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

Saturday, November 18, 2017

Common Features in Written Languages and the Anthon Transcript

Michael Price's news story, "Why Written Languages Look Alike the World Over" in Science magazine's online edition (Sciencemag.org) might be of interest to some readers here. He discusses a recent publication on the nature of scripts used in written language. The study, published in  Cognitive Science, finds that scripts contain a vary high degree of vertical and horizontal lines (e.g., our T and L) relative to oblique lines (as in our X or W). Symmetrical characters, with either vertical or horizontal symmetry, also occur more frequently than one would expect from chance, and vertical symmetry (as in B or C) is more common than horizontal symmetry (as in W or A). Examination of how scripts evolve suggests that these features are present from the earliest stages of writing.

The study discussed is by Oliver Morin, "Spontaneous Emergence of Legibility in Writing Systems: The Case of Orientation Anisotropy," Cognitive Science, 10 October 2017, DOI: 10.1111/cogs.12550. Abstract:
Cultural forms are constrained by cognitive biases, and writing is thought to have evolved to fit basic visual preferences, but little is known about the history and mechanisms of that evolution. Cognitive constraints have been documented for the topology of script features, but not for their orientation. Orientation anisotropy in human vision, as revealed by the oblique effect, suggests that cardinal (vertical and horizontal) orientations, being easier to process, should be overrepresented in letters. As this study of 116 scripts shows, the orientation of strokes inside written characters massively favors cardinal directions, and it is organized in such a way as to make letter recognition easier: Cardinal and oblique strokes tend not to mix, and mirror symmetry is anisotropic, favoring vertical over horizontal symmetry. Phylogenetic analyses and recently invented scripts show that cultural evolution over the last three millennia cannot be the sole cause of these effects.
With this in mind, it is interesting to once again look at the Charles Anthon transcript to see examples of the characters that Joseph Smith copied from some portion of the gold plates for Martin Harris to show to some highly educated folks to help Martin cope with his doubts.


When Martin showed them to the scholar, Charles Anthon, Anthon allegedly responded favorably. According to Harris, Anthon "said they were Egyptian, Chaldaic, Assyriac, and Arabic" and that they were "true characters." Whatever Anthon said, Harris came away convinced that Joseph was not a fraud. To say that the characters were Egyptian, Chaldaic, Assyriac, and Arabic, if accurately quoted and sincerely meant, would seem to mean that Harris saw similarities to these other scripts, and indeed, it's not hard to see many similarities. In light of Morin's publication, part of the similarities include a very high degree of vertical and horizontal strokes, a low degree of oblique lines (curved lines were excluded in the study), and a high degree of symmetrical characters, all typical of many real scripts. However, in the small sample from the Anthon Transcript, the symmetry is primarily horizontal, though there are some characters with vertical symmetry.

After examining the Anthon characters, it is easy for a naive viewer like me to see apparent similarities to numbering systems in Demotic (like a long curved line for 100 and then vertical strokes above it for multiples of 100) and also Mayan (the bar and dot system). Probably coincidental, but I can sort of see why someone could say that there are features like those of ancient Old World scripts, for they have some common general features similar to what Morin observed.

Had Harris brought Anthon some of the fraudulent Kinderhook Plates, I wonder what his response would be?



These characters to me just look a lot different than the various scripts I've seen from the Old World. To me they appear to have a high emphasis on oblique lines, contrary to Morin's observation. I'm not saying his findings represent an accurate test for distinguishing a lone forger's contrived script from a real civilization's practical script that developed according to common cognitive aspects of our brains, but it may be a topic for further research. Just a fun tidbit to consider that may help explain why someone might feel the Book of Mormon characters resemble other ancient scripts they've seen. 

FYI, Tolkien's fun work in developing the Tengwar script for Middle-earth seems to do well in its abundance of cardinal strokes, but then it seems to draw heavily on Tibetan and related scripts and is rooted in his deep scholastic knowledge rather than being fabricated out of whole cloth.

A hat tip to Jennifer Mangelson for alerting me to this Science story.

For some background on the fraudulent Kinderhook Plates and their relation or lack thereof to the Book of Mormon, see my related LDSFAQ page on Book of Mormon problems.

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Yemen Needs Your Help As Millions Face Starvation (Another Fruit of the "Military-Industrial Swamplex")

Many of you have heard about the stunning archaeological site in Yemen found by a German team that gives us three ancient altars from Lehi's day bearing the name of the Nihm tribe, close to the ideal site proposed for the ancient place name Nahom (1 Nephi 16:34). The lands of the Nihm tribe, sometimes spelled Nehem, to this day are still in that general region, around 25 miles northeast of Sanaa, the capital. This is a place I would love to visit, and I hope many of you share that desire.

Sadly, precious few have been there. I can only recall one person apart from a Yemeni friend in Hong Kong who has traveled to Yemen, and that would be Warren Aston who did field work in Yemen and Oman in his quest for knowledge about Lehi's Trail. Warren Aston is the author of the best book I've read relating to external evidences for the Book of Mormon, Lehi and Sariah in Arabia. (Related to that is the best DVD: Lehi in Arabia, a must-see documentary.)

Mormons ought to be highly interested in Yemen and its peoples, including the Nihm tribe. I'd love to go there, but right now travel is impossible. Yemen has become a dangerous place in recent years with civil war and heavy bombing from one of our putative allies, Saudi Arabia.

Saudia Arabia just imposed a blockade on entry points to Yemen that has cut off badly needed humanitarian aid. Without outside help, the war-torn country faces starvation. As reported in the New York Times, Mark Lowcock, the UN's coordinator of humanitarian aid, Yemen could face a disaster in which millions die unless external aid is provided. The EU's commissioner for humanitarian aid and crisis management, Christos Stylianides, was quoted by Al Jazeera as saying that Yemen “is suffering the world’s worst humanitarian crisis, with more than two-thirds of its population in need of humanitarian assistance.” Stunning.

Feeding the "Military-Industrial Swamplex"

Michael Krieger, a Wall Street finance guy who became disgusted with the industry and quit, now blogging at Liberty Blitzkrieg, called my attention to the disaster in Yemen and to our role there as well, through our good buds in Saudi Arabia. Our role? What could our role possibly be? Michael delicately puts it this way in his recent post on Yemen:
What we’re looking at here is potentially the worst famine in decades, and it’s important for decent U.S. citizens from across the political spectrum to admit our government’s hands are soaked in blood.
Soaked in blood? I'm afraid he has a point. He backs it in part with this quote from The Intercept:
Saudi Arabia relies heavily on the U.S. military for intelligence sharing, refueling flights for coalition warplanes, and the transfer of American-made cluster bombs, rockets, and other munitions used against targets in Yemen.

Congress, however, has never authorized U.S. support for the war, which has caused 10,000 civilian deaths and has spiraled in recent months into one of the worst humanitarian crises of the century. For two years, Saudi Arabia and its allies have imposed a sea and air blockade around Yemen. Now, more than 7 million Yemenis face starvation and thousands, mostly children, are dying from cholera. Coalition warplanes have repeatedly struck crowded markets, hospitals, power plants, and other civilian targets.

Several members of Congress indicated an interest in the issue, noting that the Obama and Trump administrations’ reliance on the 2001 Authorization for Use of Military Force [AUMF] to justify U.S. involvement in the conflict is absurd. That authorization, after all, was designed to fight the terrorist groups responsible for the September 11 attacks, not to intervene in Yemen’s civil war.

For 16 years, the executive branch has pointed to the AUMF as legal justification for its involvement in conflicts across the Middle East and Africa, a strategy that is legally questionable. But the use of the AUMF in the Yemeni context is especially bizarre given that the AUMF’s target is Al Qaeda, and the group AQAP — Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula – is fighting alongside the U.S.-Saudi coalition against the Houthi rebels.
For those of you who thought we were draining the swamp, we've just shuffled a few swamp creatures while continuing on the same warlike course we grew numb to during the daily bombings around the world under the Obama Administration and during the assaults on other nations during the Bush years.

As one of my good friends put it when I once dared to criticize our invasion of and endless wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, etc., "at least we were doing something about the problem of terrorism!" Indeed.

And now we are once again truly doing something about the problem of terrorism, though perhaps a tad more counterintuitive in appearance, by joining forces with the one nation most directly linked to 9/11 whom we provide with weapons and never, ever invade, and by simultaneously joining forces with Al Qaeda (!) to help carpet bomb civilians in Yemen. Please don't confuse a lack of patriotism with my discomfort with the Military-Industrial Swamplex. (Hey, I like that phrase!  You heard it first here.) One can love a spouse but dislike the cancer taking his or her life. You don't have to love and feed the cancer. In fact, the loving thing, the patriotic thing, is to excise it or do whatever possible to curtail its growth. Some of you thought we'd be draining the swamp in Washington. So sorry about that delusion!

As a patriotic American who lives his country and believes the Constitution should be followed and was a relatively inspired and precious document that could help preserve our liberty and rights if followed, I think it's time we get out of selling weapons to the Saudis, get out of giving weapons and support to terrorist groups (who often start as apparent allies in the first place and then use our weapons against our real or putative allies and eventually against us), get out of being the world's policeman when we can't even tell good guys from bad anymore, and immediately find ways to get aid to Yemen.

