Sunday, August 31, 2008

Saturday, August 30, 2008

New Book on the Book of Mormon

John W. Welch of BYU has released a new and exciting book on the Book of Mormon entitled The Legal Cases in the Book of Mormon. In this new volume, published by the Neal A. Maxwell Institute for Religious Scholarship, Welch explores the trials and legal cases in the Book of Mormon (such as the trial of Abinadi) and attempts to show an ancient context for the reasoning, verdict, and cases presented in each trial. Welch covers many legal cases in this volume, and offers unique insights into all of them in the context of the ancient Near East and biblical law.

Welch is no stranger to Book of Mormon studies. He has written many articles on the Book of Mormon and the ancient world, including, most importantly, the importance of chiasmus in the Book of Mormon.[1] The reader is highly recommened to read his materials on the FARMS website.

[1] It was Welch who discovered chiasmus in the Book of Mormon while he was on his mission in Germany. To see the whole story, click here.

Monday, August 25, 2008

"First to Cross the Ocean"

As I was traveling by plane last month from New York City to home on a business trip, the National Geographic program playing in the built-in screen on the head rest in front of me was called "Naked Earth: Prehistoric Americans". If you have access to an archive of this show via your National Geographic subscription, I highly recommend it. Evidence examined in the last 20 years blows out of the water that antiquated and increasingly laughable notion that it was purely by the Bering Strait land bridge that only Asians arrived here and were the sole progenitors of the inhabitants found in 1492 by Columbus.

Another show along the same theme is scheduled to air on Thursday, August 28th. It is called "Naked Science: First to Cross the Ocean". My pet peeve about "establishment science" is that it is, perhaps unintentionally, condescending to ancient humans. It says that they were smart enough to do, think, and create many surprisingly sophisticated things, but not to lash together some logs and float across the ocean on currents. In "Prehistoric Americans", at least three probable routes were proposed for migration between oceans: Bering Strait, kelp "highways" extending along the coasts of the Pacific Rim, and a fishing route following the ice-to-sea interface of an ancient glacier in the North Atlantic.

Mormon scholars are often accused of a priori thinking based on inherent prejudices when forming conclusions about ancient history. It's true. We admit that. It's an inevitable part of human nature. But so-called "mainstream scientists" are no different in that they often fall prey to their own cultural biases.

According to establishment science, ancient humans were either stupid or blind. They were simply too primitive to have an original, inventive thought about anything. They had never seen a log float down a river and thought, "Gee, I wonder if I could sit on that and get from point A to point B a lot faster than walking." or "If I tie my cloak to a stick and spread it out, maybe I can use the wind to go even faster." According to the mainstream textbooks, the wheel didn't exist in America until the Spaniards brought it with them. Apparently, no ancient human living on the American continent had ever seen a rock roll down a hill and thought, "Hmm, if I carved that a bit and put a stick through it, like I do with arrowheads and obsidian clubs, I could wheel this pile of dirt on a platform easier than I can carry it in a basket."

If "First to Cross the Ocean" is as good as "Prehistoric Americans" at summarizing the latest research, I guarantee it will knock your socks off.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Mormon Conspiracy Unvail'd!!

Pardon the indulgence into a bit of satire, but I heard the following caller on the Michael Medved radio show and couldn't help myself.

Michael Medved, who is Jewish, has been an outspoken defender of people of the LDS faith whenever callers to his show have tried to attack us. This video adaptation of a typical Michael Medved Show "Conspiracy Day" call from a few weeks ago is a classic that needs to be passed around as much as possible.

Why I (Rob) am a Book of Mormon Apologist

Steve posted his reasons for being a Book of Mormon apologist, and I now feel compelled to do so as well.

I had the privilege of serving an LDS mission in Guatemala. About 8 months into my mission, I purchased a children's copy of the Popol Vuh (if only to match my limited Spanish reading comprehension at the time). One of my district leaders, a fellow from Chiquimula, Guatemala, saw the book and asked me why I had purchased it instead of the full version. When I told him why, he asked me if I understood what it contained. I told him that it looked like any other Native American legend book to me and that I had read many like it in my rural Southwestern U.S. hometown.

He then proceded to school me in what the Popol Vuh means, or should mean, to Latter-day Saints who want to know more about Book of Mormon history. He said that contrary to what his Catholic and secular school teachers had taught when he read it in school, it wasn't just a book of random legends, writings, and mythologies. When read in the context of the Restoration of the Gospel, it was quite literally a fragment of the Gospel knowledge that remained of a post Nephite and declining Lamanite society. Its seemingly esoteric (rather, exoteric) ramblings actually corresponded to real and basic Gospel principles, but in a corrupted and apostate form.

With that in mind, I re-read the Popol Vuh book, with notes my district leader wrote in it to help with the translation into English and possible Gospel concepts, and was astonished at what I had missed. I have plans to make that the subject of another post (or two, or five) because it really is that interesting. But for now, let's just say that this was the catalyst that compelled me to study the Book of Mormon in more depth than ever before.

Toward the end of my mission, an Elder with whom I had come into the mission showed me a book called "The Title of the Lords of Totonicapan" that a local member had given him. I opened it, and with my considerably improved Spanish reading comprehension, was excited to find that it was another local Maya tribe's version of many of the same events and symbols found in the Popol Vuh. The "Title"'s author, during the Spanish conquest of the 1550s, made direct (but today often disputed) claims to a direct descendancy of his people from Israel.

The common linkages I began to see between these two books and Biblical and Book of Mormon concepts and doctrines began to galvanize my desire to fully study the additional physical evidences that must surely exist.

