Monday, April 19, 2021

An accurate account

A recent article in the Wall St. Journal discussed a physicist who has assessed the data regarding climate change and has concluded the media and politicians have misled the public (no surprise). 

The article included this observation.

Mr. Koonin says he wants voters, politicians and business leaders to have an accurate account of the science. He doesn’t care where the debate lands.

That observation struck me as describing the way I approach issues of Church history. 

I want members of the Church to have an accurate account of all the history, and I don't care where the debate lands.

As I see it, there have been four distinct approaches to Church history.

1. Traditional faithful narratives that supported Joseph Smith's prophetic role but were highly edited versions of Church history, generally omitting what could be perceived as "negative" information from historical sources. Examples: Essentials in Church History and Truth Restored.

2. Critical narratives that undermined or directly attacked Joseph Smith's prophetic role but generally omitted information from historical sources that supported Joseph's claims. Examples: Mormonism Unvailed and No Man Knows my History.

3. "New Mormon History" that, while purportedly faithful, sought to incorporate the "negative" information by reframing our understanding of Church history by largely accepting the critical narratives and omitting information that contradicts modern consensus on such topics as M2C and SITH. Examples: Rough Stone Rolling, Saints and From Darkness unto Light.

4. Reactionary narratives that responded to the "New Mormon History" by characterizing as lies the historical sources that contradicted or reframed the traditional faithful narratives. Example: Seer stone vs Urim and Thummim.

Each approach naturally satisfies a distinct audience because each is an exercise in bias confirmation. I have no problem with anyone accepting whichever approach they prefer.

However, as I evaluated these approaches, I concluded that each lacked what I considered a basic requirement because each approach simply ignored evidence that contradicted the thesis of the respective authors. While each presents itself as the "correct" interpretation, unsuspecting readers never see the information that the authors omit.

Narratives by nature involve interpretation, assumptions and conjecture. Each individual can assess an author's views and make an informed decision--but only if they have all the relevant facts available.

As Mr. Koonin said in the WSJ article, I want people to have an accurate account of all the history.

I think it makes more sense to assess all of the available and relevant evidence, and then see if there is a narrative that explains all of that evidence. 

_____

Following that approach led me to write numerous blog articles and three books on Church history and related topics. I make my assumptions and biases clear up front. I include all the relevant information I can find from all four categories of approaches listed above, plus additional sources. 

Regarding the translation issue, A Man that Can Translate proposes that Joseph did translate the engravings on the plates with the aid of the Urim and Thummim, but also used the seer stone to conduct a demonstration for his supporters.

Regarding Book of Mormon historicity, Between these Hills makes a case for the New York Cumorah that Joseph, Oliver, their contemporaries and successors consistently and persistently taught.

Regarding the language of the Book of Mormon, Infinite Goodness argues that the text itself is evidence that Joseph translated the plates "after the manner of his language."

I welcome input from readers, including critics. I often update my blogs and books in response to new information or better arguments.

I hope the ongoing discussion will lead to improved understanding of historical events and greater faith among Latter-day Saints.

Friday, April 16, 2021

Church History Department blog is excellent

The Church History Department has an excellent blog. If you haven't seen it, it's worth taking a look.

https://history.churchofjesuschrist.org/blog/the-historical-record?lang=eng&cid=email-CHL0421_Blog5

You can subscribe to their newsletter.

CHLNewsletter@ChurchofJesusChrist.org

They announced the digitization of several historical items. The collection of Joseph F. Smith personal photographs is interesting. Here's a link to one with him and his son, Joseph Fielding Smith.

https://catalog.churchofjesuschrist.org/record?id=508308e5-b7b7-4859-a43b-a19bc4bd5c58&compId=8958f8a4-a510-40b1-a08c-d86a2a0e7732&view=browse

Tuesday, April 13, 2021

Steven C. Harper and agenda-driven history - part 1

Many Latter-day Saints remain perplexed at the revisionist Church history narratives we see replacing long-familiar traditional history. In my view, these changes are based not on new historical sources or better analysis, but instead they are driven by specific agendas.

Brother Harper's books Joseph Smith's First Vision and First Vision: Memory and Mormon Origins, contain some wonderful insights into the work of historians that we'll discuss in this series.

BTW, on these blogs I'm going to start posting only summaries of the longer articles I send to subscribers to MOBOM, the Museum of the Book of Mormon. You can subscribe for free here:

https://www.mobom.org/

_____

Here is Brother Harper's bio as provided in First Vision: Memory and Mormon Origins.

Steven C. Harper earned a PhD in early American history from Lehigh University, where he was Lawrence Henry Gipson Fellow. He taught at Brigham Young University campuses in Hawaii and Utah, and served as a volume editor of The Joseph Smith Papers and later as managing historian and a general editor of Saints: The Story of The Church of Jesus Christ in the Latter Days. He is the author of Promised Land (2006) a study of colonial Pennsylvania's dispossession of the Lenape or Delawares. He is also the author of dozens of articles and two books on early Latter-day Saint history. He is currently editor of BYU Studies Quarterly and professor of Church History and Doctrine at Brigham Young University.

Here we see the revolving door between BYU and the Church History Department, which helps explain why Saints teaches what it does. We'll discuss that throughout this series.

BYU Studies continues to produce important articles, such as those in the issue focusing on the First Vision, which you can see here:

https://byustudies.byu.edu/journal/59-2/

Like most Latter-day Saints, I love BYU Studies. I have physical copies of dozens of issues, although the digital copies are more useful. It has always been disappointing to see BYU Studies promote the Mesoamerican/Two-Cumorahs theory (M2C), but we all understood that was inevitable because the long-time editor was one of the major proponents of M2C. 

It's similar to the annoying editorial stance of Book of Mormon Central, FAIRLDS, the Interpreter, and the rest of the M2C citation cartel. They produce a lot of great material, but much of it is tainted by their M2C worldview that directly contradicts the Church's position of neutrality on these issues.

