Saturday, May 31, 2008

Nephi Finishes the Ship (1 Nephi 18, Part I)

Listen now!"It is good, brother. It is very good."

Those are words we might imagine Laman or Lemuel saying to Nephi as the ship was completed. For a brief time, it seems, the family is unified in humility and faith. They loaded provisions, made ready, and launched into the ocean in the few verses that Nephi records of this momentous event.

He also mentions the births of two brothers, Jacob and Joseph. Their ages at the ship's launch are not known since it states that they were born at some point "in the wilderness". We do know, however, that Jacob was the eldest and that Joseph was younger and the wilderness journey was about eight years. Therefore both of them were between one and eight years of age.

Unfortunately, after many days on the ocean, everyone seems to have settled into their regular roles and rhythm. We again see Laman and Lemuel becoming spiritually slothful. Nephi describes them as beginning to "dance, and to sing". Not that there is anything wrong with dancing and singing. That has always been approved by the Lord as a form of worship. However, he also states that they began to "speak with much rudeness", which corresponded more to the rioting and revelling of the children of Israel at Mt. Sinai than to worship. This conclusion is borne out when we read that they again "did forget by what power they had been brought thither".

Nephi, hoping to correct them and bring them back to a more gentle and worshipful way of life, speaks up, only to be verbally and physically assaulted once again. In their minds, Nephi opening his mouth meant that he was trying to take away from them their birthright as being eldest sons and they lived in constant fear that he might be trying to make himself a king over them.

It is worth pausing here to further analyze how we can compare their attitudes to those found in the world today. Certainly there is a great amount of rhetoric coming from those who profess that there is no God, or that those who believe in God are trying to "shove religion down others' throats". It has become a common complaint by a loud minority in an increasingly vocal and connected society.

Considering that those who revile today against people who openly confess faith in a higher power are living under the same fear as Laman and Lemuel is not much of a stretch. One of the most common epithets hurled at believers is that they are trying to set up a theocracy (a form of government based on divine law), which is a word that holds a negative connotation after the Taliban reared its ugly head in post-Soviet Afghanistan. Suddenly, anyone who believes in God is in danger of persecution from secularists as if all believers are foot soldiers for the dictator of some kind of new world order.

Was Nephi trying to set up a theocracy? Reading further on in the Book of Mormon, we find that he was not, at least not by today's definition of the word. Nephi was simply trying to teach his people to live "after the manner of happiness." The prophets of all ages have taught that there is no lasting happiness in sin, and Nephi's cause was no different.

Upon further analysis based on simple observation, we find that the opposite is actually becoming more true. Secularism is becoming the dominant religion and tyrannical government all its own.

Look around you. When you turn on the television, open a newspaper, search the Internet, or read a magazine, what comprises the bulk of the content you see? Count how many are trying to lure you into accepting adultery and fornication as normal behavior between consenting adults. Tally the number of messages that are about buying a new car early and often. Add up the propaganda with the subtext of "you're never going to be beautiful enough", "you'll never have enough gadgets and toys", and "you'll never be thin until you try this new drug". Happiness, apparently, comes packaged as a standard GPS system in your automobile, a makeover, or some new weight loss pill. It is clear that a gospel is being preached here...just a different kind--the gospel of secularism.

I like what the late LDS presidency 1st Counselor James E. Faust said in a general conference at the turn of the millennium.
"In our time the belief that science and technology can solve all of mankind’s problems has become a theocracy. I would despair if I thought our eternal salvation depended on scientific, technical, or secular knowledge separate from righteousness and the word of God. The word of God as spoken by His prophets through the centuries justifies no other conclusion. Many believe that the transcendent answers to life’s questions lie in the test tube, in the laboratories, in the equations, and in the telescopes. This theocracy of science leaves out the ultimate answer to the overarching question, “Why?” Knowing cause and effect is fascinating but does not explain why we are here, where we came from, and where we are going. As Albert Einstein said, “I shall never believe that God plays dice with the world.” 5

"President Harold B. Lee once said: “No matter what his progress in science, man must always be subject to the will and direction of Divine Providence. Man has never discovered anything that God has not already known.” 6

"I do not believe that this great outpouring of knowledge happened by chance. All of this secular knowledge did not come solely from the creative minds of men and women. Mankind has been on the earth a long time. Over the centuries, knowledge came at a snail’s pace.

