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Sunday, July 27, 2008

The Gathering of Israel and the Coming of the Messiah (1 Nephi 21)

Listen now! Monte S. Nyman wrote in his book "Great Are the Words of Isaiah" that
...[Isaiah] chapter 49 is one of the most important chapters in the whole book of Isaiah because it also clearly foretells the mission of the Latter-day Saints and the destiny of the land of America in connection with the house of Israel. Nephi interpreted the chapter as foretelling that the land of America would receive some of scattered Israel, while his brother Jacob applied it both to the Jews in Jerusalem and to the Gentiles. Chapter 49 is of such importance that it ought to be studied diligently by every member of the Church.
The LDS Church published, separately, an Old Testament textbook and a Book of Mormon textbook for its institute of religion program (students 18 to 30). Each covers this chapter's contents quite well. I will break it down and summarize it according to the main themes outlined in these manuals. As you compare 1 Nephi 21 and Isaiah 49, feel free to skip ahead to 1 Nephi 22 where Nephi spells out the meaning of Isaiah 49 to his brothers.

Quick Outline
  • Israel will be gathered. God knows where they have been scattered.
  • Through the Messiah (the servant, the Holy One), Israel and the gentiles shall be blessed.
  • And Israel shall be gathered in the last days.
  • This is because the Lord has not forgotten his people even though they are constantly forsaking him.
  • They shall inherit their former lands in great glory.
  • The gentiles shall assist in this gathering.
  • Those who once persecuted and oppressed Israel shall be punished.
Verses 1-3: Half of verse 1 is missing from the King James text. Nephi restores what was lost by writing that by his time "the more part of all the tribes" of Israel had been "scattered to and fro upon the isles of the sea" (1 Nephi 22:4). The rest of the verses refer to Israel herself a sharp sword because she would spread the gospel far and wide by cutting wherever she is moved. Israel didn't fulfill this expectation in ancient times because of her refusing to live the teachings of the Lord. Therefore, these verses refer to the latter days.

Verses 4-12: The Lord did not forget Israel, despite the long time Israel had to wait for deliverance. Verse 5 shows that Israel still had reason to hope and rejoiced in the day that her restoration would come. That day came when Joseph Smith was raised up as the first latter-day prophet. The work God gave him to do opened the way for Israel to be gathered through missionary work commissioned under the proper authority given to Joseph by angelic visitors Peter, James, and John, who had held the same authority and "keys" during the times of the New Testament.

Verses 13-17: The Lord uses the metaphor of a mother forgetting her child's need for food and contrasts that while it is possible a mother might do so, He will never forget Israel. Here is one of my favorite verses in all of Isaiah, where the Lord beautifully tells future Israel everything they would need to know to recognize Him when He came. In verse 16, He says:
Behold, I have graven thee upon the palms of my hands; thy walls are continually before me. (emphasis added)
For students of Isaiah in the Spring of 33 A.D., this should have been like a red flag waving over the cross of crucifixion indicating that this Man was the prophesied Messiah, the Son of God.

Verses 18-21: This part talks more specifically about the latter-day gathering that is now occurring. Gentiles would be the medium by which the children of Israel (descendants of ancient Israel) would return to the lands they formerly inhabited. The influx of Israelite immigrants both temporally into the land of Israel and spiritually into the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints during that time period was so incredible that it is not hard to imagine how the reaction voiced in verses 20 and 21 is quite real: "The place is too strait for me; give place to me that I may dwell." and "Who hath begotten me these...where had they been?"

Verses 22-26: The literal fulfillment of this prophecy is seen in the history of the 20th century, after World War I, when England took Jerusalem and its surroundings from the tyranny and oppression of the Turkish empire. Dr. Herbert Samuel, a British-born Jew, was installed as the local governor. From that time forward, Jewish people have migrated to Israel in droves.

Nearly simultaneously, the descendants of the ancient Americans, some of whom carry the lineage of Laman and Lemuel (who the Lord promised Nephi would be preserved), began to join the LDS Church in increasing numbers. Today the number of Latin American saints has outgrown the number of LDS members in the U.S.A. The same holds true when you add in the number of saints all over the world, many of whom include direct descendants of the 10 Lost Tribes of Israel. We are no longer an "American" (U.S.A.-only) Church, but a worldwide Church engaged directly in the gathering of Israel. We are fulfilling Isaiah's prophecy from Isaiah 49.

Verse 26 also serves as further proof of the authenticity of the Book of Mormon. In his work on Isaiah, Nyman noted a significant addition to Isaiah:
As Nephi commented on Isaiah 49 in 1 Nephi 22, he quoted or paraphrased three verses from 'the prophet,' obviously Isaiah. We do not have these verses in the present Bible text, but they fit very well into the context of Isaiah 49 and 50. We can illustrate this by placing 1 Nephi 22:15-17 between the last verse of chapter 49 and the first verse of chapter 50.
Let's see what that would look like:

Isaiah 49:26
26 And I will feed them that oppress thee with their own flesh; and they shall be drunken with their own blood, as with sweet wine: and all flesh shall know that I the Lord am thy Saviour and thy Redeemer, the mighty One of Jacob.
1 Nephi 22:15-17
15 For behold, saith the prophet, the time cometh speedily that Satan shall have no more power over the hearts of the children of men; for the day soon cometh that all the proud and they who do wickedly shall be as stubble; and the day cometh that they must be burned.
16 For the time soon cometh that the fulness of the wrath of God shall be poured out upon all the children of men; for he will not suffer that the wicked shall destroy the righteous.
17 Wherefore, he will preserve the righteous by his power, even if it so be that the fulness of his wrath must come, and the righteous be preserved, even unto the destruction of their enemies by fire. Wherefore, the righteous need not fear; for thus saith the prophet, they shall be saved, even if it so be as by fire.
Isaiah 50:1
1 Thus saith the Lord, Where is the bill of your mother’s divorcement, whom I have put away? or which of my creditors is it to whom I have sold you? Behold, for your iniquities have ye sold yourselves, and for your transgressions is your mother put away.

Download Diigo and add your own notes and commentary to 1 Nephi 21 and Isaiah 49 on Scriptures.LDS.org.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Article(s) of the Week: John Sorenson on Mesoamerica and the Book of Mormon

In this edition of my new series Article(s) of the Week I wish to discuss an essay by John Sorenson, Professor Emeritus of Anthropology at Brigham Young University, in which he investigates the Book of Mormon as an ancient Mesoamerican record.