This graph from the Washington Post shows the explosive growth of weapon sales to the Saudis:



Krieger on the Liberty Blitzkrieg site points out that we are involved in a clearly unconstitutional and illegal war effort in Yemen that has killed many thousands and could soon result in millions dying. But our elected officials -- your Congressmen -- have been largely silent. They don't want to even discuss this. Give it a try and let me know what you experience! Watch the video on Michael's site for a preview of what you might encounter.

As reported in the Washington Post, “The shameless arms supplies to Saudi Arabia … may amount to lucrative trade deals, but the U.K. risks aiding and abetting these terrible crimes,” said James Lynch, head of Arms Control and Human Rights at Amnesty International. Lucrative for the winners, devastating for the people being carpet bombed and now starved.

Yemen should matter to Congress, but it doesn't. But if it matters to you, we can change that. Let's change that now.

Let's stop aiding the carpet bombers of Yemen. Let's quit flooding the world with weapons. Let's get aid to Yemen. And may we, in a short while, be able to visit and maybe even strengthen that precious land and its more precious people.





Thursday, November 09, 2017

John Gee's Introduction to the Book of Abraham: A Lifetime of Book of Abraham Scholarship Distilled into a Valuable Book for a Broad Audience

It was a pleasure to read John Gee's recently published An Introduction to the Book of Abraham (Salt Lake City and Provo, UT: Deseret Book and BYU Religious Studies Center, 2017). This book is aimed for a broad audience with an interest in the Book of Abraham. While Dr. Gee is an expert in Egyptology, he does not get into overwhelming technical details of Egyptian language and lore while delivering clear and useful information that can help people of any faith better understand the origins and nature of the Book of Abraham.

Confusion over the Book of Abraham has flustered many members and investigators of the Church. About 20 years ago I personally had a similar crisis of faith while serving as bishop after considering a convincing argument on the Book of Abraham from a well-known anti-Mormon source. This was a few years after a previous bishopric member and his family in my town had left the Church initially over Book of Abraham issues and then started his own anti-Mormon website. The argument that I think stung both of us was compelling: Joseph claimed to have translated Egyptian by the power of God, apparently like he translated the gold plates. Now the Egyptian manuscripts have been found that Joseph used, and today we can read Egyptian and objectively evaluate his divine translation skills. Bottom line: He didn't get anything right. The work is a complete fraud, as was Joseph. End of story. Ouch!

If Gee's book had been available then, it would have greatly helped. In my case, after prayerful consideration in which I reviewed my testimony of the Book of Mormon but pled great confusion over the Book of Abraham, I felt that I needed patience and further seeking of knowledge. That knowledge soon came when I got my hands on a book by H. Donl Peterson, The Story of the Book of Abraham (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1995), another excellent resource, where I learned what ought to be common knowledge among all Latter-day Saints, but isn't: the Joseph Smith papyri, the recovered fragments from the original papyrus collection, are merely a fraction of the larger collection that Joseph used. Longer documents were sent to the St. Louis Museum after Joseph's death, and from there they ended up in the Chicago Museum, where they apparently burned in 1871.

The existence of other significant scrolls was not mentioned by the anti-Mormon source. The statements of witnesses describing the documents Joseph used and the gap between those descriptions and the Joseph Smith papyri were not mentioned. I felt that I had been deceived with an argument that was largely accurate except for a few crucial details that were artfully left out and which changed everything. I have since encountered many cases where critics artfully whittle away data and mitigating factors in what they report to create a shocking case to shake the faith of their readers. Caution and patience is usually a wise initial response when we don't know where to turn for answers. But let's get back to Gee's excellent book.

Gee's 197-page book is a well-written and richly illustrated source for answers on what the Book of Abraham is and what it is isn't. It offers a careful discussion of the history of book and various theories regarding what the translation is, how it was done, and what relationship it has to the sJoseph Smith papyri as well as to the rest of the original papyri. It is written as a general overview of many aspects of the Book of Abraham, with an emphasis its origins and its relationship to antiquity, as well as its significance for Latter-day Saints today.  Along the way we encounter some pleasantly surprising issues that can strengthen our respect for this work of scripture, including a variety of issues with apologetic value, though that is not Gee's overarching purpose, so don't expect a complete list of the many apologetic gems that could be cited.

Gee also provides valuable insights into the Abrahamic covenant and Abraham's teachings on astronomy, the preexistence, and the Creation. He closes with a look at the role of the Book of Abraham as a part of LDS scripture, and finally provides a succinct but excellent set of answers to frequently asked questions.

The book is nicely illustrated with samples of the Joseph Smith papyri, original documents from Joseph Smith and his peers related to the Book of Abraham, the facsimiles, and related images from Egypt and other areas. It is well organized and tightly written to deliver what often seems like just the right level of detail to help a non-specialist understand important issues without getting caught up in unfruitful detours.

The book is distilled from a lifetime of research into issues related to the Book of Abraham, including his expertise in Egyptology. It will be a valuable addition to the library of almost anyone with an interest in LDS issues or in the Book of Abraham.

Particular Points of Interest
One of the most interesting and original portions that draw upon Gee's extensive scholarship is his discussion of the ancient owners of the papyri in Chapter 5. The owners "were among the most literate and educated people of Ptolemaic Egypt" and one of them, Horos, "served as prophet in three different temples in the Karnak temple complex" (p. 59). Situated in Thebes, he would have had access to grant "Theban temple libraries, containing narratives, reference works, and manuals, as well as scrolls on religion, ritual, and history" (p. 61). Further,
Ptolemaic Thebes had a sizable Jewish population; some of them served as the tax collectors. The Egyptian religion of the time was eclectic. Foreign elements like deities and rites—including those from the Greek religion and Judaism—were added to Egyptian practices. The papyri owners also lived at a time when stories about Abraham circulated in Egypt. If any ancient Egyptians were in a position to know about Abraham, it was the Theban priests. (p. 61)
Gee's discussion of the various roles Horus would have played implicitly suggests he would have had interest and familiarity with various temple themes, creation stories, rituals and other elements found in the Book of Abraham and its facsimiles.

Gee carefully discusses some of the interesting connections  between the Book of Abraham and evidence from antiquity, such as the many ancient accounts of Abraham being threatened as a human sacrifice and accounts of his father's idol worshipping, accounts not available to Joseph Smith. Sometimes there are especially significant points that, from an apologetics perspective, I wish had been given more emphasis or at least an exclamation mark or two. One of these cases involves the unusual place name Olishem mentioned in Abraham 1:10. It turns out that there is in fact such a place name from the ancient Levant in a plausible location. Here is John Gee's treatment:
Biblical scholars have not agreed on the time and place that Abraham lived, but the Book of Abraham provides additional information that specifies both. In the Bible, Abraham must flee his homeland (môladâ) in Ur of the Chaldees (Genesis 12:1). Later he sends his servant back to his homeland (môladâ) to find a wife for his son (Genesis 24:4, 7). The servant is sent to Aram-Naharaim in modern-day northern Syria or southern Turkey (Genesis 24:10) and not Mesopotamia as the King James translators rendered it. This location of Aram-Naharaim must have been the location of Abraham's homeland. The Book of Abraham also indicates that Abraham's homeland was in that area. Olishem (Abraham 1:10), one of the places mentioned near Ur, appears in Mesopotamian and Egyptian inscriptions in association with Ebla, which is in northern Syria. (pp. 98, 101)
The discussion of Olishem is limited to a single sentence casually mentioning that an unusual place name in Joseph's translation is mentioned in ancient inscriptions. There is further information in the notes under "Further Reading" pointing to valuable sources on this potentially sensational find. But many readers may not notice how interesting or even sensational this issue may be. It was already interesting when Akkadian documents where noted that mentioned the place Olishem, and it got much more interesting when a Turkish team reported finding the site and noted that ancient documents indicate this was place where Abraham had lived. See the press release Prophet Abraham's lost city found in Turkey's Kilis in The Hurriyet Daily News, August 16, 2013. On this matter, Gee has noted the potential value but urges patience as more work is needed. See John Gee, "Has Olishem Been Discovered?," Journal of the Book of Mormon and Other Restoration Scripture 22/2 (2013): 104–7.

