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

Monday, June 15, 2009

The Book of Mormon 6/18

A long time ago, I read a book called The Gentile Times Reconsidered by Carl Olof Jonsson. It was about how Biblical, archaeological, and astronomical evidence pointed to 587 BCE as the date for the destruction of the Jewish temple rather than 607 BCE, which is when the Jehovah's Witnesses date it. The book pointed out many problems with Jehovah's Witness chronology.

The BOM also has a specific chronology, so I was curious how it would work out. The BOM repeatedly says that Jesus will be born 600 years after Lehi left Jerusalem (1 Nephi 10:4, 2 Nephi 25:19, etc.). Lehi left Jerusalem in the first year of the reign of Zedekiah (1 Nephi 1:4, 1 Nephi 2:2-4, etc.). That means Jesus should be born 600 years after the 1st year of Zedekiah.

The Temple in Jerusalem was destroyed in the 11th year of Zedekiah, which was the 19th year of Nebachadnezzar (2 Kings 24-25; 2 Chronicles 36; Jeremiah 39; Jeremiah 52). That happened in 587 BCE, which means that Lehi left Jermusalem in 598 BCE.

If Lehi left Jerusalem in 598 BCE, that means Jesus was born in 3 CE.

But the problem is that according to Matthew 2, King Herod was still alive when Jesus was born. Herod died in 4 BCE, which means Jesus had to have been born in 4 BCE or earlier.

It seems like the only way to make the BOM chronology work is to argue for a different date than 587 BCE for the destruction of the temple, but that date is supported by some pretty strong evidence, which you can read about in Carl O. Jonsson's book. Another way would be to argue for a different date for King Herod's death. I've read (I can't remember where) that some people date Herod's death as late as 1 BCE, but there seems to be a strong consensus in favour of the 4 BCE date.

The footnotes in my copy of the BOM say that Lehi left Jerusalem in 600 BCE, and that Jesus was born in 1 CE. That would put the destruction of the Temple in 589 BCE, and the death of Herod no earlier than 1 CE.

I brought this up in the comment section of this blog and Kevin Winters directed me to a FARMS article called "The Jewish/Nephite Lunar Calender," by Randall P. Spackman, which addressed the points I raised. The rest of what follows is just cut and paste from my response to the article.

The article was actually kind of surprising to me because in the end, the author claimed to have solved one problem, but in doing so, created another--the problem of whether Lehi left Jerusalem in the 1st year of Zedekiah, as Mormon said in the heading of 3 Nephi, or whether he left between 588 and 587 BCE, as the author argued (being the 10th or 11th year of Zedekiah). To deal with THAT problem, the author quoted the preface to the BOM, which says, "And now, if there are faults they are the mistakes of men; wherefore, condemn not the things of God, that ye may be found spotless at the judgment-seat of Christ."

That is a really interesting response. It sounds like the author is saying in that section that Mormon made a mistake. There's a contradiction in the BOM about when Lehi left Jerusalem. But if that's the case, then why go through this long explanation, trying to reconcile the 600 year prophecy? Why not just begin with this claim about human error and avoid the whole thing?

This "human error" solution creates another problem, too. The introduction of the BOM quotes Joseph Smith as saying that "the Book of Mormon was the most correct of any book on earth." If the BOM is fallible, then there isn't an infallible book on earth--neither the Bible nor the BOM. We might as well give up worrying about contradictions and chalk them up to human error.

[I discovered later that Mormons do not subscribe to inerrancy, neither for the Bible, nor for the Book of Mormon. Mormon 8:12 says, "And whoso receiveth this record, and shall not condemn it because of the imperfections which are in it, the same shall know of greater things than these."]

I admit that the author's solution works. I did the math, and, indeed, 600 lunar years (without adding a 13th month every three or so years) is equal to about 582 solar years, so 600 lunar years before 5 BC is 587 BC.

But I am highly skeptical that if this story were true, the Nephites, out of ignorance, would've failed to add the 13th month every 3 or so years. After all, they had every reason the Mesoamericans, Hebrews, and Egyptians had to notice a problem--harvests and festivals, especially. And living in the Hebrew/Egyptian world for much longer than 3 years before leaving like they did, and being acquainted with their calender, surely they would've known about the 13th month.

But if that's the case, then why not just say these are "the mistakes of men" and live with it?

Part 7

Friday, June 12, 2009

The Book of Mormon 5/18

The first thing that jumped out at me last August when I began to read the BOM was that the characters, who were supposedly Jews, did not have a Jewish worldview.

