Friday, March 27, 2015

A Thought From President Monson

I really liked President Monson's April 2015 First Presidency Message that appeared in the Ensign. Unfortunately, I do not have it at hand and it has not appeared on the Church website yet. So here are some similar quotes of his from President Monson's talk in the Priesthood Session of General Conference last April:
In order for us to make the correct decisions, courage is needed—the courage to say no when we should, the courage to say yes when that is appropriate, the courage to do the right thing because it is right.

Inasmuch as the trend in society today is rapidly moving away from the values and principles the Lord has given us, we will almost certainly be called upon to defend that which we believe. Will we have the courage to do so?
There is also this:
Courage comes in many forms. Wrote the Christian author Charles Swindoll: “Courage is not limited to the battlefield … or bravely catching a thief in your house. The real tests of courage are much quieter. They are inner tests, like remaining faithful when no one’s looking, … like standing alone when you’re misunderstood.” I would add that this inner courage also includes doing the right thing even though we may be afraid, defending our beliefs at the risk of being ridiculed, and maintaining those beliefs even when threatened with a loss of friends or of social status. He who stands steadfastly for that which is right must risk becoming at times disapproved and unpopular.
As a friend reminded me yesterday, "Your actions do have real consequences with real people." Yes, they do. When we need it the most, courage is not an abstract virtue. The prices paid are sadly very real as those who actually pay them know best.

President Monson also said this:
Not all acts of courage bring . . . spectacular or immediate results, and yet all of them do bring peace of mind and a knowledge that right and truth have been defended.

It is impossible to stand upright when one plants his roots in the shifting sands of popular opinion and approval. Needed is the courage of a Daniel, an Abinadi, a Moroni, or a Joseph Smith in order for us to hold strong and fast to that which we know is right. They had the courage to do not that which was easy but that which was right.

We will all face fear, experience ridicule, and meet opposition. Let us—all of us—have the courage to defy the consensus, the courage to stand for principle. Courage, not compromise, brings the smile of God’s approval.
He concluded his message with this exhortation:
May each one leave here tonight with the determination and the courage to say, with Job of old, “While my breath is in me, … I will not remove mine integrity from me.”
If the prophet says it in General Conference and repeats it in the First Presidency Message to go out to every home as the home teaching message a year later, perhaps we might be so bold as to conclude that it is important and perhaps even relevant.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

On the Latest Anti-Mormon Attack on the Book of Mormon II

The Unparallels

In a previous post I noted some significant problems with one point of Paul Owen's latest attack on the Book of Mormon. The substance of Owen's argument is actually a series of nine parallels that he claims to find between 2 Esdras/4 Ezra 14 and 1 Nephi 13-14. Although he references his parallels, he does not actually quote them.

Sometimes it might be necessary for space constraints or because the passages are so well known to simply list the references but often failure to do so in a journal article or book is a sign that the parallels are not really that parallel.

I have had research notes on these parallels since mid-December last year but have puzzled with how to present them given the limited formatting possible on the internet. I think I have a solution (which will probably flop with those reading this on a smart phone). My comments will be flush with the left margin. Quotations of Paul Owen will be indented once. Quotations of the King James Version of 2 Esdras will be indented twice. Quotations of the Book of Mormon will be indented three times.

Here are Owen's ten points:

Paul Owen sets the following texts as parallel:

1
“1. The background of the theophanic epiphany to Ezra is the destruction of the Bible (the books of the Old Testament) and the necessity of its restoration (2 Esdras 14:21-22; cf. 1 Nephi 13:26, 28).” (Paul Owen, "Theological Apostasy and the Role of Canonical Scripture: A Thematic Analysis of 1 Nephi 13-14," Journal of Book of Mormon Studies (?!) 23 [2014]: 92)
“For thy law is burnt, therefore no man knoweth the things that are done of thee, or the work that shall begin. But if I have found grace before thee, send the Holy Ghost into me, and I shall write all that hath been done in the world since the beginning, which were written in thy law, that men may find thy path, and that they which will live in the latter days may live.” (‎4 Ezra 14:21-22)
“And after they go forth by the hand of the twelve apostles of the Lamb, from the Jews unto the Gentiles, thou seest the formation of that great and abominable church, which is most abominable above all other churches; for behold, they have taken away from the gospel of the Lamb many parts which are plain and most precious; and also many covenants of the Lord have they taken away. . . . Wherefore, thou seest that after the book hath gone forth through the hands of the great and abominable church, that there are many plain and precious things taken away from the book, which is the book of the Lamb of God.” (1 Nephi 13:26–28)
Owen’s argument cannot possibly hold. The Book of Mormon explicitly states that the corruption of the scriptures would occur “after they go forth by the hand of the twelve apostles of the Lamb.” Ezra lived about five centuries earlier.

Furthermore, in the case of 4 Ezra / 2 Esdras the law has been burned. In the Book of Mormon, “they have taken away from the gospel of the Lamb many parts which are plain and most precious; and also many covenants of the Lord have they taken away.” So in the Book of Mormon the scriptures are still in existence whereas in 4 Ezra / 2 Esdras the scriptures are no longer in existence.

Owen has not read the Book of Mormon very carefully. 