Finding the place name Olishem was interesting enough in many ways before the actual archaeological site was found and its connection to Abraham made. In a rather technical 2010 post, Val Sederholm explores the significance of Olishem and related Egyptian and Semitic words in "The Plain of Olishem and the Field of Abram: LDS Book of Abraham, Chapter One," I Begin to Reflect, April 27, 2010. "Is the place of Ulisum or Olis(h)em the plain of Olishem? Conclusions remain premature, but it would be remiss not to point out the similarity and, by so doing, show that the Book of Abraham merits a second look." Sederholm then explores the rich association of meanings related to Olishem that may make it an entirely appropriate name for a place with a hill, suggesting the possibility not only of a phonetic connection between the Akkadian account and the Book of Abraham, but also a semantic connection. Indeed, there are many such fascinating issues in the Book of Abraham, leading Sederholm to make a strong but supportable statement:
Exactly how does a book of 14 pages produce dozens upon dozens of linguistic, cultural, thematic, theological, and literary points of comparison to the Ancient Near Eastern record? The numbers are no exaggeration. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, with no hesitation whatsoever, not even a hint of abatement, continues to post the canonical Book of Abraham on line and to print copies by the tens of thousands in scores of languages. There is a lot of explaining to do.
Gee, however, is more restrained and focuses rather on explaining to broad audiences the basic of the Book of Abraham and some of the fascinating connections to the ancient world, including hints of evidences for authenticity without making too much of the evidence. This is not an primer for apologists, but one that defenders of the faith will definitely want to study.

There were many other sections that I felt are especially important. His discussion on the so-called "Grammar and Alphabet of the Egyptian Language" a.k.a. the Kirtland Papers was clear and helpful (pp. 32-39). He ably demonstrates that this was not the tool Joseph used to translate the Book of Mormon, but appears to be an attempt by others after the translation was done to make sense of Egyptian.

His treatment of ancient connections to the Book of Abraham is especially meaningful (Chapter 4, pp. 49-55), though brief, and the "Further Reading" section points to some significant treasures for further study. In light of many references to Abraham in Egypt by the time the Joseph Smith papyri were created, Gee concludes that "the Book of Abraham fits comfortably with the literature about Abraham that was circulating in Egypt during the general time period of the Joseph Smith Papyri" (p. 52).

In reviewing competing theories for the origins of the Book of Abraham in Chapter 7, "The Relationship of the Book of Abraham Text to the Papyri," Gee quietly dismantles some common theories on the basis of evidence. For example, the theory that Joseph used the surviving Joseph Smith Papyri fragments for the translation does not fit descriptions from witnesses of the long scroll that he was translating (this and other parts of the collection apparently are what was later sent to the St. Louis Museum and then later to Chicago, to perish in the Great Chicago Fire of 1871). The fragments, in fact, were mounted on glass by 1837, while witnesses saw the unmounted long roll in the 1840s and 1850s (p. 85), so the fragments cannot be what Joseph used as the basis (or pretended basis, if you insist) for the translation, however he performed that work.

Another theory popular in the Church is that Joseph created the Book of Abraham by inspiration without being connected to any papyrus. Gee makes some interesting points in discussing this:
The theory, however, also has some problems. In a discourse given on 16 June 1844, just before his death, Joseph Smith said, "I want to reason — I learned it by translating the papyrus now in my house — I learned a test. concerning Abraham & he reasoned concerng. the God of Heaven — in order to do that sd. he — suppose we have two facts that supposes that anotr. fact may exist two men on the earth — one wiser than the other — wod. shew that antr. who is wiser than the wisest may exist—intelligences exist one above anotr. that there is no end to it — if Abra. reasoned thus." Joseph Smith prefaces a paraphrase of Abraham 3:16–19 with a statement that he "learned it by translating the papyrus now in my house," and ends by saying that it is Abraham's reasoning. This quotation supports the theories that he translated the Book of Abraham from papyri that he had in his possession, but seems to be the only statement from Joseph Smith on the subject other than the preface to the published Book of Abraham that it was "A Translation of some ancient Records that have fallen into our hands from the catacombs of Egypt" that presumably Joseph Smith authored. The quotation, however, comes from fragmentary and incomplete notes of a sermon Joseph Smith gave and thus the evidence is not as solid as might be desired.  
Given our current state of knowledge, the theory that Joseph Smith translated the Book of Abraham from papyri that we no longer have accounts for the most evidence with the fewest problems. Even so, for none of the theories is the evidence as neat or as compelling as one might wish. (pp. 85-86)
Another noteworthy issue is introduced immediately after Gee points to the find of Olishem in a region near the northern Ur that he strongly favors. It is a clue regarding the specific time when Abraham lived:
Abraham's homeland was incorporated as part of the Egyptian empire under the Twelfth Dynasty pharaohs Sesostris III and his son, Amenemhet III, but it was then lost to the subsequent pharaohs. This provides an historical date for the events of the first chapter of the Book of Abraham. (p. 101)
That date is not given in this section. Sesostris III ruled from 1879 to 1839 BC, and Abraham may have lived in that era as well. That's a remarkable detail, if accurate, and it may bring several other issues into better focus. For example, Gee explains that around this time, historical and archaeological evidence shows that Egypt did practice human sacrifice as a ritual against religious offenders and it could take place in areas Egypt influenced, consistent with the Book of Abraham account. Gee provides readers with two references from Kerry Muhlenstein to support the statements on human sacrifice. Gee also states that, "Three of the four deities mentioned, Elkenah, Libnah, and Korash, are attested for the approximate time and place of Abraham" (p. 101). I've read some of the work supporting such a sensational sounding statement, but it won't be clear to a reader which of the "Further Reading" sources to turn to. In this case, I believe the relevant source is Daniel Peterson, "News from Antiquity" in the Jan. 1994 Ensign. Sadly, while most of that issue is accessible at LDS.org, Peterson's article currently is not (a link is there but it gives a "page not found" error), but it is available at Archive.org. The article with all its extensive footnotes can also be accessed on the free LDS Library app. Footnote 5 from Peterson offers the references that should have been cited for this tantalizing tidbit (this is one of a few gaps in the book that I discuss in more detail below).

Many more insights can be gleaned if we can estimate the date of Abraham's life:
Because Abraham's life was in danger, he left his homeland, which was controlled by Egypt, and crossed the Euphrates to Haran, which was outside of Egyptian control (Abraham 1:1, 2:3–4). After the reign of Amenemhet III [Jeff's note: this would be after 1814 B.C., per Wikipedia], he left Haran and went to Canaan, which was then no longer under Egypt's control (Abraham 2:6–18).

When famine set in, the closest steady supply of grain was the land of Egypt, the northern part of which was now under the management of the Fourteenth Dynasty. These pharaohs were "partaker[s] of the blood of the Canaanites by birth" (Abraham 1:21) and bore Canaanite names. Abraham seems to classify all pharaohs as Canaanite, though the Twelfth Dynasty pharaohs whose servants tried to kill him were not. Since Abraham never met the Twelfth Dynasty pharaohs, he may have assumed that all pharaohs were like the Fourteenth Dynasty ones he did meet.

Although the dynasties in northern Egypt might have changed, pharaonic power and prerogatives had not changed. Abraham was instructed by God to refer to his wife, Sarah, as his sister (Abraham 2:22–25). This takes advantage of an ambiguity in the Egyptian language: the Egyptian word for wife (hime) means only wife, but the Egyptian word for sister (sone) means both sister and wife. Thus, the term that Abraham used was not false, but ambiguous. It was also necessary: since numerous Egyptian texts discuss how pharaohs could take any woman that they fancied and would put the husband to death if the woman was married, this advice saved Abraham's life. God was willing to save Abraham's life on more than one occasion. (pp. 101-102)
Fascinating. This brief passage resolves several significant questions regarding Abraham and the Book of Abraham. It's not the only time in this book that Gee applies his knowledge of Egyptian to illustrate how an Egyptian word play strengthens the text and turns something confusing or troubling into some quite interesting and logical (see also his discussion of astronomy and the word play that naturally allows Abraham to move from talking about stars to talking about matters of the soul and religion, indirectly challenging Egyptian religion without offending others and getting killed, pp. 116-119).

Some Gaps
For all its merits, there are also some gaps that I should point out. One gap is the uneven use of footnotes. Most chapters lack footnotes, but key references are listed at the end of the chapter in a "Further reading" section with occasional comments. These are helpful and often adequate, for a reader can usually deduce which reference might be the one that supports an interesting, unexpected, or potentially controversial statement Gee has made, but in other cases one is left to guess when a footnote seems required, as I demonstrated above on the fascinating issue of pagan gods mentioned in the Book of Abraham, a complex and still controversial issue that wold seem to demand more details in specific footnotes and perhaps some additional clarifiers as to how settled or controversial the claims may be.

Some editors strongly dislike abundant footnotes and many readers find footnotes distracting. For the intended audience, Gee's approach is probably about right, but I would personally like more footnotes, especially for controversial, nuanced, or sensational issues that may be important to serious students of the Book of Abraham. Again, that information is usually there, but there are a few gaps.