"I believe that the appearance of God the Father and His Son, the Lord Jesus Christ, in 1820 to Joseph Smith unlocked the heavens not only to the great spiritual knowledge revealed in this dispensation but also to secular knowledge. “Anthropologists inform us that for thousands of years the average human being could expect to live about 25 to 30 years.” 7 But since the late 19th century, life expectancy worldwide has risen to 64 years. 8 New ideas, including scientific inventions and discoveries of better ways of doing things, were being produced annually at 39 a year from 4,000 b.c. to a.d. 1, contrasted to 3,840 new ideas a year in the 19th century, while today they are created at the rate of 110,000 a year. 9

"Now comes the challenge to prevent the scientific, technical, and intellectual from stifling the spiritual enlightenment in our lives. As someone once said, “The greatest of undeveloped resources [in our country] is faith; the greatest of unused power is prayer.” 10 Technology may help us communicate with each other and the world, but not with God."

What do members of the LDS church think about theocracy? We view it in a much different way than the standard definition pushed by the mainstream media today. It certainly is not a system of government headed by a heavy-handed dictator who crushes everyone who opposes him. The word "theocracy" doesn't even appear in our books of scripture. We prefer to call it, simply, the kingdom of God on the earth.

In this kingdom, God (the King) teaches us right ways of living and we proceed to govern ourselves according to that law. If sin is committed, the law allows for repentance ("turning away") from sin and punishment is deferred until the afterlife, when all possible other options to bring us back to Him have been exhausted. People choose to be governed by this law by voluntarily becoming members of God's kingdom by their own free will and choice. If they later disagree with the Gospel's teachings, they are free to leave and no longer be governed by it. Likewise, they are also free to leave behind the blessings that they had been committed to receiving and would have retained had they remained faithful.

King Mosiah, in Mosiah chapter 29 of the Book of Mormon, set up the kingdom of God among his people in much this same way.

Considering all the evil that has come about in the modern world as a result of secularist agendas, not the least of which being the push by elitists for eugenics in the early 1930s that gave rise to the modern abortionist and anti-semitism movements which have killed millions upon millions, which "theocracy" is to be feared the most?

Friday, May 30, 2008

Nephi and his Asherah

Towards the beginning of the Book of Mormon, Lehi, a prophet who was contemporary with Jeremiah, is recorded by his son Nephi as having a glorious vision of the Tree of Life (1 Nephi 8). In this vision, Lehi describes how he beheld a tree full of white fruit that "was desirable to make one happy" (1 Nephi 8:10). Lehi also explains how the fruit was "sweet" (v. 11) and that his soul was "filled with exceedingly great joy" (v. 12) when he ate it.

Nephi, later in his record, details how, in an attempt to better understand his father's vision, he asked for revelation from the Lord to explain what his father had said. 1 Nephi 11-14 details Nephi's apocalyptic vision, which contain some interesting correlations to other ancient Jewish texts from Lehi's time (circa 600 BCE) known collectively as ascension visions or apocalypses. These texts generally have similar themes that include the following:

1. A protagonist, usually a prophet, is lifted into the heavens via a grand vision by God (hence, the word ascension).

2. The protagonist is given revelation concerning the will of the Lord.

3. The protagonist is usually given some idea as to the end of the world.

4. The protagonist is usually told either one of two things. He is either told to keep his visions a secret (a common theme in Egyptian ascension texts) or to impart the words of the Lord to his fellow men (a feature more common in Jewish literature).

5. The protagonist is given a divine status in the council of the gods by some sort of theosis or deification.

6. An angelic being or guide is often present to guide the protagonist through the cosmos and eventually to the throne of God.

