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

Saturday, August 27, 2016

The Longer Ending of Mark and the Book of Mormon, Part 3: More External Evidence

In my previous post, "The Longer Ending of Mark and the Book of Mormon, Part 2: External Evidence for Authenticity," we looked at some of the evidence from early Christian fathers showing support for the disputed longer ending of Mark, Mark 16:9-20, which contains a quote from Christ that He also gave to His New World disciples in the Book of Mormon (see Part 1 for details). Unique elements from the longer ending were quoted or alluded by numerous early Christian writers, showing that the longer ending existed in New Testament manuscripts before the creation and use of Codex Vaticanus and Codex Sinaiticus, the earliest surviving New Testament manuscripts which have Mark stopping abruptly at Mark 16:8. These documents, however, are not independent witnesses but come from the same scriptorium and thus their omission of Mark may reflect a single corrupted source or a single influence.

Among the extensive evidence from early Christianity for the longer ending of Mark, perhaps the most important is that from before 150 A.D., for scholars generally conclude that the longer ending of Mark dates from the late second century, though some put it even later. If there is evidence that the longer ending existed before the last half of the second century, that would be particularly important. While the Apostolic Fathers do not directly refer to Mark 16:9-20 or quote from it, an important issue that many have missed is the possibility of allusions to the longer ending.

First Clement, the book authored by Clement of Rome, is one of the earliest Christian writings we have after the New Testament. Nicholas P. Lunn's The Original Ending of Mark: A New Case for the Authenticity of Mark 16:9-20 (Eugene, OR: Pickwick Publications, 2014) illustrates Clement's awareness and use of the Gospels in several ways, with language and teachings drawn from Mark, Matthew, and Luke. Words and phrases unique to Mark are used in several cases, such as in Clement's allusion to the parable of the sower (First Clement, 24.4-5, discussed in Lunn, pp. 65-66).

In First Clement 42.3-4, right after a discussion of the apostles having received the Gospel from Jesus Christ, who was sent by God (42.1-2), Clement uses language with striking parallels to the longer ending of Mark, compared below:
Having therefore received their orders, and being fully assured by the resurrection [ ἀναστάσεως ] of our Lord Jesus [ κύριος Ἰησοῦς ] Christ, and full of faith in the word [ τῷ λόγῳ ] of God, with full assurance of the Holy Spirit they went out [ ἐξῆλθον ] proclaiming the good news [ εὐαγγελιζόμενοι ] that the kingdom of God was about to come . . . preaching [ κηρύσσοντες ] in the country and in the towns . . . (1 Clem. 42.3–4)

Having been raised [ ἀναστὰς ] . . . he appeared to the Eleven . . . and he said to them, “Go into all the world and preach [ κηρύξατε ] the gospel [ τὸ εὐαγγέλιον ] to all creation . . . .” So then, after the Lord Jesus [ κύριος Ἰησοῦς ] had spoken to them, he was taken up into heaven, and sat down at the right hand of God. And going out [ ἐξελθόντες ] they preached [ ἐκήρυξαν ] everywhere, the Lord working with them and confirming the word [ τὸν λόγον ] through the accompanying signs. (Mark 16:9, 14 –15, 19 –20) (Lunn, pp. 6-67)
Lunn notes that the setting in both passages is similar, dealing with the commissioning of the apostles and their going forth to preach the gospel. There is also "obvious thematic coherence" and in some cases "words unique to that ending among all the Gospel accounts." Lunn explains (footnotes omitted):
Regarding the apostles going out to preach, the particular verb chosen by Clement to describe that event ( ἐξελθεῖν ) is the same as that occurring in Mark 16:20 of precisely the same action. None of the other Gospel writers uses this verb in this context. This uniqueness with respect to the verb found in the Markan ending makes a strong connection between Clement and that intertext. The verb “preach” in the active voice with the apostles as grammatical subject appears in both Clement ( κηρύσσοντες ) and the disputed verses of Mark ( κηρύξατε , ἐκήρυξαν ), yet not in this particular way in any of the other Gospel endings. Luke is the only one here to employ the same verb, though evidently in quite a different manner. Luke makes no explicit mention of the apostles as the agents of preaching, while his use of the verb is passive with the abstract noun “repentance” as the grammatical subject.  Moreover, Clement and Mark are further united in using “preach” absolutely, that is, without an explicit grammatical object.  The former has the phrase “preaching [ κηρύσσοντες ] in the country and in the towns,” and the latter “they preached [ ἐκήρυξαν ] everywhere.” In each instance the absolute verb is qualified by a locative expression. Undoubtedly there is much semantic overlap between “in the country and in the towns” and “everywhere.”  Indeed, it may be the case that, for stylistic reasons, Clement here consciously avoided using “everywhere” ( πανταχοῦ ) since he had used this very term just a few sentences before in 41 . 2 . Whether this is so or not, there is a specific semantic and structural correspondence at this point between the two phrases which is unparalleled in the other Gospels. Also found in both writers is the definite noun “the word” referring to the message preached. This sense of λόγος is another uniquely Markan feature in the Gospel endings.  The presence of all these elements together in a passage relating an identical setting, plus the fact that the other Gospel endings do not contain such usages, makes not merely a good case but an extremely forceful one for Clement’s familiarity with the questioned ending of Mark. If so, the significance of this cannot be overestimated since Clement’s letter is generally dated to the late first century. 

Lunn also considers the possibility that another document from the Apostolic Fathers alludes to the longer ending of Mark as he examines the Shepherd of Hermas, a document often mentioned by LDS apologists for its vivid reference to early Christian baptism for the dead. Like First Clement, the Shepherd of Hermas was also written in Rome, where by tradition Mark was said to have written his Gospel. Since the Shepherd of Hermas was mentioned by Irenaeus and the author of the Muratorian Canon, both dating to around 175 –190 AD, it was likely written around 150 AD or earlier, and some authorities give much earlier dates. While it does not directly quote from Mark or any other scriptural source, it  has apparent allusions to scripture.  Lunn says, "It is certain that the author was familiar with the Gospel of Mark seeing that in 97.2 –3 unmistakable reference is made to Mark 10 : 23 –24" (Lunn, p. 68). The passage in question is part of a parable involving twelve figurative mountains, compared with a part of the longer ending of Mark below:

And from the eighth mountain, where there were many springs and all the creation [ πᾶσα ἡ κτίσις ] of the Lord drank from the springs, are believers [ οἱ πιστεύσαντες ] such as these: apostles and teachers who preached [ κηρύξαντες ] to the whole world [ εἰς ὅλον τὸν κόσμον ], and who taught the word [ τὸν λόγον ] of the Lord [ τοῦ κυρίου ] soberly and purely, and who misappropriated nothing for evil desire, but always walked [ πορευθέντες ] in righteousness and truth . . . . ( Herm. 102 . 1 –2 ) .

 . . and he said to them, “Go [ πορευθέντες ] into all the world [ εἰς τὸν κόσμον ἅπαντα ] and preach [ κηρύξατε ] the gospel to all creation [ πάσῃ τῇ κτίσει ]. Whoever believes [ ὁ πιστεύσας ] and is baptized will be saved . . . .” And going out they preached [ ἐκήρυξαν ] everywhere, the Lord [ τοῦ κυρίου ] working with them and confirming the word [ τὸν λόγον ] through the accompanying signs. (Mark 16:15 –16 , 20) 

Lunn offers this analysis:
Here the mountain with its springs that give water to all creation represents those who preach the gospel to the world. Obviously there are several NT texts that deal with a similar subject. Yet of these, the phraseology of one in particular is traceable in the Hermas passage significantly more than any other, and that is the commissioning and preaching of the apostles recorded in Mark 16:15 –20. The most conspicuous link between the two texts is the occurrence in each of not just one but both of the semantically related phrases “all creation” and “the whole world.” The former phrase, apart from grammatical case, is identical in words and order ( πᾶσα ἡ κτίσις / πάσῃ τῇ κτίσει ), while the latter in both instances consists of the basic prepositional phrase εἰς τὸν κόσμον with a synonymous quantifying adjective adjoining the noun. Mark 16:15 is, it should be stressed, the only verse in the entire NT where both these ideas are expressed together. Elsewhere in the NT the phrase “all creation” also appears in Romans 8 :22; Colossians 1:15, 23. The first two of these three texts do not concern the subject of preaching. Though Colossians 1 :23 does relate to preaching, the use of the verb “preach” in this text differs from that found in Hermas in three ways: the subject is not the third person plural referring to the apostles but the third person singular of the gospel, the verb is passive not active, and the context lacks any equivalent phrase “to the whole world.” Hermas and Mark 16, on the other hand, agree in all these specifics. Speaking of the apostles each employs the aorist active of the verb κηρύξαι which, as explained earlier, is a form particular to Mark among the four Gospel endings. Additionally, both Hermas and the Markan passage contain the noun “the word” of the gospel message, which in each case is associated with “the Lord.” Both passages also refer to believers by means of an aorist participle. These several verbal connections, some quite specific, and especially the co-occurrence of the two phrases relating to κτίσις and κόσμος, lead to the conclusion that the author of the Shepherd of Hermas was in fact familiar with the final verses of Mark. (Lunn, p. 68.)

