings in Lehi’s Jerusalem and Margaret Barker’s Temple Theology,” Interpreter: A Journal of Mormon Scripture 4 (2013): 177–93; http://www.mormoninterpreter.com/prophets-and-kings-in-lehis-jerusalem-and-margaret-barkers-temple-theology/.

[iv] Margaret Barker, “Joseph Smith and Preexilic Israelite Religion,” in The Worlds of Joseph Smith: The Worlds of Joseph Smith: A Bicentennial Conference at the Library of Congress, ed. John S. Welch (Provo, UT: Brigham Young University Press: 2006), Kindle edition. See also Margaret Barker, “Joseph Smith and Preexilic Israelite Religion,” BYU Studies 44/4 (2005): 69–82; https://byustudies.byu.edu/content/joseph-smith-and-preexilic-israelite-religion.

[v] For examples of scholars who view Josiah positively, see William J. Hamblin, “Vindicating Josiah,” Interpreter: A Journal of Mormon Scripture 4 (2013): 165–176; http://www.mormoninterpreter.com/vindicating-josiah/; and David Rolph Seely and Jo Ann H. Seely, “Lehi and Jeremiah: Prophets Priests and Patriarchs” in John W. Welch and David Rolph Seely and Ann H. Seely, eds., Glimpses of Lehi’s Jerusalem (Provo, UT: FARMS 2004), 357–80; http://publications.mi.byu.edu/fullscreen/?pub=1081&index=12.

[vi] Richard Elliot Friedman, Who Wrote the Bible? (New York: Harper Collins, 1997, originally published 1987), 91–124.

[vii] Ibid., 115.

[viii] Ibid.

[ix] Jon D. Levenson, “The Davidic Covenant and its Modern Interpreters,” The Catholic Biblical Quarterly 41/2 (April 1979): 205–19, citation at 216–7; http://www.jstor.org/stable/43714665.

[x] Ibid., 217–8.

[xi] Jared W. Ludlow, “A Tale of Three Communities: Jerusalem, Elephantine, and Lehi-Nephi,” Journal of Book of Mormon Studies 16/2 (2007): 28–41, 95; http://scholarsarchive.byu.edu/jbms/vol16/iss2/5. See also Jeff Lindsay, “Lessons from the Elephantine Papyri Regarding Book of Mormon Names and Nephi's Temple,” JeffLindsay.com, May 22, 2004; http://www.jefflindsay.com/bme20.shtml.

[xii] Margaret Barker, “What Did King Josiah Reform?”; Margaret Barker, “Joseph Smith and Preexilic Israelite Religion”; and Kevin Christensen, “Prophets and Kings in Lehi’s Jerusalem.”

Sunday, April 15, 2018

Don't Ignore Complexity: A Broad Look at a Basic Book of Mormon Issue

The more complex a machine is, the more beautiful and awe-inspiring it can be. Great Swiss watches, though far beyond my budget, inspire me with their craft and brilliance. In my mission in Switzerland, I often enjoyed looking at them through shop windows. How can so much be so reliably and accurately executed in so little space? They are modern marvels.

The machinery of a cell is even more inspiring, with the endless array of machines within the machine that build, transport, repair, verify, and disassemble to keep the intricate gears of life rolling in mind-numbing order. Then the products of the numerous differentiated cells of the human body leave me simply overwhelmed. Just looking at any of the minute mechanisms within, such as the complex of about 25 proteins in the plasma of our blood that can self-assemble on demand to form blood clots. Cooler and more practical than the Transformer robots of modern movies.

The complexity of the Book of Mormon is something else to consider. It is complex in much the same way that the Bible is, for it reveals many different sources and authors that have been brought together to tell a grand story. We should respect the complexity of Bible origins clarified through the scholarship related to the Documentary Hypothesis, regardless of how accurate the specific conclusions and dating of the individual sources may be. If the Bible as we have it today had been lost for centuries and were to be regenerated by a single man stepping forward with what he claimed was a legitimate Bible text, the complexity of that document would be difficult to explain as a modern fraud. Even if all we had to work with were an English translation such as the KJV text, we could see the evidence of many different source documents and different voices that gave us a complex text.

A great overview of the issue of complexity in the Book of Mormon comes from this recent video at Book of Mormon Central:



The Book of Mormon is much like the Bible in this regard. It has complex origins with many writers from across a broad period of time, documents from multiple sets of plates, with many different genres and styles of writing, and distinct voices in spite of a unifying English language style. The deep intertextuality, the consistent geography, the stories within stories that remain consistent, the clean and consistent details about sources, the abundant Hebraisms and ancient poetical elements, all demand much more respect than it has received from the world.

The complexity of the Book of Mormon would demand respect if it had been a lifelong project with many careful revisions over a period of years, but what can we say when we consider that this massive and complex book was dictated over about 70 days by an unschooled farm boy not reading from some scholar's manuscript, but dictating words orally at a breakneck pace while staring in a hat? This is a miracle that remains unexplained in spite of all the efforts of critics to find potential sources, maps, scholars, anything that could help. Yet it was created in an information vacuum far from a library and, again, simply dictated to scribes by a man without a manuscript or even a Bible to quote from when dealing with Bible-relevant passages.

How does such clock-like precision in the text arise from chance mutterings from a hat unless what was happening is what Joseph and his witnesses said: a marvelous work and a wonder from God, divinely aiding Joseph in delivering the translation of an ancient text almost as complex as the Bible?