Another example of uneven and perhaps problematic treatment in documentation is in Chapter 13, "The Creation," where 11 footnotes from rather technical sources are provided in a section on the Egyptian background, but none are provided in an arguably more important section, "The Book of Abraham and Source Criticism" on the views of modern biblical scholars. Some relatively strong claims are made in that section that seem to require specific documentation. What is provided on the topic of source criticism in the "Further Reading" section is simply one reference from 20 years ago, which turns out to be rather casual editorial remarks from Daniel Peterson made in the introduction to an issue of the FARMS Review of Books. See Daniel C. Peterson and John Gee, "Editor's Introduction: Through a Glass, Darkly," FARMS Review of Books 9/2 (1997):v–xxix. John Gee is listed as a co-author, but the article is written in the first person by Peterson, who relies on an unpublished report of Gee that refers to an unpublished report from an anonymous student who concocted a "test" of source criticism. The student, "Gadfly," wrote 3 one-page quasi-biblical stories and had two friends combine these the way biblical redactors might have.  He then gave his professor three very short documents for analysis, one written entirely by him, one that had portions from two documents, and one that was changed slightly by a student editor. He gave these to the professor and challenged her to discern which portions of the product came from different sources. I am surprised the professor, whoever she was, agreed to this test. In any case, the professor was mostly wrong. Not a surprise.

While that anecdote is useful, it was hardly a scientific test nor even a fair one. Peterson's personal discourse in introducing the FARMS Review of Books surely was not meant to be a solid scholarly challenge to source criticism but an interesting anecdote shared by Peterson with Gee's assistance to illustrate the need for healthy skepticism with some of the claims of scholars. That point is well taken, but skepticism may also be in order for conclusions based on unpublished, anonymous anecdotes from students trying to trip up a professor.

Apart from the unsuitability of Gee's sole reference on source criticism, there is a more serious issue that could be used by critics to assail this important work. The issue is a minor gaffe which most charitably can be overlooked as sloppy terminology. In the section "Source Criticism" on pp. 136-138, Gee discusses the tendency of biblical scholars to view the account in Genesis as coming from multiple sources that have been patched together by a redactor:
In the late nineteenth century, a theory called source criticism developed, arguing that the Pentateuch (the five books attributed to Moses: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy) was composed by a number of different authors in separate books and then shuffled together in such a way that the separate accounts told one story. This combining of accounts supposedly took place sometime after the Babylonian exile. Source critics claim that their modern separation of the biblical text into narrative strands somehow matches hypothetical ancient sources. (p. 137)
The problem is that the theory Gee refers to is not "source criticism" itself but a specific fruit of source criticism known as the Documentary Hypothesis. Conflating the two is an easy mistake to make for those of us not schooled in biblical scholarship and not terribly serious in my opinion, but it weakens the discussion on that topic and can be used for guffaws from critics. In a general sense, source criticism itself, for all its weaknesses in attempting to recreate long-vanished ancient sources of the Bible, is a valuable tool that has been of great help to Latter-day Saint studies. Efforts related to source criticism from Royal Skousen and others involving years of scholarship on the manuscripts of the Book of Mormon and its various editions have helped us better understand the original text, including the miraculous translation process and the apparent present of Hebraisms and other fascinating artifacts that can enlighten and strengthen our appreciation of the text. Some principles related to source criticism can be examined in action as we explore the complex document of the Book of Mormon where its authors and editors draw upon numerous sources, often stated but sometimes implied, in crafting a complex text that has some of the redundancies (e.g., the small plates of Nephi vs. the lost 116 pages) and other issues that are often a starting point for biblical source criticism. Source criticism is not the enemy, though it can be applied with false assumptions, errant data, or poor methodology to give many erroneous results, and may necessarily involve much speculation.

While I agree that source criticism may lead to excessive dissection of text and has serious limitations, and also agree that some conclusions from the Documentary Hypothesis can be and should be challenged, Gee does not treat this topic adequately or point readers to useful sources to understand the issue. Since he is writing for a general audience, he might well have pointed readers to the very accessible work on the Documentary Hypothesis by Richard Elliott Friedman, Who Wrote the Bible?, 2nd edition (New York: HarperCollins, 1997) or many other works. And in response to those who argue that the Pentateuch was faith-promoting fiction made up during the Exile, he might have cited works such as Kenneth A. Kitchen, On the Reliability of the Old Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2003). The challenges arising from modern biblical scholarship must be considered in treating the Book of Abraham since, according to many scholars, the Genesis account of Abraham not only comes from multiple conflicting sources written long after Abraham's day, but Abraham himself like the other patriarchs probably did not even exist.

The Documentary Hypothesis and the classification of Abraham as a fictional or mythical character has challenged the testimony of Latter-day Saints and other Christians. It raises questions not just about the Old Testament and the Book of Abraham, but also about the New Testament, where Christ speaks positively of Abraham with no apparent awareness that He was referring to a non-existent character.

In fact, given the tendency of modern scholars to undermine faith in God and Christ and certainly in the Restoration with their views on the origins of the Bible, the evidences of historicity or plausibility that Gee touches upon in several parts of his book may be of great value in reassessing the limitations of scholarship in ways that are far more meaningful than the student anecdote mentioned above. While the discovery not only of the name but more recently apparently also the place Olishem in the Book of Abraham may not be as monumental as the archaeological and linguistic evidence pertaining to Nahom in the Book of Mormon, it nevertheless does, as Val Sederholm said above, "show that the Book of Abraham merits a second look." In fact, evidence from the Book of Abraham and the Book of Mormon may eventually be just the thing to correct some flaws in the Documentary Hypothesis or other theories, and to anchor and guide future source criticism of biblical texts.

I have said far too much about a few problematic pages. The shortcomings of Gee's brief section on source criticism are not characteristic of the entire book.

Conclusion
In general An Introduction to the Book of Abraham is a work of careful scholarship and thought, one that those in and out of the Church can appreciate, with some significant original contributions and exciting directions for further research and discussion.

Highly recommended!

Friday, November 03, 2017

The Council of the Gods in the Book of Mormon: Can You Help Me Find the Best Sources for Joseph's Plagiarism?

Book of Mormon critics have been working hard to identify sources that Joseph Smith might have used to fabricate the Book of Mormon. They've made some good inroads by showing, for example, that there were rare maps of Arabia in Joseph's day that could have been used to come up with the even more rare place name Nahom (well, OK, Nehhm or Nehem, but close enough) and a book or two that hinted at chiasmus and other Jewish poetical techniques. There's still a lot of work to do, of course, such as finding one of those maps that was anywhere near Joseph during production of the Book of Mormon. Since they are already pretty busy with such tasks, maybe some of you can help with a new item on the list of items to explain through plagiarism. After all, some of my best friends are critics of the Book of Mormon, and it's only fair that I help lift one of their burdens.

The annoying new problem comes from Stephen O. Smoot's recent publication at The Interpreter. In "The Divine Council in the Hebrew Bible and the Book of Mormon" in Interpreter: A Journal of Mormon Scripture 27 (2017): 155-180. In my opinion, Smoot seems to be taking a well-known weakness in Mormonism and turning it into a strength in light of modern scholarship. That weakness is our departure from the flavor of strict monotheism found in the post-biblical creeds and the concept that there is a heavenly "council of the gods" with multiple divine beings (e.g., sons and daughters of God who can be called "gods") presided over by the One God whom we worship, God the Eternal Father.  This belief is commonly used to not only criticize our theology but to actually exclude us from being Christians in spite of our firm belief in Jesus Christ as the Son of God and our Savior and Redeemer (and yes, we believe He is One with the Father, but differ from others in our understanding of how they are One).

After reading Smoot, I would say that in light of modern scholarship about what ancient Jews and Christians really believed, the slam-dunk argument for the absolute monotheism that dominates modern theology in mainstream Christian and Jewish belief has actually become rather feeble. Yes, of course there are verses in the Bible that decree God is one and there is no other god besides Yahweh. But considering what we know now of ancient practices and beliefs and the meaning of the Hebrew and Greek texts, even some Evangelical scholars now admit that modern assumptions may be overlooking a much more complicated and nuanced situation in the ancient scriptures. In fact, it is rather clear that ancient writers of scripture understood that there was a divine council of godlike beings. There is only one God whom we worship -- a relational and covenantal oneness -- but multiple non-demonic, non-fictional beings in the assembly of heaven and the council of the gods. Smooth documents this nicely from a wide array of respected modern scholars and also shows how well these ancient concepts fit into the Book of Mormon, providing another line of evidence pointing to its ancient origins. After a thorough but still preliminary review, he concludes that "the Book of Mormon very clearly portrays the divine council in such a way that indicates its close familiarity with the Hebrew Bible and ancient Israelite religion."

Ancient origins, or just another case of servile plagiarism from sources Joseph was familiar with? Here's where your help is needed. This line of alleged evidence is a little trickier than most since there were lots of preachers in Joseph's day where he could have picked up ideas for his fabrication, but as far as I can tell they sounded a lot like preachers today when it comes to their teachings on the nature of God: strict monotheism. When an LDS-favorable prooftext is mentioned, like Psalm 82:6 or Christ's citation of it in John 10:33-35 ("I said, ye are gods"), only the standard "strict monotheistic apologetics" view is given, namely, that "gods" only refers to mortal priests or rulers and definitely not anything else. Looking through sources that others have pointed to for Joseph's plagiarism of the Book of Mormon, like the sermons of Jonathan Edwards and George Whitefield, or John Bunyan's Pilgrim's Progress, I have not yet found clues for Joseph's plagiarism on topic of the divine council or any guidance to motive his departure from what everyone already believed on that topic -- a risky move if the goal is to win converts or sell books, I'd say.