Lunn also points to the early Epistle of Barnabas which has some specific parallels to the longer ending, though the evidence is not as strong as the two cases considered above. Lunn also explores a variety of non-canonical or apocryphal sources which provide early allusions to the longer ending of Mark (pp. 71-76), before delving into evidence from 150 AD to 300 AD (p. 76 ff) and later sources.

The evidence in favor of the longer evidence is not limited to Greek writings.  James Snapp, Jr., in Authentic: The Case for Mark 16:9-20: 2016 Edition (Kindle edition) weaves together numerous threads from other parts of early Christianity. Among the Armenian evidence, for example, we have this:
Eznik of Golb (440) was one of the Armenian scholars who took part in the revision of the Armenian translation of the Bible in the 400’s. Eznik quoted Mark 16:17-18 in part 112 of his composition “ Against the Sects ” (also known as “De Deo” ) 1:25 : “And again, ‘Here are signs of believers: they will dislodge demons, and they will take serpents into their hand, and they will drink a deadly poison and it will not cause harm.’” This evidence is over 400 years earlier than the earliest Armenian manuscript of Mark which does not contain Mark 16:9-20.
The wide variety of early Christian sources pointing to the authenticity of the longer ending of Mark strike me as compelling and impressive evidence. But for Lunn, it's just the beginning of the extensive analysis and evidence to be considered. We'll survey a few highlights of the internal evidence in upcoming posts, and will find that there may even be some lines of analysis that can help us better appreciate some details in the Book of Mormon. 

Thursday, August 25, 2016

The Longer Ending of Mark, Part 2: External Evidence for Authenticity

Following up on my previous post on the Book of Mormon and Mark 16 ("Longer Ending of Mark, Part 1"), I would like to review a portion of the external evidence for the authenticity of the disputed longer ending of Mark (Mark 16:9-20). Nicholas P. Lunn's The Original Ending of Mark: A New Case for the Authenticity of Mark 16:9-20 (Eugene, OR: Pickwick Publications, 2014) provides a good summary of the external evidence, though the emphasis of his work is on the many internal evidences. But the most extensive resource I've found on external evidence is James Snapp, Jr., Authentic: The Case for Mark 16:9-20: 2016 Edition (Kindle). In "Introductory Summary: Mark 16:9-20: A Scholarly Consensus?" in the section "Manuscript Evidence," Snapp explains that the evidence from New Testament manuscripts does not present an overwhelming case for rejecting the longer ending:
Regarding the Shorter Ending [wherein Mark ends abruptly at the empty tomb in Mark 16:8], it is very misleading to vaguely say that some manuscripts have the Shorter Ending and some manuscripts have verses 9-20, because only six Greek manuscripts contain the Shorter Ending. The Shorter Ending was composed in Egypt , where the abruptly-ending text had previously circulated, in order to round off the otherwise sudden stoppage of the narrative. All six of the Greek manuscripts that contain the Shorter Ending also present at least part of the usual 12 verses, showing that they contained the entire passage when they were in pristine condition. The rest of the Greek manuscripts, that is to say, the remaining 99% of the manuscripts, uniformly present Mark 16:9-20 after verse 8. Gundry’s assertion that these manuscripts (over 1,600 in number) “hopelessly disagree” with each other is absurd.
 In the following section, "Patristic Evidence," he summarizes evidence from the earliest references to Mark (discussed in much detail in later sections):
Four compositions from the 100’s attest to the existence of copies of Mark which contained Mark 16:9-20: Epistula Apostolorum (by an unknown author), First Apology (by Justin Martyr), the Diatessaron (by Tatian), and Against Heresies (by Irenaeus).

Epistula Apostolorum (150) echoes the narrative structure of these 12 verses; it depicts the disciples not believing the report of a woman who had seen the risen Jesus –an event unrecorded in the Gospels except in Mark 16:10-11. The author also mentions the command of Christ to the apostles to “Go and preach,” (resembling Mark 16:15 ), and his use of the phrase “mourning and weeping” resembles wording in Mark 16:10.

Justin Martyr (155), in First Apology chapter 45, as he interprets Psalm 110, makes a strong allusion to Mark 16:20 (blended with Luke 24:52, just as one would expect a person to do who was using a Synoptics-harmony, as Justin did). As Justin refers to how the apostles went forth from Jerusalem preaching everywhere , he used three words – exelthontes pantachou ekeruxan – which appear together nowhere else except in Mark 16:20, in a different order. In chapter 50 of First Apology, Justin alludes to the scene in Mark 16:14 , using the phrase, “And later, when he had risen from the dead and was seen by them.”

Tatian (c. 172) incorporated all twelve verses into his Diatessaron, which expanded on his predecessor’s Synoptics-harmony by including the text of the Gospel of John. In the Latin Codex Fuldensis (a Diatessaronic witness from the West), and in the Arabic Diatessaron (from the East), the contents of Mark 16:9-20 are given essentially the same arrangement, thus echoing their second-century ancestor.

Irenaeus (c. 184), in the tenth chapter of Book Three of Against Heresies, wrote, “Also, towards the conclusion of his Gospel, Mark says: ‘So then, after the Lord Jesus had spoken to them, He was received up into heaven, and sits on the right hand of God.’” Like most of Irenaeus’ work, this part of Against Heresies exists only in Latin. A Greek annotation in Codex 1582 (based on an ancestor-manuscript produced in the mid-400’s) next to Mark 16:19 affirms the genuineness of Irenaeus’ statement; the annotation says, “Irenaeus, who lived near the time of the apostles, cites this from Mark in the third book of his work Against Heresies.” This annotation also appears in minuscule 72, and in an uncatalogued manuscript recently described by the Center for the Study of New Testament Manuscripts.

Papias, a writer very early in the 100’s (c. 110), wrote something that may relate to the contents of Mark 16:18. Eusebius of Caesarea, in Book 3, chapter 39 of his Church History, quotes Papias along the following lines: “Papias, who lived at the same time, relates that he had received a wonderful narrative from the daughters of Philip. For he relates that a dead man was raised to life in his day. He also mentions another miracle, regarding Justus surnamed Barsabbas: he swallowed a deadly poison, and received no harm, on account of the grace of the Lord.”

Papias describes a believer who was not harmed by poison, but he does not explicitly say that he is providing an example of the fulfillment of the prophetic words of Mark 16:18. It is possible that he mentioned this anecdote as an illustration of how Mark 16:18 was to be understood –that is, as a prophecy about incidental dangers, rather than deliberate self-endangerment – but it is also possible that he told the story simply because it was interesting.

Snapp addresses claims that Clement and Origen show no knowledge of the longer ending, which turn out to be arguments from silence that bear little evidentiary weight.  But in fact, there is a compelling case that Clement actually was aware of the longer ending.

Further, Jerome is repeatedly said, by commentator after commentator, to have regarded the longer ending of Mark as spurious, and to have known of no Greek manuscripts supporting it. But those claims arise from his tendency to freely copy the text of others with minimal change, resulting in his use of a passage ultimately deriving from Eusebius that questioned the longer ending. But Jerome himself actually supported the longer ending by including it in his Vulgate Gospels. As for Eusebius, who is perhaps the main early Christian voice cited to support rejection of the longer ending, he was clearly aware of New Testament manuscripts that had the longer ending, did not insist that it should be rejected, and "recommended to Marinus that the passage be punctuated and retained" (Snapp, section "Introductory Summary," sub-section "Patristic Evidence").

The patristic support for the longer ending include Tertullian (195-220), Hippolytus (235), Vincentius (256), and many more. Snapp has chapters dealing with evidence from the 100's, the 200's, the 300's, the 400's, and later evidence for the authenticity of the longer ending. It is also clear that the longer ending was an important part of early Christian lectionary documents used in worship (Snapps, Chapter 7, "Lectionary Evidence").

If the concepts in Mark 16:9-20 were fabricated long after the Gospel of Mark was written, it is difficult to understand how some of the earliest Christian documents we have provide support for their authenticity. Many of these documents existed long before the two related manuscripts, the Codex Vaticanus and Codex Sinaiticus were composed, the earliest extant Greek manuscripts that are the primary tools used to reject the longer ending of Mark. What we learn from the early Christian evidence is that there were much earlier manuscripts of Mark known in the Christian world but not extant today that support the authenticity of the longer ending of Mark. This strengthens the possibility that Christ actually spoke the words quoted at the end of Mark 16, and that He could have spoken similar words to His New World disciples in the Book of Mormon, as quoted in Mormon 9.

There is much more to the external evidence to consider, and also significant internal evidence that we will review briefly in upcoming posts.

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

The Book of Mormon Versus the Consensus of Scholars: Surprises from the Disputed Longer Ending of Mark (The Longer Ending of Mark, Part 1)

One of the most effective and interesting arguments against the Book of Mormon is that it quotes from the disputed ending of the Gospel of Mark. In Mormon 9:22-25, Mormon quotes words spoken by Christ to His disciples in the New World that gave them essentially the same commission that Christ gave His apostles at the end of the Gospel of Mark in Mark 16:15-18: go preach the Gospel, he that believes and is baptized will be saved, and signs will follow. Not a problem, right? After all, Christ was often teaching the same things in the New World that He taught in the Old, just like the Sermon on the Mount, so why should we worry about also using His own words from Mark?