In this essay, Dr. Sorenson discusses some features within the Book of Mormon which show how it fits nicely in an ancient Mesoamerican context. Indeed, the Book of Mormon mentions specific characteristics of the civilizations of the Nephites and the Lamanites that not only fit rather snugly in a Mesoamerican context, but only work in a Mesoamerican setting. For example, the Book of Mormon never mentions snow or ice. It even mentions warfare during the winter months and says that men were succumbing to heat exhaustion during these winter months (Alma 51:33). Because of such, we can deduce that wherever the Book of Mormon took place, it was a tropical climate that was hot during the winter months. Such a description only fits in Mesoamerica.

Dr. Sorenson in his essay further details various characteristics of the Book of Mormon and ancient Mesoamerica. They include:

1. A complex writing system
2. A complex calendar system
3. A complex language system

The reason as to why I found this essay greatly interesting is two fold. First, it was amazing to consider the contextual culture of the Nephite record and gain a deeper appreciation for the immediate environment in which the Nephite authors would have been writing. And secondly, these correlations to ancient Mesoamerica act as stunning evidence for the authenticity of the Book of Mormon as an ancient record.

As Dr. Sorenson has discussed elsewhere, not a lot about ancient Mesoamerica was understood during Joseph Smith's day. The people of ante-bellum America firmly held to the romanticized idea of the "noble red man" and teepee dwelling savages as characteristic of the native Americans. For Joseph Smith to bring forth a record describing an advanced Indian civilization with a writing system, cities, calendars, warfare, fortifications, languages, etc. was out of place in his 19th century milieu. Indeed, David Whitmer, in an interview with James H. Hart, recounted how he and the other witnesses felt unsure if the Book of Mormon would be believable by the people because it was so uncharacteristic of the popular conception of the Native Americans. "We felt sure that people would not believe it," said Whitmer, "for the book told of a people who were refined and dwelt in large cities; but the Lord told us that he would make it known unto the people, and people should discover evidence of what is written in the Book"*

However, as archaeological investigations into ancient America advanced, it became more and more apparent that the Book of Mormon was startlingly accurate in describing ancient Mesoamerica. As time continued, in other words, the Prophet Joseph Smith and the Book of Mormon became vindicated again and again. What was once the Achilles Heel of the Book of Mormon became its strongest evidence of authenticity.

The Book of Mormon as a Mesoamerican Record by John Sorenson. Originally published in the book Book of Mormon Authorship Revisited: The Evidence for Ancient Origins, edited by Noel B. Reynolds.

*David Whitmer Interviews: A Restoration Witness edited by Lyndon Cook. (Orem, Utah: Grandin Books, 1991) pg. 76

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Great Are the Words of Isaiah

I've been considering how to approach chapter 21 and other Isaiah chapters in the Book of Mormon. They are so rich with meaning, doctrine, and history that it would be impossible to cover them in any great length in blog posts. There would simply be too many verses to comment on to hold anyone's attention for very long.

I don't believe in coincidence. "Everything happens for a reason", to quote John Locke on my currently favorite TV show "Lost". A couple of days ago I "happened upon" a site called Diigo.com. It is a social bookmarking tool that goes a step further than just showing the world your bookmarks. It lets anyone who installs it view highlights and notes that other Diigo have left behind on a particular web site. It's perfect for digging deep into the scriptures on the blog without copying and pasting great numbers of verses to show the context of the discussion. I had seen others like it, but this one seemed really good for highlighting and annotation of http://scriptures.lds.org.

As an experiment, I've "Diigo"d (is there a Web verb for this yet?) the first chapter in Isaiah by borrowing from the notes of famed and faithful LDS religious texts scholar Hugh W. Nibley. The notes are the transcript of a speech he gave at BYU's sixth annual Sperry symposium in 1978.

This is for Isaiah 1, which is not quoted in the Book of Mormon, but is nevertheless an important summary of the tone and topics of the book of Isaiah and helps prepare us for the parts quoted in the Book of Mormon. Since Nibley, given his extensive Middle Eastern languages background, knew more about ancient scripture than I could ever hope to know, his notes seemed like a good place to start.

So, download Diigo and then read Hugh Nibley's commentary on Isaiah 1 in-line with the actual verses at http://scriptures.lds.org/en/isa/1. You can join the "American Testament" group on Diigo and contribute your own public sticky notes or get sticky notes updates via email.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Snoop Dog and the Book of Mormon

UPDATE 2: God works in mysterious ways. Here's a real photo of the real Snoop Lion / Snoop Dog with a real Book of Mormon given to him by real sister missionaries. :)


UPDATE: Alas, 'tis a hoax. It was late when I posted that and I didn't bother to check.

From the "Well Whaddya Know" department comes this fun photo:



I sincerely hope this is real and not a Photoshop job. Snoop could use a little Book of Mormon love.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

The Genetics of the Book of Mormon

Earlier we mentioned discussions of DNA and the Book of Mormon. Orson Scott Card wrote a July 9th Deseret News Mormon Times post about the same issue. It's quite good. He breaks down the "controversy" into four fallacies:
  1. Haplotype, mitochondria and Y-chromosome tracking is done using tiny samples from the populations in any given area. This is necessary and perfectly acceptable, because the scientists are not trying to eliminate the possibility of intermixing of populations, but rather trying to trace the general ancestry of large groups.
  2. Any variation from the predominant DNA strains will be interpreted, correctly, as "contamination" and either disregarded or removed from the study as long as it exists in only trivial amounts. The only question that would be hard for them to answer is when the contamination took place.
  3. Since the dominant strain that populated the Americas shares a common ancestry with Fertile Crescent ancestors, some haplotypes that might have pointed to the Middle East are already in the entire population and therefore invisible.
  4. Many of their findings deal with populations that have been tracked through history. Yet the genetic record does not account for "trivial" population movements like the conquest of India, Persia, all of Europe and much of Asia Minor by Indo-European tribes, or repeated conquests of China by borderland nomads.
Furthermore, he states:
Here is the remarkable thing: Within The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, among believers, there are many genuine skeptics who question everything, who test everything.

We are not afraid to look at any evidence, and when we are convinced, we change our frame-of-view to accommodate the new information. At the same time, we recognize that none of our knowledge is final and might be revised -- by new evidence, by new revelation.
That's why OSC is one of my favorite Mormon writers. He says it like it is.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Article(s) of the Week: Gardner and Bokovoy Clean House!