Since then, even though I make no claims to be any kind of professional or experienced anthropologist/archaeologist/ethnographist/etc., I have kept an eye out for anything and everything that might point to evidence of the Book of Mormon's claims. I marvel at the knowledge that has come to light and that experienced scholars such as Daniel Peterson and John Tvedtnes are able to build a solid foundation upon which these evidences can rest.

I want to categorically and undeniably state, at the same time, that I have a firm knowledge, completely independent and antecedent to the above experiences, that the Book of Mormon is true and exactly what it claims to be. Even if the Conquistadores had burned and destroyed every last vestige of Mesoamerican literature and monuments, the hard and simple truths of the book stand on their own, brilliantly testify of the Bible's authenticity, and teach and prophesy correctly of Christ. It is, as Joseph Smith taught, "the most correct of any book on earth". I testify that I have grown closer to God because of it.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Joseph Smith: A True Superman

Check out this awesome video from Seth Adam Smith on Youtube. Really inspirational stuff!

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Shaken Faith Syndrome

Have you ever had a shaken testimony? What about friends or family? If so, then Mike Ash (owner and proprietor of has just the book for you. In this new volume entitled Shaken Faith Syndrome, Mike details some of the ways to strengthen one's testimony in the face of criticisms and doubt and offers introductions to some of the apologetic responses to hard questions about the Book of Mormon and the Book of Abraham, Joseph Smith & Brigham Young, Church history and doctrine and dealing with cognitive dissonance (or thought disharmony).

The book is basically divided into two sections. The first section is an introduction to dealing with doubt and criticisms of the Church and includes the following chapters:

1. Dealing with Doubt
2. Ex-Mormons, Critics, and Fundamentalist Assumptions
3. Unrealistic Expectations of Prophets
4. Confusing Tradition with Doctrine (This section can be read online here.)
5. Paradigms, Evidence, and Imposing Our Views on Others
6. Scholarly, Historical and Scientific Limitations & Unrealistic Expectations
7. Betrayal and Church "Cover-up"
8. Adding Cognitions (Beliefs)
9. Anti-Mormon Disdain for LDS Scholarship and Apologetics
10. Summary to Part 1: "The Answers Are Out There"

While Mike has something to offer in all of these areas, chapter 6 was my favorite. In this chapter, Mike points out several things which includes:

1. That anti-Mormons rarely deal with real LDS scholarship and instead rely on straw men most of the time.
2. That, contrary to anti-Mormon allegations, LDS scholars are real scholars with real degrees from prestigious universities.
3. That LDS scholars are widely accepted in mainstream academia and their works are often cited favorably by non-LDS scholarly venues.
4. That a number of non-LDS researchers are coming to recognize aspects of LDS scholarship.

Part two of Mike's book then tackles some of the issues raised by anti-Mormons or critics and includes chapters on the following:

11. Joseph Smith, Abraham, and Modern Egyptology (This is a section on the Book of Abraham that I highly recommend be read)
12. Anachronisms: The Wrong Things at the Wrong Times
13. Book of Mormon Geography
14. Book of Mormon Textual Changes
15. DNA and the Book of Mormon
16. Fulness of the Gospel
17. Joseph's Environment and the Book of Mormon
18. Others in the Book of Mormon
19. Reformed Egyptian and Book of Mormon Languages
20. Who are the "Lamanites"?
21. The Book of Mormon Witnesses
22. Journal of Discourses
23. Kinderhook Plates
24. Plural Marriage
25. The Temple (This is also a good chapter that I highly recommend)
26. The First Vision
27. "Magic", Treasure Digging, and the Young Joseph Smith
28. Part II Summary: Conclusions

There is much that could be said about this wonderful book, but I will let the reader see for him or herself. All in all, it is a fine volume that offers a good introduction to Mormon apologetics and is an excellent resource in helping strengthen one's (as well as one's family and friends) testimony in the face of criticisms and doubt.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Article(s) of the Week: Matt Roper on Pre-Columbian Populations and the Book of Mormon

"In 600 BC there were probably several million American Indians living in the Americas. If a small group of Israelites, say less than thirty, entered into such a massive native population, it would be very hard to detect their genes today." - Simon Southerton, leading critic of the Book of Mormon based on DNA research.

Matt Roper, a scholar at the Neal A. Maxwell Institute, has written extensively on Book of Mormon issues. One of my favorites that I just read recently comes from the FARMS Review and covers two topics; 1) treatments on Book of Mormon geography from past LDS researchers and leaders and 2) whether or not the Book of Mormon talks about there being "others" than the Nehpites, Lamanites, Jaredites and Mulekites. 

One of the key criticisms against the Book of Mormon based on DNA evidence is as follows:

1. The Book of Mormon claims that the Western Hemisphere was empty of native populations when Lehi and his family arrived.
2. This means that the peoples described in the Book of Mormon must therefore be the ancestors of modern Native Americans.
3. DNA has disproven that Native Americans come from a Middle Eastern background (as the Book of Mormon claims)
4. This means that the Book of Mormon is false, etc.

Furthermore, the critics contend, LDS scholars have been backed into the corner of a Limited Geography for the Book of Mormon because of DNA and any attempt to correlate the Book of Mormon in a small, localized area in Mesoamerica is not only ad hoc but also at odds with previous LDS leaders opinions on Book of Mormon geography.

As Matt Roper shows in this article, however, such reasoning is unfounded. First, Roper demonstrates that the idea of a Limited Geography for the Book of Mormon - which would entail the peoples described in the Book of Mormon intermarrying and intermingling with native populations - is nothing new. From the days or Orson Pratt in the late 1800's, LDS researchers have been postulating a Limited Geography. And while it is true that a popular interpretation of Book of Mormon geography amongst Latter-day Saints (including high ranking LDS leaders) has been to assume that the Book of Mormon events took place all over North and South America with Lehi as the ancestor of every single Native American, Roper shows how this interpretation has been seriously challenged by LDS researchers for decades.