The problem--hang on to your testimonies, folks--is that the quoted words from Mark should not be in the Bible and are a late, spurious addition, according to the consensus of most Bible scholars. The two earliest, extant New Testament manuscripts both have the Gospel of Mark ending at Mark 16:8 with two women amazed and afraid as they stand before the empty tomb. According to modern scholars, the following verses, known as the "longer ending of Mark," covering the appearance of Christ to Mary and then the apostles and the great commission to preach the Gospel to every creature, should not be there and may not have been inserted into some manuscripts until much later. So what's it doing in the Book of Mormon, ascribed to Christ in His teachings to the disciples? The critics can chortle and say too bad Joseph wasn't more of a bible scholar before he plagiarized a completely bogus quotation from Christ.

Fortunately, very recent scholarship on the longer ending of Mark provides many compelling reasons to accept the disputed longer ending after all. It's a fascinating story with many lessons for students of the Bible and the Book of Mormon that I'll be covering here in several future posts.

For those interested in this matter, the key resource I recommend, available in both print and for Kindle, is Nicholas P. Lunn's The Original Ending of Mark: A New Case for the Authenticity of Mark 16:9-20 (Eugene, OR: Pickwick Publications, 2014). Lunn demonstrates how to dig deeply into the scriptures and explore them from many independent lines of analysis. Also see James Snapp, Jr., Authentic: The Case for Mark 16:9-20: 2016 Edition, with extensive information about early Christian references to the longer ending of Mark. Cases for and against the longer ending are provided by four differing authors in Perspectives on the Ending of Mark, ed. David Alan Black (Nashville, TN: Broadman and Holman, 2008), though the analysis in favor of the longer ending lacks the benefit of the extensive foundation provided by Nicholas Lunn's later work.

Here is the vulnerable passage from Mormon 9:22-25:
22.  For behold, thus said Jesus Christ, the Son of God, unto his disciples who should tarry, yea, and also to all his disciples, in the hearing of the multitude: Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature;
23. And he that believeth and is baptized shall be saved, but he that believeth not shall be damned;
24. And these signs shall follow them that believe -- in my name shall they cast out devils; they shall speak with new tongues; they shall take up serpents; and if they drink any deadly thing it shall not hurt them; they shall lay hands on the sick and they shall recover;
25. And whosoever shall believe in my name, doubting nothing, unto him will I confirm all my words, even unto the ends of the earth.
Here is the related portion from Mark 16:
15. And he said unto them, Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature.
16. He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned.
17. And these signs shall follow them that believe; In my name shall they cast out devils; they shall speak with new tongues;
18. They shall take up serpents; and if they drink any deadly thing, it shall not hurt them; they shall lay hands on the sick, and they shall recover.
19. So then after the Lord had spoken unto them, he was received up into heaven, and sat on the right hand of God.
20. And they went forth, and preached every where, the Lord working with them, and confirming the word with signs following. Amen.
If these verses were made up by some scribe to round out the abrupt ending of Mark at Mark 16:8, and if Jesus did not actually say this to his apostles in the New World, it would seem very odd that Mormon would quote from the teachings of Christ to his New World disciples and end up with the very same content given in the disputed longer ending of Mark. It is an issue that needs to be considered. One could argue, as some LDS people have, that the Book of Mormon is somehow an expanded text that builds on ancient gold plate material or, more extremely, at least on ancient "truthy" ideas, with lots of Joseph's added commentary and thoughts taken from modern sources, but this is unsatisfying and is inconsistent with the data we have about the translation process, both in terms of the mechanics of dictation and composition, as well as the structure and language found in that text.

Fortunately, in spite of an ongoing scholarly "consensus," there is surprisingly impressive evidence that the longer ending of Mark is authentic. Before I explore some of those details, let me first point out that over 95% of the existing ancient Greek manuscripts of the New Testament have the longer ending of Mark. The problem came with the relatively recent discovery of the two oldest extant manuscripts, the Codex Sinaiticus and the Codex Vaticanus, both of which end at Mark 16:8 and lack the longer ending. These manuscripts, though, differ from our canon in many other ways and need not be assumed to be the best and most accurate manuscripts.

They are the oldest extant manuscripts, yes, but they were not the oldest manuscripts used and quoted by early Christians, and that's the area where things are especially interesting. Dozens of ancient sources provide evidence that at least multiple portions of the longer ending of Mark were in place before the Codex Sinaiticus and the Codex Vaticanus came into existence. In fact, both of those manuscripts provide evidence that the copyists were at least aware of an alternate ending for Mark (one has an unusually large space after Mark 16:8 as if leaving space for the additional verses, and the other has unusual markings at the end as if to physically prevent insertion of known additional verses).

The case for the longer ending of Mark, as we'll explore in the near future, includes an impressive array of different lines of thought. The evidence from early Christian writers is impressive. The analysis of individual words, themes, grammatical patterns, parallelism, prophecy and fulfillment, Exodus archetypes, and so on provide a fascinating, multidimensional approach to Mark from an able bible scholar that consistently calls for accepting the integrity of Mark as we now have it. Along the way, there are some interesting approaches that we can also apply to the Book of Mormon to better appreciate some subtleties in that ancient text.

Many scholars feel there is no need to even consider the questions Lunn and other raise about the "consensus" rejection of the longer ending of Mark, but this is truly unfortunate and reminds of some of the human limitations of scholars, no matter how impressive and infallible they may seem. I know, I know, that's heresy! So be it.

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Weeping, Wailing, and Gnashing of Teeth? No Need to Grieve Over Another Case of Alleged Plagiarism in the Book of Mormon

"Weeping, wailing, and gnashing of teeth" in the Book of Mormon has been criticized as an obvious mistake based on plagiarizing the New Testament. But there's no need to grieve over this case.

There are many questions like this that one case raise, for the Book of Mormon relies heavily on biblical language. It seems that when they fit, expressions from all over the Bible, including the New Testament, are used in the translation. The intertextuality with the KJV is actually remarkable. Pointing to a few words shared and crying foul misses the sophisticated way in which KJV language is used in the translation (more on this below).

Critics have objected to two aspects of the combination in Alma 40:13 of "weeping, and wailing, and gnashing of teeth," as well as "weep, and wail, and gnash their teeth" in Mosiah 16:2. The first objection is that this phrase is close to a New Testament phrase, "weeping and gnashing of teeth" (Matthew 8:12, 22:13, 24:51, 25:30 and Luke 13:28) that is not found in the Old Testament, making it seem that Joseph "plagiarized" from the New Testament. It is also close to "wailing and gnashing of teeth" in Matthew 13:42,50. Second, they object to "weeping and wailing" together since they mean roughly the same thing and are redundant, and allegedly not found in the Bible: "The Bible never uses both weep and wail because in all of these cases they are just alternate translations of the same original word" says one critic at https://m.reddit.com/r/exmormon/comments/1q1tmt/, for example. It's an odd combination of arguments, though. First, we must reject a phrase in the Book of Mormon because it has a combination of words from the Bible, and second, we must reject it because it uses a combination of words NOT found in the Bible. That's a relatively high hurdle for any divinely aided translation of scripture, IMHO.

Is it true that "weep" and "wail" don't occur together in the KJV? Not so fast! Esther 4:3 seems to invalidate that specious argument: "there was great mourning among the Jews, and fasting, and weeping, and wailing; and many lay in sackcloth and ashes." Here "weeping" is from Strong's H1085, bekiy, and "wailing" is from Strong's H4553, micepd, which in the KJV is typically translated as "mourning" or "wailing." Further, Jeremiah 9:10 has the same combination: "For the mountains will I take up a weeping and wailing, and for the habitations of the wilderness a lamentation." Later in Jeremiah 9:20 we have "wailing" and "lamentation," which is close.

Regardless of how they are translated, a pair of similar words to express mourning is actually a legitimate ancient Hebrew practice attested in many places besides Esther. It's just a natural part of parallelism in Hebrew, especially in poetical expressions. 2 Samuel 1:12 has "And they mourned, and wept, and fasted until even, for Saul, and for Jonathan his son...." The word "mourned" is Strong's H5594, caphad, meaning "to wail, lament, mourn," and "wept" is Strong's H1058, bakah, meaning "weep, bewail, cry, shed tears." A Hebrew word often translated as "howl" is Strong's H3213, yalal, meaning "howl, wail, make a howling." Both yalal and caphad are combined, for example in Micah 1:8 where they are translated in the KJV as "wail" and "howl" in "I will wail and howl," followed by two other Hebrew words for mourning in "I will make a wailing like the dragons and a mourning as the owls." That's wail, howl, wailing, and mourning all in one verse, with four different Hebrew terms. Isaiah 14:31 has "Howl, O gate; cry, O city" in the KJV, with "wail" and "howl" in the NIV. Isaiah 22:12 has "weeping" and "mourning," Isaiah 25:34 and Isaiah 65:14 have "cry" and "howl," Jeremiah 4:8 has "lament" and "howl," Jeremiah 6:26 has "mourning" and "lamentation," Jeremiah 48:31 has "lament" and "cry." Other examples with two terms for mourning or lamenting combined include Genesis 50:10 and many more.