Sunday, April 08, 2018

When Engineers Err: My Favorite Story from General Conference

Listening to General Conference has been a profound pleasure for us over here in China, where this weekend one week after conference is designated as Conference Sunday to solve the time zone problem as we play the recorded sessions. This has been one of my favorite Conferences ever with so much to learn and rejoice over. So positive, so encouraging, so international, so inspiring. I'd like to share a story that I especially enjoyed, one that made me wish it had been published more widely years ago. It involves the terrible time of the Korean War which took away too much from my own father, yet was a time of numerous miracles that helped him develop his own testimony of the Gospel of Jesus Christ in spite of the repeated horror and trauma he faced.

Ensign Frank Blair
The story also involves engineers, in this case the engineer of a ship, and reminds us that even highly trained experts make severe mistakes (even some of us chemical engineers are fallible, I've been told). It further teaches the power of meek leadership, in this case a ship's captain who would humbly ask the young temporary chaplain of his ship to pray in a time of emergency, and then later had the daring meekness to accept the prayerful recommendation that his LDS chaplain offered. It made the difference of life and death for the many men on board.

The story is shared by Elder Larry Y. Wilson of the Seventy in "Take the Holy Spirit as Your Guide" given Sunday afternoon. The story was told with the permission of Ensign Frank Blair, who was present at the Conference session as it was told.
Brothers and sisters, it is an extraordinary privilege to “have … the Holy Spirit for [our] guide,” as demonstrated by the following experience.

During the Korean War, Ensign Frank Blair served on a troop transport ship stationed in Japan. The ship wasn’t large enough to have a formal chaplain, so the captain asked Brother Blair to be the ship’s informal chaplain, having observed that the young man was a person of faith and principle, highly respected by the whole crew.
Ensign Blair

Ensign Blair wrote: “Our ship was caught in a huge typhoon. The waves were about 45 feet [14 m] high. I was on watch … during which time one of our three engines stopped working and a crack in the centerline of the ship was reported. We had two remaining engines, one of which was only functioning at half power. We were in serious trouble.”

Ensign Blair finished his watch and was getting into bed when the captain knocked on his door. He asked, “Would you please pray for this ship?” Of course, Ensign Blair agreed to do so.

At that point, Ensign Blair could have simply prayed, “Heavenly Father, please bless our ship and keep us safe,” and then gone to bed. Instead, he prayed to know if there was something he could do to help ensure the safety of the ship. In response to Brother Blair’s prayer, the Holy Ghost prompted him to go to the bridge, speak with the captain, and learn more. He found that the captain was trying to determine how fast to run the ship’s remaining engines. Ensign Blair returned to his cabin to pray again.

He prayed, “What can I do to help address the problem with the engines?”

In response, the Holy Ghost whispered that he needed to walk around the ship and observe to gather more information. He again returned to the captain and asked for permission to walk around the deck. Then, with a lifeline tied around his waist, he went out into the storm.

Standing on the stern, he observed the giant propellers as they came out of the water when the ship crested a wave. Only one was working fully, and it was spinning very fast. After these observations, Ensign Blair once again prayed. The clear answer he received was that the remaining good engine was under too much strain and needed to be slowed down. So he returned to the captain and made that recommendation. The captain was surprised, telling him that the ship’s engineer had just suggested the opposite—that they increase the speed of the good engine in order to outrun the storm. Nevertheless, the captain chose to follow Ensign Blair’s suggestion and slowed the engine down. By dawn the ship was safely in calm waters.

Only two hours later, the good engine stopped working altogether. With half power in the remaining engine, the ship was able to limp into port.

The captain said to Ensign Blair, “If we had not slowed that engine when we did, we would have lost it in the middle of the storm.”

Without that engine, there would have been no way to steer. The ship would have overturned and been sunk. The captain thanked the young LDS officer and said he believed that following Ensign Blair’s spiritual impressions had saved the ship and its crew.

Now, this story is quite dramatic. While we may be unlikely to face such dire circumstances, this story contains important guidelines about how we can receive the Spirit’s guidance more frequently.

First, when it comes to revelation, we must properly tune our receiver to heaven’s frequency. Ensign Blair was living a clean and faithful life. Had he not been obedient, he would not have had the spiritual confidence necessary to pray as he did for the safety of his ship and to receive such specific guidance. We must each be making the effort to align our lives with God’s commandments in order to be directed by Him.

Sometimes we can’t hear heaven’s signal because we are not worthy. Repentance and obedience are the way to achieve clear communication again. The Old Testament word for repent means “to turn” or “turn around.” When you feel far from God, you need only make the decision to turn from sin and face the Savior, where you will find Him waiting for you, His arms outstretched. He is eager to guide you, and you are just one prayer away from receiving that guidance again.

Second, Ensign Blair did not just ask the Lord to solve his problem. He asked what he could do to be part of the solution. Likewise we might ask, “Lord, what do I need to do to be part of the solution?” Instead of just listing our problems in prayer and asking the Lord to solve them, we ought to be seeking more proactive ways of receiving the Lord’s help and committing to act according to the Spirit’s guidance.

There is a third important lesson in Ensign Blair’s story. Could he have prayed with such calm assurance if he had not received guidance from the Spirit on previous occasions? The arrival of a typhoon is no time to dust off the gift of the Holy Ghost and figure out how to use it. This young man was clearly following a pattern he had used many times before, including as a full-time missionary. We need the Holy Spirit as our guide in calm waters so His voice will be unmistakable to us in the fiercest storm.
Prayers followed by action, seeking to do what we can and striving to learn what we can do, can be vastly more likely to bring results, even miraculous results, than merely uttering a wish. This will be increasingly important for all of us in the Church's new emphasis of ministering rather than the old and often ineffective home teaching and visiting teaching programs. May we be more anxious to seek revelation on what we can do, how we can help, and who we can help, in our quest to live a Christian life rich in personal revelation.