7. Usually a tree of life motif is present in the vision and is always connected with feminine identities or qualities. This tree of life often imparts divine wisdom or happiness to the protagonist, who partakes of some sort of white fruit (the Enochian literature mentions grapes, which I shall deal with later) in order to inherit eternal life.

I wish to discuss number 7 in that list, since I find it the most startling and amazing theme in the visions of Lehi and Nephi.

Nephi, in his vision, records the following:
And it came to pass that the Spirit said unto me: Look! And I looked and beheld a tree; and it was like unto the tree which my father had seen; and the beauty thereof was far beyond, yea, exceeding of all beauty; and the whiteness thereof did exceed the whiteness of the driven snow.
And it came to pass after I had seen the tree, I said unto the Spirit: I behold thou hast shown unto me the tree which is precious above all.
And he said unto me: What desirest thou?
And I said unto him: To know the interpretation thereof. . . . (1 Nephi 11:8–11)
Nephi's later writes:
And it came to pass that he [the angel] said unto me: Look! And I looked as if to look upon him, and I saw him not; for he had gone from before my presence.
And it came to pass that I looked and beheld the great city of Jerusalem, and also other cities. And I beheld the city of Nazareth; and in the city of Nazareth I beheld a virgin, and she was exceedingly fair and white.
And it came to pass that I saw the heavens open; and an angel came down and stood before me; and he said unto me: Nephi, what beholdest thou?
And I said unto him: A virgin, most beautiful and fair above all other virgins.
And he said unto me: Knowest thou the condescension of God?
And I said unto him: I know that he loveth his children; nevertheless, I do not know the meaning of all things.
And he said unto me: Behold, the virgin whom thou seest is the mother of the Son of God, after the manner of the flesh.
And it came to pass that I beheld that she was carried away in the Spirit; and after she had been carried away in the Spirit for the space of a time the angel spake unto me, saying: Look!
And I looked and beheld the virgin again, bearing a child in her arms.
And the angel said unto me: Behold the Lamb of God, yea, even the Son of the Eternal Father! (1 Nephi 11:12–21)
Thus we see an unmistakable connection between Lehi's and Nephi's Tree of Life vision and Mary, the mother of God. Not only that, but we see a connection between this tree and white fruit that made one happy. So we see two distinct connections between the tree and other elements: white fruit that produces happiness and the Mother of God.

Daniel C. Peterson, a professor of Islamic Studies and Arabic at BYU, has written an essay entitled Nephi and his Asherah which discusses the Tree of Life motif in the Book of Mormon and its connection to other ancient Near Eastern texts.

Professor Peterson explains:

"How has Nephi come to this understanding? Clearly, the glimpse given to Nephi of the virgin mother with her child is the answer to his question about the meaning of the tree. Indeed, it is evident that in some sense the virgin is the tree. This is apparent from the structure of the pericope, of course, but also in the parallel descriptions given of the tree and the virgin. Just as she was "exceedingly fair and white," "most beautiful and fair above all other virgins," so was the beauty of the tree "far beyond, yea, exceeding of all beauty; and the whiteness thereof did exceed the whiteness of the driven snow." In one sense, therefore, the fruit of the tree—which was "desirable to make one happy" (1 Nephi 8:10), "desirable above all other fruit" (verses 12, 15), "most sweet, above all that [Lehi] ever before tasted" (verse 11), and which "filled [his] soul with exceedingly great joy" (verse 12)—is clearly the fruit of Mary's womb, Jesus. Moreover, it is evident that the mere sight of the virgin, by herself, leaves Nephi still a bit bewildered. It is only when she appears with a baby and is identified as "the mother of the Son of God" that he grasps the meaning of the tree."

Professor Peterson goes on to elaborate on how in Preexilic Israel, that is, before the Babylonian conquest, Asherah was believed by the Israelites as being the divine goddess, consort of El and exemplified by the sacred tree. The Israelites held Asherah in such high esteem, in fact, that cultic centers were created to worship her and a motif of Asherah was placed in Solomon's Temple. She even is exemplified with Biblical Wisdom in some texts. Later, however, under the reformations of Josiah, Asherah fell out of favor with Israelites, who soon began to replace her motif in the Temple with the Menorah and abandon her cultic centers.

