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

Monday, January 16, 2017

To Rule with Blood and Horror: Shouldn't We Be Paying More Attention?

This morning I awoke with a chilling dream. I was a technical advisor helping in the deployment of a bomb. I was on the airplane carrying the first bomb as it flew over Hiroshima (or at least as it was being prepared--details were murky). As I contemplated what was about to happen, I revolted and wondered why we must slay civilians, tens of thousands of them. If a show of force was needed, why not drop it on small island or in the ocean somewhere? And as I awoke, I recalled that Japan had already tendered an offer to surrender several days before the bomb was unnecessarily dropped (IMHO). This was, in my view, not an act of necessity, unless the necessity that really counts is ruling with blood and horror.

Yes, of course, I'm aware of the arguments that this was a humanitarian slaying because even more would have died if we didn't massacre civilians. Great horror always requires stout defenses to get people past the moral revulsion to what the military establishment needs to have done to advance their business model. Whether it's bombing wedding parties in Afghanistan, giving guns to drug gangs in Mexico (via the "Fast and Furious" program), burning German cities to the ground, dropping napalm on children in Vietnam, or provoking war with foreign powers such as Russia or China, those who have no loathing of bloodshed always have strong reasons and media lackeys who tells us we be patriotic and ramp up the horror for the good of humanity, or at least to create more jobs by helping the oil industry (one of the ugliest and final excuses used for the Persian Gulf War).

Latter-day Saints would do well to ponder the teachings of the LDS Temple on Satan's business model and modus operandi for success on earth. He boldly declares that he will buy up and control military forces to rule with blood and horror. That should be chilling, especially when combined with the powerful teachings of the Book of Mormon about the role of secret combinations in bringing down nations into bloody disasters as power-hungry maniacs usurp ever greater power and launch ever growing cycles of war and bloodshed. Those images are intended to reveal something about our day, and it's time we start paying attention.

My testimony of the Book of Mormon has grown greatly in the past couple of years as I dig into various aspects of this genuinely ancient document. Not only is it an authentically ancient document, but it is a genuinely prophetic document, and the power of its prophetic guidance is especially strong when we review its teachings on the goals, agenda, and operations of corrupt leaders and secret combinations, where we are given a prophetic lens to international events in our days (particularly in a few gems in the Book of Ether). We Latter-day Saints tend to ignore all that, but that Book of Mormon, like the Temple, is more relevant and needed than ever. May we pay attention.

Many voters have sensed that something is wrong in this nation. Some wondered how one leader could get a Nobel Peace Prize and then be at war every day non-stop for 8 years, dropping bombs ceaselessly in undeclared wars against powers that have not invaded us. Now the people have voted for what they thought was change, putting in a bold new hero who would "drain the swamp" and cast out the forces of evil from the Establishment and make America great again. Perhaps even be fiscally responsible! Then came the announcement that a representative from Goldman Sachs would reign over the US Treasury, keeping the banksters firmly in control. Our foreign policy will be run by a former Exxon leader. They are already stirring up animosities with China and telling that nation what to do with its borders and lands. Outrageous military spending will continue or be increased. The swamp is hardly being drained, just stirred and refreshed and definitely, absolutely, fed very, very well.

The new leader will take on the problem of burgeoning debt by, uh, spending one trillion dollars right away while lowering taxes, perhaps finding a way to outpace his predecessor who doubled 200 years of accumulated national debt in just 8 years. Faster debt creation can only increase the pain of the pending disaster. But the swamp will thrive. The Gaddiantons and their military-industrial complex will do well. Their stocks are up. Their power will be firm. There will be blood and horror. And not just in 3rd-world lands. Not to mention the dangers of economic disaster as debt becomes unsustainable and a credit collapse shocks the economy, with many painful consequences in the streets and homes of once wealthy lands.

So what is a Latter-day Saint to do? I think we must begin by taking what we have been given very seriously. More thoughts next time.

Saturday, January 14, 2017

A Biblical Feast at a Hole in the Wall: Khirbet Qeiyafa’s Second Gate

Great meals are sometimes found in small little places dubbed "holes in the wall." This seems especially true in China. But in Israel, a literal hole in the wall in an archaeological site south of Jerusalem is providing a rich meal of information about the controversial era of King David and the United Kingdom. At the site Khirbet Qeiyafa, excavations led by Yosef Garfinkel and Saar Ganor revealed a fortified city from the time of King David with evidence of a major administrative center, pointing to a well developed Kingdom of Judah in that era. Especially noteworthy was a surprise discovered by a non-archaeologist accompanying the scholars, Joseph Baruch Silver, a supporter of the excavation. As he looked at the pattern of rocks in the city wall, he realized that he was looking at a previous second gate that had been filled in with rocks. Further investigation proved that he was correct.

A city with two gates, with radiocarbon dating of olive pits pointing to about 1000 B.C., around the time of King David, in a time when no other Jewish city had two gates, could well be the ancient biblical city Sha’arayim, Hebrew for “two gates” (Joshua 15:36; 1 Samuel 17:52; 1 Chronicles 4:31).  This is a fascinating find for those interested in biblical history, and yet another nuisance for those who wish to dismiss the historical content of the Hebrew scriptures.

The scholars conducting the excavation chose to include Joseph Silver as a co-author in the article they submitted to the Biblical Archaeology Review. The result was a swift rejection because the journal does not welcome attempts to reward amateurs for their financial role by listing them as co-authors.

After some explaining, the article has now been published under the title, "Rejected! Qeiyafa’s Unlikely Second Gate" (membership required for access) by Yosef Garfinkel, Saar Ganor and Joseph Baruch Silver (BAR 43:01, Jan/Feb 2017). A brief overview of the story is available at no cost in the Bible Archaeology Society's website: see Robin Ngo, "Biblical Sha’arayim: Khirbet Qeiyafa’s Second Gate Discovered" (Jan. 5, 2017), an excerpt of which follows:

Some scholars view King David’s kingdom as a simple agrarian society, sparsely inhabited, with no fortified cities, no administration and no writing,” write BAR authors Garfinkel, Ganor and Silver. “These scholars find it very hard to accept the new discoveries at Qeiyafa, which have completely dismantled these hypotheses.”

Indeed, the excavations at Khirbet Qeiyafa show that Biblical Sha’arayim, mentioned in the David and Goliath story in 1 Samuel 17:52, was no ordinary city:

“At the summit of the site, we found a palatial structure that probably served as the central administrative building for this area of the Davidic kingdom,” explain Garfinkel, Ganor and Silver. “This, along with the rest of the site, disproves the early assumption by some scholars that David was simply a local chieftain who ruled the area around Jerusalem at most. Excavation showed that more than 200,000 tons of stone was required to construct this administrative center.”
In the primary article, "Rejected!," the authors explain the significance of Joseph Silver's contribution in recognizing the second gate. They cite the letter they wrote to the editor after their initial rejection, addressing the editor's incredulity that experts would have missed the gate so long only to have an amateur notice it:
“Dear Hershel,” I (Yossi) replied. “To notice a blocked gate is not so easy. It is a matter of how you look, where you stand, the light, the vegetation and so on. The fact is that Joey was the first to notice the second gate of Qeiyafa. He made a great contribution in this respect.”

Our (Yossi’s and Saar’s) first reaction to Joey’s identification of a “gate” was to dismiss it as an “amateur” discovery: It couldn’t be. We had already excavated a major city gate on the western side of the circular wall. Could there be another gate on the southern side of the wall? No city of this period in Israel had more than one gate.

A test excavation, however, confirmed that Joey’s identification was indeed correct. It was a city gate—a second one. And it turned out that this was the key to identifying the ancient name of the site: Qeiyafa was Biblical Sha’arayim, Hebrew for “two gates” (Joshua 15:36; 1 Samuel 17:52; 1 Chronicles 4:31).

Qeiyafa lies about 20 miles southwest of Jerusalem, on the summit of a hill on the northern border of the Elah Valley. This is a strategic location—on the main road from Philistia and the coastal plain to the hill country of Judah. Our excavation uncovered a city dated radiometrically (by carbon-14 tests on 27 olive pits) to Iron IIA (c. 1000 B.C.E.), the time of King David....

Of course, our prize find at Qeiyafa was a five-line inscription inked on a broken piece of pottery (an ostracon). While scholars have proposed several different decipherments of the text, it is clear that this is not simply a commercial text; it is a literary text, reflecting ethical principles, and was penned by a professional scribe.c It also clearly includes the word melekh (king). According to the Hebrew University of Jerusalem epigrapher Haggai Misgav, this is the oldest Hebrew inscription ever discovered.
Kudos to this team for terrific work and for strengthening our appreciation of the reality of the Kingdom of David.

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Many Great New Resources at LDS.org and on the LDS Gospel Library App

I am impressed with how rapidly the Church has moved in the past couple of years to make more information readily available to its members and the public. Have you explored the new features on the LDS Gospel Library app and at LDS.org?

In the Church History section of the LDS Gospel Library, you will find the Gospel Topics Essays that take on some of the toughest or most controversial issues in Mormonism, the various accounts Joseph Smith gave of the First Vision, the new book, Daughters in My Kingdom about the history of the Relief Society, details on the lives and teachings of the prophets, some basic books and manuals related to Church history (including the Church History Study Guide for this year's Gospel Doctrine course), and a valuable new resource written by authors whose names are listed, Revelations in Context, giving historical information related to each of the sections of the Doctrine and Covenants. This is a significant departure from standard manuals prepared by committees that allows individual historians to share their work. I presume that this may have a positive effect on the quality of the scholarship and writing.

A few examples include Jed Woodworth's "The Messenger and the Manifesto" (pertaining to Official Declaration 1 ending polygamy) in Revelations in Context, the Gospel Topics essay, "Race and the Priesthood" (I'll also mention the essay on the Book of Abraham since it's relevant to some recent posts here), and the essay on the First Vision accounts of Joseph Smith, complete with links to the Joseph Smith Papers material where you can see the actual documents and read the transcript. A wealth of resources awaits you. Kudos to the many programmers, researchers, writers, editors, and others who have worked so hard to make all this possible.