One part of the story not emphasized in the talk deserves further attention. The real hero here may well have been the non-LDS captain. He first cared enough about the things of God to appoint a temporary chaplain when none was provided or seemingly needed. He then had the faith to turn to a young LDS man who knew how to pray and humbly ask for his prayers as the ship faced potential disaster. And then he had the courage, the faith, the daring meekness and undoubtedly the sensitivity to the Spirit to respect what his young chaplain told him, which was exactly the opposite of what his trained engineer was recommending. Wow. How many leaders of any faith would be able to make that call.

If any of you know the name of the man who was the captain, I'd love to share his name to publicly praise a leader for such courage and meekness. There are two heroes and many lessons in this powerful story.

Friday, April 06, 2018

The Hope of the Resurrection: Renewed Awareness from Two Painful Experiences in One Day

On the Wednesday before Easter (March 28), two shocking events gave me renewed reason to ponder the power and reality of Christ's victory over death. That day was perhaps my most painful day in China. After so many years of calm, safety, and peace in the haven of Shanghai, I had a double jolt of the sorrow that happens even in happy places.

That morning, I got to the beautiful office building where I work about 15 minutes earlier than needed, so I stood in the sunshine and began reading my favorite book on a spectacular spring day. What a great day to be alive and to delve into the text of my favorite sci-fi writer, Jiang Bo and his Heart of the Milky Way trilogy. 

Almost as soon as I began reading, there was a loud bang at about 8:20 that sounded like something big and heavy had crashed into a window. Then a woman screamed and ran right in front of me. Was she hurt? She seemed fine and soon stopped running to take out her cell phone and make a call. What was the problem? There was some commotion among some of the staff at the entrance to the building, so something was up.

I took a few steps and saw something horrific: A man had jumped from our very tall office building, apparently out of a window he had managed to open on the 23rd floor, a corner office that probably was an executive office. I think this might have been an executive from a hot high-tech startup that I know is on that floor.

The man was obviously dead. He had first hit the outwardly sloping glass of the lobby at the ground floor and a glancing angle, but from what I could see was probably in bad shape before ever hitting the pavement just milliseconds later. I'll spare the details. So troubling -- mostly because of the sorrow to know that a relatively young man was in such pain that he gave up completely. I wish I could have helped, or that someone could have helped him have the courage to go on. But obviously not easy. I am so sorry for him and his family and friends.

A few hours later while I was still coping with that tragedy, one of our dear friends, a family of farmers in a tiny village of Jiangxi Province whose lives are interconnected with ours, sent me an even more horrific image of their dear son, their eldest of two (the younger son is the one I know best and may have mentioned here before, the one we have tried to help with some surgical needs). He had been murdered in Guangzhou and his bloated body had been dragged out of a river or canal. Such anguish. The mother is devastated and can hardly move. The father arrived there today to work with local police. We will go visit the mother and younger son in distant Jiangxi Province on Saturday. So overwhelming, so painful. We feel helpless but will try to comfort.

Some of you have already provided help for that family with the PayPal donation button at the left. They have serious needs again (not just because of the father's recently operated brain cancer), so donations will be focused on them for a while.

The unnecessary death of a stranger caused pain enough, but the murder of a young man we spent time with last year was just heartbreaking. Both tragedies encountered on the same day. There are things I need to learn and to do in response to this double jolt. But what? Your ideas are welcome.

The story took an even more painful twist  few days later when the father told me that the police in Guangzhou told him that it was not a murder, but a suicide. The father said that his son had been unable to earn enough to survive but did not want to disappoint his parents by asking for help, and so had given up. Believing that the death was a suicide (I'm not convinced the police know that for sure) seems to have further magnified the pain of the family. Devastating. The natural tendency for loved ones to blame themselves in the wake of a suicide is in full swing, I'm afraid.

(Much of this experience was previously shared on my Facebook page. Thanks to the many people who have given me inspired counsel and support in coping with these issues. There is much that I need to learn from this.)




Saturday, March 31, 2018

An International Church with More Visibly International Apostles

A familiar face for longtime members of the Church in Shanghai and the Asia Area in general has just been called as an Apostle of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Elder Gerrit W. Gong, the first Apostle with Chinese ancestry who is also a Mandarin speaker, joins Elder Ulisses Soares of Brazil as our two new Apostles, making the international flavor of the Church more visible in its top leadership. The announcement at MormonNewsroom.com is one to celebrate. And not just because Elder Gong's wife, Susan Lindsay, a daughter of Richard P. Lindsay, is a Lindsay. But I must mention that she is a remarkably intelligent woman who will continue to influence the Church for good.

Both of these new Apostles are intelligent, kind, sensitive men who will contribute much to the strengthening of the Church and the expansion of its ministry. I can't wait to hear from them again!

With a Mandarin speaking Apostle and a Mandarin speaking President of the Church, I can't help but think that China and Chinese-speakers all over the world will be increasingly important in days ahead.

And hurray for Brazil and Latin America as well!

Thursday, March 29, 2018

Where Horses Can Take You, and My Quest for Li Jing (李荆)

Li Jing, China's Greatest Long Distance Rider
and the Subject of My New Quest
One of the great things about publishing articles on a blog or at places like Meridian Magazine (LDSmag.com) and The Interpreter is the connections it can lead to. Connections with new people sharing common interests or providing new insights makes the effort to write worth every moment. My recent article on horses in the Book of Mormon at Meridian Magazine led to a surprising letter from CuChullaine O'Reilly (CuChullaine is a Gaelic name, pronounced Ka-kul-lun) and it is already taking me to surprising new places.
Stunning Arabic Calligraphy:
A Verse from the Koran in the Form of a Horse
With my correspondent's kind permission, I gladly share some excerpts of our ongoing conversation: 
Dear Mr. Lindsay, CuChullaine O'Reilly here. I am the Founder of the Long Riders' Guild, the international association of equestrian explorers, and the author of "The Encyclopaedia of Equestrian Exploration." http://www.thelongridersguild.com/Books/eee.htm

I have just received a news alert that contained a reference to the LRG. Upon investigating, I discovered that you had cited Wayne McCrory's research linking Siberian and Canadian horses. I published Wayne's paper, am very familiar with his genetic research, and have sent him the link to your article. I am unacquainted with the Book of Mormon and was unaware that questions regarding North American equines were of religious importance. However, as you so wisely noted, there is a great deal yet to be discovered and understood about the presence of horses in the Americas.

Because of my work documenting the history of Siberian and Spanish horses in exploration history, I am writing without delay so as to provide you with some immediate academic assistance. Here is an article, written in 1940 by the noted American equestrian scholar Thornton Chard. In this article, Chard argues that the first European horses brought to the New World did not survive. http://www.lrgaf.org/articles/spanish-horse-progeny.htm

Here is an article, written by a leading Canadian equestrian journalist, which documents the history and characteristics of Siberia's Yakut horses. http://www.lrgaf.org/articles/yakut_horse.htm

Here is an interview I did with the renowned Long Rider Ian Robinson. He is the first person to make a modern equestrian journey in Siberia, where he confirmed that the horses in that region have the capability to enter into a state of semi-hibernation so as to retain heat and energy. http://www.thelongridersguild.com/stories/siberia.htm

Finally, here is an article I wrote which documents how meat-eating Siberian horses were employed in early attempts to reach the South Pole. http://www.lrgaf.org/polar-ponies.htm

Whereas I cannot offer an opinion about the appearance and use of horses in Mormon history, you are correct when you wrote that horse history is far from being settled. This idea was discussed only a few days ago when I corresponded with Dr. Alan Outram. In a recently published English news account, Alan, whom I had previously interviewed, told the press that he had found equine DNA in Central Asia that he believes may link what was thought to be an extinct breed of early horse to the Przewalski breed still alive today. http://www.independent.co.uk/news/science/horse-origin-mysterious-domestic-dna-analysis-przewalskis-botai-domesticated-a8224121.html

I wrote to Alan to explain that though he and other scientists believe that the ancient horse in question was thought to have disappeared many centuries ago, the Long Riders' Guild has an image of a Turkman tribesman riding such a "extinct" horse in 1893! Thus "extinct" horses do have a way of wandering out of the shadows!

Kind regards, CuChullaine O'Reilly FRGS
I was delighted by the information he provided relevant to the horse (Thornton Chard's detailed analysis of the date of Spanish horses raises many questions about the "common knowledge" belief that the horses of North American Native Americans after the Spanish Conquest necessarily came from the Spaniards). But I was even more delighted to make the acquaintance with someone who in a brief letter could convey such intelligence, civility, and romantic flare for one of the great traditions of mankind that has been largely lost in our day.

I responded with enthusiasm, thanking him for his work in this area and for sharing such welcome information. I added, "The horse is such an incredible creature and one whose history, ways, impact on man, etc., needs to be better understood in the automobile and iPhone era."

Then came his delightful "lighting a rocket" email that truly captured my imagination regarding the work of the Guild:
Dear Jeff,

CuChullaine O'Reilly of the Long Riders' Guild here, replying to your message regarding horses and the Book of Mormon.

Well I don't know what kind of effect your article had on your normal readers but it certainly lit a rocket under the tail of the Long Riders' Guild!

But before I comment on that intriguing topic, allow me to explain the mission of the Long Riders' Guild, the world's first international association of equestrian explorers and long distance travelers.

With Members in forty-six countries, every major equestrian explorer alive today belongs to the Guild, including Hadji Shamsuddin of Afghanistan, who recently rode a thousand miles through that war-zone, Jean-Louis Gouraud of France, who rode 3,000 miles from Paris to Moscow, Tim Cope of Australia, who rode 6,000 miles from Mongolia to Hungary, Claudia Gottet of Switzerland, who rode 8,000 miles from Arabia to the Alps, Adnan Azzam of Syria, who rode 10,000 miles from Madrid to Mecca, and Vladimir Fissenko of Russia, who rode 19,000 miles from Patagonia to Alaska.

More than a hundred of these extraordinary Long Riders are also Fellows of the Royal Geographical Society, including:
Sir John Ure KCMG LVO, who rode across the Andes -

Stephen McCutcheon, of England, who undertook a ride from Delhi to Peking -

Gordon Naysmith, of Scotland, who rode 20,000 kilometres from South Africa to Austria -

Pedro Luiz de Aguiar, of Brazil, who at the age of seventy made an 19,000 kilometre journey in Latin America and -

Robin Hanbury-Tenison OBE, who has made a number of equestrian expeditions in all parts of the world, including riding the length of China’s Great Wall.
The Long Riders' Guild website is the repository of the largest collection of equestrian travel information in human history.

www.thelongridersguild.com

Additionally The Long Riders' Guild Press currently publishes several hundred equestrian and travel titles in five languages, making it the world’s premier source of equestrian exploration wisdom.

www.horsetravelbooks.com

The Guild's Academic Foundation provides an open-source forum where scientists, poets, authors, and equestrian experts share their wisdom with the public. Every type of horse related knowledge is being investigated and published at this website, whose motto is "Science not Superstition."

www.lrgaf.org

Because The Guild donates the royalties from many of our titles to worthy causes, our publishing efforts and work have been acknowledged by the Prince of Wales and Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth.

http://www.thelongridersguild.com/Books/eee.htm

The LRG accepts no advertising of any kind, and is therefore a trusted resource for thousands of regular visitors.