_____

When Brother Harper replaced John W. Welch as Editor of BYU Studies, some of us hoped he would change direction and extract BYU Studies from the M2C citation cartel. 

Sadly, that hasn't happened. BYU Studies still features the M2C maps that depict Book of Mormon events, including the final battles at Cumorah, taking place in Mesoamerica.

https://byustudies.byu.edu/further-study-chart/159-plausible-locations-of-the-final-battles/

BYU Studies also promoted the fake story that it was Moroni who showed the plates to Mary Whitmer instead of Nephi (one of the Three Nephites), as both Mary and David explained. 

https://byustudies.byu.edu/article/mary-whitmer-and-moroni-experiences-of-an-artist-in-creating-a-historical-painting/

The article simply omits David Whitmer's statement about what Joseph said after they encountered the messenger on the way to Fayette from Harmony. 

Shortly afterwards, David relates, the Prophet looked very white but with a heavenly appearance and said their visitor was one of the three Nephites to whom the Savior gave the promise of life on earth until He should come in power. After arriving home, David again saw this personage, and mother Whitmer, who was very kind to Joseph Smith, is said to have seen not only this Nephite, but to have also been shown by him the sealed and unsealed portions of the plates from which the Book of Mormon was translated.

See full account, with references, at 

http://www.lettervii.com/p/trip-to-fayette-references.html

As we've discussed before, this wasn't the only time Joseph identified this messenger as one of the Nephites. It's pretty easy to create fake history by simply omitting historical references that contradict the history you want to promote.

Why would M2C proponents insist it was Moroni who showed the plates to Mary Whitmer? 

M2C proponents simply cannot accept David's statement that the messenger was going to Cumorah before meeting Joseph in Fayette. They have no explanation for why he would take the abridged plates Joseph translated in Harmony back to Cumorah, or why Joseph translated the plates of Nephi in Fayette after having translated the Title Page, which was on "the last leaf of the plates," in Harmony.

We've seen how the previous editor of BYU Studies simply changed the history of the trip from Harmony to Fayette, the same way he created the fake Moroni story by simply omitting David's statement that the messenger was one of the Nephites and Mary's statement that the messenger called himself Brother Nephi.

http://www.bookofmormoncentralamerica.com/2017/12/opening-heavens-but-censoring-history.html

The irony in all of this is that Brother Harper is an outstanding historian. His discussion of the intersection between memory and history incisive. It deserves a lot of attention, as we'll see in this series.

Monday, March 29, 2021

Finding Cumorah references in JSP

This post is an example of my notes that I'm sharing because people ask these questions and now I can refer them to this blog.

I've mentioned before the "quirk" in the Joseph Smith Papers search engine that omits references to Cumorah. Other results are obscured by the formatting of the search results, which buries many of the results in a sublink. Consequently, you'll miss the important references to Cumorah unless you know enough to dig a little deeper.

This is problematic because I still meet people who have no idea about these references to Cumorah, and if they go to the Joseph Smith Papers to search for them, they are difficult to find and/or not even present in the search results.

_____

Go to https://www.josephsmithpapers.org/.

In the search box, type "Cumorah," with or without the quotation marks. You'll get 18 results, depending on which types of documents you click on the right. (click to enlarge).

1.* Printer's manuscript.

2. 1835 Hymns.

3. D&C 128. (Five versions, ##3, 6, 8, 11 and 12)

4. Zelph account.

5.* Book of Mormon 1837.

6.* Orson Pratt's Interesting Account.

7.* Lucy Mack Smith, p. 1, bk 6 [click on link to get p. 11, bk. 3]

8.* History, 1834-1836, p. 101 (Letter VIII) [click on link to get 

9. Corrill, History of the Church.

10. Blessing from Oliver Cowdery.

11. Introduction to Documents.

12. Gold plates reference.

13. Manchester Township reference.

14. I Had Seen a Vision transcript.

* Results marked with (*) have reduced font sublinks that say "Show only results from this document." 

I'm sure there is a legitimate reason for this structure, but it makes the search results incomplete and unwieldy, even misleading. 

Unless you know exactly where to look for what you're looking for, you won't get the important Cumorah references in the first-level results and you can't tell which of these sublinks to click on to find them. Going through each of the sublinks takes a lot of time.

The sublink architecture omits from the first-level results both Letter VII and Lucy's account of Moroni's first visit to Joseph Smith in which Moroni identified the hill as Cumorah. The reader has to know which sublink to click on to find these references. 

Ordinary readers could easily conclude that these references to Cumorah don't exist in the Joseph Smith Papers. 

It's also interesting that while the Joseph Smith Papers often leads people to articles in the Times and Seasons, it omits Letter VII and the other Oliver Cowdery letters that were published in the Times and Seasons, even though Joseph helped write them and his brothers Don Carlos and William each republished them. That's important context for the presence of these letters in Joseph's own History, 1834-1836.

The republication of these letters by Don Carlos in the 1841 Times and Seasons (at Joseph's direction), is especially significant to understanding the reference to Cumorah in Joseph's 1842 letter first published in the Times and Seasons that later became D&C 128. In other words, D&C 128:20 did not appear randomly or in a vacuum. It alluded to the history that was well known to readers of the Times and Seasons because they had read Letter VII just the year before in the same newspaper. By omitting all of this context, the Joseph Smith Papers does a disservice to readers.

Plus, as we've seen, these search results still omit the important reference to Cumorah in Lucy Mack Smith's 1845 history that was also inexplicably omitted from the Saints book, volume 1.

“Stop, father, Stop.” said Joseph, “it was the angel of the Lord— as I passed by the hill of Cumorah, where the plates are, the angel of the Lord met me and said, that I had not been engaged enough in the work of the Lord;

https://www.josephsmithpapers.org/paper-summary/lucy-mack-smith-history-1845/111

_____

Now, open a new tab and go to https://www.josephsmithpapers.org/ again. This time, search for "Camorah," with an "a" instead of a "u." This is how it was spelled in the printer's manuscript and the 1830 edition. You'll get 4 results. 