"Wail" and weep" or "cry" cannot be said to come from the same word, as the critic alleged, and can be combined with other terms for mourning, as often happens in the Hebrew Bible. There's no problem here. Translating a pair of terms for mourning as "weeping" and "wailing" poses no problem, even if it looks like it's from the New Testament. It's found in the Old Testament, but even if the Old Testament bulls-eyes from Esther and Jeremiah weren't there, using New Testament terms in the translation is not a problem and does not invalidate the authentic Semitic origins of the Book of Mormon.

But what about "gnashing of teeth"? Isn't that straight out of the New Testament? Perhaps, but as with much of the language in the New Testament, there are ancient echoes to consider. In fact, the combination of mourning with "gnashing of teeth" is found in the Hebrew Bible in Psalm 112:10: "The wicked shall see it, and be grieved; he shall gnash with his teeth." Further, Lamentations 2:16 has "they hiss and gnash the teeth." There is no reason why Book of Mormon writers could not have used similar terms to describe the grieving of the wicked, including a parallel pair of mourning-related terms. Gnashing (upon someone) with the teeth also occurs in Job 16:9, Psalm 35:16, and Psalm 37:12.

Whatever the original Hebrew/Egyptian words were, a poetical pairing of mourning-related words and the vivid imagery of gnashing teeth, all attested in the Old Testament, could naturally and appropriately be translated into familiar KJV language to yield "weeping, wailing, and gnashing of teeth." This grouping has Biblical support but is not simply plagiarized from the Bible. It's ideal for critics because they can object that it is too much and too little like the Bible.

For details on the profound level of interwoven language, see Nick Frederick's presentation, "'Full of grace, mercy, and truth': The New Testament in the Book of Mormon," presented at the 2015 Exploring the Complexities in the English Language of the Book of Mormon conference sponsored by The Interpreter. Also see "Why Did Ammon Borrow So Much from Tradition in Alma 26?" at Book of Mormon Central, June 30, 2016; Quinten Barney, "Samuel the Lamanite, Christ, and Zenos: A Study of Intertextuality," Interpreter: A Journal of Mormon Scripture 18 (2016): 159–70; "Why Does Jacob Quote So Much from the Psalms? (Jacob 1:7)," Book of Mormon Central, March 25, 2016, and Taylor Halverson, "Reading 1 Peter Intertextually with Select Passages from the Old Testament," Interpreter: A Journal of Mormon Scripture, 20 (2016): 151-176.

Monday, August 22, 2016

David Archuleta Makes China a Better Place

Long after the devotional was over, David was
still talking with fans and giving autographs.
David Archuleta made a brief visit to Shanghai last weekend and as a result, China is a better place, especially for the many foreign-passport holders who came to the devotional he kindly gave on Sunday afternoon. It was difficult for some in the audience, though, because applause and screaming were not allowed.

I saw some audience members, my wife included, barely able to hold back the applause because David is so wonderfully talented. It's not just a beautiful voice, it's the beautiful message that he delivers with the Spirit. He actually spoke more than he sang because he has so many stories and inspiring thoughts he wanted to share, and I enjoyed his spoken words just as much as the music. (Kudos also to two very talented pianists from the Jinqiao Branch, Jenna Gray and Cheryl Parkinson.)

His message was not just for the English speakers. David also sang "I Am a Child of God" in Mandarin with just a few minutes of coaching from one of our members before the devotional. It sounded great. How he managed the pronunciation of Pinyin (the transliteration system for expressing Chinese in the Roman alphabet) with so little preparation is beyond me.

Really, this young man is so impressive and yet so humble. He came to bear testimony of Christ and touched every soul, from what I could see.

This is a man who had the courage to walk away from millions of adoring fans to "fall off the edge of the earth," as some said, to serve a mission in Chile. So many of his peers in the musical industry who became famous while young seem to have fallen into tragic spirals of decadence, debauchery, and selfishness. David is so different. The family he stayed with here and who worked with him most closely for part of his visit to Asia told me that he is just as sweet and good in his daily life as he seems on stage. He is above all a servant of God seeking to help others, and his beautiful, inspiring devotional won me over as a fan. (Yeah, even bought a bunch of his music.) I look forward to more miracles from this great Latter-day Saint.

Two of the stories he shared involved bus rides. One was his story from Chile, one his grandmother's from Honduras. In Chile, David was on a bus ride when he felt a strong impression to turn and look at a person behind him. He did, and saw a young woman with a lot of piercings. Her?? Then he felt a powerful prompting to go over and talk. Shy, quiet David felt like this was an unreasonable request and spent a lot of time resisting, but recognizing that it was the Spirit, he finally walked over to her right before the bus reached his destination. His companion starting calling to him to get off and David was about to give up, when the Spirit urged him to act and give her an invitation to an upcoming Young Single Adult event. Awkwardly, he pulled out a printed invitation to the YSA event and said something like, "Uh, there's an event my church is having. You are welcome to come." And then he had to run.

Later other missionaries asked if he remembered a girl he had met on the bus, describing her and giving her name. They told David that she had come to the YSA event and was now taking the discussions. Then later he learned she was getting baptized. And then her sister got baptized. And then her whole family. She also went on a mission. For many lives, the world was changed for the better. "I didn't say anything intelligent to [that girl]. All I did was give her an invitation." David cited this as an example of how the Lord does the real work and can achieve great things through small and simple things.

The other bus story took place in Honduras as his grandmother noticed two strange Americans in white shirts on a bus. She was curious about who they were. Were they knife salesmen, perhaps? She would later learn that one of them felt a strong prompting that they needed to find this woman and teach her, so he remembered the village where she got off the bus and planned to return. A couple of weeks later, his grandmother became agitated when she saw those same two missionaries coming down the street. She was outside, and they recognized her and walked toward her. She was worried that they would want to talk and sell her something, and she did not want to invite them in because she was so poor and the little hut she lived in was not a good place to receive visitors. They overcame her resistance and said they didn't care about the setting and just wanted to share a message.

When one of them opened up his briefcase, revealing a picture of Jesus instead of knives or other wares, she was relieved and was able to listen. She loved the message and accepted the invitation to come to church. The morning she was to go to church, she awoke with a sense of tremendous peace, and then had a vision. She heard music, the singing of a choir, and as she looked up, there were angels singing a beautiful song. Later that morning, when she arrived at the church, she broke out in tears when she heard the opening song, "Come Come Ye Saints," the song she recognized from having heard it earlier that morning in her vision. She knew she had come to the right place. Thank God for our missionaries who respond to the promptings of the Spirit and invite people to come unto Christ (or, in many cases, to more fully come unto Christ). And thank you David, for giving your time and energy to come a place where the need for your message is tremendous. So many of us were lifted by your love, your music, and your witness for Christ and the power of the Atonement.


Monday, August 15, 2016

The FAIRMormon Conference: Dealing with Data on the Language of the Book of Mormon

FAIRMormon had its annual conference recently. Transcripts of some of the talks will be available soon, but I recommend watching the presentations by paying for video access. I got up ridiculously early on a Saturday morning here in Shanghai to watch linguist Brian Stubbs talk about the Uto-Aztecan language group and its surprisingly strong connections to Near Eastern languages, a finding that was driven by data, not apologetics, but one that opens some important doors for understanding the ancient influence of the Near East on some ancient New World peoples. I will discuss this more in the near future and will be reviewing his outstanding new book on the topic, Changes in Languages from Nephi to Now.

Another presentation dealing with surprising finds in language related to the Book of Mormon came from Royal Skousen and Stanford Carmack, "Finishing up the Book of Mormon Critical Text Project: An Introduction to The History of the Text of the Book of Mormon." A large portion of this reviewed some of the very large body of evidence pointing to Early Modern English influence in the dictated text of the Book of Mormon, something that supports tight control (and possibly divine control) in at least some major aspects of the translation process. This, again, is not something being driven by apologetics because there is no reason why we need such a finding to defend the Book of Mormon. It is driven by the data, and the data form a very strong argument that contradicts many simple assumptions about the translation process and the authorship of the Book of Mormon.

There were many other great presentations on other topics unrelated to language issues.  The transcripts for most of them should be posted shortly. Enjoy!

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Why I'm Falling for Greece (and the Rest of Europe)

I'm falling for Greece--both literally and figuratively, as I'll explain. In fact, I'm falling for much of Europe. I'm so impressed with the kindness of the people we met there recently in France, Italy, and especially Greece.

During a necessary 31-day exile from China due to tax regulations (something foreigners in China should do every five years), we were able to visit family in the US and then spend some time in Europe, including a week of work in one of Europe's most beautiful towns, Lucca, Italy, whose thick medieval wall is still completely intact. It provides a beautiful route for walking or bike riding. One of the nicest weeks of work I've ever had.

