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

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Fake News of the Day: Your Bank Is Perfectly Safe. Don't Worry.

Some readers here were shocked when I suggested that US banks are not a safe place to park your life's savings. Let me ask for a moment: why do you feel safe? Have you done any research on the safety of your bank? Have you looked at their balance sheet, for example, or related financial reports, to see how much capital they have compared to liabilities? Most US banks are in precarious positions compared to many strong overseas banks, operating at much higher risk than they should be. If a few more of their loans go sour, or if a few more customers decide to take their cash out, many US banks could be in big trouble. Banks can fail. Customers can suddenly find their accounts restricted, frozen, closed, or "taxed" to pay for someone else's mistakes. Why be complacent about this?

A while ago I called our US bank in Wisconsin and asked for their financial statement. Many banks publish this somewhere on their website, but I couldn't find a link on my bank's website so I called to inquire. The customer service people didn't know anything about that and couldn't find it either. They asked around. This was a question they didn't get very often. Perhaps never! So they finally transferred me to their VP over finance. He told me that he had never been asked for this before by a customer, but would email it to me. Their situation was better than most, I'm happy to say, and we still have funds there, but I learned something valuable in this experience: nearly all of this bank's customers have failed to even ask about the financial stability of the bank. If any of you have made a serious inquiry into your bank's stability, please let me know what you did and what you found.

America's banks have changed little since the tremendous problems a decade ago. The derivatives and junk that nearly brought our banking system down has not been cleared out of the system. The problems may be even bigger now. Yet in 2006 and 2007, before the collapse really began, our nation's top banking experts were telling us that everything was fine. No problem. They are highly motivated to be blind. Your job, as the person responsible for your future, is not to be blind, nor to trust the silly statements of blind guides. Your job is to protect your wealth and your future and not rely on possibly bailouts from sources that may perish before you get your share.

Right now we are in a giant economic bubble driven by artificially low interest rates, massive consumer debt, massive corporate debt, and insane government debt. This will not end well. It never has. Food storage is essential. You also need some cash on hand for times when ATMs and credit fail. Having some assets outside of a bank and outside of the US would also be wise, for in the US it takes one crazed official to, say, accuse you of being a drug dealer or terrorist or Russian sympathizer or something to see your accounts frozen. It happens far too easily. There is risk that needs to be managed. Hopefully all will be well and 20 trillion dollars of debt will just go ahead from a generous gift from Putin or somebody and the stock market will just keep going up no matter how bad earnings are. But in case reality kicks in some day, it would be wise to make some preparations.

As for the market bubble we are in now, here is an excerpt from the SovereignMan.com newsletter I receive:

May 16, 2017
Reno, Nevada, USA

There’s something completely ridiculous happening around the world right now.

We can start in the United Kingdom, where the FTSE-100 stock market index hit an all-time high yesterday of 7454.

Simultaneously the British government released statistics yesterday showing that debt judgments and bankruptcy filings across the UK soared 35% in the first quarter of 2017 to the highest level in a decade.

British consumers are on a debt binge, borrowing (and now defaulting) at record levels.

This all sounds pretty sustainable.

Across the pond in the Land of the Free, the US stock market also hit a record high yesterday.

Simultaneously, consumer credit (i.e. DEBT) in the US is also at an all-time high of $3.8 trillion.

Even more specifically, margin debt, which is the amount of money that investors borrow to buy stocks, is at an all-time high.

Think about that: investors are borrowing record amounts of money to buy stocks at all-time highs.

This sounds like a fantastic trend!

If you look deeper, the numbers become even more bizarre; let’s go back in time a few years and I’ll show you.

In 2012, Coca Cola reported $48 billion in revenue for the year, and $9 billion in profit. That was as pretty good year for Coca Cola shareholders.

For 2016, however, Coca Cola reported revenue of $41.8 billion, and $6.5 billion in profit.

So when you compare 2016 to 2012, revenue declined 13%, and profit declined 28%.

Given those dismal figures you’d think that Coke’s stock price would be a LOT lower today than it was back then.

But no.

After Coca Cola reported its 2012 earnings on February 12, 2013, its stock price was around $37.50.

When Coca Cola reported its 2016 earnings earlier this year, its stock price was $41.25. And today it’s even higher at $43.50.

Even more curious is that Coke’s 2012 report shows long-term debt of $14.7 billion. By 2016, long-term debt had more than doubled to $29.6 billion.

So Coca Cola is basically telling the world that its business is declining and they’re going deeper into debt. Yet investors continue to push the stock higher.

Makes perfect sense, right?

Now let’s look at ExxonMobil, whose 2010 annual report showed $383 billion in revenue, $30 billion in profit, and $12 billion in debt.

The company’s most recent annual report from 2016 posted $226 billion in revenue (42% decline), $7.7 billion in profit (74% decline), and $28 billion in debt (133% increase)!

Once again a rational person would think that the price of ExxonMobil’s stock (XOM) would be dramatically lower.

Wrong again. XOM is up from $78 to $83 over that period.

Then there’s Netflix, which has been one of the top-performing stocks over the last several years.

Bear in mind that Netflix actually LOSES money; it’s operating business lost nearly $1.5 billion in 2016, and the company continues to pile on more and more debt.

Earlier this month Netflix closed another $1.4 billion in debt financing, which is the third time in two years that the company has raised more than a billion in debt.

Netflix’s total long-term debt and content liabilities (the amount of money they’re legally required to pay to content owners) is approaching $20 billion, and rising.

Lose money, go into debt. Not exactly a recipe for success.

Yet curiously the stock price is at an all-time high. 

Companies are losing money, declining in business value, and having all-time highs in their stock valuation. The bubble of cheap credit in the US is being used by companies to buy back stock and pay dividends, massively increasing corporate debt to drive up the stock price. This does not end well. Are you ready? It could be years before reality kicks in, or it could be next week. Please consider preparing, wisely and steadily, for trouble ahead 

Saturday, May 06, 2017

Linguist John S. Robertson Reviews Brian Stubbs' Work on Uto-Aztecan Languages and the Evidence for Old World Influence

"Exploring Semitic and Egyptian in Uto-Aztecan Languages" by Dr. John S. Robertson was just published in the Interpreter: A Journal of Mormon Scripture. This is a review of Stubbs' recent highly technical work, Exploring the Explanatory Power of Semitic and Egyptian in Uto-Aztecan (Provo, UT: Grover Publications, 2015), a tome with 436 large pages packed with details. You may recall that I've discussed this book and Stubbs' less technical book for LDS audiences on ancient languages in the Book of Mormon (my comments began with an overview called "Bigger Than Nahom?" and then details of the evidence were discussed in Part 1Part 2, and Part 3), and was quite impressed with the rigor and abundance of links found through use of the comparative method in linguistics. I dare say that Robertson seems to hold a similar view. After reviewing many aspects of Stubbs' work, he offers this simple conclusion:
As a practitioner of the comparative historical method for 40+ years, I believe I can say what Stubbs’s scholarship does and does not deserve: It does not deserve aprioristic dismissal given the extensive data he presents. It does deserve authoritative consideration because, from my point of view, I cannot find an easy way to challenge the breadth and depth of the data.
I would welcome thoughts from those who actually take a look at Robertson's article.

Wednesday, May 03, 2017

The Rod of Iron: Part of Another Intriguing Wordplay in the Book of Mormon

In a recent article I prepared for The Interpreter, "The Great and Spacious Book of Mormon Arcade Game: More Curious Works from Book of Mormon Critics" (Interpreter: A Journal of Mormon Scripture 23 (2017): 161-235), I drew upon work from Matthew Bowen regarding an apparent wordplay. His short article on the topic is at Matthew Bowen, “What Meaneth the Rod of Iron?,” Insights 25/2 (2005): 2–3. What follows is an excerpt from my article at The Interpreter, which responded to allegations that Lehi's dream was inspired by Joseph Smith seeing some structures in Rochester after he had already composed most of the Book of Mormon.


In 2 Nephi 3:17, the rod as a symbol of power is found in a prophecy of the Lord given anciently to Joseph the son of Jacob and recorded on the brass plates, possibly in the Egyptian script or language that Joseph may have used: “I will raise up a Moses; and I will give power unto him in a rod; and I will give judgment unto him in writing.” In this couplet, the rod and writing are linked, possibly drawing upon the Egyptian language wordplay in which “rod” (mdw) means “words,” in line with the apparent wordplay in Lehi’s dream where the iron rod is explicitly identified as “the word of God.” On this matter, one of Matthew Bowen’s many notable contributions in Book of Mormon studies is recognizing the ancient Semitic wordplay apparently involved in Nephi’s identification of the iron rod as the word of God:
Further support for the antiquity of Nephi’s imagery is detectable in his own comparison of the word to a rod, a comparison that may involve wordplay with the Egyptian term for “word” and “rod.” Although we have the Book of Mormon text only in translation and do not know the original wording of the text, we can use our knowledge of the languages that the Nephite writers said they used — Hebrew and Egyptian (1 Nephi 1:2; Mormon 9:32–33) — to propose reasonable reconstructions.

We note that the Egyptian word mdw means not only “a staff [or] rod” but also “to speak” a “word.” The derived word md.t, or mt.t, probably pronounced *mateh in Lehi’s day, was common in the Egyptian dialect of that time and would have sounded very much like a common Hebrew word for rod or staff, matteh. It is also very interesting that the expression mdwntr was a technical term for a divine revelation, literally the “the word of God [or] divine decree.” The phrase mdwntr also denoted “sacred writings,” what we would call scriptures, as well as the “written characters [or] script” in which these sacred writings were written.
Now consider Nephi’s comparison of the word and the rod in the context of the Egyptian word mdw:
I beheld that the rod [mdw/mt.t, Hebrew matteh] of iron, which my father had seen, was the word [mdw/mt.t] of God. (1 Nephi 11:25)
And they said unto me: What meaneth the rod [mdw/mt.t, Hebrew matteh] of iron which our father saw, that led to the tree? And I said unto them that it was the word [mdw/mt.t] of God; and whoso would hearken unto the word of God, and would hold fast unto it, they would never perish. (1 Nephi 15:23–24)
An indication of Nephi’s awareness of the play on words is his use of the expression “hold fast unto” the “word of God,” since one can physically hold fast to a rod but not to a word (compare Helaman 3:29). Nephi’s comparison of the rod of iron to the word of God also makes very good sense in light of other scriptural passages that employ the image of the iron rod. But the comparison takes on even richer connotations when viewed as a play on multiple senses of the Egyptian word mdw. Since Lehi’s language consisted of the “learning of the Jews and the language of the Egyptians” (1 Nephi 1:2), we would reasonably expect that Lehi and his sons (Nephi in particular) were aware of, and probably even used, the common word mdw/mt.t in at least some of those senses. It seems unlikely that the word’s phonetic similarity to Hebrew matteh would have escaped their attention. On the contrary, it would plausibly explain Nephi’s apparent substitution of “word” for “rod” in later remarks to his brothers in 1 Nephi 17:26, 29: “And ye know that by his word [mdw/mt.t] the waters of the Red Sea were divided …. And ye also know that Moses, by his word [mdw/mt.t] according to the power of God which was in him, smote the rock, and there came forth water.”
Nephi’s imagery itself, along with its possible Egyptian language wordplay, further attests the antiquity of the Book of Mormon. Certainly Joseph Smith in 1829 could not have known that mdw meant both “rod” and “word.” However, Nephi, in the early sixth century bc likely had a good understanding of such nuances, and he may have employed them as part of a powerful object lesson for his brothers. [footnotes omitted, emphasis original]111
In fact, the Egyptian hieroglyph for “word” is the symbol of the walking stick, a rod.112 Further, Bowen observes in a footnote that Nephi’s introduction of the rod of iron may involve a polyptoton, in which words derived from the same root are used in a single sentence. Related to the Egyptian word for rod and word, mdw, is the Hebrew word maṭṭeh (מטה) meaning staff, rod, or shaft, which derived from the root NTH meaning to “stretch out, spread out, extend, incline, bend.” Thus, 1 Nephi 8:19 could be an interesting polyptoton: “And I beheld a rod [maṭṭeh] of iron, and it extended [nth] along the bank of the river, and led to the tree by which I stood.” Bowen also notes that an Egyptian transliteration of the Hebrew maṭṭeh (“rod”) and Egyptian mdw/mt.t (“rod, word”) would have been graphically similar or even identical if written in demotic characters.113

I find the potential wordplay around related Hebrew and Egyptian words to be highly interesting, difficult to attribute solely to another lucky guess from Joseph, and not the kind of thing one would think up on the fly after being impressed by an aqueduct in Rochester, or even with leisurely study in 1829.