2
  “2. This destruction of scripture has caused God's people to lose their way (2 Esdras 14:22; cf. 1 Nephi 13:27, 29).” (Owen, "Theological Apostasy and the Role of Canonical Scripture," 92)
“But if I have found grace before thee, send the Holy Ghost into me, and I shall write all that hath been done in the world since the beginning, which were written in thy law, that men may find thy path, and that they which will live in the latter days may live.” (‎4 Ezra 14:22)
“And all this have they done that they might pervert the right ways of the Lord, that they might blind the eyes and harden the hearts of the children of men.
. . .
And after these plain and precious things were taken away it goeth forth unto all the nations of the Gentiles; and after it goeth forth unto all the nations of the Gentiles, yea, even across the many waters which thou hast seen with the Gentiles which have gone forth out of captivity, thou seest—because of the many plain and precious things which have been taken out of the book, which were plain unto the understanding of the children of men, according to the plainness which is in the Lamb of God—because of these things which are taken away out of the gospel of the Lamb, an exceedingly great many do stumble, yea, insomuch that Satan hath great power over them.” (1 Nephi 13:27, 29)
In 4 Ezra / 2 Esdras Ezra offers to write the scriptures again so that they will exist “that men may find thy path.” According to Nephi, the scriptures still existed but they had been perverted so that “an exceedingly great many do stumble.” The whole question is whether a record of any kind survives. In 4 Ezra / 2 Esdras it has been burned and so does not survive in any form. In Nephi it survives but in a corrupted form.

3
  “3. The restoration of scripture will be accomplished by the power of the Holy Spirit (2 Esdras 14:22, 40; cf. 1 Nephi 13:37, 39).” (Owen, "Theological Apostasy and the Role of Canonical Scripture," 92)
“But if I have found grace before thee, send the Holy Ghost into me, and I shall write all that hath been done in the world since the beginning, which were written in thy law, that men may find thy path, and that they which will live in the latter days may live.” (‎4 Ezra 14:22)
“And I took it, and drank: and when I had drunk of it, my heart uttered understanding, and wisdom grew in my breast, for my spirit strengthened my memory:” (‎4 Ezra 14:40)
“And blessed are they who shall seek to bring forth my Zion at that day, for they shall have the gift and the power of the Holy Ghost; and if they endure unto the end they shall be lifted up at the last day, and shall be saved in the everlasting kingdom of the Lamb; and whoso shall publish peace, yea, tidings of great joy, how beautiful upon the mountains shall they be. . . .
And after it had come forth unto them I beheld other books, which came forth by the power of the Lamb, from the Gentiles unto them, unto the convincing of the Gentiles and the remnant of the seed of my brethren, and also the Jews who were scattered upon all the face of the earth, that the records of the prophets and of the twelve apostles of the Lamb are true.” (1 Nephi 13:37, 39)
There are significant differences between these passages. Ezra asks God to “send the Holy Ghost into me.” In response God tells Ezra to drink a potion and “my spirit strengthened my memory.” Ezra’s own spirit, not the Holy Ghost, strengthened his memory to recite the books as he had memorized them. Nephi, on the other hand, notes that “the gift and the power of the Holy Ghost” will be among those “who shall seek to bring forth my Zion.” Nephi sees that his own record will go among the people and that “other books” would come “forth by the power of the Lamb.” For the Book of Mormon, Jesus (the Lamb) and the Holy Ghost are not the same thing.  

4
“4. The books that are revealed to and dictated by Ezra are first written down on "writing tablets" (2 Esdras 14:24 NRSV; "box trees" KJV). So also the Book of Mormon ( cf. 1 Nephi 13:23; Mosiah 1:3).” (Owen, "Theological Apostasy and the Role of Canonical Scripture," 92)
“But look thou prepare thee many box trees, and take with thee Sarea, Dabria, Selemia, Ecanus, and Asiel, these five which are ready to write swiftly;” (‎4 Ezra 14:24)
“And he said: Behold it proceedeth out of the mouth of a Jew. And I, Nephi, beheld it; and he said unto me: The book that thou beholdest is a record of the Jews, which contains the covenants of the Lord, which he hath made unto the house of Israel; and it also containeth many of the prophecies of the holy prophets; and it is a record like unto the engravings which are upon the plates of brass, save there are not so many; nevertheless, they contain the covenants of the Lord, which he hath made unto the house of Israel; wherefore, they are of great worth unto the Gentiles.” (1 Nephi 13:23)
“And he also taught them concerning the records which were engraven on the plates of brass, saying: My sons, I would that ye should remember that were it not for these plates, which contain these records and these commandments, we must have suffered in ignorance, even at this present time, not knowing the mysteries of God.” (Mosiah 1:3)
So, because the Book of Mormon mentions “plates of brass” Owen would see these as parallel to the writing tablets mentioned in the NRSV version 4 Ezra/2 Esdras. One can make a good case that plates of brass and writing tablets are two very different things (one being permanent and the other temporary). But in this case, Owen cannot really make that argument. The NRSV did not exist in Joseph Smith’s day and so Joseph Smith (or an associate) has somehow read about “box trees” and somehow transmuted them into brass plates. That is even more miraculous than being handed actual plates of gold and thinking of plates of brass. Owen’s argument does not even make any sense.

5
  “5. Ezra (the recipient of the revelation) is to dictate the contents of these books to chosen scribes (2 Esdras 14:24). So also Joseph Smith and the Book of Mormon (cf. 2 Nephi 3:17; 27:9-10).” (Owen, "Theological Apostasy and the Role of Canonical Scripture," 92)
“But look thou prepare thee many box trees, and take with thee Sarea, Dabria, Selemia, Ecanus, and Asiel, these five which are ready to write swiftly;” (‎4 Ezra 14:24)
“And the Lord hath said: I will raise up a Moses; and I will give power unto him in a rod; and I will give judgment unto him in writing. Yet I will not loose his tongue, that he shall speak much, for I will not make him mighty in speaking. But I will write unto him my law, by the finger of mine own hand; and I will make a spokesman for him.” (2 Nephi 3:17)
“But the book shall be delivered unto a man, and he shall deliver the words of the book, which are the words of those who have slumbered in the dust, and he shall deliver these words unto another;
But the words which are sealed he shall not deliver, neither shall he deliver the book. For the book shall be sealed by the power of God, and the revelation which was sealed shall be kept in the book until the own due time of the Lord, that they may come forth; for behold, they reveal all things from the foundation of the world unto the end thereof.” (2 Nephi 27:9–10)
Owen’s argument here does not work. While Ezra has a number of scribes to write for him, the passages cited from the Book of Mormon never mention scribes. In one of them Moses is provided with a spokesman because he could not speak well. The other has a book being given to a man but no scribe is mentioned. The two book of Mormon passages are connected with known biblical texts (Exodus and Isaiah). They did not develop out of apocryphal literature.