Near the end of our stay in Lucca, I was reminded that one my vulnerabilities is my high gravitational profile. There are advantages to being tall, but also some costs, especially when one is tall and perhaps a bit clumsy. While on a bike ride with my wife, I had to make a sharp turn on some gravel to avoid an oncoming biker and follow my wife on an unexpected route she took. Unfortunately, the turn on the gravel resulted in a little spill. Not bad, except it put a cut on my hand and on a leg, and we were supposed to go diving in a couple of days in Greece.

I was almost wondering if now I would have to call off the diving course we were signed up for (shame on you if you are somehow insinuating that there was some degree of reluctance on my part about the whole diving thing that my wife was very excited about doing). But the main wound was healing well by the time we got to Santorini Island in Greece (the place where many of the most popular pro-tourism photos from Greece are taken) and I figured maybe I'd be OK, maybe, just maybe. Shortly after arriving on Santorini as we walked about the steep streets and rugged steps of Thira (Fira), a town on a tall volcanic cliff overlooking the ocean, I took some shots from an elevated view point and then stepped back onto the steep path, only to find myself--here goes my gravitational profile again--suddenly falling due to an uneven step that wasn't where I expected it to be. I fell with my SLR camera hanging in front of me (it may have blocked my view of the gap I was stepping onto), which hit the ground hard. I was worried that it would be ruined, though it was OK--just needed a reset by taking the battery out for a second.

Almost as bad, I caught myself as I hit the ground by landing on exactly the same spot on my right hand that I had cut in Lucca, and opened up the wound again. More painful and a bit uglier this time. Now I thought there was no chance to go diving the next day as planned, but to my surprise (yes, of course this was a pleasant surprise!) it would be OK thanks to some spray-on glue of sorts from a rugged diving instructor and thanks to some good water-proof bandaids. Amazingly, I survived the four-day diving course, my hand continued to heal rather well in spite of diving, and now we are both PADI-certified open water divers. I've been so surprised to find how many people I talk to these days are serious divers. We are such slackers waiting this long to discover diving when it seems like everyone else has been doing it since they were kids. We're just beginners, but excited to be beginning.

A surprise for me after this fall was that a couple of Greek tourists who had been behind us stuck around for several minutes as I pulled myself together to make sure I was OK. They were very kind and thoughtful in helping a clumsy foreigner who had just fallen. I can say that this is not always encountered in certain other parts of the world, where something like a foreigner falling and passing out on a subway recently caused an embarrassing mass panic and exodus of about 100 nearby passengers on a subway in Shanghai, none of whom checked if the victim was OK and none of whom called authorities or anyone else for help, according to a local newspaper report which encouraged people to call for help in such situations.

I would find this kind of kindness repeatedly during my stay in Greece, and not just from Greeks. Spaniards, French, Italians, Germans, and others were this way, but the Greeks seemed especially warm and adept at being kind. I should also point out that it was the kindness of our Spanish diving instructor, Mark at the Santorini Dive Center, who helped me get past some difficulties on day two of diving where I was about to call it quits, and I'm so grateful for it because the experiences I had after that were truly wonderful and enhanced my awe for the wonders of Creation.

More surprising Greek kindness was encountered near the end of our Santorini stay as we moved to a little hotel in Perissa, closer to the Santorini Dive Center (the only dive center there with real on-shore facilities like a bathroom, shower, tables in the shade, etc.). The manager there, Margarita, was so warm and kind, it just amazed me. In fact, when she learned that were going to take the long walk down to the main beach in Perissa to eat at the place she recommended, she gave us a ride in her car, then introduced us to the owner of the restaurant (Fillippo at Fillippo's Restaurant), and arranged for Fillippo's wife to give us a ride back when we were done. These Greeks just wowed me with their friendliness and willingness to help. The food was impressive as well.

Margarita told us about her husband, who worked on a big ferry that goes between Santorini and Crete. In fact, it was the ferry we would be taking the next day. His job title was something like "boson" which sounded pretty heavy, but I wasn't sure what that would be. But maybe we'd be lucky and run into him, who knows?

On the High Speed 7 (Cosmote 7) ferry the next day, my gravitational profile struck again. As we got on the ferry and tried to figure out where to leave our bags down in the crowded bay for automobiles and bags, we were rushing from one side to the other amidst the crowd as we were being directed with a degree of confusion. I didn't see a sudden projection on the floor that caught my foot as I was pulling a carryon and carrying a couple of bags that made me top-heavy. Alas, I was in free fall again, and will you be surprised if I told you that I broke my fall with my right hand? The heel of my right hand? Unfortunately, there were some relatively sharp metal ridges on this floor that are OK for automobile tires but not so easy on human skin. This sliced a noteworthy section of skin including the wounds that had been healing slowly during four days of diving. This time there was more blood, but fortunately it was not too bad. I just wanted to find a place to wash the wound and get something to keep it compressed and dry. To my surprise, people flocked around me to help instead of scattering to the wind or just standing around at a safe distance to watch and take photos. Staff members from the ferry took me up a floor and stuck with me. When I spotted a restroom and went in to wash the wound, a man escorted me to help. Then he brought me over to what looked like a captain of leader of some kind who was very attentive and helped find some bandaging for me.

A sweet German man went and got his wife, a nurse, who came and took a look and explained that it was shallow and would be OK, and gave me some kind guidance. The leader from the ferry crew and other staff members continued looking after me and saw that we were escorted to a nice first-class section of the boat, and they gave the same kind treatment to the German couple who had helped us, and we all got free drinks. Sweet. Later, I remembered that I wanted to find the "boson" to meet Margarita's husband. As I walked back into the main part of the ferry, one of the staff members rushed over  to see how I was doing. I explained that there was a "boson" on the ship whose wife was named Margarita, and wondered if there was someway to find such a person. She kindly brought me over to a main desk, where I had been given help earlier, and made some calls, and then told me that the boson would be there soon. A few minutes later, Margarita's husband came to greet me--the same captain-like leader who had been so kind and attentive before. What is it about these Greek people that makes them so impressive? I told him about our experience with Margarita and thanked him and his wife for their kindness. What great people.

Like I said, I'm really falling for Greece, and for Europe. I just hope I can keep it more figurative in the future, and keep my gravitational profile under control.

I talked to a Finnish friend about my European experience on this trip, and she pointed out that this is consistent with her experience. She knows that many Europeans sometimes seem aloof and cold to Americans at first glance, but she feels there is a deep genuineness to Europe that many Americans miss. Whatever it is, I would like another serving soon.

The warmth of the Greeks was especially touching and I often wondered on my stay in Greece if this was at least partially a result of the Greek Orthodox religion, for which I have high respect and have had some positive experiences with very deep and genuine people. Of course, separating culture from a dominant religion is impossible, and many of the very warm and kind people I met on this trip were not Orthodox. Some were probably atheists. One even liked one of America's presidential candidates. So, as with most things in life, it's complicated. But thank you, Europe, for treating us so well. May Europe survive the troubles ahead, including the implosion of Italian banks that seems imminent. More negative interest rates and more money printing isn't going to solve this disaster. So many crises brewing, and I'm nervous for Europe and my friends there. But what an amazing place, and what great food.

Here are a few views from Santorini Island:








Tuesday, August 09, 2016

One of the Best Free Books Ever: Donald R. Parry, Poetic Parallelisms in the Book of Mormon: The Complete Text Reformatted

For those interested in evaluating the literary power or the Book of Mormon, or those wishing to better understand the artistry of the text, there's a remarkable free book online that represents a massive effort from a talented scholar.  Donald R. Parry's book, Poetic Parallelisms in the Book of Mormon: The Complete Text Reformatted (Provo, UT: Neal A. Maxwell Institute, Brigham Young University, 2007) reformats the text to show the presence of possible chiasmus and other forms of parallelism, and frequently adds labels to identify the nature of the parallelism. This free download from the Maxwell Institute at BYU is a PDF file that you can use for scripture study on your phone or laptop, for example.

I've learned some interesting things by scanning this book. For example, I found that the majority of occurrences of words based on "chain" occur in chiasmic structures where chains play a role as a poetic element. There's much more for all of us to learn as we explore this resource. It does not capture every proposed chiasmus and there are some complex overlapping structures that it may miss, but it's a fabulous place to begin in understanding some of the hard-to-recognize poetry that doesn't pop out in the standard printing of the text.

The URL for Brother Parry's book is http://publications.mi.byu.edu/book/poetic-parallelisms-in-the-book-of-mormon-.

Tuesday, August 02, 2016

Lord of Sabaoth?

Doctrine and Covenants 95:7 refers to "the Lord of Sabaoth, which is by interpretation, the creator of the first day, the beginning and the end." When I first read that, I thought it was logical because Sabaoth looks like a form of the word "sabbath," the first day (now) in Christianity. Wrong! The Hebrew word Sabaoth, used often in the Bible, generally refers to "hosts" in the military sense. So it's easy to assume this was just sloppiness on Joseph Smith's part. As is so often the case when we wish to criticize, there may be more to the story.