There are no dues or meetings involved in becoming a Member of The Guild. One is invited to join after having ridden a minimum of one thousand miles.

Nor is a person awarded a silver trophy, a blue ribbon or a shiny big belt buckle from The Guild. All they receive is the respect accorded to them by their fellow equestrian explorers, a respect earned by a elite group of men and women scattered around the globe, all of whom chose to saddle up their horse and then set out on a life-changing equestrian journey.

While the Guild's primary mission is to encourage and educate would-be Long Riders, our equestrian research is extensive and on going.

For example, evidence recently arrived out of the blue indicating that William Shakespeare was a Long Rider!

The academic who contacted the LRG explained the motivation of Shakespeare's equestrian journey, told us where the Bard had ridden to/from, and even described how the equestrian trip was financed.

That in turn led us to wonder if anyone had written about Shakespeare and horses. A search revealed more than three dozen "lost" academic research papers, some dating back to the 19th century. They detail an amazing, but forgotten, investigation into how horses influenced Shakespeare, the plays, and the characters. We are now creating the first "Shakespeare Equestrian Collection."

As the unexpected Shakespeare evidence demonstrates, we don't know it all.

And yet having just spent six years writing the Encyclopaedia of Equestrian Exploration I believed that I was well versed in equine history.

http://www.countrylife.co.uk/out-and-about/dogs/greatest-horse-rides-ever-chronicled-unique-treasury-horse-human-wisdom-174629

That is why I was taken aback by the publication of your article, which suddenly required me to ask myself what role horses played in religious history.

Because this concept had only been briefly addressed in the Encyclopaedia, I had not investigated it at any length.

But your article immediately required me to ask myself, how many religious beliefs have any equestrian origin stories, mythology or legends?

Because I lived in Pakistan I knew, for example, about the Borak, the mythical horse with a woman's face. This magical creature is supposed to have flown the Prophet Mohammad from Mecca to Jerusalem, and back, in a single night.

But your article about the Book of Mormon story came out of nowhere.

So I did the obvious thing and began looking for clues.

I could not believe what was readily available.

Hindus, Pagans, Muslims, Christians, Romans and the Vikings all share a religious horse story!

I found so much that I didn't even have time to look for Buddhists, etc. But this was obviously a topic worthy of more extensive research.

Therefore the LRG is prepared to create a special new section on the LRGAF website devoted to "Horses and Religion."

Therein we plan to make available religious studies, documents, images, research, folklore, etc which will help members of the public study and understand how horses influenced human religious experience in its many manifestations.

The Guild does not interact with any social media and is "Facebook free."

http://www.thelongridersguild.com/about-website.htm

Therefore we will not involve ourselves in religious debate.

We will publish equine related religious information and allow the public to make its own decisions and/or search further regarding any particular religion in question.

Like the Shakespeare Collection, what we hope to do is create an equine point of reference where people in search of knowledge will be able to quickly find accurate free information.

We had already come to this decision but had yet to take the first step. That is why I am so glad you wrote back, as I am hoping that you can assist us in reaching a particular Book of Mormon scholar, who we would like to invite to be the first contributor to this new equestrian collection.

I discovered an article entitled "Hard" Evidence of Ancient American Horses."

https://byustudies.byu.edu/content/hard-evidence-ancient-american-horses
 

It was written by Daniel Johnson, who is obviously a man of intelligence and integrity who has studied the Book of Mormon and the equine question in depth.

Given your contacts within the LDS community, are you in by chance in contact with Mr. Johnson?

If not, then I shall reach out to him.

But if by chance you know him, we would be most grateful if you could inform Mr. Johnson of our interest and invite him to contact me without delay.

We will be updating the LRG News page later this month.

And although we envision the "Horses and Religion" study to grow over the years into a substantial collection, it certainly seems appropriate that you, who helped us make this important discovery, should be invited to help create this unique equine literary and religious effort.

In closing, thank you very much, Jeff, for responding to my email.

Though religious views differ, I believe most people would agree that "God works miracles in small ways."

The sudden unexpected appearance of your article certainly seems to have triggered such a positive event.

I look forward to hearing from you (and hopefully Mr. Johnson).

Kind regards,

CuChullaine O'Reilly FRGS   [emphasis added]
What a great idea, exploring the role of the horse in various religions and providing a repository of information on that topic. And how interesting that he wished to reach Daniel Johnson and invite him to write the first new article on that topic to share issues from the LDS perspective. I was able to connect Daniel with CuChullaine and look forward to the results of that collaboration.

I was also quite captivated by the language and spirit of the letter. My response:
Dear CuChullaine,

What a pleasure it was to read your email, written with the flare, passion, detail, eloquence, and vocabulary of that pre-Twitter/Facebook era when English was still a civilized language. It is an honor to make your acquaintance through our mutual interest in the role of horses in history and religion. The Long Riders' Guild is an inspiring organization so rich in adventure and further enriched with the growing resources it provides regarding the noble horse. Thank you for that service.

You asked me for help in "reaching a particular Book of Mormon scholar who we would like to invite to be the first contributor to this new equestrian collection.” Daniel Johnson, the man whose BYU Studies article, "Hard" Evidence of Ancient American Horses,” so impressed you (and I agree with you assessment that he is "obviously a man of intelligence and integrity who has studied the Book of Mormon and the equine question in depth”), is copied on this email.... I am confident that he will be thrilled to accept your kind offer and share his expertise with the Long Riders' Guild.

And yes, I would also be pleased to help in any way with your causes. You have captured my imagination and earned my respect and gratitude.