I wish to begin a new series here at the blog, which I have called Article(s) of the Week. This new series will begin today and every Sunday (if time and circumstance permits) I wish to post something new. My purpose in doing this is two fold:

1. I wish to share with the reader what I think are some excellent papers on issues surrounding the Book of Mormon

2. I wish to discuss some of themes or ideas presented in the paper(s).

For the inauguration of this new series, I wish to post two essays written by two of my new favorite Book of Mormon scholars; Brant Gardner, Mesoamerican Anthropologist, and David Bokovoy, Biblical/Hebrew scholar. These two essays are reviews of the anti-Mormon video The Bible vs. The Book of Mormon which is a screed produced by Living Hope Ministries. This particular Evangelical anti-Mormon group has also produced another video entitled DNA vs. The Book of Mormon.*

The basic argument of the video runs as follows:

1. Both the Bible and the Book of Mormon claim to be historical texts.
2. The Bible has been proven to be historically trustworthy by archaeology. Therefore, we should accept it as the Word of God.
3. The Book of Mormon has no such archaeological evidence for its behalf, and we therefore should not accept it as the Word of God or historical. 
4. This means that Mormons should therefore abandon Mormonism and convert to fundamentalist Protestantism.

As I watched this video, I was taken aback by the many distortions, misrepresentations and flawed logic that it exhibits. I was further taken aback by the libelous comments of Thomas Murphy against Dan Peterson (at one point in the video he flat out calls Dr. Peterson a liar) and the fact that he and the other participants never really engaged in LDS research on this subject. 

At one point, for example, a prominent Israeli archaeologist commented on how the Book of Mormon has "no authority" at all or does not fit in an ancient Near Eastern background. I was left to wonder if this scholar was familiar with the book Glimpses of Lehi's Jerusalem edited by J. Welch and D. and J. A. Seely or Lehi in the Desert by H. Nibley. These tomes show powerfully how the Book of Mormon fits nicely in an ancient Near Eastern background.

At another point in the video, a British scholar comments on how the presence of Greek names and words (such as Timothy, Baptism or even Christ) in the Book of Mormon compromises it as an ancient text. However, considering that 1) the presence of Greek names amongst ancient Hebrews from Lehi's time and earlier is well attested** and 2) the Book of Mormon is a translation, which would account for Joseph Smith applying familiar terms such as baptism or Christ to the original word in reformed Egyptian, I was startled that this scholar would claim such. 

One of the major flaws in this video, therefore, is that the scholars interviewed make dogmatic and triumphant judgments without giving any attention to the work of Latter-day Saint scholars. Like the group of Egyptologists gathered by Rev. Spalding in 1912 who blasted the Book of Abraham***, so these scholars make proud and rash assertions without looking at the Latter-day Saint response to such.

There is much more that I could be write on this subject, but I will allow Messers. Bokovoy and Gardner fill in for now. They show the flaws and shortcomings of The Bible vs. The Book of Mormon and why this anti-Mormon propaganda piece fails miserably to take into account the real evidence and the facts. In his review, Gardner demonstrates how this video has failed to handled the data regarding the Book of Mormon and Mesoamerican archaeology/anthropology while Bokovoy, in his review, shows the poor methodology of the video and its claims regarding Biblical archaeology. 

Behind the Mask, Behind the Curtain: Uncovering the Illusion in the FARMS Review (17/2. 2005. 145-195) by Brant Gardner.

The Bible vs. The Book of Mormon: Still Losing the Battle in the FARMS Review (18/1. 2006. 3-19) by David Bokovoy.

* I have addressed some of the claims in this video in my post on DNA and the Book of Mormon.

** Thanks to Robert Boylan for pointing this information out to me.

*** In 1912, Rev. F Spalding sent the 3 facsimiles of the Book of Abraham, along with Joseph Smith's offered translations, to the top Egyptologists of the western world to test the Prophet. These scholars did little more than pass their hasty opinions and judgments on the matter without looking at all the evidence and data. When pressed by Mormon scholars such as B. H. Roberts, John A. Widtsoe and Janne Sjodahl on areas in which they were wanting, these same Egyptologists responded by simply flashing their PhDs and asserting their rank and academic record. In effect, they glibly waved their credentials without doing a complete analysis of the Mormon arguments or all of the evidence. For an excellent overview of this, the reader is recommended Joseph Smith and the Critics and Joseph Smith and the Sources by Hugh Nibley and the original responses to Rev. Spalding by the Latter-day Saint scholars.

Nephi Quotes Isaiah (1 Nephi 20)

Listen now!In chapters 20 and 21 of 1st Nephi, we find a peculiar thing. Nephi begins quoting Isaiah. Isaiah was a prophet who lived over 150 years before Nephi and Nephi quotes him extensively here and later on in 2nd Nephi. When the Savior visits America in 3rd Nephi (a different "Nephi") He also quotes Isaiah. What was there in Isaiah's writings that intrigued Nephi and that was worthy of quotation by the Savior?

Something you'll find as you get into "the Isaiah chapters" of the Book of Mormon is that it breaks up the historical flow of the book, thus becoming a bit jarring to the reader. Ask any member of the Church how they feel about the Isaiah chapters and they'll readily admit that it feels like walking through peanut butter. They often state that it's because Isaiah uses names and concepts that seem foreign and out of context to what Nephi has been saying.

This is why it seems astounding that, in 2nd Nephi 25, after quoting Isaiah extensively, Nephi proclaims:
...for behold, my soul delighteth in plainness unto my people, that they may learn.
What can he mean by "plainness"? A closer inspection of verse 4 tells us.
Wherefore, hearken, O my people, which are of the house of Israel, and give ear unto my words; for because the words of Isaiah are not plain unto you, nevertheless they are plain unto all those that are filled with the aspirit of bprophecy. But I give unto you a cprophecy, according to the spirit which is in me; wherefore I shall prophesy according to the dplainness which hath been with me from the time that I came out from Jerusalem with my father; for behold, my soul delighteth in eplainness unto my people, that they may learn.

But behold, I proceed with mine own prophecy, according to my aplainness; in the which I bknow that no man can err; nevertheless, in the days that the prophecies of Isaiah shall be fulfilled men shall know of a surety, at the times when they shall come to pass.
The spirit of prophecy is defined by John the Divine in Revelation 19:10:
10 And I afell at his feet to bworship him. And he said unto me, See thou do it not: I am thy cfellowservant, and of thy brethren that have the testimony of Jesus: worship God: for the dtestimony of Jesus is the spirit of eprophecy.
Isaiah, who was a man of no small status in Jerusalem and was a extremely educated scholar, used high-order Hebraic poetry, complex imagery, and symbolism to transmit the message to those who were faithful enough to discern its meaning. Like the Savior using parables, Isaiah "hid" the things of the Lord from those who would not be prepared to hear them in order to keep them from condemning themselves by reading it in plainer language and still rejecting it. In other words, wicked people who didn't have the spirit of prophecy, or a testimony of Jesus Christ, would never understand how plain these words were; nor should they for they would then trifle with sacred things.