According to the BOM, there's a fellow named Lehi who took his family and left Jerusalem in the first year of Zedekiah and left for America. That was eleven years before the third exile and the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem, which means Lehi left Jerusalem in 598 BCE. They wandered in the wilderness for eight years, and then built a boat and sailed for America.

"Us" vs. "Them"

In the beginning of the story, while Lehi is prophesying the destruction of Jerusalem, Nephi (the son of Lehi, and the author of 1 Nephi) keeps referring to "the Jews" as "they." In 2 Nephi 29:13, the author distinguishes between the Nephites, the Jews, and the lost tribes of Israel.

After Jesus ascended in the book of Acts, he appeared in America where he chose 12 more disciples. That's the background of this prophecy:
Yea, behold, I write unto all the ends of the earth; yea, unto you, twelve tribes of Israel, who shall be judged according to your works by the twelve whom Jesus chose to be his disciples in the land of Jerusalem. And I write also unto the remnant of this people, who shall also be judged by the twelve whom Jesus chose in this land; and they shall be judged by the other twelve whom Jesus chose in the land of Jerusalem. (Mormon 3:18-19)
Notice how "the remnant of this people" are distinguished from the twelve tribes of Israel.

The promised land

Part of the worldview of Judaism included the promises God gave Abraham that his children would possess the land, and the story of how God delivered the people of Israel from Egypt and brought them into the promised land. It was a land they were promised forever. This worldview affected how they interpreted later historical events. First, the Assyrians scattered the northern kingdom of Israel in 722 BCE, leaving only the kingdom of Judah in the south. Few of them ever returned. Then the Babylonians exiled the Jews in three stages culminating in the destruction of the temple and the final exile in 587 BCE. Since that time, the prophets predicted there would be a return from exile that would even include the reunion of Judah and Israel. The whole house of Israel would be able to return from exile and reestablish their national sovereignty. This worldview is what drove the Jews to despair the whole time they were in vassalage to other nations, and it explains why they fought so hard in the Maccabean revolt and the two revolts against Rome to reestablish their national sovereignty.

In the BOM, it talks about the people of Lehi being rescued from Jerusalem in much the same way the Bible talks about the Hebrews being rescued from Egypt. And it talks about wandering in the wilderness for eight years in the same way the Hebrews wandered in the wilderness for forty years. And it talks about the people of Lehi crossing the Atlantic ocean to enter the promised land, which is America, in the same way the Bible talks about the Hebrews crossing the Jordan to enter the promised land, which is Palestine.
Yea, and the Lord said also that: After ye have arrived in the promised land, ye shall know that I, the Lord, am God; and that I, the Lord, did deliver you from destruction; yea, that I did bring you out of the land of Jerusalem. (Nephi 17:14)
While the themes are certainly similar, something is terribly awry.

If the people in the BOM were really Jews, surely they would've thought they were being exiled from the promised land. And they would've thought God would eventually return them to the land of Israel. But instead, it says:
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 [America]; and they shall be kept from all other nations, that they may possess this land unto themselves. And if it so be that they shall keep his commandments they shall be blessed upon the face of this land, and there shall be none to molest them, nor to take away the land of their inheritance; and they shall dwell safely forever. (2 Nephi 1:9)
Somebody with a Jewish worldview would've interpreted such a statements as a promise to be banished from the real promised land (i.e. the land promised to Abraham's seed) forever, and ironically, to be banished from the real promised land because of their faithfulness to God's commandments! A real Jew would've seen these supposed promises to Lehi to actually be broken promises since God had promised the land of Israel to Abraham's seed forever, and to always return the people of Israel to that land in fulfillment of his promises and in answer to their obedience.

When Jesus visits America, he tells the people that with the help of the Gentiles, they will build a New Jerusalem in America, and all those who had been scattered by the Gentiles will be gathered into the New Jerusalem (3 Nephi 21:32-24). There is also a New Jerusalem that will come down out of heaven in America (Ether 13:3). The old Jerusalem will also be rebuilt as a holy city, but "it could not be a new Jerusalem for it had been in a time of old" (Ether 13:5). So Israel would be forever split in two.