1. Book of Mormon, 1830.

2. Printer's Manuscript.

3. John Corrill, History of the Church (noting the hill was "anciently called Camorah").

4. History, 1834-1836 (Letter VII).

You can see in the fourth item that the search engine hits on "Camorah" in Letter VII, but when you searched for Cumorah, it did not pick up "Cumorah" (circled in red below) in the first level results even though the words are on the same line. You only get this search result if you know enough to click on the sublink under History, 1834-1836, when you search for "Cumorah.".


You can see this again by doing a search for "great struggle." You'll get two hits.

If you click on the first link, it takes you to the page in Joseph Smith's history that relates the Zelph account.

Last Great Struggle

It's interesting that the phrase "last great struggle" (as well as "great struggle") appears in the Joseph Smith Papers in only two places: (i) the Zelph account from History, 1838-1856, based on an event during Zion's Camp in 1834 and (ii) Letter VII, first published in the 1835 Messenger and Advocate in Kirtland. 

Oliver Cowdery did not accompany Joseph Smith and the rest of Zion's Camp when they left Kirtland for Missouri in May, 1834. Oliver and Sidney Rigdon remained in Kirtland. 

Oliver said Joseph assisted him in writing the historical letters, which included Letter VII. Those who disbelieve the New York Cumorah say Joseph Smith did not assist Oliver in writing Letter VII. 

Can this unusual and distinctive phrase ("last great struggle") tell us anything?

The Book of Mormon uses the term "struggle" four times (the only appearance of the term anywhere in the scriptures), but Mormon refers to the "last struggle," not the "great struggle." (Mormon 6:6) 

Although the Zelph account took place in 1834, History 1838-1856 was compiled starting in 1838; i.e., the history postdates the initial publication of Letter VII. The Zelph portion was compiled by Willard Richards, who started working on the project in 1842. The Historical Introduction to the history in the Joseph Smith Papers observes that "it remains difficult to distinguish JS’s own contributions from composition of his historian-scribes."

None of the known journals that refer to the Zelph account use the phrase "last great struggle." Heber C. Kimball wrote that Zelph "had been an officer who fell in battle in the last destruction among the Lamanites." Moses Martin wrote that "we found those mounds to have been deposits for the dead which had fallen no doubt in some great Battles." 

This leaves three possibilities.

1. Willard Richards could have composed the phrase based on his own interpretation of the events as reported in the journals (such as combining "last" from Heber C. Kimball, "great" from Moses Martin, and "struggle" from Mormon 6:6. In this case, the duplication of the phrase is merely a coincidence.

2. Willard Richards could have obtained the phrase from an oral account from a participant on Zion's Camp, including from Joseph Smith directly. In this case, the phrase originated in 1834 from Joseph Smith and its appearance in Letter VII corroborates what Oliver said about Joseph assisting him with writing the letters. 

3. Willard Richards could have borrowed the phrase from Letter VII, which had been republished in the Times and Seasons in 1841 and was well known among Church members. This case corroborates the reliability and credibility of Letter VII.

It seems unlikely that Richards would have combined three sources to come up with a coincidental phrase. It also seems unlikely that Richards would have borrowed only this one phrase from Letter VII, although it could have been a subliminal borrowing.

Consequently, I lean toward possibility #2. Previous authors who have examined the Zelph accounts have sought to derive the Richards account by examining the known journals, but they acknowledge the possibility (which I consider a likelihood) that Richards also interviewed the people involved, including Wilford Woodruff, Heber C. Kimball, and Joseph Smith. It's not clear that Richards quoted from the journals in the first place; if he interviewed the people involved, they may have referred to their journals in relating the event but used slightly different wording.

For example, Godfrey notes that Richards "introduced minor differences or discrepancies into the story" because he assumes Richards was "blending the sources available to him," but such differences would naturally result from an oral recitation. 


Cannon also assumes that "The primary source material for the Zelph story comes from diaries kept by some members of Zion's Camp.2 Six men wrote diary accounts concerning Zelph: Wilford Woodruff, Heber C. Kimball, George A. Smith, Levi Hancock, Moses Martin, and Reuben McBride."


In my view, the evidence suggests that Richards relied on interviews with the participants on Zion's Camp. The Joseph Smith Papers explain that "Aside from the material dictated or supplied by JS prior to his death, the texts for A-1 and for the history’s subsequent volumes were drawn from a variety of primary and secondary sources including JS’s diaries and letters, minutes of meetings, the first edition of the Doctrine and Covenants, church and other periodicals, reports of JS’s discourses, and the reminiscences and recollections of church members." 

All of this suggests that Richards' use of the phrase "last great struggle" originated with the participants on Zion's camp, which corroborates Oliver's claim that Joseph helped him write Letter VII.

One more consideration. As published in the Times and Seasons in 1846, this account reads "the last great struggle" instead of "a last great struggle." 


This same difference appears on a second copy of the history, written by Wilmer Benson, known as Manuscript History of the Church, Book A-1. However, the Benson version refers to Zelph as "a son of God," while the Richards version refers to him as "a man of God," the way it appears in the Times and Seasons. For whatever reason (possibly to conform to Letter VII?), it appears that the editor of the Times and Seasons in 1846 (not Willard Richards) changed the wording from "a last great struggle" to "the last great struggle."
_____

Ancient inhabitants = Nephites and Lamanites

History, 1838-1856, originally read "During our travels we visited several of the mounds which had been thrown up by the ancient inhabitants of this country, Nephites, Lamanites &c, and this morning I went up on a high mound..." 

Notice that the clause "Nephites, Lamanites &c" was crossed out at some point. 

However, when first published in the Times and Seasons in January 1846, the original version was intact.


Here's a link to a .pdf facsimile of the original Times and Seasons (scroll to page 309). 

To the left is a screen capture of the original page.

