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 Every news report on an archaeological dig is also popularizing yet unpublished, unfinished, and un-peer-reviewed findings.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.

Are all prophets the same?

I was recently reading in Kenneth Kitchen’s On the Reliability of the Old Testament. In chapter 8 he talks about prophets. The first few pages of that chapter (pp. 373–376) break the references to prophets down in different periods and describes the attributes of prophets in each era. While there are certain continuities, obviously, it does become clear that Israelites from different periods of time had different conceptions of what a prophet was. The thrust of Kitchen’s book is that these match the broader ancient Near Eastern trends on what traits prophets did and did not have.

So, what is my point? Well, some people fault the Church because the prophet (and apostles) today do not seem to have all the same attributes that prophets had in biblical times, or Book of Mormon times, or even in the early years of the Church. But what Kitchen’s brief discussion would seem to indicate is that prophets do not always have the same attributes. They receive messages from God in ways that are viewed as acceptable within the broader society. Could it be, then, that revelation has not ceased, the heavens are not closed, but that God is just working through his prophets today in ways that are deemed more acceptable to broader society, and therefore more likely to be well received, and influence the world for good? This also seems consistent with the Lord’s promise in D&C 1:24, which has been interpreted to not just refer to verbal or written language, but also culture, as a vehicle of language and meaning.

Pagan Burial Practices

A few months ago, a friend and I published a paper engaging a critic’s arguments against correlating the south Arabian tribal territory Nehem/Nihm (NHM) with the Book of Mormon Nahom (NHM). One of his objections was that Jews like Lehi and Ishmael would not allow themselves to be buried in a pagan cemetery. Well, thanks again to Kenneth Kitchen’s book, it was pointed out to me that Joseph—Lehi and Ishamel’s ancestor—was buried in Egypt (instead of his ancestral burial grounds), and was even mummified, and that archaeological evidence confirms that some Semites (there would not have been “Israelites” as an exclusive group yet) in Egypt and abroad did indeed follow Egyptian burial practices in the early second millennium BC (see pp. 351–352 in Kitchen’s book). Granted this was pre-Israelite, pre-law of Moses, but as we pointed out in our response, the law of Moses does not actually forbid this practice. Given that Joseph was their most prominent ancestor, it does not seem outrageous to think that Lehi and Ishmael would have been OK with following his example, given their circumstances.