6
  “6. Only some of what is revealed to Ezra and written down is to be made public; the rest is reserved for the wise (2 Esdras 14:26, 45-46; cf. 1 Nephi 14:26, 28).” (Owen, "Theological Apostasy and the Role of Canonical Scripture," 92)
“And when thou hast done, some things shalt thou publish, and some things shalt thou shew secretly to the wise: to morrow this hour shalt thou begin to write.” (‎4 Ezra 14:26).
“In forty days they wrote two hundred and four books.
And it came to pass, when the forty days were filled, that the Highest spake, saying, The first that thou hast written publish openly, that the worthy and unworthy may read it:
But keep the seventy last, that thou mayest deliver them only to such as be wise among the people:” (‎4 Ezra 14:44-46)
“And after they go forth by the hand of the twelve apostles of the Lamb, from the Jews unto the Gentiles, thou seest the formation of that great and abominable church, which is most abominable above all other churches; for behold, they have taken away from the gospel of the Lamb many parts which are plain and most precious; and also many covenants of the Lord have they taken away. . . .
Wherefore, thou seest that after the book hath gone forth through the hands of the great and abominable church, that there are many plain and precious things taken away from the book, which is the book of the Lamb of God.” (1 Nephi 13:26–28)
Ezra writes two hundred four books of which one hundred thirty-four can be published and seventy of which must be kept secret. Ezra is to hold back almost a third and the Book of Mormon says that two-thirds was kept back. The ratios are backwards. But the passage that Owen cites as parallel does not argue that. Nephi sees that the great and abominable church has taken away parts of the gospel. Is Owen trying to argue that God is the great and abominable church?

7
  “7. In order for God's people to have all the wisdom they need, they must have access both to the public and the esoteric texts dictated by Ezra: "For in them is the spring of understanding, the fountain of wisdom, and the stream of knowledge" (2 Esdras 14:47; cf. 1 Nephi 13:40-41).” (Owen, "Theological Apostasy and the Role of Canonical Scripture," 92)
“For in them is the spring of understanding, the fountain of wisdom, and the stream of knowledge.” (‎4 Ezra 14:47)
“And the angel spake unto me, saying: These last records, which thou hast seen among the Gentiles, shall establish the truth of the first, which are of the twelve apostles of the Lamb, and shall make known the plain and precious things which have been taken away from them; and shall make known to all kindreds, tongues, and people, that the Lamb of God is the Son of the Eternal Father, and the Savior of the world; and that all men must come unto him, or they cannot be saved.
And they must come according to the words which shall be established by the mouth of the Lamb; and the words of the Lamb shall be made known in the records of thy seed, as well as in the records of the twelve apostles of the Lamb; wherefore they both shall be established in one; for there is one God and one Shepherd over all the earth.” (1 Nephi 13:40–41)
The antecedent to “them” in the Ezra passage is “the seventy last” scrolls that Ezra may only deliver to the wise. The “last records” that the Book of Mormon refers to are those that God will bring forth in the latter days. While the scrolls that Ezra keeps are only delivered to the wise, the “last records” of the Book of Mormon are given “to all kindreds, tongues, and people.” There could not be a more stark contrast. Owen has misread 4 Ezra / 2 Esdras because God’s people (or at least the common people) have no need to “have access both to the public and the esoteric texts dictated by Ezra.”

8
“8. The scribes who wrote on the tablets "wrote what was dictated, using characters that they did not know" (2 Esdras 14:42 NRSV; "they wrote the wonderful visions of the night that were told, which they knew not" KJV). So also the Book of Mormon (cf. 1 Nephi 1:2; Mosiah 1:2; Mormon 9:32).” (Owen, "Theological Apostasy and the Role of Canonical Scripture," 92)
“The Highest gave understanding unto the five men, and they wrote the wonderful visions of the night that were told, which they knew not: and they sat forty days, and they wrote in the day, and at night they ate bread.” (‎4 Ezra 14:42)
“Yea, I make a record in the language of my father, which consists of the learning of the Jews and the language of the Egyptians.” (1 Nephi 1:2)
“And it came to pass that he had three sons; and he called their names Mosiah, and Helorum, and Helaman. And he caused that they should be taught in all the language of his fathers, that thereby they might become men of understanding; and that they might know concerning the prophecies which had been spoken by the mouths of their fathers, which were delivered them by the hand of the Lord.” (Mosiah 1:2)
“And now, behold, we have written this record according to our knowledge, in the characters which are called among us the reformed Egyptian, being handed down and altered by us, according to our manner of speech.” (Mormon 9:32)
Once again, Owen’s argument depends more upon the anachronistic NRSV than the KJV. The Book of Mormon passages that Owen cites fail to parallel the desired text in 4 Ezra / 2 Esdras in the KJV. (Was Joseph Smith a time traveler?) The Book of Mormon passages all deal with the language of the text, which is not discussed in the 4 Ezra / 2 Esdras passage as Joseph Smith (or one of his associates) would have known it. One crucial difference is that while Ezra’s scribes might not have known the characters they were using, the Book of Mormon scribes had all learned them the hard way.  

9
“9. There is a repeated emphasis on the mouth of Ezra (2 Esdras 14:38,39, 41; cf. 1 Nephi 13:23,24, 38; 14:23).” (Owen, "Theological Apostasy and the Role of Canonical Scripture," 92)
“And the next day, behold, a voice called me, saying, Esdras, open thy mouth, and drink that I give thee to drink. Then opened I my mouth, and, behold, he reached me a full cup, which was full as it were with water, but the colour of it was like fire.” (‎4 Ezra 14:38-39)
This is a silly argument. Owen teaches (or used to teach) Hebrew. He should recognize this Hebrew idiom (which is also used in other ancient languages).  

10
“10. What was previously revealed to Moses is now freshly disclosed to Ezra (2 Esdras 14:5-6, 21-22; cf. 1 Nephi 14:24-26, 29).” (Owen, "Theological Apostasy and the Role of Canonical Scripture," 93)
“And told him many wondrous things, and shewed him the secrets of the times, and the end; and commanded him, saying, These words shalt thou declare, and these shalt thou hide.” (‎4 Ezra 14:5-6)
“For thy law is burnt, therefore no man knoweth the things that are done of thee, or the work that shall begin. But if I have found grace before thee, send the Holy Ghost into me, and I shall write all that hath been done in the world since the beginning, which were written in thy law, that men may find thy path, and that they which will live in the latter days may live.” (‎4 Ezra 14:21-22)
“And behold, the things which this apostle of the Lamb shall write are many things which thou hast seen; and behold, the remainder shalt thou see. But the things which thou shalt see hereafter thou shalt not write; for the Lord God hath ordained the apostle of the Lamb of God that he should write them.” (1 Nephi 14:24–25)
“And I bear record that I saw the things which my father saw, and the angel of the Lord did make them known unto me.” (1 Nephi 14:29)
Owen does not tell his reader that the antecedent to “him” in 4 Ezra 14:5 is Moses (back in 4 Ezra 14:3). The Book of Mormon refers not to Moses but to John. Nephi refers to an angel, but Ezra never does.

Owen argument works only if one assumes his conclusion, which makes it a circular argument.

Owen realizes that his argument on point four is a little weak:
It should be noted, however, that even if these two features on the list of parallels are removed entirely from consideration, the remaining eight points still constitute a striking cluster of shared characteristics that tend to support a literary dependence on the text of 2 Esdras on the part of the author of 1 Nephi (whoever he was). (Owen, "Theological Apostasy and the Role of Canonical Scripture," 96.)
In reality though, none of his parallels are very strong or support a literary dependence of 1 Nephi on 2 Esdras / 4 Ezra.

Something in the editorial process clearly failed here. A good editor or peer reviewer should have been able to tell the difference between scholarship and sleight-of-hand.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

On the Latest Anti-Mormon Attack on the Book of Mormon I

Paul Owen is a fairly nice guy. I know him. He is, nonetheless, an anti-Mormon. He has written books explicitly attacking Mormonism in general and the Book of Mormon in particular. His latest article also attacks the Book of Mormon. He concludes that the Book of Mormon is a "fictional (though ancient) narrative" (Paul Owen, "Theological Apostasy and the Role of Canonical Scripture: A Thematic Analysis of 1 Nephi 13-14," Journal of Book of Mormon Studies (?!) 23 [2014]: 100):
What I am suggesting, in essence, is that the Book of Mormon could be taken as a genuinely restored ancient text with a fictional narrative that originated in the Old World
(Owen, "Theological Apostasy and the Role of Canonical Scripture," 99)
Since the Book of Mormon claims to have come from the New World, Owens is arguing that the Book of Mormon is not what it claims to be.

Owen thinks that Joseph Smith took the narrative of the Book of Mormon (or at least 1 Nephi 13-14) from the apocryphal book of 2 Esdras. Owen does not explain that the 2 Esdras he discusses is not the 2 Esdras of the Septuagint but is the book that is also known as 4 Ezra. The earliest known version of it is not in Hebrew or Aramaic or Greek but in Latin.

Owen skirts the issue of whether his proposal that it is authentically ancient and still modern fiction is logically coherent, but setting that concern aside for the moment, let us look at one particular point of his argument.

Owen thinks that Joseph Smith took the idea of brass plates from 2 Esdras/4 Ezra:
The books that are revealed to and dictated by Ezra are first written down on "writing tablets" (2 Esdras 14:24 NRSV; "box trees" KJV). So also the Book of Mormon ( cf. 1 Nephi 13:23; Mosiah 1:3).
(Owen, "Theological Apostasy and the Role of Canonical Scripture," 92.)
Owen argues that "those curious references to Jews writing on "tablets" (2 Esdras 14:24) in obscure characters (2 Esdras 14:42)" are the origin of the idea of the Book of Mormon being written in strange characters on plates of gold or brass (Owen, "Theological Apostasy and the Role of Canonical Scripture," 95). Therefore,
Joseph Smith (or someone in his circle) could have read 2 Esdras in the King James Version of the Apocrypha and perhaps had access to commentary on its meaning through libraries and cultural knowledge.
(Owen, "Theological Apostasy and the Role of Canonical Scripture," 94.)
Consequently, Owen maintains
that the gold plates that were shown to Joseph Smith by the angel Moroni [were] not necessarily historical artifacts from the history of the America
(Owen, "Theological Apostasy and the Role of Canonical Scripture," 97.)
Owen thinks that his speculations 
would allow the Book of Mormon to be taken as simultaneously modern and fictional, on the one hand, and miraculous and inclusive of authentic ancient material on the other. It would thus bring the manner of the production of the Book of Mormon more in line with the restoration of other ancient texts (e.g., the Book of Abraham, the Book of Moses, Doctrine and Covenants 7).
(Owen, "Theological Apostasy and the Role of Canonical Scripture," 98.)
So Owens makes the sweeping claim that like the Book of Mormon, the Book of Abraham, the Book of Moses, and part of the Doctrine and Covenants are fictional as well.

There are a couple of small problems with Owen's thesis. I will deal only with the problems with 2 Esdras/4 Ezra being the origin of the idea of the plates.

1
Owen gets the notion of "writing tablets" from the New Revised Standard Version of the Bible which was first published in 1989. The King James Version of the passage, which would have been available to Joseph Smith reads:
But look thou prepare thee many box trees, and take with thee Sarea, Dabria, Selemia, Ecanus, and Asiel, these five which are ready to write swiftly; (2 Esdras/4 Ezra 14:24, KJV).
Owen does not actually cite the passage because his reader would have found his argument confused by the actual evidence.

So Owen appears to be arguing that Joseph Smith got his basic scenario for the Book of Mormon by reading a translation that was published 155 years after he died like Owen did. This argument is anachronistic.

2
Owen attempts to obfuscate the issue by opining:
there can be no doubt that Joseph Smith's access to 2 Esdras provides a simple, straightforward explanation of the textual evidence-with the exception of one point. The references in the text of 2 Esdras to Jews writing on "tablets" in "obscure characters" are unclear in the King James translation available to Joseph Smith. While a bit mysterious, this could potentially be explained in several ways: (1) Smith (or someone in his circle) could have intuitively surmised (based on the context) the underlying meaning of the King James renderings "box trees" (2 Esdras 14:24) and "which they knew not" (14:42) in a way that happens to correspond to modern English translations. (2) Smith (or someone in his circle) could have had access to annotations on the Apocrypha through various sources (libraries, local ministers, bookstores) that clarified the meaning. (3) These particular parallels between 1 Nephi 13-14 and 2 Esdras 14 could be coincidental, parallels of which Smith and his associates actually had no awareness prior to the publication of the Book of Mormon.
(Owen, "Theological Apostasy and the Role of Canonical Scripture,"96.)
Of course, Owen's argument has major historical problems:

a
Joseph Smith's mother, Lucy Mack Smith, described him as
a boy, eighteen years of age, who had never read the Bible through in his life: he seemed much less inclined to the perusal of books than any of the rest of our children, but far more given to meditation and deep study.
( Lucy Mack Smith, Biographical Sketches of Joseph Smith the Prophet and his Progenitors for Many Generations (Lamoni, IA: The Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, 1912, reprinted Independence, Missouri: Herald, 1969), 92 = Lucy Mack Smith, History of Joseph Smith, by His Mother, Lucy Mack Smith (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1901), 82.)
Joseph Smith had not read the Bible and was not inclined to read much anyway.

b
Joseph Smith's close associates, like David Whitmer, agreed with Lucy Mack Smith claiming that when Joseph Smith translated the Book of Mormon:
Smith was ignorant of the Bible.
(M. J. Hubble interview of David Whitmer, 13 November 1886, in Lyndon W. Cook, ed., David Whitmer Interviews: A Restoration Witness (Orem, Utah: Grandin, 1991), 211.)
c
Multiple accounts of the First Vision indicate that Joseph Smith found James 1:5 simply by flipping through the Bible at random. In an 1843 interview, Joseph Smith said that:
There was a reformation among the different religious denominations in the neighborhood where I lived, and I became serious, and was desirous to know what Church to join. While thinking of this matter, I opened the Testament promiscuously on these words, in James, 'Ask of the Lord who giveth to all men liberally and upbraideth not.' I just determined I'd ask him.
("The Praries, Nauvoo, Joe Smith, the Temple, the Mormons, &c." The Pittsburgh Weekly Gazette 58 [September 15, 1843]: 3, reprinted in Dean C. Jessee, The Papers of Joseph Smith [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1989], 1:444.)
Alexander Niebaur records Joseph Smith as telling him:
Joseph tolt us the first call he had a Revival meeting his mother & Br & Sist got Religion, he wanted to get Religion too wanted to feel & sho shout like the Rest but could feel nothing, opened his Bible f the first Passage that struck him was if any man lack wisdom let him ask of God who giveth to all men liberallity & upbraidat not went into the Wood to pray
(Alexander Neibaur Journal, 24 May 1844, in Jessee, The Papers of Joseph Smith, 1:641.)
d
Joseph Smith's own Bible was not purchased until 8 October 1829 when the Book of Mormon was being printed.

e
Joseph Smith seems to have first systematically read the Bible when he was doing his own translation. When he got to the apocrypha (such as 2 Esdras/4 Ezra) he received D&C 91 and consequently seems to have skipped the apocrypha altogether. He thus seems never to have read any of the apocrypha in his life.

So Joseph Smith never read the Bible before he translated the Book of Mormon, did not even own one, and was ignorant of it. He seems never to have read the apocrypha in his life. The idea that he got the idea for the Book of Mormon by reading an apocryphal book seems far-fetched.

3
If Joseph Smith were to get the idea for the plates by reading an apocryphal book, then why 2 Esdras/4 Ezra and not 1 Maccabees? After all, Jews writing on brass plates is explicitly mentioned there:
τοῦτο τὸ ἀντίγραφον τῆς ἐπιστολῆς ἧς ἀντέγραψαν ἐπὶ δέλτοις χαλκαῖς
This is the copy of the letter which they copied on brass plates (1 Maccabees 8:22).
ἔγραψαν πρὸς αὐτὸν δέλτοις χαλκαῖς
And they wrote to him brass plates (1 Maccabees 14:18)
καὶ κατέγραψαν ἐν δέλτοις χαλκαῖς καὶ ἔθεντο ἐν στήλαις ἐν ὄρει σιων
And they wrote down in brass plates and placed them on stele on Mount Zion (1 Maccabees 14:26)
τὴν γραφὴν ταύτην εἶπον θέσθαι ἐν δέλτοις χαλκαῖς
And they said to put this writing on brass plates (1 Maccabees 14:48)
These passages would not necessarily have helped Joseph Smith because this is how they were translated in the King James Version:
And this is the copy of the epistle which the senate wrote back again in tables of brass, and sent to Jerusalem, that there they might have by them a memorial of peace and confederacy: (1 Maccabees 8:22 KJV)
They wrote unto him in tables of brass, to renew the friendship and league which they had made with Judas and Jonathan his brethren: (1 Maccabees 14:18 KJV)
So then they wrote it in tables of brass, which they set upon pillars in mount Sion: and this is the copy of the writing; The eighteenth day of the month Elul, in the hundred threescore and twelfth year, being the third year of Simon the high priest, (1 Maccabees 14:27 KJV)
So they commanded that this writing should be put in tables of brass, and that they should be set up within the compass of the sanctuary in a conspicuous place; (1 Maccabees 14:48 KJV)
While none of these passages match the language of the Book of Mormon and Joseph Smith probably never saw them in his life, they are much closer than imagining that Joseph Smith somehow got the idea for the Book of Mormon by reading about box trees.

Summation

Paul Owen's argument posits that Joseph Smith got the idea for the Book of Mormon by reading a book which historical sources deny that he read, in a translation published over a century and a half after he died.

There are a number of words one could use to describe Owen's argument, but scholarship is not one of them.

Monday, March 23, 2015

An Organizational Parasite?

In A.D. 751 An Lushan was the favorite of the Chinese Imperial Palace. The emperor's wife, Yang Guifei, adopted the shrewd and cunning general as her son. Four years later An rebelled against the emperor Xuanzong, who had ignored all the warnings and as a result found himself in the midst of a civil war. A decade later China had lost two-thirds of its population. The devastation was tremendous.

One power-hungry individual can be absolutely devastating to an organization, or a state. It would be nice if there were some signs that such a parasitic individual were in an organization. There are a number of different types of individuals that can devastate an organization. Clive Boddy talks about six symptoms of the presence of psychopaths in an organization (I do not know if An Lushan was actually a psychopath, he just came to mind as I read Boddy's discussion):
  1. The first effect of Corporate Psychopaths in organisations is a heightened level of conflict. Corporate Psychopaths are said to adopt divide-and-conquer strategies that include abusing their subordinates, manipulating their peers and charming their superiors. . . . Where Corporate Psychopaths are present, conflict at work is both much greater in incidence (i.e. conflict affects more people) and more frequent in occurrence (i.e. conflict also happens more often): arguments are more widespread and more frequent, yelling increases by a factor of ten, and rudeness and bullying increase dramatically.

  2. . . . This research found a second effect of the presence of Corporate Psychopaths related to corporate social responsibility: perceptions that an organisation does business in a socially responsible manner and in a way that shows commitment to employees plummets dramatically.

  3. . . . The third effect is that there are heavier than necessary organisational constraints in workplaces when Corporate Psychopaths are present. . . .

  4. The fourth effect of having Corporate Psychopaths in an organisation relates to leadership and managerial competence, as reflected in workload. Psychopaths are noted for their parasitic lifestyles, and in an organisation this can be expected to take the form of claiming others' work and ideas as their own, neglecting their managerial and leadership responsibilities, and blaming others for their own mistakes and omissions. . . .

  5. . . . The fifth effect of Corporate Psychopaths is significant negative impacts on multiple aspects of job satisfaction, including impacts of perceptions that employees get due recognition for a job well done and on employees liking the people they work with, reporting good communication within the organisation and reporting that their supervisor was fair to them. . . .

  6. . . . The sixth effect on employees who experience Corporate Psychopaths is that they withdraw from the organisational environment.
(Clive Boddy, Corporate Psychopaths: Organisational Destoyers [New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2011], 23-25.)
The way that ancient peoples wrote history is usually not conducive to seeing these sorts of effects recorded. But there is a further problem with applying this sort of thought to the ancient world.

In a critique of Boddy, Daniel Jones and Robert Hare (the latter of which knows an immense amount about psychopaths) argue that the characteristics that Boddy attributes to corporate psychopaths are true also of narcissists and Machiavellian individuals:
observers may perceive an individual as unprincipled, dishonorable, callous, manipulative, or ‘‘malevolent,’’ a perception that would apply to various dark personalities and not specifically to psychopathy. This presents a problem  
(Daniel N. Jones and Robert D. Hare, "The Mismeasure of Psychopathy: A Commentary on Boddy’s PM-MRV," Journal of Business Ethics [25 February 2015], 6.)
Jones and Hare note that although the three types of individuals share a group of traits in common, they differ in other traits and have slightly different results on organizations though they only briefly touched on them. So apparently those individuals that Boddy identifies with corporate psychopaths could be from any one of three categories only one of which actually consists of psychopaths. Boddy tries to make a case that the corporate afflictions arise naturally from a manager who displays the character traits that he identifies and this may well be the case no matter what the correct psychological diagnosis happens to be, though because Boddy's study is flawed that is not certain.

In one of his discussions, Boddy notes that in order to fix a problem, one must correctly identify it:
In terms of remedial action to reduce withdrawal behavior such as absenteeism, organisations are reported to seek superficial solutions to absenteeism - solutions which focus on the observed behavior or the symptoms rather than the underlying causes. This may involve punishing the employee who comes in late rather than trying to mitigate the abusive behaviour of a supervisor who is a Corporate Psychopath, for example. To maximise their effectiveness, organisations need to look at the root causes of employee withdrawal and address these rather than the symptoms.
(Boddy, Corporate Psychopaths, 126.)
Proper diagnosis is essential. So, Jones and Hare warn that:
Because assessments of psychopathy can have serious consequences in virtually any context—mental health, criminal justice, community, corporate, and so forth—the instrument used for the assessments must meet high psychometric standards. Just as important, those using such an instrument must be qualified to do so. . . . [This usually involves] advanced academic training in psychological testing and supervised experience in test administration and interpretation in the form of either a practicum or an internship. Many jurisdictions also require formal licensing by an appropriate board.  
(Jones and Hare, "The Mismeasure of Psychopathy," 2.)
Most historians lack the sort of training necessary to make a proper assessment even if the sources happened to record the relevant information. This example provides perhaps one more reason to follow David Fischer's warning that historical psychoanalysis is usually counterproductive:
These experiments have ended in failure more often than success. They have commonly consisted either of Freudian raids upon history, or historians' raids upon Freud. The results have ranged from the highly dubious to the downright preposterous.
(David Hackett Fischer, Historians' Fallacies [New York: Harper and Row, 1970], 188.)
Tellingly, Fischer cites, as one of his examples of dubious psycho-historians, Fawn Brodie.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

On a Sinking Ship and Its Captain

One of the biggest stories in higher education is that Sweet Briar College is closing its doors at the end of the academic year. It is a very sad tale. A couple of points in some of the stories are of some interest.

This story points to a number of signs that an institution of higher education is about to go belly-up:
What is the college’s tuition discount rate? Has it been increasing?
For those who do not know what it is, the tuition discount rate needs an explanation. Colleges charge a certain amount of tuition; it is one of their sources of revenue. Students offered scholarships or other financial packages pay a discounted tuition in comparison to those who pay full price. The tuition discount rate is the percentage of students whose tuition is discounted.
Has the college made its enrollment target the past few years?
Can the institution reach its basic goals? Does it do what it was set up to do?
Is the revenue the college receives from tuition after it awards financial aid (net tuition) going up, holding steady, or dropping? 
This is just basic economics. Institutions (higher-ed or not) whose expenses exceed their income are in trouble. When income streams close down, an institution is in trouble. Period.
How much debt has the college taken on in the past 10 years? What has that paid for? 
Where does the money go? Is it spent on luxury items or basic expenses? What sort of fancy remodeling has been done? Does the college fund junkets to hold conferences in an exotic locale as opposed to holding them on site? These can often be tricky judgment calls because some of these activities can be warranted under the proper circumstances but they can also be abused.

These questions are all the more pertinent as another article points out that the college's president had previously been involved in the misuse of university funds. So according to yet another article, while president of Trinity College, James F. Jones, Jr., tried to appropriate funds from one of Trinity's endowments, an endowed chair held by Gerald Gunderson, to fund other projects:
when James F. Jones, Jr. became president of Trinity College in 2004. Jones made no attempt to touch the portion of the endowment used to fund Gunderson’s chair, although at one point he threatened not to renew Gunderson’s contract (he does not have tenure). Jones tried to divert the assets of the Davis Endowment to other purposes, including funding scholarships for foreign students. In October 2008, according to a 2009 article in the Wall Street Journal, Jones had a particularly angry meeting with Gunderson where he called Gunderson “a liar and a bully” and said that he would, in the future, personally approve all expenditures “down to a box of paperclips.”

By this time, Gunderson had reported Jones to the Connecticut Attorney General’s Office, which regulates charities in that state. In February 2009, the attorney general’s office issued a ruling that declared that there was no evidence that Shelby Cullom Davis wanted either the college or his family to use the endowment’s income for any purpose “other than the study and promotion of the economic theories of the free enterprise system.”

In addition, the attorney general’s office found that Trinity College had illegally diverted $191,337 from the Davis Endowment to pay for an internship program. The regulators ordered Trinity College to restore the money to the endowment.

For the next four years, according to Gunderson, the battle over the Davis Endowment was “a stalemate,” with Jones proposing various schemes for diverting the endowment’s assets and the Connecticut attorney general’s office vetoing them. Gunderson praises the attorney general’s office—and in particular, Karen Gano, a career civil servant overseeing charities—for upholding the law and respecting donor intent.
Jones also managed to earn a red light for Trinity College from the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education and was forced to retire and thus move to his current position over Sweet Briar's $90 million endowment (or $84 million depending on the source). During Jones's time at Trinity, alumni donations plummeted; but fortunately they have rebounded after his departure, in part because the administration enacted changes to prevent Jones's abuses in the future:
The victory for donor intent at Trinity College has also spurred alumni giving. For their 25th anniversary, the Trinity College Class of 1990 is establishing “The Alumni Fund for Trinity College,” a donor-advised fund independent of the college. The fund is established in honor of Gerald Gunderson, who the class says, “has labored tirelessly—and at personal expense—to ensure that the donor’s intent of the Shelby Cullom Davis Endowment was respected at Trinity College.”

Given the track record that Jones had at Trinity by some accounts, it is surprising that Sweet Briar would put him in charge of anything. Now Jones has a track record for destroying or nearly destroying two institutions of higher education. The spin that Sweet Briar put on his selection was that:
the search committee was impressed with Jones’ professional accomplishments, his commitment to collaboration and transparency at every level, and his understanding of the College.
According to the news release Jones was the "retiring president of Trinity College in Hartford, Conn."

According to Paul Rice, chair of the Sweet Briar College Board of Directors:
Jimmy’s twenty years of experience as a highly effective president of two distinguished liberal arts colleges, his academic credentials, his boundless energy, and his knowledge of Sweet Briar uniquely qualify him for this appointment. He will be a solid leader as we navigate the College’s immediate future and complete the research and planning already underway for long-term sustainability.”
Sweet Briar depicted Jones as a tremendously successful fund raiser while at Trinity:
During Jones’ decade as president, Trinity saw more than 30 percent growth in its overall College endowment and achieved significant annual fund growth. Today, annual fund contributions represent between 8 and 9 percent of the college’s operating budget — almost double the contribution 10 years ago.
The two accounts of Jones's tenure at Trinity do not sound the same at all. Sweet Briar omits all the red flags that appear in the other account.

I also find it interesting that Jones was appointed only as an interim president. Sweet Briar's previous president, Ellen Parker, claimed as she left:
Sweet Briar could not have found a more ideal interim president.
This was, of course, last year. Much has changed in the intervening time. For Sweet Briar the interim president would seem to be its last.

Sweet Briar seems to have had some problems before Jones came along and that nine months was not sufficient time for Jones to destroy the college by himself. If Sweet Briar has had a 60 percent discount rate on $47,000 tuition, then Jones simply has not had time to change anything in that regard; all those students were admitted under the previous administration. It may just be coincidence that Jones came on board in time to sink the ship, but his history as captain does not exactly inspire confidence.

Ronald Ehrenberg, director of the Cornell University Higher Education Research Institute, praised the decision of Sweet Briar's board, saying:
It seems like a very principled decision. If we can’t maintain our fundamental mission, we should get out of the business.
Apparently there were a number of proposals that would have required Sweet Briar to alter its mission but these were legally problematic.

So it appears as though Jones was brought in as an interim president because Sweet Briar thought he could work some sort of fund-raising magic at their college. The problems of his previous administration are unmentioned in the press announcement. Whatever Sweet Briar hoped he would accomplish, closing the doors was probably not on the list.

Saturday, March 14, 2015

Update on the New Mark Manuscript

Earlier, back in January, I reported on initial news stories about a new fragment of Mark that has been discovered. Craig Evans has been visiting BYU the last couple of days and I have both heard presentations that he has given that deal with this fragment and been able to talk with him about it. With his permission I can give the following corrections to the news reports.

  • To begin with, I know that Evans is a better scholar than would appear from the news reports. (He did not earn a three star rating on the book list for nothing.) I should have realized that he was not being correctly understood by the news reporters. I am sorry if I misrepresented him based on garbled reports.

  • The papyrus with Mark did come from cartonnage but apparently did not come from the mummy mask. (He showed images of the extraction of the papyrus from the mummy mask, which he was not involved with. As an Egyptologist specializing the the Greco-Roman period I found the original mask a lovely object and cringed to see the photographs of the extraction even as I understand why it was done. I value both the object and the texts.)

  • The work was not done at Acadia University. Apparently Evans is the only link between Acadia University and the papyrus.

  • The texts in the collection include fragments of Septuagint, classical texts and many business documents.

  • At least one good papyrologist has looked at the text and has had some input on the dating. The team publishing the papyrus has claimed to Evans that they have good reason for dating the papyrus to the 80s but the dating is not Evans's. Evans was unable to say what the reasons behind the date were (whether that is because he is contractually obligated not to divulge that information before the publication or because he does not know is immaterial to me; he has said what he can and has the integrity not to speak beyond what he can).
Now given this information I would speculate the following:

Paleographic dating of non-literary texts (that is texts in business hands where the date is missing) is  no more accurate than to the nearest half century. Paleographic dating of literary hands closer than the nearest century is dubious. Since this is known by the papyrologist working on the team, either there is good reason for the more narrow date or the papyrologist was not involved in assigning the date. In the latter case the date should be ignored but I will assume that the former is the case. There must be something on the papyrus that indicates a date. The three most reasonable scenarios that suggest themselves involve the reuse of business documents either through (1) a palimpsest, (2) a business document on the back of a literary texts, or (3) a literary text on the back of a business text.

Evans showed photographs of other texts in the collection that were about half a page and implied that the Mark text was like them (but I might just be reading that into what he said). If that is the case, I would expect that there would be no more than ten verses per side. Under scenarios 2 and 3 we would have only about ten verses of Mark, where we might have twice as much if we had both sides.

Scenario 2 provides the best chance of a date that might actually be in the 80s or 90s. But what would it say about the value of Mark if it was already being reused (and thus deemed worthless) in the 90s?

The most exciting scenario would be if the half page of Mark came from the last chapter. In that case the I would expect that the first page would establish that the text actually belonged to Mark but that the verso would contain a very different (and likely correct) version of Mark's resurrection narrative. I think this scenario is highly unlikely (if one were to pick a page at random from the gospel of Mark, the odds that it would be the sixteenth chapter are only about 6%).

Given that early second century quotations of the New Testament tend to be very different from the later established New Testament text, a very early copy of the text should differ significantly from the standard text. The closer the papyrus reads to the standard text, the more it is likely third century or later.

For all of this we await the formal publication which looks like it will be 2017 at the earliest. When it does come out I expect that at least half of my speculation will be based on false assumptions and be wrong.


Friday, March 13, 2015

The Normal Run of Things

A passage in 1 Maccabees illustrates how foreign policy was conducted in the ancient world (or at least the Hellenistic world). The Seleucid general has kidnapped the Hasmonean ruler, Jonathan:
And now send a hundred talents of silver and two of his sons as hostages and do not allow rebellion from us and we will release him (1 Maccabees 13:16).
A conquering power would demand tribute and hostages to keep conquered subjects submissive and in line. The idea was that if the subjected revolted them the hostages would be killed. The tribute would be expected on an annual basis. This is the normal way that things worked. One can see the same procedures at work in the El-Amarna letters from a thousand years earlier.

In this case:
Simon knew that he spoke with deception to him (1 Maccabees 13:17).
That too, unfortunately, was not uncommon either.