As with all things of God, first comes a testimony that Jesus is the Christ, then comes understanding of prophecies about Him. Isaiah's mission was clearly to prophesy of Jesus Christ. For that reason alone did the Savior chose to quote Isaiah above all the prophets. Anyone who listens closely to the libretto of G.F. Handel's Messiah will detect that Isaiah was focused principally on the Savior's life.

With that in mind, let's proceed with a quick summary of what Nephi is trying to get across to his audience by quoting Isaiah 48.

The first key to understanding Isaiah chapters in the Book of Mormon and in the LDS King James Version of the Bible is to first look at the chapter heading. That will give you an idea of what you should seek to comprehend. While you should definitely read the entire chapter, there is not sufficient space in this ideally short blog post to cover it all. The critical verses are noted below along with the principal messages of this chapter.
  1. Verses 3 through 6 - The Lord reveals his purposes to Israel.
  2. Verses 10 and 20 through 21 - They have been chosen in the furnace of affliction and are to go forth from Babylon
Here's the breakdown:

Message 1
3 Behold, I have declared the aformer things from the beginning; and they went forth out of my mouth, and I showed them. I did show them suddenly.
4 And I did it because I knew that thou art obstinate [we are all in need of a Savior], and thy aneck is an iron sinew, and thy brow brass;
5 And I have even from the beginning declared to thee; before it came to pass I ashowed them thee; and I showed them for fear lest thou shouldst say—Mine idol hath done them, and my graven image, and my molten image hath commanded them [God is whom we should praise, not idols].
6 Thou hast seen and heard all this; and will ye anot declare them [missionary work that would accompany the Savior's ministry]? And that I have showed thee new things [new covenant between God and man] from this time, even hidden things [prophecy of His coming], and thou didst not know them.
Message 2
10 For, behold, I have refined thee, I have chosen thee in the furnace of aaffliction [a type or symbol of the suffering of the Savior].
20 aGo ye forth of Babylon, flee [Christ's refusal to commit sin, the imperative to follow His example] ye from the bChaldeans, with a voice of singing declare ye, tell this [missionary work], utter to the end of the earth; say ye: The Lord hath redeemed his cservant Jacob [the Atonement].
21 And they athirsted not [Christ is the living water]; he led them through the deserts [Christ guides us through afflictions]; he caused the waters to flow out of the brock for them ; he clave the rock also and the waters gushed out [a type of Christ's side being pierced by a spear on the cross].
So, whenever you encounter the phrase "Compare Isaiah" in a chapter heading while reading the Book of Mormon, be sure to switch your frame of mind to thinking of how what Isaiah says relates to the Savior.

No Evidence for the Book of Mormon?

Critics of the Book of Mormon like to make the claim that there is no evidence for the Book of Mormon's authenticity. They claim that there is not a shred of archeaological, anthropological, liguistic, cultural, textual or historical evidence for the Book of Mormon or the claims of Joseph Smith. They also like to throw a laundry list of "problems" in the Book of Mormon that they claim compromises the Book of Mormon as an ancient text.

I must confess that I have little patience for this claim or for those who advocate it. Over the years, scholars (primarily LDS but also with some non-LDS researchers as well) have written literally thousands of pages on evidence for the Book of Mormon as an ancient Near Eastern and Mesoamerican record. From the early works of B. H. Roberts, John Widstoe, Janne Sjodahl, George Reynolds and James Talmage to the pioneering and groundbreaking research of Hugh Nibley, to the recent work of scholars from the Neal A. Maxwell Institute (including Daniel C. Peterson, John Sorenson, John Welch, Brant Gardner, S. Kent Brown, Donald W. Perry, John Gee, John Tvedtnes and many more) dozens upon dozens of books, articles, essays, etc. have been written on this subject, documenting evidence for the Book of Mormon as an ancient record.

These materials, however, can sometimes get very technical and run into hundreds of pages and several volumes. The lay reader, therefore, may feel intimidated at times in trying to read through all of this material. To this end, Kerry Shirts, one of my favorite online "armchair" apologists next to Jeff Lindsay, has made a series of videos which he has posted on his youtube page in which he discusses these evidences on a level which is easily understandable and enjoyable to watch.

On an excellent blog, Lehi's Library, the author, a Latter-day Saint whose name is James, has put together a list of Kerry's videos in an easily accessable format and order. For those who are not too thrilled about reading through the thousands of pages on the subject of evidence for the Book of Mormon, or for critics who dogmatically assert that there is no evidence for the Book of Mormon, these videos are highly recommended. Take a look!

http://lehislibrary.wordpress.com/bom-evidences/

For further reading on the Book of Mormon and some of the material covering the evidence for such, I have created a list of recommended books that the reader is encouraged to look at.

Some Notes on the Name Sariah

In a few previous posts, I have discussed how the names Alma and Nephi, to name a few, are authentic ancient names from the Near East. The name Alma, for example, has been discovered in the Bar Kokhba texts as being a male Semitic name, and the name Nephi is attested in Egyptian texts. 

This morning, as I was browsing through some books of mine, I came across an interesting essay in the book Pressing Forward with the Book of Mormon. It was written by Jeffry R. Chadwick of BYU and is entitled Sariah in the Elephantine Papyri (pages 6-10). In this essay, Chadwick notes how the Book of Mormon name Sariah has also been discovered in ancient texts from Egypt. He writes that "The reference to Sariah of Elephantine is found in Aramaic Papyrus #22 (also called Cowley #22 or C–22) and appears in Aramaic Papyri of the Fifth Century B.C. Although the language of the documents is Aramaic, A. E. Cowley specifies that the names are in fact Hebrew.1 Line 4 of C–22 lists the personal name, transliterated śry[h br]t hwś' br rmn. The probable vocalization is Sariah barat Hoshea bar arman, and the text means "Sariah daughter of Hoshea son of arman.""

Chadwick further notes that the Elaphantine papyrus was not discovered until 1903, so there is no possible way that Joseph Smith could have had access to it. Furthermore, Chadwick discusses how the name Sariah, while normally a masculine name in Hebrew, has been verified as a feminine name. Much like the name Alma, this name breaks the gender barrier and has been shown to be both a male and female name. 

Although this is by no means proof of the Book of Mormon's authenticity, this evidence of the authenticity of the name Sariah as an ancient Semitic feminine name is just another piece of the puzzle that fits the Book of Mormon right at home in the ancient Near East. 