(click to enlarge)

Those familiar with this subject know that our LDS scholars who teach M2C (the Mesoamerican/two-Cumorahs theory) claim the Zelph account, to the extent it is credible at all, involved Nephites who lived "in the hinterlands" far from the center of Nephite activity in Mesoamerica. They resist the idea that Joseph identified the mounds in Ohio, Indiana and Illinois as having been thrown up by Nephites and Lamanites.

Look again at the page from JS History 1838-1856. 

About half way down, you'll see the reference to Zelph and Onandagus. Depending on how you interpret the grammar, one of them "was known from the hill Cumorah, or eastern sea, to the Rocky Mountains." That contradicts the "hinterlands" theory because Cumorah was anything but in the "hinterlands," being the site of the final battles of both the Jaredites and the Nephites.

Thus, it's no surprise that "hill Cumorah" is also lined out here, but the original version was also published in the Times and Seasons, as you can see from the facsimile. 

Important point: This is one of the references that does show up if you search for "Cumorah" in the Joseph Smith Papers. 

Second important point: the version of the Zelph account in this history was a compilation of multiple journal accounts (or personal recollections). Willard Richards worked on the history between 21 December 1842 and 27 March 1843. He apparently relied on Wilford Woodruff's journal. Woodruff had written "inhabitants of this continent" and "probably by the Nephites and Lamanites." Richards omitted "probably" when he wrote the history and that's how it was published. Whether he did so in consultation with Joseph Smith is unknown.
_____

Now, go back to your search for "Cumorah" and look at the last two results. These are explanatory notes from the editors of the Joseph Smith Papers (click to enlarge). 

They refer to the place where the plates were buried as "what is now known as the Hill Cumorah." 

The "now known as" language conveys the revisionist history that Joseph never called the hill Cumorah, that some unknown early Latter-day Saint misread the text of the Book of Mormon and speculated that the hill was the Cumorah of Mormon 6:6, and that there are really two Cumorahs, with the "real Cumorah" being somewhere in Mesoamerica (i.e., M2C).

Of course, anyone can read the original sources throughout the Joseph Smith Papers and see that it was Moroni himself who identified the hill as Cumorah during his first visit to Joseph Smith, that Joseph's family knew the hill as Cumorah even before Joseph got the plates, that David Whitmer, Martin Harris, and Oliver Cowdery all referred to the hill as Cumorah (in David's case, before he had read the book and before Joseph had translated the plates of Nephi in Fayette), etc. 

Except that, because of the search engine "glitch" in the Joseph Smith Papers, people can't find these references if they search for them.









Friday, March 12, 2021

Ten thousand

As a follow-up to yesterday's post, here are some thoughts about the term "ten thousand" as used in Mormon 6.

_____

Discussion of 10,000.

The term "ten thousand" appears in the scriptures in these frequencies:


In the Old Testament, it is used to mean a large, but inexact, number. 

8 And five of you shall chase an hundred, and an hundred of you shall put ten thousand to flight: and your enemies shall fall before you by the sword.
(Leviticus 26:8)

This couldn't mean exactly 10,000. What if 100 of them put 9,999 to flight?

Here's another figurative usage:

30 How should one chase a thousand, and two put ten thousand to flight, except their Rock had sold them, and the Lord had shut them up?
(Deuteronomy 32:30)

Here, it refers to a unit, not a precise, literal number.

10 ¶ And Barak called Zebulun and Naphtali to Kedesh; and he went up with ten thousand men at his feet: and Deborah went up with him.
(Judges 4:10)

Another example of a figurative usage:

11 ¶ And Amaziah strengthened himself, and led forth his people, and went to the valley of salt, and smote of the children of Seir ten thousand.
12 And other ten thousand left alive did the children of Judah carry away captive, and brought them unto the top of the rock, and cast them down from the top of the rock, that they all were broken in pieces.
(2 Chronicles 25:11–12)

There are similar examples in the New Testament.

31 Or what king, going to make war against another king, sitteth not down first, and consulteth whether he be able with ten thousand to meet him that cometh against him with twenty thousand?
(Luke 14:31)

15 For though ye have ten thousand instructors in Christ, yet have ye not many fathers: for in Christ Jesus I have begotten you through the gospel.
(1 Corinthians 4:15)

It doesn't seem plausible that any military unit or other group would have exactly 10,000 people in it. Soldiers die, become sick, leave, etc. Adjusting the term for the unit every time the numbers changed would be unmanageable. You wouldn't refer to the group as 9,999 when one soldier died. It's a round number, not a precise count.

This is what we see in cultures around the world and throughout history; several languages have a term for "10,000" that means a large number or military unit. 

For that reason, I infer that Joseph Smith translated the Nephite term accurately, although the Nephites used it to refer to a unit, not a literal, exact number.

Here are some examples in the Book of Mormon.

28 And also there were sent two thousand men unto us from the land of Zarahemla. And thus we were prepared with ten thousand men, and provisions for them, and also for their wives and their children.
(Alma 56:28)

10 And it came to pass that my men were hewn down, yea, even my ten thousand who were with me, and I fell wounded in the midst; and they passed by me that they did not put an end to my life.
(Mormon 6:10)

Would Mormon have used a different term if he actually had 10,001 men? If he had 9,999? 9,500? 7,500? 

Surely not. And if the term means a unit instead of an exact count, it affects our interpretation of these passages.

12 And we also beheld the ten thousand of my people who were led by my son Moroni.
13 And behold, the ten thousand of Gidgiddonah had fallen, and he also in the midst.
14 And Lamah had fallen with his ten thousand; and Gilgal had fallen with his ten thousand; and Limhah had fallen with his ten thousand; and Jeneum had fallen with his ten thousand; and Cumenihah, and Moronihah, and Antionum, and Shiblom, and Shem, and Josh, had fallen with their ten thousand each.
15 And it came to pass that there were ten more who did fall by the sword, with their ten thousand each;
(Mormon 6:12–15)
_____

Biblical scholars have raised the issue about the Bible as well. Because the numbers given in Exodus seem unrealistically large (600,000 men fleeing Egypt, etc.), scholars have proposed the term was used for a unit or group. That debate continues. 

