Sunday, December 23, 2012

Who was Ezias mentioned in Helaman 8:20?

In the book of Helaman in the Book of Mormon there is a dramatic story where Nephi, the prophet, has to defend himself against a group of hostile and corrupt judges. Because Nephi was speaking out boldly against the corruption and wickedness of people, a few judges, the people who had the most to lose from his preaching, sought to incite a mob against him. But Nephi responded by forcefully testifying of their crimes and wickedness and then declaring that they must believe in the coming of the Son of God. When the corrupt judges objected to this, saying that it was impossible for Nephi to know about something like that before it actually happened, Nephi responded by saying that he was not alone in testifying about the coming of the Son of God.

First Nephi appealed to Moses who testified of the coming of the Son of God and then said,
16 And now behold, Moses did not only testify of these things, but also all the holy prophets, from his days even to the days of Abraham. 
17 Yea, and behold, Abraham saw of his coming, and was filled with gladness and did rejoice. 
18 Yea, and behold I say unto you, that Abraham not only knew of these things, but there were many before the days of Abraham who were called by the order of God; yea, even after the order of his Son; and this that it should be shown unto the people, a great many thousand years before his coming, that even redemption should come unto them. (Helaman 8:16-18)
Then Nephi lists a number of other prophets who also testified of the coming of the Son of God including, Zenos, Zenock, Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezias. Of this list Isaiah and Jeremiah are well known biblical prophets but the other three are apparently unknown prophets from biblical times. Both Zenos and Zenock are mentioned in other parts of the Book of Mormon and in a few cases are even quoted at length. But for Ezias this is his only mention. So other than having his name included in a list of prophets who testified of the Son of God, nothing else known about him, other than the oh so helpful footnote of "TG Scriptures, Lost".

If we do a search of the Bible for Ezias we come up with nothing. But if we extend our search a little we find this []:
the Revised Version (British and American)
OZIAS (which see).
If we look up the entry for Ozias we find:
(1) (Ozeias, Ozias, Codex Vaticanus a b): The son of Micah, a Simeonite, one of the 3 rulers of Bethulia in the days of Judith (Judith 6:15,16; 7:23; 8:9; 10:6). 
(2) (Ozeias, Codex Vaticanus and Swete; the King James Version has Ezias (1 Esdras 8:2), following Codex Alexandrinus Ezias): An ancestor of Ezra (1 Esdras 8:2; 2 Esdras 1:2) equals "Uzzi" of Ezra 7:4; 1 Chronicles 6:51. 
(3) Head of a family of temple-servants who returned with Zerubbabel (1 Esdras 5:31) equals "Uzza" of Ezra 2:49; Nehemiah 7:51. 
(4) Greek form of UZZIAH (which see) in Matthew 1:8,9 the King James Version. A king of Judah.
So it turns out that Ezias is a Hebrew name and is found in the Bible. It's just that there are several different ways of writing the original Hebrew name in English. It is also interesting to note that the version of the name, "Ezias", that we are concerned with does appear in the King James Version of the Bible, but only in the Apocrypha (the book of 1 Esdras). But most Protestant (and all LDS) versions of the Bible exclude the Apocrypha, so I did not immediately think including the Apocrypha in my search, but it is good that it came up. There are variations in the way the names are written in English but they all go back to the same Hebrew root name, עֻזִּי (`ZYH), which means "strong".

So now we have a reference point and names and people to investigate as possibilities. Before we started this investigation we knew nothing about Ezias other than we was supposedly a Biblical prophet, who is not found in the Bible. But now we have some indication that the name Ezias is a Hebrew name, and that there are a few candidates for who he might be in the Bible. Let us consider the four candidates mention by the "International Standard Bible Encyclopedia", as given above (Orr, James, M.A., D.D. General Editor. "Entry for 'OZIAS'". "International Standard Bible Encyclopedia". 1915.).

The first, Ozias, a ruler of the city Bethulia in the days of Judith. Not much known about him, maybe not a good candidate. The second is a ancestor of Ezra, and a direct descendant of Aaron, and therefore a High Priest. Perhaps a good candidate. The third is someone who lived after the Jews came back after the Babylonian captivity, so that rules him out. The forth was a king of Judah who died from leprosy. Not perhaps the best candidate. [Author note after some more exploring: "Uzzi" is listed (#6) as one of the recognized high priests over the tabernacle. There are more people of the same name in the Bible but they all appear to be living after the captivity or we know even less about them other than their name, so we can ignore them.]

So here we have it. Ezias is referred to in the Book of Mormon as a prophet who testified of the coming of the Son of God. The only thing we can say for sure is that Ezias is a Hebrew name and is shared with several people who are mentioned in the Bible. Of those mentioned most can be eliminated since they lived after the Babylonian captivity, and hence the Nephites would not have known about them. There are a few that cannot be considered to be prophets by any stretch of the imagination. A few more that we know nothing about. And finally there is "Uzzi" who is one of descendants of Aaron and may (or may not, depending on who you believe) have been the high priest of the tabernacle.

We definitely do not know enough to positively identify Ezias with anyone mentioned in the Bible, but by looking at the name and realizing that the same Hebrew name is spelled many different ways in English we have at least one person who might be considered to be a candidate for the Ezias mentioned in the Book of Mormon. Uzzi, who may have been a high priest, does seem to have the credentials to be a prophet who testified of the coming of the Son of God. Still, we will never really figure it out until we get some more records that contain more information than we now have. The brass plates would be nice, so maybe someday. In the end perhaps Ezias, who is only mentioned once in the Book of Mormon, is a little less anonymous than we think he is.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Misconceptions of Misconceptions of Physics

Finally I am posting something about physics! Don't leave just yet. I will try to keep it on a general level.

On YouTube there is a channel that I like to watch called MinutePhysics. Normally the short videos are pretty good and the channel creator does a good job at explaining some common (and some uncommon) physics in a short and intuitive way. So I was rather surprised when he posted a video about common misconceptions in physics that itself perpetuated common misconceptions in physics. Here's the video for you to watch so I can refer to it.

There are two things that are problematic in this video that I want to address. I will give a short explanation here and then a longer explanation further down.

  1. Teaching Newtonian gravity is not lying. He is trying to make the point that light, even if it is massless, is still affected by gravity, which Newtonian gravity does not predict. True, but he makes his point by saying that teaching Newtonian gravity is lying to students. Newtonian gravity is still alive and well and is fundamental to of almost all undergraduate and even graduate (and post graduate) areas of study. The idea that teaching Newtonian gravity is wrong is a big misconception and this video simply perpetuates the misconception.
  2. Just because you have an equation that you can stick numbers into and a calculator to calculate it out to an arbitrary number of digits of precision does not mean that it has have physical meaning. I have to fight this misconception every semester with almost all of my students. It is harder to fight this misconception than it is to fight the "misconception" of a Galilean vs. Lorentz transformations.

1. Teaching Newtonian gravity is not lying.
The misconception that Newtonian gravity is fundamentally wrong, and therefore useless, is so prevalent among people that when mostly well informed individuals ask me about my research they are shocked to learn that I still use Newtonian gravity. They usually say something along the lines of, "I rememeber learning about Newton in high school/college, but you are probably way beyond that." They would be even more shocked to learn that most of the cutting edge research in physics uses Newtonian gravity and not relativity. It seems like every semester I have at least one or two students who express the idea that everything undergirding Newtonian gravity is wrong and that therefore all the collective wisdom, intuition, insight and knowledge of people who have used Newtonian gravity, or even Newtonian physics in general, is somehow invalid.