To read the full article, see here: http://farms.byu.edu/publications/bookschapter.php?bookid=&chapid=619

Friday, July 11, 2008

If/and Conditional Clauses in the Book of Mormon

Over the years, scholars have identified a number of Hebraisms in the Book of Mormon. Hebraisms, of course, being unique Hebrew rhetorical or literary devices commonly used in the ancient Near East. One of my personal favorites is the if/and conditional clause, which are found in the original manuscripts and the 1st edition of the Book of Mormon.

In English, conditional clauses are structured in a if/then format. For example, I might say:

"If you do not study, then you will fail the test."

"If you do not eat your vegetables, then you will not get dessert."

"If you go near the ledge, then you will fall off the cliff."

In biblical Hebrew as well as Egyptian, however, conditional clauses are best emphasized by an if/and format. So, I would say:

"If you do not study, and you will fail the test."

"If you do not eat your vegetables, and you will not get desert."

"If you go near the ledge, and you will fall off."

While if/and conditional clauses are horrific English (any student caught doing that on an English assignment would surely get an F grade) they are perfectly acceptable if not the norm in biblical Hebrew and Egyptian.

There are some passages in the Book of Mormon that once had if/and conditional clauses but were eventually edited out by Joseph Smith because if/and conditional clauses are not possible in English. One instance occurs in the original manuscript in Helaman 12:13-21 (pg. 440 in the 1830 edition) which reads as follows:

13 yea and if he saith unto the earth move and it is moved
14 yea if he say unto the earth thou shalt go back that it lengthen out the day for many hours and it is done
16 and behold also if he saith unto the waters of the great deep be thou dried up and it is done
17 behold if he saith unto this mountain be thou raised up and come over and fall upon that city that it be buried up and behold it is done
19 and if the Lord shall say be thou accursed that no man shall find thee from this time henceforth and forever and behold no man getteth it henceforth and forever
20 and behold if the Lord shall say unto a man because of thine iniquities thou shalt be accursed forever and it shall be done
21 and if the Lord shall say because of thine iniquities thou shalt be cut off from my presence and he will cause that it shall be so

Another occurrence is in Moroni 10:4-5, which is famously dubbed "Moroni's Promise". In the 1830 edition of the Book of Mormon it reads:

and if ye shall ask with a sincere heart with real intent having faith in Christ and he will manifest the truth of it unto you by the power of the Holy Ghost.

If/and conditional clauses in the Book of Mormon are impressive enough on their own, but the fact that Joseph Smith edited them out also is further evidence on his behalf. Had Joseph Smith intentionally put them in his fraudulent record, then surely he would have left them in the text, for future scholars to uncover, considering that they act as evidence on his behalf. But the fact that he innocently edited them out simply to correct the English grammar of the Book of Mormon is evidence that he was not aware of the reinforcing ramifications that these if/and conditional clauses have for the Book of Mormon as an ancient Hebrew document.

For further reading, see the following:

Translating the Book of Mormon: Evidence from the Original Manuscript by Royal Skousen

Hebraic Conditionals in the Book of Mormon
by Royal Skousen

A Steady Stream of Significant Recognitions by John Welch

Thursday, July 10, 2008

First mention of suffering Messiah on stone tablet from before 1 A.D.

To anyone who has been told that not one shred of evidence exists that the Jews knew anything about a Messiah who would suffer, die, and be resurrected prior to Christ's birth and ministry, there is now evidence to the contrary literally written on stone.

This has been a favorite argument of anti-Mormons since they began to rail against Joseph Smith and the Book of Mormon. Joseph must have made it all up because the Jews had no concept of a suffering, dying, resurrecting Messiah until after it was taught to them by Christ's disciples in the New Testament from Acts onward. Right?

Wrong.

More debate and study is sure to follow, and not everything on the tablet is legible, but a number of experts are quite certain that this tablet, discovered 10 years ago in the Zurich home of an Israeli-Swiss collector, says, in part:
"In three days you shall live, I, Gabriel, command you."
and that statement is addressed to "Sar hasarin," or prince of princes.

Read more in the article to get the full balance of the scholars' take on this discovery.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

As Far As it is Translated Correctly.

Article of Faith # 8 states that:

"We believe the Bible to be the Word of God as far as it is translated correctly; we also believe the Book of Mormon to be the Word of God."

The phrase "as far as it is translated correctly" has raised some criticisms from mainly Evangelical Christians who hold to the notion of an inerrant Bible. Some even claim that this means that Latter-day Saints do not appreciate the Bible or somehow think it is not "trustworthy".

Of course, Nephi foresaw that the Bible would undergo many textual and transmission errors. He prophesied that "many plain and precious things" would be taken out of the Bible, which Nephi calls the "book of the Lamb of God" (1 Ne. 13:28). 

Professor John Gee from BYU, in an article entitled The Corruption of Scripture in Early Christianity elaborates on how the New Testament was corrupted by scribes who made the mistakes either by sincere accident or by intentional and deliberate machinations to suit their theological views. New Testament scholar Bart D. Ehrman in his book Misquoting Jesus similarly notes that while most of the changes in the New Testament are minor and were accidental, there were nevertheless deliberate alterations made in order to suppress or create any scriptural validity for certain theological ideas. 

Latter-day Saints reject the notion of an inerrant Bible that is favored amongst Protestants. We acknowledge that there were errors that crept into the text of the Bible as well as the Book of Mormon. However, just because we acknowledge such, this does not in any way mean that we do not think that the Bible is not inspired. As Elder M. Russell Ballard said during the October 2007 session of General Conference:

"My brothers and sisters, the Holy Bible is a miracle!...I am puzzled by any who would question this Church's belief in the Bible and our position as Christians. The name of the Church is The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. In our last general conference, here in this building, our Church leaders quoted from the Bible nearly 200 times. This Church is organized and functions like the Church that Christ and His Apostles established in the New Testament. Seated on the stand today are the prophet and the apostles of the Lord Jesus Christ.

I bear solemn witness that we are true and full believers in the Lord Jesus Christ and in His revealed word through the Holy Bible. We not only believe the Bible—we strive to follow its precepts and to teach its message."

Elder Ballard in Our Search for Happiness elaborates on the "timeless and inspired teachings" of the Bible and how it and the Book of Mormon "serve as companion volumes of scripture, each one reinforcing the doctrines of the other"(Page 44).

Nephi beautifully captured the Latter-day Saint view of the Bible in relationship to the Book of Mormon when he wrote that:

"Wherefore, the fruit of thy loins shall write; and the fruit of the loins of Judah shall write; and that which shall be written by the fruit of thy loins, and also that which shall be written by the fruit of the loins of Judah, shall grow together, unto the confounding of false doctrines and laying down of contentions, and establishing peace among the fruit of thy loins, and bringing them to the knowledge of their fathers in the latter days, and also to the knowledge of my covenants, saith the Lord." (2 Ne 3:12)

We as Latter-day Saints do not favor one book of scripture over the other. While it is true that we consider the Book of Mormon as the "most correct of any book" in terms of laying out the fundamentals of the plan of redemption, we highly revere the Holy Bible and its inspired teachings as far as it is translated correctly.