Inherent in the wordplay and in the meaning of the iron rod is the link between the abstract concept of the word and a physical rod. This is also part of the previously mentioned intertextuality between 1 Nephi and Helaman 3, particularly vv. 29–30:
Yea, we see that whosoever will may lay hold upon the word of God, which is quick and powerful, which shall divide asunder all the cunning and the snares and the wiles of the devil, and lead the man of Christ in a strait and narrow course across that everlasting gulf of misery which is prepared to engulf the wicked —
And land their souls, yea, their immortal souls, at the right hand of God in the kingdom of heaven, to sit down with Abraham, and Isaac, and with Jacob, and with all our holy fathers, to go no more out. [emphasis added]
Here language is used that echoes Nephi in several ways. In addition to laying “hold” on the word of God, something one can physically do with an iron rod but not to words themselves, we learn that the word, like the iron rod, serves to lead one in a straight course to eternal life (similar to the tree of life) and to avoid the “gulf of misery” that Nephi also speaks of (2 Nephi 1:13, possibly building on the “terrible gulf” of Lehi’s dream in 1 Nephi 12:18 and the “awful gulf” of 1 Nephi 15:28; cf. Alma 26:20 and Helaman 5:12). The dangerous journey to eternal life is made possible if one will “lay hold upon” the word of God and pursue its straight and narrow course. The iron rod theme seems to have been part of background in Helaman 3, and thus not readily explained by something Joseph saw after dictating Helaman.

Consistent with Nephi’s usage, John Tvedtnes observes that the Old Testament links the voice of God with the concept of a rod:
The use of a rod to represent words or speech is found in Proverbs 10:13 and 14:3. In other passages, it refers specifically to the word of God. In Isaiah 30:31, “the voice of the Lord” is contrasted with the rod of the Assyrians. In a few passages, the rod is compared to a covenant with God which, like a rod, can be broken (Ezekiel 20:37; Zechariah 11:10, 14). Micah wrote, “The Lord’s voice crieth unto the city, and the man of wisdom shall see thy name: hear ye the rod, and who hath appointed it” (Micah 6:9). Isaiah wrote of the Messiah, “But with righteousness shall he judge the poor, and reprove with equity for the meek of the earth: and he shall smite the earth with the rod of his mouth, and with the breath of his lips shall he slay the wicked” (Isaiah 11:4).114
These connections are useful after the fact in examining the appropriateness of the iron rod as a symbol for the word of God, but seem inadequate to provide a basis for fabrication of that concept, particularly in light of the clever wordplay involved.

Sunday, April 23, 2017

More Book of Mormon Wordplays: A New Proposal Invoving Noah

The Book of Mormon abounds with evidence of ancient Semitic roots. One class of such evidence is the presence of Hebraic wordplays that appear to have been in the original text. The analysis is made difficult by the fact that we don't have the original plates to examine, just the translation. but in the translation, one can see remnants of original wordplays. Some of the first to be noticed, as I recall, involved the names Jershon and  Nahom, which could readily be recognized as Hebrew words with meanings that fit beautifully in the context of the story involving these names. Since then there have been many potential wordplays proposed, including some that don't involve names. But names more directly guide us to the source and to the possibilities of wordplays when they may be present.

One of the most recently proposed wordplays involves the name Noah, which occurs in several contexts in the Book of Mormon. Below is the abstract from Matthew Bowen, "'This Son Shall Comfort Us': An Onomastic Tale of Two Noahs," Interpreter: A Journal of Mormon Scripture 23 (2017): 263-298. Matthew, by the way, is the researcher who I think has done the most in recent years to explore ancient wordplays built into our text. I recommend looking at the list of his articles at The Interpreter.
Abstract: From an etiological perspective, the Hebrew Bible connects the name Noah with two distinct but somewhat homonymous verbal roots: nwḥ (“rest”) and nḥm (“comfort,” “regret” [sometimes “repent”]). Significantly, the Enoch and Noah material in the revealed text of the Joseph Smith Translation of Genesis (especially Moses 7–8) also connects the name Noah in a positive sense to the earth’s “rest” and the Lord’s covenant with Enoch after the latter “refuse[d] to be comforted” regarding the imminent destruction of humanity in the flood. The Book of Mormon, on the other hand, connects the name Noah pejoratively to Hebrew nwḥ (“rest”) and nḥm (“comfort” and “repentance” [regret]) in a negative evaluation of King Noah, the son of Zeniff. King Noah causes his people to “labor exceedingly to support iniquity” (Mosiah 11:6), gives “rest” to his wicked and corrupt priests (Mosiah 11:11), and anesthetizes his people in their sins with his winemaking. Noah and his people’s refusal to “repent” and their martyring of Abinadi result in their coming into hard bondage to the Lamanites. Mormon’s text further demonstrates how the Lord eventually “comforts” Noah’s former subjects after their “sore repentance” and “sincere repentance” from their iniquity and abominations, providing them a typological deliverance that points forward to the atonement of Jesus Christ.
I appreciate the many insights into the text that come from understanding the vestiges of wordplays that appear to have been used by the original authors. As always, there is more than meets the eye waiting to be revealed in the pages of the Book of Mormon. 

Thursday, April 13, 2017

"Discerning Truth: Teaching Our Children About Pornography" by Catherine Humpherys

In the recent March 18-19 District Conference in the Shanghai International District of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the adults attending a Saturday afternoon session heard an inspired presentation from Catherine Humpherys on how parents can help their children cope with the problem of pornography. With her kind permission, I'm sharing her talk here.

Discerning Truth: Teaching Our Children About Pornography

by Catherine Humpherys, Shanghai, China, March 18, 2017

Not very long ago, the discussion around pornography was how to avoid it: computers in a common living space and making sure you have the right filters. Today, it is no longer about if my child will see pornography, but when will my child see pornography and what choice will they make in that moment?

My wish for each of you, no matter the age of your children or even if you have no children at all, is for you to be prepared to address this important topic with the children and youth in your lives.

With this goal in mind, I want to first educate each of you about pornography, before we discuss how we educate our children.

In 2 Nephi 2:26 we are taught that knowledge of good and evil frees us: “And the Messiah cometh in the fullness of time, that he may redeem the children of men from the fall. And because that they are redeemed from the fall they have become free forever, knowing good from evil; to act for themselves and not to be acted upon…” again in Heleman 14: 30, 31 “…for behold, ye are free; ye are permitted to act for yourselves; for behold, God hath given unto you a knowledge and he hath made you free.”

In our search for knowledge there are two primary questions I think we must wrestle with when it comes to pornography:
  1. Why is pornography evil? In this question, I do not use the world evil lightly. Pornography is evil, but can we articulate why? And most importantly, can we articulate why to our children?
  2. Why do so many of us get caught in its trap?
So, why is pornography evil? Let me give you three reasons:

First, it inhibits, and in some extreme cases completely annihilates, the ability to form a mature, intimate relationship with another person. Research as found that frequent use of porn is associated with greater cynicism about love, less trust in romantic partners, and the feeling that marriage is confining. The ability to engage in an adult intimate relationship and to even have the desire to engage in such a relationship is the foundation for a healthy marital relationship. Doctrinally we know that a successful marriage is necessary for our spiritual progression.

Second, it destroys our ability to see the divinity within ourselves and the divinity in those around us. Research has found that male and female viewers of pornography experience higher rates of anxiety, body-image issues, poor self-image, insecurity, and depression. In a nutshell: we begin to hate ourselves when we look at pornography. Pornography also teaches that a person’s value is based on their appearance and the pleasure they can provide. It also teaches viewers that it is okay to hurt someone

Third, it quickly becomes addictive. Pornography isn’t the brownie on the counter calling your name. It is the heroin in the syringe. Our brains become neurologically dependent on pornographic images to maintain a feeling of normal.

If pornography is so evil, why oh why then, do so many of us (even in this room today) get caught in its trap? Of course, one obvious reason is that it is made to be attractive. Pornography manipulates our God given desire to be sexual. I think, though, that there is also another reason our youth are having such a hard time looking away. Perhaps we as parents and the community are not giving them the knowledge they need to discern truth; to see what pornography really is.

In a letter from the first presidency in 1991, parents are advised to “teach their children the sacred nature of procreative powers and instill in them a desire to be chaste in thought and deed. A correct understanding of the divinely appointed roles of men and women will fortify all against sinful practices.”

So what knowledge do we need to give our children and youth that will give them the freedom to choose wisely when they are exposed to pornography?

First, we must teach our children that our homes are safe places to reveal themselves and to ask questions without feeling ashamed. Too often the topic of pornography and sexuality is avoided or only addressed once during “the talk”. This way of relating to the subject creates an atmosphere of shame. A clear, nonverbal message is sent that these topics make us uncomfortable and should be avoided.

We learn from the story of the Garden of Eden, however, that shame leads us to hide ourselves from God (Genesis 3: 8). We don’t want to create an atmosphere of shame that will lead our children to hide from us, or look to other sources for information.

Here are some tips on creating an open atmosphere free from shame:
  • We teach our small children that their bodies are wonderful: we hug, kiss, and tickle them. We teach them correct terms for all their body parts.
  •  By age 8 we teach our children the basics of reproduction, that it is a gift from God that allows us to create life just as he does in the responsible setting of marriage. It is a gift from God that allows us to show our deep love for a spouse, and for our spouse to show us deep love in return.
  •  Between the ages of 10-12, before puberty, we help our children anticipate the attraction they will begin feeling for others. This is good and exciting; it means they are on the road to adulthood. These feelings are important for wanting to choose a marriage partner when they are older.
  • 12+ we teach our children about puberty and how to date, the family rules for dating, etc.
When we are consistently and proactively dialoging and education our children about their bodies in these ways, we teach our children that we can handle these conversations and that they are okay.

Now, how do we address pornography specifically? We teach our children about pornography by age 8. Why? The average age of exposure is 9 or 10 years old. This falls naturally in with the age to teach reproduction. Many of the items I will now list can be found in the book Good Pictures Bad Pictures by Jenson and Poyner.

Our children must know the following:
  1. Pornography is pictures, videos, or cartoons of naked people
  2. Pornography tricks our brains: It tricks a part of our brain called the feeling brain. The feeling brain helps us fall in love when we are adults. Our feeling brain wants to look at these pictures because it doesn’t know they aren’t real.
  3. Pornography hurts our brains: looking at pornography will make it harder to love someone real someday.
  4. When they see pornography they need to label it “that’s pornography”
  5. They should look away
  6. They should tell a trusted adult what they have seen
  7. If the pictures come back in their minds they can distract themselves by doing something they enjoy or singing a song.
  8. Let them know if they feel like they have already been tricked by pornography and are having a hard time not looking at more pictures that they should tell an adult! Together we can figure out how to keep their brain safe!
I believe that as we recognize the important role as mentors and educators in our children’s lives, we will feel more empowered and have less fear. I know that as we pray to apply the knowledge we gain that the Lord will guide as in all things as he as promised.