Here's a quick summary:

SPECIAL TOPIC: THOUSAND (eleph)

The Hebrew word eleph means "thousand" (BDB 48, KB 59 II).  It is used in several senses in the OT.

1. a family unit, Jos. 22:14; Jdgs. 6:15; 1 Sam. 23:23; Zech. 9:7; 12:6

2. a military unit, Exod. 18:21,25; Deut. 1:15

3. a literal thousand, Gen. 20:16; Exod. 32:28

4. a symbolic number, Gen. 24:60; Exod. 20:6; 34:7; Deut. 7:9; Jer. 32:18

5. the Ugaritic cognate alluph means "chieftain," Gen. 36:15

These different connotations cause modern interpreters to question the literalness of the numbers

1. of the exodus

2. of Israeli tribal military units



Here's a paper that quantifies the alternatives.



A wikipedia entry makes an interesting point about the number 10,000:

Many languages have a specific word for this number: in Ancient Greek it is μύριοι (the etymological root of the word myriad in English), in Aramaic ܪܒܘܬܐ, in Hebrew רבבה [revava], in Chinese 萬/万 (Mandarin wànCantonese maan6, Hokkien bān), in Japanese 万/萬 [man], in Khmer ម៉ឺន [meun], in Korean 만/萬 [man], in Russian тьма [t'ma], in Vietnamese vạn, in Thai หมื่น [meun], in Malayalam പതിനായിരം [patinayiram], and in Malagasy alina.[1] 

In many of these languages, it often denotes a very large but indefinite number.[


Given the widespread use of 10,000 to mean a large number, that would seem to be a natural use by the Nephites as well.

In English, we use the Greek word "myriad" to mean a countless or extremely great number, but in classical history it meant a unit of 10,000.

When I studied Greek, we read Xenophon's book Anabasis, which recounts the history of the "ten thousand" mostly Greeks who invaded Persia. The name of the unit did not change with the number of soldiers. 

The wikipedia article explains the actual numbers of men involved: "When the Ten Thousand started their journey in 401 BC, Xenophon stated that they numbered around 10,400. At the time Xenophon left them two years later, their number had dwindled to just under 6,000." 

And yet, Xenophon did not start referring to them as the "six thousand."


Anonymous LDS scholars have observed this:

2. A Thousand May Not Actually Mean a Thousand

It is also possible that “ten thousand” represents a military unit and not an exact number of soldiers. In Hebrew, the word eleph can mean the literal number 1,000, but it can also mean a military squad. (
Kitchen, On the Reliability of the Old Testament, 264; Hoffmeier, Ancient Israel in Sinai, 153–159.) If this is the case, each military commander could simply have been in charge of 10 “squads” of unknown numbers, putting the number of casualties much lower than they might seem at first. (Other ancient cultures used terms like this as well. The Roman military unit “century” was also the word for 100, but these units often did not have 100 people in them. See Smith, “How Many Nephites?” 286.)

All of this means that the text is subject to multiple interpretations--multiple working hypotheses.
_____

One approach is to take the numbers literally; i.e., each group of "ten thousand" had exactly 10,000 men, not 9,999 or 10,001, and all 230,000 of them died at or near the Hill Cumorah. That has been a common interpretation over the years and has led people to search for archaeological evidence of a war involving hundreds of thousands of deaths (230,000 Nephites plus an equivalent number of Lamanites, so say 500,000). So far as I know, no such archaeological site has been found anywhere in the Americas.

Another approach is to take the numbers figuratively; i.e., each group of "ten thousand" was a military unit of uncertain numbers, or, alternatively, a generalized round number. In this case, we could look at Xenophon as an example. After two years of war, his "ten thousand" had been reduced to under 6,000. In the case of Cumorah, the final battle took place after many years of retreat and carnage. It's anyone's guess how many men in each unit would have died by the time they reached Cumorah, but one could still argue that all 23 units died there. Using Xenophon's example, the number could be 6,000 times 23, or 138,000 Nephites. It could easily be more or fewer than that.

A third approach (the one I favor) also treats the phrase "ten thousand" as a military unit of unknown numbers, but makes a further distinction between the number of units Mormon said he could actually see from the top of Cumorah--two, his and Moroni's--and the number of units he could not then see but could remember and reflect upon with the interjection, "Behold." This means that 20,000 Nephites dying at Cumorah is on the high side. Using Xenophon's example, it could be 12,000, plus 12,000 Lamanites, for a total of around 25,000.

We can infer, although the text does not say it, that there were more Lamanites attacking than Nephites defending. How many Lamanites were killed is also unknown. But we can reasonably infer that at least as many Lamanites died as Nephites, giving a number in the tens of thousands, but well below one hundred thousand. 

All of this means we are dealing with an unknown number of deaths at Cumorah, but most likely a number far lower than 230,000 Nephites. 

This is all another variable to consider when evaluating scientific evidence. 

Here's how Oliver Cowdery described the situation from the perspective of Mormon, who knew the Jaredites had died at the spot and the Nephites were about to die there.

In this vale lie commingled, in one mass of ruin the ashes of thousands [of Jaredites], and in this vale was destined to consume the fair forms and vigerous systems of tens of thousands of the human race [Nephites and Lamanites]—blood mixed with blood, flesh with flesh, bones with bones and dust with dust!


In my view, this description matches the text. We have the death of thousands (but not even ten thousand) of Jaredites, and tens of thousands (but not even a hundred thousand) of Nephites and Lamanites.

Assessing scientific evidence for the death of, say, 25,000 men is significantly different from assessing scientific evidence for the death of 500,000 or more in one location.


Thursday, March 11, 2021

Book of Mormon populations

Thirteen years ago, John A. Tvedtnes wrote a thoughtful article titled "Book of Mormon Population Statistics." Here's the link:

https://latterdaysaintmag.com/article-1-1641/

He begins the article with this observation.