May I also if I might have permission to share your email with readers of my blog? Your example of open-mindedness and your interest in the issue of horses and religion might be valuable to many others, and might help stir more interest in topics of mutual interest.... 
Thank you for noting that "God works miracles in small ways.” You might be pleased to know that your statement is virtually a quite from the Book of Mormon in Alma chapter 36 (see https://www.lds.org/scriptures/bofm/alma/37 or https://www.lds.org/scriptures/bofm/alma/37.6-7,41?lang=eng&clang=eng#p5):
6 … by small and simple things are great things brought to pass and small means in many instances doth confound the wise.
7 And the Lord God doth work by means to bring about his great and eternal purposes and by very small means the Lord doth confound the wise and bringeth about the salvation of many souls.
I look forward to learning more and being of assistance in any way. Thank you for your kindness and your service!
Then, to my surprise, I would be challenged to begin a new quest here in China:
Mohammad Arif, Calligrapher
Dear Jeff,

Thank you for the exciting and encouraging response.

"What a pleasure it was to read your email, written with the flare, passion, detail, eloquence, and vocabulary of that pre-Twitter/Facebook era when English was still a civilized language."

One can hardly write an Encyclopaedia if communication is limited to trying to "tweet" in only 140 characters.

Attached is a photo of my dear friend. Mohammad Arif. He was Peshawar's most famous calligrapher. This was a position of honour held by his family since the days of the Mughals and being carried
on today by Arif's son.

Also attached is an example of the Islamic calligraphy practiced by artisans such as Arif [placed at the top of this post]. This is a quote from the Qu'ran, drawn in the shape of a  horse.

Who would have ever believed that the simple art of writing is, like horse travel, becoming an endangered skill.

Yet here is a recent London news story which explains why "children struggle to hold a pencil because of too much tech."

https://www.theguardian.com/society/2018/feb/25/children-struggle-to-hold-pencils-due-to-too-much-tech-doctors-say

I certainly never foresaw the day when I, and others like you, would be asking ourselves how everyday skills such as expressing ourselves in multi-syllable words might be seen as an archaic ability.

"It is an honor to make your acquaintance through our mutual interest in the role of horses in history and religion."

I believe the possibilities of a religious/equine study have global implications.

For example, since I last wrote I learned that Buddhism reveres a horse shaped god who holds a "sword raised to cut through delusion" and whose fierce countenance is supposed to inspire the worshiper to "overcome inner egotism and outer obstructions."

The Encyclopaedia which I recently completed concludes by advocating the philosophy of "harmonious horsemanship."

And though our combined equine research is still in a very early stage, it reinforces the point that humanity shares a common love of, as you put it,  "the noble horse."

So opening a dialogue which shares religious information regarding mankind's love of the horse is bound to be of interest and importance.

"You asked me for help in reaching Daniel Johnson"

Thank you very much! I look forward to hearing from him and your other friends.

"Your example of open-mindedness and your interest in the issue of horses and religion might be valuable to many others, and might help stir more interest in topics of mutual interest."

We, as a species, are enduring troubling collective events, including political instability, economic concerns and unpredictable weather. Sadly everyday we witness a display of antagonism, nationalism, narcissism and intolerance.

I am not a parent or grandfather, like you.

Yet how can any decent human being stand idly by and not lift his hand to do something, even if it is only to encourage a dialogue about horses and religious belief.

The Long Riders' Guild is an international association open to all "horse humans," regardless of race, sex, colour or creed. We pay no heed to what "breed" the horse is, any more than how the Long Rider chooses to express his/her religious belief.

Thus the idea of encouraging a dialogue about "open mindedness" is something which everyone, regardless of their particular personal belief, should be glad to participate in....

"Thank you for your kindness and your service!"

We are all working to preserve and protect important information for posterity.

Finally, before closing, I noticed that one of the website links you sent stated "Jeff Lindsay is an LDS guy in Shanghai."

Are you really in China?

If so, then you could do the Long Riders' Guild a tremendous favor.

The world's most important "Missing in Action" Long Rider is Chinese.

His name is Li Jing. In 2009 he made a 9,000 kilometre (5,592 miles) solo ride from Votkinsk, Russia to Beijing, China.

Here is the link showing Li Jing in the saddle.
http://www.thelongridersguild.com/mia/mia1.htm

The Guild has spent years trying to locate this man, as he is certainly the most important modern equestrian traveler in China, all to no avail.

Might you have any ideas?

Kind regards,
CuChullaine

There is the quest: to find Li Jing, China's greatest long rider. I have agree to help. Perhaps you can help, too?

I have searched Chinese media and learned that Li Jing's name is 李荆, that he married a Russian woman and may be living in Russia, and that he still blogs about the great sport of riding (last post from Sept. 2017). He may be on another journey now, for all I know. I have left a message to him in Chinese on his Weibo blog, but I since learned that he has studied English and can communicate well with English speakers.  I will try another message in English as well. But if any of you have connections with horse riders in China or Russia or otherwise know of a way to reach Li Jing, please let me know! This is a man who is larger than life, a rare breed, a dreamer and a doer. I have a goal to meet him (as well as Mr. O'Reilly). But the real reason for my quest is to help Li Jing gain the help that the Long Riders' Guild wishes to offer.

The Long Riders' Guild takes pride in supporting the efforts of great riders. There is a great deal of expense, logistics, paperwork, and planning required to do major rides, especially when they involve border crossings. So much can go wrong. Li Jing, I learned, has faced great adversity such as having horses impounded at borders and many other problems. The aid and resources of the Long Riders' Guild could be a blessing to him. Please help, if you can. Of course, I have already begun reaching out to my Chinese community for their help as well.