Saturday, January 07, 2017

For the Glory, the Biography of Eric Liddell: Why a Gold Medalist Gave Up Everything for God and China

You may have seen the highly acclaimed movie Chariots of Fire about the 1924 Olympics victory of Eric Liddell (rhymes with "riddle"), the Scottish runner and devout Christian who was ready to walk away from the Paris Olympics rather than compete on the Sabbath day. If you enjoyed the movie, you might be interested in learning the more complete story behind his controversial refusal to run on Sunday in the event he had trained for, settling instead for a different event, the 400 meter run where he stunned the world by winning it with ease and setting a new Olympic record.

Far more important than where and how he ran, though, is how he lived his entire life, especially his life after 1924. Eric Liddell, born to missionary parents in 1902 in Tianjin, China, returned to China to serve God as a missionary under dangerous circumstances that would cost him his life. He willingly gave up what could have easily been more Olympic medals in 1928 and a lifetime of honor and comfort as one of the world's best athletes. His story is told in great detail in one of the most thoroughly researched biographies I have read: For the Glory: Eric Liddell's Journey from Olympic Champion to Modern Martyr by Duncan Hamilton (New York, Penguin Press, 2016). In addition to Hamilton's book, additional photos, videos, and other primary information can be found at the Eric Liddell Center's website.

If you pick up For the Glory, either the tangible (best: made with real paper!) or electronic book (actually, I bought both), start by turning to the back and reading the acknowledgement to get a feel for just how much work has been put into this biography. Then read the Notes to see the myriad interviews and primary source materials behind the content. Then look at the extensive index. Having done an index myself for a book, I know how much work that takes.

This is not a casual biography. It is thorough, reflecting a profound fascination in the life of  a rare and puzzling man of enormous faith, who is proudly claimed by Scottland as well as China. While China in general doesn't get his religion, love cuts past all boundaries, and those who knew him here know that he loved and served China heroically. He deserves to be honored and cherished here, and indeed, the Chinese government has established a museum honoring him.

He died in captivity in a prison camp for foreigners during the Japanese occupation of China in World War II. But even in the midst of desperate circumstances, Liddell lived out the Sermon on the Mount in quiet service, helping people daily to survive, to have hope, to feel love, and to find joy in Christ when they were willing.

Duncan Hamilton is careful to warn the readers that when one reads nothing but praise for the goodness of a character in a biography, one obviously must suspect that a great deal of truth has been ignored by a biased author. But he pleads for understanding because in the case of Eric Liddell, it seems that every witness, everyone he could find who knew him, could only speak words of praise. He was the real thing: a man who lived the Christian faith in purity, honesty, and self-sacrifice, willing even to sacrifice his life for the kingdom of God. Nobody among the many the author interviewed could recall a single act of pettiness, malice, or selfishness from Liddell (p. 8).

Even in the midst of competition, he was a gentleman and humble servant. He would lend his trowel (used to dig holes at the starting line for a better push off) to runners who didn't have one. He would trade positions with others to let someone on the outside get a more desirable inside lane. He would seek out those who seemed troubled and talk to them, even sharing tips on sprinting with his competitors. In freezing cold weather he once loaned his jacket to a competitor, going without to serve someone else. But once the race began, "he was fearsomely focused," never letting his empathy for others diminish his urge to win (p. 10).

To Liddell as a humble servant of God, the Olympics victory was simply a tool or rather a gift from God to help him reach others in sharing his faith. He took no credit for his victory. He spoke kindly of his rivals, attributing their losses to bad luck or a bad day, hardly noting his own achievement. The glory of men was not what his life was about. As a result, he was quite willing to walk away from fame and mortal glory to pursue a higher cause. "A fellow's life counts for far more at this [missionary work] than the other [running]" (p. 352).

Regarding the story of the 1924 Paris Olympics told in the movie, the commitment of that 22-year-old young man to the Sabbath day was remarkable and could well be included in future lesson manuals or General Conference sermons. The movie, though, makes it seem as though the Sunday schedule for the 100 meter event came as a big surprise to Eric as he was boarding the ship from England to France. It makes it seem that he struggled with the decision. But his decision was easy and had been explained to the British Olympic Association many months before he boarded that ship. There was no contest. His stand was non-negotiable.

The controversy over his refusal to run and the turmoil it caused as the Olympics approached was the British Olympic Association's fault for not taking Liddell seriously and thinking they could simply talk him into running his event on Sunday after all. Further, they had the preliminary schedule in 1922 (p. 71), but didn't pay attention to the Sabbath day issue (an issue that had marred the previous Paris Olympics in 1900) and didn't give a copy of the schedule to Liddell and his coach until the fall of 1923. The two men immediately pointed out the problem: all the events Liddell had trained for included Sunday races that would not be run.

Had the British Olympic Association done their job properly, they probably could have worked with the International Olympic Committee many months before the event to adjust the schedule and avoid trouble. There was no need for a crisis or any surprise. Liddell had already dropped out of a major event in 1923 to avoid running on the Sabbath. The British Olympic Authority waited until it was too late to deal with the situation, putting Liddell in a very difficult and unpopular situation. To many in the media and throughout the land, it looked like this gifted runner was abandoning his country at the last minute in favor of his own needs and preferences. His position was not commonly held up as an example of a good man abiding by his personal convictions, but as an example of selfishness and even cowardice (perhaps he is afraid of those fast American runners, it was suggested, and so is using this as an excuse to avoid an embarrassing loss). Liddell faced a great deal of criticism and pain, but refused to back down.
Liddell had been naive. He'd expected his decision to be seen as an honest matter of integrity. He consequently assumed it would pass without much adverse comment, which goes to show that those incapable of malice rarely suspect it in others. However muh he pretended otherwise, the backlash wounded him. Only much later did Liddell admit this to a friend. (p. 75)
The BOA tried to suggest a compromise based on French practice, where the Sabbath day ended at noon. Thus, Liddell could pray in the morning and then run in the afternoon. Problem solved. But Liddell was also quick on his feet in this situation: "My Sabbath lasts all day" (p. 73). The BOA then tried catechism, arguing that God's gift to Liddell would be wasted if he didn't run, and wouldn't that be the best way to serve Him? "Such an approach seemed entirely logical to anyone who was not devout -- and entirely misguided to those who were" (p. 73). Liddell explained that he had a commandment from God and he would keep it. To his credit, Liddell's coach, Tom McKerchar, understood and supported Liddell's decision. McKerchar's dedicated role was enormous in helping Liddell prepare for the race and cope with many other challenges along the way.

Abandoning the various events that the young sprinter had prepared for and settling for a very different event, the 400 meter run with a Sabbath-friendly schedule, logically reduced whatever chances Liddell had for a medal. His final run in that race was one of the great moments in Olympic history, especially in light of the background and the improbability of adapting to a radically new race in just a few short months of preparation. He ran for glory and won it -- for God's glory. But that was just the beginning of the course Eric Liddell would run. His was truly an endurance course that would sap all his strength in the end, while crossing the finish line again in glory and for the glory of God.

Liddell was just reaching his prime and could easily have won more medals and more fame in the 1928 Olympics. Instead he chose to prepare to minister to others and in 1925 would go to China to serve in a land where he would be a stranger and foreigner, not one of the greatest celebrities in the land. There he would meet and marry another missionary servant, Florence Mackenzie.

The greatest achievements and losses in Liddell's life may have been during the war he endured in China. It was a war that separated him from his family -- he would die without having ever seen his youngest daughter (their third child) and having not seen his wife for four years. The emphasis of the book is on his life during the Japanese occupation of China and especially in a prison camp, where he would die of a brain tumor. "In his own way he proved that heroism in war exists beyond churned-up battlefields. His heroism was to be utterly forgiving in the most unforgiving of circumstances" (p. 9).

The author, perhaps dazzled by the saintly image of Eric Liddell, struggles to raise a pointed question about Eric's decision to leave his family and stay in China when it was clear that missionaries should be evacuating. The London Missionary Society, out of touch and irresponsibly bureaucratic, even negligent, it seems, required him to stay, and Liddell felt obligated by his contract. At this point the author could well have raised the question, shouldn't Liddell's contract/covenant with his wife have been given higher priority? If the contract says stay in your office, shouldn't one ignore the contract and flea when the building is burning down? His decision would have painful consequences, and glorious examples of love and service as well. He and other missionaries would soon be arrested by Japanese authorities and sent to dismal camp where Liddell would pass away, after lifting nearly everyone else and showing how a true Christian can live as a Christian in the midst of the darkest corners of mortality.

He helped many fellow inmates in camp and set a sterling example, as always, of love and service, becoming the key force that people looked to for leadership and help. But the scope of his preaching was greatly curtailed, his life cut short, and his widow and children left in lasting sorrow for the man who stayed behind. Perhaps it was God's urging to do what he did, but perhaps this was one of Liddell's few serious mistakes in life.

Yet even if leaving his family to stay in China in the midst of a brutal war was a mistake, it must be considered in the context of Liddell's upbringing. At age 7, he and his nine-year-old brother Rob were left behind in Scotland by his mother so they could attend school there while she returned to China to be with his father serving as missionaries in China, his birth place. As a child, he had been taught, at least through example, that missionary work must take precedence over family togetherness. He would not see his mother again for over 4 years. Perhaps if his family life had been more traditional, he would not have considered long-term and possibly permanent separation from his own children and his wife for the missionary cause.

In exploring such issues, I don't mean to deride this saint of man who is far better than I am. Instead, as I consider the many factors that lead good people to feel they must leave family behind for long periods of time (a common challenge in China for both local Chinese and foreigners living here), I feel it is valuable to explore and challenge the assumptions that are made and to ask sincerely, "Is this a mistake? Is there a better way?" For Liddell's case, I don't know the answer, but feel it merits discussion. I wish the issue had been explored more fully in the book. But this is hardly a criticism of the this excellent biography, only a suggestion and personal wish from me.