Roper further goes on to write how the Book of Mormon gives clues and hints throughout its pages that Lehi and his family quickly began interacting with native populations and how the Nephite and Lamanite cultures quickly became assimilated into already existing Mesoamerican cultures and populations. As a matter of fact, Roper shows, the terms "Nephite" and "Lamanite" do not necessarily carry hereditary meanings but can also convey socio-political identifications and meanings.

In short, Roper concludes, there are just too many factors to deal with before we can safely test the Book of Mormon on DNA grounds. So, for a fascinating read and some very exciting insights, I recommend Matt Roper's essay as this article of the week.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Kerry Shirts on the Book of Mormon Witnesses

My favorite online apologist, Kerry Shirts (aka the Backyard Professor), has produced some new videos on the Book of Mormon 3 & 8 Witnesses and a refutation of critical charges of fraud or delusion on the part of the witnesses. Furthermore, the works of Richard L. Anderson, specifically his book Investigating the Book of Mormon Witnesses and his many articles on the Neal A. Maxwell Institute website are strongly recommended as further reading on this subject.

Video 1

Video 2

Video 3

Sunday, August 10, 2008

The Second Book of Nephi (2 Nephi 1)

Listen now!The Second Book of Nephi carries us fully into the new and promised land we now know to be the Americas. This book, like 1st Nephi, holds many prophecies about the Western hemisphere. In chapter 1, we also learn more about Israel being scattered and a last effort by Lehi to invite Laman and Lemuel to repent.

Lehi was the patriarch or oldest living male of the group. The word "patriarch" is of Greek derivation and means father-ruler; the Hebrew word it translates is simply father. Lehi held the priesthood "after the holy order of the Son of God", or, for short, the Melchizedek priesthood. It was the same priesthood authority held by Adam, Melchizedek, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob (Israel), and Moses. As such, it held the keys (or permission) to give father's blessings such as what Issac gave to Jacob and Esau and what Jacob (Israel) gave to his twelve sons.

In 2 Nephi chapters 1 through 4, Lehi gives a father's blessing to the following (in order of mention by chapter):
  1. Laman - chapter 1
  2. Lemuel - chapter 1
  3. Sam - chapter 1
  4. Sons of Ishmael - chapter 1
  5. Zoram - chapter 1
  6. Jacob - chapter 2
  7. Joseph - chapter 3
  8. Children of Laman - chapter 4
  9. Children of Lemuel - chapter 4
  10. Children of Sons of Ishmael - chapter 4
  11. Children of Sam - chapter 4
It is notable that:
  • The order of blessings follows that of Hebrew tradition--that is from oldest to youngest--with the exception of the Children of the Sons of Ishmael and the Children of Sam switching places in the age hierarchy. That Joseph Smith, if he had made it all up out of his head, didn't simply go the easier route and just list these descendants in the same order as their fathers is striking. One wonders if perhaps Ishmael's sons' descendants were somehow, on average, older than the children of Sam.
  • Zoram and the sons of Ishmael were not Lehi's blood descendants. They receive the father's blessing from Lehi because Ishmael had passed away at Nahom, back on the Arabian peninsula, and Zoram had joined the group as part of an oath to Nephi without his own father accompanying him.
  • Lehi doesn't specifically address Nephi. He really only makes reference to Nephi when comparing to and contrasting with Nephi's blessings the blessings that others will receive. There isn't much in the text to suggest why this is the case. One might suppose that Nephi was simply too modest to include his own blessing in these chapters, or that he felt it was sufficiently covered in his own written prophecies.
As expected at this point, Laman and Lemuel's patriarchal blessings were full of dire warnings that terrible things would happen to their posterity if they didn't repent and obey the commandments from the Lord through Nephi. They had "pushed their luck" far too much and were being told in no uncertain terms that they were at a tipping point. Either they would be obedient and be blessed, or they would rebel and the family would split up, Nephi's descendants would be blessed materially and spiritually, and Laman and Lemuel's would be cursed materially and spiritually.

In chapter 1, Lehi also rejoices in his own blessings:
  • "the mercies of God in sparing their lives, that they were not swallowed up in the sea"
  • "how amerciful the Lord had been in bwarning us that we should flee out of the land of Jerusalem"
  • "had we remained in Jerusalem we should also have eperished"
  • "we have obtained a aland of promise, a land which is bchoice above all other lands; a land which the Lord God hath ccovenanted with me should be a land for the inheritance of my seed"
Additionally, Lehi sets forth the conditions under which the Lord allows any people to inhabit the Americas:
  • "they shall serve him according to the commandments which he hath given"
  • "if iniquity shall abound ccursed shall be the land for their sakes, but unto the righteous it shall be blessed forever"
  • "this land should be akept as yet from the knowledge of other bnations; for behold, many nations would overrun the land, that there would be no place for an inheritance"
  • "binasmuch as those whom the Lord God shall bring out of the land of Jerusalem shall keep his commandments, they shall cprosper upon the face of this land; and they shall be kept from all other nations, that they may possess this land unto themselves"
  • "when the time cometh that they shall dwindle in aunbelief...if the day shall come that they will reject the Holy One of Israel, the true bMessiah, their Redeemer and their God, behold, the judgments of him that is cjust shall rest upon them"
Lehi is speaking out of the dust to all Americans--from the northernmost reaches of Canada down to Tierra del Fuego. 2 Nephi 1:10 is therefore one of the most important verses any of us here in the Western hemisphere can read if we value "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness".

Saturday, August 9, 2008

The Grace of Apologetics or Why I am an Apologist

In light of the recent 2008 FAIR Conference, I have been reflecting on what it means for me to be an apologist and why I believe apologetics are necessary in today's modern Church just as it has always been necessary in the Church of Jesus Christ. 