John A. Tvedtnes has a fascinating article, "Lord of Sabaoth" on his Book of Mormon Research site. Tvedtnes writes:
If the title denotes the Lord of armies, how could the Lord have told Joseph Smith that it meant creator? For an explanation, we must turn to the earliest occurrence of the Hebrew term in the Bible, in Genesis 2:1, which sums up the creation by saying, “Thus the heavens and the earth were finished, and all the host of them.” In this passage, the term is clearly connected to creation rather than warfare.
In his commentary on Genesis 2:1, E. A. Speiser noted that the term rendered “hosts” was an allusion to all that God had created, not to angelic armies as some had supposed.[i] The verbal root of the Hebrew noun means “to gather, to assemble,” which is what armies do in time of war. But it is also a process of creation and, in the context of Genesis 2:1, it might best be translated “assemblage,” in reference to all of God’s creation. When Isaiah wrote of the “Lord of hosts,” he added “thou hast made heaven and earth” (Isaiah 37:16). Note also Psalm 148:1-5:
“Praise ye the Lord. Praise ye the Lord from the heavens: praise him in the heights. Praise ye him, all his angels: praise ye him, all his hosts Praise ye him, sun and moon: praise him, all ye stars of light. Praise him, ye heavens of heavens, and ye waters that be above the heavens. Let them praise the name of the Lord: for he commanded, and they were created.”
Understood in this way, one can better see why the prophet Isaiah heard the heavenly beings surrounding the throne of God cry out, “Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord of hosts: the whole earth is full of his glory” (Isaiah 6:3). All of God’s creations reflect his glory, as we read in Psalm 19:1, “The heavens declare the glory of God; and the firmament sheweth his handywork” (cf. Psalm 57:5, 11; 89:6; 108:5; Habakkuk 3:3). A third- or fourth-century AD Jewish copper amulet found near Kibbutz Evron, Israel, has a Greek inscription that speaks of “the One who made the heavens and founded earth and established sea who made everything, Iao Sabaoth” [Jehovah of Sabaoth], confirming the meaning.[ii] After describing the sun, moon, stars, and the earth, the Lord told Joseph Smith, “Behold, all these are kingdoms, and any man who hath seen any or the least of these hath seen God moving in his majesty and power” (D&C 88:47; cf. D&C 84:101).

Perhaps Doctrine and Covenants 95:7 offers an appropriate interpretation after all. 

Sunday, July 24, 2016

Review of Adam S. Miller’s Future Mormon

One of the most interesting LDS books I've read in a long time is Adam S. Miller’s Future Mormon: Essays in Mormon Theology (Salt Lake City, UT: Greg Kofford Books, 2016). My detailed review was just published at MormonInterpreter.com: "A Brighter Future for Mormon Theology: Adam S. Miller’s Future Mormon," Interpreter: A Journal of Mormon Scripture 21 (2016): 119-146. On the same day, The Interpreter also published another review by Ralph C. Hancock, "Beyond Agency as Idolatry," Interpreter: A Journal of Mormon Scripture 21 (2016): 147-153, which I like and recommend.

Miller, a professor of philosophy and a highly respected LDS thinker, gives us much to discuss and learn from in his short collection of essays. I especially liked his deep reading of Jacob 7, which nicely illustrates just how much there is to learn and consider in the Book of Mormon when we go beyond superficial reading. I also greatly appreciate his emphasis on and understanding of grace and charity. At the same time, there are some areas where I must disagree, particularly on his critique of Terryl Givens on the topics of the premortal existence and Darwinism. I hope you'll take a look and share your comments, and I also hope you'll read and think about Miller's important work.

Saturday, July 16, 2016

A Mormon Scholar and His Students Changing the World for Good: Dr. Gene Cole at BYU

One of the blessings of travel is the opportunity to meet new people and learn from them. These past 3 weeks of non-stop travel have been no exception. Part of this trip involved time in France, where France and the French people charmed me like never before. How tragic that France is the site of so much brutal terrorist activity. To see such inhumanity is heartbreaking. May we not let such great evil chill the hope and charity we need to serve others and do good.

In contrast to the ugliness stemming from hate, I was greatly uplifted by a chance encounter on this trip with a man who strikes me as a catalyst for good all around the world. At a Fourth of July breakfast in an LDS ward in North Carolina with some family members (a son, daughter-in-law, and two awesome grand-kids), I found myself at the same table as Dr. Gene Cole in the Public Health Department at BYU. I asked him to tell me about his work and soon was almost overwhelmed at what this man and his students have been doing to bless the world. I should also mention his wife, who was there at the breakfast, as an active partner in their compassionate service. I was thoroughly impressed with her also. She has spent a great deal of time in very difficult parts of the world to help support their work in improving life for others. Both of these people are womderful examples of service and kindness.

Dr. Cole's focus is on low-cost to no-cost solutions to environmental problems that impact human health. He has worked with international organizations to address environmental health management issues in Central Europe, Southeast Asia, and Africa. He holds both a Master of Science degree in Public Health and a Doctor of Public Health degree from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. He is Professor, Environmental Health Sciences at Brigham Young University, Provo, UT. 

One of Dr. Cole's passions is helping refugees. He has worked with refugees all over the world and talked to me about the trauma they face. Their trauma comes in three stages: 1) the conflict that turned them into refugees, 2) waiting in camps, which can be unsafe, unhealthy places, and 3) the trauma of adjusting to a new place. He knows they need more than just a kit of supplies. They need a lot of support to be able to be healthy and successful in their new location. As one step toward such goals. he is a supporter of Utah Valley's Refugee Action Network (refugeeactionnetwork.org), where, as I recall, one of his students, Lauren Kelly, has become the Executive Director (Lauren Kelly). Cole's attitude toward refugees and immigrants is very realistic and compassionate: they are here, more are coming, and they need our compassion and help.

Dr. Cole and his students have conducted a major study on US health workers and their awareness of the problem of female genital cutting that is common among many of our new immigrants. The study will be published shortly. Very few health workers are sufficiently aware of the problem and few know about the steps that can be taken to repair the damage. He is working to help our nation be more prepared to treat the thousands of women who suffer from a barbaric practice that reminds me of the brutality of foot binding in previous generations of Chinese culture. The selfless work of Christian missionaries played an important role in lifting that burden from China--God bless the many compassionate workers striving to fight other barbaric practices that mutilate women in our day.

Dr. Cole kept telling me about wonderful things his students have accomplished. He beamed with pride as he talked about this terrific young people from BYU. One of them, Melissa Sevy, was working to help African women but realized that what they really needed to overcome their problems was some source of income to step out of the chains of poverty. She found a beautiful solution by creating a high-end jewelry company with jewelry made by mothers in Uganda. Musana International, with headquarters in Provo, Utah, is providing steady income for many Ugandan women. Melissa found that once women had some income, the men in their lives came back, but now the women were empowered and could say, "If you want to stay, here are the rules. You have to work and do your share," etc. This effort has given them power, income to raise their standard of living, opportunities for better education and health care, etc. So cool! You can buy their jewelry, or make a donation to Musana where 100% of the money goes to programs to help Ugandan women such as paying school fees for children, artisan health, business, and literacy classes, artisan business incubator programs, and a community library.

Another former student of Dr. Cole's, Marc Martial, founded the Haiti Health Initiative, and Dr Cole is on their board and has been involved in many efforts to help Haiti. He was part of an effort that recently added 50 clean water stands in a region that only had one before. Clean water is one of the best, simplest, and most urgent things needed to raise the quality of life of people in many lands. 

Dr. Cole also works to raise awareness about human trafficking. He told me a little about Andrew Forrest, the Christian CEO of a major mining corporation, Fontescue, who insists that all his suppliers show that they are free from practices that support human trafficking, slavery, and child labor. You would think that would not be necessary, but the problem is huge and global. Slavery is very much alive on this planet. Dr. Cole explained that every leader and every company can and should take steps to stamp out such practices. 

As you can see on Wikipedia's page about Andrew Forrest, part of what has motivated his efforts against human trafficking seems to have been the experience of his daughter:
Forrest's daughter, Grace volunteered at an orphanage in Nepal and discovered the children she had looked after had been trafficked to be sex slaves in the Middle East. This distressed Grace and motivated her father to act. Grace Forrest when 21 said at an interfaith meeting held at the Vatican, "I feel like a puppet for hundreds of thousands of girls who are voiceless – if I can stand for them, that is what I'm here to do."

Walk Free Foundation

Forrest realized he faced corrupt and powerful enemies but persisted. He established the Walk Free Foundation in 2010 to fight modern slavery. In 2013 the organisation launched the Global Slavery Index ranking 162 countries "based on a combined measure of three factors: estimated prevalence of modern slavery by population, a measure of child marriage, and a measure of human trafficking in and out of a country". The Index estimates there are 29 million slaves worldwide, roughly half in India and Pakistan.

In January 2014, Forrest announced a deal with Pakistan to do away with more than two million slaves in return for a chance to convert billions of tonnes of cheap coal into much needed energy.