Why did Liddell abandon everything his Olympic victory made possible? "'Because I believe God made me for China,' he always replied" (p. 124). In reading about his life, we can learn much about what it means to serve China and its people, a land to which many others are drawn. Liddell often quoted Robert Louis Stevenson: "There are no foreign lands. It is the traveler only that is foreign." Eric became a traveler that knew and loved the land and its people. But it was not just the Chinese he loved. He even treated his captors with kindness and patience, even when he was being harassed. "Take it all with a smile," he would sat. "However troublesome, don't get annoyed" (p. 216). "The angrier someone [such as the soldiers in his camp] would become, the more measured his response. Liddell behaved toward them in war exactly as he would have done in peace because he knew no other way to act. Tact, cheerfulness, and the warmth of his personality defused confrontations.... He even refused to condemn or criticize the soldiers who attempted to bully him" (p. 218). One of his colleagues explained that for him, he saw the Japanese soldiers not as enemies or bullies to be feared or hated, but men to be "sought as sheep far from the fold" (p. 218).

Liddell showed genuine heroism during the war scenes he faced and during his imprisonment. Before he was forced into a camp, he showed extreme courage in rescuing two Chinese soldiers as an unplanned detour on a dangerous trip of his own. While traveling by bike from Tianjin to Xiaochang where he was stationed, he learned that a wounded Chinese soldier had been laying in a derelict temple for five days without treatment. The locals were afraid that if they offered help, they and the entire village might be punished by the Japanese. Like a true good Samaritan, Liddell could not simply pass by and ignore the dying man. He went out of his way to arrange for a cart to get the man to a hospital, and convinced a local carter to come with him as Liddell rode on his bicycle to assist. If he was caught by the Japanese en route, he could have been executed. During their dangerous trek, he learned of another wounder soldier in need of help, and also rescued him. Miraculsouly, the small group avoided detection as Liddell prayerfully pursued back roads, worried about the approaching troops heralded by a Japanese plane overhead. The first man died, but the second wounded man, who had been the subject of a sloppy attempted execution by a sword-wielding Japanese commander, survived in spite of a terrible gash to his face. Touched by the way Liddell risked his life to save him, that man became a Christian. Perhaps he has family still here in China who are also Christian and remember Eric Liddell. I would love to meet them!

I hope you'll read For the Glory and learn about one of Christianity's great hero's.

Wednesday, January 04, 2017

The Egyptian Context for the Book of Abraham: Why Hor, Priest of Thebes, Might Want an Abraham Text

One of the important but often overlooked issues in the debate over the origins of the Book of Abraham is why the ancient Egyptian owner of the Joseph Smith papyri might have been interested in a biblical figure like Abraham.  Egyptians in general were not, but in Hor's era and vicinity, a group of priests were fascinated with biblical lore. Hor, the Egyptian priest in Thebes around the 2nd century B.C., owner of the papyri that Joseph Smith would later obtain, had interests and motives that add plausibility to the notion that he might have had an interest in Abraham lore. An academic publication, for those who demand such things, from an LDS Egyptologist, is Kerry Muhlenstein, "Abraham, Isaac, and Osiris-Michael: The Use of Biblical Figures in Egyptian Religion," in Achievements and Problems of Modern Egyptology, ed. Galina A. Belova (Moscow: Russian Academy of Sciences, 2012), 259. A version of this paper was published by the Maxwell Institute as Kerry Muhlenstein, "The Religious and Cultural Background of Joseph Smith Papyrus I," Journal of the Book of Mormon and Other Restoration Scripture 22/1 (2013), 20-33. (The link is to the PDF document with several helpful figures, including an Egyptian scene of a lion couch with Abraham listed among the names below it; a text-only HTML version is also available.)

Critics have alleged that Egyptians would not create scrolls about Abraham and that the whole idea of a Book of Abraham from ancient Egypt is ridiculous. They have also raised the objection that the Book of Abraham is allegedly from the very old era of the Patriarchs, while the Joseph Smith papyri date to around 200 BC or later. Muhlenstein's work helps resolve these objections. Here is his abstract, followed by the conclusion, both taken from the Maxwell Institute version of the paper (footnotes omitted):
 Throughout its history, ancient Egyptian religion showed a remarkable capacity for adopting new religious ideas and characters and adapting them for use in an already existing system of worship. This process continued, and perhaps accelerated, during the Greco- Roman era of Egyptian history. Egyptian priests readily used foreign religious characters in their rituals and religious formulas, particularly from Greek and Jewish religions. Religious texts demonstrate that Egyptian priests knew of both biblical and nonbiblical accounts of many Jewish figures—especially Jehovah, Abraham, and Moses—by about 200 bc. Knowing this religio-cultural background helps us understand how the priest in Thebes who owned Joseph Smith Papyrus I would have been familiar with stories of Abraham.
While there is much more research to be done, a few things have become clear in this survey that are of interest to Latter-day Saints. First, in Ptolemaic and Roman Egypt, biblical stories and characters were employed in Egyptian religious practice. These stories and characters were added to the already existing repertoire of Egyptian, Canaanite, and Greek gods and mythical characters. Biblical figures were used in a manner similar to Egyptian figures. They were used in a variety of contexts with no clear pattern emerging. Two of the characters who loom largest in the Jewish canon—Abraham and Moses—were used in contexts that were in keeping with their biblical stories. These uses demonstrate that the creators of these religious texts were thoroughly familiar with both canonical and noncanonical texts about these characters. Our current evidence indicates that a group of priests from Thebes possessed, read, understood, and employed biblical and extrabiblical texts, most especially texts about Abraham and Moses.

This process likely began around 200 BC and continued for hundreds of years in a pattern that eventually morphed into Christian practices in Egypt. While a few textual examples from elsewhere in Egypt suggest that this practice was widespread, at this time our sample of evidence only allows us to make these conclusions for the Theban area, the area in which the priest who owned the original of Facsimile 1 lived and served. Further discoveries may allow us to refine or expand these conclusions.

As a result of these conclusions we can better understand why Hor, a Theban priest in 200 BC, would possess papyrus associated with Abraham. He was a product of his times who was informed by his culture and in turn had opportunity to inform that culture. His interest in biblical characters and his possession of both biblical and nonbiblical stories about these characters was part of his occupation. Hor would undoubtedly have been interested in any religious stories that could have been incorporated into, and thus given more power to, his priestly duties.

Interestingly, we know that Hor was involved with rituals that had to do with calling on preternatural aid to ward off potential evil forces. These rituals often involved either real or figurative human sacrifice. Now that we know that priests from Hor’s era and geographic location would have used biblical figures to augment their religious rituals and spells, we better understand why he would have been interested in the story depicted on Facsimile 1, that of a biblical figure who was saved from sacrifice by divine intervention. It is likely that Hor sought out appropriate stories, and then used his knowledge of the story of Abraham to add further numinous power to his appeal for preternatural aid in keeping destructive forces at bay. Hor’s possession of this drawing matches what we would expect of a priest in this time and place based on the understanding of that culture gained from this study.
How interesting that the one time and place in ancient Egypt where we know priests to have been employing biblical figures in Egyptian documents, ca. 200 B.C. in Thebes, corresponds to the time and place of the Egyptian owner of the Joseph Smith papyri. It's also interesting that Abraham was one of the popular figures to include. It's also interesting that the themes of the translated Book of Abraham appear to be the kind of thing that the priest Hor was interested in.

Muhlenstein's work provides a helpful background for understanding the nature of the relevant Egyptian documents involved in the Book of Abraham.

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Another Cool Aspect of the Book of Abraham

One of the disappointing things about the response of critics to the Book of Abraham is the general failure to acknowledge anything that looks like Joseph happened to get something right. Elsewhere I've cited examples such as the bulls-eye of linking the four sons of Horus in Facsimile 2 with the four quarters of the earth (see Richard W. Wilkinson, Symbol and Magic in Egyptian Art, (London: Thames and Hudson, 1994), 133-134, 213) or identifying the crocodile in Facsimile 1 as the idolatrous god of Pharaoh -- an apt description of Sobek, the crocodile god long associated with Pharaoh. See Quinten Barney, "Sobek: The Idolatrous God of Pharaoh Amenemhet III," Journal of the Book of Mormon and Other Restoration Scripture 22/2 (2013): 22–27 (link is to a PDF). In addition to many plausible and even impressive elements in the comments on the facsimiles, there are numerous aspects of the text itself with support in ancient documents, most of which were not accessible to Joseph. See especially Traditions about the Early Life of Abraham, edited by John A. Tvedtnes, Brian M. Hauglid, and John Gee (Provo, Utah: Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies, 2001).

One interesting issue I failed to include in previous discussions comes from Barry Bickmore's works on early Christianity. On a page entitled "The Angel of God's Presence in Abraham 1:15-16" (archived), Bickmore observes that the "angel of the Lord's presence" who rescues Abraham on the altar is also identified as Jehovah, and this correlation between Jehovah and an angel makes good sense in light of ancient Jewish beliefs but would be at odds with what Joseph would likely have learned in his environment. Bickmore, after drawing in part upon Margaret Barker'a The Great Angel,  concludes:
We have established that Abraham's identification of Yahweh with "the angel of his presence" was consistent with the earliest Israelite traditions, and also with the earliest Christian traditions. But if we assume, as the critics of the Book of Abraham do, that Joseph Smith created this remarkable document by applying his fertile imagination to the sources he had at hand, how did he come up with this strange designation for Yahweh? The only Biblical source for the phrase would have been Isaiah 63:9, but we have seen that this verse gives no hint that Yahweh was equated with "the angel of his presence". This conclusion can only be drawn when the Greek text is compared with the Hebrew. However, the Septuagint was not translated into English until 1851, so again we are at a loss to find a source for the Prophet. Consider also that we have not been able to find even a single case where Joseph Smith used this title to refer to Yahweh, aside from this solitary passage in the Book of Abraham. Therefore, we are forced to conclude that Joseph Smith was inconceivably lucky in his choice of words, or in fact the Patriarch Abraham chose these words to describe his God.
There are so many intriguing "direct hits" or "bulls eyes" that we find in the Book of Abraham that it would seem unwise to dismiss the book as a mere fraud. Something noteworthy is going on. Indeed, the strengths of the Book of Abraham could soon be more frequently discussed and appreciated, rather than merely discarding the book as a fraud as too many are too quick to do.