However, a rich corpus of literature still exists that details that Asherah, the mother goddess who was connected with the sacred tree, played a prominent role in Preexilic Israelite religion.

This is an interesting correlation with the Book of Mormon, whose authors would have undoubtedly been familiar with the Asherah motif. It is very interesting that the Book of Mormon fits perfectly in this corpus of ancient literature, which was unknown in Joseph Smith's day, and draws upon the same connections (i.e. tree = mother goddess).

However, this is just one connection to the ancient world that the Book of Mormon makes in this regard. I mentioned the white fruit that makes one happy in connection with the tree of life and other ancient texts. With this regards, Margaret Barker, a non-LDS Old Testament scholar who has written extensively on Preexilic Israelite belief, explained at the 2005 Bicentennial Conference on Joseph Smith that the Book of Mormon's connection between the sacred tree and white fruit also has stark parallels to other ancient texts. She explains that the sacred tree in these ascension texts is more often than not connected to white fruit that makes one happy. For example, in the apocryphal Book of 1 Enoch, Enoch is led to the sacred tree and partakes of white grapes that give him joy. Barker notes that this is a direct correlation to the Book of Mormon's narrative of Lehi eating the white fruit that made him happy. Barker explains:

"I do not know of any other source that describes the fruit as being white grapes. Imagine my surprise when I read the account of Lehi's vision of the tree whose white fruit made one happy, and the interpretation that the Virgin in Nazareth was the Mother of the Son of God after the manner of the flesh (1 Nephi 11:14-23). This is the Heavenly Mother, represented by the tree of life...this revelation to Joseph Smith was the ancient Wisdom symbolism, intact, and almost certainly as it was known in 600 BCE." (see The Worlds of Joseph Smith, edited by John Welch, 2006, page 76)

In short, the Tree of Life as being connected with the mother goddess and having white fruit is well attested in ancient literature not available to Joseph Smith. It is an authentic theme in this type of literature, within which the Book of Mormon fits rather nicely.

To quote Dr. Peterson:
"The inclusion in 1 Nephi of an authentically preexilic religious symbol that could scarcely have been deduced by the New York farmboy Joseph Smith from the Bible—especially given his severely limited knowledge of that book in the late 1820s, when he was translating the golden plates—suggests that the Book of Mormon is, indeed, an ancient historical record. And that, in turn, suggests that God did, indeed, so love the world that he gave his Only Begotten Son to save us. The Book of Mormon is, as it claims to be, a second witness for Christ."
For further reading, see the following:

Joseph Smith and Preexilic Israelite Religion by Margaret Barker in The Worlds of Joseph Smith. Edited by John W. Welch and published in 2006 with BYU Press

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Has DNA Disproven the Book of Mormon?

"The normal way of dealing with the Book of Mormon
'scientifically' has been first to attribute to the Book of
Mormon something it did not say, and then to refute the
claim by scientific statements that have not been proven."- Hugh Nibley

The Book of Mormon has come under attack by critics on a number of levels. The most recent attack on the authenticity of the Book of Mormon has been under the guise of "science" in the form of DNA (deoxyribonucleic acid) testing on Native American populations. These attacks, spearheaded by former Mormons Thomas W. Murphy (an anthropologist who has been heralded by many as the Mormon Galileo) and Simon Southerton (a plant biologist) essentially run as following:
  1. The Book of Mormon claims that all Native Americans are descendants of a Middle Eastern Semite named Lehi.
  2. Genetic testing on Native American populations has shown that Indians are not of Middle Eastern descent, but from Asia.
  3. Thus, this proves that the Book of Mormon is not a true history.
  4. Ergo, this disproves any claim by Joseph Smith to have translated ancient records from real ancient Americans.
These attacks on the Book of Mormon stem from a poor understanding of the claims of the Book of Mormon and an even poorer understanding of genetic science in relationship to the history of ancient populations. In effect, DNA attacks on the Book of Mormon are attacking a straw man that critics have set up against the Book of Mormon. As as been shown again and again by Latter-day Saint scientists, historians and scholars, the Book of Mormon simply does not present a hypothesis that can be tested by DNA. Thus, the DNA evidence does not hurt the Book of Mormon itself, but simply erroneous interpretations of the text of the Book of Mormon.