The law of Moses

There is no veneration of the Mosaic law among the people of the BOM like you see in the Bible. While they spent eight years in the wilderness near the Red Sea, there's no indication that anybody even thought about whether they should go to Jerusalem for any of the pilgrimage festivals, there's no indication that they kept any of the Jewish holidays, and the Sabbath is rarely mentioned. It does say a few times that the people of Nephi kept the law of Moses, but instead of expressing a love for the law like you see in the Old Testament, the BOM talks about the law as if it was just a temporary inconvenience that would be done away with once Christ arrived. For example, several hundred years before Christ, Nephi wrote:
And, notwithstanding we believe in Christ, we keep the law of Moses, and look forward with steadfastness unto Christ, until the law shall be fulfilled. For, for this end was the law given; wherefore the law hath become dead unto us, and we are made alive in Christ because of our faith; yet we keep the law because of the commandments...Wherefore, we speak concerning the law that our children may know the deadness of the law; and they by knowing the deadness of the law, may look forward unto that life which is in Christ, and know for what end the law was given. And after the law is fulfilled in Christ that they need not harden their hearts against him when the law ought to be done away. (2 Nephi 25:24-27)

The temple

In Judaism, there has only ever been one temple or tabernacle at a time. It represented God's dwelling place and his presence among Israel. Priests offered sacrifices on behalf of the people. Jews traveled to Jerusalem on special occasions to offer those sacrifices. The building of the temple was a big deal. David had wanted to do it, but God wouldn't let him. Instead, God said that Solomon would build the temple. Jews in the diaspora never built new temples; they built synagogues.

In the BOM, it says that Nephi built a temple "after the manner of the temple of Solomon" (2 Nephi 5:16). The building of Nephi's temple takes all of one verse to narrate. There's no discussion about God telling Nephi to build the temple or Nephi feeling the need to ask God for such a privilege. There's no discussion of how the temple was dedicated or of its function. But what seems even more odd is that there was no legitimate priesthood to officiate in the temple. In the Bible, there are very strict rules about who can enter the Holy of holies, who can offer sacrifices, the garments they have to wear, etc. The priests were among the sons of Aaron and the tribe of Levi. Lehi's people were from the tribe of Joseph and had no priesthood authority.

According to the footnote in my copy of the BOM, all of this happened between 588 and 570 BCE. The temple in Jerusalem was destroyed in 587 BCE, so perhaps there were not two temples at the same time. But eventually, the temple in Jerusalem was rebuilt, so surely there were two temples at one time. There's no indication in the BOM that this would've been a problem. But for somebody with a Jewish worldview, surely something would've seemed awry.

The Messiah

[There is more on the subject in the comment section of Response to a Jew with a View. Some of my comments here were cut and paste from what I wrote there.]

The BOM talks quite a bit more about Jesus Christ than the Old Testament does, and it is quite a bit more explicit than the Old Testament is. In fact, the parts of the BOM that were supposedly written before Jesus arrived seemed to have a fully developed New Testament theology.

But I don't get the impression that the author(s) of the BOM understood what a Jewish messiah was. (I wish I had taken better notes on this subject when I read the BOM so I could demonstrate the point, but I remember that was the impression I had when I read it.) The eschatological messiah in Judaism is a fulfillment of a promise God made concerning the throne of David.
Your [David’s] house and your kingdom shall be made sure forever before me; your throne shall be established forever. (2 Samuel 7:16)

But King Solomon shall be blessed, and the throne of David shall be established before the LORD forever. (1 Kings 2:45)
David’s dynasty came to an end as a result of the Babylonian exile, but the prophets said God would fulfill his promise by raising up a descendant of David who would reestablish his throne and rule forever.
There will be no end to the increase of His government or of peace, on the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish it and to uphold it with justice and righteousness from then on and forevermore. The zeal of the LORD of hosts will accomplish this. (Isaiah 9:7)

They will live on the land that I gave to Jacob My servant, in which your fathers lived; and they will live on it, they, and their sons and their sons' sons, forever; and David My servant will be their prince forever. (Ezekiel 37:25)
In 1 Kings 2:4 and 8:25, it says that David “shall not lack a man to sit on the throne of Israel,” as long as his sons are obedient. The messianic prophecy in Jeremiah 33:14-22 is explained as a fulfillment of that promise.