Sunday, July 6, 2008

The Plates, Prophecy, and Perils of the Jews (1 Nephi 19)

Listen now! Nephi takes a moment to record his intent with the plates as commanded by the Lord. See the previous post, "More detail about the plates", on this subject.
6 Nevertheless, I do not write anything upon plates save it be that I think it be sacred. And now, if I do err, even did they err of old; not that I would excuse myself because of other men, but because of the weakness which is in me, according to the flesh, I would excuse myself.
Nephi wants to make it clear that there is a difference between the messenger and the message. The message is perfect, the messenger is not. Notice that Nephi isn't making excuses, but is simply pointing out that all men have flaws. In verse 7, he differentiates between what some flawed men do with scripture vs. others. Those who are righteous recognize that the scriptures are of great worth while others set them aside, thinking they know more than God, or than those whom they assume are pretending to speak for Him.

God reveals to Nephi the date and time of the birth of Jesus Christ. This is remarkable in that the Bible, at least the parts that were extant, recovered, and compiled in the 4th century A.D., does not record any such detail. To the people in Jerusalem, the events that had been prophesied would be a clear enough sign to those witnessing them that Christ would soon be born or had already been born. The people of the Americas, being a world away from those in Jerusalem, needed a reference point by which to track the advent of the Savior. Therefore, it is likely the Lord saw fit to give them this information for this, among other reasons. They also saw signs in the heavens, as noted in verses 10-14.

The commotions accompanying the death of the Savior are also recorded so that Nephi's people would know what would be in store for them when that day arrived. That Nephi records specifically what would happen to the Jews at that time, according to prophecies recorded by prophets not published in our present-day Bible. They include Zenock, Neum, and Zenos.

The Dead Sea Scrolls have something to say about pre-Messianic prophets who taught about the coming of the Lord:
Some scholars believe that the greatest single revelation of the scrolls is the existence of a great prophetic tradition that has been completely forgotten. Its greatest representative is the mysterious "Teacher of Righteousness" or "Righteous Teacher," a major prophet whose very existence was unknown until 1950. How could a figure of such immense importance both to christians and Jews have been completely forgotten? It was because his name was blotted out by Rabbinical or "official" Jews, who persecuted him severely and drove him into the desert because he preached the coming of the Messiah.

He was of priestly descent, being of the line of Zadok, another mysterious prophet, whom some believed lived at the time of Moses and who is the type of the true priest who looked forward to the Messiah. Allegro believes that the Teacher of Righteousness himself may have been called Zadok. The important thing is the discovery not of controversial individuals but of an undeniable tradition of a line of persecuted Messianic prophets. This is in perfect agreement with the Zenock and Zenos tradition in the Book of Mormon. Since one of the commonest phenomena in the apocryphal literature, including the scrolls, is the frequent duplication and corruption of proper names, it might not be too much to suggest that Zadok might even be a corruption of Zenock, since of course in Hebrew the vowels are not written, and the Hebrew "d" resembles the "n" closely enough (in the archaic script) to have been confused by an early copyist—a very common type of mistake. Be that as it may, the peculiar type of prophet represented by Zenock and Zenos is now fully established by the scrolls.

"The Dead Sea Scrolls: Some Questions and Answers", from Old Testament and Related Studies by Hugh W. Nibley, pp. 245–51


Zenos is one of four Israelite prophets of Old Testament times cited in the book of Mormon whose writings appeared on the plates of brass but who are not mentioned in the Old Testament (see also Zenock; Neum; and Ezias). Zenos is quoted or mentioned by Nephi1 (1 Ne. 19:10–17), Jacob (Jacob 5:1–77; 6:1), Alma2 (Alma 33:3–11, 13, 15), Amulek (Alma 34:7), Nephi2 (Hel. 8:19–20), and Mormon (3 Ne. 10:14–17).

Although specific dates and details of Zenos' life and ministry are not known, the Book of Mormon provides considerable information about him from his teachings and related facts. Evidently he lived sometime between 1600 and 600 B.C. because he was apparently a descendant of Joseph of Egypt and his writings were on the plates of brass taken from Jerusalem to the Americas by Nephi1 about 600 B.C. He may also have been a progenitor of the Book of Mormon prophet Lehi (cf. 3 Ne. 10:16). Zenos spent time "in the wilderness" (Alma 33:4), but also preached "in the midst" of the "congregations" of God (Alma 33:9). Some of his enemies became reconciled to him through the power of God, but others were visited "with speedy destruction" (Alma 33:4, 10). Finally, he was slain because of his bold testimony of the coming of the "Son of God" (Hel. 8:13–19).

A major theme in the teachings of Zenos was the destiny of the house of Israel. His allegory or parable comparing the house of Israel to a tame olive tree and the Gentiles to a wild olive tree constitutes the longest single chapter in the Book of Mormon, Jacob chapter 5 (see Book of Mormon: Book of Jacob). The allegory refers to major events in the scattering and gathering of the house of Israel (see Allegory of Zenos).

The second-longest quotation from Zenos in the Book of Mormon is his hymn of thanksgiving and praise recorded in Alma 33:3–11, which emphasizes prayer, worship, and the mercies of God. A careful comparison of the style and contents of this hymn with Hymn H (or 8) and Hymn J (or 10) of the Thanksgiving Hymns of the Dead Sea Scrolls, noting certain striking similarities, suggests that the three may have been written by the same person. Further, the life situations of the author (or authors) are very similar (CWHN 7:276–83). Some LDS scholars anticipate that other evidences of Zenos' writings may appear as additional ancient manuscripts come to light.

"Zenos" from To All the World: The Book of Mormon Articles from the Encyclopedia of Mormonism, by Daniel H. Ludlow, pp. 321–23

In this chapter, Nephi is essentially writing a letter to his posterity in the Americas, pleading with them that when they see these signs at the end of the 600 years, that they take heed and repent and believe in Christ. In verse 23, he states, "And I did read many things unto them which were written in the books of Moses; but that I might more fully persuade them to believe in the Lord their Redeemer I did read unto them that which was written by the prophet Isaiah; for I did liken all scriptures unto us, that it might be for our profit and learning."