Using Google Books, I can see some pre-1830 references to the term "divine council" such as a sermon from Elijah Waterman, but that reference refers to the Trinity, not to the Trinity collaborating with a real council of multiple divine beings. Pre-1830 uses of "council of the gods" seems limited to pagan lore. But surely there are some early sources out there that understood this concept since it can be found in the Bible, especially if one carefully considers the Hebrew which Joseph could not read at that time. Preferably they will be closer than some of the documents our critics have had to rely on so far, like a map on the order of 200 miles away. So can you help make life a little easy for the Book of Mormon plagiarism theorists and offer reasonable routes for Joseph's plagiarism of this aspect of the Book of Mormon? If your source also employs obvious chiasmus, describes Mesoamerican cement, lists a few ancient Jewish non-biblical names like Alma, and has a map or two of Arabia attached, then bonus points for you! Ideally, the source is in a language Joseph can read (English or hick English, I am told, but I'll accept Early Modern English). Bring out those big data tools or whatever else it takes and let us know what you find.

Wednesday, November 01, 2017

A Rookie Mistake in Forging an Ancient Document

Biblical Archaeology Review just shared an interesting story on a purportedly ancient Jewish document. As reported in October 2016, a papyrus mentioning the city of “Jerusalem,” “the king,” and “jars of wine” allegedly from around 600 BC was recently acquired through the antiquities market. Multiple scholars accepted the document as authentic, based in part upon carbon dating that confirmed the papyrus was ancient. Carbon dating has also been done on the ink, and though the results have not yet been published, apparently also attest to ancient origins.

However, there is good reason to remain skeptical, as Christopher Rollston explains in "The King of Judah, Jars of Wine, and the City of Jerusalem: The Jerusalem Papyrus and the Forged Words on It"  at Biblical Archaeology Review, one of my favorite resources. The article can be read for free, but I recommend joining me as a subscriber to their publications for just $35 a year.

Yes, the papyrus may be ancient and the ink may be ancient also, and the Hebrew may be plausible in general. But to a trained expert in Hebrew, one can detect a rookie mistake that may give away the forgery.

Modern forgeries have become much more sophisticated. Forgers have access to articles on the technical details of how previous forgeries have been detected. They have access to vast resources of knowledge to improve their work. In forging an ancient document, for example, they know how to buy ancient materials that will pass carbon dating tests. But Rollston notes that the Hebrew stumbles badly on a grammatical subtlety:
Within the Semitic languages, including Hebrew and Aramaic, is a linguistic construction called a “construct.” In its most basic form, a construct chain consists of the juxtaposition of two nouns (or nominals). So, for example, the phrase “Law of Moses” is a construct chain, and the phrase “Song of Songs” is as well. One of the most important features of a construct chain is the form of the first noun in the construct chain. That noun is said to be in the “construct state” (and the noun that follows it is said to be in the absolute state). And when that first noun is a masculine plural or dual plural, its construct form is quite different from its absolute form.
In the Jerusalem Papyrus inscription, there is paradigmatic construct chain, namely, “jars of wine.” We have that very same phrase, with the very same words, in the Hebrew Bible: “jars of wine” (1 Samuel 25:18; cf. also Job 38:37; Lamentations 4:2). But there is a subtle difference. In the Hebrew Bible, it is spelled nbly yyn. That’s the correct spelling. However, in the Jerusalem Papyrus, it is spelled “nblym yyn.” The problem with the spelling in the Jerusalem Papyrus is that the m is not supposed to be there. It’s not the sort of mistake that a native speaker of ancient Hebrew would make (and certainly not a scribe!). Significantly, within modern Hebrew, a circumlocution is often used to avoid construct forms (namely, the word šĕ), but in ancient Hebrew (in speech and in writing), the construct form was the way to do this. And, of course, the fact that we have the construct form of “jars of” (i.e., nbly) used multiple times in the Bible, including the very phrase “jars of wine,” demonstrates that this was certainly the way it should have been done in the Jerusalem Papyrus. But it wasn’t (and I find the logic of the authors of the editio princeps to account for this problem to be strained, special pleading). This is really quite a rookie mistake for the forger, and my strong suspicion is that the forger of this text is reading up right now on the proper construct forms in ancient Hebrew. I doubt that he will make that mistake again. There are also some problems with the script, some very fine anomalies. I may discuss those in a future publication…or I may not do so, in order to avoid educating the forgers. After all, for the past century and a half, forgers have been reading the things scholars write and learning more and more about how to avoid blunders in their forgeries.
Ultimately, the case against the Jerusalem Papyrus is pretty strong. To be sure, there are, and will continue to be, people who believe that it’s ancient. But for my money, I think that it’s of recent vintage. And the modern forger is pretty good at his craft, but not perfect. And, as I mentioned, I suspect that the forger of this inscription is studying up on construct forms right now.
And so, another classic case of forgery has been closed, exposed -- in spite of a skilled, even meticulous forger going to great lengths to obtain ancient materials -- by a rookie mistake in the text.

Then comes some further review in the comments, and now the story becomes even more interesting. Other readers explain that this mistake, the added m on the first noun, is actually characteristic of an early form of Hebrew in the relevant region, dating before the Masoretic text, and is a sign of authenticity, not a forgery. Indeed, were it a forgery, the forger would naturally use the phrase in question as it appears multiple times in the Bible. Why depart from that? If the commenters are correct, what appeared as a rookie flaw in the text that pointed to a modern forgery actually strengthens the case for ancient origins. A great example of how complicated it can be to evaluate an ancient document even when you have it before your eyes with all the tools of modern science and knowledge to evaluate it.

It's also a reminder of the story behind some of the classic rookie blunders in the Book of Mormon. I refer to blunders like the male name "Alma," so stupidly plagiarized from the modern woman's name in the Romance languages. Over a century after the Book of Mormon was published, Jewish scholars discovered that Alma indeed was a proper name for a Jewish man dating back to the 7th century B.C. Suddenly, a glaring weakness was a strength. Ditto for the horrific blunder, one of the top 10 arguments against the Book of Mormon in many publications, wherein according to Alma 7:10 Christ is said to be born in Jerusalem, or rather "at Jerusalem, the land of our forefathers." Earth to Joseph: everybody in your day knew that Jesus was born in Bethlehem. What were you thinking? It would be over a century again before we learned something not found in the KJV Bible, namely the area around Jerusalem was actually known anciently as the "land of Jerusalem" and that Bethlehem, according to the Dead Sea Scrolls, was explicitly stated to be in this land (in any case, Bethlehem being virtually a suburb of Jerusalem, for practical purposes those on the other side of the world can reasonably say that Christ was born there). It's exactly the kind of mistake that even a clumsy forger would not make.

There are many more rookie mistakes which tend to get more interesting when examined more closely. Things like crossing the Arabian Peninsula to get to Bountiful -- totally ridiculous until field work confirmed the plausibility of many details and even provided archaeological confirmation of the name Nahom, in the right place and time, and at least one excellent candidate for Bountiful in just the right place (recent questionable attempts to undermine this evidence are especially interesting).

What's your favorite former Book of Mormon blunder?

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

The Secret Behind Guanxi: Earned Trust

In China, everything in the business world and in much of life seems to be based on guanxi (pronounced like gwahn-shee), the Chinese word that is often interpreted as "relationships" or "connections," but which might best be understood as "relationships based on trust." Earned trust. Trust that takes time and sometimes many trials.

Once trust is won, great things can be accomplished. Seeing the pwoer and beauty of guanxi in its more positive and successful forms is one of the wonders of life in China. On the other hands, there is no limit to the sorrow and disappointment that misplaced trust can bring. In China as anywhere else, trustworthiness is far more important than talent and often much harder to find.

Earned trust was the topic of what I think is my favorite talk from the October 2017 General Conference. This talk, "Earning the Trust of the Lord and Your Family," was given by Elder Richard J. Maynes of the Seventy in the General Priesthood session. He told a beautiful story that I wish every child and every adult in China and around the world could hear and contemplate. It's a story involving a questionable business offer that many assume is commonplace in China (where vigorous actions are underway to stamp out corruption, by the way), but this took place in the United States with a multinational corporation. Here is Elder Maynes's account:

Let me share with you an experience from my youth that illustrates the lasting positive impact that a father who understands and lives the principle of trust built on integrity can have on his family.

When I was very young, my father founded a company that specialized in factory automation. This business engineered, fabricated, and installed automated production lines worldwide.

When I was in middle school, my father wanted me to learn how to work. He also wanted me to learn the business from the ground up. My first job included maintaining the grounds and painting areas of the facility not visible to the general public.

When I entered high school, I was promoted to work on the factory floor. I started to learn how to read blueprints and run heavy steel fabrication machinery. After high school graduation, I attended university and then entered the mission field. Returning home from my mission, I went straight back to work. I needed to earn money for the next year’s school expenses.

One day soon after my mission, I was working in the factory when my father called me into his office and asked if I would like to go with him on a business trip to Los Angeles. This was the first time my father invited me to accompany him on a business trip. He was actually letting me go out in public to help represent the company.