Take the first part of the argument. Critics claim that the Book of Mormon says that all Native Americans are descendants of Lehi. However, this is poor reading of the text. The Book of Mormon is, as has been shown by Dr. John Sorenson, a linear history, or, in other words, a history that selectively treats few populations. It is not describing the entire history of America in ancient times, but rather select populations.

Furthermore, evidence from the text seems to indicate that when Lehi and his family landed in Mesoamerica (the most likely spot where the events of the Book of Mormon occurred) they encountered and intermingled with native populations that were already present in America. Therefore, if Nephi and his family began intermarrying and mingling with native populations, then their genetic material would be nearly impossible to detect today. This phenomenon is called a population bottleneck. In other words, a genetic drift away from Lehi's genetic structure would take place amongst his descendants as their DNA began to mutate and adapt to the already overwhelming genetic presence of the native population. This bottleneck effect is also perpetuated by massive killings of selected populations that further wipe out whatever genetic material may have been left in the alien population. This is exactly the case with the Nephites, who were, en mass, wiped out (DNA and all) by the thousands.

Another consideration is what is called the founder effect. According to Wikipedia, founder effect is "the loss of genetic variation when a new colony is established by a very small number of individuals from a larger population." (See here:

In other words, as is attested in the Book of Mormon, when a small number of individuals marries and intermingles into a larger population, the genetic signal of the smaller group can become lost or overpowered by the already prevalent genetic makeup of the larger population that the smaller population is being assimilated into. (Interestingly enough, Murphy admitted this himself in his essay critical of the Book of Mormon based on DNA evidence. See "Lamanite Genesis, Genealogy and Genetics," in American Apocrypha: Essays on the Book of Mormon, ed. Dan Vogel and Brent Lee Metcalfe (Salt Lake City: Signature, 2002), 53)

These and other reasons are important in taking to consideration if one is going to pronounce gloom and doom upon the Book of Mormon based on DNA. Simply put, the Book of Mormon does not present a scenario that can be tested by DNA.

Nevertheless, this has not stopped people (and entire organizations) from heralding this as the final nail in the coffin for the Book of Mormon. Much like Charles Larson, who proclaimed that it was "all over!" based on the controversy surrounding the Book of Abraham, so critics have announced that at last the Book of Mormon has been disproven by science.

One such organization, Living Hope Ministry (LHM), has produced a DVD entitled DNA Vs. The Book of Mormon in which Joel Kramer, the producer of the DVD and the head of LHM, has gleefully announced that the false prophet Joseph Smith and his bogus Book of Mormon has been proven to be a fraud. At the end of his DVD, he urges his watchers to accept fundamentalist Protestantism as the true Gospel and to leave Mormonism.

In DNA Vs. The Book of Mormon, Kramer presents that DNA evidence has proven that the Native Americans are from Asia and not the Middle East. This, he says, disproves the Book of Mormon. However, one thing that Kramer is careful not to tell his watchers is the fact that that very same DNA evidence is being used by secular scientists to bolster Darwin's theory of evolution, which is the polar opposite of the ideology of fundamentalist Evangelicalism. Furthermore, Kramer also omits the fact that the DNA used by scientists to link the Indians to Asian ancestry (the very DNA Kramer is proclaiming disproves the Book of Mormon) is believed to have been transmitted to the Americas from between 20,000 to 12,000 BCE. This is further at odds with the fundamentalist Evangelical view that Adam and Eve lived around 8,000-6,000 BCE.

Here is an apt cartoon illustrating this:

which cartoon is further explained here for the humor-impaired.

