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Making God in Our Own Image to Cast Aside His Prophets

They seek not the Lord to establish his righteousness, but every man walketh in his own way, and after the image of his own god, whose image is in the likeness of the world, and whose substance is that of an idol, which waxeth old and shall perish in Babylon, even Babylon the great, which shall fall. (Doctrine and Covenants 1:16) Lori Burkman has a piece at Rational Faiths entitled “Disgracing God to Save a Prophet,” in which she essentially argues that God simply would not have commanded polygamy—it is too hard, too painful, too immoral for it to be from God—and therefore, polygamy must be Joseph Smith’s mistake. Whether it was a sincere misunderstanding between him and God, or simply Joseph Smith wanting so bad to have lots of sex and women that he abused his power and became a fallen prophet makes no difference to her.

A Case of Disappearing DNA

Not too long ago, I wrote a summary of the DNA/Book of Mormon issue which I hope was understandable to even those who know very little about DNA. My own experience with reading the DNA articles is that they are difficult to understand, so I tried to break down in common, understandable terms, with as little jargon as possible. One of the things I pointed out there is that people have ancestors whose DNA is undetectable. The notorious Greg Smith has recently brought a case in point to my attention.

A Major Non-LDS Press That Took Book of Mormon Geography Seriously

In a sort of introduction to the book version of Journey of Faith: From Jerusalem to the Promised Land, S. Kent Brown tells a short, little-known story about an experience he had while working at the BYU Jerusalem Center in April of 1996. My friend, the late Charles E. Smith of Simon and Schuster Publishers, came to my office and brought a close associate, Mr. Emanuel Hausman, who was the president of Carta, the publisher of the most important atlases and maps of the Bible. During our conversation, unexpectedly, Mr. Hausman said, “I think that you ought to write an atlas of the Book of Mormon. I have read the Book of Mormon and believe that it is possible to create a series of maps for it. Carta would be willing to publish such an atlas.” I tried to hide my surprise. The thought darted quickly through my mind: “You just heard the publisher of the most distinguished series of atlases on the Bible say that he would be willing to work on an atlas of the Book of Mormon. Unbelievable.” (p…

Archeology and the Book of Mormon: Some Notes

Anthony J. Frendo is a professor at the University of Malta in Near Eastern Archaeology and the Hebrew Bible, and former department head of both the Classics and Archaeology (1996–1999) and Oriental Studies (1999–2011) departments at the university, both of which he helped found. He’s been a visiting scholar at both the University of Beersheba and University of Oxford. He has been on numerous excavations in both the ancient Near East and the Mediterranean (including Malta itself), including some where he served as a director. He has lectured/presented on archaeology at the Pontifical Biblical Institute in Rome, at the Smithsonian Institute in Washington, DC, and the Oriental Institute at Oxford University. To go along with all of that, he has a handful of legitimate, peer-reviewed publications on archaeology and history/text published between 1988–2011. In short, while he is not one of the “big names” that tends to come up when discussing the nature of the relationship between archaeo…

A Mormon Reads a REAL Atheist’s Blog Post

Many have probably already seen the post, “An Atheist’s Response to the First 31 Pages of The Book of Mormon.” I am going to guess that fewer people have seen “A REAL Atheist’s Response to the First 31 Pages of the Book of Mormon.” This “real atheist” appears to be an ex-Mormon named Benjamin V. (or else a Benjamin posted this on behalf the atheist). In any case, this “real atheist” (RA from here on out) is much less flattering than the first, providing a critique of the historicity of the Book of Mormon. (In keeping with RA’s own practice, I will not link to either of these blog posts.)

Lehi’s “Missing” DNA

The subject of DNA and the Book of Mormon is a persistent topic of discussion. For a couple of decades now, scholars have realized that DNA is a powerful tool for unraveling human history, understanding relations of different populations, and tracing ancient migration movements. Nonetheless, even DNA has its limitations on what it can tell us about the past.[1] Can DNA shed any light on the migration of Lehi’s family? The latest paper from Interpreter, written by Ugo Perego, a population geneticist who has worked extensively on the origins of Native Americans, and Jayne Ekins, an international lecturer and published scholar on molecular biology and genetic genealogy (both ancient and modern), provide the latest, most up-to-date discussion of the topic.

Analysis of Textual Variants Now Available Online FREE

I was born in Colorado Springs, Colorado in May of 1987. A year later, in Provo, Utah, Royal Skousen took over the FARMS-sponsored Book of Mormon Critical Text Project (CTP from this point on). For the last quarter-century and some change, Skousen has been dedicated to that project, while I have just been living a rather ordinary and unaccomplished life. Frankly, I cannot personally imagine what it would be like to spend what is essentially my entire lifetime (up to this point) with a dedicated focus to a single topic of study. Yet that is exactly what Skousen has done. And anyone who has even lightly pursued the fruits of his labors can only stand in appreciative awe at the breadth and depth of Skousen’s work.