Before we left on the trip, he prepared me with a few details about this potential new client. First, the client was a multinational corporation. Second, they were upgrading their production lines worldwide with the latest in automation technology. Third, our company had never previously supplied them with engineering services or technology. And finally, their top corporate officer in charge of purchasing had called this meeting to review our bid on a new project. This meeting represented a new and potentially important opportunity for our company.

After arriving in Los Angeles, my father and I went to the executive’s hotel for the meeting. The first order of business was to discuss and analyze the engineering design specifications of the project. The next discussion item concerned operational details, including logistics and delivery dates. The concluding agenda item focused on pricing, terms, and conditions. This is where things got interesting.

This corporate officer explained to us that our price proposal was the lowest of those who had submitted bids on the project. He then, curiously, told us the price of the second-lowest bid. He then asked us if we would be willing to take our proposal back and resubmit it. He stated that our new price should come in just below the next highest bid. He then explained that we would split the newly added dollars 50–50 with him. He rationalized this by saying that everyone would win. Our company would win because we would be making considerably more money than our original bid provided. His company would win because they would still be doing business with the lowest bidder. And, of course, he would win by taking his cut because he put this great deal together.

He then gave us a post office box number where we could send the money he requested. After all of this, he looked at my father and asked, “So, do we have a deal?” Much to my surprise, my father stood up, shook his hand, and told him we would get back to him.

After leaving the meeting, we got into the rental car, and my father turned to me and asked, “Well, what do you think we should do?”

I responded by saying I didn’t think we should accept this offer.

My father then asked, “Don’t you think we have a responsibility to all of our employees to maintain a good backlog of work?”

While I was contemplating his question and before I could answer, he answered his own question. He said, “Listen, Rick, once you take a bribe or compromise your integrity, it is very difficult to ever get it back. Don’t ever do it, not even once.”

The fact that I’m sharing this experience means that I have never forgotten what my father taught me on that first business trip with him. I share this experience to illustrate the lasting influence we have as fathers. You can imagine the trust I had in my father due to the integrity of his heart. He lived these same principles in his private life with my mother, his children, and all with whom he associated.
Integrity is so vital but so easily lost and so hard to regain. May we carefully examine our lives and out weaknesses and hedge up the gaps where we may be tempted and where we may fall. May we be able to earn and retain the trust of our loved ones, and work vigorously to gradually regain that trust where needed.

Friday, October 20, 2017

Apologetics: Still an Important Tool in Strenghtening Faith

Over at MormonInterpreter.com, Steven T. Densley, Jr. in "Should We Apologize for Apologetics?" reviews a book on LDS apologetics. He makes some excellent points that members of the Church should know.

Many LDS members don't use the term "apologetics" to describe what many of them might engage in rather naturally when sharing or defending the Gospel, The use of logic, reason, and evidence goes back to the earliest days of Christianity. Densley points out that Christ used such tools in His sermons. Yet today, among some Latter-day Saints, it is fashionable to look down on apologetics as backward, embarrassing stuff. It is also fashionable to state or to imply that the leadership of the Church has distanced itself from such things. That argument, however, does not withstand careful inspection, nor does it even withstand listening to the latest General Conference.

A useful early example of apologetic argumentation can be found in the writings of Paul. In 1 Corinthians 15, for example, Paul uses a variety of arguments and evidences to support the doctrine of the Resurrection. One of the arguments he cites to teach and explain the Resurrection is the practice among at least some early Christians of baptism for the dead. Interestingly, that discourse has now become a source for LDS apologetics in explaining our doctrine of baptism for the dead. The argument is also buttressed by references to that and related concepts in many early Christian references that have been noticed or discovered since Joseph Smith's day, although it is possible that Joseph Smith had access to one such document prior to his revelation on that topic, namely, the Pastor of Hermas, a beautiful early Christian text that was part of the canon for some Christians.

Next time you read the New Testament, note how many times various speakers or writers appeal to logic and evidence to support an argument. Apologetics was alive and well in that day, and may it continue to thrive in ours. Or rather, may intelligent, responsible, accurate, and compassionate apologetics thrive.

Has apologetics been of benefit to you and your family? I'd like to hear your story.

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Canadian Mormons by Roy and Carma Prete: Interview with the Authors by Erin Gazdik

A valuable new contribution to the history of the Latter-day Saints will be published this month. Canadian Mormons: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Canada edited by Roy and Carma Prete (Salt Lake City, UT: Deseret Book and Provo, UT: Religious Studies Center, Brigham Young University, 2017) details the important role Canada and Canadian Mormons have played during LDS history. Missions "without purse or scrip" to Canada began in the early 1830s, and after many vital contributions to the growth of the Church over the decades, Canada continues to be a source of strength in the Church. It's great to see a volume giving attention to this important part of the Church.

Many thanks to the editors, the 21 authors who contributed to the volume, and the many others who contributed to this work.

Courtesy of Erin Gazdik with the Religious Studies Center at BYU, I am able to share a recent interview Erin conducted with the authors in preparation for the launch of this book. You can order it now on Deseret Book, and I'll add a link to Amazon when that becomes available.

Interview of Roy and Carma Prete by Erin Gazdkik, Aug. 21, 2017

Erin Gazdik: My name is Erin Gazdik and I am a marketing and media specialist at BYU Religious Studies Center. It is my pleasure to interview today a couple who have played a major role in the creation of a new book, which will be of particular interest to Canadians, or anyone with a Canadian connection. Would you be so kind as to introduce yourselves and your role in writing the new book?

Roy: My name is Roy Prete, and I am one of the editors of the book, Canadian Mormons: History of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Canada, which will be published this October 2017.

Carma: I am Carma Prete. I am married to Roy Prete, and I am also an editor of this Canadian Mormons book, which is coming out soon.

Erin: I am interested to know what inspired you to write this book on Latter-day Saint history in Canada.

Roy: In Canada, where we live, we have fragments of Latter-day Saint history, such as stake histories, and some ward histories, but no overall history has been written since 1968, which is 49 years. So it’s a long time; such a book is much overdue.

Carma: The Church has changed a lot in the last 49 years.

Roy: In 1966, there were 50,015 members of the Church, and there were nine stakes and one temple. And now there are 195,000 members of the Church, spread all across the country, with eight temples and one under construction. So this is a tremendous opportunity to tell the whole story.

Erin: Very interesting! So please tell me briefly what the book is about.

Carma: This book tells the story of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Canada. It’s mostly an historical book. It takes the history from the very earliest preaching in Canada in 1829, all the way to the present. It covers the history of the Church in each province. And there are some other chapters that are more analytical, that give the whole picture and talk about demographics and various other issues.

Erin: This covers a very broad topic over a long period of time. I’d be interested to know how the book was written and to learn about its main features, some of which I understand are quite innovative.

Roy: The preparation of this book involved a team of 40 people. There are 21 authors. It is a collective book written by people living in the field and whose research was combined with that done at the Church History Library in Salt Lake City—the equivalent of four years of research for one person. About 50 oral history interviews are cited in the book. It is really quite an academic book, peer-reviewed, and it is written to the academic standard. It is also an astounding book in that it is made to read like an illustrated book, so that it has in it 512 photographs, 94 maps, charts, and graphs, and about 100 sidebars. When you pick it up, every page—or every two pages at least—has some kind of visual material, with captions. It is beautifully designed. The design originated with Stephen Hales Creative, professional people in Provo, Utah. We are really quite excited about it. Anybody can read the chapter that interests them and get the gist of the rest of it by seeing the photos and the captions.

Erin: Carma, what was the hardest part of writing this book for you and what was the best part for you in producing this book?

Carma: There were a lot of hard parts. It took a lot of effort to do the research. It was not a superficial research job. We were working in the Church Archives and looking for records, and then looking for photographs and tracking down who were in the photographs and who took the photographs and getting permissions. That was very time-intensive. Probably the thing that I enjoyed the most about it was researching about the early history, the early period of missionary work in Canada. The history of the Church in Ontario, Canada, is very, very rich. That’s where the first missionaries that ever served outside the United States came—to Ontario, Canada. And I had done a bit of research on this already and knew a bit about it, and then, a few years ago I found out that my own ancestors were in that first group of converts in Upper Canada in 1832. So I have a personal passion for this subject.

Erin: How do you think Canadian Saints or those with a Canadian ancestry or connection could benefit from reading this history of the LDS Church in Canada?

Roy: Many Latter-day Saints in Utah and elsewhere have Canadian ancestors, whose overall history will be most intriguing. In addition to Ontario, there was missionary work in Quebec and in the three Maritime provinces, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, and Prince Edward Island, in the early period, about 1832 to 1853. About 2,500 people joined the Church, and of course they all gathered and went west with Brigham Young when the pioneers came to the Salt Lake Valley. The next major phase in the story starts with the Charles Ora Card expedition in 1887, that came up to found a small settlement in southern Alberta at a place called Cardston, just fifteen miles across the US border. And then another group came to build irrigation canals in 1898-99, and then after that the Church has been built up across the country, largely through missionary work. There were 486 congregations at the end of 2015, with 48 stakes and almost 200,000 members. Many people in the United States have connections with southern Alberta and other parts of Canada, and many missionaries from the United States have served in Canada, and assisted in building the Church in Canada. These would all be interested in the development of the Church in Canada.

