Tuesday, July 22, 2014

The Convergence Challenge

My first exposure to the idea or concept of “convergence” between text and history was in Brant Gardner’s 6-volume commentary Second Witness: Analytical and Contextual Commentary on the Book of Mormon (Kofford, 2007–2008). Gardner, in turn, had borrowed the concept from William Dever, a prominent Syro-Palestinian archaeologist who studied the relationship between the biblical texts and archaeology. I decided that, in order to fully understand how the concept worked, I ought to pursue Dever’s work myself, and so I have since read his What Did the Biblical Writers Know & When Did They Know It? (Eerdmans, 2001) and Who Were the Early Israelites and Where Did They Come From? (Eerdmans, 2003). Both are excellent books, though I do disagree with some conclusions in each one. I certainly learned much more about his method reading them, and although I would make some adjustments (based on the different nuances I have seen used by other, equally reputable scholars who come to somewhat different conclusions than Dever), I am nonetheless just as impressed as Gardner is with Dever’s concept of “convergences” as a means for determining historicity, and have made it a central element in my own method to examining the historicity of the Book of Mormon.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

The House of Joseph in Judah? Inconceivable! Or is It?

This “Lehi,” it seems, was of the tribe of Joseph, and dwelt at Jerusalem. The tribe of Joseph at Jerusalem! Go, study scripture-geography, ye ignorant fellows, before you send out another imposition, and make no more such foolish blunders!
—Origen Bacheler, 1838[1]

Prior to departing for the desert, Jerusalem was where Lehi had “dwelt … all his days,” according to his son Nephi (1 Nephi 1:4). Lehi, therefore, not only lived in Jerusalem the year Zedekiah took the throne, but had grown up there, suggesting his family had settled there before he was born. Lehi, however, was not a “Jew” (or, more accurately for that time-period, “Judahite”) in the strict sense of the word. He was, in fact, a descendant of Joseph, as was a Jerusalem official, Laban, who plays a prominent role in Nephi’s narratives set in Jerusalem itself (see 1 Nephi 5:14, 16). Another man from Jerusalem, Ishmael, who ultimately accompanies Lehi into the desert wilderness of Arabia, was also from the house of Joseph, according to Joseph Smith, who had access to now lost documents relating to Lehi and his companions.[2]

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Lehi's 600 Year Prophecy: Some Notes on a Question of Book of Mormon Chronology

After recounting his tree of life dream, Lehi continues to prophesy, recounting the forthcoming destruction of Jerusalem, and then the subsequent return of the Jews (see 1 Nephi 10:3). Lehi then gives a rather precise prophecy—that the Messiah would come 600 years after the time he had left Jerusalem (see 1 Nephi 10:4; cf. 1 Nephi 19:8; 2 Nephi 25:19).[1] This prophecy runs into some chronological problems, a point critics have by no means been shy to make. King Zedekiah’s reign did not begin until the year 597 BC.[2] The problem is more than three years, however, because Herod the Great—who plays a prominent role in the nativity narrative—very likely died in 4 BC, pushing the birth date of Christ to most likely between 6 and 4 BC.[3] This would allow, at most, 593 years between Lehi’s departure from Jerusalem and the birth of Christ (assuming Lehi left within a year of Zedekiah’s ascendancy to the throne and his own prophetic call). This is more than a matter of rounding off to the nearest hundred, because the Book of Mormon carefully chronicles the years, counting precisely 600 between the time Lehi leaves and the sign of Christ’s birth.[4]

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Excommunication and Intellectual Freedom: Some Thoughts

It has recently been announced that Kate Kelly, the leader of the Ordain Women movement, and John Dehlin, a long-time member-in-name-only who has been publicly criticizing the Church for years, have recently been called in for disciplinary councils, along with Alan Rock Waterman, a blogger who has a essentially stated that the Church has been in a collective state of apostasy since the days of Brigham Young. The announcement has evoked the predictable reaction within the bloggeratti, with assistance from the mainstream media, of how the Church is “punishing” these “intellectuals” for not conforming to expected modes of thought.

Saturday, May 31, 2014

Some Miscellaneous Thoughts

Wrong to report preliminary finds?

In reaction to my most recent book review published at Interpreter, some are suggesting that Dr. Wade Miller should have gotten the work he is doing with horse bone specimen published in professional journals before he published his book. The insinuation being that it is somehow wrong to report his preliminary finds.

That is, of course, nonsense. Scholars report on their finds in popular outlets all the time before they get peer-reviewed and published. I just recently finished two books by an Egyptologist, published by Oxford University Press, that were highly praised because they frequently and repeatedly draw on yet unfinished, unreported, and un-peer-reviewed archaeological findings. It did so cautiously and with lots of caveats regarding the preliminary nature of the material, just as Dr. Miller was in his book. And, because of doing this, these books were praised for drawing on the most up-to-date data (then) presently available. Every news report on an archaeological dig is also popularizing yet unpublished, unfinished, and un-peer-reviewed findings. And this is not a phenomena limited to archaeology. It happens in science too.

While we certainly must not let ourselves get carried away by preliminary findings, there is also no harm in reporting such findings and being optimistic about the future possibilities, as Dr. Miller was in his book.