2. An equation and a calculator do not make reality.
Every semester I have to fight a major misconception with my students. I don't mean the pre-meds who take the introductory physics classes, or the "I don't know what I'm doing with my life students, but I have to take this class to get some sort of degree." students. I mean physics majors who are in their senior year and who have been through many physics classes already. I have to fight the misconception that just because the students have an equation and a calculator or computer that can calculate something to an arbitrary number of digits, that the result, to that precision, has meaning for the real world. This is a misconception that physicists of all stripes have to fight every day. And unfortunately this short video perpetuates this myth.

Let's take the sheep example. He gives an example of a sheep riding a train and says if you have a train going 2 mph and a sheep on the train is moving forward at 2 mph with respect to the train then,
2 mph + 2 mph = 4 mph
which he promptly declares to be false. He then proceeds to give a short explanation of how to add velocities in special relativity and produces the equation for adding velocities in special relativity (for those who want to know he is merely pointing out the difference between a Galilean vs. a Lorentz transformation. One assumes light has no speed limit and the other one does. But, by his definition what he presents is also false, since a Lorentz transformation is also incomplete, so he merely traded one misconception for another. Fail.).

But, according to him, if we want to be honest we have to use the special relativistic equation and see that the sheep is only moving 3.999999999999999964 mph. That is a difference of 0.000000000000000036 mph. The problem is, how did he measure that? No really! That is a perfectly valid question in physics, I am not just trying to ask a trite, funny question. If he claims that the sheep is actually moving 0.000000000000000036 mph slower than it should because of special relativistic effects then he will have to actually measure that. The problem is (as many, many, many, many of my professors over the years have pointed out), the sheep is made up of atoms. You can't calculate something, get a result and say, "This is how the world works." because you are ignoring the fact that everything is made up of real matter. You can't separate that fact or you will end up in trouble.

To give you an idea of why this is problematic let's take our result, the difference of 0.000000000000000036 mph, and see what this means. Suppose the sheep and the train move together for one hour, what would be the difference in how far they have moved based on this difference?
0.000000000000000036 mph x .44704 (m/s)/mph = 1.61e-17 m/s
(that's meters per second instead of miles per hour)
1.61e-17 m/s * 3600 s = 5.8e-14 m
So if you let the sheep walk on the train and let the train go for one hour, then after one hour the difference that you would expect between using a relativistic vs. a non-relativistic calculation would be 5.8e-14 m or about 60 femtometers. To give you an idea of how small this is that is about 4 times larger then the nucleus of a uranium atom. Not 4 times larger than a Uranium atom, 4 time larger than the nucleus, which is very, very, very small. This distance is still about 3000 times smaller than the radius of an atom.

So is it wrong to use Galilean transformations and Newton's laws? No. If you can find me a wooden meter stick that has tic marks that go down into the femtometer range then you could say that Newton was wrong. But if you can't actually measure that accurately then it is wrong to say that the standard way we think about adding velocities is wrong. Just because someone came up with an equation and you can stick the numbers into a calculator and get a result does not mean that it has any real world interpretation.

Now, as a physicist I am well aware of relativity, but this is an abuse of it. To say that Newton (and Galileo) were wrong because they didn't have access to a meter stick which measured femtometers, is itself wrong. To ignore real world considerations and then calling people who have to (and had to) deal with those real world considerations wrong is to ignore something fundamental about physics, and that is we live in a real, physical universe. And you can't ignore that fact. Even when teaching relativity.

[PS: If you want to see another example of abuse of equations, consider "Why Pigs Don't Diffract Through Doorways".]

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Was Joseph Smith Descended from Lehi? The problem of no quotation marks in 2 Nephi Chapter 3, and a misleading footnote in the D&C.

When I was growing up I remember having a few discussions in Sunday School and in Seminary about 2 Nephi chapter 3 and there was always some confusion about what that chapter was saying, with the most confusing parts being from verse 18 to the end. A quick and not careful reading of the text seems to imply that Joseph Smith was descended from Lehi, which would be problematic since that would require Joseph Smith to have some Native American ancestry, which he definitely did not have. This idea was discussed occasionally in my classes and the teachers of some of the students always concluded with "Well it seems that somehow somewhere Joseph Smith had at least one Native American ancestor." or "We really don't know what that is talking about, but I'm sure that the scriptures are still true."

As it was only a minor thing I never gave it much thought. There were plenty of other apparent discrepancies in the scriptures that seemed much more pressing so it was something that I just filed away in my mind as an oddity. Many years later I was in a Book of Mormon class at BYU taught by Stanley Johnson and he did something interesting. He took the text of 2 Nephi chapter 3 and put it on a transparency and projected it onto a screen with an overhead projector. He then proceeded to mark the text with quotation marks and began to explain the text in a different light now that the text had been broken up in a different way because of the inclusion of quotation marks.

2 Nephi chapter 3 contains the words that Lehi spoke/wrote to his son who he had named Joseph, after Joseph in Egypt. The bulk of the chapter contains a series of quotes that Lehi apparently took from the Brass Plates, and a few other sources, none of which appear in our current Bible. The problem is that the only cues regarding whether or not a portion of the text is a direct quote come from a series of short introductory statements such as, "For Joseph truly testified saying:" and "Yea, Joseph truly said:". In each case the direct quote begins with a statement like that ending in a colon (:). There is no indication that a quote has ended except for a statement indicating the beginning of another quote. This is further complicated by the fact that there are even quotes within quotes.

For example one direct quote from Joseph begins, "Yea, Joseph truly said: Thus saith the Lord unto me:" What follows is a rather lengthy quote of the Lord by Joseph. It is precisely these quotes within quotes that cause all the confusion and lead people to think that the Book of Mormon implies that Joseph Smith was a descendant of Lehi, which would necessitate Joseph Smith having at least some Native American blood. This point has become a minor point of criticism by some anti-Mormon writers who use it as just one more point to criticize the Church. But if we look closely at the text and include a few quotation marks the text can be interpreted differently and it can be shown that the text does not necessarily imply that Joseph Smith was descended from Lehi as was supposed by so many Seminary teachers and students.