Update, Dec. 30, 2016: With helpful input from readers here, I've recognized that it is possible that Joseph could have picked up the concept of equating the angel with Jehovah based on biblical commentary. In fact, through searching commentaries at BlueLetterBible.org, I found that Matthew Henry's eighteenth-century commentary on Isaiah 63 specifically opines that the "angel of the Lord's presence" in Isaiah 63:9 could be Jesus Christ in the role of Jehovah. Henry states:
The person employed in their salvation-the angel of his face, or presence. Some understand it of a created angel. The highest angel in heaven, even the angel of his presence, that attends next the throne of his glory, is not thought too great, too good, to be sent on this errand. Thus the little ones' angels are said to be those that always behold the face of our Father, Mt. 18:10. But this is rather to be understood of Jesus Christ, the eternal Word, that angel of whom God spoke to Moses (Ex. 23:20, 21), whose voice Israel was to obey. He is called Jehovah, Ex. 13:21; 14:21, 24. He is the angel of the covenant, God's messenger to the world, Mal. 3:1. He is the angel of God's face, for he is the express image of his person; and the glory of God shines in the face of Christ. He that was to work out the eternal salvation, as an earnest of that, wrought out the temporal salvations that were typical of it.
So I'll grant that there is a basis for commentary from others to have guided Joseph Smith on this point.

Sunday, December 25, 2016

God Gave His Only Begotten Son

In preparing for the joys of Christmas during our brief return to the winter wonderland of Wisconsin, my wife and I read John 17 and contemplated the ministry of the Messiah and His mission to rescue mankind. As we read the Lord's great Intercessory Prayer, we marveled at how clear Christ's words were regarding unity and His relationship with the Father. To begin with, the very act of worshipful prayer tells us much of that relationship. He also refers to His premortal relationship with the Father:

These words spake Jesus, and lifted up his eyes to heaven, and said, Father, the hour is come; glorify thy Son, that thy Son also may glorify thee:
As thou hast given him power over all flesh, that he should give eternal life to as many as thou hast given him.
And this is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent.
I have glorified thee on the earth: I have finished the work which thou gavest me to do.
And now, O Father, glorify thou me with thine own self with the glory which I had with thee before the world was.

And regarding His disciples and those who would accept Him and follow Him as Savior and Redeemer, He prayed:
18 As thou hast sent me into the world, even so have I also sent them into the world.
19 And for their sakes I sanctify myself, that they also might be sanctified through the truth.
20 Neither pray I for these alone, but for them also which shall believe on me through their word;
21 That they all may be one; as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us: that the world may believe that thou hast sent me.
22 And the glory which thou gavest me I have given them; that they may be one, even as we are one:
23 I in them, and thou in me, that they may be made perfect in one; and that the world may know that thou hast sent me, and hast loved them, as thou hast loved me.
24 Father, I will that they also, whom thou hast given me, be with me where I am; that they may behold my glory, which thou hast given me: for thou lovedst me before the foundation of the world.
25 O righteous Father, the world hath not known thee: but I have known thee, and these have known that thou hast sent me.
26 And I have declared unto them thy name, and will declare it: that the love wherewith thou hast loved me may be in them, and I in them.
From my LDS perspective, I often wonder how did so much misunderstanding arise in debates centuries later about these relationships and the unity of God, which here is held up as the kind of unity Christians should achieve? Not becoming one Being, but united beings, one in purpose and intent. Of course, I recognize that many fellow Christians fully accept the declarations of the creeds arising from those debates, and while we are comfortable with much stated therein, we feel that the earliest Christians understood the unity of Christ with the Father to be a unity in heart and purpose shared between two Beings, between the Father and the Son.

When we read the touching words of how God sent and gave His only begotten Son in John 3:16, in my opinion that loving, poignant sacrifice is best understood as making reference to the love a father naturally has for a son, an analogy that only makes sense to me if they are distinct beings. Yes, of course others will read this differently.

In any case, may we contemplate the teachings of the scriptures about our relationship to Christ, and His relationship to the Father, and pursue paths to help us to become more fully one in them.

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

A Proud Mother and a Little Miracle in the Snowy Chaos of Portland

Sunday services in Shanghai were terrific, as almost always. I got to attend sacrament meetings in two wards and was touched by inspiring talks in both from a strong variety of excellent speakers, including my wife.

One story that I especially enjoyed was shared by Sister Debrah Roundy and used here with her kind permission. Sister Roundy, by the way, is one of Shanghai's more famous Mormons and seems to frequently be on television and in local newspapers for her many dance performances with local Shanghai women and for significant community service as a teacher. Just saw a local TV clip of her tonight. Jimmer, I'm afraid, isn't the only celebrity in our branches.

Here is one of the stories Debrah shared with us Sunday in the Shanghai International Branch:
I opened Facebook and found a little story my son Sam had written. Then that night I was asked to give a talk at church about Jesus and his life. I did not have much time to write a talk but I did have a few minutes to ponder so here are my ponderings and Sam’s story.

Our Savior paid the ultimate price for our sins. I have learned that the price has already been paid. We can heap no more pain on him for he has paid that eternal price, but the man who paid the deepest price in all eternity is also able to feel the deepest joy.

My son Sam went to Portland, Oregon in the USA the same time that a blizzard hit the Portland area. It was in all the newspapers and news reports. He was staying in a hotel and this is the story Sam wrote.
If you have never been to Portland in the snow, wow, craziest thing I have ever seen, cars everywhere. Trucks stopped in the middle of the freeway putting chains on, abandoned cars everywhere. I went to my hotel room and I saw a car just off the road. It appeared like I would be able to help them so I went over. There was an older couple in the car, a Toyota Four Runner, actually, and I asked if I could help them. I told him it would probably be best if I got in his car and drove it for him and so I did.

Then they told me they were going to sleep in the car. I have an extra bed in my room which I have been bummed about wasting, so I told them that I was kidnapping them and they had to come with me. They tried to say no, but then they said "We just got done working at the Portland LDS temple and we had been praying that someone would help us because we came and worked in the temple all day even when we knew the roads would be bad." They added, “Is that why you are trying to help us.”

I said, “Actually, I was just going to go get a milkshake and watch the chaos, but yes that is why I am here helping you.” I’m glad I did not listen to my coworkers who were making fun of me for going and watching the chaos.
I found tears of gratitude and joy spring into my eyes as I read this little story. My son was doing right. He was attuned to the spirit and following promptings. My little momma heart soared. All those fights that began and ended in prayer we call Family Home Evenings, all the scripture studies wedged into busy lives, all the chats and sharing family stories of the gospel were now bearing fruit and the fruit is good.

Then I thought of my Savior. He must feel the same way when we, his children, do right and are tuned into promptings given us. We can make is big generous heart soar. We can make his sacrifice and pain all worthwhile and we can do it again and again.

I know he lives and loves me and I am grateful I could raise four beautiful children who are attuned to the spirit at this time in their lives.

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

More Than Just a Faith Promoting Sports Rumor: Jimmer in Shanghai

When you attend church services in the Shanghai branches, you never know who you'll meet. Recently some of us have had the privilege of receiving the sacrament from a tall, energetic, youthful man who humbly serves others in spite of being a celebrity both in China and in the US. This particular celebrity, Jimmer Fredette of BYU fame, has energized Shanghai, at least for sports fans, with his athletic prowess. Jimmer has temporarily left the NBA and is playing this season for Yao Ming's team, the Shanghai Sharks, and is drawing a lot of attention and a lot of fans. But when you meet Jimmer off the court, you wouldn't know he's a star. Just seems like a cheerful, outgoing, courteous young man who has deeply impressed those who are close to him.

Jimmer scored 47 points last week, and 51 a while before that. He has helped the Shanghai Sharks have 8 straight victories recently. The Chinese state media, CCTV, did a 5-minute clip about him (I think this link from a WeChat source requires WeChat or other software to view the video). Awesome. I'll be attending a Shanghai Shark's game next week (sold-out tickets hindered my first attempt). Can't wait! If you're a Jimmer fan, come join us in Shanghai! I bought two extra tickets, and don't know yet who we'll be bringing along. Could it be you?

Sunday, December 04, 2016

The Church in a Changing World: Robert Griffiths Answers the Question, "What if I'm Uncomfortable with the Church's Position on Social Issues?

The author of the guest post below, Robert D. Griffiths, is one of the most impressive men I know. I interacted with him frequently while he was serving as the US Consul General for the State Department's Consulate in Shanghai (2011-2014) and continue to learn from him. His profound experience as a diplomatic and his deep knowledge of Asia and humanity in general add depth to his counsel. I should also observe that he and his wife are two of the most genuine and loving Christians I know. Here he shares some important thoughts about dealing with the discomfort that some people face regarding the Church's position on social issues. I think his guidance should be considered by those in and out of the Church. — Jeff L.

The Church in a Changing World

What if I'm uncomfortable with the Church's position on social issues?

By Robert D. Griffiths 

I was struck when someone close to me, in reaction to the Church’s newly launched effort to aid refugees, blurted out, “Finally, something about the Church we can be proud of!”

This got me thinking about the pressures that are put on Church members in a day when society, in an effort to be accommodating to people of all persuasions, becomes distorted by single-issue politics. Social media and a 24-hour news cycle flood us with narrowly-focused information and criticism and it is easy to miss the big picture. In such an environment, it is too easy to either feel embarrassed that the Church is not more responsive to the social issues of the day, or to hunker down in traditional Mormon culture and wait for the Second Coming.

I was born in Utah, but have lived overseas in developed and developing countries for some 30 years, and in the big cities of the U.S. East and West Coasts for another 11. These years have provided rich and perspective-broadening experiences. Yet when I consider what I have seen in the world, and the challenges and changes that pummel societies across the globe, and in “Zion,” it seems to me that the world could really use what the Church has to offer.

Oh, I am well aware that the Church is not perfect. It has made mistakes historically and continues to fall short of its ideals today. And there are those whose personal experiences and circumstances lead them to believe that the Church is not for them. But in a plea to not throw the baby out with the bath water, consider the following:

Belonging.   The refugee crisis in the Middle East reflects a resurgence in hatred among ethno-religious groups such that murder of “the other” is hardly given a thought. In some places in Africa, there is similar strife. The hateful rhetoric between China and Japan and that coming out of North Korea--while not yet having led to blows--is growing uncomfortably harsh. And then there is the anger directed at the United States from many quarters. All of this is disturbingly reminiscent of pre-world War II rhetoric that justified hatred of other peoples as sub-human and deserving of persecution, even death.