Here are some resources I have found in this journey:

http://english.sina.com/life/p/2009/0312/225292.html

http://english.sina.com/china/p/2009/0311/225231.html

http://observers.france24.com/en/20090316-9000km-horseback-beijing-olympics-seven-months-late-trek-russia

And here is my latest message to CuChullaine:
Li Jing has a couple of Chinese language blogs, showing that he remains very passionate about horse riding, as least as of a few months ago. I am trying to reach him through his blogs and will work to get him in contact with you. He may be on a journey at the moment, so this may take some time. Fingers crossed!

One blog is on the service known as Weibo. To see his page may require registration (not sure: it did when I used my Mac, but did not on a Windows machine at my office), but here is the URL and a printout of the page:

https://weibo.com/u/1572369042?is_all=1

Translation of selected portions:
Header/title:  Li Jing Rides Across the World (or Under the Expanse of Heaven)
Li Jing, a horse backed traveler. In 2007 he alone rode from Russian Federation’s Republic of Bashkortostan across the Eurasian continent….

Entry from Sept. 12, 2017:
Photos I shot myself, July 11th, '08.
In the Buriats shop to buy some bread for himself and my horse. The young man said, "I won't take the traveller's money.” [E.g., free food.] Very moving.

Next entry, same day:
July 9, ’08. Not only is it a great area for riding a horse, it’s a great place for love and romance.

Scrolling down, an entry from Aug. 23, 2017 has this:
​​
"The journey of the pilgrimage to the source of the Yellow River" was suspended. The source of the Yellow River is the end of this journey but it will be the starting point for the "road of Chinese and Russian tea”.

Move forward!
Our team is going to the sun
The foot of the land
the land of the motherland
Bear the hope of the nation
We are an invincible force...


Still not sure where he is, but will try to contact him.

He has another blog at the Sina.com.cn service:

http://blog.sina.com.cn/qmztx

This is from 2009 and deals with his famous trip...

That’s it for now. I’ll let you know if I hear back from him. This is a man I’d like to meet! A dreamer who achieves his dreams, a man of imagination. One of my new goals is to meet him.

Oh, he also has a Baidu page about him — that’s the Chinese answer to Wikipedia. Here is the link: https://baike.baidu.com/item/%E6%9D%8E%E8%8D%86/2666424?fr=aladdin

Translation (Google Translate to begin and the some crazy stuff fixed by me):

Li Jing

Originally from the province of Hubei, city of Wuhan, he is a Russian Chinese. On August 21, 2007, Li Jing alone rode from the Russian Federation’s Republic of Bashkortostan on his solo journey across Eurasia. In March 10, 2009, the knight arrived in Changping, Beijing, after a long ride of nearly 9000 kilometers. This feat was followed by many mainstream media sources, such as the Phoenix TV show, "Lu Yu has an appointment".

Character Overview

Li Jing alone rode from the Russian Federation’s Republic of Bashkortostan on his solo journey across Eurasia. In March 10, 2009, the knight arrived in Changping, Beijing, after a long ride of nearly 9000 kilometers. According to him, he will also accompany Mrs. Megan, a 59 year old British woman, from Beijing to London to complete the Second Eurasian crossing for the Olympic Games.

Character Quotations

“This is not a game, I think of it as the meaning of life. There are various kinds of transactions in my life, and I invest in my life, so I think it's worth it. This is my dream. It's the most important dream in my life. What is life? Life is a dream.” Spoken at the moment of departure by Li Jing.

"I feel that nature itself is rhythmic. In this environment, you will have a piece of music in your heart, and then you show it and turn into a note. People used to say that nature is the most wonderful symphony, and I really feel that way now. Before I got on the road, that was just a piece of paper."  [quoted date 2012-12-13]

I also shared with him another article with more information: http://news.cnhubei.com/ctjb/ctjbsgk/ctjb32/200908/t787541.shtml. What follows is mostly from Google Translate (have only changed a few obvious "garblings"):
On March 10th, Li Jing alone, and rode from Russian Federation’s Bashkortostan, across Eurasia, after a long ride, nearly 9000 kilometers to Beijing, caused a sensation throughout the country. Little is known, although Li Jing in Russian, is a genuine Wuhan native. Earlier this month, Li Jing at the Huazhong University of Science and Technology in my mother's house, the reporter interviewed the modern knight.

Dream of riding a horse in the world

A white hair was made into a cauda, with a circle of beard on his lips, and the wrinkles in the corner of the eye were full of vicissitudes. At first glance, Li Jingting, 46, was like an artist. "This dream, I've done it for 22 years, it's not going to be a big one." Li Jing said.

In 1963, Li Jing was born in a senior intellectual family in Wuhan, and his father was a professor of the Chinese department. Li Jing seemed to have a special feeling for his horse when he was young. In TV and movie, as long as there was a picture of a horse, he always stared at it. He imagined that he could ride on a horse's back one day.

After graduating from the Wuhan University Library in 1984, Li Jingcong went to the library of Shenzhen University. The convenience of work increased his interest in horses. At the same time, all kinds of exquisite books about the world's customs gave him a dream: "if one day, we can ride around the world, how nice!"

Do it when you think about it. In the Spring Festival of 1985, Li Jing began to study English desperately. Two years later, he had been able to communicate freely with the foreigners. But where does the cost of global travel come from? Li Jing decided to do business to make money. Just at that time, Shenzhen has a production of computer floppy disk business recruitment, to open the market of Wuhan, Li Jingyi try, resign back to do business in Wuhan, Wuhan became the first batch of IT industry out of people.

During this period, he learned to ride a horse.

Go through the twists and turns before the trip

During the work, several Russian scholars went to central China University of science and technology exchange. Li Jing immediately found scholars and talked about his plan, asking them to give him a visa invitation after returning home.