The Apostle Peter, in 1 Peter 3:15 gives us the admonition to "always be ready to give an answer[1] to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you with meekness and fear[2]". Furthermore, Jude in Jude 1:3 tells us that we should be "earnestly contend[ing] for the faith which was once delivered unto the Saints". And finally, the Lord in D&C 71 instructed the Prophet Joseph Smith to "confound your enemies; call upon them to meet you both in public and in private..." and indicated that "...inasmuch as ye are faithful, their shame shall be manifest. Wherefore," the Lord continued. "let them bring forth their strong reasons against the Lord"(vs.7-8).

Thus we see that as falsehoods and lies about the Truth of God continue to spread and multiply amongst the children of men, we, as Saints of the Lord in these latter days, have been given a charge to correct these errors, put down these criticisms and engage in these battles between truth and falsehood. For these reasons, I am proud to call myself a Mormon apologist and am not afraid to identify myself as a defender of the Prophet Joseph Smith, his revelations, life, legacy and ministry as well as the Lord Jesus Christ and his Church today. 

Apologetics comes from the Greek word apologia which means to "speak in defense" of a certain position or view. Anyone who defends a certain argument is an apologist. Even those critical of something, while simultaneously critics, are also apologists for their (critical) views. The most famous apologist, of course, was the philosopher Socrates, who famously defended his life against his accusers in his famous Apology of Socrates. In ancient Greece, the defendant in a court case was called an apologist for himself or his case, since he was arguing in defense of something. Therefore, the term "apologetics" or "apologist" does not have the same connotation as it does today in that apologists generally are not sorry about anything. 

It must be understood that the truth of the LDS faith and the claims of Joseph Smith, like any other religion, lies within the realm of spirituality and thus only a personal spiritual testimony can truly "prove" that the Church is true. Indeed, it is only by revelation, the Scriptures assure us, and not reason that can testify to us that Jesus is the Christ and that God lives. Just like Peter, who was told that it was not "flesh and blood" that revealed to him that Jesus is the Christ but instead "my Father which is in Heaven" (Matthew 16:17), so we as well are to gain a personal testimony by revelation of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. No amount of rational argumentation or evidence can prove that the Church is true, so anyone wishing to get involved in apologetics should understand that apologetics is not about "proving" anything.

What, then, is the intention of Mormon apologetics? I believe that it is three fold.

1. Correct falsehoods. There are some pernicious lies as well as sincere misunderstandings regarding the history and teachings of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Apologetics helps in correcting these falsehoods and misunderstandings.

2. Silence criticisms. There are some loud (and sometimes obnoxious) critics of the Church who may tout some "problem(s)" with the Church's history, teachings or scriptures and dine to the ears of the public that these reasons alone constitute enough purpose to not join or even leave the Church. Critics often like to bring up topics such as Book of Mormon "anachronisms", Joseph Smith's character, the Book of Abraham, polygamy, Mountain Meadows Massacre or something similar and hail this "overwhelming evidence" as the final death nail for the LDS Church. Many of these criticisms, however, are unfounded and have been dealt with again and again by LDS researchers and scholars. Apologetics, therefore, helps in silencing these criticisms and giving answers to the objections raised by the critics.

3. Gain appreciation for the nature and splendor of LDS scripture. Hugh Nibley wrote in 1968 that "long experience has shown that the Latter-day Saints only become aware of the nature and genius of their modern scriptures when relentless and obstreperous criticisms from the outside forces them to take a closer look at what they have, with the usual result of putting those scriptures in a much stronger position than they were before."[3] With Apologetics, therefore, deeper appreciation for the Church or the Scriptures is sought in order to create an atmosphere that can enhance or encourage faith and progression. As the Prophet Joseph Smith said, "only by proving contraries can truth be made manifest."[4]

Furthermore, as the Church expands and continues to interact with the public at large, so too will the anti-Mormon[5] industry. Therefore, a call has been issued by Elder M. Russell Ballard for members of the Church to "shar[e] the Gospel using the internet" and that "we cannot sit on the sidelines while we allow others - including our critics - attempt to define what the Church teaches." Elder Ballard further explains that while "we cannot answer every question, satisfy every inquiry and respond to every inaccuracy that exists..." we should nevertheless "continually share the gospel with others."[6]

That is why I am an apologist and that is why I think that all members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints should continue to "contend for the faith" that has been delivered to them in the Dispensation of the Fulness of Times by the Prophet Joseph Smith, the Lord's anointed Prophet, Seer and Revelator. After all, as Elder Neal A. Maxwell once said, we should never allow the critics of make "uncontested slam dunks" against the Church.[7]


[1]: A more correct translation of the Greek would be apologia which, as was explained earlier, is the root for the word apologetics.

[2]: Or reverence, awe.

[3]: Improvement Era, Jan. 1968 pg. 18

[4]: Quoted by Kerry Shirts on his website Mormonism Researched

[5]: By "anti-Mormon" I mean those who actively and restlessly attack the Church with books, articles, tracts, websites and ministries (i.e. Ed Decker, Sandra Tanner and Bill McKeever). I do not mean, however, those who may simply have disagreements with the Church or still have questions as to the authenticity of the claims of Joseph Smith.

[6]: "Sharing the Gospel Using the Internet" by Elder M. Russell Ballard. Ensign, July 2008

[7]: As quoted by Hal G. Ferguson in "I have a Question". Ensign, January 1995.

Daniel C. Peterson Book of Mormon Evidence Lectures

In April of 2008, I had the opportunity to film Daniel C. Peterson at Olivewood Bookstore as he presented a lecture on evidence for the Book of Mormon. These videos were later posted on Youtube by my friend and acquaintance Tyler Livingston. Now that I have figured out how to post Youtube videos, I will be posting them here for your enjoyment.