So we see a subtle double standard being employed by Evangelical critics of the Book of Mormon. On the one hand, they want to use DNA to disprove Mormonism. On the other hand, they refuse to apply the same standards (indeed, the very same DNA testing) they are subjecting the Mormons to towards their own paradigm. Considering this, one is forced to wonder just what Mr. Kramer's intentions are. Does he really want to proclaim the truth? Or is he simply trying to get a cheap shot off at the Mormons? In this case, I view the latter as more viable.

In conclusion, despite the popular ideas that the public holds about DNA testing, thanks largely in part to TV programs such as CSI, the Book of Mormon simply cannot be tested by DNA one way or another. It simply does not present a hypothesis that can be tested by DNA.

This has been but a brief overview on the issue of DNA and the Book of Mormon. There is much more that could be said about this issue. Therefore, the reader is advised to follow up on this issue by reading the following links.

Kevin Barney, A Brief Review of Murphy and Southerton's "Galileo Event.". A review of an article on DNA and the Book of Mormon that appeared in Anthropology News.

Cooper Johnson, "DNA and the Book of Mormon," (Redding, California: FAIR, March 2002) Some say that DNA research can disprove (or prove) The Book of Mormon. This article examines a presentation on the subject by Dr. Scott R. Woodward at the 2001 FAIR Conference.

Brant Gardner, "The Tempest in a Teapot: DNA Studies and the Book of Mormon," (Redding, California: FAIR, January 2003) A review of what DNA studies can and, more importantly, cannot tell us about the Book of Mormon.

Jeff Lindsay, Does DNA evidence refute the Book of Mormon. The Book of Mormon has come under heavy fire from critics in light of DNA evidence which is said to utterly refute claims of its historicity. These attacks typically rely on several faulty assumptions about the Book of Mormon and leave out important scientific details about the DNA evidence.

Brent Lee Shelton and Jonathan Marks, "Genetic Markers Not a Valid Test of Native Identity," (City Unknown: Council for Reponsible Genetics, 2002) While not directly citing DNA in relation to the Book of Mormon, this article provides an interesting viewpoint that indicates why DNA tests cannot provide conclusive proof of whether a person belongs to a specific ethnic group (such as Lamanites).

The FARMS Review, 2003. Volume 15, Number 2, pp. 25, 35, 91, 129, 165, 183. (PDF, 6.95 MB). Note that while not all of the essays in this edition of the FARMS Review do not deal with DNA, there a number of important essays on the subject contained therein.

Michael Whiting, "DNA and the Book of Mormon," (Provo, Utah: FARMS, January 2003) Published as a PDF and as a 45-minute video presentation concerning DNA and the Book of Mormon. An excellent resource that explains the problems in drawing definitive conclusions about the Book of Mormon based on DNA findings.

See also:

Part 1 - The Book of Mormon and New World DNA

Part 2 - The Book of Mormon and New World DNA

Part 3 - The Book of Mormon and New World DNA

Monday, May 26, 2008

This video just begs to be shared on this blog. It's called "The Book of Mormon vs. The Cell Phone". What would it be like if we treated the Book of Mormon like we do our cell phones?

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Nephi Begins to Build a Ship (1 Nephi 17)

Listen now! Nephi gives the direction as "nearly eastward" in which they traveled for the remainder of their journey. If the speculated path of their travels is correct, this would cause them to be leaving the area of Nahom and heading into the most dangerous parts of southern Arabia...the present-day country of Yemen. It was likely a route through what is more commonly known as "The Empty Quarter" or "Al-Rub Al-Khali". Even today, this is a treacherous route, filled with wandering groups of nomads and full of lawlessness. The general condition is survival of the fittest as each group takes advantages of anothers weaknesses so as to survive on the scarce resources available in that area. This is the most likely reason why we are told by Nephi that their family subsisted on raw (uncooked) meat for the duration of that part of the journey. Had they built fires (even if fuel for such would have been available), they would have immediately drawn unwanted attention to themselves and been targeted by other tribes.

Heading almost directly eastward toward the Dhofar region of Oman would take them to a little band of verdant and fertile land. Whether they knew their ultimate destination at this point is not recorded, but it would make sense that they would have at least heard from the natives of Nahom that there would be a desirable destination at the end of that long and arduous trail. If not, it is safe to assume that they simply followed the compass and directions given to them by the Lord.