That is the purpose of the scriptures, after all. We are to liken them to our own lives so that we can learn the lessons that others have learned and also anticipate what to learn from the trials and tribulations we can see on the horizon.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Reformed Egyptian

Caractors_large.jpg
Figure 1: A sample of the characters on the plates of the Book of Mormon. These characters were copied by Martin Harris and taken back to New York to be authenticated by scholars. One of the scholars Harris met was Charles Anton, who signed an affidavit attesting that they were authentic characters. When Anton discovered the nature of the translation, however, he destroyed the affidavit.

The Book of Mormon, according to Moroni, was written in a script called "reformed Egyptian" (Mormon 9:32). This script, accordingly, is some sort of Hebrew-Egyptian hybrid script, Moroni and other Nephite prophets indicate (1 Nephi 1:2).

Critics have often leveled the following criticisms against the usage of "reformed Egyptian" in the Book of Mormon:

1. They claim that no self respecting Jews would ever use the language of their dire enemies, the Egyptians.

2. They claim that there is no evidence for any kind of "reformed Egyptian" script in reality.

As shall be demonstrated, both of these accusations are false. Not only is there ample evidence that ancient Hebrews were utilizing, among other things, the language of the Egyptians but also that there are examples of hybrid scripts that comprise both Hebrew and Egyptian.

First, it must be noted that "reformed" is being used not as a proper noun, but as an adjective. It is describing the script. In other words, Moroni is simply indicating that the Egyptian script has been "altered", "modified" or "changed" by the Nephites. Secondly, this particular script was used only by the Nephites (Mormon 9:34). We therefore should not be surprised if we do not find an exact script similar to that of the Book of Mormon since "reformed Egyptian" was uniquely Nephite. With that in mind, let us proceed.

We shall first explore the accusation that Hebrews would never use the script of their enemies the Egyptians. M. T. Lamb, a critic of the Book of Mormon during the latter half of the 19th century, claimed that "There are a multitude of reasons that make such a statement altogether improbable. In the first place, Lehi had lived all his lifetime, ... in the city of Jerusalem, surrounded constantly by those who spoke only the Hebrew language.... In the second place, the Jews hated the Egyptians with a bitter hatred, and it is therefore inconceivable that a true-born Jew a real lover of his own people, loyal and patriotic as he professes to have been, would have been willing thus to insult his people, or that the Jews around him would have endured the insult. In the third place, the ancient Jew had an unusual veneration for his mother tongue, the sacred Hebrew.... Now that such a man with such a venerated language could have accepted instead the Egyptian tongue, which was associated only with ignominy and dishonor, [is] the height of absurdity...." (M. T. Lamb The Golden Bible pg. 89-91)

Other critics, such as Jerald and Sandra Tanner, John Ankerberg, Marvin Cowan, Grant Palmer and many more have echoed similar sentiments.

However, contrary to these anti-Mormons, there is now massive historical evidence that the ancient Jews of Lehi's day were writing in Egyptian.

Take, for example, the Amherst Papyrus. This document, written around the 4th century BC, contains Psalms 20: 2-6 written in Aramaic utilizing demotic Egyptian characters.

John Tvedtnes, a scholar in ancient Near Eastern languages and history, has this to say:

"More significant, however, was an ostracon uncovered at Arad in 1967. Dating "toward the end of the seventh century B.C.," it reflects usage from shortly before 600 B.C., the time of Lehi. The text on the ostracon is written in a combination of Egyptian hieratic and Hebrew characters, but can be read entirely as Egyptian. Of the seventeen words in the text, ten are written in [Egyptian] hieratic and seven in Hebrew. However, all the words written in Hebrew can be read as Egyptian words, while one of them, which occurs twice, has the same meaning in both Egyptian and Hebrew.19 Of the ten words written in hieratic script, four are numerals (one occurring in each line).20 One symbol, denoting a measure of capacity, occurs four times (once in each of the four lines), and the remaining Egyptian word occurs twice. Thus, while seventeen words appear on the ostracon, if one discounts the recurrence of words, only six words are written in hieratic (of which four are numerals), and six in Hebrew." ("Jewish and Other Semitic Texts Written in Egyptian Characters," Journal of Book of Mormon Studies 5/2 (1996): 156–163.)

Daniel C. Peterson, in responding to John Ankerberg, has this to say about "Dr." Ankerberg's accusation:

"The statement "When modern Jews copy their scripture, they use Hebrew. They do not use Egyptian or Arabic, the language of their historic enemies" is quite an astonishing display of ignorance. Since the Egyptian language has been dead for centuries, it is hardly remarkable that modern Jews do not read the Bible in Egyptian. On the other hand, "the first and most important rendering [of the Old Testament] from Hebrew [into Arabic] was made by Sa'adya the Ga'on, a learned Jew who was head of the rabbinic school at Sura in Babylon (died 942)" (George A. Buttrick, ed., The Interpreter's Dictionary of the Bible [hereafter IDB], 4 vols. and supplement [Nashville: Abingdon, 1962–1976], 4:758b). Thus, Jews have indeed translated the Bible into "Arabic, the language of their historic enemies." They also have translated it into the language of their "historic enemies" the Greeks (IDB 4:750b on the Septuagint) and Aramaeans (IDB 1:185-93; 4:749-50, on the Aramaic Targums)." (Daniel C. Peterson, "Chattanooga Cheapshot, or The Gall of Bitterness (Review of Everything You Ever Wanted to Know about Mormonism by John Ankerberg and John Weldon)," FARMS Review of Books 5/1 (1993): 1–86.)

As John S. Thompson has shown, "hieratic was the more commonly used Egyptian script in Israel" during Lehi's time. Thompson also goes on to elaborate on more Israelite texts that have been written in Egyptian scripts, such as some of the Lachish letters. (Glimpses of Lehi's Jerusalem pg. 267)

So, the claim that the ancient Hebrews would never use the Egyptian language or would never write their texts in Egyptian is totally false. There are numerous examples of such, only some of which have been provided herein.

Now, what about the second claim? What about the claim that there are no examples of Hebrew-Egyptian hybrid scripts? This too is false.

William Hamblin, a professor of Middle Eastern history at BYU, has shown numerous examples of texts written in scripts that utilize some form of "Semitic language with modified Egyptian hieroglyphic characters". These examples include:

1. Egyptian hieratic and demotic.
2. Byblos Syllabic texts.
3. Cretan hieroglyphics.
4. Meroitic
5. Psalm 20 in demotic Egyptian.
6. Proto-Sinaitic and the alphabet.

See here: http://farms.byu.edu/display.php?table=review&id=636

I have only touched on the surface of this issue. Latter-day Saint scholars have done a lot of work on this subject that the reader is encouraged to check out.