I am sorry that the camera is shaky. I, dummy that I am, forgot to bring a tri-pod and therefore there is some shaking. I apologize. 

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

Part 4

Part 5

Part 6

Part 7

Part 8

Finally on Youtube

One rather obnoxious youth who is also a pseudo-scholarly apologetic hack named Steve Smoot has finally become famous. Earlier I mentioned how Kerry Shirts had filmed me at the FAIR Conference; well, here it is! The video is up and I am now world famous.*

*And rather humble, might I add. ;0)

In this video, you can see me around 8:27 until the end.

In this one you can see me around 4:35-7:35

And here I get an honorable mention at 2:10-2:40

People I met at the FAIR Conference

This year at the FAIR Conference, I had the opportunity to meet some outstanding people from online and elsewhere. I apologize for not listing everyone, but I shall nevertheless try to do my best to report who I met and the experiences we had.

1. Kerry Shirts - I have to mention the BackyardProfessor, since he not only is a fun and energetic dude with the smarts of a Hugh Nibley and the charisma of a Dan Peterson, but because he mentioned me on his Youtube video site. Kerry and I talked about a number of things, including the Book of Abraham and current LDS scholarship. He recommended some books to me which I am excited to look over, including Mark Smith's The Origins of Biblical Monotheism and Edward Watson's Mormonism: The Faith of the 21st Century. Kerry furthermore is very funny in person. I had the opportunity to speak with him at the 2007 FAIR Conference, but only for a moment. It was very nice to be able to speak with him some more and I wish him all the best of luck with his future podcasts and Youtube videos.

2. Blair Hodges (aka lifeonaplate) - Blair is an absolutely hilarious guy who can also be very profound when he talks on theology and Mormonism. I enjoyed some wonderful conversations with him and am sorry that he cannot afford all of the book he wants (don't worry, Blair, we are in the same boat).

3. Daniel C. Peterson - Professor Peterson is an absolute riot. He is very funny when you talk with him. A group of us were speaking with him when he related his desire to start an anti-Mormon watching club similar to the Audubon Society or how, when asked what will happen to the Dome of the Rock on the Temple Mount, remarked that it would make a great Celestial Room for the temple going to be built there. But Dan is also very smart and intelligent, and I also enjoy his company as we can also talk about serious questions relating to Mormon apologetics.

4. Sione Pauni (aka Lamanite) - I met Sione for the first time at the FAIR Conference. He is a very nice gentleman who offered some insightful views on theodicy, or how to explain the existence of evil in the world and the relationship it has to God. Really a nice and intelligent guy.

5. Tyler Livingston (aka livy111us) - Tyler is my new pal at FAIR. We had met before to team up in filming Daniel C. Peterson before at a lecture he gave at Olivewood Bookstore and again to film Brant Gardner at the FAIR Conference yesterday. Tyler is a wonderful filmmaker who has produced video rebuttals to anti-Mormon charges and posted them on Youtube. Because of his efforts, he won the prestigious John Taylor Defender of the Faith Award this year at the FAIR Conference. I look forward to working on future projects with him.

6. Dan Vogel - Dan Vogel is a researcher and historian who has written some books critical of Joseph Smith and the Book of Mormon. However, that being so, he has also produced some wonderful books covering Mormon history, including a 5 volume series entitled Early Mormon Documents and I must applaud him for bringing this valuable series together. I was also informed that Dan is working on a critical text edition of the 7 volume series History of the Church.* I had the opportunity to meet Dan at the FAIR Conference (he had showed up to listen to Daniel C. Peterson's talk on apologetics) and speak with him on some stuff. He is a very nice gentleman who is amiable, friendly and soft spoken. He is also very civil in his discussions on Mormon history and all around a nice fellow. Even though I disagree with a lot of his conclusions on Joseph Smith and the Book of Mormon, I nevertheless respect him in that he is trying to be honest to the historical sources (unlike many other critics of Joseph Smith) and for his work done on documenting Mormon history.

Others I met include Matt Roper, Brian Hauglid, Louis Midgley, Scott Gordon, Mike Ash, Brant Gardner, Matt Brown, and several MADB posters such as HiJolly, Calmoriah, Deborah, Darin, C.I. and Wade Englund.

I also was able to pick up some wonderful book selections including The Origins of Biblical Monotheism by Mark Smith, Mormonism: The Faith of the 21st Century by Edward Watson, Organize my Kingdom by John Tvedtnes, Massacre at Mountain Meadows by Richard Turley, Ronald Walker and Glen Leonard, and How Wide the Divide? by Craig Bloomberg and Stephen Robinson. Hopefully I will be able to post my thoughts on these volumes in later posts here at American Testament.

* By critical text edition, that does not mean that Dan is going to be critical in that he will be criticizing, but instead that he will be providing historical and textual context for the different entries in History of the Church series.

Notes on Wright, Poulsen and Gardner

Alas! I took some notes on the talks given by these three Book of Mormon scholars, but after looking at the notes taken by Blair Hodges of Life On Gold Plates, I feel that my feeble notes cannot do justice (plus I am just too lazy right now to transcribe my notes). Therefore, I will outsource to Brother Hodges as he provides some excellent notes that the reader can look over. Enjoy!

Fun and Fanfare at the FAIR Conference!!

Wow! The 2008 FAIR Conference was, in a word, amazing! So many wonderful topics were presented and so many shoulders were rubbed. I am still reeling over how fun this recent conference was. And, as promised, I shall present on this year's FAIR Conference here at American Testament. However, after completing the two day conference, I realize that I cannot fit everything into one post, so I shall create many; one on the presentations of Mark Alan Wright, Larry Poulsen and Brant Gardner*, another on my experience in meeting different people at the conference and a third on some reflections on Mormon apologetics and the role of apologetics in the Church.