Upon arrival in this green oasis which they would call Bountiful, this is what they found:

It must have been a marvelous place in their sight after thousands of miles of sand, rocks, and looming demise. Not only that, but it is simply incredible that Joseph Smith, if, as the critics believe, he made it all up, would have guessed on pure luck a route that perfectly matches what we find in that region today. No maps of that area of the world existed for him to consult and no one in upstate New York had any inkling of what topology resources existed on the remotest southeast edge of Arabia.

Almost immediately after they arrive, the Lord speaks to Nephi and tells him to get up into a mountain for further instructions. Nephi obeys and when he arrives is told he is to build a ship large enough and strong enough to carry his family and provisions over the sea to a promised land. Any other man would have complained loudly about having to leave this newfound security for more uncertainty, but not Nephi. He simply asked where he might go to find ore so that he could make tools. The area of Khor Kharfot in this green region was found to have a deposit of a type of limonite or ferroan dolomite ore which has a composition such that it would have easily been turned refined into tools given what Nephi describes he was able to use to refine it.

Nephi's obedience by now is an expected reaction to seemingly impossible commandments. Likewise, Laman's and Lemuel's reactions seem to be just as predictable on the other end of the spectrum. Upon seeing Nephi preparing to build a ship, they immediately point out the lunacy of the endeavor and pour down verbal persecution on Nephi. No mention is made of Nephi ever asking them to help him, yet they seem to feel that he eventually will.

As if Nephi has finally has has had enough (after eight years of complaining), he counterargues that were it not for the miracles of the prophet Moses, they wouldn't even be having this conversation. If God could part the Red Sea so that the Israelites could cross on dry ground, God could make even the ocean into dry earth for them to cross over to the promised land. And if God could command that to happen, he could help Nephi to build a ship. (What also comes to mind here is the fact that Noah and seven of his family members built an ark that carried them to safety in the flood.) Nephi then reminds them of every miracle they had experienced thus far and their not having learned the intended lessons.

Of course, this made Laman and Lemuel very angry and they attempted to lay hands on him to throw him into the sea, but Nephi warned them that if they should touch him, they would wither "as a dried reed".

At this point, the Spirit must have been upon Nephi and on his brethren because Laman and Lemuel were visibly confounded and didn't even dare to touch him for several days. The Lord had Nephi further demonstrate His power to them by commanding Nephi to stretch out his hand with the intent that instead of withering, they would be "shocked" or "shaken".

It must have been an impressive feeling because it caused both of them to fall down and attempt to worship Nephi. He stopped them and simply told them to stop being rebellious, to honor their father and mother, and to worship God.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Alma ben Yehuda

Much of the Book of Mormon details the life and ministry of a certain man named Alma and his son, also named Alma. These two men of God performed great works for Christ in serving others and spreading the word of God to both Nephites and Lamanites. Their lives are recorded in the books of Mosiah and Alma in the Book of Mormon.

Critics of the Book of Mormon have long proclaimed that Alma as a male name is a blunder for Joseph Smith and evidence against Book of Mormon historicity. The standard argument runs that the word Alma is not a male Semitic name, but a feminine Latin word and, even worse, a feminine Hebrew word meaning a betrothed virgin. How stupid could Joseph Smith have been, they ask, since everybody knows that Alma is not a male name.

For example, the late "Dr." Walter Martin, a longtime critic of Mormonism, wrote:

"Alma is supposed to be a prophet of God and of Jewish ancestry in the Book of Mormon. In Hebrew Alma means a betrothed virgin maiden-hardly a fitting name for a man." (The Maze of Mormonism (Santa Ana, California: Vision House, 1978), 327.)

Similarly, John L. Smith, another vocal critic of Mormonism, wrote:

"So Mormons who name their sons Alma have actually named them 'lass' or 'virgin' or a young woman. Interesting!" ("A Mormon Name" Utah Evangel 31/8 (August 1984): 4.)

However, unfortunately for Messers. Smith and Martin, the name Alma is attested in ancient documents that were not available to Joseph Smith as a male name.

Matt Roper, a researcher at the Neal A. Maxwell Institute, explains:

"In the 1960s Israeli archaeologist Yigael Yadin discovered a land deed near the Dead Sea dating to the early second century A.D. and rendered the name of a Jew mentioned therein as "Alma ben Yehuda" showing for the first time in modern history that the name Alma was an authentic Hebrew male name. Additional research in Ebla, in what is modern Syria, has also turned up this name showing that it goes back to nearly 2200 B.C." (See here:

Another Latter-day Saint scholar, Terrence L. Szink, has shown further evidence that the name Alma is a perfectly good male name based on the Bar Kokhba letters, documents not discovered until the 20th century. Szink explains:

"The occurrences of ’lm’ and ’lmh in the Bar Kokhba letters, which chronologically follow Lehi's departure, and al6-ma at Ebla, which chronologically precede it, work together to provide fairly strong evidence that the personal name Alma could have been part of the cultural baggage that Lehi and his family took with them from Israel to the New World."

Szink then concludes:

"Certainly the critics' claim that Joseph Smith borrowed Alma from a Latin-based source is no longer the only possible explanation." (See here:

In other words, the name Alma as a personal male name is attested anciently and is not a blunder for Joseph Smith. It is further evidence for the authenticity of the Book of Mormon and the claims of Joseph Smith the Seer.

Sunday, May 4, 2008

Murmuring in the Wilderness (1 Nephi 16 Part III)

Listen now!
34 And it came to pass that aIshmael died, and was buried in the place which was called bNahom.

The family had passed through their first major trial in the desert, and now one of the joint patriarchs of the combined families, Ishmael, is called out of this world into the next. The family, grief stricken and mourning, bury him in a place called Nahom.

As Steve Smoot explained in his excellent post on this subject, this event is one of the best and earliest indicators that Joseph Smith was not a fraud.

Here is a map of the probable route of Lehi through the Arabian Peninsula.

View Larger Map

Here is a video for more explanation and visuals that really illustrate the impact of this information.

The name "Nahom" corresponds directly to the situation and place as Nephi describes it as well as to a place and its purpose in our day. As with all proofs given of the Book of Mormon, critics have endeavored to attack even this plain evidence of authenticity. However, those objections have been adequately debunked as well.

Yet again, we see how fragile the faith of Laman and Lemuel can be as they turn this potentially faith-building event into more cause to complain. In other words, they could have turned to the scriptures and to the teachings of the prophets to try to understand death and what it means to be mortal vs. immortal. They could have mediated upon the promises the Lord had made to them numerous times before. They could have prayed for strength to overcome their sadness and to gain hope of better things to come. The could have served the grieving family members with love and compassion.

Instead, they turned against Lehi and Nephi and even threatened to kill them both. The irony of such desires as a consequence of mourning the death of Ishmael is alarming.

It is Satan's plan to compound our grief with even more grief, heaping on a good dose of vengeance.

It is God's plan that we overcome our grief with hope of salvation and exaltation, heaping on a good dose of forgiveness and humility to accept the tests and tasks He presents to us.

But all was not lost yet for Laman and Lemuel. Even with their threatenings and feelings of hatred and jealousy, they had not progressed so far down the path of unrighteousness as to merit being cut off. The Lord was still interested in recovering them and guiding them to repentance. Verse 39 states:
39 And it came to pass that the Lord was with us, yea, even the voice of the Lord came and did speak many words unto them, and did achasten them exceedingly; and after they were chastened by the voice of the Lord they did turn away their anger, and did repent of their sins, insomuch that the Lord did bless us again with food, that we did not perish.
As with all things in the Book of Mormon, we are invited to apply these events to our own lives and see what parallels there may be. If we take the time to do that, we can avoid many of the pitfalls that plagued Laman and Lemuel. Consequently, we can reap the blessings and spirituality that came to Nephi and those who were righteous and didn't murmur.