However, regardless of how brief this treatise may have been, it is clear that the ancient Hebrews not only wrote their texts in Egyptian but also utilized Hebrew-Egyptian hybrid scripts. The Book of Mormon is right on the mark in this regards. "Reformed Egyptian" is not a miss but a surprising bulls-eye for the Book of Mormon and Joseph Smith.

For further reading:

http://en.fairmormon.org/Book_of_Mormon_anachronisms/Reformed_Egyptian

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

My Favorite Books on the Book of Mormon

I thought that I would quickly post a bibliography of some of my favorite books written on the Book of Mormon. These books range from books that described the history, context, doctrine and evidences of the Book of Mormon. As you study the Book of Mormon, may I suggest that, if possible, you pick up some of these titles as secondary reading.

1. Second Witness: Analytical and Contextual Commentary on the Book of Mormon, 6 volumes, by Brant Gardner

2. Echos and Evidences of the Book of Mormon, edited by Daniel C. Peterson, Donald W. Parry and John W. Welch

3. Lehi in the Desert/The World of the Jaredites/There Were Jaredites by Hugh Nibley

4. Pressing Forward with the Book of Mormon edited by John W. Welch and Melvin J. Thorne

5. Book of Mormon Authorship Revisited: The Evidence for Ancient Origins edited by Noel B. Reynolds

6. Testaments: Links Between the Book of Mormon and the Hebrew Bible by John Tvedtnes and David Bokovoy

7. Christ and the New Covenant by Elder Jeffry R. Holland

8. Since Cumorah by Hugh Nibley

9. Book of Mormon Authorship: New Light on Ancient Origins edited by Noel B. Reynolds

10. King Benjamin's Speech: "That Ye May Learn Wisdom" edited by John W. Welch and Stephen D. Ricks

11. New Witnesses for God, 3 volumes, by Elder B. H. Roberts

12. The Book of Mormon and Other Hidden Books: Out of Darkness, Unto Light by John Tvedtnes

13. An Ancient American Setting for the Book of Mormon by John Sorenson

14. Isaiah in the Book of Mormon edited by John W. Welch and Donald W. Parry

15. Glimpses of Lehi's Jerusalem edited by John W. Welch and David and Jo Ann Seely

16. Investigating the Book of Mormon Witnesses by Richard L. Anderson

17. Plates of Gold: The Book of Mormon Comes Forth by Matthew B. Brown

18. New Witness for Christ in America, 2 volumes, by Francis W. Kirkham

19. By the Hand of Mormon by Terryl Givens

20. Teachings of the Book of Mormon, 4 volumes, by Hugh Nibley

Well, there is a short list of my favorite books. There are many more that I could add, but this will suffice for now. Any of these titles are very good and invaluable for your personal Book of Mormon study.

Is Joe an Anti-Christian?

A Note to the Reader: Normally this blog deals with Book of Mormon issues, but I was compelled to post this on the blog. So, enjoy.

Recently, on the Mormon Apologetics & Discussion Board, some non-LDS Christians complained that Mormons do not have the right to call the Street Preachers at the Manti Pageant or at Temple Square "Anti-Mormons". Furthermore, they said, the word "Anti-Mormon" is nothing but a slanderous epithet.

Because of this, I posted the following parable, what I like to call the parable of Joe the Atheist, on MADB in order to illustrate how those who will not allow the Latter-day Saints to call said Street Preachers Anti-Mormon are using a double standard. Well, here it is:

Meet Joe. Joe was once a Christian, saved, mind you, when he was 14. But now Joe is an atheist. Joe, according to his autobiography My Life Out of the Christian Cult: How I Lost Christianity and Embraced Darwinism, saw past the "lies, delusions and falsehoods of Christianity" when he was in college and took courses in Biology, Geology and History. He was shocked, he writes in his book, when he learned that the Earth is 6 Billion years old and that man evolved from lower species over millions of years. Furthermore, he was shocked to discover in his History class about the Crusades, that Martin Luther was a virulent anti-Semite, that John Calvin condoned the burning of a rival theologian and how the Puritans engaged in full blown genocide against the Native Americans in order to secure their "City Upon a Hill". Why hadden't his Pastor told him about this? As Joe researched more, he was flabbergasted to learn of the textual errors in both the Old and New Testament and that the original manuscripts do not exist. Why had this never been discussed in Sunday School?

Well, that was it for Joe. He became convinced that Christianity was false and renounced his faith.

Now, meet Joe 20 years later. Joe is the proprietor and web-master of Jesuslied.com and a local bookstore Atheist Press wherein Joe happily writes, prints, and distributes pamphlets entitled Is the Bible Inerrant?, Behind the Mask of Christianity, 20 Reasons Why Jesus Lied, Problems with Christian History and The False Teachings of Christianity. He even makes high production value DVDs such as Jesus Vs. Science and has had friends distribute this, and his other materials, to Christian patrons who are arriving for Church or large gatherings. While at these gatherings of Christians, Joe wipes his rear with the New Testament. He throws crosses on the ground and proudly waves banners proclaiming that Peter was a violent thug for cutting off the ear of the soldier trying to arrest Jesus and that Paul was a lunatic and simply hallucinating. He calls out Christians and records them (for his blog and Youtube, no less) as he asks questions designed to prey on their ignorance.

"Did you know that Mary would have been a teenager when she got pregnant with Jesus? That makes God a pedophile! He impregnated a teenage girl!" Joe Screams.

"Did you know that Paul's first recorded version of his "vision" on the road to Damascus was over two decades after it supposedly happened?" He asks another young Christian couple minding their own business.

"Your religion is stupid. It is virulent. It tares apart families! There is no God! Jesus was not the Messiah! He was a liar!" Joe continues.

Well, that is not all Joe has up his sleeve. He has brought along some friends, and together they dress up as the wives and concubines of Abraham, David and Solomon (to show just how amoral they were) and parade around as these Christians try to enjoy their services.*

Later, Joe writes on his blog that Christians who complain that his activities are less than honorable and downright uncivil are simply "anti-Atheist" and refuses to allow them to call him and "Anti-Christian" because it is just the "Christian N-word"**

Now, here is my question to the likes of Aaron and his ilk (or anyone else for that matter):

1. Is Joe an Anti-Christian?

A simple "Yes" or "No" with an explanation would suffice.

2. If you voted "Yes" then what is the difference between Joe's actions and those of Street Preachers like Aaron?

3. If you answered "No" then see the follow up question #2.

* Note: At the 2008 Manti Pageant, anti-Mormon protesters dressed up as Joseph Smith and his 34 wives in an attempt to shock Mormons at the pageant and show just how immoral Joseph Smith must have been.
**Note: Bill McKeever has described the word "anti-Mormon" as the "Mormon N-Word" on his website.