But there's no indication that the author(s) of the BOM understood why the messiah had to be from the line of David or that the messiah would be a king, which is striking when you consider how much more there is about the messiah in the BOM than there is in the Old Testament. And considering the fact that Lehi left Jerusalem while Zedekiah was still king, it is conspicuous that among all the discussion of the eschatological messiah in the BOM, there seems to be no question or even curiosity about what became of David's dynasty. Here are some of the BOM's messianic prophecies:
Yeah, even six hundred years from the time that my father left Jerusalem, a prophet would the Lord God raise up among the Jews--even a Messiah, or, in other words, a Savior of the world. (1 Nephi 10:4)
Apparently from this verse, the author thought "messiah" was just another way of saying "savior of the world." Granted, Christians do believe Jesus is the savior of the world, but that is not what "messiah" means.
Wherefore, as I said unto you, it must needs be expedient that Christ--for in the last night the angel spake unto me that this should be his name--should come among the Jews. (2 Nephi 10:3)
Here's, it's evident that the author thought "Christ" was just a name. There is another curious reference in this same chapter to the same effect. See if you notice anything odd about this next part:
For according to the words of the prophets, the Messiah cometh six hundred years from the time that my father left Jerusalem; and according to the words of the prophets, and also the word of the angel of God, his name shall be Jesus Christ, the Son of God. (2 Nephi 10:19)
The odd thing about this verse is that the author appears to think "messiah" is a title, whereas "Jesus Christ" is a proper name. It is strange that the translation of the BOM would make such a distinction between "messiah" and "christ," since both mean the same thing. "Messiah" is derived from the Hebrew word for "anointed one," and "christ" is derived from the Greek word for "anointed one." It makes you wonder what the original language of the BOM actually said and whether it made such a distinction. Of course this is just one thing that makes me doubt the BOM is a translation at all, but that is a topic for another blog entry.

For all these reasons, I seriously doubt that the author(s) of the BOM really were Jews. But it would not be surprising if this story was written by somebody in the 19th century who had a Christian upbringing.

Part 6

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

The Book of Mormon 4/18

Mormons often ask me how I feel when I read the BOM. I find that a little frustrating because it doesn't matter how I feel when I read it. It only matters whether it's true. I don't think you can tell whether it's true by how you feel when you read it, so it doesn't matter how you feel. I wrote more about that in my series on Mormon epistemology.

I don't mind saying how I felt, though. When I was first visited by the Mormons over ten years ago, I prayed about the BOM like they asked me to, and all I felt was a foreboding. It was the same foreboding I felt before I prayed about it, though. Now I don't attribute this foreboding to the Holy Spirit. I attribute it to the fact that I already had serious doubts about it. But I didn't read the whole BOM back then. I only read the passages the missionaries gave me to read.

Last August, I read the whole BOM. When I met with Kay's bishop later on, he asked me how I felt when I read it. I told him I couldn't remember since I wasn't really thinking about my feelings when I was reading it.

But reading the BOM caused me to have far more doubts about it than I had before I read it. So I don't feel very good about the BOM at all now.

The BOM is much better when read cover to cover. What kept me from reading it before was pure boredom and lack of interest. But I was only reading isolated passages. I couldn't possibly see how it all fit into the story. The BOM isn't like the Bible where you have a collection of independent books from different genres. The BOM is more like a novel. You can read it from cover to cover, and it's just one long story. I think that's the way it ought to be read, at least the first time you read it. Then you can go back and read passages over again and know how they fit in the broader story.

Part 5

Saturday, June 06, 2009

The Book of Mormon 3/18

Before I read the BOM, I read the introductory pages. There's an abridged version of Joseph Smith's story there. Then it says, "For the complete record, see Joseph Smith--History, in the Pearl of Great Price, and History of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, volume 1, chapters 1 through 6.

I'm going to abridge the abridgment for you. In 1823, an angel named Moroni appeared to Joseph Smith and told him about a book written on golden plates that he would show Joseph at a later date, and there was a seer stone with the book that would allow Joseph to translate the book. But Joseph was not allowed to show the book to anybody except who he was commanded to or else he would be destroyed.

Moroni appeared to Joseph again, told him to tell his dad what had happened, and Joseph's dad told him it was from God. This time, Joseph went to find the plates. He said, "Covenient to the village of Manchester, Ontario county, New York, stands a hill of considerable size, and the most elevated of any in the neighborhood. On the west side of this hill, not far from the top, under a stone of considerable size, lay the plates, deposited in a stone box." The seer stones, a breastplate, and the golden plates were in the stone box, but Moroni wouldn't let Joseph have them for four more years. But Joseph went there once a year and met with Moroni until then.

Joseph finally got the plates on September 22, 1827, and Moroni told him to protect them until Moroni came back for them. Apparently, lots of people tried unsuccessfully to get them from Joseph, but Joseph was successful in protecting them. Then, once they were translated as The Book of Mormon, Moroni took them away.

In the case of the Bible, there are thousands of fragments of ancient manuscripts. It boggles the mind to think how many copies there must've been for so many thousands of them to have survived for so long. Surely, most of them have not survived.