Even at home, inter-racial tensions are becoming ever sharper in many of our cities. Many political attitudes reflect not only a zero-sum mentality, but in some quarters “understanding” “empathy” and “compromise” have become vilified. One national political commentator famously declared on national TV that he wanted to kill someone for holding different political views. On a personal level, one result of the disintegration of the nuclear family in many people’s lives is an increase in loneliness and a sense of rootlessness. While friendships can be rich and wonderful, they do not carry the same level of commitment, and sense of belonging, that family relations do.

One of the often overlooked, but profoundly significant, teachings of the Church is that all human beings are brothers and sisters. Not just in some metaphorical sense, or as a warm and fuzzy social attitude, but literally we are all children of Heavenly Parents. That teaching alone, if internalized throughout the world, would significantly mitigate war, hatred and strife and replace them with a sense of common roots and shared interest with all in the human family.

Since the LDS Church was relieved of the burden of discrimination against blacks and the priesthood some 40 years ago, Mormons, for the most part, have readily re-embraced the fundamental LDS doctrine of the human family. In a recent stake leadership meeting I attended, most of the well-informed and well-received discussion was led by Hispanic and black leaders. And more striking, I think, was a sales flyer I received in the mail from an orthodontist in a small Utah town. To make his practice more attractive to conservative Mormons--the majority of his potential patients--he highlighted a picture of his own large family, which includes four well-dressed and smiling (with straight teeth!) children of African descent (presumably adopted) along with four biological children. In dealing with minorities, Mormons may lack the nuance that will come in time from greater exposure, but their hearts, most of the time, are in the right place.

While our numbers are still small, the expansion of the Church with its fundamental teaching of the human family acts as a hatred-absorbing control rod as it expands its presence in communities at home and in nations abroad. And the lonely soul is comforted.

Forgiveness. As imperfect people and nations perpetrate injustices on one another, grudges grow. Revenge can motivate otherwise peaceful people to commit cruelties and even atrocities in an effort to even the score. Justice, it seems, demands it. No one wants to be played for a sap. Without a mechanism to mitigate a desire for revenge and deflate feelings of vengeance, injustices can pile up until enmity replaces humanity. This happens on the international level—witness the ethnic and clan-based violence that undermines Mid-East peace today—and on the personal level when perceived injustices cause friends to backstab or family members stop talking to each other.

In a complex world, it is human nature to try to simplify wherever possible. We want to separate the good guys from the bad guys, despite a more honest recognition that no one is all bad, or all good. Americans are rightly proud of the rule of law and the ability to sue for justice, but we too readily mark for life those who have committed crimes, even after they have paid their debt to society. Just ask anyone who has ever had a felony conviction how easy it is to apply for a job. While there are certain individuals who may always be a danger to society, we create a huge, benighted underclass of our fellow citizens simply because it is easier to pigeon-hole “bad guys” rather than allow for the possibility that people can put past mistakes behind them.

The benefits of forgiveness are widely recognized, at least on a certain level. Putting historical grievances to rest can provide a foundation for peace between previously hostile nations and peoples. Nelson Mandela’s extension of forgiveness to those who had terribly wronged him created a template for an entire nation to move forward in peace. It is also widely recognized, if not widely practiced, that people are psychologically much healthier when they stop carrying burdens of self-pity and revenge. But it is hard for forgiveness to get traction when it seems to undermine justice.

The Church has had its share of injustices perpetrated upon it, and has perpetrated some of its own, but the overwhelming strain in church teaching and practice is to do right and forgive wrongs. The Saints are in fact told to “forgive all men.”   But the real power behind the Church’s doctrine of forgiveness is the understanding that justice is not undermined when we forgive. As we are patient, a just God will right all wrongs. Moreover, we believe that people’s hearts can truly be changed and the ‘natural man’ can be overcome.

Knowing that justice will be served, and hearts can be changed, the Mormon practice of forgiveness provides the world a welcome and powerful tool for the amelioration of ill-will and improved human relations at all levels.

Hope. Traditional values and religion have taken a beating as the scientific revolution reduced the need for Divine explanations of natural phenomena, as greater transparency has revealed hypocrisy in religious institutions, and as almost unrestrained freedom to think and act as individuals has become the norm in many societies. It is good for falsehoods to be exposed and for new and worthwhile ideas to enrich humankind. But in the very imperfect and sometimes cruel process of tearing down traditional institutions, a price is paid. While Karl Marx may have dismissed religion as “the opiate of the masses,” the fact is that religious faith has provided a vital measure of hope to the vast majority of the world’s people throughout the ages, especially those who have not been privileged to enjoy material abundance and a life where things go their way.

It is hard for secular society to provide hope, in an existential sense, because its time horizon is so short. Our material well-being, our health, our reputation, even our lives, can be overturned in moment by a lost job, a hurricane, a diagnosis, a lawsuit, a vengeful social media attack, or a speeding dump truck. And while data for historical comparison are hard to come by, the incidence of depression, loneliness and suicide is high and rising in the world today.

Few, if any, religions provide as much information, from as many sources, regarding the afterlife as does Mormon theology. For anyone with an open-minded interest in the possibility of life after death, affirmations from four separate books of historical and modern scripture, fervent testimonies of modern day prophets, and countless stories from family histories and contemporary accounts among the Saints cannot help but provide food for thought, if not the seeds of hope and faith. Moreover, the picture of the afterlife revealed by Church teaching and testimonies is relatively detailed and wonderfully comforting and reassuring. We will see our loved ones again. We will be made whole. We will enjoy both justice and mercy. We will be happy.

Even in this life, the Church offers a lot of hope of the short-term kind. The Church organization of bishops’ storehouses, social and counseling services, job placement assistance, and home and visiting teaching, and the community of Saints, provide tangible help and hope when life happens. Not to mention the spiritual comfort that believing Saints can tap into through individual prayer and blessings.

Naturally, most of the hope that the Church and its teachings can provide is contingent on some level of faith and commitment. But that does not change the fact that in a world where hope for so many is in short supply, where hopelessness for almost anyone is so easily stumbled into, and where humans continue to yearn for an identity that is more than a bunch of chemical interactions brought together by random chance, the Church and its offers of hope shine like a beacon.

Development. There are religions in the world that aspire to a monastic separation from the world, where an individual ultimately progresses by inner devotions with little connection to other people. There are animal rights advocates--modern-day Taoists--who believe that it is wrong for humans to infringe on the natural world. There are those who seek to fix their societies in a past time, believing that modernity is to be shunned. For better or worse, the Church is not like these, but is “full in” with the use of all resources, especially new technologies, to make the world a better place. And consistent with a rapidly developing world and continuing revelation, the Church’s efforts are changing and increasing.

The Church, understandably, focuses mainly on its core expertise, the spiritual development of the sons and daughters of God, where it is best positioned to make its greatest contribution. As David O. McKay said, in the language of the time, the purpose of the Church is to “make bad men good and good men better.”

However, Church efforts do extend outside the spiritual realm. Regardless of what one might think of what goes on inside LDS chapels and temples, one must admit that the grounds outside are generally quite pretty. LDS facilities visually enhance their communities. Perhaps this is a small thing, but it does reflect consistency in our regard for beauty, inside and outside, without being ostentatious.

In fact, the Church spends a lot of time and resources to make the world a better place. Often working in tandem with other organizations, such as Catholic Charities, the Church has a long history of charitable giving. And charitable service, such as the Helping Hands program, is getting considerable emphasis. The willingness of church members to spring into action after natural disasters has drawn a lot of media attention in recent years—the thousands of members from neighboring states who volunteered to “de-muck” homes of members and non-members alike after the flooding in Louisiana is only the most recent example. Effective charitable giving is not really that easy to do—it is not clear to me that what Syrian refugees need most are the quilts and toothbrushes that our ward is preparing to send them—but the Church works hard to find niches where it can make a difference. Wheelchair donations, digging rural village wells, and providing neo-natal care are three areas where I have seen the Church be particularly effective overseas. All LDS missionaries have charitable service built-in to their routines, and Charitable Service missionaries do charity work full-time. Welfare Square is widely renowned for its model stressing the dignity of work even as the needs of people who cannot work are also met. Charitable giving for all members, in tithing and fast offerings, is a fundamental part of Church membership and develops the soul.

The development of people gets top priority. Education has always been valued among the Saints. The Church’s universities serve several purposes, but providing top-level curricula and facilities reflects the respect that Mormons have for the world’s professions. The grassroots functioning of the Church requires literacy; the rotation of opportunities to serve in a lay ministry is predicated upon members having the needed skill sets. In addition to (sometimes seemingly endless!) training programs, chapels worldwide have long been venues for language classes, and there is a new effort to utilize chapels for a wide range of non-religious education efforts. For example, new programs in peer-counseling to support self-reliance help to create sustainable employment opportunities. Public speaking skills, gained from a very early age among active members, boost confidence. Church meetings provide a life-long venue for the development and practice of musical skills. The Perpetual Education Fund is a remarkable, ultimately self-sustaining, program that enables advanced education and family-supporting vocational skills to expanding thousands of members in developing countries. A fundamental LDS teaching undergirds all these efforts: All honest labor is noble. And because of the education, industry and discipline that members gain in the Church, members of LDS congregations around the world tend to be more productive than their peers outside the Church.

Civility. I smiled when a friend of mine in Washington, D.C., whose lifestyle and values would put him in contrast with most Mormons, commented on a recent trip he had taken through Utah. “The people are so nice!” I know there are exceptions, when members of the Church have been unkind or thoughtless or ideological, but I think they are exceptions. Generally, Mormons treat other people as brothers and sisters, willing to trust and forgive, imbued with the optimism that comes from being rooted in hope for the future. We believe in being nice!

Almost without realizing it, Mormons teach themselves civility by attending church. The geographical delineation of ward units causes us to associate with people we might not otherwise choose as friends, and we learn to get along. It is very different from the practice where a church-going family new to town might visit different congregations until they find where they feel most comfortable. We learn to be patient in fast and testimony meetings when speakers say things that are, well, off the mark. We learn to buoy up and strengthen each other, and the constant practice of being nice would help refine anyone’s character.