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Too Complex! Don't Confuse Me with that Military-Industrial Thing

I am surprised how many Americans who care deeply about politics and current events don't seem to have considered the forces that act on and influence government. During a recent conversation with a highly educated business leader, I responded to his enthusiasm over President Trump with my concerns about the obvious nurturing of the very swamp he claimed he would drain. "He's surrounding himself with critters from the swamp, the big industrial and banking forces of the military-industrial complex, and now he's planning to increase their already incredibly bloated budget. More spending, more debt, more military involvement where we have no right to be. It's a heyday for military-industrial complex, but this will mean further loss and sorrow for Americans and many others." There was a puzzled reaction. "The military-industrial complex? What's that?"

He was a keen student of current events and was well read in a number of areas. But he, like perhaps millions of Americans, had never even heard of a key issue in American and global politics. Americans have been trained to instantly drop any discussion of "dark powers" such as the Establishment, the Deep State, the military-industrial complex, etc., into a mental black hole called "lunatic conspiracy theories."

What? You mean that there might be people with a VESTED INTEREST in the spending of hundreds of billions of dollars? Are you trying to say that someone profits from trillions of dollars of American debt and would actually want to keep that cash cow flowing?? Are you saying that when government spends truckloads of money, it goes somewhere, and some people profit, and try to keep that profit coming?? Stuff my ears with wax, this is America, and you are an evil man to say such things about this great country! The military-industrial complex thanks you for your cooperation.

That hated and ignored term did not originate from kooks living in a cave. It was introduced by one of America's most famous generals who learned firsthand how powerful that complex was during his tenure as President of the United States. That was Dwight Eisenhower in his troubling farewell speech, where he gave a muted word of warning to America about the future dangers of the growing complex. This was back when the military-industrial complex was in its infancy, just a little but dangerous toddler compared to the Godzilla-sized bully that will sucks over 500 billion dollars a year out of productive sectors of the economy to feed the swamp and enable ongoing blood and horror on this earth. To see that there are big corporations that benefit from big spending is not a conspiracy theory, folks. It's Business 101. To see that companies with a vested interest in government largess spend big bucks to keep bigger bucks flowing their way is again not a conspiracy theory, though there are surely many hidden deals and actions that would shock us if we knew of them and would fall into the realm of conspiracy, but the basic forces and flows and influences are easy to understand, just Business 101. Or Business as Usual 101 under Trump.

Trump is fully committed to the goals of the Complex. I guess he has to be. He was in trouble politically, but now that he dropped some bombs on Syria, absent any act of war from them against our borders, absent any declaration of war from Congress, absent genuine evidence of a need to invade this country on the other side of the world, suddenly he's found acceptance. Slaps on the back, praise, applause. The Complex is pleased. America is back. Great again. Here we go.

The Book of Mormon has a few things to say about this era and about the workings of megalomaniacs (sometimes on the throne, sometimes behind, sometimes part of a broad network of aligned interests) in an insane quest for power. This would be a good time to study its words and to understand how the sometimes not-so-secret combinations work. It's not all that complex, actually. Much of it is Business 101, though the details may be shrouded in mystery. The results, though, are easy to see: blood and horror on this earth, and big bucks for the Big Boys. The Complex thanks you for your donations and for the ongoing sacrifice of the value of your dollar. And for the sons and daughters you send into unnecessary war zones all over the world to keep the swamp secure.

Thursday, April 06, 2017

The Creation

Here is a talk I gave at District Conference for the Shanghai International District, March 19, 2017, sharing a few views on the Creation, why we should study and ponder it, and what we can learn from its wonders.

The Creation 


In the Beginning…

“In the beginning, God created the heaven and the earth.” This simple statement opens the sacred scriptures. The story of the Creation has been a source of much confusion in recent decades. Some have said it describes a Creation of seven 24-hour days, even though the Hebrew word, yom, translated as day, can also refer to a long era of time. Since this was written in an age when even the most basic aspects of science were unknown, it was not meant to give a detailed scientific report but a broad overview, reminding us that we were created, that the earth and cosmos were created, and that God is the master behind this majesty. The scientific details, including the age of the earth or the way the Lord created life, have not been revealed.

Note that the Church has no official position on these scientific matters and no official position on theories of evolution, leaving us plenty of room to learn from science when wisely applied, though we know God is the Creator, not blind chance alone. We know that the Creation is for a divine purpose and does not all end in emptiness and death, though all of us will die and few will escape grief. We know that there is a reason for pain and death here, both part of the mortal process and trial that we gladly signed up for in the premortal existence, where we rejoiced at the work of the Creation that we beheld (recall, for example, Job 38:7, where we read that when the Creation was underway, “the morning stars sang, and all the sons of God shouted for joy”).

Though we all may grieve at times, we need not despair, for the answer to our sorrows is found in the Atonement of Jesus Christ, who actually was the Creator, acting under the direction of the Father, and then came to earth as a mortal, showing us how to live, teaching us His Gospel, and then took upon himself all our guilt and pain that He might have power to cleanse us by paying the price of our sin. He accepted a cruel and lonely death on the cross, descended into the world of spirits to initiate one of the greatest works of God’s mercy, the preaching of the Gospel to the dead who can even also accept the blessings of baptism. Then, after 3 days, he took up His body again in the most glorious moment of His Creative work and declared victory over death for all of us. Though we must all come here to be tried, to obtain a mortal body, and then must die, we can all be resurrected and return to God’s presence, immortal, cleansed from sin, with endless joy and growth possible. It is so magnificent, thanks to the work of God and His son, Jesus Christ.

In Alma 7, Alma taught believers in the New World city of Gideon about the future mission of the Messiah, explaining that He would be born of Mary back in Israel:
[10] And behold, he shall be born of Mary, at Jerusalem which is the land of our forefathers,...
Hold on, wasn’t Christ born in Bethlehem? And isn’t Jerusalem a city, not a land? Yes, every school boy in Joseph’s day knew those things, and if Joseph were the author, that’s how it would read. But Bethlehem is just 5 miles from Jerusalem, like a tiny suburb. It is appropriate for the Nephites to describe Christ’s birth place, just like Americans in China might say they are from Salt Lake City when they are really from Murray or Draper. Further, after decades of critics mocking this verse, we now know from the Dead Sea Scrolls and other ancient sources found long after Joseph Smith that the ancient Jews did indeed call the region around Jerusalem, specifically including Bethlehem, by this term, the land of Jerusalem, turning an apparent weakness in the Book of Mormon into one of its many subtle strengths. So cool. But I digress. 
... she being a virgin, a precious and chosen vessel, who shall be overshadowed and conceive by the power of the Holy Ghost, and bring forth a son, yea, even the Son of God.
[11] And he shall go forth, suffering pains and afflictions and temptations of every kind; and this that the word might be fulfilled which saith he will take upon him the pains and the sicknesses of his people.
[12] And he will take upon him death, that he may loose the bands of death which bind his people; and he will take upon him their infirmities, that his bowels may be filled with mercy, according to the flesh, that he may know according to the flesh how to succor his people according to their infirmities.
[13] Now the Spirit knoweth all things; nevertheless the Son of God suffereth according to the flesh that he might take upon him the sins of his people, that he might blot out their transgressions according to the power of his deliverance; and now behold, this is the testimony which is in me.
[14] Now I say unto you that ye must repent, and be born again; for the Spirit saith if ye are not born again ye cannot inherit the kingdom of heaven; therefore come and be baptized unto repentance, that ye may be washed from your sins, that ye may have faith on the Lamb of God, who taketh away the sins of the world, who is mighty to save and to cleanse from all unrighteousness.
With knowledge of Jesus Christ, we can look at the creation all around us and rejoice in the beauty, order, and meaning of it all. We can see evidence of God’s love and brilliance even in simple things like the flavor of a strawberry, and wonder why we are so blessed to enjoy so much diversity and flavor in our diet, when we might have been pandas or koala bears, chewing on the same old leaf every meal, every day. I’d go crazy — as a human, though I’m sure I’d be a happy panda. So grateful I am not. Our rejoicing in the Creation continues as we examine the flowering trees all around us in Shanghai, as we learn about the intricacy of life and as we explore nature, whether above the earth, on the earth, or under the earth, including the wonders of diving in the ocean, as Brother Lamb taught us this morning. There is so much to marvel at, so much evidence of God’s kindness and His plans for us.

The Apostasy of Dr. Thomas Nagel

Knowing of God’s Creation and of Jesus Christ as our Creator and Redeemer, we have a powerful lens to consider the problems of mortality. For those who lack the lens, one can look at mortality and see only emptiness and death. One can focus on the pain that is necessary in this world, and then conclude that this pain and death means if God exists, He does not love us.

When we send our children to universities, they will frequently hear from learned professors that there is no God. They will hear that pain and death in this world show there is no loving, merciful God behind the Creation. They will hear that scientists have pretty much figured everything out and that there is nothing besides the matter and energy we can see, and that scientists have proven that chance and randomness have accidentally given us life. This will be declared with great persuasiveness and our children may not be prepared to retain their testimonies in the face of so much scientific consensus and pomposity. Is such science really sound?

Some of the very vocal atheists in the academic world are furious over the apostasy of the professor who may be the most famous philosopher in America. Dr. Thomas Nagel, a famous professor at New York University, like too many professors, is an atheist. But he has created shock waves in the academic world with a book he published in 2012. The title alone marks him as an apostate from the atheistic faith of the elite. It is Mind and Cosmos: Why the Materialist Neo-Darwinian Conception of Nature Is Almost Certainly False.

In this book, he argues that any theory for the rise of mankind from natural evolutionary forces must somehow explain the most puzzling aspect of this planet, the existence of consciousness. The rise of life in any form he finds a difficult enough challenge for science to explain using the reigning paradigm of materialism, meaning the idea that nothing exists except the matter and energy that we can see and measure. But Nagel finds the gap between the claims of science and common sense to be particularly severe when we then seek to explain how the random rise of life could lead to conscious and reasoning creatures who can discuss and choose to strive for concepts such as truth and justice, or to compose poetry and music, or debate the origins of life.

Nagel is not the only atheist to have realized this problem, and not the only academic to realize the that the wonders of the Creation are difficult to explain based on materialism and chance alone. Nagel is still is an atheist, and still has many of the same objections to God that he did before such as the problem of pain and suffering in the world, but I welcome his willingness to challenge some especially blind aspects of the faith of his peers. May we, too, learn from the miracles before us.

Nagel’s critique of materialism could be even more stronger, I think, if he had also considered the recent humbling discoveries of modern astrophysics. After decades of professors telling us that tangible matter is all there was and that science had life and the cosmos pretty well figured out with no need for mysteries like God, along came the shocking discovery just a few years ago that the motion of galaxies didn’t make sense based on the matter we could see. It seemed that there was much more matter clumped around each galaxy affecting the motion of the stars, and this mysterious invisible matter became known as dark matter, which is more abundant than regular matter. We don’t know if it is related to spirit which Joseph Smith described as being a form of matter, but a finer form that we currently cannot see (Doctrine and Covenants 131:7-8), but we are anxious to learn more. So we have this new mystery of dark matter that defies the smugness of the materialists.

On top of that, analysis of the motions of entire galaxies relative to each other shows a vast unseen force is moving galaxies apart faster and faster, when we had assumed that gravity should be pulling them together. This bizarre new phenomenon is now called Dark Energy. Dark matter and dark energy together are estimated to comprise 96% of the matter-energy of the cosmos, 96%, meaning that the tangible matter and energy we know, that stuff that supposedly was all there is according to the doctrine of materialism, is actually no more than about 4% of reality. If wise professors could have missed so much of reality for so long, how much more are they missing when they declare that there is no need for a Creator, no room for God, no such thing as spirit, and no need for the revealed teachings of morality?

God’s Desire for Us to Appreciate the Creation

Respecting and admiring the Creation gives us a foundation to appreciate the love of God, His role as the Father of our Spirits, and our relationship with Him. It gives us a foundation to understand why we are here and why our bodies matter to him. Why the power of creation, or procreation, that He has given us, matters to Him and is part of His purposes in our Creation, and part of the marvelous ongoing engine of Creation in His divine work. It helps us resist the vain teachings of learned men who declare that there is no God, nothing to worship, no origin other than chance for all the glory around us. And it helps us yearn to learn more and grow in knowledge.

With a love of the Creation in our hearts, and an understanding of God’s purposes, we will not revolt when God asks us to abide by His commandments regarding our bodies and what we do with them. When we understand the purposes of mortality, even the part about death, and when we understand the diversity that must exist in this life, ranging from perfect vision to blindness and ranges of results in every aspect of life, we will not be angry but seek to help when suffering exists. We will be less likely to revolt when we hear the inspired words of Church leaders that challenge some of our own assumptions and beliefs. This includes the Proclamation on the Family, which declares that “that marriage between a man and a woman is ordained of God and that the family is central to the Creator’s plan for the eternal destiny of His children.” Later, it says “The family is ordained of God. Marriage between man and woman is essential to His eternal plan. Children are entitled to birth within the bonds of matrimony, and to be reared by a father and a mother….” This is how we are designed. The rich experiences of raising children and love within a family are tied to our bodies and our biology, by design. It is a core part of the Creation. We should be cautious about any temptation to deny or downplay that.

Read that document, the Proclamation on the Family, and notice how grounded it is in the Creation. God wants us to better understand this Creation and its purposes, including the current and eternal role of the family. Those teachings have merit for all of us, married or not.

If we will seek knowledge and understanding, He will help us to learn and we will find growing evidence of His love and mercy and fairness in this process.

[At this point in my District Conference talk, I quickly covered key parts of the rest of my talk to keep to my allocated time. Sadly, the other speakers on the program all showed up! I also didn't talk at my normal high speed to give the Chinese translators a chance. They had a copy of my talk in advance so they were braced for things like "Neo-Darwinian," but they still need a reasonable pace. Here is the rest of what I prepared.]

I’d like to read an entry from my personal journal written in August of 1995 that taught me that God wants us to appreciate the wonders of His Creation. We had just been to St. George, where a relative of mine, a geologist, had given us a tour of the area and explained the details of the strange beauty there.
A few days later, my three-year old son and I were walking along a deserted trail (once a road) on Butler Hill, right next to the Wasatch Mountains by Salt Lake City. I was surprised at the huge variety of rocks I was finding — igneous, metamorphic, sedimentary, in many colors and shapes. I paused and examined the setting and the beautiful mountains and wondered how such variety was possible on that former shore of Lake Bonneville. 
As I looked over the valley and recalled the inspiring morning with a geologist a few days earlier, I wished that I could talk to a geologist again to better appreciate that part of God's creation. My son and I then returned to picking through the many rock piles, looking for treasures of beauty. Just moments later, a man and his dog strolled by on that isolated lane. He interrupted us, saying, "I noticed that you are looking at the rocks here." Before I could say anything, he began to explain why there was such a variety of rocks to be found. The road that once went up this hill had been closed off by dumping random truckloads of rocks from around the state of Utah — whatever rocks Salt Lake County happened to have in its trucks. As a result, there were varieties of lava rock from southern Utah, rocks from the Oquirrh mountain range, granites from Alta Canyon, metamorphic rocks from elsewhere in the Salt Lake area, and even some loads containing Indian artifacts. I was impressed and asked him how he was so well informed. "I'm a geologist for the State of Utah and have studied this area." Thrilled, I bombarded him with a number of other questions before he had to go, thus learning the identities of many of the rocks that had stirred my curiosity. It was a true treat for me — and a marvelous blessing. 
The Lord may seem to ignore most of our foolish pleas and may choose to let us suffer pain and disappointment for our own good, somehow, but through it all His loving kindness shows in marvelous ways. That gentle but flagrant act of kindness — sending a geologist to visit me on an isolated stretch of long-closed road — shows me something about the loving Parent we worship. Not only is He kind, but He wants us to know about His works and appreciate them — even to the point of sending a geologist our way at just the right time.
Such blessings of love, comfort, and knowledge can come even as we are in distress. It was in possibly the darkest, most painful time of Joseph Smith's life, the time when that great prophet was imprisoned and mistreated for months during winter in the cold, gloomy Liberty Jail, jailed on false charges, when he wrote what we now have as Section 121 of the Doctrine and Covenants. He begins with a cry: "O God, where art thou?" He asks how long will he ignore the sufferings of His people who have been driven from their homes in winter, how long before there is justice on the enemies who seek destruction of the Latter-day Saints? And after these pleas, God answers not with sudden deliverance and justice, but with assurances of future justice, and for now, the blessing of knowledge.

From Section 121, verses 26 to 31:
26 God shall give unto you knowledge by his Holy Spirit, yea, by the unspeakable gift of the Holy Ghost, that has not been revealed since the world was until now;…
29 All thrones and dominions, principalities and powers, shall be revealed ….
30 And also, if there be bounds set to the heavens or to the seas, or to the dry land, or to the sun, moon, or stars—
31 All the times of their revolutions, all the appointed days, months, and years, and all the days of their days, months, and years, and all their glories, laws, and set times, shall be revealed in the days of the dispensation of the fulness of times—
How interesting that part of the Lord’s comforting answer to Joseph was the promise that much later, He would explain some of the intricate details of the Creation.

This echoes a previous revelation recorded in Section 101 from 1833:
32 Yea, verily I say unto you, in that day when the Lord shall come, he shall reveal all things—
 33 Things which have passed, and hidden things which no man knew, things of the earth, by which it was made, and the purpose and the end thereof—
 34 Things most precious, things that are above, and things that are beneath, things that are in the earth, and upon the earth, and in heaven.
Knowledge about this world and this universe is described as “most precious” and gaining it is part of what he calls “partaking of all this glory.” This earth, this galaxy, this cosmos, are majestic and glorious and to know them is to encounter the glory of God in a sense.

These words in Section 101 echo a still earlier revelation in Section 88 of the Doctrine and Covenants. I’ll start with verses 77–78 of Section 88:
77 And I give unto you a commandment that you shall teach one another the doctrine of the kingdom.
78 Teach ye diligently and my grace shall attend you, that you may be instructed more perfectly in theory, in principle, in doctrine, in the law of the gospel, in all things that pertain unto the kingdom of God, that are expedient for you to understand;…
So what is it that is “expedient to understand” so that we may be better able to teach the doctrine of the kingdom? The Lord continues in verse 79:
 79 Of things both in heaven and in the earth, and under the earth; things which have been, things which are, things which must shortly come to pass; things which are at home, things which are abroad; the wars and the perplexities of the nations, and the judgments which are on the land; and a knowledge also of countries and of kingdoms—
 80 That ye may be prepared in all things when I shall send you again to magnify the calling whereunto I have called you, and the mission with which I have commissioned you.
To be prepared to teach, to be prepared to share the doctrine of the kingdom, the Lord encourages us to seek knowledge about nations, kingdoms, history, and things on, under, and above the earth.

When Section 101, like Section 88, talks about the glories of “things that are beneath,” I have to think about scuba diving. This morning in Priesthood meeting Brother Lamb talked about his diving experiences. My wife and I had the privilege of going with the Lambs on their most recent diving adventure in Thailand. Diving has been a new thing for me, something I only reluctantly agreed to try in order to keep my wife happy. How lucky I am that I listened to her. Though I am a beginner, the experiences we have had in seeing the beauty of the creation under the water have greatly increased my respect for the Creation. There is a concentration of beauty and wonder in coral reefs that can leave you breathless. Like the brilliant little Christmas Tree worms that look like miniature Christmas trees in neon colors. When you get too close, they suddenly disappear. It looks like magic, but it’s really a frizzy worm retreating a high speed. So amazing. Or the brilliant yellow seahorse, or giant clams, or rainbow colored parrot fish, sting rays, urchins, octopuses, an occasional shark, or swimming with a school of gorgeous yellow fish, surrounded by vibrant life. It’s just incredible. What a stunningly beautiful world we live in.

These “things both in heaven and in the earth, and under the earth” as mentioned in Section 88 are the things of Creation, the things of science and learning in many fields. This may be why we are commanded several times to seek knowledge from the best books. Indeed, Section 88 goes on in verse 118 with this guidance: “And as all have not faith, seek ye diligently and teach one another words of wisdom; yea, seek ye out of the best books words of wisdom; seek learning, even by study and also by faith.” Also see Doctrine and Covenants 90:15 and 109:7.

There is more knowledge in print, more books written, more information about the earth and life and the wonders of Creation that the ancients ever dreamed of. What a wonderful time to be alive! Today, a human can sit at a computer and have access to vast treasures of knowledge, all of which is ignored as another futile mission of destruction is launched on the coolest and latest video game. May we make better use of our time than that, for there is so much to learn and so much joy that comes from learning and preparing for our future mission and employment and family on this incredible planet.

Implications for the Problem of Pain, and Family and Moral Issues

A healthy respect for the miracle of the Creation and God’s purposes in creating it and us can help us live the Gospel better and maybe even complain a little less. We will better appreciate and respect the miracle of the human body, which is created in His physical image. We will understand God’s purposes in putting us here. We will understand that the many problems and pains we suffer here are not a fair reason to ignore, deny, or blame the God who made all this for us.

As we learn about the workings of DNA, the cell, our bodies, etc., we will understand how delicate life is and how many things can go wrong. Thousands of proteins cooperate in the machinery of each cell. Over 20 proteins in the plasma of our blood cooperate to rapidly assemble blood clots when we bleed and stop the bleeding. If one of them is missing or wrong, this basic healing process can fail. These systems have to be passed down generation after generation and each time, it’s possible for a mutation or other problem to arise. It’s tragic when that happens, but when you think about all that can go wrong, it’s incredible that we are here at all and able to talk, to sing, to eat, to walk, to see.

Pain is vital in this world. It tells us when something is wrong, and gives us a chance to remove the cause or seek help. We would die quickly without the mechanism of pain, not knowing when we were being burned or injured or infected. Free agency sadly can bring pain to others or to ourselves when wrong choices are made. This combination, a natural, mortal world — where fingers can be slammed in doors, where snakes can bite us, and where special proteins sometimes fail — plus the terrible gift of free agency means suffering is inevitable. In The Problem of Pain, C.S. Lewis wrote, “Try to exclude the possibility of suffering which the order of nature and the existence of free-wills involve, and you find that you have excluded life itself.” He also said, “The real problem is not why some pious, humble, believing people suffer, but why some do not.” But if you are at a stage in life without pain, use this sweet time to lift others and learn more about the ways of Him who took all our pains upon Him. Your service, kindness, and love is needed.

Understanding the Creation helps us understand that variety is expected. Some have perfect vision, some are blind, and there is a spectrum in between. It’s that way for almost everything. The variety in humans can come from genes, it can come from the environment and the way were raised, it can come from choices we make or from things outside of our control. This variety can affect our tastes, our desires, our yearnings. For some, resisting alcohol is extremely difficult, while others naturally dislike it. Issues of morality that are easy for some may be difficult for others. We can all use patience with the challenges others have. We all need faith and patience in coping with the unique challenges we each face.

Issues of morality and LDS policies on the Family are especially challenging to some, but if viewed with faith and patience, we may find help in understanding for ourselves God’s love, fairness, and plans for us. May we seek more knowledge on these issues and make the most of our brief time in this beautiful world, brilliantly designed to give us experiences that in the end, through the Atonement of Christ, can bring us back to His presence and find a fullness of joy.



Tuesday, March 28, 2017

David and the Psalms in the Book of Mormon: Weakness or Strength?

Overview

A 2016 graduate thesis from Kevin Beshears at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, "Davidic References in the Book of Mormon as Evidence Against its Historicity," proposes an intriguing new means for discerning if the Book of Mormon is historic or not. By looking at Book of Mormon references to David and the Psalms, Beshears concludes that the "paltry" references to the great King David and the general absence of material from the Psalms in the Book of Mormon reveal that it cannot be the historic product of an ancient Jewish people who would have referred to David and the Psalms much more frequently. Beshears finds that not only is the Book of Mormon ahistoric for its failure to be like the Bible in abundant references to David, but contends several of its references to David in Isaiah material and some possible references to material from the Psalms proposed by John Hilton are simply the result of Joseph Smith's "plagiarism" from the Bible and other sources. Overall, the Book of Mormon is said to be hopelessly lacking in evidence and readily determined to be ahistoric.

My responses below include the following points:
  1. Beshears shifts his inquiry midstream from asking if the Book of Mormon contains adequate references to David and the Psalms to denying the merit of potentially relevant passages since their similarity to the King James Bible shows "plagiarism." In doing so he departs from scholarly inquiry.
  2. In his analysis and dismissal of John Hilton's work, the only LDS source considered (of many excellent candidates) on the relationship between the Psalms and the Book of Mormon, Beshears appears to neglect the strongest aspects of Hilton's work, the detailed analysis of how Jacob used Psalm 95 and how Nephi used numerous Psalms in crafting his own impressive psalm. 
  3. Indeed, the absence of any treatment of the Psalm of Nephi in 2 Nephi 4, an important concept in Book of Mormon scholarship for over 50 years, is unfortunate, especially since analysis of Nephi's Psalm formed a significant portion of the John Hilton article that Beshears treats in his thesis.
  4. Beshears' tool for testing the historicity of a text purportedly from ancient Hebrews is flawed and would condemn many legitimate ancient Jewish texts which refer to David infrequently or not at all.  
  5. The Book of Mormon has slightly more content relative to David (Nephi's usage of the David and Goliath motif) and much more influence from the Psalms than Beshears recognizes. The many references to the Psalms are not scattered randomly in the text, but are concentrated among those writers who had the most familiarity with the brass plates, particularly Nephi and Jacob. Indeed, the details of usage of the Psalms as well as Nephi's detailed allusion to David is not easy to explain as mere fabrication by Joseph Smith. 
  6. The Book of Mormon's willingness to criticize King David for his polygamy (ironically, a troubling issue for Beshears in his role as an evangelical critic) and its lack of emphasis on the David covenant or the greatness of King David is actually consistent with scholarship since Joseph Smith's day on pre-exilic religion among the Jews, the divisions in religious belief among them, and the impact of the Deuteronomist reforms under King Josiah initiated. What Beshears sees as a hopeless weakness in the Book of Mormon may actually be one of its strengths.

A New Reason for Rejecting the Book of Mormon: Too Little of David and the Psalms to be an Ancient Semitic Text?

Among critics of the Book of Mormon, all is not unity and consensus. For example, one can find critics sharply divided on questions such as this: "Is the Book of Mormon a fraudulent work loaded with horrific blunders from an ignorant farm boy, or the crafty work of a clever con man aided with advanced scholarship from a hefty range of books, magazines, rare maps of Arabia, and expertise in Hebrew?" It's a difficult question to answer correctly because, like many of our most controversial questions in life, it's the wrong question.

A related and more succinct question is the topic of a recent scholarly investigation: "Is the Book of Mormon false because it is too much like the Bible, or too little like the Bible?" Thanks to the latest scholarship from the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, we may have a definitive answer: "Yes!"

Kevin Beshears' Critique: Setting the Stage

"Davidic References in the Book of Mormon as Evidence Against its Historicity" by Kevin Beshears is a 2016 thesis from the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary (Louisville, KY). Beshears, a graduate student pursing a master of theology degree, takes an interesting approach in rejecting the Book of Mormon for not emphasizing David as much as the Bible does. He raises some interesting questions which, though intended to criticize the Book of Mormon, can be helpful to Book of Mormon students seeking to better understand the work. I am grateful for his questions, though troubled by the approach.

Apart from this primary and rather interesting critique, he provides a reasonable background review along with a variety of other criticisms of the "mormonic" text ("mormonic" is his preferred term, an unnecessarily strange and non-standard term, IMHO, that strikes me as conveniently too close to "demonic"). Of particular interest is the objection that the Book of Mormon is too much like the Bible in its use of KJV language and heavy citations of Isaiah, which he errantly and repeatedly calls "plagiarism" (e.g., pp. 33-37). I"ll address that issue more fully in a later post.

Meanwhile, I hope readers will recognize that openly quoting from a source without intent to deceive is not plagiarism. Indeed, the Isaiah passages that Beshears condemns as "plagiarized" are typically expressly stated to be quoted from Isaiah, something we usually don't get from the New Testament. The polemics around "plagiarism" and the failure to appreciate how KJV language can be a deliberate style choice in translation to be used when "good enough" is a weakness in multiple parts of Beshears' thesis, and again often boil down to condemning the Book of Mormon for being too much like the Bible.

Turning to his primary argument, Beshears explains that the Book of Mormon lacks historicity because it fails to give enough attention to the great king of Israel, King David, and fails to rely on the Psalms as much as we would expect from an authentic ancient Semitic work. His approach is declared in the opening paragraph:
Contemporary Mormon scholarship—more appropriately, Latter-day Saint (LDS) scholarship—seeks to validate the historicity of the Book of Mormon (BofM) through textual criticism by presupposing its historic authenticity, then combing the text for evidence of ancient literary devices such as chiasmus, parallelisms, and thematic elements that may suggest ancient Hebrew authorship. However, given King David’s nonpareil influence over the Hebrew cultural and religious identity, the BofM’s scant and peculiar nature of references to the fabled king produces a competing testimony against the book’s historicity. (Beshears, p. 1)
First, I must thank Kevin Beshears and his faculty advisor, George H. Martin, for considering the issue of Book of Mormon historicity from a scholarly perspective and from taking some efforts to understand the text of the Book of Mormon and some related LDS scholarship. He cites Hugh Nibley, John Sorenson, Grant Hardy, John Welch, Louis Midgley, Donald Parry, and others. Chiasmus is mentioned. This is progress compared to the neglect of LDS scholarship that often occurs in critical writings. Beshears' review of past work, though, at times becomes a caricature as he describes LDS scholars in the hopeless position of having no external evidence to offer any kind of support for the Book of Mormon tale, thus having no choice but to dig instead within its pages for imagined textual evidence.

The unawareness of any external evidence relevant to the Book of Mormon is unfortunate, and if he wishes to update his work, I hope Beshears will consider the significance of, say, the many hard evidences (non-LDS archaeological evidence included) from the Arabian Peninsula described in, for examples, Warren Aston's Lehi and Sariah in Arabia, or works related to the New World such as John Sorenson's Mormon's Codex, Brant Gardner's Traditions of the Fathers, Jerry Grover's Geology of the Book of Mormon, and Brian Stubbs' works on Uto-Aztecan language and relationships to Hebrew and Egyptian such as Changes in Languages from Nephi to Now.

Getting back to Beshears' argument, already in the opening paragraph, one can see trouble with his  approach and a failure to appreciate what LDS scholars have written and why they write. What he describes is not a fair overview of the state of LDS scholarship about the Book of Mormon, but its caricature. In my experience, LDS scholars dealing with the Book of Mormon are frequently motivated not by a desperate desire to find any scrap of purported evidence they can, but a generally cautious quest to understand the meaning of the text, including its context, its applications, its allusions to other documents, the possible influence of its cultural or geographic setting, and its relationship to other sources. That scholarship may sometimes yield unexpected gems of evidence, but combing for evidence is not the essence of the large body of scholarship related to the Book of Mormon. Grant Hardy's analysis of the voices of the Book of Mormon, for example, is far less driven by an apologetic impulse to prove anything rather than a desire to understand, but the remarkably distinct voices and agendas he uncovers with literary analysis perhaps unintentionally provide strong evidence in favor of authenticity of the document. See Grant Hardy, Understanding the Book of Mormon (Oxford University Press, 2010), pp. 11–25, 62–65, 84. See also Daniel Peterson’s review in “An Apologetically Important Nonapologetic Book,” Journal of Book of Mormon Studies 16 (2016): 52–75.

True, once interesting evidence is identified, such as the existence of chiasmus, some of us may rush too far and too fast in zeal as we sift the text as Beshears suggests looking for numerous additional examples, only to later be restrained by scholars, including LDS scholars like John Welch who has explained that many purported examples of chiasmus fail to meet key criteria for assessing their validity. He and others have proposed useful tools to gauge whether a chiasmus is really and intentionally there, though these tools still leave much room for debate.

Evidence also frequently comes when LDS writers are presented with critical attacks on the Book of Mormon and then are alerted to issues requiring further attention. The attention raised by critics often triggers new insights drawn from discoveries outside the LDS world, leading to unexpected evidence that sometimes causes a reversal, wherein a former weakness is not merely softened, but turned into a strength. An example is the frequent criticism of Alma 7:10, which identifies the "land of Jerusalem" as the future birthplace of Christ, not the town of Bethlehem. Since every schoolboy in Joseph's day knew Christ was born in Bethlehem, had Joseph been the author, he would likely have avoided this blunder. LDS writers quickly softened the attack by explaining that Bethlehem is essentially a suburb of Jerusalem and Jerusalem would be the logical place for distant Nephites to mention, just as Utahans in New York or China might say they used to live in Salt Lake City when, in fact, it was Sandy, Draper, or Midvale. However, once critics alerted LDS scholars to the issue, they were more likely to notice and apply relevant discoveries from non-LDS scholars who found ancient Jewish documents referring to the region around Jerusalem, specifically including Bethlehem, as the "land of Jerusalem," turning what was once a glaring weakness into a small but interesting piece of potential evidence of ancient origins that Joseph could not have extracted from the Bible.

Among many other examples, the very name of Alma may be considered, for it was long criticized as being "plagiarized" from a modern woman's name, not the male name used so prominently in the Book of Mormon. This blunder experienced a dramatic reversal in recent decades when a Jewish scholar discovered an ancient Jewish deed from Lehi's day showing that Alma was indeed an ancient Jewish man's name, a name transliterated from four Hebrew letters into exactly the same spelling used in the Book of Mormon.

The scholarship leading to recognition of the authenticity of "land of Jerusalem," the male name Lehi and many other Book of Mormon names, Royal Skousen's many intriguing discoveries from the painstaking research on the earliest manuscripts of the Book of Mormon, the historical analysis of the witnesses of the gold plates and the translation process, or many other issues such as body of evidence from the Arabian Peninsula related to Lehi's Trail, including three carvings found by non-LDS archaeologists giving hard evidence for the existence in Lehi's day of the tribal name Nihm or Nehem in the right region to relate to the place Nahom along Lehi's Trail in 1 Nephi 16, did not come from a panicked quest for any possible evidence per se, but from seeking to understand the Book of Mormon or to answer reasonable questions about specific aspects of the text. Beshears' repeatedly criticizes LDS scholarship for presupposing the text is true and then claiming to find glimmers of evidence, but this is not an accurate appraisal for some of the most significant work and most significant evidences we have.

In spite of his qualms about LDS scholarship on the "mormonic text," Beshears does review some important works and deserves credit for a reasonable discussion, for example, of the pros and cons of chiasmus and parallelism in the Book of Mormon. His review is hampered somewhat by repeatedly describing LDS scholarship in terms of trying to "prove" the Book of Mormon to be historical. Nevertheless, he does grasp the significance of the issue of historicity for the Book of Mormon and its role in the faith of many LDS people.

I was especially impressed with the cleverness of the closing section of his background review which beautifully draws upon the arguments of some LDS scholars to set the stage for his primary argument:
Consequently, considering both the amount of attention given to Moses and the Mosaic motif found in mormonic characters, Reynolds suggests, "the fact that Nephi and Lehi both saw themselves as Moses figures demonstrates their awareness of a recognizable feature of preexilic Israelite literature that has only recently been explicated by Bible scholars." In other words, mormonic people knew enough about preexilic Israelite leaders to honor and emulate them not only in the way they lived, but also in the way they wrote about themselves. They showcased their admiration for major biblical characters by crafting thematic motifs. For Reynolds, the appearance of beloved biblical characters through types in the BofM is evidence of its authenticity. He further argued the Hebraic literary tradition of the OT practically demands "that [Nephi and Lehi] presented themselves as antitypes for Moses." So strong is this evidence that Reynolds boldly proclaimed, "it would make sense to criticize the Book of Mormon had it not made these kinds of strong, natural comparisons."

These thematic nods and direct references to biblical characters in the BofM demonstrate that the New World Jews were not merely aware of their history as a people, but they desired to sustain their Hebrew cultural identity by referencing and describing their most influential leaders in terms of biblical history. Thus, according to BofM historicism, part of what makes the book authentic is its references and allusions to famous biblical characters, because they suggest continuity between Old and New World Jews. (Beshears, pp. 19–20.)
So if Book of Mormon authors were genuine ancient Hebrews who deeply appreciated archetypes from Moses and the Exodus and respected Abraham, shouldn't they also show great interest in King David and the Psalms? And if David is largely neglected, don't we have a problem? It's a fair question, and indeed, an interesting one, and Beshears is to be congratulated for asking it. The question, though, is whether this question can be packed with the rigor to yield meaningful answers, the kind that can properly distinguish bogus Semitic texts from real ones.

Beshears' New Tool for Evaluating a Text Allegedly from Ancient Hebrews

Beshears introduces an intriguing new tool for separating authentic ancient Semitic writing from fraudulent imitation. He argues that the great Jewish king, King David, played a monumental role in ancient Jewish culture and thus we should expect him and the Psalms, many of which David wrote, to be emphasized in the Book of Mormon, if it were historic. But Beshears finds that the Book of Mormon only has seven "paltry" references to David and ignores the Psalms, many of which were by David, which he feels is hardly compatible with a historic Jewish text:
Readers of the BofM familiar with the immense stature of David in the biblical Jewish identity may find themselves nonplussed at the paltry seven references to Israel’s greatest king, especially considering the numerous Abrahamic and Mosaic references. (p. 20)

If the mormonic people were truly Jewish, why has King David essentially absconded from their historical and prophetic records relative to biblical Judaism? Is it really possible that the BofM, a text that prides itself on incredibly descriptive prophecies of the coming messiah, could neglect to feature one of the most prominent figures in the messianic lineage? (p. 21)

Of all David’s contributions to the Hebrew religious identity, two stand out as being particularly influential: his Psalms and the messianic expectation that grew out of his reign. The NT writers seem most interested in these two aspects of David, referencing him almost exclusively in the context of psalmic material or arguments that portray Christ as David’s descendant and heir to his eternal throne. At the very least, one would anticipate quotations of Davidic psalms and the hopeful anticipation of an eschatological, Davidic king in the BofM. However, its sermons, prophecies, and epistles never quote Davidic psalms, and almost entirely exclude him from their messianic prophecies. (p. 22)
And then his conclusion:
If the BofM was written by pre- and post-exilic Jews, why are its references to David so rare and atypical when compared to other Jewish texts such as the Old and New Testaments, intertestamental writings, and Qumranic literature? The mormonic treatment of David is inconsistent with what would be expected, given the religious background, texts, and culture from which they claim to have arisen. The venerated Israelite king is nowhere near as prevalent or, in the case of Jacob, esteemed in the BofM when compared to his monumental significance in the Bible and other related Jewish texts, especially in self-consciously messianic movements like those in Qumran or the NT. Consequently, I contend the BofM’s peculiar treatment of David in particular testifies against the BofM historicist hypothesis— that it is the product of a historically authentic, Hebrew culture—because it so radically truncates and departs from the known Hebrew literary tradition concerning the great Israelite king. It appears highly suspect that the mormonic prophets and preachers and kings, seeking to continue the heritage of their Old World cousins and promote a messianic tradition comparable to the NT tradition, all but exclude David from their national, historio-religious records, nor situate him honorably among their cultural heroes.
In the absence of any convincing evidence for these incredible BofM historicist claims, we are nevertheless asked to believe that sometime in the sixth century BCE a lost Israelite tribe emigrated from Palestine to the New World with the intent of preserving OT Hebrew messianism, yet without the type or frequency of Davidic references found with their ancestral, Old World cousins. In the end, this desperate search for internal evidences in support of an underlying Hebrew tradition to BofM, as with the search for corroborating external evidences to its supposed ancient historicity, is destined to amount to unproductive digging in the sand. Consequently, I predict that pressing the BofM further in this way will yield similar results. (p. 46)
Is this critique valid? Can this new gauge properly discern bogus texts from real ancient Semitic documents?

One of the things I would have expected in a scholarly treatment is some evidence that the metric being used to evaluate a text actually works. Beshears asserts that an authentic ancient Jewish test from after the days of David should naturally speak of David and quote from the Psalms, and cites other scholarship on the general importance of David as well as examples of references to David from the Old and New Testaments and the Dead Sea Scrolls. But this tool seems to lack evidence that it can give reliable results. Citing cases where David was mentioned, for example, does not address the question of historicity when mentions of David are absent or, in the case of the Book of Mormon, relatively few.

Has Beshears applied his tool to other ancient or allegedly ancient texts to evaluate its usefulness? Has he made any effort to establish a threshold frequency for mentioning David to distinguish between authentic and bogus ancient Jewish writings? Is there a reliable threshold for separating authentic Jewish writing from forgeries or non-Semitic texts based on statistics relate to the name David or passages that draw upon the Psalms? The answer, clearly, is no. This can be demonstrated by applying this tool to the books of the Bible itself, the most obvious collection of documents attributed to ancient Jewish writers whose texts can be treated with Beshears' methodology.

While Beshears speaks of the thousand-plus times David is mentioned in the Bible, the vast bulk of these occurrences are in the historical books that deal with the story of David, his rise, his rule, and the aftermath of his rule (Samuel, Kings, Chronicles). Numerous mentions also naturally occur in the Psalms, and then things taper off quickly with a handful of mentions in Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel. The illustrious King David is mentioned only once in Proverbs, where he is merely identified as the father of Solomon. The same thing occurs in Ecclesiastes: just one mention as the Preacher's father. The only mention in the Song of Solomon is a reference to the "tower of David," but nothing about the glory of that king.

Critically, David is not mentioned at all in the very Jewish books of Esther, Lamentations, Daniel, Joel, Obadiah, Jonah, Micah, Nahum, Zephaniah, Haggai, and Malachi. Once we get past the David-heavy books of Samuel, Kings, Chronicles, and the Psalms, there are just as many books the don't mention David as there are those that do. Even Daniel and Malachi, in spite of eschatological and messianic views, never cite David.

If a large fraction of Old Testament writers fail to mention David at all, do we really need to reject the Book of Mormon for having just 7 "paltry" occurrences of the name David? Granted, three of these come from citations of Isaiah (and hardly count since they are "plagiarized," we are told), but the name and influence of David is not entirely absent.

Beshears sees validation for his tool in the emphasis given to David in the New Testament, especially in the Gospels (e.g., six mentions of David in the genealogy in Matthew 1), but Beshears never mentions David's neglect by multiple Jewish authors. The Gospel of John mentions David twice but in only one verse (John 7:42). Paul mentions David three times in Romans, but not at all in 1 Corinthians, 2 Corinthians, Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, 1 Thessalonians, 2 Thessalonians, and 1 Timothy. There is one paltry mention in 2 Timothy, none in Titus nor Philemon, then two in Hebrews. There is no mention of David in James, 1 Peter, 2 Peter, the three epistles of John, and Jude. Revelation has three mentions.

Beshears' tool would seem to eliminate a large portion of the Old Testament and much of the New Testament, which I trust he will see as an undesirable outcome (see, for example, Deut. 4:2 and Rev. 22:18–19).

Beshears' methodology for rejecting the Book of Mormon, however logical it may appear to its inventor, seems hopelessly flawed.

More Than Meets the Eye in Book of Mormon Allusions to David and the Psalms

David and the Psalms, however, may not be as absent in the "mormonic text" as Beshears thinks. His claim that no Davidic psalms are quoted may be incorrect, and David as an archetype may be present in places Beshears has missed.

One scholarly work related to David and the Book of Mormon considers Nephi's apparently deliberate allusions to the story of David and Goliath. See Ben McGuire, "Nephi and Goliath: A Case Study of Literary Allusion in the Book of Mormon," Journal of the Book of Mormon and Other Restoration Scripture 18/1 (2009): 16–31. The basics of this work were first made public in a presentation at the 2001 FAIR Conference. McGuire reviews scholarship on the role of allusions and the use of markers and other tools to call attention to deliberate parallels. His analysis provides a strong case that the Book of Mormon's account of Nephi slaying Laban has been patterned after the biblical account of David, employing similar language and themes:
In addition to the marking elements discussed above, we see another pattern: All of the thematic parallels exist in the same order in both narratives. First, we have the introduction of the antagonist, who is described in terms of his feats of strength and who inspires fear. Then the protagonist responds, claiming that there is no need to fear—the God who has historically acted on the protagonist’s behalf will again act to destroy this threat, not only to save the protagonist, but also to ensure that God is recognized in the future. Next the antagonist and protagonist meet, and the text announces to us that the antagonist is delivered into the hands of the protagonist by God. Finally, the antagonist is reduced to a helpless state, and the protagonist takes his enemy’s sword, pulls it from its sheath, decapitates the antagonist, and then gathers his foe’s armor as his own.
Parallel Passages in 1 Samuel and 1 Nephi

1 Samuel 17:4–7, 11
1 Samuel 17:32
1 Samuel 17:34–37
1 Samuel 17:45–46
1 Samuel 17:51
1 Samuel 17:54
1 Nephi 3:31
1 Nephi 4:1
1 Nephi 4:2–3
1 Nephi 4:6, 10–12, 17
1 Nephi 4:9, 18
1 Nephi 4:19
The thematic elements follow a relatively simple structural parallel. This parallel being sustained throughout the entire narrative text is a strong indicator that the Book of Mormon narrative is reliant on the biblical text.
Part of Nephi's purpose in patterning his conquest of Laban after David and Goliath is to establish his rightful role as king over the Nephite people, a claim that was strongly disputed by his enemies. The sword of Laban, like the sword of Goliath, would become a revered symbol of Nephite authority and of God's deliverance of the Nephite people. The allusions to David in the Book of Mormon are meaningful and strong, and may help temper some of Beshears' concerns about the Book of Mormon.

The Psalms also may be more present in the Book of Mormon than Beshears realizes.

Are the Psalms Largely Missing in the Book of Mormon?

Beshears' literature review did detect one LDS scholar (out of many others who could have been cited) who claimed to find evidence of many allusions to the Psalms in the Book of Mormon. Beshears targets John Hilton III, “Old Testament Psalms in the Book of Mormon” in Ascending the Mountain of the Lord: Temple, Praise, and Worship in the Old Testament (2013 Sperry Symposium), ed. Jeffrey R. Chadwick, Matthew J. Grey, and David Rolph Seely (Provo, UT: Religious Studies Center, Brigham Young University; Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 2013), 291–311 (the book is available online). Hilton provides a list of 43 apparent citations of various Psalms in the Book of Mormon. Beshears, however, is unimpressed and finds the use of similar language to be evidence not of allusions to the Psalms in an ancient record but to be easily explained as the fruit of Joseph Smith's exposure to the King James Bible. Indeed, the fact that the very words of the King James Bible occur in the Book of Mormon raises a serious problem and points to deliberate plagiarism by Joseph rather than a translation process coincidentally giving the exact same words found in the Bible.
[T]he supposed psalmic allusions Hilton brought forward align with the KJV, which is a serious concern for his hypothesis. As with the "Isaiah Problem," these ancient echoes of the Psalms are translated in the same manner as a seventeenth-century English translation, often word-for-word. For example, Hilton cites the following phrase from Jacob 6:6; "today if ye will hear his voice harden not your hearts." If this truly is a psalmic allusion, then it is an obvious reproduction of the KJV Psalm 95:7-8, "Today if ye will hear his voice, harden not your heart." Likewise, the phrase "none that doeth good . . . no not one" in Moroni 10:25 matches exactly with both the KJV Psalms 14:3; 53:3 and Romans 3:12, stepping beyond the mere repurposing of OT Psalms and into the NT Epistles as well. This observation would not come as a surprise to Hilton. In fact, the identical reproduction of the KJV Psalms in the BofM is the reason he found these supposed psalmic allusions in the first place (by running word analysis software).

Is it likely that Moroni, having been raised in mormonic Jewish culture without a copy of the book of Psalms for nearly a millennium, in the fifth century CE suddenly alluded to the Psalms, by writing in non-extant "reformed Egyptian," words that happen to be translated into English in the nineteenth century by Joseph Smith as, "none that doeth good . . . no not one (Moro 10:25)," a verbatim copy of the KJV translation of Psalms 14:3; 53:3 and Romans 3:12? Or is it more likely that a nineteenth-century author drew from his knowledge of the KJV translation to construct Moroni's epistle? (p. 43)
Incidentally, there is no reason why the pre-exilic Psalms could not have been on the brass plates. Beshears argues that since the Psalms are not listed as being on the brass plates, they implicitly were not part of the Nephite canon (p. 41), but there is no reason to believe that Nephi has given an exhaustive catalog.

Beshears' tool for cutting bogus texts is a two-edge sword, with one edge that can swiftly cut away bogus "mormonic" text when it lacks the presence of the Psalms, and another edge that can just as quickly slice through any "mormonic" text that dares to "plagiarize" from the Psalms. The Book of Mormon is doomed with this two-edged standard. I wonder how New Testament writers might fare?

Beshears is generally critical of Hilton. He finds Hilton's collection of 43 phrases linked to the Psalms to present an "insurmountable problem" for the Book of Mormon apologist since there is no way to tell whether these faint echoes are intentional or accidental, or whether they simply come from Joseph Smith regurgitating phrases he had heard for years from the Bible or other popular sources like John Bunyan's Pilgrim's Progress:
For example, the phrase "pains of hell" [found in Psalm 116:3 and Jacob 3:11, and Alma 14:6, 26:13, and 36:13] was a common colloquialism used by popular figures such as John Bunyan and George Whitfield [sic], both of whom would have been well-known to nineteenth-century Americans. The fact that the phrase only appears once in the entire KJV Bible (Ps 116:3), but multiple times in the BofM (Jacob 3:11; Alma 14:6; 26:13; 36:13), indicates that the BofM was influenced more by the frequent nineteenth-century use of the phrase rather than ancient writers alluding to the original psalmic expression. (pp. 42–43)
My search of Pilgrim's Progress reveals "pains of hell" was used precisely once, and the two-volume set of George Whitefield's sermons reveals the term twice. Both undoubtedly got the term from the Psalms. Is their scant use of the term truly evidence that the they are a more likely source for the "pains of hell" in the Book of Mormon? More to the point, is their scant use relevant at all to Beshears' thesis? Even if Bunyan had used the phrase hundreds of times, is that evidence that the Book of Mormon lacks references to the Psalms, which is what Beshears argument is supposed to be?

Note how Beshears' argument has shifted. His thesis was supposedly addressing whether allusions to the Psalms are found in the Book of Mormon, as he says we should expect if the "mormonic" text came from real ancient Hebrews. However, when similar language from the Psalms is presented by Hilton, the sole author he considers among the many who have treated various aspects of the Psalms in the Book of Mormon, Beshears then dismisses that evidence because those phrases could equally well be found in Joseph's environment. Lack of allusions to the Psalms damns the Book of Mormon for not being like the Bible, and apparent references to the Psalms damns the book for being too much like the Bible due to Joseph's plagiarism of related phrases. This appears to be the real insurmountable problem before us.

Missing Key Analysis from Hilton

What especially troubled me in Beshears' dismissal of Hilton's work was his failure to consider the bulk of Hilton's analysis where we have the strongest, most valuable aspects of his work. Perhaps Beshears felt there was little of value after looking at the list of 43 parallels in the first half of Hilton's paper, but the neglect of the rest of Hilton's paper strikes me highly unfortunate.  In the portions overlooked by Beshears, Hilton explores in detail (1) how Jacob makes clever and appropriate use of Psalm 95 to bracket his book, and (2) how Nephi's Psalm makes extensive use of the Psalms in his own very genuine psalm. Both of these issues point to much more sophistication than a Bible-versed ignoramus plucking random phrase from memory as he dictates out of a hat.

Nephi's Psalm in particular would have been a vital issue to be considered in Beshears' thesis. Nephi's Psalm has been an important topic in LDS scholarship on the Book of Mormon for many decades, but it was not mentioned, nor is there even any reference to 2 Nephi 4, where the influence of the Psalms is readily apparent and more sophisticated than even skilled readers of the Book of Mormon may realize. These kind of mistakes happen in research, especially when one is rushing to meet an unrealistic deadline or when one is over confident of his or her position. Ideally, Beshears' graduate advisor would have caught this gap after glancing at the key Hilton reference or, even more ideally, through some exposure to LDS scholarship on the Book of Mormon or online searching. For example, using either Google or Yahoo!, references to "Nephi's Psalm" with a great deal of useful information appear in the first 10 hits when I enter search phrases like "Psalms Book of Mormon" or "Are there Psalms in the Book of Mormon?" or even just "Psalms Mormon." Such information might have significantly changed Beshears' assessment.

A fraction of Hilton's section on Jacob and Psalm 95 is provided here for convenience:
As we will see, sections of this psalm play a key role in Jacob’s book. In Jacob 1:7, he records, “Wherefore we labored diligently among our people, that we might persuade them to come unto Christ, and partake of the goodness of God, that they might enter into his rest, lest by any means he should swear in his wrath they should not enter in, as in the provocation in the days of temptation while the children of Israel were in the wilderness.” The italicized portions of this verse bear a clear connection to Psalm 95:8 and 11, which state, “As in the provocation, and as in the day of temptation in the wilderness . . . Unto whom I sware in my wrath that they should not enter into my rest.”
This shared text cannot be coincidental. This is doubly the case when we see another allusion to Psalm 95 at the end of Jacob’s record. In Jacob 6:6, he exhorts, “Yea, today, if ye will hear his voice, harden not your hearts; for why will ye die?” These words directly echo Psalm 95:7–8: “To day if ye will hear his voice, harden not your heart.”  Thus Jacob alludes to Psalm 95 at the beginning of his book (Jacob 1:7) and as he nears the end of it (Jacob 6:6).  Moreover, these introductory and concluding allusions use adjoining phrases from Psalm 95.  Psalms 95:7–8 reads, “To day if ye will hear his voice harden not your heart, as in the provocation, and as in the day of temptation in the wilderness.” In Jacob 1:7, Jacob quotes the latter portion of these verses “as in the provocation in the days of temptation while the children of Israel were in the wilderness.” In Jacob 6:6, he uses the first phrase, “Today if ye will hear his voice harden not your hearts,” thus alluding to both halves, but reversing their order.

Both Jacob 1:7 and Jacob 6:6 are portions of texts in which Jacob directly addresses readers. They are not part of a continuous discourse; rather, they are broken up by Jacob’s sermon at the temple (Jacob 2:1–3:11) and his recording of the allegory of the olive tree (Jacob 5). Because Jacob is addressing the reader at each of the bookend allusions of Psalms 95:7–8, I believe he uses these two statements to cohesively communicate to readers of his book two of his core themes, those of not hardening our hearts and of coming unto Christ. As I will demonstrate, Jacob uses textual connections to Psalm 95 to develop these themes….
Hilton's analysis becomes even more interesting in the next section, "The Old Testament Psalms and the 'Psalm of Nephi,'" also completely neglected by Beshears, where Hilton treats the numerous allusions to the Psalms in what is widely called "the Psalm of Nephi" in 2 Nephi 4. I'll share the beginning and ending paragraphs to indicate some of what was missed:
The previous section focused on Jacob’s use of one psalm throughout his entire book. I now discuss Nephi’s use of a variety of psalms in one small part of his record, which is popularly called “the Psalm of Nephi.”  S. Kent Brown has called this passage (2 Nephi 4:17–35) “a most poignant depiction of Nephi’s own struggles with sin and with feelings about rebellious members of his family.”

It has been noted previously that the Psalm of Nephi shares several features with ancient Hebrew psalms. For example, Matthew Nickerson states that “Nephi’s psalm plainly follows the format and substance of the individual lament as described by Gunkel and elaborated upon by numerous subsequent scholars.”  Brown points out that Nephi’s psalm “exhibits poetic characteristics found in the Old Testament.”  Steven Sondrup finds that “in the ‘Psalm of Nephi,’ just as in Hebrew poetry . . . logical, formal or conceptual units are set parallel one to another.”

In addition to these overarching literary patterns, the Psalm of Nephi shares a surprisingly large amount of text with the Old Testament Psalms. It appears that Nephi (perhaps intentionally, or perhaps because of his familiarity with Psalmic material), drew on phrases of lament, praise, and worship from the Psalter as he composed his own words. Of the 660 words comprising the Psalm of Nephi, 127 (approximately 20 percent) are key words or phrases that are also found in the biblical Psalter. While some of these key words or phrases are used frequently throughout scripture … others are significant, and appear only in these two pericopes. The concentration of references to Psalms may indicate intentionality on Nephi’s part as he wrote these words.

[The body of Hilton's analysis commences here, but we will jump to his concluding comments in this section.]

When the multiple connections to Psalms are added together, Nephi could have alluded to potentially forty seven different Psalms in just eighteen verses. It stretches one’s imagination to believe that Joseph Smith could have been responsible for making all of these connections, particularly with the understanding that the Psalm of Nephi may have been translated in less than two hours. While some sections of Nephi’s soliloquy have relatively few allusions to Psalms, in other sections the number of connections is impressive. For example, 40 percent of the words in 2 Nephi 4:29–32 also appear in Old Testament Psalms (54 out of 135 words). I believe these allusions stem from Nephi’s mediations on the Psalms and that the high concentration of psalmic references in this pericope indicates that Nephi had access to them (either from the plates or his own cultural experiences in Jerusalem). Nephi’s apparent familiarity and love of the psalms can provide motivation for Latter-day Saints to follow Nephi’s example and become deeply familiar with the language of praise and worship as found in the Old Testament Psalms.
If allusions to the Psalms were random parallels from Joseph recalling related language, as Beshears suggests, we would expect to find them scattered randomly throughout the text. The distribution is far from random and shows a great concentration in the writings of those closest to the brass plates and early Judaism, especially Nephi and Jacob. Beshears does not discuss this issue that I feel is consistent with a historical ancient Semitic text from multiple authors with varying degrees of familiarity with the brass plates.

The scholarship on the Psalm of Nephi is truly impressive. It not only abounds in references to the Psalms, but includes meaningful examples of chiasmus and other forms of parallelism including paired tricola and even, tentatively, apparent cases of Janus parallelism (a newly discovered but intriguing aspect of ancient Hebrew poetry), as I have previously discussed here. It is a gem and directly contradicts Beshears' claims that the Nephites were inexplicably unaware of the Psalms, and adds meaningful evidence to the case for the authentic ancient nature of Nephi's writings.