* Due to jet lag which tired me out and the fact that I am a terrible note taker, the reader is strongly encouraged to read the notes provided by Blair Hodges at his blog

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

An Interview with Margaret Barker

Professor William Hamblin of Brigham Young University, who is the author of several important articles and books relating to the subjects of Mormonism and ancient Near Eastern history*, has posted some Youtube videos of a conversation he had with biblical scholar Margaret Barker. Ms. Barker, a Methodist from Great Britain, has written some excellent books and articles on ancient Jewish and Christian theologies and their relationship to the Temple. She even has written an essay on the Book of Mormon and its ancient Near Eastern background that was presented at the Worlds of Joseph Smith Conference in 2005 at the Library of Congress. Her website can be accessed here.

I am posting these videos for those interested and must say in disclaimer that Professor Hamblin has promised more videos to come in the future, so keep your eyes open.

Part 1

Part 2

* His most recent publication, co-written with David Seely, was published by Thames & Hudson in 2007 and is entitled Solomon's Temple: Myth and History.

Article(s) of the Week: Daniel C. Peterson on Secular Anti-Mormonism

I have missed the last two sundays and hence my ability to post my weekly Article(s) of the Week. Because of such, I will post two more editions now; one for the week of 0f 07-27-08 and another for the week of 08-03-08.

This article of the week, although not directly connected to the Book of Mormon, is nevertheless an intensely fascinating study by Daniel C. Peterson, professor of Arabic and Islamic Studies at Brigham Young University. It was originally presented at the 2005 FAIR Conference under the name Reflections on Secular Anti-Mormonism and was subsequently re-published in the FARMS Review (17/2). 

In this fascinating essay, Dr. Peterson presents what he calls "merely preliminary thoughts" on secular anti-Mormonism and how it has affected not only the Church but the direction of Latter-day Saint apologetics. He briefly touches on the distinction between the Evangelical form of anti-Mormonism (which he describes has "come, with a few exceptions, to bore me intensely") and that of secular critics such as Dan Vogel and John Krakauer. Dr. Peterson further elaborates on some secular online critics on an unnamed message board (possibly the Recovery From Mormonism website) and how they, instead of dealing LDS scholars on intellectual grounds, tend to lean towards vicious ad hominem attacks and cheap caricatures. Further on in the essay, Dr. Peterson details European secularism and its relationship to secular anti-Mormonism.

I found this essay extremely interesting in a number of ways. First, Professor Peterson is absolutely hilarious in disarming the ridiculousness of online secular critics. His whit and sharp rhetorical skills creates an essay that is not only interesting, but fun to read. And, true to form, his subtle jabs into anti-Mormonism create an enjoyable ethos and pathos throughout the entire essay.*

But Professor Peterson does not just appeal to the audience in a rhetorical fashion. His analysis and critique of secular anti-Mormonism is backed by a mastery of secondary literature on the subject and a careful exposition on the arguments of critics such as Dan Vogel. At one point in the essay, for example, Dr. Peterson takes Vogel's ad hoc "tin plates"** theory to task and rebukes the accusation that Mormon apologists overly indulge in ad hoc approaches.

So, considering these factors, I nominate Dr. Daniel C. Peterson's essay Reflections on Secular Anti-Mormonism as the article of the week for 07-27-08.

Reflections on Secular Anti-Mormonism by Daniel C. Peterson. 

* Truth be told, this has landed Professor Peterson in some hot water before. Some have criticized him for being too sarcastic in his writings and employing ad hominem attacks. However, it must be considered that in order to connect with the pathos and ethos of an audience, one will inevitably be forced to involve some form of sarcasm or irony in one's piece for the sake of rhetorical appeal.

** Dan Vogel, an influential albeit critical biographer of Joseph Smith, in order to combat the testimony of the 3 & 8 Witnesses and others who testified to handling the plates (such as Emma and Lucy Mack Smith), has previously argued that perhaps Joseph Smith crafted a set of bogus tin plates to fool his contemporaries. On the flaws of this argument, see Richard L. Anderson in Attempts to Redefine the Experience of the 8 Witnesses.

2008 FAIR Conference

FAIR - or the Foundation for Apologetic Information and Research - has its annual FAIR Conference this year on August 7th and 8th at South Towne Exposition Center in Sandy, Utah. This year's conference is sure to be good, as a number of excellent scholars and speakers are lined up to speak on topics including the Book of Mormon, the Book of Abraham, the Book of Moses, Church history, apologetics, Joseph Smith's DNA and many more topics. 

Even though I am reporting this late, it is still not too late to come. I attended last year and can testify to the fun and excitement of being able to rub shoulders and talk shop with other online apologists and brilliant scholars. Anyone who wishes to still come are highly encouraged to attend. More information on the conference can be found at the FAIR website.

I will be attending and will report on the FAIR Conference here at American Testament. Three speakers, Mark Wright, Brant Gardner and Larry Poulsen will be focusing on topics involving the Book of Mormon, which I will pay considerable attention to and report here after words. I also will then discuss the role of apologetics in the Church and why I am proud to call myself a Mormon apologist. 