REVIEWING THE REVIEW: VOL. 6, ISS. 2 (1994)

Overview
This issue is the first “issue 2” in the Review’s history. After a first issue in 1994 dedicated solely to the review of a single book, I guess they felt that there were other important publications on the Book of Mormon that merited attention as well. This issue settles into the standard pattern seen up to this point. There are 16 reviews of a mix of topics, from pro-Mormon, anti-Mormon (including the now seemingly mandatory reviews of the Tanners work from Roper and Tvedtnes), and Mormon fiction. I have recommended 9 out of the 16 reviews/articles, and it is worth pointing out that 8 (one of which is not recommended) of the 16 reviews dealt with critical claims in some capacity—that is 50%! Other than the first issue of volume 6 (which was at 100%), this is the highest ratio. We maybe at a turning point, where the Review starts to find its identity. Still some fluff, of course, but the fluff has been considerably reduced (two of the none critical reviews are substantive enou…

The Sons of Lehi and the Daughters on Ishmael: Were Their Marriages Pre-Arranged?

Before departing from the valley of Lemuel, Nephi reports that the he and his brothers, plus Zoram, each were married to one of the daughters of Ishmael (see 1 Nephi 16:7). Notably absent are any romantic notions or courtship between the sons of Lehi and the daughters of Ishmael. Lynn and Hope Hilton pointed out, “It was customary in ancient Israel for the father or kinsmen of a young man to choose his wife and arrange for the marriage. No doubt Lehi, acting on behalf of his four sons, negotiated with Ishmael, even though the ‘negotiations’ may have been mere formalities based on prior arrangements.”[1] John W. Welch and Robert D. Hunt more recently made a similar comment. “There is no dating—marriages are arranged and negotiated by the fathers of the bride and groom…. Most marriages are arranged when the children are very young.”[2] They elaborate:

Mark Wright vs. Earl Wunderli: How Perspective Changes Everything

Last year, Earl Wunderli published study claiming to show that the Book of Mormon was written by Joseph Smith strictly by internal evidence. It has been critically reviewed by Brant Gardner, Robert Rees, and Matt Roper with Paul Fields and Larry Bassist (forthcoming from BYU Studies Quarterly). For Wunderli, one of the curiosities that seems to indicate a 19th century authorship for the Book of Mormon is that, “when Jesus appears, he invites the multitude to thrust their hands into the sword wound in his side and feel the nail holes in his hands and feet. How Nephites would know the significance of the wounds is a question.” (Earl M. Wunderli, An Imperfect Book: What the Book of Mormon Tells Us about Itself [Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 2013], 217.)

The Book of Abraham and Logical Fallacies 101

In a recent Facebook discussion on the Book of Abraham, I asked the question, “Why should I trust Ritner over Muhlestein?” I posed this question after reading both Kerry Muhlestein’s arguments for human sacrifice during the Middle Kingdom period of Egypt (Abraham’s era), as published in the Journal of Economic and Social History of the Orient 51/2 (2008): 181–208, and Robert Ritner’s counter-argument in response to the Church’s new Gospel Topics essay. I offer an evaluation of Ritner’s critique and gave my reasons for finding Muhlestein’s argument more persuasive. After a little prodding, I got a couple of great answers that give me some additional perspectives to consider on this question.

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 diff…

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, accor…

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 …

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.

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 rep…

Book of Mormon Geography and Joseph Smith’s Backyard

The Book of Mormon critics have made an art of explaining a very big whole by a very small part. The game is to look for some mysterious person or document from which Joseph Smith might have got the few simple and obvious ideas and then cry triumphantly, “At last we have it! Now we know where the Book of Mormon came from!” —Hugh Nibley
My attention was recently drawn to a comment on a Mormon blog that is currently growing in its popularity. The blog post was on Book of Mormon geography. One comment, by “Brent,” was somewhat interesting to me. He lays out a vague “local” model for Book of Mormon geography, then says:  So, does this “local” model conform exactly in every detail with Smith’s narrative? Of course not because his narrative is a fictitious blend of the real and the imaginary. But the local model does provide a basic structure upon which Smith’s miraculous fantasy tale can be built.

This is the Place, but This Ain’t the Book

Review of: John L. Lund, Mesoamerica and the Book of Mormon: Is This the Place? (The Communications Company, 2007).
Most readers of this blog are probably well aware that I am an active and believe Latter-day Saint, I accept that the Book of Mormon is an ancient text, and even agree with Dr. John L. Lund that Mesoamerica is most likely the setting wherein the events in the text took place. So I am not writing a critical review because I have some kind of axe to grind against the Church, or because I think Lund has the wrong place. Neither do I have anything personal against Lund. I have no doubt he is a great teacher and speaker, as his reputation suggests, nor do I question his faithfulness or integrity.

Evidence and Expectations: Knowing the Limits of Available Data for Book of Mormon Archaeology

One thing I frequently here when talking to people about Book of Mormon evidence is that the lack of archaeological evidence in the New World is totally and completely damning for the Book of Mormon. Scholars should have found Book of Mormon cities, they’ll say. Civilizations just don’t disappear, they’ll insist. Of course, when asked, very few of them can (a) define the epistemological methods by which they have determined the lack of evidence, or (b) tell me much of anything intelligent about Mesoamerica or the state of Mesoamerican archaeology. These are not trivial issues. It should be self-evident that without knowing how to define and evaluate evidence, and knowing nothing about the dataset from which evidence may (or may not) be gleaned, it is impossible to really know whether there is or isn’t any evidence, and just what that evidence may or may not entail.

Blog Update: April 2014

I has been close to a month since I last posted. The primary reason for this has been that my computer was not working. Probably about 3 weeks ago, my computer just crashed for what seemed an inexplicable reason. Not knowing what to do, and not having any money, I just let it alone and had to cope with life without a laptop! (I know, the horror!!!) At first, it seemed nice to be free, but before long I was going through withdrawals. When we got our tax return, I took my computer into CompuClinic, in Provo. Apparently, my hard drive had crashed. They were able to clone everything on my computer, replace the hard drive, and restore all my files and programs (using the clone, of course), so now I am back in business. In addition to missing my computer over that time, I’ve also had some school and personal matters that are more important than blogging for my miniscule audience. (I know, nothing should be more important than blogging for virtually nobody to read! Where are my priorities?)…

Shoshone Mormon

Review of: Scott R. Christensen, Sagwitch: Shoshone Chieften, Mormon Elder, 1822–1887 (Logan, Utah: Utah State University, 1999).
Note: The Following was written for my Utah History class. Given its relevance to Mormon History, I thought I would post it here. As with before, the bold, run-on sentence stating the author’s thesis and the repetitive opening statement for each paragraph were requirements for the paper.
The author’s thesis is that Sagwitch provided much needed leadership to his people, the Northwestern Shoshone, during a time of major transition, from the initial arrival of the Mormons, to the near extinction of his people in the Bear River Massacre, to the their widespread conversion to the Mormon faith and various attempts to adopt a settled, agrarian lifestyle which finally succeeded to some degree at Lemuel’s Garden, and more fully at Washakie, and thus Sagwitch’s life and legacy serve to exemplify the overall Northwest Shoshone experience from the mid- to late-nineteent…

History and Heritage

In February of 2004, my Grandfather on my Dad’s side passed away. I was a junior in high school at the time, and had never had a family member die before. I still remember where I was when I found out. It was after school. My friend had come over and we were going to burn some music onto a couple CDs (I know, so old-fashioned!). My parents had left a note on the counter that they went to visit my grandpa in the hospital. Nothing in the note sounded urgent, so I thought nothing of it. My friend and I went down stairs and I got on the computer to start burning CDs. Shortly thereafter the phone rang. I answered it. It was my sister Noelle. She asked if mom and dad were there. I responded, “Noelle? Why are you calling?” She and my brother Devin were in the MTC at the time, and they are not supposed to call family (or anyone, really). So, it was a valid question. She responded, “The MTC president said we could call because Grandpa died.” Me: “GRANDPA DIED!?!?” She didn’t know that I didn’…

Some Notes on Using Personal Names to Test a Text

Last spring, Interpreter published a short paper by Dr. Stephen D. Ricks on a few names found in the Book of Mormon.[1] A second such paper by Dr. Ricks was also published just last month.[2] In the first paper, Ricks quotes Nibley, who quotes William F. Albright, about how the story of Sinuhe seems historically plausible on the grounds that, among other things, “the Amorite personal names contained in the story are satisfactory for that period and region.”[3] Certain Internet denizens were quick to fault Ricks for drawing on Albright methodologically. They used a Google search to find a few quotes from William G. Dever criticizing Albright’s methods. Hence they made the hasty generalization that Mormon scholars are “always” drawing on out-dated methods (evidently not aware that some Mormon scholars have actually drawn on Dever himself for methodology).

On the Credibility of Mormon Scholars

It is something you hear all the time—“Mormon scholars have no credibility among mainstream scholars!” I’ve addressed this silly notion here on this blog before. In a recent edition of “Ask a Scholar,” on the Maxwell Institute blog, John L. Sorenson was specifically asked about how non-Mormons view his work. His response is rather interesting:

Moorman on Mormons: A Review of Camp Floyd and the Mormons

Review of: Donald R. Moorman (with Gene Sessions), Camp Floyd and the Mormons: The Utah War (Salt Lake City: University of Utah Press, 1992, 2005).
Note: The Following was written for my Utah History class. Given its relevance to Mormon History, I thought I would post it here. The Bold, run-on sentence stating the authors thesis and the repetitive opening statement for each paragraph were requirements for the paper. You know I do not normally write that poorly. I would just like to add to this that due to the way I had to write the paper, I do not think you can get a sense of just how much I enjoyed this book. It was excellent reading on an interesting topic. Whatever else might be said of Donald R. Moorman (d. 1980), he was a great writer. This was one of the most well-written history books I have ever read.
The author’s thesis is that the Utah War dramatically impacted life in Utah, having an effect on Mormon relations with non-Mormons and Indians in the territory, Mormon relations wi…

REVIEWING THE REVIEW: VOL. 5 (1993)

Overview
This issue has some classic moments in it, but for the most part is not “must read” material. The rather long, but quite enjoyable, review essay at the beginning is Daniel C. Peterson at his best. He seems to rarely write this way anymore, which I think is unfortunate. Reviews by several others are worth taking a look at, as recommended below, but this, like other issues, has its share of what I’ve been calling “fluff.” About 7 (out of 19) reviews dealt substantively with critical arguments (~37%). It seems, then, that from Volumes 3–5, the Review hovered just under 1/3 of all reviews/essays being directed at the critics of the Church.

Of note is that two of the reviews recommended here are critical of pro-LDS work, including one that offers some criticisms of one of FARMS own publications. I point this out because it has been insinuated fairly recently that the old apologetics (“classic-FARMS” as it is often called) never allowed for scrutiny and revision of apologetic positi…

An LDS Bibliography on Nahom

Interpreter recently published a paper by Stephen Smoot and myself on the evidence for Nahom in the Book of Mormon. Specifcally, we respond to some of the counter-arguments made by critics to try and minimize the significance of the evidence. A lot of the criticisms are based on inaccurate information, and so part of the point of our response was to clear up the confusion. Still, greater understanding on the topic can be best gained by reading some of the additional literature Latter-day Saints have produced on the topic. Thus, as supplement to the article, I have complied this bibliography, starting from when it was first pointed out that an actual place with consonants NHM was noticed by Ross Christensen. I’ve arranged the bibliography in (more or less) chronological order.  Some of these provide detailed discussion, some of them are only brief notes that repeat the information given by others. All page numbers given represent the pages that the Nahom information can be found on. As…

Models and Methods in Book of Mormon Geography: The Peruvian Model as a Test-Case

Update 1/28/2014: A substantially expanded version of this post has been posted to the Interpreter Blog.

Over the last couple of years, one of the many things I have dabbled in off-and-on has had to do with the methodologies employed by those who develop New World Book of Mormon geographies. There is obviously a lot of diversity of opinion on this topic, and certain proponents have blamed all this confusion on there being inadequate information in the text, or on the methodology followed by a select few, as if it were the dominate methodology. The reality is that the diversity of opinions is the result of a diversity of methods.

Isaiah Variants within the Book of Mormon

Some time ago, probably close to 2 years or more now, I decided to take a look at Isaiah passages quoted more than once in the Book of Mormon. I can’t say what had motivated me to this now that so much time has passed, but I suspect it had something to do with my noticing that 1 Nephi 21:25 and 2 Nephi 6:17 quoting Isaiah 49:25 rather differently. I postulated a theory as to why that was, but it remains just a nice idea at present. In any event, what I can say is that much more time has been spent studying the ways Isaiah in the Book of Mormon differs from Isaiah in the King James Version, while precious little (so far as I have been able determine) has been spent on seeing how Isaiah differs within the Book of Mormon (the Skousen paper mentioned below touches on the topic, but not significantly).

Blog Update: January 2014

Beātus Novus Annus! (Happy New Year!)
Well, 2013 was a pretty big year for me, in terms of my participation, in various ways, in the wider world of Mormon scholarship and apologetics. In addition to changing the name and look of the blog, I posted more content here in 2013 than any other preceding year. It also seems that people are beginning to catch wind of this little corner of the Internet. Traffic is still quite meager, to be sure, but made huge increases in 2013. In fact, I had more hits in 2013 than the entire previous three years combine. 2013 also marked my first published paper, a book review for Interpreter. I was also co-recipient of the 2013 John Taylor Defender of the Faith Award for a project I co-developed with my friend, S. Hales Swift.