Readers of the Book of Mormon sometimes think of Nephite and Lamanite populations in terms of millions. In fact, only the Jaredites are ever said to have numbered in the “millions,” and only at the end of their history, when we read that nearly two million men had been slain with their families (Ether 15:2).

Two million men is an enormous number. The total of all wartime deaths of Americans from the Revolutionary war through the present (over 200 years) is only around 666,000. It does not seem plausible that two million Jaredite men were "slain by the sword" in any short period of time.

I prefer the interpretation that Coriantumr was reflecting on the cumulative total of his people who "had been slain by the sword" up to that time; i.e., from the beginning of their chronological history. It makes more sense in context, given the continual stream of prophets warning the people, followed by wars and destruction. This interpretation flows naturally from a careful reading, although of course other interpretations are also possible. 

Ether 7 records several times when one group "gave battle" to another. Often these battles were preceded by prophetic warnings.

23 And also in the reign of Shule there came prophets among the people, who were sent from the Lord, prophesying that the wickedness and idolatry of the people was bringing a curse upon the land, and they should be destroyed if they did not repent. (Ether 7:23)

In Ether 8, there are more battles and destruction. 

In Ether 10, we read that "Shez did remember the destruction of his fathers." (Ether 10:2) But soon enough, "there began to be war again in the land." (Ether 10:8)

Chapter 11 has many prophets prophesying about the destruction of the people, followed by wars and contentions, "insomuch that there was a great destruction, such an one as never had been known upon the face of the earth." (Ether 11:7)

We know about this history only because records were kept, which Moroni abridged. Those records undoubtedly included details about how many people died.

Chapter 12 introduces Ether. "And Ether was a prophet of the Lord; wherefore Ether came forth in the days of Coriantumr, and began to prophesy unto the people, for he could not be restrained because of the Spirit of the Lord which was in him. For he did cry from the morning, even until the going down of the sun, exhorting the people to believe in God unto repentance lest they should be destroyed, saying unto them that by faith all things are fulfilled— " (Ether 12:2-3)

Years later, after more wars and destruction, we read:

1 And it came to pass when Coriantumr had recovered of his wounds, he began to remember the words which Ether had spoken unto him.

2 He saw that there had been slain by the sword already nearly two millions of his people, and he began to sorrow in his heart; yea, there had been slain two millions of mighty men, and also their wives and their children. (Ether 15:1–2)

This looks to me like Coriantumr was reflecting on what Ether had told him. Looking back over the history of his people, Coriantumr saw how many times the prophesies had been fulfilled, and how many of his people had been slain by the sword as a result. Over the 33+ generations of history in the New World, accumulated battle deaths of two million are not only plausible, but realistic in light of human experience in other parts of the world.

What were the words Ether had spoken to Coriantumr?

2 For behold, they rejected all the words of Ether; for he truly told them of all things, from the beginning of man; and that after the waters had receded from off the face of this land it became a choice land above all other lands, a chosen land of the Lord; wherefore the Lord would have that all men should serve him who dwell upon the face thereof. (Ether 13:2)

Ether rehearsed the entire history of the Jaredites, which explains why Coriantumr would be reflecting on that history.

20 And in the second year the word of the Lord came to Ether, that he should go and prophesy unto Coriantumr that, if he would repent, and all his household, the Lord would give unto him his kingdom and spare the people—
21 Otherwise they should be destroyed, and all his household save it were himself. And he should only live to see the fulfilling of the prophecies which had been spoken concerning another people receiving the land for their inheritance; and Coriantumr should receive a burial by them; and every soul should be destroyed save it were Coriantumr.
22 And it came to pass that Coriantumr repented not, neither his household, neither the people; and the wars ceased not; and they sought to kill Ether, but he fled from before them and hid again in the cavity of the rock. (Ether 13:20–22)

Despite Ether's warning, the wars continued for several years, culminating in the week-long battle at Cumorah.

But even there, at Cumorah, if we extrapolate backward the numbers given in chapter 15, the total number of people involved is fewer than 10,000, which corroborates what Oliver Cowdery wrote in Letter VII. He said "thousands" of Jaredites died there.
_____

The article helpfully includes all the passages from the Book of Mormon that relate information about population size. Tvedtnes reaches this reasonable conclusion: "In none of these instances can one make a case for millions of people calling themselves Nephites or Lamanites."

In his last paragraph, Tvedtnes explains that "Prior to the time of Mormon, the largest numbered army in the Book of Mormon comprised 10,000 soldiers, in the time of Helaman. Only during the last Nephite-Lamanite wars do we read of armies numbering 30,000 and more. It is possible that some of the earlier “numerous hosts” comprised tens of thousands of men, but this cannot be ascertained from the information given. In no case is there any evidence of “millions” of either Nephites or Lamanites."

Even in the days of Mormon, his largest enumerated army was forty and four thousand. And this was after gathering the people together.

6 And we marched forth and came to the land of Joshua, which was in the borders west by the seashore.

7 And it came to pass that we did gather in our people as fast as it were possible, that we might get them together in one body....

9 And now, the Lamanites had a king, and his name was Aaron; and he came against us with an army of forty and four thousand. And behold, I withstood him with forty and two thousand. And it came to pass that I beat him with my army that he fled before me. And behold, all this was done, and three hundred and thirty years had passed away. (Mormon 2:6–7, 9)

This was in the year 330. Fifty-four years later, in the year 384, after a continual retreat from the Lamanites and scenes of blood and carnage, Mormon says they again "gathered in all the remainder of our people," this time "unto the land of Cumorah." (Mormon 6:5)

Some people think the text says 230,000 Nephites died at Cumorah. Maybe so. Maybe despite the warfare, destruction, and retreat, the Nephites managed to grow their population to support an army five times as large as Mormon managed to assemble when he gathered the people together 54 years earlier.

But that does not seem plausible to me and it is not what the text requires.