One day in 1989, after Li Jing received an invitation, he immediately resigned. In May of next year, Li Jing stepped on the train to Russia. "I have to achieve this goal. All other stages of my life are preparing for this goal." But Li Jing's short-term visa could only stay in Russia for 3 months, far from realizing his idea of crossing Russia, and the ride was stranded.

3 years later, Li Jing finally get a visa for a period of 1 years, from the Hulun Buir ready to ride to Moscow nantun. Because do not know how to enter Russia, Li Jing decided to sell the horse in Manchuria, into Russia after the horse. But the two time was prepared to start crossing Siberia, all because he did not understand Russian and failed to do it.

In Russia, a local girl in Li Jinghe was married and soon joined the Russian nationality. Since then, in addition to doing his own warehouse keeper's work, he also part-time two tutors, he wholeheartedly earned money, plan to ride again.

In 1999, his son was born, but the warmth of the family still tied Li Jing's heart, he organized a "Caravan" plan, ten in the Millennium ride back to Beijing, but due to visa problems, the trip again.

He changed 9 horses on the way

In the past more than 10 years, Li Jing has dreams in mind, but with his son's birth and living expenses increasing, the dream of riding around the world seems to be more and more distant.

By the end of 2006, the friend said in an interview: "life is too short, but I want to do, or dream of what can be achieved when?" When he revisited his childhood dream, he decided to travel as soon as possible.

After years of accumulation, Li Jing had only $5000 in his hand. For the sake of insurance, he borrowed 60 thousand yuan from his friends. Before his departure, Li said his idea to his wife. From the first acquaintance of love, the wife knew Li Jing's dream, and now she was going to go, she did not stop.

In August 21, 2007, Li Jing left one thousand dollars to his wife and children. He took a 10 yuan bank card with bags of sleeping bags, sweaters, tents and medicines, and pictures of his son Maksim.

Li Jingben wants to ride to Beijing before the 2008 Olympic Games. However, in winter, Siberia sometimes gets cold to 40 degrees below zero and nearly 9000 kilometers away. Li Jing walks more than 600 days and nights. He was like a tramp, hungry, eating bread and biscuits; tired, he put up a tent in the field or went to the farm. Sometimes, he can not see a person in two days, walking on the road, even if there is a trace of field by the road, he will bring him joy.

Li Jing felt happy for most of his cycling. No pollution in Siberia sky, walk in the woods, see the sunrise and sunset and enjoy the bird insect beast, debauch, as if with nature. On the way, the vast majority of Russians understood and appreciated his actions. In Irkutsk, a street of a green lawn, a middle-aged woman not only for Li Jing's horse grazing in this, also hard to give him 5 rubles 20 kopecks, and bless him, Li Jing obsessed. In Chita, Li Jing put the horse on the hillside, an elderly man and her daughter on the rocks to climb the hill gave him two pieces of bread.

Stay tuned for more to come in the future on the topic of the noble horse in various religions, including the rather unusual role it plays in Book of Mormon debates, not to mention a vital role it played in the Mormon Exodus and the early days of the Church.

Finally, one result of this unexpected new connection with the Long Riders' Guild was checking in on Daniel Johnson and learning from his blog, An LDS Guide to Mesoamerica (ldsguide.blogspot.com), of a very interesting new find of ancient horse bones in Mesoamerica in a newly discovered vast underwater site. See "Sacred Mayan Underwater Tunnel Rediscovered in Yucatan," Telesur, January 16, 2018. It will take many years to explore and analyze the finds. The horse and elephant bones found so far are likely to be from long before Book of Mormon times, as are nearly all (but not all) such remains found in the Americas, as Johnson has noted in the article mentioned above that drew CuChullaine O'Reilly's attention to Daniel. But I certainly look forward to the actual data as it is slowly obtained. Here is an excerpt from this intriguing news story:
Sacred Mayan underwater tunnels in Mexico's Yucatan are being rediscovered for the first time in thousands of years, scientists have revealed.

An extensive network of limestone caves housing Mayan artefacts is just now being explored by scientists from Mexico's National Anthropology and History Institute (INAH).

What INAH researchers have found is a remarkable underwater system, measuring more than 340km in length, which connects two previously known cenotes – Spanish for 'giant sinkhole aquifers' – near Tulum, in the state of Quintana Roo.

Scuba diving in the immense tunnels lined with stalactites, researchers have found highly preserved ceramic vases from Mayan society which would have been used in funerals and during ritual sacrifices.

They have also found intact human skulls, along with bones from elephants, giant sloths, bears, tigers and extinct species of horses, along with now-extinct plants. Investigators say the artefacts are well preserved because of the caves' inaccessibility.
The extinct plants, of course, will include neas and sheum (Mosiah 9:9), right? :)

Don't make the mistake of thinking that Telesur is reporting the discovery of elephant and horse remains that were known and used by the early Mayans. These extinct creatures are likely to be much older than the Mayan artifacts also being found in these underwater caves. But it's a reminder that there is so much more work to be done to understand ancient America. Archaeology there is still in its infancy, and only a small percentage of ancient sites have been subject to any kind of study so far, as we learn from the shocking new LIDAR results showing vast ruins still covered by jungle. We are in for many more surprises.

There's so much more we need to find and discover, including Li Jing. Any leads are welcome!

Sorry for such a long post, but I hope you can see that I'm thrilled with the new connections and information that came from a little article published at Meridian Magazine. Many, many thanks to Maurine Procter for her tireless work in publishing that diverse and uplifting magazine and for allowing me to share something there that has already greatly enriched my life, whether it was helpful to readers or not. And many thanks to CuChullaine O'Reilly and the Long Riders' Guild for their passion regarding the great tradition of long-distance horse riding and their new interest in the role of horses in religion, including the religion of the Latter-day Saints.

Finally, a couple more photos of Li Jing from Chinese websites: