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

Sunday, March 18, 2018

“Here, Take My Camera”: Responding to the Miraculous Message and Convincing Power of the Book of Mormon

The Shanghai International District Conference for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints was held March 17 and 18, 2018, in Shanghai. The highlight by far was the musical number in the general session Sunday morning performed by a combined children's choir from all the branches of the District. That well prepared musical number came thanks to a proactive and visionary woman, Amy Carlson, who long ago came to the District with a proposal for a combined Primary choir and then visited each branch to train the kids and make the music work so well to inspire and amaze us. They sang "I Will Be What I Believe," a collection by Blake Gillette. Dramatic and so fun. Thank you, Sister Carlson!

The children's choir was so inspiring that it would have been great to just end the meeting there. Sadly, I had the misfortune of being the first speaker after them. Here is the talk that I gave.

“Here, Take My Camera”: Responding to the Miraculous Message
and Convincing Power of the Book of Mormon

Shanghai International District Conference, March 18, 2018

Faith is essential for us to grow in the Gospel of Jesus Christ. With faith comes great blessings, sometimes miracles, and increasing evidences that can turn embryonic faith into something more mature. When faith matures, it can become a firmly established hope or even true knowledge. Jacob in Jacob 4:6 in the Book of Mormon speaks of this process when he says “we search the prophets, and we have many revelations and the spirit of prophecy; and having all these witnesses we obtain a hope, and our faith becometh unshaken.” Unshaken faith, genuine hope, and ultimately knowledge – we need to pursue these things. How can we make our faith unshaken, or less shakeable?

Unfortunately, since there is opposition in all things in this mortal journey, our faith can be shaken, damaged, and killed. This can happen to adults who have served in high levels in the Church. It can happen to our young people when, for example, they go to college and listen to the rantings of impressive but ignorant professors who mock belief in God or especially the Latter-day Saint faith. Sadly, the hostile agenda of the world can make it easy to be shaken. Few families have been spared from that sorrow.

I myself have been shaken a time or two. It occurred once when I was serving as a bishop and was even working hard on the side in bits of spare time to defend the Church from common anti-Mormon attacks. I encountered an argument that had turned away a man previously in the bishopric in our ward. It led to him founding a popular anti-Mormon website. The argument involved the Book of Abraham, and at the time, it was a convincing argument. The argument was that the original Egyptian scrolls used by Joseph Smith in his so-called translation had been discovered and now experts could read them and – surprise – they had nothing to do with Abraham. It was just the pagan Book of the Dead. Things like Facsimile 1 were ordinary Egyptian scenes. Facsimile 1 was an embalming scene, an ordinary funerary document. Joseph’s translation was hopelessly wrong, wrong, wrong. All fake. Ouch. I was shaken.

In facing that shaking, I was aided by my already strong testimony of the Book of Mormon that helped me understand that I should not be hasty in jumping to negative conclusions. My faith was shaken a little, but I was able to exercise more faith and be patient while looking for answers.

I soon found that there were answers to the attack that had been made. I found that critics I had read had somehow left out vital information that significantly changed the argument. They didn’t disclose that the documents that were discovered in 1967 were remnants, a tiny part of a much larger collection that included other longer scrolls. What was found does not match eyewitness accounts of the documents Joseph was translating. And they also failed to mention, of course, that there are significant cool things about the Book of Abraham that support its ancient origins. I’ll mention just one.

Facsimile 1, the drawing at the beginning of the Book of Abraham, which may have been added by Joseph from the collection or may have been intended to relate to the story by its Egyptian redactors, shows a man on a table with a man standing over him, knife in hand. The critics say this is an ordinary embalming scene of dead person. But look at that dead person. He has a leg sticking up. He's wearing shoes. His arms are raised. Other funeral scenes in Egyptian lore don’t show dead people that way. But this posture is typical in Egyptian literature and is actually very much like an Egyptian hieroglyphic. It means to praise or supplicate, as in prayer. It’s consistent what the Book of Abraham explains: Abraham was on an altar, about to be sacrificed for his opposition to idol worship, and he prays to the Lord for deliverance. Bingo. So interesting. But the critics leave such things out and report the fake news that the Book of Abraham has been completely destroyed by the evidence. They had temporarily fooled me and many other people.

There are still some big questions marks in some areas of the Book of Abraham debate and for many other areas of the Gospel where I don’t yet have easy answers, but I do know of a fascinating track record to keep in mind. The track record is that many things that seemed like weaknesses or blunders in the LDS scriptures 50 years ago or 150 years ago have turned into strengths over time.

Sadly, many of those who abandon their shaken faith because of some specific objection or problem do so without doing their homework. Some who have left write eloquent letters or web pages citing a host of anti-Mormon books or articles as if they are factual, and typically show little awareness of the excellent scholarship that has responded in detail and often refuted the attacks. They may leave without even being aware of the detailed resources that are listed on LDS.org (Google “Gospel Study Resources” at LDS.org) to help members learn more about some of the issues involving our faith and our scriptures. Those resources listed there include websites such as FairMormon.org, MormonInterpreter.com, Book of Mormon Central, and the Maxwell Institute at BYU (mi.byu.edu). The many evidences and answers and analyses provided there are not meant to create faith or replace testimony, but to help us better understand and appreciate the Gospel and to give hope to move forward in faith when facing a stumbling block. Shaken faith often needs first aid. Growing faith often needs intellectual nutrition and even inoculation to cope with future pestilence.

After my shaken faith regarding the Book of Abraham became a source of strength, I contacted the man I knew from my ward who was now running an anti-Mormon website. I told him I had gone through a similar challenge involving the Book of Abraham, but had found some fascinating new information that he apparently had missed which really changed things. Would he be willing to talk about this? He said no, whether he was right or wrong about the Book of Abraham, he had found many other things that he felt were wrong about the Church and he was sure he was right overall and was not willing to reconsider anything. That’s normal. We need to understand that when our loved ones have left, great patience may be needed, perhaps a lifetime of patience, though some will return soon. But the best time to deal with the arguments and issues is before faith has been completely abandoned. The time for us to reinforce our own faith and knowledge is now, while it’s alive.

And one of the best ways to strengthen and deepen faith, to build reservoirs of faith, is through experiencing the power and evidence provided by the Book of Mormon, the keystone of our religion, with Christ as the cornerstone and foundation. It is a book that we need to take more seriously, to study more deeply, and to do our homework now to deepen our faith in Christ and in the truth of the Restoration, for that can give us roots to cope in faith and patience with many other challenges that might come our way.

The Book of Mormon is a convincer. It’s purpose as stated by Mormon on the title page includes “convincing” Jews and Gentiles, all of us, basically, that Jesus is the Christ. This convincing power of the Book of Mormon has been essential for my own testimony and growth in the Church. It has been the key to bringing many people into the Church, including some very intelligent people. It is a book that begs for scrutiny, for research, for tough questions and analysis, and for thoughtful, prayerful contemplation. As one example of its convincing power, I’d like to share with you a story told by Reg Wilkins about his brother Victor Wilkins. Both men were prominent and highly acclaimed photographers in England who did photography for famous publications like Vogue magazine and many others. The story was written by Anne Bradshaw and published in Meridian Magazine at LDSMag.com in 2002. The title is “Award Winning British LDS Photographer, Reg Wilkins: His Conversion Story,” but it’s mostly about the conversion of his brother, Victor, who then brought Reg and over 100 other people into the Church. The title that I prefer, and the title of my talk today, is “Here, Take My Camera.”

On a warm June day in 1967, Reg’s younger brother, twenty-two year old Victor Wilkins, knowing nothing about The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, was taking photographs as he walked through London’s famous Hyde Park.

Reg tells the story. “As Victor gazed at the many great men of history carved in stone on the Park’s magnificent Albert Memorial, people like Beethoven, Bach and so on, my brother describes how the internal spiritual awakenings which had been building in his life for a while, caused him for the first time, to offer a deeply sincere prayer, and he asked: ‘Where does the great creative power such as these men had come from?’

“At that moment, to his surprise, words came to him that were completely unfamiliar – words from a book that he had never read nor had any knowledge of – but later discovered were from the Book of Mormon: ‘…..all things which are good cometh of God.’ (Moroni 7:12).

“Moved by the experience, Victor felt impelled to ask the source of the answer: ‘Well, as it was God, where is this God to be found?’

“‘Look for me now and you will find me’, came the reply.

“At this point, Victor thought this might be the beginning of some global quest, and that he might have to search the world over, possibly ending up in the Himalayas or somewhere similar. But he was so sure of the spiritual direction he was receiving, that he would have been more than prepared to do whatever was required.

“Victor sat down on the memorial steps pondering his spiritual experience, and became conscious that he was now looking at the statue of Prince Albert, sitting regally on a throne (to his mind, like God), with angels above spiraling upwards to a cross at the top of the memorial. Everything seemed to be converging to symbolize what the Spirit was now in the process of revealing to him. The experiences left him feeling tired and he felt that he should cross the street and sit in the quiet of the Royal Albert Hall.

“Once inside and seated, Victor put his head back to rest and as he looked upward, he was impressed by the massive, domed ceiling that resembled the universe and he began thinking about all the great activities that had happened in the Albert Hall over time.

“By now, the feeling that something hugely important was about to enter his life had saturated his heart and mind, and he wondered whether he ought to be trying to search the Albert Hall basements for some book or other for the truth as to where God was. After contemplation, he felt that he should leave the building and continue to follow the spiritually-directed inclinations he was receiving.

“The idea came to him that perhaps ‘the book’ might be found in one of the well-known museums due south of him, at the bottom of Exhibition Road. He set off in that direction-having no idea that this is where one of our chapels is located.

“As Victor walked, and wondered, he had a mixed sense of excitement and reverence for his unknown guiding force since his original question was such an important one. In his determination to get to the museums, he once more failed to notice a building that he had passed many times – the Hyde Park Chapel.

“However, in my brother’s words: ‘As I was looking ahead toward the museum, it was as if heavenly hands gently turned my head to the left so that I was now looking at a burst of light coming from a notice board poster. At the same time, an internal voice was telling me: ‘Concentrate on this as if your life depended on it, for it does’.’

“My brother said: ‘I felt transfixed, as if laser beams connected my eyes to the picture, which, as I drew closer, revealed the figure of the Saviour with his arms outstretched toward me and the people of ancient America who were also shown in the poster. At that wonderful moment, I felt as if a volcano of light was surging up inside me. I had the overwhelming sensation that this message was crucial.’

Reg continues. “At this point, a young sister missionary emerged from the chapel and asked Victor if he would like to know the history of the scene depicted in the poster. She explained that he could read about it in a special book of scripture called the Book of Mormon. Of course, my brother could hardly believe his ears.

“He recalls that the minute the book was placed in his hands and he flipped through its pages, he knew this was it, the book by which he could find God. He was also presented with a second hardbound book called Meet the Mormons. This was a fairly comprehensive, illustrated book outlining what Latter-day Saints believe. As well as fundamental beliefs, the second book gave an overview of church history, where the Book of Mormon came from, details about priesthood, the restoration, revelation, church government and more. When my brother returned home, three miles away, it was around 5:00pm.

“He commenced reading and didn’t stop until the following morning at 5:00am, having read Meet the Mormons in its entirety, and various parts of the Book of Mormon. “In Victor’s words: ‘I simply could not put the book down. I didn’t want to eat, or drink. As I became sleepy, I prayed for strength for further concentration and enlightenment. I read, I pondered, I prayed, I was taught by the Spirit, I read some more – and repeated that cycle through the entire night. By five a.m., I felt as though I could sleep for a thousand years and nodded off. Yet despite that, by eight a.m., I awoke feeling fully refreshed and with a burning desire to be baptized.’

“Victor immediately dressed and went to the Hyde Park chapel but, in his enthusiasm, failed to realize that no one would normally be there at that time in the morning. However, the Lord, knowing my brother’s faith and sincerity, provided missionary sisters who just ‘happened’ to go to the chapel at that unusual hour.

“As Victor related his experiences to the somewhat astounded missionaries – especially when he asked for immediate baptism – their response was understandably: ‘But you can’t be baptized yet, you don’t know enough. There are a series of discussions that we need to share with you first.’

“To this, my brother’s response was, ‘Fine, but its not necessary, because I know the Church is true. I’m ready to be baptized.’ One of the missionaries interjected, ‘But we need to teach you about things like tithing. Do you realize that members give ten percent of their income to the Church?’

“The missionaries were staggered when my brother replied, ‘Ten percent! Is that all? I would gladly give all that I have to know God, here, take my camera!’ He knew from their meeting the previous day that one of the missionaries admired his professional camera.

“The three, together with the mission president, later agreed that it would be wise to complete all the discussions, and soon after, Victor was baptized.
Victor did not join just because he had a warm feeling, an emotional response, with no need for thinking, learning and studying. His conversion began with deep pondering and intellectual activity. The Spirit led him not just to a fuzzy feeling, and not just to the Church, but to specific books, especially the Book of Mormon, that he studied with passion. Though brief, his study was intense and helped his prepared mind find the initial answers that he needed. He had learned that by seeking truth, by listening to and acting on the promptings of the Spirit, and then diving into what the Lord gave, that he was able to discover truth.

The image that the Lord told him to study as if his life depended on it was the painting of Christ ministering to the Nephites and Lamanites in the New World, a key Book of Mormon scene. And the promptings of the spirit led him to seek God not by wishing to find a church, but by wishing to find a book that might teach him, that might help reveal God to him. It was this book that the sister missionary at Hyde Park chapel offered him. It was the treasure of knowledge he was seeking.

Many of you are fortunate to have had the Book of Mormon in your life for years. But are you feasting on it? Do you treasure it? Have you experienced its convincing power to bring us to Christ and to help us overcome the clever arguments of the adversary and his eloquent and overpaid professors, the kind of people Paul warns against in 1 Timothy 6:20 when he tells us to “avoid profane and vain babblings, and opposition of science falsely so called”? There is a lot of fake news or distorted news and fake wisdom from our opponents, for which there often are solid responses and wise answers that can help us protect our faith and strengthen the faith of others. But our success will depend upon the depth of our roots and our experience with sacred scripture, especially the Book of Mormon, a book that is truer than ever, a book that we should study and learn about as if our lives depended on it. It is a precious book.

Victor Wilkins was ready to give up his camera and his career for the truth such a book could give him. Are we ready to give up the time and energy required to unearth the treasures that the Book of Mormon offers? I pray that we will take this more seriously.

Saturday, March 17, 2018

Jimmer Fredette, the "Lonely Master," Might Be Doing Better and Doing More in China than the Deseret News Thinks

Salt Lake City's Deseret News recently published a thoughtful, nicely written, but rather downbeat article about China's most popular basketball player, Jimmer Fredette, the star who once stunned US crowds while playing for Brigham Young University. The article, "Lonely Master: From March Madness to Shanghai, the Unlikely Journey of Jimmer Fredette" by Jesse Hyde, March 12, 2018, has many positive things to say about Jimmer, but the general tone of the article is that Jimmer has missed out on his US dreams and thus had to settle for something terribly inferior by coming to the grim and gritty land of China. As a biased China fan and a big fan of Jimmer, I think there's another perspective that ought to be considered.

Yes, the CBA (Chinese Basketball Association) is a far weaker competitive arena than the NBA, and yes, it is disappointing that his NBA career did not give him the opportunities and playing time he sought. But don't shed too many tears for Jimmer: things might not be all that grim.

The negative picture painted of China is a bit disappointing. Foreigners first coming here can be overwhelmed and challenged by some of the differences, but to those who give it a chance, it is a beautiful, exciting place. It is also a land of opportunity where Jimmer is visible and influential to millions of people in ways that would not be possible in Europe or the US.

I have met Jimmer and chatted a few times but don't know him well nor can I speak for him. But what he is doing here is remarkable and already has touched many people. His goodness, his honesty, his humility, and his high standards have also helped him touch people beyond what athletic skills alone could do. For someone who possibly might have a sense of a mission higher than temporal success alone, coming to China brings many opportunities to achieve greater good, while also benefiting from a shorter season and excellent pay. Seems like a win/win to me. His presence in China just might be part of something big, at least in the minds of some of his fans here.

One of those fans, a Communist Party official, requested a chance to meet Jimmer last year. I was honored to be part of the little gathering where introductions were made. Jimmer with his characteristic class and humility brought gifts for the Chinese men who had come -- framed photos of him as keepsakes. I received a photo, too. They were thrilled. Before Jimmer showed up, one man in the small group, a business leader in charge of the large complex where we rent some beautiful space to hold LDS services, chattered excitedly about Jimmer and quoted statistics from Jimmer's games when he was at BYU and in China. I loved his enthusiasm for Jimmer and the sport. The official (I think he was the source) had gifts also, a terrific album of Chinese postage stamps. It was a beautiful souvenir for each of the foreigners at this event, which I'm proudly holding in the photo below.

With typical Jimmer class, Jimmer noticed a couple of keenly interested staff members from the little cafe where we met and invited them to get their photos taken also. It was a big day for all of us.

The Deseret News article makes numerous references to the pollution of China and Jimmer's depressing situation here. The lead paragraph suggests he can't see much of the skyline in Shanghai due to pollution (yes, we have pollution and some days visibility is noticeably reduced, but we have a lot of beautiful days and air quality is improving). His apartment is "empty, lonely, a place he just crashes, so devoid of personal effects...." (Say, do NBA players living in cities away from home during the season move all their personal effects to their temporary residences? Really?) Regarding some reminders of his wife and daughter in his apartment: "Sometimes he needs those reminders. Like when he’s in Shanxi, a gritty industrial city where the gray dust blows from the cement factories and the grime is so thick he could scribble his name on the windows of parked cars." And when he's in Shanghai, in spite of the wealth and good food here, "even here, the air carries a slight whiff of chemicals you can almost taste. It’s hard not to want to be somewhere else."

At this point in reading the article, I wondered if the staff of the Deseret News have ever been in Salt Lake City during the winter months, when the winter inversion traps pollution in the Salt Lake Valley and leads to painfully high levels of particles, nitrogen oxide, and other pollutants? Of if they have ever been near operations of the massive copper mine that scars the Valley? Or drove through Utah County in the days when the Geneva Steel works were cranking out massive whiffs of chemicals into the air? Or if they have lived near a pulp and paper mill in the United States? Plenty of whiffs there (unlike the generally more advanced pulp mills in China and Japan that can be essentially free of odor).

As for Salt Lake's air quality challenges and the irony of the article's incessant complaints about China, I think the Deseret News needs a reminder. Here's one, a view from the LA Times, Feb. 2, 2017, on an article which discusses Utah's "really bad smog problem":

Other tantalizing reminders of how the outside world views Salt Lake and its grimy winter air include Popular Science's 2017 article, "Inside Salt Lake City's Dreary, Dangerous Smog Dome";  the 2016 Fox13 report, "Inversion Conditions in Utah Worse than Ever; Area Hospitals See Spike in Patients" -- complete with genuinely grim video of a frighteningly bad pollution; or an older "Salt Lake City Being Smothered by Smog" from CBS News (2013), which stated that at that time, Salt Lake was experiencing the worst air quality in the country. Also see Powder Magazine's "Smog Lake City: Salt Lake City Chokes on Its Own Smoggy Air," which has a terrific photo illustrating the inversion layer phenomenon. (After looking at that and thinking about what I used to breathe there, I'm going to feel real sorry for any Chinese athletes from beautiful Shanghai who someday have to settle for a pro gig in Salt Lake City.)

Shanghai air can get smoggy and is typically worse than most places in the US (though also typically  better than Beijing), but apart from an occasional painter using oil-based paint or a vehicle burning too much oil, as in almost any city, noticeable "whiffs of chemicals" are something I generally don't experience here, unless those chemicals include the cinnamon aromas coming from Shanghai's amazing Cinnaswirl bakery with world-class cinnamon rolls, or from the intoxicating smells of any of the hundreds of different cuisines available in Shanghai. Those are whiffs you really can almost taste, and yes, chemicals are involved, but tasty natural ones. OK, we do have stinky tofu, which does have a noticeable smell from its own unusual natural chemistry -- maybe that's what the writer encountered here. But you can just take a few steps and be free of that. No need to taste. (But even that can be quite good, as I was surprised to learn.)

China has pollution, certainly. There are spots that are gritty or grimy, just as in America. But it's also one of the most beautiful and exciting places to live, especially Shanghai. For me personally, my respiratory health during my nearly seven years in Shanghai has been much better than it was in the US, where I would often get bronchitis or other issues in winter. Life for me as a teenager in Salt Lake City was especially rough during winter due to respiratory problems. Here it's been great and I've almost never had to miss work due to illness. One or two days for an injury, but my health has been terrific. Part of that is from the food, which is high in fresh produce and generally quite healthy.

Update, March 18, 2018: Today I spoke with the China President and co-founder of a major global company who currently lives in Shanghai. He has spent much more time with Jimmer than I have and has frequently had him in his home. He noted that the Deseret News article was rich in irony, given that Utah is often depicted as a second-rate location for professional athletes or other professionals. It's viewed as a boring, backward place with bad weather, bad food, and a strange culture. Pity the pros who sign a contract to work there. Now here's a Utah newspaper saying much the same about another athlete going to China.

To illustrate this irony, see, for example, "Do We Have to Play There? The Top Five Places NBA Players Dread to Play" at Bleacher Report, where Utah was once rated in the top five worst places for NBA players, partly because of "the fact that there is little to do in Salt Lake, and the weather is terrible for most of the season." Terrible weather? See the Dec. 2017 report from the Salt Lake Tribune, whose headline speaks of "The dirty, cough-inducing inversion fog hanging over the Wasatch Front." Makes me relieved to be in Shanghai!

One of the saddest parts and most distressing of the Deseret News article was the image it created of poor Jimmer not being able to find good food in China. The unfortunate athlete has to just smile and ask the waitress for plain old rice because what's on the menu is horrific: "cow’s brain" (which I don't recall ever seeing on a menu in my six years of adventure here) or "live chicken head" (I have seen chicken served with the head, certainly an oddity for Americans, but the roasted or boiled chicken always seemed dead to me). When we discussed this report about Jimmer's alleged diet of rice when eating out, the corporate leader I spoke with who knows Jimmer was rather surprised. He explained that Jimmer, more than anyone else he knows here, loves eating out at numerous different restaurants and trying different dishes. It appears that he's an adventurous eater. Perhaps he's been in a bad restaurant a time or two that only had strange stuff, but there's no need to shed tears for Jimmer about living off of rice alone.

Further, can you imagine a coach and fellow team members letting their star player just sit there and starve because there's nothing to eat except cow's brain? Any city with a basketball team will have pizza or whatever else your key player wants. Anyone who has spent more than a few days in China should know that once you learn a little about Chinese food, there are many great options and good food can be found even in remote small towns. There's some kind of misunderstanding in the article's coverage of Jimmer's diet.

If you love good food, China offers an incredible diversity, even within the category of purely Chinese food, with fabulous delights from the distinct cuisines of Guanzhou (Cantonese), Shanghai, the Yangzhou/Jiangsu area, Shandong, Xi'An (such fabulous noodles!), Beijing, Xinjiang Province, Yunnan (a favorite of mine, somewhat similar to Thai), Hunan, Sichuan, Anhui, Tibet,  Mongolia (for a real change of pace), and many more. No nation has better produce, better and more interesting fruit, or more delicious and diverse mushrooms (a favorite of mine). Seafood in America is boring and so often overcooked compared to even basic seafood here, which is almost always tender and tantalizing. Chinese food lacks the excess sugar often encountered in the US and for me has been remarkably healthy, as far as I can tell, and so delicious.

There's no reason for Jimmer to go hungry, and it seems that this is not a real problem. However, there is a need for a little card in Chinese that foreigners can carry to explain at restaurants what they can't eat and what they like to eat, so that nobody needs to leave a restaurant having eaten only rice due to fear of unknown horror from a menu. That's one of my resolutions in the near future, to create this kind of resource to help new arrivals in China learn to better cope with ordering Chinese food. Jimmer probably has no need of such a resource, but it might help some other lonely master.

Speaking of loneliness, the article makes much of the fact that Jimmer is living away from his family during the (short) basketball season here. Is this really unusual? NBA players get traded a lot, they are on the road a lot, and sometimes it just makes sense for the spouse and kids to settle in one location while day is away working. There's a lot of loneliness during basketball season. For Jimmer, this was not a new issue after coming to China. As reported in a 2014 news story about Whitney Fredette:
The Fredettes chose not to live in New Orleans, where Jimmer currently plays for the Pelicans. Whitney said the couple moved around every six months or so between Jimmer’s stints with the Sacramento Kings and Chicago Bulls. They currently own a home in Colorado.
So Jimmer was based in New Orleans while Whitney was apparently in Colorado. Understandable. Being in China makes it harder to shuttle back and forth, but whether in the NBA or CBA, professional sports requires coping with bouts of loneliness. I'll bet that NBA players stationed in cities away from their homes often are like Jimmer, not caring to decorate their temporary apartments with lots of personal effects. Is this really so surprising? If Jimmer's NBA experienced had turned out better, would things be any different? Once children come and a family needs a stable home, loneliness during the season may be fairly common. Don't blame China.

I'm disappointed with how much misunderstanding there is about China in the West. The "Lonely Master" article doesn't help. Come give China a chance. It's one of the nicest places in the world, in my opinion. And one of the safest and tastiest.

The NBA/CBA lifestyle can be challenging, but don't blame China for that. Anyplace can seem grim when you are away from family, but with such a short playing season, we hope that Jimmer can continue to thrive here and increasingly experience the beauty and wonders of China.

As a reminder of the surprising beauty and sometimes even miraculous nature of life in Shanghai, here are images of one of Shanghai's secrets: its impressive angels rising from the ground to watch over this city (more about the Shanghai angels and their story is on my Shake Well Blog at JeffLindsay.com). May Jimmer continue to be among them.


Here are a few more scenes from China, starting with two from Xian in Shaanxi Province (not the same as Shanxi Province), one from Zhangjiajie (where some of the setting for the movie Avatar was filmed -- it really is that beautiful), and the rest from the Shanghai area. For more, see the Chinese pages in my photography portal.

Finally, here's a couple views of one of Jimmer's favorite Shanghai spots, the Shanghai Disney Castle
and Cinderella's Castle in the beautiful, high-tech, and generally not so grimy Shanghai Disneyland, my favorite Disney park. That's the kind of grimness almost anyone can enjoy.

Wednesday, March 07, 2018

The Broken Tooth: Guest Post from Sister Deb Roundy, New Missionary in Vanuatu

One of Shanghai's most interesting and famous foreigners, Debra Roundy from Idaho, has left Shanghai to serve with her husband, Carlos Roundy, as a missionary couple in Vanuatu. She was famous in Shanghai partially because of her years of work in dance with local Shanghai social dance groups and has been on TV and in the newspaper numerous times. Now she's in a much smaller and very different place, a mysterious island nation that has the world's greatest diversity in languages. 

One of her recent posts reflecting on her service and her experiences in Shanghai caught my eye, and I asked if she would be willing to share it here on Mormanity. After further work and additions, she has kindly submitted the following account in a story called "The Broken Tooth."

"The Broken Tooth"

Guest post by Sister Deb Roundy, missionary in Vanuatu

For several years in the 1980’s-1990’s, I was able to attend LDS Woman’s Conference in Provo. One year they told us that soon they would be starting a Humanitarian arm of the church. I was excited. I listened, watched and waited. Finally it started up. At first we were given simple directions to make school, hygiene and new baby kits to mail into Salt Lake. Then things grew, eventually they started having projects at the Woman’s Conference. By then I had made many kits. A friend of mine, Kathy Duncan, started taking shipments down to Salt Lake. She was put in the stake Relief Society Presidency and started two Humanitarian Days a year. Soon she was taking her horse trailer filled with donations from the good sisters of the Rupert area.

When my daughter Seresa was a senior in high school, about 1996, she was working on her senior project for learning skills such as leadership and organization as seniors do something good to help the world.  She chose to make school bags to be given to the Humanitarian Center for distribution wherever needed in the world.

That year we had Inga, an exchange student from Russia, living with us. I was also a counselor for exchange students and our area had been able to sponsor two students from Russia. It was the first year Russian Exchange students were sent to the USA and it was on a special scholarship.   I was able to get funds thanks to a donation by a local bank to take Inga and another student from Russia, Kirill, to a BSA Scout camp, Philmont.

We decided to take the school bags down to the Humanitarian Center in Salt Lake City on the way to Philmont.  We arrived at the center and turned in the bags, then took a tour.  We started at a big blackboard covered with names of places. Our guide informed us that this is where the next shipments of supplies would be going. To our great surprise and delight one shipment was going to an orphanage in the town where Inga lived and another to the very town that Kirill lived.  What an amazing occurrence.  Both of them were thrilled that their people would be helped.

We continued on visiting the rooms full of supplies. We saw bundles of good clothes compressed in 100 pound bundles.  They would be sent to Africa and sold for very little money to clothing sellers in Africa who would, in turn, sell the clothes cheaply to the people in their village.  We had learned that if you just give the people clothing, the clothes seller has no income to feed his family so instead we sell it for what they can afford, and then the entire economy of the village can improve. People buy his clothes so he has money to buy food and goods from other villagers who in turn have money to buy more clothes.

We saw lots of medical supplies ready for shipment.  Hospitals might donate their excess or doctors might clean their offices and then donate so they could have tidy offices.

We saw school kits such as my daughter made being prepared for shipment.  The guide told us stories of places in Africa where paper was so priceless that children would take a gum wrapper to write assignments on. They would first write back and forth, then up and down. Then they would turn the wrapper to the side and write diagonally.  Last they would turn the wrapper to the other side and write yet one more time.  Erasing was done with care so as not to tear the paper.  Every scrap was precious. Pencils donated and sent to Africa might be broken in two to be passed to more children.  Things that we have a lot of we learned were precious commodities in some places in the world.  Some of these children would now have notebooks full of paper and pencils to share as well as other needed supplies.  We learned that they always share when they get a school kit.

School kits being assembled for shipment and then a distribution point

We had toured most of the facility and the teens were a bit tired so she invited them to sit down for a few minutes and rest. She then signaled me to follow her as she had something she wanted me to see while the kids rested. The guide took me into a special room. She was excited. It was filled floor to ceiling with medical textbooks. Row after row and shelf after shelf after shelf of brand new medical text books donated by book companies.  “See all these medical text books, they are ready for shipment,” she said excitedly.

We have to translate all of the books into many of the world's languages. It takes five years.  By then the text books are obsolete but it is all we could do.  Now we are starting a new program sending English teachers throughout the world to teach English.  Then the doctors can read the text books themselves and have the latest in research and development immediately available to them.  (This was before the internet, think of it now!) This was a passion for her.

She then said, you are a teacher, maybe someday when you retire you'll be teaching English somewhere in the world and helping us to bring the latest in medical developments to the entire world.  These doctors are very intelligent, they just need one tool to help them, English. It is more time effective and cost effective to send teachers to teach them English than it is to translate books that will be obsolete before we can get them in the hands of those who need them. We are just starting now. Think of the possibilities!

That was about in 1996, so almost 20 years have passed. In those twenty years we have seen an unprecedented explosion of knowledge as the world has never seen before.  The internet is available in almost every place on the entire planet, and much of it is in English. It has been interesting to watch the internet grow and flourish.

Last week [Deb wrote this while in Shanghai] on October 31, 2015 I broke off a big chunk of my back right molar tooth. I would have to see a dentist, and soon. I worried. Would he have the latest technology? Maybe he would just pull the tooth, but the roots were still good. What would happen?

I arrived at the dental clinic, sponsored by my university, Tongji University [a prominent university in northeastern Shanghai]. Some of my students were studying to be dentists. A friend of mine who lives in the Xuhui area [in western Shanghai, near the French Concession region] travels clear across town to go to the dental hospital there so it must be a good one. Still I was a bit apprehensive.

When I arrived someone came to help me fill out the paperwork. He was very polite and helpful. He had good English. I went to see the doctor and she looked at the tooth. It was bad, worse than they had expected. I had not been able to explain it adequately to the person who was my liaison and would help me. She had sent me to a regular dentist. I was sent to a specialist in the same building.

The new dentist was apprehensive. He felt he did not speak good enough English and he was worried. The dental nurse told him to use sign language and we both laughed. It put us at ease. I was assuring him that it would be alright, instead of him assuring me.

He looked at the tooth and at the x-ray I had brought. The entire upper surface of the tooth would need to be rebuilt. He could not tell me what he was doing but soon I relaxed as I knew what he was doing. My dentist in the USA had done the same. He took an impression of my mouth. I knew he was going to make a new porcelain tooth. He did it just like my dentist in the USA had. I recognized all of the steps. He had all of the latest equipment and the latest training.

He had to hammer the old tooth off, but when he saw that it hurt, even just a little, he gave me a shot with some stuff to numb it and just a little, not too much so my mouth was ok. I do not like too much and he was able to understand my sign language and limited, very limited Mandarin.

He took an impression then put a temporary tooth on. He patiently drilled the temporary down just right so it would be comfortable for the week I needed it. He would then have a new tooth made. We even chose out a good color to match the other teeth so it would look right.

Soon enough it was done. I left the clinic assured that I had a good dentist with the latest technology.

Then as I walked to the metro station I remembered long ago going to the Humanitarian Center and seeing the room full of medical text books. I knew that Brigham Young University had had teachers at Tongji for almost 20 years. The first teachers had come in 1997, about a year after I had been at the Humanitarian Center with my daughter and been invited to someday be an English teacher overseas. I realized that the doctor had possibly had a BYU-CTP teacher for a semester or two. If not him, then others at the clinic may have. Those doctors may have read the English medical text books and share the information with their colleges. In some way it is likely that my dentist had been given knowledge as a result of the BYU-CTP. I was directly helped by the program as my dentist had communicated with me. I was literally experiencing the results of our program to share with the world to bring to the world the latest in medical technology. Not only can we share our technology but they can share theirs. My work with students will help them have the knowledge and courage to travel, and to share their discoveries as they research, experiment and present at conferences all over the world.

As I searched the web I learned that now we provide English lessons free of charge. Free English lessons are available all over the world, even in Utah and Idaho for people who have come to the USA from other countries.

Sister Roundy doing a community service volunteer presentation for the Tianping Community Center

I wrote one of my dental students and he was so pleased to hear it. I think it will give him the drive to learn English even better. I know it gives me the will to teach English the best I can to my students.

What a special opportunity a broken tooth became for me, it enriched my life.

Carlos and me with some BYU-CTP teachers. We can only stay with this program for three years so we are “graduated” with the BYU-CTP but continued on for two more years, then returned and volunteered with the community we had grown to love for 3 months, until we returned to the USA to prepare for a humanitarian mission in Vanuatu.

Here are a few pictures of Humanitarian Days we had in Idaho and I used to be involved in.

The pictures up to the x-ray of the tooth all came from the church website.

The tooth x-ray was made by my dentist. The other pictures are mine. My student gave me permission to use his picture to share with others.

The large picture of sisters was taken by someone, not me.

Friday, March 02, 2018

New Life for Ancient Word Plays in the Book of Mormon: Paanchi, Ankh, and Deadly Oaths

It's no secret that secret combinations are one of the most salient and intelligent aspects of the Book of Mormon. The patterns of behavior and potential dangers in exposed secret combinations, ranging from the Mafia to the Mao Mao rebellion in Kenya or the Triads of Asia,  show many elements familiar to the Book of Mormon, including their desire and ability to permeate, influence, or control government. Oaths involving upon the life of someone, even God himself, are part of the pattern of secret combinations that ultimately led to the destruction of two great civilizations in the Book of Mormon.

New insights related to these oaths are revealed in newly proposed Old World word plays in the Book of Mormon. See the latest article at The Interpreter by Matthew L. Bowen "'Swearing by Their Everlasting Maker': Some Notes on Paanchi and Giddianhi,Interpreter: A Journal of Mormon Scripture 28 (2018): 155-170. An excerpt follows:
From the beginning of the abridged Book of Helaman, much of Mormon’s remaining narrative history details the formation, development, and proliferation of oath-bound secret combinations among the Nephites and their eventual fatal impact on Nephite society. The common Egyptian lexeme ʿn — which as a verb means “to live” and as a noun denotes “life”1 — also denotes “to swear”2 as a verb and “oath”3 as a noun and constitutes a common onomastic element. Even in its primary meaning, “to live,” the use of ʿn is attested abundantly in oaths during Lehi’s time (cf. the Late Egyptian oath-formula ʿn n=i NN, “As NN lives for me”).4 Thus, the twofold mention of the name Paanchi (Helaman 1:3, 7) in the immediate context of the first recorded swearing of an oath-bound secret combination (“swearing by their everlasting Maker,” Helaman 1:11) among the Nephites emphasizes this moment as a key event in the ill fated Nephite history. Understanding the semantic range of meaning for Egyptian ʿn to include “oath” and “swear” also helps us appreciate the irony highlighted by Mormon’s inclusion of Giddianhi’s epistolary “oath” as a failed attempt by the latter to intimidate Lachoneus and his people into surrender (see especially 3 Nephi 3:8). 

Thus, both Paanchi and Giddianhi appear to share the Egyptian onomastic element –anchi/anhi/ʿn(i), and Mormon mentions both names in connection with the rise of the secret combinations that eventually overtook the Lamanite and Nephite societies, contributing to the destruction of the latter. Mormon, amid the decay and collapse of Nephite society, had striking personal reasons for their inclusion....

The Book of Mormon attests the name Paanchi twice (Helaman 1:3, 7). As John Gee has noted,9 Paanchi, as a form of the common Egyptian name p3 ʿn, most plausibly denotes “the living one” (transliterated in Greek as Ponchēs).10 The name “the living one” could have reference to a specific deity (cf. the title, “the living God,” Moses 5:29),11 but also to a person/child who lives (cf. Joseph’s Egyptian cognomen, Zaphnath-paaneah = “The god has said, ‘He shall live’” [paanēa = p3 ʿn], Genesis 41:45).12 Mortality rates — not least infant mortality rates — were extremely high in the ancient world.

In addition to the above, I would here point out that the Egyptian lexeme ʿn (vb. “live,” n. “life”) had additional derived meanings. Perhaps the most important secondary meaning of ʿn as a verb was to “swear” and as a noun it also meant “oath.”
While there is much more meat to be explored in the clever ways Mormon links both Paanchi and Gadianton and Giddianhi to ancient concepts of robbers and their oaths, one thing that caught my eye was the link between the authentic Egyptian name Paanchi. meaning "the living one" and parental hopes that a newborn might survive, discussed in the second-to-last paragraph above. Also see the Book of Mormon Onomasticon on Paanchi:
PAANCHI is quite plausibly the EGYPTIAN name p3-ʿnh first attested in the Thirteenth Dynasty (ca. 1800-1600 B.C.)[1] becoming popular from the Twenty-First through Twenty-Seventh Dynasties,[2] and surviving until Roman times (transcribed into Greek as Ponchēs)[3] The name means "the living one."[4] (JG). Hugh Nibley has suggested that this is the same name as the Twenty-Fifth Dynasty Pharaoh,[5] although that pharaoh's name has also been read as Piye.[6]
Paanchi would seem to be a good and hopeful name to be selected by parents worried about high infant mortality rates.

Interestingly, in Brian Stubbs' work, Exploring the Explanatory Power of Semitic and Egyptian in Uto-Aztecan (Provo, UT: Grover Publications, 2015), one of his over 400 parallels between Uto-Aztecan and Egyptian is item #427 on p. 144, where he finds multiple UA languages sharing a word possibly related to ankh that refers to infants:
427 Egyptian(F) ʕnx ‘to live, v, (living) person, n’:
UACV-141 *onka / *oŋa ‘baby’: I.Num15 *oŋa(a)(’a) 'baby, child, young (of animals)’; M88-’o15 ‘baby’; KH/M06-’o15: NP(Yerington) oha'a 'baby'; NP(McDermitt) onka’a; NP oŋa’a ‘baby’ (Snapp, Anderson, Anderson 1982, 20); NP(B) oha’a; Mn ’owaa’ ‘sound of baby crying’; Mn owaa’-cci-cci’ / owaa’-nugu’ ‘baby’; TSh ohmaa(cci) 'little baby' (Dayley); Sh ohmaa 'baby'; Sh pa’ohmaa ‘water baby’; WSh ohaa(cci) ‘baby’; WSh pa’ohaa ‘water baby’; Cm ohnáa' 'a baby'; SP oa-C/N 'young of animals'; SP ïŋaa’- ‘baby’, SP paa-ïŋaa’-ppici ‘water baby’; Ch ïŋa’apici. A medial cluster *-nk- > -ŋ- in NP and SP further lenites elsewhere, Iannucci’s reconstruction *oŋa serving well. TSh and/or Sh have forms with and without -m-, so the -maa forms likely contain another morpheme, perhaps *mara ‘little’. [medial cluster w/hm/hn/ŋ/ø] [e1,e2,e3] [NUA: Num]
Here UACV refers to a dictionary of Uto-Aztecan, and the asterisk in *onka means it is a reconstructed Proto-UA form. Specific UA languages are referred to in abbreviations  (see list in my related post on Brian Stubbs' work) like NP (Northern Paiute),  Mn (Mono), TSh (Tumpishia Shoshone), SP (Southern Paiute), Ch (Chemehuevi, a Numic language in Nevada), and WSh (Western Shoshone).

Perhaps Egyptian parents weren't the only ones who gave a hopeful name like Paanchi to their newborn babes. It would be interesting to see if in UA languages, an ancient "onka" root was also used in personal names.

Also of potential interest is Stubbs' item 406, p. 142, where Egyptian b' (ram, soul) shows the same pair of meanings in UA (bighorn sheep, all living creatures) in Proto-UA *pa'aC/ *pa'at (bighorn sheep) and *pa'a (living beings). The occurrences of such double meanings across language families adds to the richness of the proposed relationship between ancient Egyptian and UA languages, for which the number of parallels following regular sound changes already exceed the standards often used to establish common language families among New World languages.

Paanchi looks like an interesting Book of Mormon name whose Old World relationships may have persisted in various forms in UA languages. But did the name itself persist? An interesting question for further exploration, perhaps.

Interestingly, the name Paanchi not only provides an eyebrow-rising example of a clearly Old World name among the Nephites, but the adjacent text in the Book of Mormon suggests an editorial awareness of the meaning of that name as it is employed it in an appropriate way to underscore a key Book of Mormon theme via an apparent word play, as is also done for names of robbers, including a name using the same ankh-related root. It gets even more interesting when we see some traces of these roots in the Uto-Aztecan language family.

It's surprising how many apparent Old World word plays are present in the Book of Mormon. They typically add to the meaning and increase our understanding of the intent of the authors -- in other words, there is explanatory power in the apparent word play. Many have been discovered just in the past two years. The text is rich in such surprises.

Of course, chance alone can create a lucky apparent word play, a stray Hebraism, a random chiasmus, or a blunder of a name like Alma that ends up having archaeological evidence later confirming that it was an authentic man's name in ancient Israel after all. Here the shear volume and high quality of such occurrences weigh against blind luck. The volume of linguistic connections between each of two distinct varieties of Hebrew and Egyptian with Uto-Aztecan leave little room for random chance, while also fitting patterns with explanatory power, including the power to resolve long-standing mysteries in the study of Uto-Aztecan. The volume of Hebraisms, the richness and vast extant of apparently deliberate chiasmus, and the large number of word plays point to ancient origins that simply cannot be dismissed as a bullseye's drawn around a few random targets that hit something. Just the recently discovered word plays identified by Matthew Bowen at The Interpreter, often abounding in detail and explanatory power, offer a treasure to contemplate. But there are others as well. It's a field worthy of reflection and much more research.

Monday, February 26, 2018

Update on Horses in the Book of Mormon

One of the toughest challenges for the Book of Mormon is the issue of horses. At first glance, it's a simple case for rejecting the book. The Book of Mormon speaks of horses used by Book of Mormon peoples, and yet there is no proof of such a thing. In fact, horses went extinct in the Americas thousands of years before they show up in the Book of Mormon. Bingo. The book is bogus.

Several recent publications on this topic deserve to be considered:
Both of these are now mentioned on my related Mormon Answers (LDSFAQ) page, "Questions About Problems with Plants and Animals in the Book of Mormon."

These new publications remind us of some vital issues that are often overlooked by those criticizing the Book of Mormon:

1) In Joseph's day, it was understood that horses simply were not in the ancient Americas at all. It was only after the Book of Mormon was published that it became known that there were ancient horses, elephants, and camels here long ago. So yes, these animals were in the Americas, but are believed to have gone extinct well before Book of Mormon times.

2) The last surviving groups of any extinct animal are likely to be present long after the apparent extinction date because fossilized or preserved remains of any species are very rare, and thus the apparent "last" remains found are rarely the actual last animal that existed. The difference between reported extinction date and the actual persistence of a species can be hundreds or thousands of years, or, in some cases, millions of years when species once thought to be extinct were found to still exist (e.g., the coelacanth fish).

3) It is possible that in some regions, now-extinct animals such as the horse might have persisted long after the apparent extinction of the species. Recent evidence also shows some mammoths lived long past the previously recognized extinction date in northern North America. It could be that some surviving horses were found and exploited by Nephites when they arrived. They are not mentioned after the time of Christ, as if they had gone extinct by then.

4) Pre-Columbian remains of horses in the Americas raise the possibility that horses were present for a while in Book of Mormon lands during Book of Mormon times. Both of the above papers provide detailed evidence that needs to be part of future debates on this topic.

5) Finding remains of ancient animals in a hot, humid climate with an acidic soil, typical of Mesoamerica, is extremely unlikely. However, the cooler climate of caves represents a possible place where such remains might endure, and this is where some of the most promising finds have been made. The many decades it took to find any physical evidence of horses among the ancient huns, whose empire was based on heavy use of horses, reminds us of how difficult it is to find animal remains among ancient peoples that used them, especially when the animal is edible (and rather tasty, according to some of my friends in Europe -- for a while I lived next to a horse butcher shop in Switzerland).

6) While it is possible that the word "horse" might have been applied to another species,  in light of evidence that horses were in the Americas anciently and in light of at least some traces of horse remains among pre-Columbian Native Americans, assuming that actual horses were meant is a reasonable approach. Of course, much more work is needed in this area. Meanwhile, the hard evidence presented by Johnson and further evidence discussed by Miller and Roper should not be overlooked.

[The following four paragraphs were added Feb. 28, 2018.]

Critics have asked where are horses in Mesoamerican art if they were still around in Book of Mormon times? I would also like to point out that the horses among the Nephites may have been unusual or rare animals that became fully extinct before the end of the Nephite record. If they were not a significant part of life for Book of Mormon peoples, they may also have not been important or significant in other neighboring cultures. If they became fully extinct in Book of Mormon lands by, say 50 AD, there is no reason to expect Mesoamerican art from later times to show them. What we have from earlier times is a minute fraction of what remains to be excavated. The lack of clear horse figures in what we have so far from the early Book of Mormon period is not conclusive evidence that horses or other animals were not present in the Americas then.

None of this will satisfy the critics. But keep in mind that horses in the Book of Mormon are one of the biggest weaknesses in a book abounding with strengths. If the book is true, as I believe it is, it should hardly be surprising that serious unresolved questions marks persist in some areas. Apparent weaknesses need to be considered in light of the strengths as well, such as the abundance of evidence from the Arabian Peninsula, the Old World elements such as Hebraic word plays and poetical elements throughout the Book of Mormon, the reliable and compelling evidence from numerous witnesses of the plates and the translation process, etc. Further, the weakness of uncertain horses in the Book of Mormon is an area with a hint of a familiar trend: what seemed to be a blunder contrary to common knowledge in 1830 ("no horses ever existed here anciently -- they came from the Spaniards") later changed in light of fossil evidence showing horses were here and actually originated in the Americas. The problem shifted to one of timing relative to their apparent extinction before the Nephites arrived. But the extinction date has been pushed back, and now there is at least tentative though not widely accepted evidence of actual horses in the Americas during Book of Mormon times.

Just as the common knowledge that America's wild horses came from recent Spanish horses didn't manage to inform the authors of the Book of Mormon (whether that was Joseph and fellow conspirators or ancient writers), that "horse sense" may be lacking among the animals themselves.  Daniel Johnson's paper notes the discrepancy between Spanish horses and possible release of Spanish horses with the common type of horses favored by some Indian tribes, raising legitimate questions about the origins of these animals. A recent study on wild horse DNA in British Columbian horses also raises the possibility that non-Spanish origins are important, though this does not necessarily mean the horses have ancient American origins, but could have descended from other Old World imports. It's an area for further research, but one that keeps the door open for the unexpected result that wild horses in the Americas may have been here all along and are not all descended from horses introduced by the Spaniards or others. See E. Gus Cothran and Wayne P. McCrory, "A Preliminary Genetic Study of the Wild Horse (Equus Caballus) in the Brittany Triangle (Tachelach'ed) Region of the ?Elegesi Qayus (Nemiah) Wild Horse Preserve of British Columbia," The Long Riders Guild Academic Foundation, Nov. 2014, http://www.lrgaf.org/articles/Wild%20Horse%20DNA%20Report%202015.pdf.

Interestingly, DNA evidence is also overturning other aspects of previously established knowledge about horses. See "Surprising new study redraws family tree of domesticated and 'wild' horses," Science Daily, February 22, 2018, https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2018/02/180222145132.htm. See an interesting response to this story from Straight from the Horse's Heart (rtfitchauthor.com).

As a reminder of common knowledge on horses being from the Spaniards, here is an excerpt from the article "Equus" in the British Encyclopedia, vol. 3, printed in 1809. An American version of this came out in 1819.

Likewise, the opening page of Jedidiah Morse's popular American Gazetteer printed in 1809 reminds us that the wild horses used by an Indian tribe in South America were, of course, introduced by the Spaniards:

If Joseph were the literati that he seems to have been, based on the evolving narrative used to explain key Book of Mormon evidence, one must ask why he would be ignorant of the well-known fact that horses and elephants were not ever present in the ancient Americas? Why did he not possess the common knowledge that horses were introduced by the Spaniards? For a guy who is pulling arcane information off of elite maps of Arabia and accessing libraries of cutting-edge information to add little bits and pieces of plausibility to the book, it seems bizarre that he would suddenly fail to consult his technical advisory team when it came to animals in the Book of Mormon -- and then manage to have his animal blunders (like many other former blunders in the book) at least given a touch of hope by later fossil finds showing that they actually were native to the Americas anciently. But it seems that this is still mostly too ancient for comfort -- so far, though Daniel Johnson's discussion of the evidence raises significant hopes that there is much more than we've recognized that has already been found. Stay tuned.

Sunday, February 25, 2018

Worse Than I Thought: Apologies for My Mistake about the CES Letter and Joseph's Cosmology

In my previous post, "Joseph Smith and the Concept of Multiple Inhabited Worlds: Just Simple Borrowing from Others?," I made a serious blunder when I criticized the CES Letter regarding their claims about Joseph Smith's cosmology, and for that mistake I must apologize. The problem is worse than I thought. That is, the CES Letter's analysis was far worse than I thought, and thus I blundered by being far too gentle. So sorry!

In my overly superficial treatment, I thought the big headline for their analysis of Joseph's cosmology, aimed at showing a book by Thomas Dick was a key source for Joseph, was getting things wrong about the eternal nature of matter. They claimed Dick taught that seemingly novel doctrine of Joseph's, but Dick rather clearly advocates creation ex nihilo. Big mistake for the CES Letter, yes, but I was seriously remiss in letting it go at that. For starters, I should have more vehemently called out the CES Letter for claiming (via Klaus Hansen) that "Dick’s lengthy book, an ambitious treatise on astronomy and metaphysics, proposed the idea that matter is eternal and indestructible and rejected the notion of a creation ex nihilo." Just plain wrong and deceptive. But it gets worse.

In almost the next sentence from their star expert, Hansen, the CES Letter informs us that
Dick speculated that many of these stars were peopled by “various orders of intelligences” and that these intelligences were “progressive beings” in various stages of evolution toward perfection. In the Book of Abraham, part of which consists of a treatise on astronomy and cosmology, eternal beings of various orders and stages of development likewise populate numerous stars.
Populating stars? That's not what the Book of Abraham teaches, though I know there's been speculation on such things, but nothing that we are taught or have in our canon. And there are other problems with this statement, as we'll see below. Since Hansen isn't supposed to be so sloppy, I was wondering what went wrong here. Then I realized it's not really his fault -- he's just channeling Fawn Brodie. Here's what Brodie wrote in her highly questionable and overly praised No Man Knows My History:
Like the philosophic novelist who creates a character greater than himself to voice the distillate of his own speculations, Joseph created Abraham an eminent astronomer who penetrates all the mysteries of the universe. Abraham relates that there is one star, Kolob, lying near the throne of God, which is greater than all the rest. One revolution of Kolob takes a thousand years, and from this revolution God Himself reckons time. Kolob and countless lesser stars are peopled by spirits that are eternal as matter itself. These spirits are not cast in the same mold, but differ among themselves in the quality of intelligence as the stars differ in magnitude. These concepts, which developed peculiar ramifications in Joseph’s later teachings, came directly from Dick, who had speculated that the stars were peopled by “various orders of intelligences” and these intelligences were “progressive beings” [p. 230 in Dick] in various stages of evolution toward perfection. [emphasis in bold added, italics original]

-- Fawn M. Brodie, No Man Knows My History: The Life of Joseph Smith (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1945), Kindle edition, Chapter XII, “Master of Languages.”
The quoted passage ends with footnote #28 which states: “Compare the Book of Abraham with Dick [2nd ed., 1830], pp. 101, 230, 241, 249. Dick held that in all probability, ‘the systems of the universe revolve around a common center … the throne of God.’”

Likewise, the CES Letter also mentions this, quoting Hansen:
Dick speculated that “the systems of the universe revolve around a common centre…the throne of God.” In the Book of Abraham, one star named Kolob “was nearest unto the throne of God.” Other stars, in ever diminishing order, were placed in increasing distances from this center.
In reality, Dick's book has almost no relationship to the premortal scene described in the Book of Abraham, and doesn't even accept a premortal existence. The throne of God concept turns out to be almost the opposite of what the Book of Abraham teaches, and virtually every aspect of the argument made to link Joseph and Thomas Dick fails to be reasonable or accurate. Again, See Thomas Dick, The Philosophy of a Future State (Glasgow and London: William Collins, 1827), viewable at Google Books: https://books.google.com.ph/books?id=jhUHAAAAQAAJ&printsec=frontcover or at Archive.org, where a PDF of the 1830 printing is downloadable at https://archive.org/download/philosophyoffutu00dick_0/philosophyoffutu00dick_0.pdf. Below I will refer to pages in the 1830 printing at Archive.org.

Brodie has deftly adapted Dick’s teachings to her purpose. Dick contemplates immortal beings doing something more than merely praising and contemplating God, but not much more. In their endless contemplation and study of God’s vast creation, they will progress (but never achieve perfection) in their knowledge of astronomy, philosophy, and history and their admiration of God (Dick, The Philosophy of a Future State, 1830 printing, 174–5, 256). But that’s little more than fleshing out the traditional view of endless contemplation of God and is not the kind of progress Joseph envisions for those in the divine family of God. The God the intelligent immortals will contemplate is not one that they can see or touch, for Dick adheres to Platonic ideals, so his God is an utterly incomprehensible Being unlimited in space who obviously does not have a specific place of residence or actual throne (Dick, 255). He is unknowable except by studying His works, for “we have no sensible measures of the attributes of God, but those which are derived from the number and extent of his actual operations (Dick, 255).

The differences in intelligences Brodie mentions is not based on any reference in Dick to premortal humans, as in the Book of Abraham, but appears limited to non-humans (angels, cherubim, seraphim, etc.) and humans during and after their mortal existence. Dick notes that there must necessarily be differences in intellect and in levels of intellectual progress of these various intelligent beings during their continuing contemplation and study throughout eternity (Dick, 222-223, 230–231; see also 283 on seraphim). But this seems irrelevant to the Book of Abraham. Further, Brodie’s statement about “spirits being eternal as matter itself” is rather troubling given Dick’s clear acceptance of creation ex nihilo and his explicit declaration that the spirits/intelligences of the universe are all created beings. They may now be immortal, but the concept of immortal created souls is modern Christianity 101 and is nothing unique to Dick, nor does it explain Joseph’s more unique views on the eternal nature of intelligence and matter.

About that Throne
To claim a parallel between the Book of Abraham’s teachings on Kolob and Dick’s teachings about the centrality of his abstract throne of God is particularly egregious. The quotation Brodie gives about the throne occurs in a section of Dick’s book entitled, “The Throne of God,” where Dick speculates that if the term “throne of God” is not merely metaphorical, it might refer to the scientific supposition that the universe may have a common center of rotation, and if so, perhaps that center could reflect God’s glory in a way fitting the term “throne of God” as used in the Bible (Dick, 249–250). But in no way does Dick suggest that there is a literal throne or that God has a physical body capable of sitting or even being anywhere in particular.

For Dick, God’s figurative throne is central and the universe revolves around it. This contradicts the Book of Abraham, where the successive orders above the earth are described with the outermost, highest level being where we find Kolob. Kolob, near the throne or residence of God, is at the highest, slowest level, governing the other bodies in lower levels which rotate more quickly. The fixed reference point in this model is “the earth upon which thou standest” (Abraham 3:3, 5–7). Abraham’s cosmology appears to be adapted to a geocentric model that the Egyptians can comprehend, suitable for the science of his era (John Gee, An Introduction to the Book of Abraham (Provo, Utah: Religious Studies Center, Brigham Young University, and Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 2017), 115–119. See also John Gee, William J. Hamblin, and Daniel C. Peterson, “‘And I Saw the Stars’ – The Book of Abraham and Ancient Geocentric Astronomy,” in John Gee and Brian M. Hauglid (editors), Astronomy, Papyrus, and Covenant (Provo, Utah: Brigham Young University, 2006), 1–16). It is radically different from Dick’s cosmology, and the teachings on the throne of God seem diametrically opposed. In general, the parallels Brodie finds so convincing are weak, not there, or virtually the opposite of what she claims. She and those who regurgitate who arguments on these points are simply wrong.

How Wide the Divide?
Finally, we must recall a fundamental divide between Dick’s paradigm and Joseph’s. In the passage of Dick cited by Brodie where “various orders of intelligences” are mentioned, Dick clearly sets forth his incorporeal, ethereal view of God:
And one of their chief employments, of course, will be, to investigate, contemplate, and admire the glory of the Divine perfections. Hence it is declared in Scripture as one of the privileges of the saints in light, that “they shall see God as he is” — that “they shall see his face” — and that “they shall behold his glory,” —which expressions, and others of similar import, plainly intimate, that they shall enjoy a clearer vision of the Divine glory than in the present state. But how is this vision to be obtained? The Deity, being a spiritual, uncompounded substance, having no visible form, nor sensible quantities, “inhabiting eternity,” and filling immensity with his presence — his essential glory cannot form an object for the direct contemplation of any finite intelligence. His glory, or, in other words, the grandeur of his perfections, can be traced only in the external manifestation which he gives of himself in the material creation which his power has brought into existence…. (Dick, 209, emphasis added)
God, in other words, is wholly other, immaterial, lacking "eternal matter" and not directly connected to us nor even visible, viewable, or directly capable of being contemplated. But we can stare at the stars, the plankton, and the planets, and thus indirectly contemplate Him forever. That’s better than strumming a harp endlessly, but it’s not the universe Joseph gave us, for His universe is filled by, not with, a God Whom we gladly can call Father because He is our Father, our loving Parent, and His work and His glory is to bring us home. This concept is at the core of Joseph Smith’s universe, and in spite of superficial similarities on a few points, Dick’s universe is worlds apart from Joseph’s, in spite of sharing multiple worlds.

Citing Dick as the source for anything noteworthy in the Book of Abraham or in Joseph's cosmology simply lacks explanatory power. It is a misguided and ultimately deceptive argument, channeled and regurgiated from the reckless passion of Brodie, in my opinion.