Let us look at the text of 2 Nephi 3 now with the inclusion of a few quotation marks and see if this makes a difference. I will not include all of the text but I will include the parts where major quotes begin and end, and mark them with quotation marks (which I will highlight. If there are quotes within quotes I will highlight the quotes with a different color.). Starting in verse 6 and ending on verse 21:
6 For Joseph truly testified, saying: "A seer shall the Lord my God raise up, who shall be a choice seer unto the fruit of my loins." 
7 Yea, Joseph truly said: "Thus saith the Lord unto me: "A choice seer will I raise up out of the fruit of thy loins....
8 .... 
9 .... 
10 .... 
11 .... and not to the bringing forth my word only," saith the Lord, "but to the convincing them of my word .... 
12 .... 
13 .... O house of Israel, saith the Lord."" 
14 And thus prophesied Joseph, saying: "Behold, that seer will the Lord bless ....
15 .... by the power of the Lord shall bring my people unto salvation."
16 Yea, thus prophesied Joseph: "I am sure of this thing, even as I am sure of the promise of Moses; for the Lord hath said unto me, "I will preserve thy seed forever.""
17 And the Lord hath said: "I will raise up a Moses; ....and I will make a spokesman for him."
18 And the Lord said unto me also: "I will raise up unto the fruit of thy loins; ....
19 ....
20 ....
21 .... unto the remembering of my covenant which I made unto thy fathers."
Thus there are six major quotes with two subquotes (quotes within a quote). The break down of the quotes is as follows:
  1. Verse 6: A quote from Joseph in Egypt.
  2. Verses 7-13: This quote is actually a quote from the Lord, as recorded by Joseph in Egypt. Lehi introduces the quote by saying, "Yea, Joseph truly said:" and the quote begins with Joseph introducing the quote from the Lord by saying, "Thus saith the Lord unto me:". The following verses are all part of the same quote and it is only interrupted in verse 11 with Joseph saying "saith the Lord". The quote ends in verse 13.
  3. Verses 14-15: Another direct quote of Joseph in Egypt. Joseph does not quote anyone in this passage.
  4. Verse 16: This contains a brief statement from Joseph which he ends with an even briefer quote from the Lord.
  5. Verse 17: This appears to be the beginning of all the misunderstanding. There are two ways to view verse 17. We can view it as a continuation of the quote started in verse 16, thus making verse 17 a subquote, or we can view it as the beginning of a new quote. There is no reason to think that verse 17 is a continuation of the quote from verse 16 and thus we can consider it as a separate quote given by Lehi. Thus there is no indication that verse 17 was written by Joseph in Egypt, and because we do not know the source we do not know who wrote it.
  6. Verses 18-21: If verse 17 was the beginning of the misunderstanding then this section is the culmination of it. If we first assume that verse 17 is a continuation of the quote started in verse 16 and we then assume that the next quote is also a continuation of the same quote then this is where all the trouble arises. But if we do not make that assumption then the quote takes on a different meaning. Verse 18 begins with "And the Lord said unto me also:". If we assume that it is a continuation of the quote in verse 16 then the "me" refers to Joseph in Egypt. But if we do not then the "me" in verse 18 refers to Lehi.
It is easy to see why one might assume that verses 17-21 are simply a continuation of the quote started in verse 16 (quote #4). Up to this point there were two subquotes where Joseph in Egypt said, "the Lord said unto me:" followed by a direct quote. So in verse 18 when the text states, "And the Lord said unto me also:" it is easy to assume that this is Joseph in Egypt giving a direct quote again. But if we read carefully we will see that all the quotes from and directly attributed to Joseph in Egypt end in verse 16. The last two quotes are two direct quotes from unknown origin where the Lord Himself is speaking, with the last quote being one that was directed at Lehi specifically.

The origin of this last quote may be found in verse 22 which says:
22 And now, behold, my son Joseph, after this manner did my father of old prophesy.
If we assume that verses 17-21 are a continuation of quote #4 then the "father of old" referred to here is obviously Joseph in Egypt. But if we take them as two separate quotes then the "father of old" may refer to Lehi's own father! Thus quote #6 is a revelation given to Lehi, by his father, long before Lehi took his family and left Jerusalem (perhaps we can think of it as part of Lehi's Patriarchal Blessing).

So now that we have unpacked that little matter we return to the part where people think that Joseph Smith was descended from Lehi. If we return to verse 18 we can see the origin of this little misunderstanding.
18 And the Lord said unto me [Lehi] also: I will raise up unto the fruit of thy loins; and I will make for him a spokesman. And I, behold, I will give unto him that he shall write the writing of the fruit of thy loins, unto the fruit of thy loins; and the spokesman of thy loins shall declare it.
 At first glance this may be the source of the misconception that Joseph Smith is (according to the Book of Mormon) a descendant of Lehi (a of necessity has some Native American blood in him). Because it says that "I will raise up unto the fruit of thy loins" meaning a descendant of Lehi will be the one to "write the writing" of the descendants of Lehi. This would "require" that Joseph Smith be a descendant of Lehi! But wait! Who wrote the Book of Mormon? Why Mormon of course! Mormon is by his own admission (he should know since he kept his own genealogy) a direct descendant of Lehi, and he wrote the Book of Mormon. Over and over again Mormon says that he is writing the book to his "brethren the Lamanites". The title page itself declares that it was "Written to the Lamanites". Joseph Smith, and all those who helped translate, never claimed to have written the Book of Mormon. Thus we see that the person who is referred to in these verses is Mormon and not Joseph Smith.

If we dig a little deeper we can find additional sources for the confusion that Joseph Smith was a descendant of Lehi. In Doctrine and Covenants 100:9 we read:
9 And it is expedient in me that you, my servant Sidney, should be a spokesman unto this people; yea, verily, I will ordain you unto this calling, even to be a spokesman unto my servant Joseph.
At the word "spokesman" there is a footnote that gives the reference 2 Nephi 3:17-18! One might naively  look at the footnote in D&C follow it to 2 Nephi and assume that the one who was "risen up" from the fruit of the loins of Lehi is Joseph Smith and the "spokesman" mention in verse 18 is Sidney Rigdon. It all fits right? Except for the fact that Joseph Smith did not write the Book of Mormon (Note: It is not the Book of Joseph!). Here we have a case of footnotes, which are not part of the original text, nor are they considered scriptural, which are unintentionally misleading. But again, if we do not make this connection then we do not end up with the problem of Joseph Smith being descended from Lehi. Mormon is the one referred to as being descended from Lehi and having written the writings of the descendants of Lehi. And we can safely assume that the "spokesman" referred to in quote #6 is Joseph Smith, because it never implies that the spokesman is actually a descendant of Lehi.

Thus when we come to verse 24 we can know that it refers to Mormon and I think it is a fitting description of someone who has done so much to bring us the word of God.
24 And there shall rise up one mighty among them, who shall do much good, both in word and in deed, being an instrument in the hands of God, with exceeding faith, to work mighty wonders, and do that thing which is great in the sight of God, unto the bringing to pass much restoration unto the house of Israel, and unto the seed of thy brethren.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Why did Mormon name Abish?

There are numerous names of men and places in the Book of Mormon, but there are only five women in the entire book who are mentioned by name. The five, in no particular order, are:
  1. Eve: As in Adam and Eve. She is mentioned three times, where one of the three times comes from a direct quote written by Nephi. The other two references are direct quotes from Lehi (as recorded by Nephi).
  2. Mary: As in Mary, the mother of Jesus. There are two references to her, and both references appear in direct quotes that Mormon included in the Book of Mormon. One is from king Benjamin, who is directly quoting the words of an angel. The other is from Alma the younger , and it too appears to be a quote from an angel/the spirit.
  3. Sariah: Nephi's mother. All references to her are from the writings of Nephi, which Mormon included unabridged.
  4. Isabel: A harlot who tempted Corianton, the son of Alma. The only reference to her is from a direct quote from what appears to be something written by Alma to his son Corianton, and Mormon included it without abridgment.
  5. Abish: The subject of this post.
What is interesting when we look at this list is that four of the five women who are named explicitly in the Book of Mormon are named in passages where Mormon quotes them in their entirety  meaning he did not change, shorten or abridge them. This means that of the five only Abish's name is included explicitly by Mormon. Even though Mormon mentions some individual women, and some incredibly faithful and interesting women, he does not name them. Even with Abish, after he gives her name, he refers to her as "the woman servant" instead of by name.

Let us look at the one verse where Abish is named to see if we can figure out why Mormon chose to include her name.
16 And it came to pass that they did call on the name of the Lord, in their might, even until they had all fallen to the earth, save it were one of the Lamanitish women, whose name was Abish, she having been converted unto the Lord for many years, on account of a remarkable vision of her father— (Alma 19:16)
The verse refers to her as a "Lamanitish" woman, a term used only one other time in the Book of Mormon in reference to some servants who were servants to same king served by Abish. It is not clear why they are called "Lamanitish" and not "Lamanites". Some commentators have suggested that this distinction may indicate that the servants were a different ethnic group than the Lamanites, but there is too little information to make a definitive statement one way or another. But this still does not answer the question, why did Mormon include Abish's name when he told this story, since he did not include any other female names.

To see if we can sort this out let us turn to the Bible. The name Abish is similar to Abishag, a woman who is mentioned in the Bible in association with King David. There is also a male version of the name, Abishai, who was King David's nephew. In the transliteration into English all three share a similar part, namely "abish". Perhaps if we look at the Hebrew meanings of Abishag and Abishai we might figure out something about Abish.

The meaning of Abishag (אֲבִישַׁג) is unclear with some sources giving the meaning as "the [Divine] Father (?)", while others render it as "father of error" or "the father wanders". Abishai (אֲבִישַׁי) is similar with various interpretations, but its meaning is more settled than Abishag. Different sources give the meaning as "father of a gift" or "father of gifts", with apparently one source rendering it as "my father is Jesse" (for reasons discussed at this link). The only common thing in the various proposed meanings here is the "father" part ("ab"- אֲבִ).

So at the moment the best we can get for the meaning of Abish is "the father [?]". But this is encouraging considering the context. When Mormon mentions Abish he says that she was converted to the Lord "on account of a remarkable vision of her father." So apparently there was an important story involving her father, which Mormon may have known about, but did not include and thus the name Abish had special meaning given the interpretation of the name, the story of Abish's father and the situation that Mormon was writing about.

Let us see if we can take this a step further. In Hebrew "ish" (אּישׁ) is the word for man (as in "Then the man said, "This one at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh. This one shall be called Woman (isha) for from man (ish) she was taken"." Genesis 2:3). So if we can make this connection then Abish (אֲבִאּישׁ) takes on the meaning "father of man". This may seem a little strange for a female name but this would not be the first time a cross gender name has been given to someone.

This additional speculation may or may not be useful but it does show that Abish can be thought of as a Hebrew name with a specific meaning that may be significant given the story of Abish's father and his conversion to the Lord. To settle this question we would need more information, information that Mormon did not include in the Book of Mormon. Still he thought it significant enough to include her name (or alternately other Nephite record keeps thought her name sufficiently meaningful to remember and to write down). So there may have been special meaning associated with the name Abish which may be why it was the only female name that Mormon himself included in the Book of Mormon.

[Added note (2/8/15): There is an interesting article on Abish recently published over at the Mormon Interpreter.]

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Joseph Smith didn't know how to write a date!

Last Sunday I was teaching the lesson to my primary class of nine-year-old children. In it we were discussing the Book of Mormon in the Book of Mormon, and at one point we read the verse Mormon 2:2, which says,
2 Therefore it came to pass that in my sixteenth year I did go forth at the head of an army of the Nephites, against the Lamanites; therefore three hundred and twenty and six years had passed away.
After reading that verse one of my students commented and said, "Why do they have to keep saying all the and's? Why do they say "three hundred and twenty and six years"? Why can't they just say "three hundred twenty six years"?"

This is a rather interesting question considering the fact that all dates are given in this bulky and unwieldy format. This problem has not escaped the critics of the Book of Mormon who frequently complain about the bulky language and bad grammar of the book. As one critic put it, the grammatical errors "document[ed] that the writer [of the Book of Mormon] had a very poor knowledge of the English language." To this I have to say I agree. Mormon had absolutely no knowledge of the English language and thus wrote a book that was full of very poor English grammar, such as all the and's. (Also as a side note, if you review the original manuscript of the English version of the Book of Mormon you will also find thousands of spelling and grammar errors, again demonstrating that Joseph Smith "had a very poor knowledge of the English language." The trouble with that criticism is that it only makes the Book of Mormon that much more remarkable since if the people that supposedly "wrote" it had that little command of the English language then how did they produce a book that is so deep, rich and complex, and also so exact and internally self-consistent.)

I was able to explain to my class that the Book of Mormon was not written in English and that if you read it in the original language then all those and's that seem so bulky and annoying in English would suddenly seem grammatical and proper.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Was Antipus, who is commonly thought of as a Nephite commander in the Book of Mormon, actually Nephite?

If you look in the index for the Book of Mormon under Antipus you will find the description "Nephite Commander", and a quick reading of the text (Alma Chapter 56) seems to show that he was definitely a Nephite. He lead an army against invading Lamanites. He fought alongside Helaman, a well known Nephite (as in, Helaman was the one who kept the records of the Nephite people that would later become the Book of Mormon). Antipus was appointed by Captain Moroni (Alma 56:9) to lead the armies in that part of the land. So by all measures it would seem obvious that Antipus is a Nephite.

So why would anyone think that Antipus was not a Nephite? Short answer, his name. In the Book of Mormon there are eight proper nouns that begin with Anti- and one that ends with -Anti. Let us consider these nine proper nouns and how and where they appear in narrative of the Book of Mormon. I will cover them in alphabetical order.

  1. Ani-Anti: This is a small Lamanite village that the sons of Mosiah preached in.
  2. Anti-Nephi-Lehi(s): The name taken by a group of Lamanites who converted to the gospel. This is the name they called themselves, while the Nephites called them the "the people of Ammon" (i.e. the Nephites never used the Anti-Nephi-Lehi designation). They are frequently referred to as having been Lamanites.
  3. Antiomno: He is a Lamanite king.
  4. Antion: A unit of weight in the Nephite currency system. This system of measurement was apparently something the Nephites had acquired in the Americas or had invented themselves, though it seems likely that they picked it up from somewhere for reasons that will be explained later.
  5. Antionah: This is the name of a "chief ruler" in Ammonihah, a group of people who had left the Church but still recognized the authority (Alma 8:12) of the chief judge in Zarahemla. So these were people who were politically aligned with the Nephites but religiously were distinct. Because of events that happened in Ammonihah shortly after Antionah is mentioned for the only time in the Book of Mormon, we can assume that there was significant cultural tension in Ammonihah at the time and that Nephite culture (and scriptures) were removed violently (Alma 14:8) from Ammonihah. Thus there must have been a significant portion of the population that did not like Nephite culture, religion and authority.
  6. Antionum: This is what the Zoramites called the land they lived in. The Zoramites were referred to as Nephite dissenters and would become militarily, culturally and politically aligned with the Lamanites. In other words, they had influences to their society that made them align with the Lamanites as opposed to the Nephites. There is also a brief mention of a man named Antionum several hundred years later after the Nephites and Lamanites had merged culturally and politically.
  7. Antiparah: This is a city in the region where Helaman and Antipus were fighting the Lamanites. After the death of Antipus, Helaman prepares to capture Antiparah and in the process received a letter from the king of the Lamanites that he would exchange the city of Antiparah for a number of prisoners. Helaman rejects this offer to which the Lamanites respond by abandoning the city of Antiparah. In Alma 57:4 Helaman mentions that the people of the city fled before he and his army could get there. Now if the people in the city were Nephites why would they flee before the army of Helaman? There may have been something else going on here.
  8. Antipas: A mountain in the land of the Lamanites. It was near a place called Onidah, "a place of arms".
  9. Antipus: The subject of this post.
So of the nine names containing "anti" four are definitely of Lamanite origin. Two are from people who are Nephite dissenters and/or politically aligned with the Lamanites, which means they were people who would have incentives not to have Nephite names, and three are of unclear origin. One of the three names that is of unclear origin is a unit of weight where the system of weights is unknown in the Old World (i.e. the Book of Mormon acknowledges that this system of weights and measures is not used among the Jews). This fact will shortly become an important point.

Shortly after Joseph Smith translated the Book of Mormon the members of the Church began to speculate as to where the narrative contained in it took place. The initial speculation was that it took place all over North and South America, but I will not discuss that theory here. This view was the dominate view among members of the Church for sometime even up until a few decades ago. There were even General Authorities that questioned the testimony and church standing of LDS scholars who suggested that the Book of Mormon covered only a limited geography and not all of North and South America. But in recent years with more scholarship and critical readings of the Book of Mormon the most widely accepted theories hold to a limited geography of no more than a few hundred miles (roughly the size of the modern state of Israel).

Previously members of the Church, and even a good number of Church leaders, thought that the Nephites and Lamanites were the only people that populated the American continent, but that theory too has fallen out of style. Even the (modern) introduction to the Book of Mormon was written to imply that all Native Americans were descendants of Lehi, but this has been changed recently to imply that they were one of many groups of people that lived here. The only thing is that the Book of Mormon does not seem to mention other people who were not Nephite, Lamanites, Mulekites or Jaredites (all people who came from the Old World).

Part of this could be an extremely cultural-centric writing by Mormon, or possibly a misapplication of the term Lamanite (or even Nephite!) over several hundred years of history. (I would remind the readers that the misapplication of names to groups of people is not something unusual or just a misdirection used by Church apologists to try to explain away perceived problems with the Book of Mormon. Native Americans were called and are still called Indians, even though they have never been to India. Over the last century Germans were derogatorily called Huns, despite the fact that only Hungary actually lays claim to the Huns, and to anyone who has learned about Native American tribes would know there were frequently two names for each tribe, the one they called themselves, which usually translated to "the people", and the name that everyone else called them. Or even in the case of the Hohokam Indians (there's that word again) the name we know them as today is not the name that anyone at the time they were around would use for them. The word comes from a Pima Indian word that literally means "the vanished ones", in other words the Pima found the ruins of the Hohokam and gave them that name long after they were gone. Also with the Byzantines, a name given them by Western Europeans long after the "Byzantine" Empire had fallen apart. Calling the Empire centered around the city of Constantinople the "Byzantine Empire" is a bit like calling the United States "The Arlington Republic". So the misapplication of names to groups of people is not something unusual or new in history.)

Due to some references about the skin of the Lamanites being cursed and darkened to distinguish them from the Nephites we can assume that the original Lamanites intermarried with the local population and thus their descendants acquired, through genetics, the same color skin as the local population. Over time this simplification of things may have lead to the Nephites referring to all people with dark skin as Lamanites, regardless of whether or not they actually were descended from the original Lamanites. So in the jumble of history some differences and distinctions may have been glossed over when Mormon (or other historians) wrote what we know as the Book of Mormon. Which brings us finally back to Antipus. As I have already mentioned the prefix Anti- is usually associated not with Nephite names, but with Lamanite names, or at least with those who didn't like the Nephites or wanted to become Lamanites. Also it would seem that the system of weights and measures mentioned in Alma chapter 11 is a local thing that the Nephites picked up from the local people and used after some of their own modifications. So the word Antion may also have had local roots, which considering the supposed origin of other Anti- names in the Book of Mormon would not be that much of a stretch.

So to sum up, the Anti- that we see in several names may be a part of local language that Lamanites, and perhaps a few others, picked up and incorporated into their names. Also we need to keep in mind that at the time the Nephites were going through a "growth spurt" of sorts. They were interacting with the people surrounding them. There was more talk about other cities and people who had cultural ties to the Nephites, but struggled with how to define their relationship (see Ammonihah). There are some references to the Nephites extending their influence and borders (see Alma 50:7-9). It is possible that the people who lived there previously if they aligned politically with the Nephites then they were allowed to stay on the land, if not then they were kicked off. There may have been some intermarriage and some exchange of language, culture and ideas (such as, where did all this idolatry come from that the Book of Mormon keeps talking about?).

With this in mind we can return to Alma 56 and take another look at how Antipus is mentioned. It says that he was appointed by Captain Moroni (v. 9), but he would not necessarily have to be a Nephite to lead the armies from that part of the land. It would be ideal to have someone local to lead the people from that area. When Helaman arrived with his 2,000 stripling warriors, Antipus has about 6,000 men to his army. After a few months they were reinforced with 2,000 men from Zarahemla, bringing the total to 10,000 men (v. 28). During one particularly intense battle in which Antipus was killed the Nephite armies got the upper hand and managed to defeat the Lamanites. Helaman described it like this:
54 And now it came to pass that we, the people of Nephi, the people of Antipus, and I with my two thousand, did surround the Lamanites, and did slay them; yea, insomuch that they were compelled to deliver up their weapons of war and also themselves as prisoners of war.
Normally we would read this passage and think that the "we" refers to the people of Nephi, meaning the people of Antipus and the 2,000 stripling warriors. But considering all that I have been discussing up until now we can read this passage a different way. After the "we" there is a full stop and then a list begins with three distinct categories, Nephites, the people of Antipus, and the 2,000 Ammonites. This is interesting since under this reading the people of Antipus are not included in the group "Nephites". This would perhaps be a minor thing that Helaman may not have felt necessary to explain to Moroni, but Mormon writing some 400+ years later may have missed this fine distinction between Nephites and non-Nephites, who were still fighting on the side of the Nephites.

So we have a few options here. Antipus was a full Nephite, with a Nephite name (which would be odd considering all the other Anti- names). Antipus was a Nephite with a non-Nephite name. Antipus was part Nephite with a non-Nephite name and of mixed cultural heritage. Antipus was a non-Nephite who was culturally Nephite and indistinguishable from true Nephites. Antipus was a non-Nephite who was politically aligned with the Nephites, but kept a distinct culture from the Nephites. And there could be any variation, combination and complex mish-mash of any and all of these options (he also could have been a Mulekite!).

I don't think that this is something that can be settled from just reading the Book of Mormon because there is not enough information to say one way or another, but this idea does give us a way of looking at the Book of Mormon from a radically different way than we normally get in a Sunday School, Seminary, or Institute class. It shows that there is more complexity in the book than we may have first thought. Let me know what you think.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

My comments on the election and other thoughts

Today I voted. I did my research, looked up the candidates, all the way down to the local county elections, considered the options and implications and voted based on what I thought best.

Now without saying who I voted for I will explain four things I thought about before and while I was voting.

First, government debt.

Some people will read that and instantly try to put me somewhere on some insane left-right spectrum so first I will tell a little story. While I was on my mission in Argentina, the first little town I was in was called Bella Vista. It was a tiny town of perhaps 5,000-10,000 people, depending on the time of year and the expected harvest from the surrounding farms. In Argentina fútbol (soccer) was very popular. In some cases it was considered a religion. After being in the country for a few months there were only three teams I had ever heard about: Boca, River and Newell's Old Boys. The town seemed split down the middle. Half the town were Boca fans, the other half were River fans and everyone hated Newell's Old Boys.

I was unfamiliar with Argentine professional sports (I barely know anything about American professional sports) so I was wondering how they could have a championship play off with only three teams in the entire country (I later learned about other teams it's just that no one in Bella Vista talked about them). I thought Argentines were very weird. At one point River managed to win the national championship and half the town was out in the streets celebrating. There were car horns blaring, firecrackers going off, music blasting and people driving through the streets with people standing on the roof of their cars waving River flags.

About four weeks after this happened we heard on the street that Newell's Old Boys had played River and had beaten them. Everyone was shocked. That's when I decided to become a fan of Newell's Old Boys. That way I could have my "team" but my choice of team would not immediately alienate me from half the people we talked to. At about that same time I had a rather interesting conversation with a child of about 8 years old. My companion and I were talking to his family and all the little kids gathered around to ask "los americanos" some questions. The 8 year old looked at me and asked with great earnestness "What is your team?" I told him I didn't have a team. He thought for a second and came to the conclusion that I didn't understand the question. So he asked the question again. Again I told him that I wasn't a fan of any team. He was not satisfied so he rephrased the question and asked again. At this point I remembered that Newell's Old Boys had just beaten River so I told him that I was a fan of Newell's Old Boys. He gave me a look of exasperation and said, "No. WHAT IS YOUR TEAM! BOCA OR RIVER?!?" I told him that neither one was my team and that I was a fan of Newell's Old Boys. At that point he gave a frustrated sigh and concluded that this delusional American was too stupid and could not speak and understand Spanish so it was useless to continue the conversation.

When people ask me if I am a Republican or a Democrat, or if I am conservative or liberal the image that comes to my mind is that frustrated 8 year-old boy who had to deal with an American that was too stupid to know that there were only two choices and you had to be one or the other.

So, government debt. Government debt is a dangerous thing. It has all the dangers and negative consequences of normal debt, but it carries with it the enforced mandate of government. It is not something that can be done away with without undermining the foundation of government. To fail to honor a debt is to acknowledge that there has been a failure with the person who has the debt. For a government to fail to honor a debt is to acknowledge that the government has failed, which is to acknowledge that the fundamental structure of our society can no longer hold us together. It is quite a scary thing.

The thing to realize with debt (any debt whatsoever) is that the overall effect of debt on out society is to take money from poor people and give it to rich people. That is, debt makes poor people poorer and rich people richer (this is not just a trite saying this is something that has been shown with statistics and computer models of economic conditions, see this link for more information and some references). In computer models where the financial transactions of people are modeled we can reproduce roughly the income distribution that we see in US census records (see below).

As the above graph shows the modeled behavior (black line) closely follows the data from the US census. In these models we find that if we allow for debt (with interest!) then that line gets shifted so that there are more people who are "poor" and the "rich" people get richer (see below).

The end result of debt is to make poor people poorer and rich people richer. In these models if we allow for infinite debt (i.e. no bankruptcy) then the amount of debt that some people have will become infinite  and the amount of money that rich people have will also become infinite. Either way the system become unworkable and it eventually collapses. So how do you counteract the inflationary tenancies of debt? With taxes. Just as the models show that debt (with interest) can be fundamentally unstable, taxes tend to have the opposite effect. As debt makes rich people richer, and poor people poorer, as long as you have a minimally fair tax code (as in everyone gets taxed and then everyone benefits from the taxes), then it has the effect of decreasing the number and wealth of rich people and increasing the wealth of poor people. That is, it moved the bottom end of the curve up and counter acts the negative tendencies of debt.

Up until now I have just been talking about debt in general, which includes mortgages, credit cards, auto loans, education loans etc. But government debt is slightly different. Because it is backed by the thing that creates the monetary system in the first place. While government debt can help in extreme circumstances it has the tendency to act just like normal debt except that now everyone has to pay it, just like a tax. Taxes take money from all sides of the spectrum but it redistributes it in a way that poor people become a little less poor. Government debt is essentially the opposite of taxes. It takes money from everyone and transfers it to rich people (to understand this consider this: How many people who make less than $40,000 have bought a government bond? How many people who make more than $100,000 a year are invested in such a way that they make money off of government bonds? Who ultimately pays for government bonds, including the interest? and who ultimately benefits from the interest generated by government bonds?).

So having a consistent, and persistent, deficit in government spending, and then using the issue of more debt to fund the debt is perhaps the most destructive and immoral thing that can be done to people who can be considered "poor". Government debt is perhaps the only legal and socially acceptable method we have of grinding upon the face of the poor.

If you want to help poor people the best thing that the government can do is to balance the budget. Until you do government debt will make us all poor.

Second, oil.

I don't think we all need to give up our cars and use only *non toxic* non-petroleum products (the non-toxic part is sarcastic). Nor do I think that global warming will get so bad that the earth will punish us with a series of super storms, or that we need to give peace prizes to people who bake up a bunch of facts and scare the easily manipulated. What I am saying is that right now in our history oil tends to cause too many wars. It is an out sized portion of our economy and we should find a way to get along with less of it, if only to decrease the likely hood that we get involved in more wars because of oil.

Third, are the people competent for the job.

The Republican candidate for Secretary of State in North Carolina may be a good neighbor, a good farmer, a good father and a generally good man. But the more I looked into his experience and what he was proposing to do as Secretary of State I don't think he knows what a Secretary of State does. If you look at his campaign website he mentions the most important issues that he "promises" to address. The only problem is that all the things he brings up are things that can be addressed in the state legislature, but not by the Secretary of State. He seems a little confused about what the Secretary of State can and cannot do. I would not vote for him.

There was a similar case for several judges that were on the ballot. In North Carolina the election of judges is non-partisan, but there were two Republicans and one Democrat who were challenging the incumbents for no reason, apparently, other than they were of the opposite party and they wanted to make a partisan race about it (even if they knew nothing about being a judge). I didn't vote for any of them. That doesn't mean I voted for the incumbent, but it means I particularly did not vote for the challengers.

Fourth, basic morality.

Over the last while there is a disturbing trend in our society that belittles and scoffs at basic morality. Anything that might possibly require that someone use self restraint and hold to some "old fashioned" moral principles is roundly dismissed as ignorant and oppressive. I will not go into it in this post, but there is very little that voting can do to counter this trend. Still I look for men and women of good character, who have a desire that others also be men and women of good character.

With those four things in mind I went to vote. I marked my ballot and turned it in. I was number 108 at the polling place that day.

Sunday, September 30, 2012

Quiet River

I grew up in the West, so this is something that I never got to see growing up.

This is the White Oak River in North Carolina.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Revisiting the Kolob Theorem

Almost two years ago I wrote a review of the book The Kolob Theorem by Dr. Lynn Hilton. At the time there were very few reviews of the book online, and I could only find one review written by someone with any level of expertise in astronomy. Two years ago most of the sites I visited that had a discussion about the book were most decidedly anti-Mormon and were exceptionally critical of the book (though their criticism was more an expression of a general hatred of all things Mormon and of religion in general, and not really a rational criticism of the book). There was only one review that discussed the actual scientific merits of the book when I wrote my review.

Originally I had no intention of writing a review of the book, but after coming across a few references to it, and having at least one person ask me about it I wrote a rather harsh and not very charitable review of the book. After a few comments from readers I returned and wrote a revised review of the book, which is at the moment the most popular post on my blog. It regularly gets about four times as many hits as any other post that I have written (which let's face it, isn't saying much, but still it does bring a number of people to my blog). When I wrote the review I had no idea that it would end up being my most popular post, and that even now, if you do a Google search for "Kolob Theorem" my review is generally the first or second link that comes up.

Now, two years after my initial review I felt that I should return and write something about the most common responses to the book and my review of it.

Here I will give my response to a few common comments about The Kolob Theorem. I will also respond to a few specific comments that were left on my blog and also comments made on other sites that I feel need to be addressed.

1. "Fascinating theory. Made me think." or "Interesting and thought-provoking."

Response: Yes it is interesting. There is a reason why The Kolob Theorem is such a draw. It talks about things that most people have never thought about before. Even for lifelong members of the Church Dr. Hilton talks about aspects of our theology that are never touch on in Sunday School, Sacrament Meeting or in Priesthood and Relief Society (though maybe occasionally in some random seminary or Elder's quorum meeting). In these cases the book is something refreshing and different and it makes them think about what is only mentioned in the Doctrine and Covenants and in The Pearl of Great Price.

There are some real implications to those passages in the scriptures that Dr. Hilton uses as the basis of The Kolob Theorem and I think that those passages of scripture are wonderful to think about. We would all benefit by understanding those passages to a greater degree (such as Abraham 3:2-3). They are definitely a major aspect of my faith and also why I chose the profession that I did.

But before we all run off and say what a wonderful thing The Kolob Theorem is, here is your obligatory grain of salt:
A "grain" of salt.
I am only slightly exaggerating with that picture. I am not opposed to speculative books that "make people think" and are "thought-provoking". I am very much in favor of books like that. The only problem with The Kolob Theorem is that there are some fundamental flaws to the science side of the argument (Note: I am only talking about flaws in the science he uses, I have not, and will not  critique any of his theology). These fundamental flaws are not the kind where you can say, "Oh well, it's obvious that he would get some things wrong."

These flaws are so pronounced that they really undermine his entire book. Some people may respond and say that "at least it gets the conversation started." The only problem is that it starts the conversation off on such a bad footing that it is better to just chuck the book and start over. It would take more time and effort to correct all the mistakes than to write a new book.

The thing is all this could have been prevented if Dr. Hilton had just run the book past a real astronomer before sending it off to the publisher. The only people listed as having reviewed the book before being published are a couple of medical doctors, business people and a secretary to a general authority. No one with any expertise in astronomy apparently reviewed it and offered their opinion. This does not automatically invalidate what is written in the book, but due to its obvious (obvious to people who study astronomy for a living) short comings the book and most of its ideas would have been shot down before publication if an astronomer had been asked to read it and give their honest opinion of the science behind the theorem.

So if you fall in the "Hey this book really made me think" crowd I say "GOOD!" now forget most of what you read and go figure out what is really going on, because the reality of what is taught in the D&C and The Pearl of Great Price is better than what is portrayed in The Kolob Theorem.

This is such an important point that let me say it again. The truth is much more amazing than what has been written. Go learn the truth. You will be amazed.

2. The book is "a cohesive collection of ideas about Mormon cosmology."

Response: Read Science, Religion, and Mormon Cosmology by Erich Robert Paul. He's a real astronomer. That is the book that The Kolob Theorem should have been. Read Dr. Paul's book. That's all.

3. Don't be so harsh, after all it is just a "theory".

Response: There is a strange phenomena in America where people think that by labeling something a "theory" that it somehow makes it less forceful or something that can safely be ignored. In the words of that immortal swordsman "You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means." I'm sorry if this sounds a little harsh but when people use the word "theory" in this context it is just a lazy cop out that accomplishes nothing but end the conversation. Nothing is actually said when we say "Oh, it's just a theory."

That's a phrase that doesn't mean anything except "I'm slightly uncomfortable with where this conversation is heading because it challenges some of my fundamental assumptions on life and so I will make a quick dash for the exit by calling it all a theory. By doing that I somehow cast doubt on everything without having to actually do any work and show anything." Saying something is "just a theory" is the conversational equivalent of telling your history teacher "and then some other stuff happened." and expecting to get an "A" on that term paper.

4. "Your blog is not as significant as I thought" and your review won't make much of an impact.

Response: I keep this blog for anyone who cares to read it (which is mostly my family, thanks Mom!) and I never really intended to "make an impact" with my review. I just wanted to write down my thoughts so that if anyone asked me directly I could tell them to read my review on my blog. In the end my review has gotten a much bigger response than I ever anticipated.

5. I really enjoyed The Kolob Theorem and it has really opened my eyes to somethings. It's like you don't want people to consider these great truths.

Response: On the contrary. These are ideas that we should consider (see #1 above), but I think that The Kolob Theorem is the exact wrong place to start. If the book is some member's only exposure to some of the great truths and ideas found in scripture then they are really missing out on the best stuff. I would suggest some alternative reading. Try the book Science, Religion and Mormon Cosmology by Erich Robert Paul (mentioned in #2). If you want some general sciencey-LDS theology stuff to read about try LDS FAQ. It is a good resource to start.

6. Dr. Hilton had a "spark of inspiration [that] opened his eyes to far more than a few details of astrophysics."

Response: His "spark" was not unique. I have sat though many conversations on this very topic as an undergrad at BYU. Many such theories were proposed and just as many were shot down for being unworkable. Dr. Hilton's book was not the first place I have heard ideas like his, but most of those theories had a very short lifespan in the Physics and Astronomy Department at BYU. This is stuff that many, many undergrads (and some professors) like to speculate about.

Most of the speculation revolves (ha!) around black holes and neutron stars. About 99.95% of the theories die a very quick death under scrutiny. Some of the best ideas I have ever heard were proposed in a class on general relativity, and those ideas are light years beyond anything Dr. Hilton wrote. There is some pretty remarkable stuff talked about late at night in the physics department, but there is a reason why hardly anyone has written about it. There is too much speculation and the people involved generally realize that there is soooo much that we don't know, and that our scientific understanding changes so rapidly that it is not a good idea to put such extreme speculations into a book.

Just consider this: The thoughts and ideas that Dr. Hilton had were not unique. Many, many students at BYU have proposed just such ideas to their classmates. Some professors have even hinted at similar speculations, yet none of them chose to write The Kolob Theorem, and it is not for lack of ideas, or lack of a desire to speculate. There is plenty of that. In the end Dr. Hilton was in way over his head and didn't realize that he was writing down just about every half baked idea that was ever proposed by intro astronomy students at BYU. There is a reason why those half baked ideas never made it out of the labs and classrooms in the Eyring Science Center.

7. Do you apply the same level of criticism to the Church, its teachings, its leaders and the scriptures?

Response: Yes.

And that is why I believe.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Stories from My Mission: We Run for Our Lives

OK, maybe the title was a little over dramatic, but at the time it was a little scary. Previously I mentioned how when I got to Argentina the country was in the middle of a major economic crisis (not unlike the one we have today). A year an a half later the country was still having major problems and people were still having a hard time getting enough money to buy food. In an effort to help people out the government would institute various welfare projects with the aim of getting people working. In the first year of my mission they had programs where they would have women sweep the streets, and the men would mow the (very tall) grass on the side of the road. In return they would get a few hundred pesos a month to cover food and other necessities.

Unfortunately these programs broke down over time with some work groups ceasing to work, but still getting paid while others adhered a little too strictly to the rules. ("Oh, you're 10 minutes late for work, on the last day of the month, well you just won't get paid at all this month. Don't complain, it's the rules. You have to work." Never mind the fact that they were on time and worked for the rest of the month, they wouldn't get paid.) This made people disillusioned with the whole process and after about three months the whole system broke down and no one worked, or got any money (except for those few who had connections and could still "cobrar", or get paid, even though the program was "officially" ended).

A few other times there were some feeble attempts to revive the programs, and there were also various programs to help the elderly. It seemed like the old ladies were always telling us that they needed to go into "el centro" to see if they got their "giro". They never seemed to get it though, because a few days later they told us that they still need to go check. Overall there was little money and many people were struggling to get by. A lot of people were working and trying to do something but there were also a number of people who just seemed to be waiting to the government to hand them their money.

Now with that introduction, I can tell the story which takes place in my fourth area of my mission, in the city of Eldorado.