In my view, Mormon wrote his final words in a state of reflection comparable to Coriantumr's, thinking back over his lifetime as a military leader and all the soldiers who died under his command, with their respective leaders.

In the following passages, Mormon explains that he could see the "ten thousand" of his people led by him, plus the "ten thousand" led by Moroni. We cannot tell if these were literal numbers or "ten units" or "ten squads" of men, which could be the case if the plates had a term similar to the Hebrew word which means both a specific number and a military unit.

Oliver Cowdery, in Letter VII, said there were tens of thousands of dead bodies in the valley, presumably meaning both Nephites and Lamanites. That's consistent with the text when we realize the distinction Mormon made between describing what he saw (did behold, beheld) and what he reflected upon (behold). In the following passage, "did behold" and "beheld" are past tense forms of the verb "behold" meaning "see" or "view."

But the term "behold" in verse 13 is an interjection, meaning a word used to express strong emotion. Mormon used that term many times to mark a lesson drawn from history. 

11 And when they had gone through and hewn down all my people save it were twenty and four of us, (among whom was my son Moroni) and we having survived the dead of our people, did behold on the morrow, when the Lamanites had returned unto their camps, from the top of the hill Cumorah, the ten thousand of my people who were hewn down, being led in the front by me.
12 And we also beheld the ten thousand of my people who were led by my son Moroni.
13 And behold, the ten thousand of Gidgiddonah had fallen, and he also in the midst.
14 And Lamah had fallen with his ten thousand; and Gilgal had fallen with his ten thousand; and Limhah had fallen with his ten thousand; and Jeneum had fallen with his ten thousand; and Cumenihah, and Moronihah, and Antionum, and Shiblom, and Shem, and Josh, had fallen with their ten thousand each.
15 And it came to pass that there were ten more who did fall by the sword, with their ten thousand each; yea, even all my people, save it were those twenty and four who were with me, and also a few who had escaped into the south countries, and a few who had deserted over unto the Lamanites, had fallen; and their flesh, and bones, and blood lay upon the face of the earth, being left by the hands of those who slew them to molder upon the land, and to crumble and to return to their mother earth.
(Mormon 6:11–15)

When read this way, we have 20,000 people killed (or the people in 20 military squads or units, however many that was) in the valley west of Cumorah. The other enumerated 210,000 (or 210 units) were killed elsewhere, earlier in Mormon's lifetime during the carnage he described leading up to the final battle at Cumorah.

This interpretation of the text is consistent with the prior statements in the text about the size of the Nephite population. It is plausible in light of the archaeology and anthropology of western New York. And it fits Letter VII, which explains that there were tens of thousands killed at Cumorah, including Lamanites and Nephites, not hundreds of thousands.




Friday, March 5, 2021

Discerning accurate Church history

The Mark Hoffman saga is in the news because of the Netflix documentary

In response to the Hoffman events, President Oaks delivered a detailed, masterful address, which you can read here:


Here are excerpts from that talk (in blue), along with my commentary (in red).

What interested me most was the fact that these forgeries and their associated lies grew out of their author’s deliberate attempt to rewrite the early history of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and that so many persons and organizations seized on this episode to attempt to discredit the Church and its leaders. [emphasis added]

Deliberate attempts to rewrite the early history continue, but now it's the Church History Department doing the re-writing.

For many years, certain LDS historians have sought to rewrite the early history of the Church. Richard Bushman explained:

"The downside of that is that there is developing in the scholarly world a view of church history. It’s out of kilter with the church version, what’s told in Sunday school class. All sorts of things that don’t fit together such as the seer stones in the hat, or many, many other things."


Now the problem has reversed. Correlated Church history, such as the Saints books, is "out of kilter" with authentic historical documents and events. Why? So far as I can tell, the only reason is to promote modern narratives, including M2C and SITH. 

Yesterday I showed specific examples regarding Cumorah. The Saints book, volume 1, quotes Lucy Mack Smith's histories 127 times, but it deliberately omits every one of her references to Cumorah because the M2C citation cartel rejects the New York Cumorah. We see the same careful re-writing of Church history in the Gospel Topics Essays.

There is a revolving door between the Church History Department and the M2C citation cartel (including BYU Studies and Book of Mormon Central), so naturally they work together and reinforce these narratives. That's what makes it a cartel.

Consequently, well-meaning but uninformed Latter-day Saints don't know that when Moroni first visited Joseph Smith, he identified the hill where the plates were concealed as Cumorah, even though this was widely known during Joseph's lifetime and informed everyone's writing and understanding at the time. By omitting Cumorah from the historical record, our LDS historians have distorted Church history and created a new version that (i) accommodates M2C but (ii) contradicts the historical record. This leads to preventable confusion among new, former, and prospective members.  

The same thing has happened with the discrepancies between the Urim and Thummim and seer (or "peep") stone accounts. (SITH=stone-in-the-hat.) Like the Gospel Topics Essays, the Saints book deliberately omitted Lucy Mack Smith's accounts of Joseph using the Urim and Thummim. Instead, it cites much later accounts from David Whitmer and Emma Smith, both of whom had ulterior motives for promoting SITH (i.e, refuting the Solomon Spalding theory). 

For example, Saints merely says "Another letter informed David that it was God's will for him to bring his team and wagon to Harmony to help Joseph, Emma and Oliver move to the Whitmer home in Fayette, where they would finish the translation."

However, Lucy explains that they made the request because Joseph received a commandment through the Urim and Thummim to do it. 

"an intimation that was given through the urim and thumim for as he one morning applied them to his eyes to look upon the record instead of the words of the book being given him he was commanded to write a letter to one David Whitmore [Whitmer] this man Joseph had never seen but he was instructed to say him that he must come with his team immediately in order to convey Joseph and his Oliver [Cowdery] back to his house which was 135 miles that they might remain with him there untill the translation should be completed for that an evil designing people were seeking to take away Joseph’s life in order to prevent the work of God from going forth among the world"


"Not far from this time, as Joseph was translating by means of the Urim and Thummim, he received instead of the words of the Book, a commandment to write a letter to a man by the name of David Whitmer, who lived in Waterloo; requesting him to come immediately with his team, and convey them [3 words illegible] (Joseph & Oliver) to Waterloo; as an evil designing people were seeking to take away his (Joseph’s life), in order to prevent the work of God from going forth to the world."


Saints omits these and related passages because they contradict the currently fashionable narrative that (i) Joseph merely dictated words that appeared on the seer stone in the hat (SITH); (ii) Joseph didn't even use the plates, which remained concealed under a cloth the entire time; and (iii) Joseph didn't really translate anything anyway.

And, of course, Saints completely omits the account of David, Joseph and Oliver meeting the messenger on the road to Fayette. In his knapsack, the messenger had the abridged plates that Joseph had given him in Harmony. He declined a ride to Fayette, explaining he was taking the plates to Cumorah. Joseph identified him as one of the Nephites. 

But instead of relating these detailed historical accounts, Saints elaborated on the sketchy account of the same messenger showing the plates to David's mother Mary. To make it worse, Saints concocted a fake quotation! 

"My name is Moroni," he said.

Except that is a fictional quotation and contradicts what Mary Whitmer herself said, that the messenger identified himself as "Brother Nephi." It also contradicts Joseph Smith's identification of the messenger as "one of the Nephites," an identification he made more than once.

David Whitmer, who actually conversed with both this messenger and Moroni on separate occasions, clearly differentiated between the two individuals, but Saints changes Church history to portray the resurrected Moroni as capable of changing his appearance, age, and physical size for unknown reasons. Obviously, that raises important questions about the doctrine of the resurrection.

In a sardonic sense, it's funny to see how the historians manipulated the history to reach this result. For example, in note 16 (page 595), they cite David Whitmer Interviews, 26-27. That book is long out of print and difficult to obtain, but I have a copy. On page 182 of the same book, which Saints does not reference, David says "Joseph looked pale almost transparent & said that was one of the Nephites and he had the plates of the Book of Mormon in his knapsac." 

Why deprive Church members of this interesting and relevant information?

Recall, this was the messenger who said he was going to Cumorah before going to Fayette. Because the M2C citation cartel insists Cumorah cannot be in New York, our historians decided we should not be informed about this event. They must accommodate M2C at all costs. I've shown before how the book Opening the Heavens went so far as to deliberately falsify this same history.

Which brings us back to President Oaks' talk.

The Church operates under a divine mandate to acquire and preserve the documents and artifacts that show its history...

We are deeply indebted to the Joseph Smith Papers project to preserve our history. Despite the notes and annotations that, in some cases as I've discussed, seek to promote M2C and SITH, at least we have the actual documents that the historians cannot change. 

The historians can and do omit relevant documents from correlated materials such as the Gospel Topics Essays, Saints, and lesson manuals, but anyone can go to the original documents and see for themselves what Joseph Smith and his contemporaries said, did and thought, as much as the historical record can reveal.

It seems to me that the mandate is not only to acquire and preserve the documents, but also to accurately convey them to Church members and the world as a whole. When it comes to M2C and SITH, though, that does not seem to be the case. 

In order to perform their personal ministries, Church leaders cannot be suspicious and questioning of each of the hundreds of people they meet each year. Ministers of the gospel function best in an atmosphere of trust and love. In that kind of atmosphere, they fail to detect a few deceivers, but that is the price they pay to increase their effectiveness in counseling, comforting, and blessing the hundreds of honest and sincere people they see. It is better for a Church leader to be occasionally disappointed than to be constantly suspicious.

Here, President Oaks gives us an exceptionally important insight. I agree that Church leaders should be able to trust the Church historians and scholars to be open and honest in their portrayal of Church history. 

But when we see the type of omissions we see in Saints, and no effort to correct those omissions when pointed out, it is difficult to continue to trust those historians who are promoting an agenda instead of accurately reporting history. 

It's even worse with the Gospel Topics Essays, as we've discussed many times. Fortunately, some of those have been edited (albeit without notification) from time to time to correct mistakes, but they still reflect specific agendas of the scholars who wrote them. There is a long way to go to making those essays reliable and credible.   

I observed that “historical and biographical facts can only contribute to understanding when they are communicated in context.” This is the work of the scholar. We would all be better informed about history if historical impressions came from the articles and books of mature and objective scholars rather than through the often sensational and always incomplete “stories” of journalists.

Sound historical work takes time, but patience is rewarded.

This is another important point. My basic life philosophy is that eventually, the right thing happens. A lot of Latter-day Saints are impatient with the revisionist Church history we are expected to believe, even though it contradicts the historical record and the teachings of the prophets. 

Nevertheless, we remain hopeful that these things will be corrected and revised over time. In the meantime, we can read the original sources ourselves and see how the writings of both critics and correlated materials vary. 

Fortunately, the actual history is the most faith-affirming of all. 


When it comes to naivete in the face of malevolence, there is blame enough to go around. We all need to be more cautious. In terms of our long-run interests in Church history, we now have the basis, and I hope we have the will, to clear away the Hofmann residue of lies and innuendo. With that done, we should all pursue our search for truth with the tools of honest and objective scholarship and sincere and respectful religious faith, in the mixture dictated by the personal choice each of us is privileged to make in this blessed and free land.

I bolded that last sentence because it epitomizes my approach to all of this. I strongly favor and encourage people making informed decisions. That's why I don't accept the revisionist history designed to accommodate M2C and SITH. That's also why I disagree with the censorship-based editorial policies of the M2C citation cartel. 

I don't expect LDS scholars to vary from their dogmatic enforcement of M2C and SITH. Book of Mormon Central, for example, has M2C embedded in its logo. After decades of promoting M2C, it is probably impossible, psychologically, for the scholars to become open to alternatives to M2C, let alone change their minds.

But their intellectual rigidity doesn't matter to those who, as President Oaks says, "pursue our search for truth."

the end