Although many Mormons have strong political views, our church meetings are strikingly apolitical. When members do speak in public venues and with those holding different political views, President Hinckley counseled us that if we must disagree, we should do so without being disagreeable. There has to be room for different views.   It would be a dull world if everyone saw everything the same way. The tens of thousands of missionaries who return home annually certainly have had to learn how to cope with disagreement, shunning and rejection and come away smiling.

One of the most oft-quoted scriptures is from Doctrine and Covenants 121, which makes clear that we are to seek to influence others only by persuasion, long-suffering, gentleness, meekness, kindness and love unfeigned. That counsel is a blessing for the rest of the world as well.

The Church, of course, does not have a monopoly on any of these virtues. Some people may practice them better than we do. As Mormons strive, however imperfectly, to live up to the teachings of the gospel and their ideals, even a modicum of the tolerance that Church critics generally extend to those who disagree with the Church should allow for cutting the LDS Church some slack. Even if the gospel message of the Restoration is not wholly believed, the Church should be given credit as a force for good that the world could surely use. And that is something to be proud of.

About Robert D. Griffiths  

Recently retired as a Senior U.S. Foreign Service Officer, rank of Minister Counselor, Mr. Griffiths is currently an instructor in Chinese politics at the University of Utah and at BYU.  He previously taught economics and Chinese studies at the National Defense University in Washington, D.C.  As part of his 34-year career with the State Department, he lived and worked in greater China for 14 years, most recently as U.S. Consul General in Shanghai (2011-14).  Previous postings abroad included Beijing, Bangkok, Taipei, Kaohsiung, and Bogota.  He served in the U.S. Senate for a year as foreign policy advisor to Harry Reid, (D-NV), and worked in the Asia Policy shop in the office of the Secretary of Defense.  He has a B.A. in Asian Studies (summa cum laude) from BYU, and a master’s degree in Public Policy from the Harvard Kennedy School.  He has spoken frequently at universities in the U.S., China and Thailand, and been interviewed on National Public Radio and other programs both in the U.S. and abroad.  He has lived in or visited 35 countries on every continent and speaks Chinese and Thai.  He is married to Jeanne Decker Griffiths and they have three grown children.

Friday, December 02, 2016

Uto-Aztecan and Its Connection to Near Eastern Languages, Part 3: The Egyptian Infusion, Plus the Explanatory Power of Stubbs' Framework

In Part 1 and Part 2 of this series, we introduced examples of cognates characteristic of two Semitic infusions into Uto-Aztecan, named by Stubbs as the Semitic-p and Semitic-kw infusions, which could correspond well with the infusions of Semitic language from the Nephites and later from the Mulekites into the Americas. These two groups existed for several centuries in different environments, presumably interacting with different peoples and languages, before merging into Nephite society. Finding significant elements of two distinct Semitic infusions is truly fascinating, both from a purely academic perspective but especially for students of the Book of Mormon.

Things get especially interesting, in my opinion, when we look at one further streak of Near Eastern linguistic influence in the Uto-Aztecan language family. Stubbs has identified over 400 cognates with Egyptian, far beyond the level of cognates often used to establish linguistic connections among New World languages. A remarkable phenomenon is that the Egyptian cognates generally have the same sound correspondences as the Semitic-p data, such as b > p, etc. The Egyptian infusion is not as strong as the two Semitic infusions, but on its own still exceeds the threshold in terms of number of cognates that are required to establish a language family. If this came from Lehi's group and the early Nephites, it would suggest that their spoken language was influenced by both Semitic (a flavor of Hebrew in particular) and Egyptian, possibly from the influence of the brass plates.

Stubbs leads the Egyptian discussion in Changes in Languages with the observation that -i, the old perfective/stative verb suffix in Egyptian corresponds with -i in UA, which is the intransitive/past/passive/stative verb suffix. Further, “the stative of Old Egyptian 3rd person verbs ended with -i and perfectly matches UA *-a/-i ‘alternation on the end of verbs, i.e., UA *-a ‘transitive, active’ and *-I ‘intransitive, passive, stative’ (Stubbs, Changes in Languages from Nephi to Now, 104). Further, Egyptian’s -w / -iw ‘passive verb suffix’ appears to be reflected well in UA -wa / -iwa, a ‘passive verb suffix’ (ibid., 105). But generally, the grammar of both Egyptian and Semitic is much different than that of UA.

A few examples of Egyptian cognates follow, taken from Changes in Languages from Nephi to Now, pp. 104–106:

(115) sbk / *subak ‘crocodile’ > UA *supak / *sipak
‘crocodile’ (b > p)

(124) tks ‘pierce’ > UA *tïkso ‘pierce, poke’

(125) km ‘black’ > UA *koma ‘dark, gray, brown, black’

(126) nmi ‘travel, traverse’ > UA *nïmi ‘walk around’

(129) wnš, pl wnšiw ‘jackal’ > UA *wancio / woncia
‘fox’ (-ns- > -nc- as in sense/cents)

(131) šm ‘go, walk, leave’ > UA *sima ‘go, leave’

(219) iqr ‘skillful, excellent, capable, intelligent’
> UA *yikar ‘knowing, intelligent, able, good’

The subak/supak cognate between Egyptian and Nahuatl was actually noted by Cyrus Gordon before Stubbs completed his work. As Stubbs puts it, “I merely added another 400 Egyptian-with-UA similarities to what he started” (Brian Stubbs, “Changes in Languages from Nephi to Now,” FAIRMormon Conference presentation, Aug. 2016). As seen in the subak/supak example above, the Egyptian infusion is like Semitic-p in the way b becomes p in UA. Several examples include:

(132) sbq ‘calf of leg’ > UA *sipika ‘lower leg’ (b > p)

(133) sbty ‘enclosure’ > UA *sapti ‘fence of branches’

(134) qbb ‘cool; calm, quiet, cool breeze’ > UA *koppa ‘quiet, calm’

(137) bbyt ‘region of throat’ > UA *papi ‘larynx, throat, voice’

(138) bši ‘spit, vomit’, bšw ‘vomit, vomiting’ > UA *piso-(ta) ‘vomit’

(139) bnty ‘breast’ > UA *pitti / *piCti ‘breast’

(141) bit ‘bee’ > UA *pitV > *picV ‘bee, wasp’

(142) bik ‘falcon’ > UA *pik ‘hawk species’

(154) sb’ ‘star’ > UA *sipo’ > *si’po ‘star’

Also following a trend in the Semitic-p data, Egyptian x > UA *k, as in:

(170) txi ‘be drunk, drink deep’, txw ‘drunkard’ > UA *tïku ‘drunk’
(294) xpš ‘foreleg, thigh’ > UA *kapsi ‘thigh’
(295) xpd ‘buttock’ > UA *kupta ‘buttocks’
(295) xpdw ‘buttocks’ > UA *kupitu ‘buttocks’…
(452) xt ‘fire, heat’ > UA *kut ‘fire’

The Egyptian infusion also demonstrates other sound changes found in the Semitic-p infusion, including “Egyptian glottal stop ’ > w, or glottal stop next to round vowels (o, u),” for which many examples are given, and “Egyptian initial pharyngeal ђ > UA *hu, and non-initially ђ > w/o/u.” Among the many examples of the latter, two should suffice:

(181) ђnqt ‘beer, drinkers’ > UA *hunaka ‘drunk, alcohol’

(182) ђtp / hotpe ‘be gracious, peaceable, set (sun), bury’
> UA *huppi ‘peaceable, go down, sink, dive’

UA *huppi is related to the Hopi tribal name, meaning “peace.” Stubbs discusses this word in a section on sound clusters and their behavior on sound change patterns. Sound clusters often lose some of the original sounds, just as the -ght- in “daughter” and “night” has become merely -t- as pronounced in English . A sound cluster can also preserve a sound that otherwise would have changed. For example:
[M]any UA languages have intervocalic *-p- > -v-. That happens in Hopi, the Numic languages, and others. So when we see a -p- between vowels, it is due to an underlying consonant cluster being reduced to -p-, but showing -p- (instead of -v-) because of -Cp- or the cluster strengthening the -p-: [thus] Egyptian ђotpe ‘peace’ > UA *hoppi > Hopi hopi ‘peace, peaceable’; otherwise, *hopi > hovi (Stubbs, Changes in Languages from Nephi to Now, 55–56).
Stubbs also notes that Egyptian d corresponds to Semitic ṣ, so there are many examples of Egyptian d > UA *s, just as Semitic ṣ > UA *s in the Semitic infusions. A few of many examples include:

(200) dbt / *dubat ‘brick, adobe brick’ > UA *supa ‘adobe’
(199) db’ ‘to clothe, garment, clothing’ > UA *sipu’ > *si’pu ‘slip, skirt, shirt, clothing’…
(197) dʕb ‘coal-black’, dʕbt ‘charcoal’ > UA *so’opa ‘black, dark’
(194) d’i ‘pierce, transfix’ > UA *so’a/*so’i ‘pierce, sew, shoot arrow’
(390) dwt ‘mosquito, gnat’ > UA *suti ‘mosquito, gnat’ (Stubbs, Changes in Languages from Nephi to Now, 108.)

Egyptian initial r- > UA t-, though the Tarahumara (TR) language retains r-. Thus, for example, Egyptian rmt “man, person” > UA *tïmati “young man” but TR ŕemarí (ibid.).  The behavior of Tarahumara in this aspect is one of several puzzles in UA studies that Stubbs’ work helps resolve. The puzzle, discussed in detail in Exploring the Explanatory Power, is that the initial t in Proto-UA was retained in all UA languages except Tarahumara (TR), where it become initial r; i.e., PUA *t- > UA t- but TR ŕ-, yet surprisingly, TR also retains initial t in many words. Stubbs states that this is explained by Egyptian and Semitic t and d sounds being retained as t in TR, while initial r in Egyptian and Semitic are retained as r in TR, while Egyptian and Semitic r > t in the other UA languages.

