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!

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: