Friday, October 16, 2009

lightsaber fight

I don't remember if I showed this to y'all or not. About a year ago, I downloaded a free rotoscoping software called lsmaker that allows you to put lightsabers in your videos. The program doesn't have a lot of flexibility, but it's free, and you can actually add lightsabers more quickly than in ordinary rotoscoping software.

I captured some sounds effects on the internet and used Audacity (which is also free) to edit them for the video. Then I used Windows Movie Maker to put it all together. It took me about 4.5 hours to do 30 seconds of video. After I did this, I had an all new respect for people who did Star Wars.

The is my niece and nephew, Julia and Jake, fighting in my sister's back yard.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Can historians prove that Jesus was raised from the dead?

Mike Licona and Bart Ehrman debated this issue, and it's posted on youtube in four parts:

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

Part 4

Ehrman was careful in his first speech to say that the debate was not over whether the resurrection happened, but over whether we can use historical methods to demonstrate that it happened. His argument was basically that since God is necessary to make a resurrection happen, and God is not accessible by historical methods, then the resurrection cannot be demonstrated by history. He also gave a Humean argument against miracles based on probability.

I think Ehrman is very confused about how probability works. Bill Craig pointed that out to him in a debate once, but I don't think Ehrman understood what Craig was explaining, because he accused Craig of trying to make a mathematical proof of the resurrection. I don't think Licona did a good job of addressing Ehrman's confusion.

Ehrman also made a number of irrelevant points. He pointed to the many discrepancies between the gospels in order to demonstrate that they are unreliable in order to demonstrate that we have poor evidence for the resurrection. But as Licona demonstrated, using quotes from Ehrman himself, none of these discrepancies prevented Ehrman and the vast majority of scholars from concluding that Jesus was crucified and that the disciples had experiences they understood as being appearances of the risen Jesus. Since Licona was arguing from three premises that Ehrman already agreed with, Ehrman's discussion of Bible contradictions was completely irrelevant.

Licona based his whole argument on three facts:
1. Jesus died by crucifixion.
2. Jesus appeared to the apostles.
3. Jesus appeared to Paul.
He argued that the resurrection hypothesis was a better explanation of these facts than rival hypotheses because it better fulfilled four historical criteria--explanatory power, explanatory scope, plausibility, and the least ad hoc.

Licona defined an ad hoc explanation as an explanation that requires positing entities for which there is no independent evidence. But then later, Licona posited God as a necessary condition for the resurrection without giving any independent evidence for God. I thought this was a severe blunder on Licona's part.

Ehrman claimed that Licona's first point--that Jesus died by crucifixion--was irrelevant to the case for the resurrection since if Jesus had died by stoning, the structure of the argument would've been the same. And since the second and third points are really the same point--that Jesus appeared to people after his death--that Licona really only had one point to argue from. I don't know if I'm confused or if Ehrman is confused. I mean sure, it doesn't matter how Jesus died, but obviously that Jesus died is extremely relevant to the resurrection. A person can't be raised from the dead if they haven't first died. The fact that Jesus die by crucifixion, of course, entails that Jesus died, so Licona does not just have one point. He's got two. I thought Licona should've pointed out the nonsense behind Ehrman's argument, but he just ignored it.

While demonstrating the inadequacy of the hallucination hypothesis (which Erhman preferred to call the visionary hypothesis), Licona said hallucinations don't happen in groups. This is another area where I think Licona smuggled in some information without substantiating it. His whole intention in the debate was to show that you could infer the resurrection from historical facts that are already accepted by almost all new testament scholars. One of them was that Jesus appeared to the disciples. But the fact that the vast majority of scholars agree that Jesus appeared to his disciples does not mean they all agree Jesus appeared to them in groups. Licona just smuggled that one in, and Ehrman didn't seem to catch it.

Ehrman's response was to give counter examples. He pointed to the many episodes of the virgin, Mary, appearing to many people in groups. Licona didn't respond to that, which was disappointing. I wish there had been a cross examination period.

Ehrman claimed that the disciples only saw visions of Jesus, not Jesus himself. He brought up the incident where Jesus was transfigured before Peter, James, and John, and pointed out the fact that even though Moses and Elijah appeared to Peter, James, and John, it didn't cause them to believe they had been raised from the dead. That really surprised me because if Ehrman was claiming that the vision of Jesus after his death was the same kind of thing, then he's left without an explanation for why the appearance of Moses did not cause them to think Moses had risen from the dead but the vision of Jesus did cause them to believe that Jesus had been risen from the dead. It seems to me that we can reasonably infer that the appearance of Jesus was not the same as the appearance of Moses. And if the appearance of Moses was a mere vision, then the appearance of Jesus was not a mere vision.

Ehrman also asked how Paul recognized Jesus since Paul didn't know Jesus during his mortal lifetime. He seemed to think that somehow worked as an argument against Paul's appearance, but he didn't explain how. Licona didn't answer the question, and unfortunately, there was no cross examination period. I suppose Jesus introduced himself to Paul, and that's how Paul knew who it was. Granted, it's possible some supernatural being other than Jesus just felt like appearing to Paul and pretending to be Jesus so Paul would convert to Christianity, but it seems far more likely to me that it was Jesus himself.

I thought it was a good debate. Some points each brought up were not adequately addressed by the other side, but given the time constraints of debates, that's to be expected. I would say the debate was a tie, because I can't decide who won.

Thursday, October 08, 2009

Jehovah's Witnesses misrepresent the Trinity

A couple of weeks ago, some Jehovah's Witnesses came by and gave me the September 1, 2009 edition of the Watchtower magazine. On page 28, there's a short one page article called "In What Way are Jesus and his Father One?" I think this article illustrates very clearly why it is that Jehovah's Witness have such a difficult time understanding the Trinity and why they constantly misrepresent it.

At the beginning of the article, it says, "Some quote this text to prove that Jesus and his Father are two parts of a triune God." Then at the end of the article it says, "Thus, when Jesus said, 'I and the Father are one,' he was speaking, not of a mysterious Trinity, but of a wonderful unity--the closest bond possible between two persons." Everything that comes between the beginning and the end, then, was meant to demonstrate that the Trinitarian interpretation of John 10:30 is incorrect.

What is striking for this trinitarian is how the article attempts to prove its point. It says that Jesus' statements in verses 27 to 29 "would have made little sense to his listeners if he and his Father were one and the same person." After paraphrasing the verses, the articles says, "No one would conclude that this son and his father were the same person." Citing Matthew 24:36, the article asks rhetorically, "If Jesus and his Father were really one person, why did Jesus pray to God and humbly admit to not knowing things that only his Father knew?"

So basically this article attacks modalism as if it were the Trinity. The authors of this article are very confused, and they are confusing the many Jehovah's Witnesses who read it. According to modalism, the Father and the Son are the same person. But that is not the Trinity. In the Trinity, the Father and the Son are distinct persons. So a trinitarian would totally agree with this article when it says,
This strong bond of unity, however, does not make God and his Son, Jesus, indistinguishable from each other. They are two individuals. Each one has his own distinct personality. Jesus has his own feelings, thoughts, experiences, and free will. Nevertheless, he chose to submit his will to that of his Father.
The Jehovah's Witnesses who left this article said they would come back this Saturday for a chat. I was thinking about asking them if I could video tape the conversation. Wouldn't that be neat?

Monday, October 05, 2009

N.T. Wright's upcoming book on Paul

N.T. Wright has been working on a series called Christian Origins and the Question of God. The first three books have already been published: The New Testament and the People of God, Jesus and the Victory of God, and The Resurrection of the Son of God. The next book in the series is supposed to be about Paul.

I've noticed that before he brings out another book in the series, he always publishes extensively on the subject first. I'm guessing the reason is to sort of submit his idea for peer review so that he can refine his views for his book. Well, he has taken a lot of heat for his views on Paul in recent years--especially over his understanding of justification--from people like John Piper and Daniel Wallace and others. So far, Wright has stuck to his guns, but his book on Paul still seems to be taking a long time. With all the criticism Wright has received, I figure one of two things are going to happen. Either he will change his views or else his book on Paul is bound to be one of his best.

I worry sometimes that he'll get old and die before he finishes. The first book was published in 1992, and he's still got two books to go. I've really enjoyed this series, and it would be a bummer if he died before he finished it.

I haven't even been reading his books on Paul. There's too much to read, and I figure I'll get the final version of his views in his upcoming book, and it will have his best arguments. So there's not much point in me spending a lot of time reading what he's writing now. There is one exception, though. I did read his book called What Saint Paul Really Said, but the only reason I read that one is because I thought it was a response to A.N. Wilson's view that Paul was the founder of Christianity. In reality, Wright's book only had one chapter on that.

Does anybody have any idea of when Wright's big book on Paul will finally come out?

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Was Jesus a Myth?

There was a debate recently between Dan Barker and James White on the question of whether the gospel writers borrowed from pagan myths, and Dr. White posted the debate on youtube:

Part 1

Part 2

I would like to have asked Dr. White if he believes Joseph Smith borrowed from View of the Hebrews to write the Book of Mormon, and if so, what he based that on. It would be interesting to see if the arguments he gave for a dependency on View of the Hebrews would be different or similar to arguments people like Dan Barker give for a dependency on pagan myths.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Apologetics conference videos available

The videos for the "Faith & Reason" get together at Saddleback church that I mentioned a couple of blogs ago are now available here.

The one with J.P. Moreland on "Has Science Made Faith in God Obsolete?" is worth checking out.

The one with Norman Geisler on "If God Exists, Why Is There Evil?" is not worth checking out in my opinion.

The one by William Lane Craig on "How Did the Universe Begin" is pretty much a rehash of what he says every time the subject comes up, so not much new there unless you've never heard Bill Craig before, in which case you should check it out.

The one by Dinesh D'Souza on "How Do I Know God Exists?" was better than I expected since I had not been very impressed with him in the past, but the topic he discusses has more to do with answering the arguments of the "new atheists" than explaining how we can know God exists.

I only caught the tail end of Darrel Bock's talk on "What the Gospels Really Say About Jesus," so I can't say much about that.

Greg Koukl's talk on "How Can I Defend My Faith Without Sounding Defensive," did not do justice to his book on Tactics, which addresses the same subject in much more detail, although Greg does a good impersonation of Lt. Columbo. I really think everybody should read that book, whether they are Christians or not, because it's a great primer on critical thinking for beginners. It's very well written and easy to understand with great advice on how to have a productive and civil conversation with somebody you have strong disagreements with. I think this book has the potential to raise the quality of debate between Christians and non-Christians if both sides read the book.

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

Does Calvinism render apologetics superflous?

A while back, Greg Koukl of Stand to Reason posted a video blog dealing with the issue of how to reconcile Calvinism with the use of tactics to defend Christianity. You see, in Calvinism, God determines from the beginning of time who will and who won't embrace the gospel. But that raises the question of why we should evangelize at all since presumably, if God intends somebody to be saved, then that person will get saved whether we witness to them or not.

A lot of Calvinists, I've noticed, have sort of adopted this view, too. James White of Alpha and Omega Ministries sometimes corrects people he thinks are mistaken to think that they can persuade anybody to become a Christian by the power of their arguments since it is God who determines whether people will be saved or not. In answer to the question of why we should be engaged in apologetics, he says we should do it because we are commanded to in such passages as 2 Peter 3:15. I've also noticed that a lot of Calvinists make little or no effort to defend the faith with gentleness and respect since they don't think their delivery has any influence whatsoever on whether somebody else will convert or not. Only God can change the heart, so they say, and no argument of ours can have any persuasive power.

In the discussion section of Greg's blog, I mentioned that Jonathan Edwards had specifically addressed this issue in his book on The Freedom of the Will. Somebody asked me to summarize his arguments. Since I don't blog much anymore, I thought I'd cheat and just cut and paste what I wrote there. Here ye go...

Greg agrees with Edwards that not only is the final event (e.g. somebody being persuaded) ordained, but the means are also ordained. In the analogy of Abraham and Sara, not only would it have been ordained that Sara get pregnant, but it would also have been ordained that Abraham have sex with Sara. Abraham having sex with Sara is just as certain as Sara getting pregnant since God guarantees them both.

Edwards argues for the compatibalist view of freedom, which is the view that all of our actions are determined by our strongest motivation, desire, inclination, bias, or mental predisposition. God can guarantee human action because he has causal influence over the persons heart.

In the case of defending the gospel, I suppose one might argue that if God has already guaranteed the end result, then the means are superfluous. But the means are only superfluous if they have no hand in bringing about the end result. But just as it is plain to see that there is a causal connection between Abraham having sex with Sara and Sara getting pregnant, so also is there a causal connection between one person arguing for a point of view and the other person being persuaded by the arguments. The arguing itself is just as much determined by God as the other person's response to the arguments.

Unless there is a causal connection between means and ends, it would be superfluous for God to ever ordain means. But if God ordains means to accomplish ends, then those ends would fail to take place if the means also failed to take place. The reason God can guarantee ends, even though they are accomplished by means which could theoretically be removed, is because God guarantees the means as well as the ends.

If it happens that we live in a completely deterministic world, and if all ends were determined by the initial conditions of the universe when the universe began, that would still not render means superfluous. The reason is that the means themselves would be part of the causal chain. Remove one link in the causal chain, and you alter everything that comes after. So determinism does not render means superfluous either.

In libertarian free will, acts of the will are not determined by any antecedent causes and/or conditions--not even our motives, desires, or inclinations. Motives can influence acts, but they can't determine acts.

The stronger a desire is, the more difficult it is to resist. It is theoretically possible, then, for a desire to be so strong that it renders the person incapable of resisting. In that case, the person does not have libertarian free will. It follows that the weaker a desire is, the more freedom a person has in the libertarian sense. And a person can only have complete freedom if they are under no influence of desire whatsoever.

So contrary to arguing being pointless under the Calvinist view of God's sovereignty, arguing is actually more effective under the Calvinist view than the Arminian view. Under the Arminian view (libertarianism), there can only be a loose connection between means and ends, whereas under the Calvinist view (compatibalism), there is a necessary connection between means and ends.

Arguments can only work if they are effective in changing the opinion or heart of another person. But the more influence the argument has in persuading the other person, the less libertarian free will the other person has. It follows that if a person has perfect libertarian free will (i.e. if their choice is not so much as influenced by anything external) then arguments can have no persuasive power whatsoever.

But besides all this, we have a moral obligation to defend the gospel (1 Peter 3:15), and Solomon said that whatever you find to do, do it with all your might (Ecclesiastes 9:10). So we ought to make the best arguments we can, and excel at making our arguments with gentleness and respect, as Peter says.

Saturday, September 05, 2009

Faith & Reason: Believe your beliefs and doubt your doubts

There's going to be a get-together at Saddle Back Church with speakers such as Greg Koukl, J.P. Moreland, William Lane Craig, and others this Saturday, and there will be live streaming. Check it out.

Peter Singer on healthcare

Peter Singer published an article in the New York Times recently on "Why We Must Ration Health Care. I'd like to get your thoughts on it. Even if you disagree, it is an interesting article. He attempts to put a dollar value on human life.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Review: The Lost Gospel: The Book of Q and Christian Origins by Burton L. Mack

I wrote this review back in 2002 and posted it on my web page. I decided to delete that web page since I don't use it anymore. I'm posting the review here just so I don't lose it. I suppose nobody is interested in this book anymore since it's so old, but since my review discusses the synoptic problem, it may be of interest to some people. Here ye go...

Not all scholars agree with Jesus’ Jewish roots. Some of them think Jesus started off as a kind of cynic-sage in the Greek tradition. They imagine that the earliest Christians were very syncretistic, borrowing freely from neighboring religions, especially the mystery cults. Burton Mack, for example, argues that, “The Jesus movement began as a home-grown variety of Cynicism in the rough and ready circumstance of Galilee before the war” (p. 120). In his reconstruction of the origins of Christianity, Jesus’ earliest followers did not think of Jesus as the Jewish messiah. They did not believe that Jesus died for sins or that he rose from the dead. Nor did they worship and honor him with hymns, prayers, and rituals (p. 4).

To arrive at his reconstruction of Christian origins, Mack begins with a particular solution to the synoptic problem. The synoptic problem is the problem of determining how Matthew, Mark, and Luke are related in terms of literary dependence. John’s gospel is different from the first three, but the first three gospels are so similar in their stories and even in their wording that they can be placed side by side and compared. (See Gospel Parallels.) Mack uses the most popular solution, which is the two-source hypothesis (2SH). In the 2SH, Mark was written first. Matthew and Luke both wrote their gospels using Mark as a source and then adding other material. In much of the additional material not found in Mark, Matthew and Luke still agree with one another, which has led scholars to think they shared a common source besides Mark. The hypothetical source they shared is designated Q, which comes from the German word quelle, meaning source. Mack takes Q quite seriously as a document in its own right and believes that, “Q is the best record we have for the first forty years of the Jesus movements” (p. 245).

Mack further relies on John Kloppenborg’s division of Q into earlier and later layers (Kloppenborg, John. The Formation of Q: Trajectories in Ancient Wisdom Collections. Studies in Antiquity and Christianity. Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1987). “The earliest layer consisting of ‘sapiential instruction’ was now referred to as Q1, and the ‘announcement of judgment’ as Q2. Kloppenborg has also identified a small amount of material that had been added later than the composition of Q2, such as the story of Jesus’ temptation. These later additions were referred to as Q3” (p. 44). The first and earliest layer consists of pithy sayings that tend to be somewhat counter-cultural, which one would expect from a cynic-sage. They consist of sayings such as, “Give to anyone who asks, and if someone takes away your belongings, do not ask to have them back,” and, “Don’t judge and you won’t be judged,” and, “Do not worry about your life, what you will eat, or about your body, what you will wear.”

Based on a few sayings that are found in Q1 and the maxim that there is always a community behind a text (p. 41), Mack reconstructs a highly speculative scenario of what the earliest Jesus people were like, how they lived, what they believed and what they didn’t believe. They were nothing like Jews. Jewish elements, such as apocalyptic pronouncements of judgment, didn’t enter into the Q tradition until the Q2 layer. Based on the three layers, Mack tells the story of an emerging and developing community who eventually merged with the Christ cult as Mark wrote his gospel (p. 178). The Christ cult itself emerged from some of the original Jesus people who migrated to Syria (p. 216). The message of the Christ cult was that Jesus died and rose from the dead, but the message was placed in a mythological once upon a time, and not a specific time and place (p. 219). It wasn’t until Mark’s gospel was written that Jesus was placed in a specific historical context.

Mack’s reconstruction of Christian origins is problematic on so many levels that it’s hard to know where to begin. He weaves an elaborate scenario of the developing thought of the first Jesus people based on the scant evidence he is left with after a highly speculative reconstruction of its literary history. Without blushing, he arrives at a Hellenistic group of counter-cultural cynics formed around the memory of Jesus without the slightest corroborating evidence that such people ever even existed. No hint of their existence has ever been forthcoming. The evidence we do have of the earliest Christians completely contradicts Mack’s scenario. Yet Mack dismisses the positive evidence we do have as myth while thinking his own reconstruction to be sober history. It would seem that Mack has created a myth of his own, and one cannot miss the irony that he begins his reconstruction with the words, “Once upon a time…”(p. 1).

The irony is further evident in the fact that Mack claims the kerygma (proclamation) of the Christ cult was itself set in a “once upon a time.” His claim is obviously false, though. In the earliest literature we have from the Christ cult, which is Paul’s letters, we see that Jesus was a real person who died in the recent past. Paul was personally acquainted with Jesus’ brother, James (Galatians 1:19). Jesus was a contemporary of many who were still alive, so the kerygma certainly wasn’t placed in any once upon a time. It was placed in recent history, and he had living followers who had been personally acquainted with him during his ministry.

Mack’s reconstruction is based on speculation upon speculation. He begins with what is most widely accepted among scholars (the 2SH) and gradually piles on the speculation. But even the 2SH is not without its rivals, and Q itself is only a hypothetical source. It isn’t a gospel document that archaeologist have discovered. If it ever did exist, no copy of it has ever been found. The reconstructions of it from the synoptic gospels are themselves speculative. Mack takes this speculative reconstruction of a hypothetical source and further divides it into three layers (more speculation) and then arranges the three layers from earliest to latest (even more speculation). Then, based on what he deems represents the earliest layer of tradition, Mack makes speculative pronouncements of what the Jesus people did not believe.

One of the rival solutions to the synoptic problem is the Griesbach hypothesis (GH). According to the GH, Matthew was written first. Luke used Matthew as his primary source. Then Mark used both Matthew and Luke as his sources. The GH dispenses with Q since it is unnecessary to explain why Matthew and Luke sometimes agree against Mark. Although not widely accepted, the GH has some arguments in its favor. Some of the reasons Mark is more widely thought to have been written first is because almost all of it is found in Matthew and Luke and because Matthew and Luke both agree in their order when they follow Mark but then diverge when they are not following Mark. It seems more natural to think that if someone were to write a new gospel, he would add to his source rather than take away from it, so it’s more likely that Matthew and Luke added to Mark rather than that Mark abbreviated Matthew and Luke. The GH has a somewhat plausible answer to the objection, though. It may be the case that Mark wrote his gospel in order to harmonize Matthew and Luke. Mark’s gospel includes material from Matthew and Luke where they agree in both content and order, and it excludes material where Matthew and Luke do not agree, which is what we would expect if Mark were attempting a harmonization. The case that Mark used Matthew and Luke is strengthened by the fact that Mark contains several explanatory clauses not found in Matthew or Luke. For example, Mark 2:15 says, “Many tax-gatherers and sinners were dining with Jesus and his disciples; for there were many of them, and they were following him” (Compare Matt 9:10//Luke 5:29). Mark 3:29-30 says, “’Whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit never has forgiveness, but is guilty of an eternal sin,’ because they were saying, ‘He has an unclean spirit’” (Compare Matthew 12:32//Luke 12:10). Mark 7:18-19 says, “’Do you not understand that whatever goes into the man from outside cannot defile him; because it does not go into his heart, but into his stomach, and is eliminated?’ (Thus he declared all foods clean.)” (Compare Matthew 15:17). In Mark 11:13, Jesus went to a fig tree and “found nothing but leaves, for it was not the season for figs” (Compare Matt 21:19; see also Matt 17:4//Mark 9:5-6//Luke 9:33 and Mark 16:4//Luke 24:2). Q is unnecessary in the GH because Luke used Matthew.

Another possible solution to the synoptic problem is the Farrer hypothesis (FH), which has been gaining in popularity in recent years. The FH keeps Markan priority but dispenses with Q by maintaining that Luke used Matthew as well as Mark. There are good reasons to accept the FH, not least of which is due to the numerous major and minor agreements between Matthew and Luke against Mark in triple tradition material. There is a sliding scale from double tradition (material in Matthew and Luke but not Mark) to major agreements (where Matthew and Luke agree substantially against Mark in triple tradition) to minor agreements (where Matthew and Luke agree in minor details against Mark in triple tradition). Since there is a sliding scale, these categories are artificial. The agreements between Matthew and Luke against Mark vary in degree. There are agreements in spelling, wording, and chronology, and there are agreements of omission and addition. The following example has agreement against Mark in three categories: omission, addition, and wording. [I did my best to make the texts line up so you could see the differences more clearly. Where Matthew and Luke agree against Mark, I coloured the words green. Where Mark has something that is omitted in Matthew and Luke, or where Mark's wording is different than Matthew and Luke, I've coloured it in red.]

Matthew 8:2-4Mark 1:40-44Luke 5:12-14
And behold a leper came
to him, and bowed down

him, saying,
if you are willing, you
can make me clean.”

he stretched out his
hand and touched him,
“I am willing; be cleansed.”
And a leper came to him,
beseeching him and falling
on his knees before him,

saying to him

“If you are willing, you
can make me clean.”
moved with compassion,
he stretched out his
hand, and touched him,
and said to him,
‘I am willing; be cleansed.”
And it came about that
while he was in one of
the cities, behold, there
was a man full of
leprosy; and when he
saw Jesus, he fell on
his face and implored
him, saying
if you are willing, you
can make me clean.”

he stretched out his
hand, and touched him,
“I am willing; be cleansed.”

It would be a remarkable coincidence if Matthew and Luke redacted Mark independently of each other and yet their redactions agree with each other, so these agreements are best explained by the fact that Luke used Matthew and sometimes chose Matthew’s wording over Mark’s. If Luke used Matthew, that also accounts for the material shared by Matthew and Luke but not found in Mark, thus dispensing with any need to postulate a hypothetical source such as Q.

To account for the major agreements, Q theorists suppose that there is some Mark/Q overlap. Either Mark and Q happen to contain the same material, or Mark used Q as a source. Using Mark/Q overlap to explain the agreements is problematic for Burton Mack’s case, though, for three reasons. First, minor agreements appear in almost every case of triple tradition material, and there are far too many of them to brush off as coincidence. Second, Q would have to contain substantially more material (including narrative) than Q theorists (and Burton Mack in particular) are willing to admit. Third, some of what Q would have to contain completely contradicts Mack’s thesis. Mack argues that the Q community had no belief or interest in Jesus’ sacrificial death and resurrection, but there are agreements between Matthew and Luke against Mark both in the passion narrative and in Jesus’ prediction of his resurrection.

Matthew 16:20-21Mark 8:30-31Luke 9:21-22
Then he warned the
disciples that they
should tell no one that
he was the Christ.
From that time Jesus
Christ began to show
his disciples that
he must
go to Jerusalem, and
suffer many things
the elders and
chief priests and
scribes, and
be killed, and
be raised up on the third day.
And he warned them to
tell no one about him.

And he began to teach

the son of man must

suffer many things
and be rejected by
the elders and
the chief priests and
the scribes, and
be killed, and
after three days rise again.
But he warned them, and
instructed them not to
tell this to anyone,

“The son of man must

suffer many things,
and be rejected by
the elders and
chief priests and
scribes, and
be killed, and
be raised up on the third day.”

Matthew and Luke agree in wording against Mark on their prediction of Jesus’ resurrection. Whether we account for this agreement by saying Luke was using Matthew (which dispenses with Q) or by saying this is an example of Mark/Q overlap (which means Q has a resurrection prediction), Burton Mack’s thesis is in trouble. The following agreement is also problematic for Mack’s thesis because it is part of the passion narrative.

Matthew 26:67-68Mark 14:65Luke 22:63-64
Then they spat in his
face and beat him with
their fists; and others
slapped him and said,

to us, you Christ;
who is the one who hit you?”
And some began to spit,
at him, and to blindfold
him, and to beat him
with their fists, and
to say to him,

And the men who were
holding Jesus in custody
were mocking him, and
beating him, and they
blindfolded him and
were asking him, saying,

who is the one who hit you?”

Given the above two alternatives to the 2SH, the Q hypothesis appears to be ad hoc. It is not necessary to postulate a hypothetical document to explain the agreement between Matthew and Luke when it is more simple to suppose that Luke used Matthew. (See The Case Against Q: Studies in Markan Priority and the Synoptic Problem by Mark Goodacre.)

Let us suppose the 2SH is correct, though, and there was a common source used by both Matthew and Luke other than Mark. Even if that were the case, it is impossible to reconstruct the document from the synoptic gospels with any degree of certainty. Because of the sliding scale from major to minor agreements between Matthew and Mark, it is impossible to tell what Q said, for where do we draw the line? Mack thinks that Mark actually used Q in writing his gospel (p. 178), but if that is the case, then anything found in all three gospels could have been in Q. That includes all the elements of the Jesus movement that Mack denies were a part of the Q community, such as the notion that Jesus was the messiah, that he died for sins, and that he was raised from the dead. Mack’s whole thesis depends on an argument from silence. It is based on what a speculative reconstruction of a hypothetical document did not say rather than what it did say.

Let us continue, though, and assume that we have a fairly accurate reconstruction of what Q said. Doing so still causes Mack some problems. The division between the three layers of Q basically just amount to dividing them up according to categories—moral teachings in Q1, apocalyptic pronouncements of judgment and the coming kingdom of God in Q2, and miscellaneous in Q3. One could arrive at a different result just by using different categories. The reason for dividing moral teachings from apocalyptic pronouncements is because of the difficulty in reconciling the two. If the end of the world is about to happen, so the argument goes, there’s no reason for Jesus to prescribe how people ought to live their lives (pp. 29-39). If understood from a Jewish perspective, though, morality and apocalyptic are inseparable. The Jews believed that “defection from the paths of Torah had caused persecution and exile. Fidelity to its commandments would be rewarded by an ingathering of the dispersed and Yahweh’s special providence” (Goldberg, David J. and John D. Rayner, The Jewish People: Their History and Their Religion, (London: Pinguin Books, 1987), 52). The whole basis of the pharisaic movement was that personal piety would result in a return from exile and an independent nation with God’s kingdom established on earth. With that background in mind, there is no problem reconciling ethical teachings with apocalyptic pronouncements of judgment. In fact, it would be odd if predictions of judgment were not accompanied by ethical teachings since judgments were coming on those who were living immoral lives. Most of the pronouncements of judgment in Q2 are accompanied by admonitions of repentance. For example, in Q2, Jesus said, “The men of Nineveh will arise at the judgment and condemn this generation. For they repented at the preaching of Jonah, and look, something greater than Jonah is here.” Jesus expected the people of his own generation to repent at his preaching just as Nineveh repented at Jonah’s preaching, and the reason was the same in both cases: judgment was coming.

Let us continue to be generous and assume that Q1, Q2 and Q3 represent legitimate layers of tradition. Mack’s thesis is still not salvaged, for he also relies on Kloppenborg’s chronology, placing Q1 earlier than Q2, and that assumption is questionable. Logically speaking, pronouncements of judgment ought to come before ethical teachings because it is the impending doom that gives the ethical teachings their force. It is because judgment is coming that we ought to be moral, so Q2 is logically prior to Q1. Mack knows that apocalyptic pronouncements of the coming kingdom of God is thoroughly Jewish, so he needs to place Q2 sayings later than Q1. But Mack acknowledges that “The kingdom of God is mentioned in seven sayings at the Q1 level.” Mack attempts to salvage his thesis by pointing out that none of the kingdom of God sayings at the Q1 level speak of the kingdom of God in an apocalyptic sense and then triumphantly announces, “Thus the old apocalyptic hypothesis can safely be set aside” (pp. 123-124). The circularity of his argument is hard to miss. The reason Mack finds no apocalyptic references to the kingdom of God in Q1 is because by definition apocalyptic sayings belong to Q2. If there actually were apocalyptic sayings in Q1, Mack would have placed them in Q2 simply because that’s the way he has defined his categories.

If we continue to be generous and assume that Q1 is the earliest layer of Q, and if we assume that Mack’s reconstruction of what they did not believe is accurate, will we be granting Mack the day? No, we won’t. At this point, Mack faces an insurmountable problem because he has no basis upon which to claim that the Q1 community is earlier and more authentic than the Christ cult. He simply asserts that “Q reveals what Jesus people thought about Jesus before there was a Christian congregation of the type reflected in the letters of Paul, and before the idea of a narrative gospel was even dared” (p. 245). Even if we grant the entire house of cards its legitimacy, we end up with the realization that Mack’s conclusion is actually worse than speculative; it is completely arbitrary. But that may itself be too generous, for the actual evidence shows that the earliest followers of Jesus were thoroughly Jewish, and they actually did believe Jesus was the Christ, that he died for sins, and that he was raised from the dead.

Monday, July 20, 2009

The Book of Mormon 18/18

Yay! You made it to the last post in this series. So far, I've been breaking up the posts topically, but today is miscellaneous day. I'm just going to talk about a few verses in the BOM I found interesting.

Jacob 2:27 says, "Wherefore, my brethren, hear me, and hearken to the word of the Lord: For there shall not any man among you have save it be one wife; and concubines he shall have none." This verse jumped out at me because of the LDS Church's association with polygamy in the past. They still believe in polygamy in the afterlife, just not this life since it's against the law.

In 2 Nephi 3:6-25, there's a prophecy predicting the coming of Joseph Smith. It doesn't say "Joseph Smith," but it's pretty obvious that's who it's talking about. His name will be Joseph, and his father's name will also be Joseph. It says he will be a seer, and "he shall be great like unto Moses." It predicts that he will convert the native Americans with the use of the BOM and the Bible. I thought it rather crass of Joseph Smith to insert such a convenient prophecy about himself. Later on in the book, he adds that a seer is greater than a prophet (Mosiah 8:15).

In Alma 18:1ff, it says that the Lamanites referred to their god as "the Great Spirit," which I thought was interesting since in a lot of Indian movies I've seen, the Indians refer to their god as "the Great Spirit." I'm sure Joseph Smith knew about that.

Alma 34:35 says, "For behold, if ye have procrastinated the day of your repentance even until death, behold, ye have become subjected to the spirit of the devil, and he doth seal you his; therefore, the Spirit of the Lord hath withdrawn from you, and hath no place in you, and the devil hath all power over you; and this is the final state of the wicked." This verse seems to contradict the Mormon belief in baptisms for the dead. They believe that if a person doesn't become Mormon while they are alive, somebody else can be baptized on their behalf once they are dead and know the truth. That allows them to go on to exaltation.

In 3 Nephi 28:4-9, Jesus tells three of his disciples that they will never die. According to Moroni--the last person to write in the BOM--the three disciples were still alive. By then, they were almost 400 years old. Presumably, they are still alive today. I went to Yahoo Answers and asked if anybody knew who they were or whether they were members of the LDS church. It makes you wonder. According to the Mormons, the true church completely disappeared from the face of the earth until Joseph Smith restored it, but if those three disciples were faithful, then it seems like they would constitute the church through the ages, and the true church did not disappear.

None of the Mormons claimed to know who they were, and some speculated about whether they were members of the LDS Church or not, but they all agreed they were still around. They also said the apostle, John, was still around. They claimed, based on John 21:22-24, that John got the same promise. But John 21:23 explicitly denies that John got any such promise. It says, "Jesus did not say to him that he would not die." I went back and forth with some of the Mormons through private messages, and they just could not see it, which left me scratching my head.

4 Nephi 1:17 says, "There were no robbers, nor murderers, neither were there Lamanites, nor any manner of -ites." I just thought that was funny.

Mormon 8:21-22 says that God will fulfill all his promises. What about the promises in the Old Testament to always bring the whole house of Israel back to Palestine?

Ether 13:2-4 says that America will be the place where the New Jerusalem will come down out of heaven.

There ye have it!

Friday, July 17, 2009

The Book of Mormon 17/18

Now I'm going to talk about a few verses from the BOM on the subject of grace.

For we labor diligently to write, to persuade our children, and also our brethren, to believe in Christ, and to be reconciled to God; for we know that it is by grace that we are saved, after all we can do. (2 Nephi 25:23-24)

Therefore, blessed are they who will repent and hearken unto the voice of the Lord their God; for these are they that shall be saved. And may God grant, in his great fulness, that men might be brought unto repentance and good works, that they might be restored unto grace for grace, according to their works. (Helaman 12:23-25)

Yea, come unto Christ, and be perfected in him, and deny yourselves of all ungodliness; and if ye shall deny yourselves of all ungodliness, and love God with all your might, mind and strength, then is his grace sufficient for you, that by his grace ye may be perfect in Christ; and if by the grace of God ye are perfect in Christ, ye can in nowise deny the power of God. (Moroni 10:32).
I remember the subject of grace came up when I was talking to the Bishop. I had told him I hoped to be able to share the doctrines of grace with Kay. He asked me what I meant by "grace," and I told him I understood it to mean "unmerited favour--when God does something for us wholly undeserving." I don't remember his exact words, but it was something to the effect of God granting grace in proportion to a person's good works.

But that is exactly what Paul said grace was not. Paul said, "But if it is by grace, it is no longer on the basis of works, otherwise grace is no longer grace" (Romans 11:6). The Mormon view of grace doesn't even make sense. Even Mormons will agree that salvation is by the grace of God. 2 Nephi 10:24 says that "it is only in and through the grace of God that ye are saved." But what are we being saved from? Why do we need to be saved? It is because we sin, and because we sin, we are under the wrath of God. But God shows mercy by giving us eternal life in spite of our sins. He spares us from the wrath we deserve, and that is the grace he shows us. It follows that the more you sin, the more grace you need. Likewise, Paul said, "where sin increased, grace abounded all the more" (Romans 5:20). But that is exactly the opposite of the Mormon view where you are given grace according to your good works. The better you live, the more grace you get. Essentially, you earn grace by living properly. That view makes no sense at all since the more righteously you live, the less grace you need.

I told the Bishop this issue of grace was probably the biggest difference between us, and he agreed.

I wonder if any Mormon has ever met the requirements of the Book of Mormon for obtaining God's grace. Has any Mormon ever done all they could do as 2 Nephi 25:23-24 requires? Has any Mormon ever denied himself of all ungodliness as Moroni 10:32 requires?

Part 18

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

The Book of Mormon 16/18

Another thing that causes me to doubt the Book of Mormon is a translation of an ancient American document is that it quotes or alludes to parts of the Bible that were written after Lehi left the land of Jerusalem and went to America. There are far too many of them to list, so I'll only list a few. If you're fairly familiar with the Bible, I recommend reading the BOM, and you'll see what I'm talking about.

2 Nephi 6:5-8:25 (and other places, e.g. Mosiah 14:1ff) quote from Second Isaiah (i.e. Isaiah 40-55), saying, "And there are many things which have been spoken by Isaiah which may be likened unto you, because ye are of the house of Israel. And now, these are the words..." In all fairness, there's dispute about when Second Isaiah was written. The more conservative scholars will say it was written before the exile by Isaiah himself, but most people think it was written during the exile by somebody other than the Isaiah of First Isaiah (i.e. Isaiah 1-39). I'm not sure myself, but I lean toward the majority.

2 Nephi 2:5 says, "And by the law no flesh is justified," which is just what Paul said in Romans 3:20.

Alma 5:38-39 says, "Behold, I say unto you, that the good shepherd doth call you; yea, and in his own name he doth call you, which is the name of Christ; and if ye will not hearken unto the voice of the good shepherd, to the name by which ye are called, behold, ye are not the sheep of the good shepherd. And now if ye are not the sheep of the good shepherd, of what fold are ye? Behold, I say unto you, that the devil is your shepherd, and ye are of his fold." This passage is a clear allusion to the parable of the good shepherd in John 10.

Alma 5:52 says, "And again I say unto you, the Spirit saith: Behold, the ax is laid at the root of the tree; therefore every tree that bringeth not forth good fruit shall be hewn down and cast into the fire, yea, a fire which cannot be consumed, even an unquenchable fire." John the Baptist said the same sort of thing in Luke 3:9.

Alma 19:10 says, "And Ammon said unto her: Blessed art thou because of thy exceeding faith; I say unto thee, woman, there has not been such great faith among all the people of the Nephites." That's an allusion to Luke 7:9 where Jesus says, "I say to you, not even in Israel have I found such great faith."

Alma 26:12 says, "Yea, I know that I am nothing; as to my strength I am weak; therefore I will not boast of myself, but I will boast of my God, for in his strength I can do all things; yea, behold, many mighty miracles we have wrought in this land, for which we will praise his name forever." Alma is alluding to Philippians 4:13 which says, "I can do all things through him who strengthens me," and 2 Corinthians 10:17 which says, "But he who boasts, let him boast in the Lord" and 2 Corinthians 12:5-10 where Paul talks about the thorn in his flesh.

Alma 38:13 says, "Do not pray as the Zoramites do, for ye have seen that they pray to be heard of men, and to be praised for their wisdom." In Matthew 6:5, Jesus said, "And when you pray, you are not to be as the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and on the street corners, in order to be seen by men. Truly I say to you, they have their reward in full."

Mormon 9:27 says to "work out your own salvation with fear and trembling before him," which is just what Paul said in Philippians 2:12.

In Ether 8:10ff there a story that closely parallels the story in Mark 6 about the beheading of John the Baptist.

Ether 12:6 says, "faith is things which are hoped for and not seen," which comes from Hebrews 11:1, and the rest of Ether 12 parallels the discourse on faith in Hebrews 11.

Moroni 7:45 says, "And charity suffereth long, and is kind, and envieth not, and is not puffed up, seeketh not her own, is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil, and rejoiceth not in iniquity but rejoiceth in the truth, beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things." That comes from 1 Corinthians 13:4-7, which says in the KJV, "Charity suffereth long, and is kind; charity envieth not; charity vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up, Doth not behave itself unseemly, seeketh not her own, is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil; Rejoiceth not in iniquity, but rejoiceth in the truth; Beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things."

Moroni 10:8-17 comes from 1 Corinthians 12:4-11. It says, "And there are different ways that these gifts are administered; but it is the same God who worketh all in all; and they are given by the manifestations of the Spirit of God unto men, to profit them. For behold, to one is given by the Spirit of God, that he may teach the word of wisdom; And to another, that he may teach the word of knowledge by the same spirit...And again, to another, the interpretation of languages and of diverse kinds of tongues. And all these gifts come by the Spirit of Christ; and they come unto every man severally, according as he will."

Dagoods asked me a while back what criteria I would use to determine whether there was a dependence between sources. I didn't have a clear set of criteria, but one criteria I said I think establishes a literary dependence is the use of exact wording. But these parallels in the BOM are enough to convince me that there was a literary dependence. The BOM obviously borrows from the New Testament which, if the story is true, the authors of the BOM could not have possibly been familiar with. That leads me to believe the BOM is not a translation of an ancient document, but was a document written by somebody who was familiar with the New Testament--somebody like Joseph Smith and his friends.

Part 17

Saturday, July 11, 2009

The Book of Mormon 15/18

In John 3:17, 1 Timothy 1:15, and Matthew 9:12-13, it says that Jesus did not come into the world to judge the world or to call the righteous. Rather, he came into the world to save sinners. But the Jesus of the New Testament is unlike the Jesus of the BOM in this regard. In 3 Nephi 9, Jesus makes his appearance in America and utterly destroys sixteen different cities, burning some with fire and causing others to sink into the ocean or be buried beneath hills. These events were all judgments for the wickedness and unrighteousness of the inhabitants of those cities. Then Jesus offers the gospel to the rest, saying, "O all ye that are spared because ye were more righteous than they, will ye not now repent of your sins, and be converted, that I may heal you?" (3 Nephi 9:13).

I went to Yahoo Answers and asked, "Did Jesus come to call the righteous or did he come to call sinners? If he came to call the sinners, why did he destroy them BEFORE offering the gospel? Why did he offer the gospel to the righteous? If they are righteous, why do they need to be saved? Or am I misunderstanding 3 Nephi 9, John 3:17, Matthew 9:12-13, and 1 Timothy 1:15? Or is the New Testament unreliable? Or is the BOM unreliable?"

Some Mormons argued that there was no inconsistency since God had destroyed cities in the Old Testament. I grant that there is no inconsistency on God's part in destroying cities because of sin. The inconsistency is in the mission of Jesus when he came to earth--whether he came to call the righteous or sinners.

Other Mormons said that all these people had already heard the gospel, and because they were so wicked, there was no hope for them. The survivors were not without sin; they just weren't as sinful as those Jesus destroyed. There was still hope for them.

Part 16

Wednesday, July 08, 2009

The Book of Mormon 14/18

There are a few passages in the BOM that basically say that faith and knowledge are mutually exclusive. You can only have faith as long as you don't have knowledge, and once you know something, you can no longer exercise faith in it.
Alma 32:17-18 "Yea, there are many who do say: If thou wilt show unto us a sign from heaven, then we shall know of a surety; then we shall believe. Now I ask, is this faith? Behold, I say unto you, Nay; for if a man knoweth a thing he hath no cause to believe, for he knoweth it."
I thought this was an interesting passage because the New Testament seems to teach that faith is necessary for salvation. But Alma 32:17-18 says that if you have signs, then you have knowledge, and if you have knowledge, then you cannot have faith; it follows that if you have signs, then you cannot have faith. But Jesus performed many signs for his apostles, including rising from the dead. It would seem to follow that the apostles did not have faith. And also the Nephites saw many signs in the sky indicating that Jesus had been born, and then had died, and then he even appeared to them. I went to Yahoo Answers and asked, "Did this nullify their faith, and if so, did it ruin their salvation? Or is faith not necessary for salvation?" Unfortunately, I didn't get any straight answers. One person said it required faith in the first place to recognize the signs, and that the signs didn't nullify their faith; they only strengthened their faith.

That brings us to the next passage:
Alma 32:26-34 "Now, as I said concerning faith--that it was not a perfect knowledge--even so it is with my words. Ye cannot know of their surety at first, unto perfection, any more than faith is a perfect knowledge. But behold, if ye will awake and arouse your faculties, even to an experiment upon my words, and exercise a particle of faith, yea, even if ye can no more than desire to believe, let this desire work in your, even until ye believe in a manner that ye can give place for a portion of my words. Now, we will compare the word unto a seed. Now, if ye give place, that a seed may be planted in your heart, behold, if it be a true seed, or a good seed, if ye do not cast it out by your unbelief, that ye will resist the Spirit of the Lord, behold, it will begin to swell within your breasts; and when you feel these swelling motions, ye will begin to say within yourselves--It must needs be that this is a good seed, or that the word is good, for it beginneth to enlarge my soul; yea, it beginneth to enlighten my understanding, yea, it beginneth to be delicious to me. Now behold, would not this increase your faith? I say unto you, Yea; nevertheless it hath not grown up to a perfect knowledge. But behold, as the seed swelleth, and sprouteth, and beginneth to grow, then you must needs say that the seed is good; for behold it swelleth, and sprouteth, and beginneth to grow. And now, behold, are ye sure that this is a good seed? I say unto you, Yea; for every seed bringeth forth unto its own likeness. Therefore, if a seed groweth it is good, but if it groweth not, behold it is not good, therefore it is cast away. And now, behold, because ye have tried the experiment, and planted the seed, and it swelleth and sprouteth, and beginneth to grow, ye must needs know that the seed is good. And now, behold, is your knowledge perfect? Yea, your knowledge is perfect in that thing, and your faith is dormant; and this because you know, for ye know that the word hath swelled your souls, and ye also know that it hath sprouted up, that your understanding doth begin to be enlightened, and your mind doth begin to expand."
Let me summarize that for people who don't want to read the whole thing. Basically, it's saying that you can do an experiment where you entertain an idea, either exercising a small degree of faith or at least wanting it to be true. If the object of your faith is good or true, then your faith will grow. It will get stronger and stronger. Eventually, you will reach certainty, at which point you no longer have faith or belief; rather, you have knowledge. So knowledge is epistemological certainty.

When I talked to the Bishop, he read this whole passage to me. Before he got to the end, I was on the edge of my seat, and I said, "That's one of the passages I wanted to ask you about!" Remember, I didn't know I was going to meet with the Bishop that day, so I didn't have my notes with me. Earlier in the conversation, I had asked the Bishop whether he believed Joseph Smith was a prophet, the Book of Mormon was an ancient document translated by Joseph Smith, and the LDS Church was the true church of Christ restored by Joseph Smith. He said, "I don't believe it; I know it." So I questioned him on what he meant by saying he knew it. What did he mean by "know"?

We went back and forth because he wasn't really giving me straight answers, but after a little frustration, we finally arrived at his definition of knowledge. He simply equates knowledge with epistemological certainty. To believe something means to have some degree of doubt, but to know something means to have no doubt at all.

Words are defined by their use, so I suppose I can't quibble with the way the BOM uses the word, "knowledge," but I don't think that is what people usually mean by the word. After all, it's possible to be absolutely certain about something and still be wrong. And it hardly seems possible to know something that isn't true. You can't know that the earth is flat if the earth is not really flat. It seems to me that before you can know something, it has to at least be true.

And to believe something means to think it's true. You'd be contradicting yourself if you said, "I believe my cat is pregnant, but I know she is not." So before you can know something, it has to be true, and you have to think it's true.

But it's possible for something to be true, for you to think it's true, and you still don't know it. A person might think they will win the lottery, and maybe they will win the lottery, but that doesn't mean they knew it. They are just an optimistic person who made a lucky guess. It's not really knowledge unless you have some sort of reason or justification for thinking it's true. Justification is what connects the belief inside your mind with the reality outside your mind. Without that connection, any correspondence between your mental states and the external world is merely a coincidence.

So knowledge is justified true belief. I think that's how most people use the word, whether they've thought about what they mean by it or not. Since knowledge is justified true belief, knowledge and belief cannot be mutually exclusive. Belief is necessary for knowledge.

Here is one last passage from the BOM about faith and knowledge:
Ether 3:18-19 "And he ministered unto him even as he ministered unto the Nephites; and all this, that this man might know that he was God, because of the many great works which the Lord had showed unto him. And because of the knowledge of this man he could not be kept from beholding within the veil; and he saw the finger of Jesus, which, when he saw, he fell with fear; for he knew that it was the finger of the Lord; and he had faith no longer, for he knew, nothing doubting."
I think this is a good example of why you have to be careful to define your terms when you're talking with people. Any Christian might say they know the gospel is true, but when Mormons say they know it's true, they mean they have absolute certainty.

Since I had that discussion with the Bishop, I have noticed that a lot of Mormons will say they know their religion is true, rather than merely believing it to be true. The next time a Mormon tells me that, I think I'll question them on the issue of faith and say, "Does that mean you don't have any faith?"

Part 15

Sunday, July 05, 2009

The Book of Mormon 13/18

The BOM is like the Bible in some ways. The New Testament addresses theological issues the people were dealing with in the first century. They were dealing with the issue of eating meat sacrificed to idols, whether gentile converts had to be circumcised, etc. The BOM does the same thing. It addresses theological issues people were dealing with in the 19th century. The two major rival churches where Joseph Smith grew up were the Methodists and the Presbyterians--one group believing in predestination and the other putting a strong emphasis on free will.

In Alma 31, the author talks about the Zoramites who separated themselves from the Nephites. They were bad people, "perverting the ways of the Lord" (Alma 31:1). The author of Alma gives us what is essentially a statement of beliefs of the Zoramites that included: "we believe that thou art God, and we believe that thou art holy, and that thou wast a spirit, and that thou art a spirit, and that thou wilt be a spirit forever," and that "thou hast elected us that we shall be saved, whilst all around us are elected to be cast by thy wrath down to hell" (Alma 31:15,17). Some of the beliefs it explicitly says are in error, but it doesn't say they are all in error, so I went to Yahoo Answers and asked about it.

The Mormons who answered said all of the beliefs of the Zoramites mentioned were in error. God is not a spirit. He has a body of flesh and bone. The Mormon view seems to be an outright denial of John 4:24, which says that God is a spirit. I've heard some Mormons reconcile John 4:24 with their view by saying God is both flesh and spirit.

Some of them said they do believe in predestination (they prefer to say "foreordination"), but the Zoramites were mistaken to think they were foreordained to salvation and everybody else wasn't.

A few of them made a distinction between "foreordination" and "predestination," and they thought passages such as Romans 8:29-30 and Ephesians 1:5 and 11 are talking about foreordination rather than predestination. The difference is that predestination means you're chosen for salvation regardless of how you live your life, which removes the principle of moral agency, whereas foreordination is conditioned on our faithfulness.

This view seems to be contrary to what Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 1:27-31:
But God has chosen the foolish things of the world to shame the wise...that no man should boast before God. By his doing you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, and the righteousness and sanctification, and redemption, that, just as it is written, "Let him who boasts, boast in the Lord."
The reason boasting is excluded is because it is by God's doing that we are in Christ, not our own doing. If our being chosen depended on our doing, then we'd have something to boast about. As Paul also said in Romans 4:2, "If Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about." In Romans 3, Paul says that "all have sinned," and that they are "justified as a gift by his grace," through faith, and because of this, Paul says, "Where then is boasting? It is excluded. By what kind of law? Of works? No, but by a law of faith. For we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from works of the Law" (Romans 3:23-28).

It is also contrary to what Paul said in Romans 9:11-18:
For though the twins [Jacob and Esau] were not yet born, and had not done anything good or bad, in order that God's purpose according to his choice might stand, not because of works, but because of him who calls, it was said to her, "The older will serve the younger."
That raises the question of whether there is any injustice with God, which Paul answers by quoting where God said to Moses, "I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion." Then Paul said, "So then it does not depend on the man who wills or the man who runs, but on God who has mercy."

Part 14

Thursday, July 02, 2009

The Book of Mormon 12/18

Modalists believe the father, son, and holy spirit are the same person. Trinitarians believe the father, son, and holy spirit are the same God, but they are distinct persons. Mormons believe the father, son, and holy spirit are distinct beings. It seems like these views differ in their degree of distinction between the father, son, and holy spirit. Modalists make no distinctions between them. Trinitarians believe there is a distinction in personhood, but no distinction in being. Mormons believe there is a distinction both in personhood and in being.

But the BOM seems decidedly modalistic.
Alma 11:38-39 "Now Zeezrom saith again unto him: Is the Son of God the very Eternal Father? And Amulek said unto him: Yea, he is the very Eternal Father of heaven and of earth, and all things which in them are; he is the beginning and the end, the first and the last."

Alma 11:44 "Now, this restoration shall come to all, both old and young, both bond and free, both male and female, both the wicked and the righteous; and even there shall not so much as a hair of their heads be lost; but every thing shall be restored to its perfect frame, as it is now, or in the body, and shall be brought and be arraigned before the bar of Christ the Son, and God the Father, and the Holy Spirit, which is one Eternal God, to be judged according to their works, whether they be good or whether they be evil."

Mosiah 15:1-4 "And now Abinadi said unto them: I would that ye should understand that God himself shall come down among the children of men, and shall redeem his people. And because he dwelleth in flesh he shall be called the Son of God, and having subjected the flesh to the will of the Father, being the Father and the Son--The Father, because he was conceived by the power of God; and the Son, because of the flesh; thus becoming the Father and Son--And they are one God, yea, the very Eternal Father of heaven and of earth."

Ether 3:14 "Behold, I am he who was prepared from the foundation of the world to redeem my people. Behold, I am Jesus Christ. I am the Father and the Son. In me shall all mankind have life, and that eternally, even they who shall believe on my name; and they shall become my sons and my daughters."
Since Alma 11:44 could also be interpreted in a trinitarian fashion, I posted a question about these scriptures on Yahoo Answers, asking how Mormons understood the relationship between the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and whether they were modalists, trinitarians, or what. They all told me they believed they were distinct beings.

I've noticed that Mormons typically will use the word "personage" when talking about the father and the son. That caused me a little confusion in the beginning. I remember the Bishop told me toward the end of our conversation that the father and son are distinct personages. At the time, I thought he meant the same thing we trinitarians mean when we say "persons," so I didn't understand what all the fuss was about.

To get around these specific verses that call Jesus the eternal Father, the Mormons on Yahoo Answers told me that Jesus is our Father in a different sense than God the Father is. Jesus is our father in two senses--(1) in the sense that we are reborn through baptism, becoming his sons and daughters, and (2) in the sense that Jesus created our physical bodies.

I went back and read those verses with that in mind, to see if it meshed. I doubt that was the intention of the author of the BOM since Jesus is called "the very Eternal Father" in Alma 11:38-39. If Jesus is the very Eternal Father, then who is that other guy? Mosiah 15:1-4 says explicitly why Jesus is called the father. It says he was called "the Father, because he was conceived by the power of God."

The Mormons on Yahoo Answers also told me that the father, son, and holy spirit are one in unity and purpose--the same sense in which believers are to be one with each other and in which husbands and wives are one with each other. But Alma 11:44 explicitly says they are "one Eternal God," which tells us the sense in which they are one. They are one God; one being.

Since I posted that question, I've seen a lot of Mormons refer to a "godhead," when talking about the father, son, and holy spirit, rather than simply saying "God," like Alma 11:44 does. By "godhead," they seem to mean a council of gods that includes the father, son, and holy spirit.

Some time after Kay gave me her testimony, and I began to read about Mormonism, she warned me that not everybody claiming to be Mormon was part of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. There were heretical off-shoots. If the Book of Mormon really is the word of God, then I'd probably be enclined to think the LDS Church was the heretical group, and I'd search out some of these other branches to see if they adhered more closely to the BOM than the LDS Church does. It would be interesting to find out if there are any modalists among them and whether this issue had anything to do with why they split.

In the comment section of Part 1 of this series, Tracy gave me a link to an article by Barry R. Bickmore called "Of Simplicity, Oversimplification, and Monotheism." It's a long article, but I encourage everybody to read the first section--The Unity and Plurality of God. I have never seen a better example of how Mormons redefine words. If you read that section carefully, it sheds a lot of light on why some Mormons will insist that they believe there is only one God, and that we misrepresent them when we say otherwise. It turns out that what they mean by "one God" and by "monotheism" is "more than one God, unified in mind, will, love, and covenant."

I remember having a discussion with Kay several months before I found out she was a Mormon. She asked me what I thought about Mormons, and I brought up the issue of the eternal law of progression and how God was once a man, and how men can become gods. She insisted that I was misrepresenting Mormonism, and that Mormons believe there is only one God. When I told her about how some Mormons qualify that by saying one God for this universe, she still insisted that I was wrong and that there was only one God in all of reality. Now I understand where the confusion came from.

Part 13

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

The Book of Mormon 11/18

I had always heard that Mormons believe God has a wife, and that he and his wife had spiritual offspring. We are his offspring. We existed as spirits before we came to earth. Jesus, I had heard, was the literal firstborn of God and his wife. That meant Jesus had a beginning. He was not eternal.

But in a prophecy about Jesus, Mosiah 3:5 says:
For behold, the time cometh, and is not far distant, that with power, the Lord Omnipotent who reigneth, who was, and is from all eternity to all eternity, shall come down from heaven among the children of men, and shall dwell in a tabernacle of clay, and shall go forth amongst men, working mighty miracles, such as healing the sick, raising the dead, causing the lame to walk, and the blind to receive their sight, and the deaf to hear, and curing all manner of diseases. (Mosiah 3:5)
I also asked about that on Yahoo Answers, and I learned something new. Mormons don't believe anybody had a beginning of existence. We have all existed from eternity--first as "intelligences," then as spirits, and then as flesh and blood.

That answered another question I had also. The first Mormon missionaries I talked to had told me that God had a father before him, and that father had a father before him, etc. So not even God was eternal. But God is eternal just like everybody else, even if he was once just as we are now--ordinary human beings.

But that is not the BOM view. Moroni 8:18 says, "For I know that God is not a partial God, neither a changeable being; but he is unchangeable from all eternity to all eternity." That's pretty explicit. Not only does God exist from eternity to eternity, but God is unchangeable from eternity to eternity. So he could not have been an intelligence who became a spirit who became flesh and blood who became exalted to godhood. The God described here in the BOM is worlds apart from the god Joseph Smith described in the King Follett Discourse. If the BOM really is another God-given testament of Jesus Christ, then Joseph Smith was a false prophet.
If a prophet or a dreamer of dreams arises among you and gives you a sign or a wonder, and the sign or the wonder comes true, concerning which he spoke to you, saying, 'Let us go after other gods (whom you have not known) and let us serve them,' you shall not listen to the words of that prophet or that dreamer of dreams; for the LORD your God is testing you to find out if you love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul. (Deuteronomy 13:1-3)
Even if the BOM is an ancient American document, and even if it is the word of God, and even if Joseph Smith accurately translated it, he is still a false prophet since he preached a different God from the BOM. According to Deuteronomy 13:1-3, Joseph Smith may have given a sign or wonder by translating the BOM, but that certainly doesn't qualify him as a true prophet.

Part 12

Saturday, June 27, 2009

The Book of Mormon 10/18

I had heard that the LDS Church used to be a racist organization, and that they denied black people the priesthood until about the time of desegregation. Mormons to my knowledge have always denied these allegations. But now I see where they come from. From reading the BOM, I got the impression that the author considered white skin to be beautiful and black skin to be loathsome.
And I beheld the city of Nazareth; and in the city of Nazareth I beheld a virgin and she was exceedingly fair and white. (1 Nephi 11:13)

And I beheld the Spirit of the Lord, that it was upon the Gentiles, and they did prosper and obtain the land for their inheritance; and I beheld that they were white, and exceedingly fair and beautiful, like unto my people before they were slain. (1 Nephi 13:15)

And he had caused the cursing to come upon them, yea, even a sore cursing, because of their iniquity. For behold, they had hardened their hearts against him, that they had become like unto a flint; wherefore, as they were white, and exceedingly fair and delightsome, that they might not be enticing unto my people the Lord God did cause a skin of blackness to come upon them. And thus saith the Lord God: I will cause that they shall be loathsome unto thy people, save they shall repent of their iniquities. (2 Nephi 5:21-22)

O my brethren [Nephites], I fear that unless ye shall repent of your sins that their skin [the Lamanites] will be whiter than yours, when ye shall be brought with them before the throne of God. (Jacob 3:8)

And the skins of the Lamanites were dark, according to the mark which was set upon their fathers, which was a curse upon them because of their transgression and their rebellion against their brethren, who consisted of Nephi, Jacob and Joseph, and Sam, who were just and holy men. (Alma 3:6)

And it came to pass that those Lamanites who had united with the Nephites were numbered among the Nephites; And their curse was taken from them, and their skin became white like unto the Nephites. (3 Nephi 2:14-15)
I went to Yahoo Answers and posted a question about this. I said, "Do you believe that black people are under a curse? Do you believe that being black is a bad thing? Is it a punishment from God? Do you believe that being white is better than being black? If not, why would God curse Lamanites by making them black, and reward them by making them white?"

All of the Mormons denied that blackness was the curse. Instead, black skin was just a sign that allowed the Nephites to tell who was cursed so they could distinguish between the two people's.

Alma 3:6 explicitly says that the dark skin was the curse. Jacob 3:8 also seems to present a strong case that blackness was the curse. Rather than talking about black and white, it talks about degrees of whiteness in proportion to sin. And Jacob 3:8 is a warning, as if being white is more preferable to being black. And 2 Nephi 5:21-22 seems to clearly indicate that whiteness is delightsome while blackness is loathsome. It explicitly says that God made the Lamanites black so that "they might not be enticing unto my people." Clearly, God was counting on the Nephites to be racists. Or, if not racists, at least to not be very attracted to black people. It was not simply so the Nephites would know who the cursed people were. But judge for yourself.

If blackness was not the curse, then what was the curse?

It would not be surprising at all if this point of view about black people came from the mind of somebody living in America in the 1800's. People used to say that black people were under the curse of Ham. According to this article in Wikipedia, "This racist theory was widely held during the 18th-20th centuries, but it has been largely abandoned since the mid-20th century." There are still people today who believe that theory. I met one just five years ago. It looks to me like Joseph Smith simply inserted a popular myth into his book.

Part 11

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

The Book of Mormon 9/18

I noticed some anachronisms while reading the BOM I thought I'd mention. I think anachronisms are one of the strongest evidences against the BOM.

There are several references to synagogues in the new promised land. Keep in mind that Lehi and his people left the land of Jerusalem before the Babylonian exile. Synagogues were an innovation of post-exilic Judaism, so Lehi's people shouldn't have known about them. Yet Alma 16:13 says, "And Alma and Amulek went forth preaching repentance to the people in their temples, and in their sanctuaries, and also in their synagogues, which were built after the manner of the Jews." Joseph Smith would've known about them, but not Lehi's descendants.

Alma 46:13-15 says all the true believers in Christ who belonged to the church of God were called "Christians" by those who did not belong to the church. That is either an interesting coincidence or it is an anachronism. It's only an accident of history that Christians were called Christians, since according to Acts 11:26, "the disciples were first called Christians in Antioch," presumably by nonbelievers. But it's curious that these people in Alma were being called Christians even before Christ came.

Alma 47:7 makes reference to somebody named "Antipas," which is a Greek name. The Greeks didn't influence the Jews until well after the Babylonian exile.

3 Nephi 2:12 talks about the Lamanites fighting for "their rights, and the privileges of their church and of their worship, and their freedom and their liberty." That sounded like a very American thing to say. At the very least, you'd think the author had been influenced by certain enlightenment ideals.

In 3 Nephi 9:18, Jesus calls himself the "Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end." Alpha and omega would've meant a lot to a Greek speaking audience since they are the first and last letters of the Greek alphabet, but I don't know what they would've meant to ancient Hebrews who would not have known Greek. The only thing I could figure is maybe the gold plates had the first and last letters of the reformed Egyptian they were written in. Maybe they were translated as alpha and omega since that would've been more familiar to the readers than the 'a' and the 'z.' If so, then reformed Egyptian would have to have been a phonetic script quite unlike Egyptian.

In 3 Nephi 27:3ff, Jesus' disciples asked Jesus what they should call the Church. That struck me as anachronistic since people didn't seem to worry about naming churches until the protestant reformation. Even "Catholic Church" wasn't a proper name so much as a description. "Catholic" means "universal." Of course the issue of naming churches would've made perfectly good sense to somebody like Joseph Smith who was familiar with the Methodist church and the Presbyterian church, but I don't know if it would've made much sense to the disciples of Jesus who were founding the only church there was!

In 2 Nephi 24:29,31, it refers to the land of Israel as "Palestina." Although "Palestine" is derived from the word for "Philistine," the land of Israel was never called "Palestine" until after the Bar Kochba rebellion in the second century. The Romans are the ones who gave it that name. I was curious why the BOM would say "Palestina" instead of "Palestine." According to Wikipedia, the Latin word for Palestine is Palaestina.

I already mentioned the horses, elephants, steel, and all that. Even Ether 7:9 mentions steel swords. The interesting thing about that is that Ether is a record of the Jaradites who migrated to America after the tower of Babel incident, thousands of years before Lehi and his family. They had all died off long before Lehi got to America, but they left their records.

Part 10

Sunday, June 21, 2009

The Book of Mormon 8/18

In the introduction to the BOM, it says that of the three groups written of in the BOM--the Jaredites, the Nephites, and the Lamanites--all were destroyed except for the Lamanites, and the Lamanites "are the principle ancestors of the American Indians."

DNA tests have confirmed that Native Americans came to the Americas from Asia, not the middle east. Mormons are well aware of this. The explanation I've heard most often is that there were other natives here when Lehi's people migrated to America from Jerusalem, and that Lehi's people made up a small percentage of the population of north and south America. Essentially, they are arguing that the Lamanites are not the principle ancestors of the American Indians, and that's why they haven't shown up in DNA tests. These DNA tests have been done extensively in both North and South America, and there have been no traces of any native Americans of Jewish descent.

The BOM itself seems to support the notion that the Lamanites are the principle ancestors of the native Americans. Shortly after Lehi's people got to America, Lehi made a speech in which he said:
And behold, it is wisdom that this land should be kept as yet from the knowledge of other nations; for behold many nations would overrun the land, that there would be no place for an inheritance. Wherefore, I, Lehi, have obtained a promise, that inasmuch as those whom the Lord God shall bring out of the land of Jerusalem shall keep his commandments, they shall prosper upon the face of this land; and they shall be kept from all other nations, that they may possess this land unto themselves. (2 Nephi 1:8-9)
The BOM doesn't mention any civilizations that were already in America that didn't come from Jerusalem, and I get the impression from this passage that there were no natives in the land. They must've spread pretty wide, too, because they built cities, had large populations, and waged massive wars. The "promised land" had to have been pretty big.

In Alma 22, it talks a little bit about the geography of some of the land. In verse 31-32, it mentions two areas of land that share a boarder--Desolation to the north and Bountiful to the south. There is a sea on the east and west of these lands, and it takes a day and a half to walk from the east sea to the west sea along the boarder between Desolation and Bountiful. It goes on to say, "and thus the land of Nephi and the land of Zarahemla were nearly surrounded by water, there being a small neck of land between the land northward and the land southward." That sounded to me like a good description of central America. That's the only place where one can walk a day and a half to get from the east sea to the west sea.

But then later we find both the Lamanites and the Nephites in the land of Cumorah, by a hill called Cumorah. That's where the final battle between the Lamanites and the Nephites took place, and according to the official LDS website, the hill Cumorah is in New York. It's where the prophet Moroni hid the gold plates, and that's where Joseph Smith found them. Surely, the Nephites and Lamanites were spread more widely than Mormon apologists seem to think.
And now I, Mormon, would that ye should know that the people had multiplied, insomuch that they were spread upon all the face of the land, and that they had become exceedingly rich because of their prosperity in Christ. (4 Nephi 1:23)

And it came to pass that they did multiply and spread, and did go forth from the land southward to the land northward, and did spread insomuch that they began to cover the face of the whole earth, from the sea south, to the sea north, from the sea west, to the sea east. (Helaman 3:8)
The Lamanites eventually wiped out the Nephites. In Mormon 6:12-15, it says 220,000 Nephites were killed. But this slaughter was merely the last of a long series of battles in which massive numbers of Nephites were killed. And if there were that many Nephites, think how many Lamanites there must've been! In Mormon 5:6, it says the Lamanites were beating the Nephites because the Lamanites were so great in number. Surely, they outnumbered the Nephites. I think it is unlikely that such large numbers of people would be confined to an insignificant area of land.

Toward the end of the BOM, after the Nephites had all been wiped out except for maybe five people, it says, "And now, behold, I say no more concerning them, for there are none save it be the Lamanites and robbers that do exist upon the face of the land" (Mormon 8:9). The Lamanites are descendents of Lehi, who was a Jew who migrated from Jerusalem in 598 BCE.

There is one more piece of evidence that I think indicates the BOM intends to make the Lamanites out to be the principle ancestors of the native Americans. There are two prophecies concerning the Gentiles' interaction with the descendents of the Lamanites.
Nevertheless, thou beholdest that the Gentiles who have gone forth out of captivity, and have been lifted up by the power of God above all other nations, upon the face of the land which is choice above all other lands, which is the land that the Lord God hath covenanted with thy father that his seed should have for the land of their inheritance; wherefore, thou seest that the Lord God will not suffer that the Gentiles will utterly destroy the mixture of thy seed, which are among thy brethren. Neither will he suffer that the Gentiles shall destroy the seed of thy brethren. (1 Nephi 13:30-31)

And now, the thing which our father meaneth concerning the grafting in of the natural branches through the fulness of the Gentiles is, that in the latter days, when our seed shall have dwindled in unbelief, yea, for the space of many years, and many generations after the Messiah shall be manifested in body unto the children of men, then shall the fulness of the gospel of the Messiah come unto the Gentiles, and from the Gentiles unto the remnant of our seed--And at that day shall the remnant of our seed know that they are of the house of Israel, and that they are the covenant people of the Lord; and then shall they know and come to the knowledge of their forefathers, and also to the knowledge of the gospel of their Redeemer, which was ministered unto their fathers by him; wherefore, they shall come to the knowledge of their Redeemer and the very points of his doctrine, that they may know how to come unto him and be saved. (1 Nephi 15:13-14)
These two prophecies seem to be about Europeans coming over to America. They did not "utterly destroy" the native Americans, but they did kill a bunch of them. The native Americans did "dwindle in unbelief," assuming they ever believed in the first place. The "fulness of the gospel" came to the gentiles by way of Joseph Smith restoring the church of Christ. From there, the gospel ought to reach the native Americans. So the BOM presumes that the descendents of the Lamanites are still around, and that they will convert to Mormonism. They must be among the native Americans. That seems to be the assumption of these "prophecies."

Part 9

Thursday, June 18, 2009

The Book of Mormon 7/18

I majored in history when I was in college, so I can't always remember whether I first learned something in grade school or whether I learned it in college. That makes it difficult for me to know what's common knowledge and what isn't. But there were some things in the BOM that didn't seem quite right based on what I've learned in my history classes.
And it came to pass that we did find upon the land of promise, as we journeyed in the wilderness, that there were beasts in the forests of every kind, both the cow and the ox, and the ass and the horse, and the goat and the wild goat, and all manner of wild animals, which were for the use of men. (1 Nephi 18:25)
When I read this, I texted it to Kay who responded by saying something like, "Sounds like the new world." I wanted to say that didn't sound at all like the new world. There were no horses in north or south American until they were introduced by the Spanish. There was a prehistoric horse that once existed in north America, but it was really small, and it became extinct about 12,000 years ago.

I remember after reading this last year that I searched the internet for Mormon responses. I found a web page that had pictures of cave drawings. The cave drawings looked like people riding horses. The author said something like, "Archaeologists call these dogs, but judge for yourself." I would show you a picture, but I can't seem to find it.

I found this FARMS article on "Horses in the Book of Mormon" by Robert R. Bennett. FARMS is a Mormon apologetics organization. He said that "archaeological evidence for the presence of the horse in the pre-Columbian Americas is presently scant and inconclusive." He makes several suggestions, though. One is that perhaps there were so few horses that they just haven't survived in the archaeological record. He says, "the Book of Mormon claims only that horses were known to some New World peoples before the time of Christ in certain limited regions of the New World."

I know Mormon apologists like to argue that the stories in the BOM happened in a small geographical area, but if you just read the book, you don't get that impression. But I also doubt his claim that there were few horses. Just look at some of the references he cites. In Enos 1:21, it says that the Nephites had "many horses." Well, the Nephites were one of the major people's of the BOM, engaged in battles that killed tens of thousands of people. If you ran into a rancher who said he had "many horses," you might think forty would be enough to justify such a claim. But if a group of 50,000 people said they had "many horses," you wouldn't think forty would be enough to justify the claim. So it seems to me that the Nephites, being as populous as they were, had to have had a pretty significant herd. And they weren't the only people who had horses, either.

In 3 Nephi 3:22, it says the Nephites took "their horses, and their chariots, ...and did march forth by thousands and by tens of thousands..." Of course it doesn't say how many horses there were, but I figure if they were significant enough to mention among tens of thousands of people, there must've been a lot of them.

Just a few chapters later in 3 Nephi 6:1, it says, "And now it came to pass that the people of the Nephites did all return to their own lands in the twenty and sixth year, every man, with his family, his flocks and his herds, his horses and his cattle, and all things whatsoever did belong unto them." Now maybe the author was exaggerating when he said they did all return, every man with his horses, but even if half of them had horses, that's still a pretty significant number of horses. And remember that these horses were in the land for hundreds of years, which means many generations of significant herds of horses.

If these horses became extinct, it had to have been fairly recently. At the very latest, they became extinct around the time of Christ, just 2000 years ago. Yet we have no problem discovering a prehistoric horse that became extinct 12,000 years ago. That's not to mention the many mammoths we've found. But no trace of the BOM horses.

Later in the article, Bennett suggests that perhaps Lehi's people saw something similar to a horse and called it a horse when it really wasn't. But there are two problems with that. First, if it wasn't a horse, then what else might one use to pull chariots? A llama, maybe? Second, it casts doubt on the supposed divinely inspired translation of the BOM. After all, words get their meaning from their use. Whatever token the Nephites used to refer to this animal, you would expect that an accurate translation would use the equivalent English word. If the Nephites meant "llama" by whatever word they happened to use, even if it had previously been used of horses, then the correct English translation would've been "llama."

Bennett seems to think the Nephites may have been referring to a tapir as a "horse." Here's a tapir:

Well, I think it's always possible that something existed which we just haven't dug up. I can't dismiss the possibility that there were horses in America during the time of the Nephites and Lamenites. Bennett makes a good point about the Huns and the paucity of horse fossils in their lands in spite of the significance of horses in their culture. But I remain suspicious.

The BOM also mentions extensive use of steel swords, and battles where tens of thousands of people are killed. As far as we know, there was no steel in the Americas until the Spanish brought them over, and I don't think the Israelites had steel in 600 BCE either, but I could be wrong about that. This seems to me to be a bigger problem than horses. Some Mormons have suggested maybe they were talking about other metals and "steel" is just being used in a generic sense to mean "metal." The problem is that "steel" is distinguished from other metals in the BOM.
And I did teach my people to build buildings, and to work in all manner of wood, and of iron, and of copper, and of brass, and of steel, and of gold, and of silver, and of precious ores, which were in great abundance. (2 Nephi 5:15)
A lot has been written on this subject, so I'm just going to leave it at that. There are other things in the BOM that other people have pointed out are anachronistic, like wheat and barley, cows, oxen, etc. But when I was reading the BOM the things that jumped out at me were the horses and the steel swords. The elephants and chariots also jumped out at me. Of course there was the mammoth, but they became extinct something like 10,000 years ago. Here is a picture of a piece of Mayan artwork one Mormon used as evidence:

The author of the article said, "Critics say those are parrots. What do YOU think?" I have to admit they look like elephants to me.

The interesting thing is that among all the crops the BOM mentioned, it didn't say much about the food we know native Americans did grow, such as maize and various kinds of squash.

There is a wealth of Mormon apologetic literature on these subjects. I was interested in knowing if any of this information had ever been submitted for peer review or published in academic journals. I know there are some Mormon academic journals, but I wanted to know if anybody had ever submitted an article to a secular academic journal arguing anything like there being horses, elephants, steel swords, etc. in ancient American civilizations. I posted a question about it on Yahoo Answers. I got a link to Jeff Lindsay's web page, but nobody gave me any references to peer reviewed academic journal articles. I would be interested in knowing whether such articles would survive peer review and what other scholars would say about them.

Part 8