It’s quite a story, a story of pioneer faith and dedication. We have written it according to the beliefs and views of the people who actually participated in the history, so it has stories of the visitation of angels, dreams, conversions, miracles performed, people praying for rain, people being healed. It contains the actual experiences, so it’s really quite an heirloom in terms of the heritage. Our intent was to preserve the faith heritage of the Latter-day Saints in Canada.

Carma: It is probably good to point out that the people who participated in the making of this book were all good, faithful members of the Church. We are trying to make the history accurate, but we’re not leaving out the faith stories, the ones that have been documented. There are some wonderful, miraculous things where we can see the hand of the Lord in the building up of the Church in Canada.

Roy: Everyone who worked on it is a volunteer; no one was paid. Carma and I started a mission at the Church History Library in August 2013, and we were there for thirty months, and then we came back for six months to finish the project. [Turning to Carma] You did research on 7 ½ provinces and the northern territories. [Turning to interviewer] She wrote three chapters and did a horrendous amount of editing, so she’s really the indispensable woman in the whole project. We had eight people who did research—service missionaries and one other missionary couple (besides ourselves) who did a substantial amount of research at the Church History Library. So every province is extremely well-researched in terms of the archival record.

Erin: I am fascinated with the story of how the Church was built up in Canada in the twentieth century. Could you elaborate on how this was done?

Carma: We see the sacrifice that people have made as they have tried to build up the Church. You have a little congregation of just a couple of families who join the Church, and they try to pull things together and hold meetings. Missionaries come, and maybe they meet in their own homes, and then they get to where they can rent a hall, and they have to go and clean the beer bottles and the cigarette butts out of the hall and open the windows before they can hold meetings. So many of the congregations have gone through that kind of pattern before they had enough people that they could have their own meetinghouses. I think it helps people to appreciate what has gone on before, when they come into all these wonderful buildings and things are so convenient. We are standing on the shoulders of giants, as it were, to have all the blessings that are available now.

Roy: Well, in those early days, too, to raise the local portion, they had bake sales and bazaars, catalog deliveries and some people put on theatricals and charged money for them. In Saskatchewan they were washing oil well bore cores. In many places, they had booths at fairs and all sorts of things that went on for a long time. It’s a great story. It’s an heroic story, with pioneers in every era, and it is thrilling, it’s just thrilling to read. I am amazed at the history myself. I am astounded. The basic thesis is that the Church was built up by the faith, effort, and sacrifice of the people. That rings loud and clear. We are hoping that people will resonate. The important thing is that we all stand between the generation before us and the one after in terms of transmitting our heritage. This book will help people get out a few stories for family home evening, and some may find some stories to tell in sacrament meeting talks. It certainly builds a sense of unity among the people. We had a conference recently in Brampton, Ontario, on the Church history in Ontario, and the people who were there were amazed. There were all kinds of things they didn’t know about. But it built a sense of unity because they all had a shared background. Part of it is to bring that heritage to the fore. The faith and inspiration of the authors is reflected in the book itself.

Erin: What other features should we look for in reading the book?

Roy: We have a magnificent foreword written by Ardeth G. Kapp, who was Young Women general president for eight years, and who was raised in Glenwood, Alberta, and who has ties with every period of the history. People will be thrilled to read that just for the sake of hearing something from Ardeth Kapp. She has published 16 books and is a very popular, dynamic special events speaker. And the book has been beautifully, beautifully designed. Hats off to Maddie Swapp (at BYU Religious Studies Center), who did a magnificent job of designing the book. There are a lot of great, fairly large pictures that are quite impactful, and the photo editing has been nicely done by Brent Nordgren and others. The book is very well edited. It is written to be quite readable. I think anyone could sit down and enjoy it. We have tried to fluff out all the academic language as nearly as possible, so it is really quite accessible to the general public. There are exciting chapters. We have an overview chapter that shows the development of the Church across Canada. We have a chapter on the cultural development. We’ve got one on lifestyle, and we have another one called “The Global Perspective,” which puts the history of the Church in Canada in the broader perspective. Carma has done a chapter on the Canadian contribution.

Erin: What are some things about the contribution of the Church in Canada that aren’t well known?

Roy: We find that what is little known is how much Canada has contributed to the Church. Some of the key leaders, like John Taylor, were converted in Toronto. Marriner W. Merrill from New Brunswick became an apostle, and his son Joseph Merrill was an apostle. There are some amazing women-[Carma] Mary Fielding Smith, converted in Canada, [Roy] from whose lineage came Joseph F. Smith, Joseph Fielding Smith, and Elder M. Russell Ballard. Canadian Latter-day Saints have founded communities in Utah. President Gordon B. Hinckley’s grandfather, was born near Smiths Falls, Ontario, not very far from Kingston, where we live. He founded Cove Fort, Utah. Because Canada is so close to the US border, the history has been fairly integrated. This is the first place people came, following the waterways, to preach the gospel. Then, when C. O. Card came up, that’s another trek north about 700 miles from Utah, and then missionaries have come back and forth. So the history has been quite a bit integrated. At one time, two members of the First Presidency, David O. McKay’s two counselors, Hugh B. Brown and N. Eldon Tanner, were both from Canada. That is quite remarkable. There have been a lot of general officer and leaders who have come from Canada and served the entire Church. At one point, Canada was providing most of the missionaries to South Africa when visas were not allowed to US citizens. The Church spread to England—and to Scotland, we learned in the history—from early converts in Ontario. So these are some things that are quite noteworthy. Latter-day Saints introduced irrigation to Alberta and made a tremendous contribution to agriculture in Canada. Some famous people, a lot of people, have made major contributions to the country, as well.

Thanks again to Roy, Carma, and Erin.

Publication Information:                                                                                                                                               
ISBN 978-1-9443-9443-9423-3: Release: 30 October 2017; Publishers: BYU Religious Studies Center and Deseret Book Co.; Retail US: $ 39.99; Hardcover, color, pp. xx, 685; Illustrated: 510 photos, 95 maps, timelines, graphs, charts.

Sunday, October 08, 2017

Learning from Russell M. Nelson's Response to an Inspired Recommendation from President Kimball

In the October 2017 General Conference of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints,  Elder Neil L. Andersen of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles shared a story on international significance in his talk, "The Voice of the Lord." Russell M. Nelson heard President Kimball discuss China long ago and chose to do something remarkable: follow the Prophet's recommendation, even though it would require significant effort.
In 1979, five years before his call as a General Authority, Brother Nelson attended a meeting just prior to general conference. “President Spencer W. Kimball challenged all present to lengthen their stride in taking the gospel to the entire world. Among the countries President Kimball specifically mentioned was China, declaring, ‘We should be of service to the Chinese. We should learn their language. We should pray for them and help them.’”

At age 54, Brother Nelson had a feeling during the meeting that he should study the Mandarin language. Although a busy heart surgeon, he immediately secured the services of a tutor.

Not long after beginning his studies, Dr. Nelson, attending a convention, unexpectedly found himself sitting next to “a distinguished Chinese surgeon, Dr. Wu Yingkai. … Because [Brother Nelson] had been studying Mandarin, he began [a] conversation [with Dr. Wu].”

Dr. Nelson’s desire to follow the prophet led to Dr. Wu visiting Salt Lake City and Dr. Nelson traveling to China to give lectures and perform surgical operations.

His love for the Chinese people, and their love and respect for him, grew.

In February 1985, ten months after his call to the Quorum of the Twelve, Elder Nelson received a surprise phone call from China pleading for Dr. Nelson to come to Beijing to operate on the failing heart of China’s most famous opera singer. With the encouragement of President Gordon B. Hinckley, Elder Nelson returned to China. The last surgical operation he ever performed was in the People’s Republic of China.

Just two years ago, in October 2015, President Russell M. Nelson was once again honored with an official declaration, naming him an “old friend of China.”
How wonderful that this busy man took up the challenge to learn Mandarin. It can be done, even for those of us getting along in years. Studying a challenging foreign language is one of the best things you can do for your brain and for millions of neighbors on this planet.

His choice to act on this matter and learn a foreign language has had a huge impact. Because of his language skills, he would develop unique friendships and have rare opportunities to serve and influence a nation for good. In 2015 Elder Nelson visited China again and in was greeted by the grandson and son of the opera singer he operated on. In a tear-filled reunion that I can only assume was carefully arranged with the help of significant government officials, they said, "Thank you for saving our father." Very sweet. Moments like that are worth all the effort of studying a foreign language, and at least some of the effort of mastering heart surgery.