For a complete schedule of the 2008 FAIR Conference, see below:

Thursday Schedule
Time Speaker/Event Presentation
8:00 am Registration 
9:00 am Opening 
9:10 am Mike Ash Shaken Faith Syndrome
10:10 am Mark Wright The Book of Mormon and Mesoamerica
11:10 am Margaret Young and
Darius Gray
 Nobody Knows, the Untold Story of Black Mormons
12:10 pm Lunch 
1:15 pm Brian Birch,
Blake Ostler, and
James Faulconer
 Philosophy and Mormonism
2:30 pm Jeffrey Bradshaw The Message of the Joseph Smith Translation: A Walk in the Garden
3:30 pm Snack Break 
3:45 pm Larry Poulsen Book of Mormon Geography
4:45 pm Ugo Perego Joseph Smith's DNA Revealed: New Clues from the Prophet's Genes
5:45 pm Closing 


Friday Schedule
Time Speaker/Event Presentation
8:00 am Registration 
9:00 am Opening 
9:05 am Ron Esplin The Joseph Smith Papers
10:05 am Matthew Brown The Israelite Temple and the Early Christians
11:05 am Newell Bringhurst and
Craig Foster
 The White Horse Prophecy: Myth vs. Reality
12:05 am Lunch 
1:00 pm FAIR Business 
1:30 pm Scott Gordon Online Apologetics
2:30 pm Brian Hauglid The Book of Abraham
3:30 pm Snack Break 
3:45 pm Brant Gardner Second Witness: The Book of Mormon
4:45 pm Daniel Peterson Humble Apologetics
5:45 pm Closing 

Extra! Extra! Read All About it!

The Neal A. Maxwell Institute for Religious Scholarship, formerly the Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies, has recently released two new books that are a must have for members of the Church in general and Latter-day Saint apologists in particular. They are Eloquent Witness: Nibley on Himself, Others, and the Temple and The Book of Mormon and DNA Research. The former is a new volume (#17) in the Collected Works of Hugh Nibley and the latter is a compilation of articles and essays written by faithful Latter-day Saint scholars on the topic of the recent DNA controversy surrounding the historicity of the Book of Mormon. Considering that I have read both, I will give a quick synopsis of them for the reader here.

Eloquent Witness: Nibley on Himself, Others, and the Temple

This new volume in the Collected Works of Hugh Nibley is a compilation of some of the late Dr. Nibley's letters, journals, interviews and reviews on, as the title says, himself, others and the Temple. Also included, (at last!), is a transcript of the documentary Faith of an Observer and some of Nibley's materials that are otherwise difficult to find. For example, also included are personal letters Nibley sent to friends, or foes, and an unpublished autobiography.

This is a valuable addition to anyone's library, as it offers a glimpse into Nibley's personal life and character. It allows those who have read his other works to get a peek into the man behind the books.

The Book of Mormon and DNA Research

There has been a lot of controversy surrounding the role of DNA testing and the Book of Mormon. Some critics claim that the absence of discernible Near Eastern DNA in Native American populations disproves the Book of Mormon's claims of authenticity and historicity. These claims and criticisms, however, have been countered by Latter-day Saint scholars and apologists almost as soon as the criticisms hit print.

This new book, edited by Daniel C. Peterson, is a collection of some of the cream of the crop of the Mormon response to the "DNA question". It is essentially a collection of previous articles and essays written in the FARMS Review and the Journal of Book of Mormon Studies. These articles individually may be difficult to come by, as it would require searching through the pages of the FARMS Review and the Journal of Book of Mormon Studies. So this new volume offers a place wherein one can find these articles easily and in a reader friendly format. This book is also a good one to give to perhaps friends or family struggling with the issue of DNA and the Book of Mormon as it brings together the current Mormon scholarship on the issue into one volume. Thus, you can skip having to laboriously search the website of the Neal A. Maxwell Institute for these articles individually.

In short, these two new books are a must have and should be seen as a welcomed addition to one's personal library.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

My Experience with the Book of Mormon in Kenya

For the last two weeks I have had the amazing opportunity to travel with a Salt Lake City based humanitarian group called YouthLinc to a small village in Kenya called Kiamuri. It was an absolutely wonderful experience that was rewarding, fun and profoundly life changing. Our group of about 40 was involved in several things, which we all participated in with ernest.

1. We all taught Kenyan school children different lessons, such as American holidays, music, science, wildlife, rudimentary English, etc. I was assigned to teach about oceans and aquatic creatures, which was very fun, considering that most of the kids I taught had never heard of some of the animals mentioned.

2. We all as a group worked at a construction site in which we built an add on to a small school and help dig a foundation for a wall to go around the school. I even had the opportunity to learn how to chisel stone from professional Kenyan Stone Masons.

3. Our group taught at a health care seminar at the local hospital. We taught everything from hygiene, AIDS/HIV prevention, nutrition, etc.

But perhaps one of the most profound things that happened to me while I was in Kenya was when I presented Books of Mormon to two men; a older gentleman and local herbalist named Dominick and a 13 year old orphan boy named Phineous. The story behind these experiences has strengthened my testimony in the Book of Mormon as the Word of God considerably.

It should be noted that when I travel, I like to take copies of the Book of Mormon and other scriptures with me to hand out should an opportunity present itself. Twas no different in my trip to Kenya. I took a copy of the Book of Mormon, a Triple Combination and my old KJV Bible. 

On the first Sunday in Kenya our group split up and headed to Church with a local family. I went with a gentleman named Jacob to his local Methodist Church. It was absolutely amazing to attend this Church service, since not only was it all in Swahili with some smattering English here and there but we arrived during a testimony meeting in which patrons of the Church would sing their testimonies in Swahili hymns. What's more, the Pastor asked me to preach a sermon on the spot. Startled, I stood up and began to read from and elaborate on 2 Nephi 25:26 and bore my testimony of Jesus Christ. The Pastor, thankfully, was kind enough to translate to the congregation.

Before this happened, however, I spoke with the before mentioned Dominick, who, upon seeing my scriptures tucked away under my arm, asked if I was a pastor. I responded in the negative and explained that I was simply a devoted member of my Church. He was still curious about my scriptures, so, upon further inquiry I presented him a new Book of Mormon. Dominick quickly snatched the book and began to investigate it with a fiery curiosity. In broken English he read the title and articulated upon the subtitle "Another Testament of Jesus Christ".