Global Freedom Network

Forrest founded the Global Freedom Network which the Pope, the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Grand Imam of al-Azhar will lead. The Global Freedom Network will work together to stop all religious faiths from using organisations involved with slavery in their supply chain.
When I heard the news [that all parties had agreed to the venture] I have to admit I became emotional. This is going to change everything. This is set up like a high-achieving, measurement-driven, totally target-oriented company, it's like a hard-edged business. We are out to defeat slavery, we are not out to feel good. This is our mission. You see the complete hopelessness in the eyes [of enslaved people]. It’s like I’m stuck, I will never get help, I am dirt. Then you know that you can’t rest until you free them.
— Andrew Forrest, interviewed in 2014
I can see why the Coles wish more people would learn from such examples. God bless the work of the Global Freedom Network and the Walk Free Foundation.

Dr. Cole praised his students, most of whom seem to be women and many of whom are looking for ways to change the world. Some are now involved in anti-trafficking causes. Others are working to solve environmental issues that affect health. Others are working to make life better for refugees. There is so much to be done. How inspiring it was to learn from Dr. Cole and sample some of the accomplishments of his students. I'm so glad I went to that Fourth of July breakfast!



Tuesday, July 05, 2016

Some Things I Like About Salt Lake City

After my recent surprise visit to Salt Lake City (courtesy of a verse Nephi wrote over 2500 years ago, FYI), I realized that there are some things about Salt Lake City I really like. In fact, I think it's a great place to live, even though I've been away so long.

First, I want to express my gratitude to the great medical professionals of Salt Lake, especially those at the Veterans Administration Hospital by the University of Utah. I know the VA has come under fire at the national level for bureaucratic problems and gross neglect and underfunding in Washington, but in spite of those problems and the limited resources they have, my several days of interactions with the staff at the VA Hospital in Salt Lake City, both in and outside of the ICU, showed me some of the most caring, attentive, and professional medical workers I've ever seen. I was so grateful to see the good care my father was given and the constant kindness that was shown to him. There is such a spirit of service there. May our nations' many afflicted veterans of foolish no-win wars be able to receive the kind of support and kindness I saw in Salt Lake City. And hats off to our vets who have put their lives at risk for their country. So many have been shattered by their experiences. May we respect and help them.

Second, I was impressed with the beauty of the Salt Lake Valley, with majestic mountains and beautiful streets, parks, and buildings. The downtown is especially beautiful. Temple Square, the foothills, City Creek, the Convention Center--it's truly an attractive and pleasant place to stroll. Part of that beauty included the Cathedral of the Madelaine, a great symbol of the religious cooperation and diversity that is possible in Utah.







Third, but perhaps most importantly, I was touched by the pleasantness and kindness of many of the people I encountered. From immigrants to lifelong Utahans, Mormons and non-Mormons, I encountered a fairly diverse community that seemed surprisingly friendly and kind. Maybe I was just caught off-guard by drivers who don't honk every few seconds and by people who greet strangers warmly, but it was a pleasant experience. I know, it's not just Salt Lake, for I've run into this in Wisconsin and the South, and I suppose it's all over the country. Well, nice country you folks have here! Hope you can keep it going.


Monday, July 04, 2016

Seeing the Hand of the Lord: Perspective and Timing

On Friday and Saturday, we went to Chicago primarily motivated by the desire to help one of my sons and his wife go to the Chicago Temple while my wife and I took care of the kids. The breakfast at the nearby Best Western Hotel where we stayed was a load of fun for the kids and made it easy for us to entertain them.  Afterwards, we went to the stunning Chicago Botanical Garden (one of my favorite places in the Midwest).

After photographing a few water lilies, I noticed one that protruded a few inches above the water and cast a distinct shadow. But with the sun reflecting so brightly off the calm surface of the water, it didn't seem that a shot would work. Then I realized that if I could lean over it far enough enough, perhaps the shadow of the flower could block the excessive brightness of the sun and make a more balanced photo possible.

With the benefit of my long arms and legs and a solid iron railing (nope, this post isn't about Lehi's Dream and the iron rod!), I was able to find an angle that worked and get some shots I really liked, like this one:


I took a few more shots, then something strange happened: a bubble rose up from the bottom of the pond, disturbing the tranquil surface of the water as it made sudden waves around the flower. I captured the moment and found it beautiful. A second later the waves were gone, but a remnant of the bubble was still there as a reminder of what happened. Then it, too, vanished.


When I looked at these photos later, it occurred to me that some of the most precious viewpoints in life come from looking at things both from the right perspective and at the right time. Scenes that we might walk away from and ignore can offer great beauty, even miraculous beauty, when we strive to see them from a new perspective. There are small miracles waiting to be revealed in our life if we'll let the Lord guide us, both how look and things and when we take action.

A related analogy, for example, could be made for the Book of Mormon. Some people have given up on it and the Church because they are offended by the translation process and the silly notion of Joseph Smith dictating from a seerstone as he stares at it with his head in a hat to block out light that would otherwise be too bright to let him easily see whatever his mind perceived during the translation process. Dictating from a hat, how silly! But without too much stretching, there's a much more interesting perspective: he was dictating non-stop without a manuscript to read from, without notes, without rewriting, and in so doing gave us a text with layer after layer of beauty, rich in ancient elements, abounding in Semitic wordplays, revealing details from the Arabian Peninsula and the ancient world that were beyond the knowledge he could have accessed in that day. It is a miraculous text, and dictating it from a hat makes it all the more obvious that something miraculous is before us. As for timing, this is the day for Book of Mormon studies. The bubbles of knowledge aare rising after decades of waiting, and the view is more beautiful than ever.

I'd welcome your analogies on other topics from my little lily moment, if you care to share any.

Monday, June 27, 2016

The Book of Mormon Verse That Brought Me Back to My Parents, Just in Time

I had a busy travel schedule in front of me a few days ago, starting with a flight from Shanghai on Friday through LA to Boise to attend a wedding there, then travel to two other parts of the US and then further travel in Europe, partly for work. Given the constraints we had on when we could leave and when we needed to be in various places, we didn't think there was any way to stop in Utah to see my parents. But last Monday I learned that my father was having increased health challenges, and when I awoke Tuesday morning, I wondered if I should try to find a way to add a few hours in Utah on my way to Boise (I had just spent time there two months ago). I prayed about it and felt that I should take a look at the Book of Mormon for possible guidance. I picked up my English/Chinese printing (a volume with three columns, one in English, one in Chinese characters, and one in Pinyin, the Romanization system for writing the pronunciation of the Chinese characters with the Latin alphabet) and flipped open to a random verse and read the Chinese of 1 Nephi 5:7, which in English reads:
And when we had returned to the tent of my father, behold their joy was full, and my mother was comforted. 
In light of what has happened these past two days, I can't think of a more perfectly relevant verse in all of scripture to help me do what I needed to do. Finding that verse seemed a bit eerie, or rather, almost too direct, and made me feel that I needed to explore the possibility of making a change in my travel plans.

I quickly gave Delta Airlines a call. I normally would have given up when I heard that wait times to reach an operator were around 40 minutes. But I persisted.  Since the first few days of my travel to the US had been done using frequent flyer miles, there were a variety of restrictions on what I could do and what kind of changes I could make. I learned that changes had to be made more than 72 hours in advance of the first flight, and I was several hours too late. Mercifully, since that change was motivated by the desire to see an ill family member, a supervisor waived that restriction. There would be two other barriers to making the changes I wanted that required further approvals by a supervisor, but in the end, I was able to add a day in Utah and it only cost my an extra $5 in taxes.

I arrived Friday night, stayed overnight with a relative, and then walked into my parents' home at 9 AM on Saturday. I had previously told them I would show up Saturday, but they apparently were not clear on when. Moments before I showed up, a medical emergency had begun. My parents had just begun discussing whether to call 911 or to find someone else to take my father to the hospital. Their children in the area were either out of town traveling or had a funeral to attend that day and were unavailable.  Right as they were fretting over how to get to the hospital, I walked in. They saw this as a real blessing. I was able to get my father to the hospital and later bring my mother there several times.

Things looked pretty serious, with surgery as a possibility, so felt I needed more than a few hours in town. Delta again was extremely gracious in rerouting me. Wait times for this second call were said to be between 24 and 43 minutes, but proved to be 62 minutes--aargh! But I persisted, and once I reached one of the far too few humans manning the phones in customer service, they were extremely helpful again and helped me change my flights at no extra cost (customer service is awesome there, but I suspect that the beancounters don't value that service enough to hire the number of people needed to take the calls they get). I chose to skip the wedding completely while my wife was there to support her niece, and would just go directly from Salt Lake to our next family reunion stop in the Midwest. Meanwhile, I was able to help my parents in a variety of ways and felt that my time here was extremely worthwhile. My father repeatedly told me and others how happy it made him that I was able to show up as if on cue and be there to help and comfort both of them.

Today the health problem was largely under control and we were elated to learn that no high-risk surgery would be needed. My father will return home tomorrow, and I'll have a little more time to work on some other issues to help them here. Given that we didn't even think we would be able to stop in Salt Lake at all, to me it was a great blessing to be able to be here for a few days right when additional help was greatly needed. How kind of the Lord to help me stumble across a perfectly worded verse that would not only motivate me to make changes but would prove to be remarkably applicable to what would happen here.

The scriptures are not meant to be used as Ouija boards to make decisions, but on the other hand, when we prayerfully look for guidance, verses can take on new meaning as seek to apply them to ourselves, and sometimes the applicability can be very direct and helpful. Seeking for guidance from the Lord through scripture study is a wonderful companion to prayer and has blessed my life in many ways. In this case, a simple verse helped clarify what I needed to do and eventually helped my be in the right place at exactly the right time to bring comfort to my mother and my father.



Monday, June 20, 2016

The Secret Combination That Saved China

One of the important parts of the Book of Mormon that many Mormons try hard to overlook or downplay is the content regarding secret combinations and their destructive role in several ancient American societies (Nephite, Lamanites, and Jaredites). I think there are some vital lessons and prophecies that need to be applied and mined for guidance in our day. I also think that viewing such content as Joseph's response to Masonry comes nowhere close to accounting for the highly nuanced and accurate treatment in the text. I also feel that examination of the various forms and business models of secret combinations in the world over time can provide evidence for the wisdom, prophetic accuracy, and ancient origins of the Book of Mormon.

The term "secret combinations" is always negative in the Book of Mormon. That term is possibly a derivative from older brass plates material related to the Book of Moses, where the term "secret combinations' is presented (Moses 5:51). But while Book of Mormon secret combinations are murderous groups pursuing "works of darkness," a broader definition of secret combinations can include some secretive efforts that are noble and enlightened. In fact, China's current success and well-being is partly due to a brilliant secret combination. I'm not talking about the one founded the Party in China, beginning with a secret pact here in Shanghai not far from where I live. Rather, I'm talking about the later secret effort where a group of brave men put their lives on the line to fight starvation, and won. That story took place close to Nanjing, home of the impressive Nanjing Branch in the Shanghai International District of the Church, a branch I have visited often. Next time I go, I'm planning to visit the site in neighboring Anhui Province of the founding of the secret combination that saved China, a little known treasure that I can't wait to see, based on what I recently read about it rise and viral success.

One of my favorite books on life in China is Michael Meyer's In Manchuria: A Village Called Wasteland and the Transformation of Rural China (New York: Bloomsbury Press, 2015). He shares his experiences living for a while in a tiny village actually called "Wasteland" in the challenging northwestern section of China. In the midst of his book, he recounts the vital story of how China overcame its problem with starvation and bloomed to becoming the booming success that it is these days, in spite of a slowing economy.

He introduces some of the challenges China faced in the 1950s, when the visions of socialism met the reality of poverty and hunger:
"Nineteen fifty-six," I said reflexively, quoting the village Stone. By 1958 all of China's co-ops had become "people's communes." The policy triggered the Great Famine, killing at least 20 million people; some estimates go as high as 45 million. Officially, the deaths were blamed on natural disasters and the period was labeled the Three Years of Bitterness.

"All our personal food was confiscated during the collective times," Auntie Yi said. "We used to grind soybeans mixed with barley in secret at home. Everything was supposed to be for the commune. We didn't even have money. We were paid in work points. At the end of each workday, you had your score assessed and entered into a little handbook for each family. It was casually decided, actually. It wasn't a true commune: whoever had the power to decide the score earned the most points, or rewarded his family and friends. You knew the standard. If you did hard labor, people would murmur, 'Give him six points.' If it was really hard work, you could earn up to ten, even twelve. But the 'rich peasants' could only earn up to eight, and every night they would be reminded it was because they had exploited people in the past. That was our family, you know: my grandfather hired people after he migrated here on foot, starting out hauling grain on his back. And my father ran a granary out here. So I was marked. But really, I was lucky. The people who collaborated with the Japanese in Manchukuo got it the worst." (p. 214)
 Then comes the story from a secret combination formed in Anhui Province in the obscure village of Xiaogang:
When Chairman Mao died in 1976, so did his dream of collective agriculture. By decade's end, farmers were allowed a small, personal plot to supplement crops raised by the village team. The work points system was abolished. "But at every turn, people were unhappy!" Auntie Yi said. "It's in people's nature to complain. But very few people complained when da baogan was introduced.

The term meant "the complete allocation of responsibilities," and the policy meant that individuals, like the hungry Pilgrims, no longer had to farm as a team. The change was born not in a ministerial meeting but in a farmer's home in the central China province of Anhui, where The Good Earth had been set. A corn-growing village named Xiaogang was starving, suffering under the nation's quota demands. Its residents dug up roots, boiled poplar leaves with salt, and ground roasted tree bark into flour. Entire families left their thatched-roof, mud-walled homes and took to the road to beg.

A farmer named Yan Hongchang, whose studies had ended at middle school, was the deputy leader of the village work team, overseeing production. But there was no production that autumn of 1978. During the Great Famine, a quarter of the county's residents had died. "We knew what it was like to starve, and we would rather die any other way," Mr. Yan later recalled.

On the night of November 24, Mr. Yan summoned the heads of the village's twenty families to a secret meeting. The village accountant was deputized as a secretary, and on paper torn from a child's school exercise book transcribed a seventy-nine-word pledge to divide the commune's land into family plots, submit the required quota of corn to the state, and keep the rest for themselves. "In the case of failure," the document concluded "we are prepared for death or prison, and other commune members to raise our children until they are eighteen years old." The farmers signed the document and affixed their fingerprints.

Thus began China's rural reform.

Today a large stone monument to the pact greets tourists to the village But in the spring of 1979, a local official who learned of the clandestine agreement fumed that the group had "dug up the cornerstone of socialism„ and threatened severe punishment. Thinking he was bound for a labor camp, Mr. Yan rose before dawn, reminded his wife that their fellow villagers had promised to help raise their children, and walked to the office of the county's party secretary. But the man privately admitted to Mr. Yan that he knew, since the pact had been signed, the village's winter harvest had increased sixfold. The official told Mr. Yan he would protect Xiaogang village and the rebellious farmers so long as their experiment didn't spread.

Villagers gossip; farmers talk about their fields. Soon neighboring hamlets copied Xiaogang's model. News reached the provincial authorities, who were unwilling to punish farms that were, at last, producing food. Thus, they did not brand the abandonment of collective farming as counterrevolutionary but instead endorsed it as "an irresistible wave spontaneously topping the limits once enforced by the state.

In Beijing, three years after Chairman Mao's death, Deng Xiaoping was opening China to foreign trade and liberalizing the economy. Yet originally he ruled against allowing "household farms," afraid that critics would again label him a "capitalist roader," for which he had been purged during the Cultural Revolution. However, the grassroots movement that began in Xiaogang made the decision for him. In a series of policies issued between 1978 and 1984, China formalized the Household Contract Responsibility System (colloquially called chengbao). It allowed families to farm their own allocation of land in exchange for turning a portion of their crops over to the state. What remained was theirs to eat, and to sell at unregulated prices. China's communes, brigades, and production teams were renamed as townships, villages, and hamlets, respectively.

Xiaogang was made into a living patriotic education base where a small museum displays a replica of the farmers' pact, since the original was lost' Exhibits praise the bold wisdom of its ringleader, Yan Hongchang, his cosignatories, and the Party. But not everyone bought the high rhetoric. "My father signed that paper because we were starving," Mr. Yan's son told "There was nothing heroic about it. He had no other choice. It was human instinct, trying not to die. It's strange the leaders want to celebrate survival."

The reforms continued: in 1984, fifteen-year leases were introduced for family farm plots—then extended to thirty years in 1993. The state stopped requiring grain procurement in 2001 and abolished all agricultural taxes in 2006. (pp. 215-217, viewable at Amazon.com)
 I thought about Xiaogang and the daring secret combination tonight as we just completed a move (our 4th in 5 years) to a new apartment in China in a marvelous, lively neighborhood in Gubei, where we walked into a fruit store next to our complex and found some of the best, freshest fruit we've had. What abundance we enjoy in China! How much we owe to the farmers and many others who make this possible. How much we owe to the very brave, starving farmers who helped officials look at China in a new way and opened an era of prosperity.

Xiaogang was in the news recently as the President of China visited it and recognized it as the epicenter of the reforms that have made China so prosperous.

The photo and caption below come from a 2016 story in Qiushi, an official organ of the Chinese government:


HEFEI, April 27, 2016 (Xinhua) -- Chinese President Xi Jinping visits the family of Yan Jinchang (3rd R), who was a leader on implementing the "household contract responsibility system", at Xiaogang Village of Fengyang County in Chuzhou, east China's Anhui Province, April 25, 2016. Xi made an inspection tour in Anhui from April 24 to 27. (Xinhua/Li Xueren)

My thanks and love to the brave families of Xiaogang who showed the world that simple incentives to produce can result in a boom in production. Amazing stuff!

Also amazing is the experience of food in China. One thing China has taught me is to value and cherish food. Food matters so much here, as it should. Food here is about more than just not being hungry. It is about relationships, joy, love, and the quality of life. Food is something to never take for granted. We need it, and it can vanish so quickly due to drought, disease, overabundance of government, whatever. Having food storage is vital to be ready for the disasters that surely will come. May your food chain remain intact without the need to risk your life with secret combinations in your own country! May we be grateful to those who have done so much to make our current abundance possible.