Of the 40 TR words with initial r- or t- having cognates with Near Eastern languages, 37 (93%) follow the pattern that TR initial r- corresponds to Semitic or Egyptian initial r, while an initial t- corresponds to Semitic or Egyptian initial t or d sounds: t, t, or d in Hebrew or t, d, or ṭ in Egyptian (Stubbs, Exploring the Explanatory Power of Semitic and Egyptian in Uto-Aztecan, 303). The 93% correlation is meaningful if the identification of cognates was done by considering TR initial t as possibly coming from either initial t- or r- in Near Eastern languages, which appears to be the case, otherwise possible Near Eastern cognates that underwent the r- > t- sound change would have been excluded and the (already high) number of cognates under consideration would have been reduced in a way that would skew the numbers. The resolution of this puzzle is one of many subtle indicators that Stubbs’ work is not an artifact chance alone and does indeed provide explanatory power.

In addition to resolving the puzzle of initial t- in Tarahumara, there are six other technical and fascinating UA puzzles that Stubbs’ work clarifies, treated in Chapter 6 of Exploring the Explanatory Power.

Stubbs argues that “the language of the Egyptians” spoken of by Nephi in 1 Nephi 1:2 “means the language of the Egyptians and that the learning of the Jews means the education Lehi received in the Jerusalem environment for writing Hebrew (or Aramaic) in the Phoenician alphabet, and that Lehi, Nephi, and later record keepers to varying degrees (lesser degrees later) knew both Hebrew and Egyptian” (Stubbs, Changes in Languages from Nephi to Now, 86).

In Changes in Languages, Stubbs provides 100 cognates with Egyptian, a small fraction of his total but enough, as with the Semitic cognates, to be startling and often impressive. The relationship between Egyptian stative/passive features and Uto-Aztecan was particularly surprising and nicely documented (ibid., 64–65).

An Example of Explanatory Power: The Lamanite Term Rabbanah

Stubbs’ framework also helps resolve questions about a rare glimpse at a Lamanite term in the Book of Mormon record, where a Lamanite servant after Ammon’s miraculously victory at the Waters of Sebus addresses him with the honorific title Rabbanah. Stubbs adds this insight:

Returning to Rabbanah, the final -anah may be entirely different than any of us are guessing, possibly an unknown suffix from a deceased Native American language. However, in agreement with [the Book of Mormon Onomasticon at] https://onoma.lib.byu.edu, I think it more probable that Rabbaan- has the Semitic noun suffix -aan (Book of Mormon orthography does not distinguish long and short vowels). As mentioned in the Onomasticon, -aan (in Aramaic and Arabic) is cognate with Hebrew -oon due to the Canaanite vowel shift of long aa > oo. LDS scholars have tended to contort explanations for Aramaic in Lehi lingo, because the assumption has been that the Lehi-Ishmael party spoke Hebrew, not Aramaic, which I assumed also, until after I found UA suggesting much Aramaic, and after I found renowned Semitists also suggesting a continued Aramaic substrate among northern Israel’s areas…. Nevertheless, UA shows both -aan in some terms and -oon in other terms (though Hebrew also has some -aan terms among the more frequent -oon), and the UA -aan / -oon mix is consistent with what we see as Lehi’s Semitic being a heavy Aramaic-Hebrew mix. The New Testament Rabboni ‘my master’ (John 20:16) has the same Semitic stem rabb- with the Hebrew suffix -oon and -i ‘my’. Yet interestingly this Lamanite term has the -aan suffix like Aramaic and Arabic, not the -oon more common in Hebrew, because the Lamaniyyiim would be continuing the spoken language of the Lehi-Ishmael party, without access to the records containing Egyptian and Hebrew writing and vocabulary. In other words, the evidence in UA would suggest that the Lamanite languages would probably have had more Aramaic and less Hebrew and Egyptian than the Nephite languages had, and Rabbanah is consistent with that….

After the -aan, the Onomasticon suggests a feminine abstract noun ending -aa. Possibly. However, more likely in my mind is a continuation with Aramaic morphology in the suffix -aa ‘the’. In some Syriac / Aramaic dialects, the suffix -aa ‘the’ becomes part of the citation form or part of the noun, similar to English ‘the horse’ to mean ‘horse’, and to Aramaic reemaan-aa ‘antelope-the’ > UA *tïmïna ‘antelope’. Similarly, Aramaic Rabbaan-aa ‘great one-the’ or ‘great one’, consistently Aramaic throughout all 3 morphemes, seems at least as viable as other proposals, if not more so (Stubbs, Changes in Languages from Nephi to Now, 142–143).

This is one of many tentative insights that Stubbs offers from his analysis. There may be many more to consider in the future.

Broad Explanatory Power

It is the explanatory power of Stubbs’ work that most clearly points to the value of his find. This is not just a zealous hodge-podge of rather meaningless random parallels like, say, the parallels often collected through the passionate work of some Book of Mormon critics whose theories of plagiarism and borrowing fail to provide any explanatory power for Book of Mormon origins and leave the strengths of the Book of Mormon untouched or even ironically amplified. The parallels between Semitic languages and UA identified by Stubbs follow demanding methodologies and show consistent, plausible sound changes that not only provide large groupings of related words, but also help explain some previous puzzles in UA, including:

  • The phonology of medial (middle) consonant clusters, a topic that Stubbs describes as a huge problem in UA, is clarified by considering the influence of Semitic and Egyptian on the effect of adjacent consonants (see Section 7.2 of Exploring the Explanatory Power, 10).
  • Proto Uto-Aztecan (PUA)’s *p has clear reflexes (sound shifts) in the various UA languages. But five languages (Tarahumara, Mayo, Yaqui, Arizona Yaqui and Eudeve) show both initial b and p corresponding to PUA *p (ibid.). This is generally viewed as an inconsistency, but Stubbs’ work adds a significant insight: “The initial b forms in these languages correspond to Egyptian b or Semitic b of Semitic-p, and the initial p forms in these languages to Semitic/Egyptian p. How can such an alignment be coincidental? For the various UA forms of b vs. p to match Semitic/Egyptian b vs. p is significant” (ibid.). See Section 6.2 of Exploring the Explanatory Power, where numerous examples are analyzed, including the Hebrew word for lightning, baraq, which became *pirok / perok, “lightning,” in UA, while the initial b is preserved as berok- in Mayo (My), be’ok in Yaqui (Yq), or becomes a v in ve’okte of Arizona Yaqi (AYq), viriki-t of TaraCahitan (TBr), and vonaq-q Serrano (Sr). Many more examples are offered. The great majority of these puzzling occurrences of both p- and b-/v- from PUA *p- can now be explained by origins from Near Eastern words with initial p and b.
  • PUA initial t* at the beginning of words corresponds to the initial t in most of the UA languages, with a notable exception of Tarahumara initial r. “So if PUA *t became Tarahumaran r, then where does Tarahumara initial t come from? The data in this work suggest that Semitic/Egyptian initial r became t, so in most UA languages initial r and initial t merged to look like PUA *r, but Tarahumara kept them separate. Thus [Section] 6.1 [of Exploring the Explanatory Power] clarifies the Tarahumara r vs. t puzzle, which see” (ibid., 10).
  • A variety of other issues in sections 6.3 though 6.7 of Exploring the Explanatory Power are also explained by Stubbs’ work.

Many specific puzzles are also explained as an understanding of the Near Eastern roots of UA helps clarify relationships between many of the words in UA languages. For example, Hebrew makteš “mortar, grinding stone” is reflected in *ma’ta of Proto-UA, “mortar, grinding stone.” But in Cahuilla (Ca), the noun-made-verb mataš suggests derivation from a verb that has the geminated *-tt- (< *mattaš) because otherwise a single *-t- will become -l- in Cahuilla. The geminated *-tt- could readily derive from a cluster such as -kt-, and helps explain why the Ca word preserves the -t-. The final š is also more consistent with Hebrew makteš, strengthening the case for Hebrew makteš > PUA *ma’ta (Stubbs, Changes in Languages from Nephi to Now, 111. ).

One phenomenon of interest is the occasional existence of two related UA words from related Semitic cognates, one from Semitic-p and one from Semitic-kw. An example is item 617, UA *ti’na ‘mouth’ < Aramaic diqn-aa (Semitic-p), and item 628, UA ca'lo ‘chin’ < Hebrew zaaqn-o ‘chin-his,’ where the Hebrew and Aramaic words are a cognate pair (Stubbs, Exploring the Explanatory Power, 362).This is consistent with two infusions that evolved differently or among different groups of people before being united in some way. Stubbs’ work may help explain the presence of some pairs of similar words in UA.

Impressive Depth

The entries in Exploring the Explanatory Power are far more than the amateur list of stray parallels that some critics are imagining from Stubbs. I’ve been impressed with how consistently deep and expansive Stubbs’ analysis is, though I speak as a non-expert. To let readers judge for themselves, I provide a couple of his 1500 entries.

824 Hebrew hayyownaa / hayyoonat ‘dove’: UA *hayowi ‘dove’.

Note loss of -n- also in Ktn[Kitanemuk] payo' ‘handkerchief’ < Spanish paño; similarly, Sapir claims that single *-n- disappears and only geminated *-nn- survived in SP:

UAcv-696 *hayowi 'dove': M88-h03; KH.NUA; KH/M06-h03: Two languages (Hp, Tb) agree with *howi: HP höwi, pl: höwìit 'dove, mourning dove, white-winged dove'; Tb 'owii-t 'dove'. In contrast, three Numic languages show hewi: Mn heewi' 'mourning dove'; TSh heewi-cci 'dove'; Sh heewi 'dove'. Numic forms showing hewi (Mn, TSh, Sh) leveled the V 's from -ai- / -ay- in *hayowi > heewi, o shortened to be perceived as part of-w-; so as CU 'ayövi and Wc haïmï suggest the first vowel was a. Kw hoyo-vi 'mourning dove'; CU 'ayövi 'dove'; Ch(L) hiyovi; and Sapir's SP iyovi- 'mourning dove' with the final syllable as part of the stem, as in CNum, all show -y-. Kw and CU seem to have reinterpreted the final -vi as an absolutive suffix, but Ch, SP, and CNum suggest otherwise, and we again see -w- > -v- in Num. Most of NUA suggest *hayowi. NP ihobi 'dove' transposed the h.
*hayowi          > hewi (Sh, Mn, TSh)
> hayo            >          'ayö- (CU), iyovi (SP)
> hoyo- (Kw), hiyo(vi) (Ch) > ihobi (NP)
> *howi           > höwi (Hp)
> 'owii-t (Tb)

Only the -n- is missing. Wc haïmï/’áïmï 'dove' and the -howa- of Tr čohówari / čohóbari 'turtle dove' are probably related as well. Wc ï could be a leveling of -yow- (*hayow > haï). TO hoohi 'mourning dove' is probably related in some way, perhaps with preservative consonant harmony (*howi > hoohi), and TO does keep PUA *h sometimes.