"Oh!" he exclaimed. "Another testament! Like the New Testament?"

In response, I gave a quick introduction and explanation of the Book of Mormon to Dominick, who was absolutely enthralled. He asked if he could keep the book, since he wanted to use it in his sermons at his Church. He said how any book like the Bible that testifies of Christ is good enough for him, and thus, he was excited to read and ponder over the Book of Mormon. I have no way of knowing for sure, but I sincerely hope that Dominick is reading the Book of Mormon right now and pondering it's words and teachings of Jesus Christ.

Later that week I met 13 year old Phineous, who was orphaned at 8 years old when his family, everyone save his older brother Nicholas, was killed in an automobile accident. Phineous and I became quick friends and began striking up conversations about everything and anything about our lives, cultures, countries and religions. Phineous and his brother, since the death of their parents, had been living in St. Francis of Assis Parish and thus explained that they had been raised Catholic. Phineous explained, however, that he was not particularly inclined to Catholicism and was still searching for the fulness of the truth of God. When he asked me about my faith, I began to elaborate on the Church and its teachings, including the Book of Mormon and the story of the Restoration and Joseph Smith. 

Like Dominick, when Phineous was presented with a set of scriptures (this time a Triple Combination and my KJV Bible) he eagerly began to investigate them and read through selected parts. He was not just interested in the Book of Mormon but particularly the Pearl of Great Price as well. Later that week he explained how he had read parts of the Book of Moses as well as the Book of Mormon and was overwhelmed with joy because, in his own words, these books of scriptures "explained so much" and "clarified many issues" that he had been grappling with. He literally threw his hands in the air in describing his fascination for these books of scripture and I could see his face light up with joy as he promised to read more. 

On our group's final day in Kiamuri, I spent some time alone with Phineous and talked more on the Book of Mormon. I mentioned Moroni 10:4-5 and the promise that Heavenly Father will grant a testimony of the truthfulness of the Book of Mormon to sincere searchers by the power of revelation and the Holy Ghost. Shortly after that, our group departed.

In short, my experience with the Book of Mormon in Kenya was simply amazing. I was touched by the spirit deeply, which testified of the truthfulness of the Book of Mormon and the mission of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. I am so grateful for being able to talk with these two good men about the Book of Mormon and I sincerely hope that they will indeed read an ponder the words of the most correct book.

Saturday, August 2, 2008

Nephi explains Isaiah to his family (1 Nephi 22)

Listen now!Nephi was orally teaching his family about Isaiah as well as writing it down. Chapter 22 is devoted to the reaction of Laman and Lemuel to Nephi's interpretation of Isaiah. As we will see in the next book of the Book of Mormon, Second Nephi, this appears to have been a turning point such that the family would soon divide into two opposing tribes.

Their main question, in 1 Nephi 22:1, was whether what Isaiah was describing was "spiritual, which shall come to pass according to the spirit and not the flesh". In other words, in today's terms, their question was somewhat loaded. They wanted to know whether it was meant to be figurative or real.

Nephi gently corrects them by saying that because the words of Isaiah were received through the Spirit, that in that sense they were spiritual. They were also temporal (literal) in that they would someday come to pass.

He describes what today we call "the diaspora", or the great scattering of the twelve tribes of Israel such that ten of those tribes were completely lost in the great populations of the earth.

Nephi goes on to explain that it is through the Gentiles that Israel will be gathered back to their ancestral homeland.

Verses 7-9
describe how the Gentiles would found a great nation which would be instrumental in scattering Laman and Lemuel's posterity. Then, the Lord would restore the Gospel through the Gentiles and gather together the remnant of the people left over. In the LDS Church, we understand the fulfillment of this prophecy to be the founding of the United States of America and the various Latin American countries by European nations (what the Jews would consider "Gentiles").

The Lord would use these events as a catalyst for gathering from all parts of the world every living descendant (and deceased, through restored temple ordinances) of the house of Israel, most particularly those of the lost ten tribes.

At the end of the gathering, the Lord will destroy any worldly organizations that rise up to fight against His Gospel and who try to persecute His servants. He will miraculously preserve the righteous during that terrible time. "Wherefore, the righteous need not fear; for thus saith the prophet [Isaiah], they shall be saved, even if it so be as by fire."

People who read the Bible today often ask the question "In what way will Satan be bound when Christ comes?" While it is tempting to think of Satan, the individual, tied up with ropes so he can't bother us anymore, he is a spirit with free will and cannot be contained in that way, even by God, who will never force anyone to do anything against their will.

Rather, the Book of Mormon clearly teaches that because of the faith in Christ of those righteous people remaining after the destruction, they will be righteous (Christ's atonement covering their sins) "And because of the righteousness of his people, Satan has no power; wherefore, he cannot be loosed for the space of many years; for he hath no power over the hearts of the people, for they dwell in righteousness, and the Holy One of Israel reigneth."

Quite literally, they will not be tempted by Satan because they will not have a desire to sin because of their faith in Christ. They will know where such things lead, based on the experience of witnessing the destruction of the world, and will instead reject temptations when they come and choose to obey only righteous principles.

The overall message Nephi has for his brothers is to repent so that they can be counted among the righteous when the Lord comes the second time at the end of the world.
30 Wherefore, my brethren, I would that ye should consider that the things which have been written upon the plates of brass are true; and they testify that a man must be obedient to the commandments of God.
31 Wherefore, ye need not suppose that I and my father are the only ones that have testified, and also taught them. Wherefore, if ye shall be obedient to the commandments, and endure to the end, ye shall be saved at the last day. And thus it is. Amen.