Meanwhile, there are many other intriguing examples of Psalms being used in the Book of Mormon. See, for example:

If Any of You Lack Wisdom

According to Beshears, "the mormonic Hebrew Bible appears not to have contained the book of Psalms or any other 'wisdom literature'" (p. 41). But the purported lack of "wisdom literature" does not fit scholarship on the Book of Mormon revealing that themes from the "wisdom literature" play an important role. Wisdom themes in the Book of Mormon were noted long ago by Nibley and have been noted in many ways since then. See, for example, Taylor Halverson, "Reading 1 Nephi With Wisdom," Interpreter: A Journal of Mormon Scripture 22 (2016): 279-293, who offers this abstract:Nephi is the prototypical wise son of the Wisdom tradition. As Proverbs advocates that a wise man cherishes the word of God, so Nephi cherishes the words of the wise. Nephi’s record begins with a declaration of his upbringing in the Wisdom tradition and his authenticity and reliability as a wise son and scribe (1 Nephi 1:1–3). His is a record of the learning of the Jews — a record of wisdom. If the Wisdom tradition is a foundation for Nephi’s scribal capabilities and outlook, perhaps the principles and literary skills represented by the scribal Wisdom tradition constitute the “learning of the Jews” that Nephi references so early in his account. Thus, if Nephi’s is a record of the learning of the Jews — a record of wisdom — we would be wise to read it with Wisdom — that is, through the lens of ancient Israelite and Middle Eastern Wisdom traditions.

Other sources discussing wisdom themes in the Book of Mormon include:
The alleged lack of "wisdom" in the Book of Mormon may simply be due to inadequate review of relevant literature.

The Lack of David in the Book of Mormon

While Beshears' reasons for rejecting the Book of Mormon fail on multiple counts, his basic question is fair: Why is David not given more emphasis in the Book of Mormon? And in particular, I would extend the question to ask why Book of Mormon kings are not evaluated by comparison to King David, when that seems to be the standard applied in evaluating many of the kings in the Bible. The righteous kings like Benjamin and Mosiah are richly praised, but not by comparison to David. Why not?

First, a basic problem here is assuming that there is a "typical" type of Bible text that should be found wherever we look in the Bible, when that is clearly not the case. As mentioned above, a large number of books in both the Old and New Testament fail to mention David at all. Clearly there is not a uniform urge to turn to David and the Davidic covenant of an everlasting throne in Jerusalem, even in books like Daniel that look forward to the end days and the final victory of God. For example, the wisdom literature, a type of literature Beshears errantly claimed was absent in the Book of Mormon but in fact shows a strong influence, tends to ignore the Davidic covenant, as Daniel Peterson noted in his widely cited exploration of some aspects of wisdom traditions embedded in the Book of Mormon:
Biblical scholars recognize a genre of writing, found both in the canonical scriptures (e.g., Job, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, the Song of Solomon) and beyond the canon, that they term “wisdom literature.” Among the characteristics of this type of writing, not surprisingly, is the frequent use of the term wisdom. But also common to such literature, and very striking in texts from a Hebrew cultural background, is the absence of typically Israelite or Jewish themes, such as the promises to the patriarchs, the story of Moses and the exodus, the covenant at Sinai, and the divine promise to David. There is, however, a strong emphasis on the teaching of parents, and especially on the instruction of the father. (Peterson, “Nephi and His Asherah,” p. 209; emphasis added.)
Since the wisdom-heavy founding documents of the Nephite people paid little attention to the Davidic covenant, it should not be a surprise to see other writers like Alma follow suit in their emphasis of similar themes (including the exodus, not normally emphasized in wisdom literature but obviously an important issue for Nephi and Lehi as they made a literal exodus to a promised land) and a lack of emphasis on the Davidic covenant. This is not to say that any Book of Mormon author wrote exclusively in the wisdom tradition, but there is a significant thread of wisdom influence in the book.

Several more noteworthy factors may contribute to the relative lack of interest in David among Nephite writers. Lehi was not a Jew from David's tribe of Judah, but was descended from the tribe of Joseph, probably with roots in the northern kingdom, where there was less respect for descendants of David on the throne in Jerusalem. More importantly, Lehi may not have accepted some aspects of Josiah's reforms that began in 622 B.C. These "Deuteronomist" reforms, triggered by the "discovery" of a book of the law in the temple, believed to be the source of our Book of Deuteronomy, sought to impose centralized worship in Jerusalem and may have introduced the concept of the David covenant — the idea that God would always keep a king descended from David on the throne of Jerusalem, no matter how bad those kings might be. Josiah's reforms were actually violent, causing many priests to be killed and sacred relics from the temple to be forcefully destroyed.

Non-LDS scholar Margaret Barker argues that Josiah's reforms were largely destroying many of the things in the old Jewish faith, including the idea of the temple as the place where the presence of God could be encountered, the idea of visions and angels that minister to prophets, and the wisdom tradition (see Margaret Barker, "What Did King Josiah Reform?" in Glimpses of Lehi’s Jerusalem, ed. Jo Ann H. Seely, David Rolph Seely, and John W. Welch [Provo, UT: Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies, Brigham Young University, 2004] 538). If so, Lehi the man of visions, the seeker of wisdom, would naturally be at odds with the Deuteronomists and their scribes, who shaped a great deal of the Bible. Also see Neal Rappleye, "The Deuteronomist Reforms and Lehi’s Family Dynamics: A Social Context for the Rebellions of Laman and Lemuel," Interpreter: A Journal of Mormon Scripture 16 (2015): 87-99.

I also recommend Margaret Barker, "Joseph Smith and Preexilic Israelite Religion," in The Worlds of Joseph Smith: The Worlds of Joseph Smith: A Bicentennial Conference at the Library of Congress, ed. John S. Welch (Provo, UT: Brigham Young University Press: 2006), Kindle edition, where Barker points to many ways in which the writings of Nephi comply with results of her own research about pre-exilic Jewish religion. She argues that the reformers, the Deuteronomists, took out much in early Jewish faith during their violent purges.

Modern scholarship on the origins of the Bible, including the theories related to the Documentary Hypothesis, provides some related insights that can help us understand the significance of the David Covenant that Beshears expects the Book of Mormon to emphasize. In Richard Elliot Friedman's famous Who Wrote the Bible? (New York: Harper Collins, 1997, originally published 1987), the mystery behind the centralization of worship and the Davidic covenant is unraveled in several intriguing steps (see, for example, pp. 91–124). There is a mystery here, for in spite of the strict command in Deuteronomy to centralize worship in Jerusalem, we find David, Saul, Solomon, and Samuel making sacrifices in other places as if they had no awareness of this fundamental command attributed to Moses. This and other issues have led multiple scholars to conclude that the long-lost book of the law that was mysteriously found in the temple during Josiah's reign was in fact composed at that time, being written by someone close to Josiah. And textual and thematic evidence also suggests that the author or school that produced Deuteronomy also produced the following six books: Joshua, Judges, 1 and 2 Samuel, and 1 and 2 Kings. The Davidic covenant given in 2 Samuel 7 was part of that effort. This comes from the Deuteronomists, and not from the other sources proposed for the Bible in the various versions of the Documentary Hypothesis. The Davidic covenant only makes sense if it was written before the exile, when the confident Jews felt the holy city of Jerusalem could never fall. Lehi, warned of Jerusalem's destruction, obviously did not see things that way.

An interesting thing about the Deuteronomists, according to Friedman, is how much emphasis they give to David. In their writings, every king is evaluated by comparison to David. But that emphasis stops after Josiah, possibly because the bulk of the Deuteronomists writings (most of seven books in all) were done in the day, with only minor additions required to cover the tragic fall of Judah and the last four disastrous kings following Josiah. Friedman explains:
That is not the only thing that changes after the story of Josiah. King David figures in a fundamental way in the Deuteronomistic history. Half of the book of 1 Samuel, all of the book of 2 Samuel, and the first chapters of 1 Kings deal with his life. The majority of the kings who come after him are compared to him. The historian states explicitly, several times, that because of David's merit even a bad king of Judah cannot lose the throne for the family. Especially among the last few kings down to the time of Josiah, the historian reminds us of David. He compares Josiah himself to David, saying, "We went in all the path of David his father." … Altogether the name David occurs about five hundred times in the Deuteronomistic history. Then, in the story of the last four kings, it stops. The text does not compare these kings to David. It does not refer to the Davidic covenant, let alone explain why it does not save the throne now the way it did in the reigns of Solomon, Rehoboam, Abijam, and Jehoram. It does not mention David at all.

Thus two common, crucial matters in the Deuteronomistic history — centralization and David — disappear after the Josiah section. (Friedman, p. 115)
Friedman explains that caution is needed in applying arguments from silence, but here the silence is deafening. When every king is compared to David, and then suddenly the last four kings are not, and when centralization is viewed as essential up to Josiah and then suddenly is not, "we have evidence of a real break and a change of perspective that are connected to that king" (p. 115).

While there are some details in the Documentary Hypothesis that can easily be questioned, especially the dating for various sources, the possibility of multiple versions of documents and competing agendas influencing the Bible is actually consistent with information we obtain from the Book of Mormon, not only in terms of how ancient sources were pulled together, but in terms of its report of loss and change that would occur in the records of the Jews.

However the Bible was composed, there is strong evidence that references to David and the Davidic covenant are highly nonuniform in the Bible, and are most concentrated in the documents that are considered to be most influenced by the Deuteronomists. Seeing Lehi as an adherent to the old visionary ways opposed by the Deuteronomists can also help us understand why he might not have bought the new agenda of centralization and the new emphasis on the confident claims of those touting a David covenant that would keep the throne safe, no matter what. The Book of Mormon's relative silence on David, though not as silent as many other legitimate biblical books, is consistent with the view that 1 Nephi accurately portrays the complex religious differences and tensions present in pre-exilic Jerusalem, with some groups not accepting the new reforms and possibly not accepting a new emphasis on security through the Davidic covenant.

As for the centralization of worship that Josiah imposed, Lehi and Nephi obviously had no qualms with ritual worship outside of Jerusalem, even to the point of building a temple in the New World, just as Jews at Elephantine in Egypt did. In fact, Lehi was so at odds with the reigning religious establishment in Jerusalem that his life was in danger. His "apostasy" likely included rejecting some aspects of Josiah's reforms that began just a few decades before his exodus. Again, what we find in the writings of Nephi makes a good deal of sense in the context of pre-exilic Israel, based on research from Margaret Barker and many others.

Joseph Smith could have known none of this. If he were making up the Book of Mormon based on average familiarity with the Bible in his day, or even above average graduate-student level familiarity with the Bible in our day, it is indeed reasonable that we would expect him to pick up on the extensive mentions of David, most of which occur in Deuteronomistic writings, and to then imitate that in the Book of Mormon.

Beshears' puzzlement about David in the Book of Mormon is entirely understandable. It is only through deeper understanding of the complexities behind that statistics on David's name that we realize the Bible is highly nonuniform regarding David, that there are reasons for sudden changes in the text regarding David, and that there may be good reasons why historic ancient faithful Hebrews from the tribe of Joseph, ill at ease with the southern Kingdom Jews and their recent violent religious reforms, might not follow suit with the Deuteronomistic writings and their constant awe for David. Those Hebrews, clinging to the old ways of prophecy, revelation, temple worship, and wisdom literature, would respect David as a great but fallen king, and could be frank about his disobedience without betraying their Hebrew roots. They could appreciate the parallels between the young righteous David and Nephi, and could name a land after David, but had no need to make David a touchstone of their faith.

When we consider Beshears' valuable questions in light of broader scholarship, we see that once again, we may have an interesting reversal on our hands, where a sloppy blunder in the "mormonic" text that allegedly disproves its historicity in reality leaves it in a surprisingly strong position.

Overall, I appreciate the meaningful questions posed by Beshears, but am gravely disappointed by the neglect of Nephi's Psalm and many other relevant issues, and fear his work is more driven by an agenda rather than a genuine inquiry into the issues before him.  I hope it can be updated and revised in light of some of the issues I raise here.