I'm not sure what the meeting was in which Elder Nelson heard President Kimball speak of China and the importance of preparing by studying Chinese, but here is what President Kimball said in another meeting in 1978, reprinted in the Feb. 1979 Ensign in a First Presidency message entitled "The Uttermost Parts of the Earth":
And what of China, the third largest country in the world? Nearly one billion of our Father’s children live in China, one-fourth of the entire world’s population. Six hundred and sixty million of them speak Mandarin Chinese. How many of us speak Mandarin Chinese? We must prepare while there is time to prepare to teach these people. Of course, we face great barriers, including political barriers, in many of these parts of the world.

Major changes are emerging within China today. The single most important drive in contemporary China is to become strong, independent, and modern....

The doors are opening gradually. The Spirit of the Lord is brooding over these nations under a new regime that is certainly more open and more receptive to western ideas than ever before. Such cultural and educational interchanges will offer opportunities for exposure to the gospel. We must be prepared. The Lord is doing his part and is waiting for us to open the doors. [emphasis added]
I read this while I was on a German-speaking mission in Switzerland and southern Germany, and resolved to study Chinese. I wish I had been more diligent because life would be much more productive for me now, but I did take several classes of Mandarin Chinese when I got back to BYU (my "extra-major skill") and tried to keep studying over the years. Now I wish I had studied three or four times as much! Chinese is one of the few classes from my college days that I still depend on, along with social dance (albeit rarely).

President Kimball's recommendation from almost four decades ago still strikes me as timely and wise for today. How many of you are preparing to share the Gospel with those of other nations and languages? Or simply preparing for a richer, more productive life with language study? In terms of sharing the Gospel, some doors have already begun to open. Others may open with surprising suddenness. Are we ready?

Chinese will continue to be one of the most useful, important, and beautiful languages to study. But if the Spirit moves you to study Arabic, Spanish, Russian, Portuguese, French, Hindi or Hausa, act on it. You don't need to be a college student or missionary to learn a foreign language. It may seem tough for us old folks, but it is doable and can open wonderful new doors. The benefits of foreign language don't come only through travel. Chinese speakers in St. George, Utah or Appleton, Wisconsin may find many opportunities to help others with their language skills as people from Asia increasingly travel and migrate to the US. Spanish, of course, is becoming a necessity in many parts of the US. Keep learning and preparing. Be ready to grab doors that come your way and swing them open.

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Friday, October 06, 2017

Settling an Old Score with Lisbon -- and Learning from Portugal's Religious Toleration

In 1984, I had a great but somewhat disastrous trip to Portugal. A few things went terribly wrong on that first international trip on my own. My earlier mission to Switzerland had abundant support that spared me from some but not all of the problems I encountered in Portugal. In both cases, I ran out of money quickly and had to scrape by for a while with inadequate resources. In both cases a little more information or more accurate information from people I had relied on would have been helpful, and better preparation on my part would have averted trouble. But this week, I settled my old score with Portugal as my wife and I spent several days here, allowing me to see how much nicer it can be here when one isn't trying to live off a cheap bag of green olives. I also learned some valuable lessons about this grand country, its religious toleration, and the way its Muslim community helps keep this country perhaps the safest place in Europe.

In 1984 I was a poor graduate student at BYU going to Lisbon to present a paper at an international conference on Laser Doppler Anemometry, a fancy way of saying Laser Doppler Velocimetry, which is a fancy way of saying measuring velocity with laser beams. Brigham Young University's Chemical Engineering Department was sending me, courtesy of funds my advisor had for the R&D project he and I were pursuing related to the fluid dynamics of entrained coal particles in a combustor with swirling flow. I was so excited to go. The BYU travel office, working with a major travel agency in Utah, handled my arrangements. I had applied for them to provide tickets to and from Lisbon and to also book and pay for my hotel in Lisbon. I took what I thought was plenty of cash to handle taxis, meals, a few souvenirs, and a stack of books that the student editor of a BYU publication had asked me to buy for him to assist his studies in Portuguese literature.

The first red flag came when the travel office sent me my tickets and told me that I was flying into Madrid, not Portugal. They told me that they weren't able to get any flights to Lisbon. What?? I was young and trusting and while that sounded ridiculous, who was I to challenge them and demand anything better? Going to Europe to present a paper was such a gift, so I just accepted this. Crazy.

I communicated with the mysterious travel office mostly by voice mail. It was hard to reach people there. I should have found the office and gone in to check on all the details, but I trusted that this was the only feasible booking for me, assumed it was too late to change, and also trusted that they had properly handled the booking and payment of my hotel room. Foolish!

Getting to Lisbon from Madrid required taking a taxi to the train station and spending a good deal of time trying to figure out how to book a train to Lisbon. The train ride ended up being a 10-hour journey -- in a cabin with sealed windows and a chain smoker sitting across from me. I was exhausted after the long flight and really wanted to rest, but I couldn't breathe in all the smoke and so spent much of the 10 hours standing in the open space between train cabins where there was fresh air. By the time I got to Lisbon, around 6 pm in the evening before my big conference, I was so exhausted and really looked forward to just checking in at my hotel.

When I finally reached the hotel, I handed them my passport and yearned for the key so I could rest. "Sorry, sir, we don't have a reservation for you." What? I was sure that the BYU travel office had arranged my hotel. But wait, this one was my top choice, but I had listed a few others in the area as alternates in case there was trouble. Sigh -- which one had they booked for me? And why hadn't they told me of the change in plans? I spent roughly the next two hours wandering from hotel to hotel in the area to see if they had a reservation in my name. No. No. No. Exhausted and desperate, I returned to the one where I had started and asked what I could do? "Well, we do have openings, so you could stay here." Oh, great! I asked if they accepted American credit cards. No, they didn't. Oh, of course. This was Europe. American credit cards won't work here -- so I assumed. But now I would have to pay for my room in cash. Cash that I had planned for niceties like food. But I still had plenty, I thought.

The next problem occurred when I finally got to a book store to buy the books of poetry that another BYU student had asked me to buy. I felt obligated to but them and figured I still had enough to be OK. I presented the list to the store managed, who found most of the requested books. Each time he found one of the books, he tore a little card that was sticking out of the books, indicating that the book had been sold. When he summed them it, it was much more than I had expected. It would leave me with almost nothing. Um, that's too much I tried to explain. Can we put some of these books back? "No, senor, we cannot. The cards are torn. You have purchased these and have to pay." At this point I should have said that's ridiculous and just walked out, but I felt obliged to buy them and did so. Ouch. In a last effort to stave off trouble, I asked if they accepted credit cards. No. Of course not. There went a big chunk of my cash.

Fortunately my conference provided a nice reception with abundant food one night (grilled sardines was the main attraction there) and there were some things to eat at other times, and I was able to eat a once or twice at cheap little mom-and-pop places (good food, just not much). But the last couple days of my trip were spent trying to live off of a bag of olives and some bread bought at a grocery store. As a valuable health tip for my readers, the human body is not designed for a diet based primarily on olives. I can share details offline if you need to know more.

On my last day in Lisbon, I still had saved enough to perhaps buy a cheap souvenir or two, so I strolled into a touristy market area. There I noticed a shop with a Visa/Mastercard sign. Hmm. I pulled out my American credit card and asked if these could work here. "Of course!" he explained. I could have been using my credit card all along. The fact that my hotel would not accept them had misled me for the entire journey.

Have you heard the story of the poor woman who always wanted to go on a cruise, so she saved for years to be able to afford a ticket, but to save money brought a bag of crackers and cheese and lived off that for most of the cruise? On her last day, she finally went into the ship's restaurant to splurge on one nice meal with the money she still had. After feasting, she asked for the bill. "There's no bill -- the meals are included in your ticket." I can relate that story. 

The 1984 conference I attended was great, Lisbon was beautiful, the people were wonderful, and I even got to attend LDS services at a branch in Lisbon, but in spite of all the excitement and fun, my diet really was inadequate for a significant part of the trip and I couldn't do or see many interesting things that might have been possible with a little more cash. (Cash is something we need to save and have for times of trouble, and that's a lesson still important today. Have some on hand at home and when you travel.) Poor preparation, poor decisions, and inadequate research left me in a bind.

After all these years, I have finally settled my old score with Lisbon. After attending a conference in Amsterdam last week, my wife joined me there for a couple of days and then we celebrated the Chinese National Week holiday and Mid-Autumn Festival by staying in Europe and coming to Lisbon. This time, we had opportunities to enjoy the remarkable food of Portugal. Some of the best food in the world. Hearty, healthy, delicious. We still ate fairly cheaply, but it wasn't just olives.

One important thing I learned is that Portugal is arguably Europe's safest location due in part to its Muslim community. In spite of terrible religious persecution centuries ago, Portugal now seems to be  model for religious toleration. Catholics, Protestants, Mormons, Jews, and Muslims live and working together in peace. According to one guide we spoke to, it is the support of the Muslim community in Portugal that helps keep Portugal so safe. When radical elements try to stir up violence, Portugal's established Muslim community won't stand for that and works with authorities to prevent trouble. I hope that's accurate. I love communities where religious toleration flourishes. The sense of safety here and the kindness of its diverse people deeply impressed me -- along with its great food that I finally tasted abundance. Portugal, what a great place!

Here are a few of my photos from this visit to Lisbon and nearby areas, including Pena Palace at Sintra.