But with the BOM, there isn't one single shred of manuscript evidence anywhere. The only one that supposedly existed was taken away by an angel. I'm sure there's an explanation for it, but this story just makes me suspicious. Joseph Smith finds some golden plates with ancient writings on them, only lets a handful of people see them (and it's ambiguous whether anybody actually saw them), and then they are taken away to heaven so nobody else can ever examine them. Wouldn't it be great if we could examine them? That is, if they ever existed, which I doubt. I can't prove it, but I suspect this story of an angel taking them away is just a cover up. It is most unfortunate. If they existed, they could possibly vindicate Joseph Smith and the LDS Church. Or they could falsify Joseph Smith and the LDS Church.

Part 4

Wednesday, June 03, 2009

The Book of Mormon 2/18

I might as well go back to before I read the Book of Mormon (hereafter BOM). I got my first copy of the BOM in August of 1996. I know that because the friend who gave it to me wrote a dedication on the inside of it:
To Sam Harper
I hope this book brings you light and happiness.
Ryan Byrd
August 96'
He sent this to me after I had written him a letter telling him I had been visiting with some Mormon missionaries. The missionaries gave me references to read, which I did, but I didn't read the whole book at the time.

The first thing I noticed about the BOM was that it imitated the King James Version. It was not written in modern English, which made me suspicious. The King James Version had been the most widely read translation of the Bible for a few hundred years, so it would make sense that if you're going to try to pass off your writing as scripture that you might want to immitate what was already widely accepted as scripture. Putting it in Elizabethan English might give it an illusion of authenticity. But if it were translated by the power of God, then such pretensions would be unnecessary. God would speak in the language of the people he was talking to just as he did in the Bible. I asked the Mormon missionaries why it was in King James English, and they said it was for the sake of formality, or something like that.

My impression since then has not changed. I don't think the style of the BOM proves it is a fake, but it does make me suspicious. My suspicions have been heightened by my discovery that the original 1830 publication of the BOM had some grammatical errors that are not at all surprising under the assumption that the BOM was written (not translated) in the 1800's, but that would be surprising if the BOM was translated the way it supposedly was.

Lemme say something about that "supposedly was." There is no official Mormon position on exactly how Joseph Smith translated the BOM, but according to David Whitmer, it was translated like so:
Joseph Smith would put the seer stone into a hat, and put his face in the hat, drawing it closely around his face to exclude the light; and in the darkness the spiritual light would shine. A piece of something resembling a parchment would appear, and on that appeared the writing. One character at a time would appear and under it was the interpretation in English. Brother Joseph would read off the English to Oliver Cowdery, who was his principal scribe, and when it was written down and repeated to brother Joseph to see if it was correct, then it would disappear, and another character with the interpretation would appear. (Address to All Believers in Christ, Richmond, Missouri, 1887, p. 12)
David Whitmer was one of the three witnesses who in the introductory pages of the BOM signed a statement saying they had seen the plates (or a vision of the plates, depending on how you interpret it) and that they "had been translated by the gift and power of God."

Now I suppose a Mormon might say that grammatical mistakes are no indication that it was not translated by the power of God since perhaps grammar was not standardized among the early Mormons, and God was simply writing in their language. But if that's the case, we shouldn't expect it to be in King James English either. You see, that's the thing. There's an inconsistency. Was the Book of Mormon translated in 19th century backwoods language, or was it translated in 15th century King James language? Both, apparently. Though not a solid proof, I suspect the best explanation is that a 19th century author was simply making an imperfect attempt to imitate the language of the Bible, and he lapsed sometimes into his own vernacular.

You can use google to find a list of the grammatical changes made between the original 1830 edition of the BOM and subsequent editions, but I'll provide you with a few examples along with a link to a scanned copy of the 1830 edition so you can see for yourself.

Alma 23:7

"...they did not fight against God no more." --1830 edition

"...they did not fight against God any more." --1981 edition

3 Nephi 3:5

"Therefore, I have wrote this epistle, sealing it with mine own hand..." --1830 edition

"Therefore, I have written this epistle, sealing it with mine own hand..." --1981 edition

Alma 43:7

"Now this he done that he might preserve their hatred towards the Nephites." --1830 edition

"Now this he did that he might preserve their hatred towards the Nephites." --1981 edition

These same kinds of mistakes are found throughout the the BOM. The longest list I've been able to find through Google is here. Given the URL, it's obviously an anti-Mormon site, but you can easily check them out by looking up the references here and see it in a scanned copy of the 1830 edition. I've looked up a few on that page, and so far they all check out.

One last thing before moving on. If David Whitmer's account of how the BOM came to be is accurate, then that throws the whole enterprise into question, I would think. If it's true, then the golden plates were not consulted at all during the production of the BOM. They might as well have been left in the hills. How can anybody be sure that the BOM is a translation of those plates? What role did the plates play in anything? It seems to me that Joseph Smith himself ought to have had some questions about it.

Part 3