[TO keeps *h; wN>m in wc?, -n- > Æ] [1h,2y,3w,4n] [NUA: Num, Hp, Tb; SUA: Tep, TrC, CrC] (Stubbs, Exploring the Explanatory Power, 210)

Having recently discussed the significance of several Hebrew words related to dust-motifs in the Book of Mormon, particularly ’pl related to darkness and obscurity, where an interesting wordplay may occur with the word ’pr meaning “dust” in 2 Nephi 1:23, I wished to look at the details Stubbs had uncovered regarding a relevant term:

871 Hebrew 'pl 'be dark'; Hebrew 'opel 'darkness'; Hebrew 'aapel 'dark'; Hebrew 'apelaa 'darkness'; Arabic 'afala (< *'apala) 'go down, set (of stars)'; like 'set' and 'go down', this Semitic root also means 'be late, in the day or in the season'; a causative Hebrew form in Jastrow's Aramaic(J) is later Hebrew he'epiil 'make dark' with unattested impfv ya'piil (m.) and ta'piil (f.). The unattested huqtal 3rd sg masc and fem passive of the above root would be Hebrew *yu'pal and *tu'pal 'become dark, be gone down (light)' aligning perfectly with UA *yu'pa(l) and *tu'pa(l) in the sets below; in UA *cuppa, the palatalization t- > c- due to the high vowel u, and the cluster doubles the -pp-: Semitic *tu'pal > cuppa:
UAcv-891 *cuppa 'fire go out': M67-171 *cupa 'fire go out'; 236 'go out (of fire)'; M88-cu9; KH/M06-co21:
Tb cupat, ’ucup 'be out (of fire)' ; Tb(H) cuppat 'fire to be out, go out'; Wr co'a 'put out fire'; Wr co'i 'be out (of fire)' ; Tr čo'á-ri- 'have another put out fire’; Tr čo'wi 'dark'; NV tubanu 'bajar de lo alto [go down from high up)'. …

In the following, the semantic tie goes from 'set, go down, end (day)' to 'end (of whatever)':
UA cv-871a *cuCpa/i / *cuppa 'finish, be end of s.th.': I.Num258 *cu/*co 'disappear'; M88-cu1 'finish'; KH/M06-cul: Mn cúppa 'disappear'; NP coppa 's.th. sinking'; My cúppe 'terminarse, vi'; My cúppa 'terminar, vt';
AYq čupa 'finish, complete, fulfill (vow)'; AYq hi(t)čuppa 'completing, fulfilling (vow), harvesting', AYq čupe 'get completed, finished, married, ripe'; AYq čupia 'be complete'; Yq čúpa 'terminar (bien)'; Wr cu'piba-ni 'acabar'; Sr 'ičo'kin 'make, fix, finish'; Wc sïï 'finish'. Note Mn 'disappear' and NP 'sinking' reflect 'sun going down'. The over-lapping semantics (finish/harvest) in Cah (My, AYq) may have us keep in mind *cuppV 'gather, close eyes'. Does Sr ‘ičo-kin 'make, fix, finish' have hi- prefix or is it from Hebrew ya-suup 'come to an end'?

UAcv-871b *copa / *cupa 'braid, finish weaving': Tr čobå/čóba- 'trenzarse, hacerse la trenza', Tb tadzuub 'braid it'; CN copa 'finish weaving/constructing s.th.'; CN copi 'piece of weaving or construction to get finished'…. [NUA: Num, Tak, Tb; SUA: TrC, CrC, Azt] (Stubbs, Exploring the Explanatory Power, 218)

Other groups of UA words related in different ways to Hebrew *yu'pal and *tu'pal include, in the abbreviated format from Changes in Languages:

(872) ’pl / *yu’pal ‘be dark, go down, m’ > UA *yu’pa > *yuppa ‘be dark, black, (fire) go out’

(873) ’pl / *yu’pal ‘be dark, go down, m’ > UA *yu’pa(l) > Aztecan *yowal, CN yowal-li ‘night, n’ (The Aztecan branch regularly loses a single -p-) (Stubbs, Changes in Languages from Nephi to Now, 99)

Several other dust-related correspondences from Exploring the Explanatory Power include item 591, Hebrew ’adaama and UA *tïma, “earth”; item 150, Egyptian t’, “earth, land, ground, country,” cf. Coptic to, and UA *tiwa, “sand, dust,” and also UA *to’o, “dust”; item 162 Egyptian šʕy ‘sand’ (Coptic šoo) > UA *siwa(l) ‘sand’; and item 665, Aramaic ђirgaa’, “dust,” and UA *huCkuN (C again means an unknown consonant and N is a nasal sound), “dust.”

The richness of linkages in the vocabulary related to dirt, dust, earth, and sand is reflected in many other areas, ranging from body parts and functions, animals, pronouns, numerous details of daily life, etc.

A Note on Metals

Stubbs’ work touches directly or indirectly upon a variety of Book of Mormon topics such as the issue of metals. Metals are one of the weak spots in the Book of Mormon, for their presence among the early Nephites is said to be an anachronism in the Book of Mormon. Many scholars claim that metals were unknown in Mesoamerica until roughly 900 A.D. In addition to disputing this conclusion on the basis of numerous finds of ancient metals that can push that the date of metal use to much earlier dates, John Sorenson has also appealed to linguistics to show that metals must have been known much earlier. In Mormon’s Codex, for example, Sorenson states that “decisive evidence for the presence of Classic and Pre-Classic metallurgy” can be found in the linguistic data showing “that words for metal or (metal) bell appear in five reconstructed proto-languages of major families in Mesoamerica: Proto-Mayan, Proto-Mixtecan, Proto-Mixe-Zoquean, Proto-Huavean, and Proto-Otomanguean (John L. Sorenson, Mormon's Codex (Provo: Neal A. Maxwell Institute, 2013), 331–5. See also John L. Sorenson, “An Open Letter to Dr. Michael Coe,” Interpreter: A Journal of Mormon Scripture 1 (2012): 91–109; http://www.mormoninterpreter.com/an-open-letter-to-dr-michael-coe/).

Since Huastecan split from the main Mayan group by 2000 BV and both have words for metal, knowledge of metals must have been very ancient. Data from Proto-Mixtecan also supports a date of 1000 BC or earlier for a word for metal (Sorenson, Mormon's Codex, 331–2). Interestingly, Sorenson then points to an early speculation from Hyacinthe de Charency who suggested that the Mayan term nab (gold) is related to Egyptian nb or nbw (or noub) (Hyacinthe de Charency, “Les noms des metaux chez differents peuples de la Novelle Espange,” Proceedings of the 8th International Congress of Americanits (Paris, 1890; rept. Nendeln, Leichenstein: Draus, 1968), 536–47, as cited by Sorenson, ibid., 343.). Though uncertain of the merit in that proposal, Sorenson also notes that Yucatec Mayan tau or taau (lead or tin, but literally “moon excrement”) may relate to Arabic taws (moon), and wonders if Zoquean hama-tin (gold, silver) might relate to Egyptian hmty (copper), or if Zoquean ?anak (lead, tin) could be connected to Akkadian (Babylonian) annakum (tin) (Sorenson, Mormon's Codex, 343). He calls for further study on this issue, and I would concur.

Stubbs pays little attention to the issue of metals, but some linguistic hints appear in the data. In Exploring the Explanatory Power, item 465 looks at ties to the Egyptian word meaning metal, ore, or iron, as well as sky (the place where [meteoric] iron comes from), though the linkage may point to flint knives. More relevant is item 466, where Egyptian nm, “knife,” and p’-nm, “the knife,” may relate to UA *panomi, “knife, iron, tool,” which undergoes a *p > v/w shift in several UA languages to give words meaning “iron, tool,” “metal, money,” or “knife, metal.

Item 98 brings a Hebrew connection: Hebrew rqʕ ‘stamp, beat out (metal), spread out’; Hebrew raaqiiaʕ ‘extended surface, expanse, sky’ > UA *tukuN- in * tukuN-pa ‘sky’ and ‘metal’. The analysis in Exploring the Explanatory Power has nearly a full page on this connection. “Of interest is that Hebrew *raqiiʕ literally means ‘beat broad or flat,” used in beating metal flat, but also means sky, as a broad expanse, and the Ca [Cahuilla], Cp [Cupeño], Sr [Serrano], and La forms all mean both ‘sky’ and ‘iron/knife’” (tubbs, Exploring the Explanatory Power of Semitic and Egyptian in Uto-Aztecan, 83). A related word in Kw (Kawaiisu) means “pounded metal” (Jane Wheeler Pires-Ferreira and Billy Joe Evans, “Mössbauer Spectral Analyisis of Olmec Iron Ore Mirrors: New Evidence of Formative Period Exchange Networks in Mesoamerica,” in Cultural Continuity in Mesoamerica, ed. David L. Browman (Chiacago: Aldine / Mouton Publishers, 1978), 101–154). Such words need not imply that metallurgy was known, but could point to ancient work with iron ore, a material treasured by the Olmecs (ibid.). The apparent sky/metal correspondences in the Old and New Worlds are worth further exploration.

With further work, perhaps the UA language family might be added to the five Mesoamerican language families Sorenson has listed providing linguistic evidence of an early knowledge of metals in the Americas.


Overall, these two new works are impressive contributions not just to the study of language in the Americas but also to the study of the Book of Mormon. In terms of Book of Mormon evidence, what Stubbs has begun here may be one of the most significant advances in our ability to relate the Book of Mormon to New World data. Stubbs conclusions were driven by data and unexpected discoveries, not by a desire to prove anything or see something that isn’t really there. It can only be hoped that others will consider the data as well and the impressive case it makes for Old World infusions into the New.