One Friday, about 6 in the evening, my companion, Elder Caballero, and I were walking along trying to find people we had previously spoken with and seemed interested in hearing what we had to talk about. At every house we visited no one seemed to be home, or they were busy, or the person we were looking for was not home. Eventually we ran out of investigators to visit and ended up clapping random doors (remember, we don't knock on doors, we stand at the edge of the yard and clap until someone responds). I was getting a little discouraged and thought about just giving up for the night and going back to our apartment (we were supposed to work until 9:30 or even a little later). I said as much to my companion, but he flatly refused, saying that we needed to keep the rules and stay on the street talking to people until it was time to go in. I didn't see any point in staying out much longer because it seemed like no one was home and all the people we met on the street were in some stage of drunkenness.

We continued on trying to find someone to talk to without success. As we walked along I noticed a general noise growing in the city. It sounded like a mixture of fireworks, people yelling, cars honking and music blaring. This was weird because normally the city was quiet, except for the downtown area. Walking along I began to hear breaking glass, like people were breaking glass bottles on the cobblestone streets. On one street I heard the distinctive fwop of a slingshot being released. I turned and looked at where the sound came from and saw a teenager standing and trying (and failing) to look innocent.

As we continued on we heard a few more fwops and Elder Caballero indicated that he heard and knew that someone was trying to shoot us. We quickly moved on. At this point (about 7 in the evening) the general din that was present began to grow louder. Up ahead of us we saw a couple of men in the middle of the street in round 3 of a boxing match with no rules, and everyone else passed out, surrounded by beer bottles, on the side of the road. We quickly turned down a side street. Immediately we were confronted with more drunk people throwing empty beer bottles with a few coming crashing down quite close to us.

I should point out that my companion, Elder Caballero, was very macho and never wanted to admit that he was scared of anything. He was an intense fighter and would never back down. But in this moment we had both had enough. I looked at him and he at me and we both knew we needed to get out of there. We began hightailing it out of there as fast as we could run. We took streets that were less likely to have people on them and ran without looking back.

Fortunately we were only about a kilometer and a half from our apartment and got there in record time. From the balcony of our third floor apartment I could hear the yells and screams and general noise coming from all over the city. In retrospect it was the noise that you might expect from an invasion of zombies. A lot of yelling, moaning, and screaming, cars honking their horns, things breaking (especially glass) and a general noise punctuated by bangs and booms. This noise continued until late at night.

The next morning we left our apartment to see the remnants of the zombie Apocalypse. It took us only a few minutes to discover that no one was home/awake/willing to talk. There were still people passed out on the side of the road and plenty of empty beer bottles and boxes of wine. After a while we decided to go hang out at a member's house since it was evident that no proselytizing would be done this morning. We had to find someone who would be guaranteed not to have a hangover.

At the member's house we told our story about the night before and they told us that unexpectedly the government had decided to give every household a few hundred pesos to help cover food costs and other things. Also as an attempt to spur the economy. But everyone just got their money on Thursday and on Friday they all went out and bought beer and wine and drunk themselves all into a stupor. So in one day the entire country got drunk and passed out. The next day no one had any more money and they all had hangovers. What a waste.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Stories from My Mission: Welcome to Argentina

While I was in the Missionary Training Center (MTC) in Provo, Utah, my sister kept sending me newspaper clippings of what was going on in Argentina. In the year leading up to my mission Argentina was experiencing major economic problems that resulted in riots in the streets, and the interest rate demanded by lenders to the federal government spiked to 16% (sounds just like Greece? yes almost exactly like Greece). A troika consisting of The World Bank, The U.S. Treasury, and the IMF agreed to lend money to Argentina at a greatly discounted rate, with the demand that they cut their deficit and fix some structural problems. But due to riots in the streets, internal political disagreements, and many other problems (such as the president had to flee La Casa Rosada by helicopter to escape the rioters), Argentina eventually defaulted on their debt about a week after I entered the MTC. In a period of about 4 weeks the country went through 3 different presidents, with the last one resigning about a year later, which prompted a rather interesting election, but that is another story.

The debt default sparked a period of inflation which brought much hardship to the people I worked with. [Author's note: I want to take a moment to point out something problematic with how economists "measure" inflation. Officially inflation in Argentina peaked at 10.4% in April 2002, with a total inflation of about 40% for all of 2002. Even by economist's standards that is bad, but their way of measuring inflation generally includes things like washing machines, cars, houses, radios, TV's, computers, cellphones, and things like that. But for about half the population their main concern was food, and nothing else. Because I had to go buy food like everyone else in Argentina I got to watch the price of food shoot up dangerously. My food allowance as a missionary also had to be increased significantly over the course of a year. If you measured inflation using only food, the things people buy every single day, then inflation for all of 2002 would have been somewhere over 100%. I watched food prices double, and continue to rise the next year for a total inflation of 200-300% over the course of my mission. This left over a quarter of the population without enough money to even buy food, and I found this out by talking to these people every single day. That is something that is never reflected in the economist's numbers. And now back to our story...]

The worst part of the political uncertainty and turmoil happened while I spent two months in the MTC. After that we flew down to Argentina to land in the middle (literally) of all the unrest. While In the MTC I teased the elders in my district by telling them that when we flew into the city of Resistencia, where the mission office was, we may have to circle the airport a few times while they cleared the cows and goats from the runway. Some of them actually took me seriously.

We flew from Salt Lake City to Chicago O'hare, and from there to Buenos Aires. The airport that we flew into was the international airport, but we had to travel to another airport on the other side of the city (literally!) in order to catch our flight to Resistencia. There was a guide (who spoke 16 words of English) who directed us to the proper transportation, but the drivers didn't speak English, and despite two months of intensive training, none of us spoke a lick of Spanish. So there was little communication, mostly gestures and an occasional burst of the gift of tongues.

Because our flight did not leave until much later they took us to the Buenos Aires Temple (which has its own MTC, or CCM as it is called there). While at the Temple some people took pity on us and speaking very slowly explained to us that we could go to the cafeteria and get some food. Let's just say I was not very impressed with the vegetables cooked beyond recognition, the beef that was half fat and tendon, and the rolls that were hard enough to pound nails. The empanadas were good though. After a while the transportation came and picked us up and took us to the airport. This airport is right on the waterfront and overlooks directly el Río de la Plata, which is an estuary formed by el Río Paraná and el Río Uruguay. At its widest el Río de la Plata is 140 miles wide. As we stood there looking out the window at the river I mentioned to the other American missionaries that what they were looking at was a river, not the ocean. They all responded with disbelief, "There's no river that big." I went over to one of the sister missionaries from Argentina and asked her, "¿Eso es un río?" ("Is that a river?"). When she answered "Sí." ("Yes.") the elder's jaws dropped. They also started thinking, "If Elder Tanner is right about that being a river then he might be right about the cows and the goats on the runway. What have we gotten ourselves into?!?!"

After a while we boarded out plane to Resistencia (several missionaries were happy to see that it was a standard passenger jet, and not some dinky prop plane). After a short trip we arrived and were met by a couple elders who worked in the mission office. They transported us to the mission home and showed us our temporary accommodations, let's just say we were a little apprehensive with the accommodations. (Think high school locker room smell, with 4 tier bunk beds and a shower that consisted of a bucked hanging on the wall. At least the bathroom had a door.)

In the morning we had a few meetings with the mission president and his assistants to get us oriented and then we met our trainers. My trainer, Elder Tenny, had just arrived that morning and had not slept in about 24 hours. He fell asleep in our meetings and was a little out of it. But we did get the best pastries I had ever had (and will ever have for as long as I live, they were the best). After all this was over all the missionaries walked out and started milling about in front of the mission office while the office elders figured out how to transport everyone to the bus station so that we could travel to our respective areas.

While everyone was milling about on the sidewalk I noticed a pickup truck drive by and pull up to the curb about 30 feet down the road from where all the missionaries were standing. A set of policemen (about 7 or 8) climbed out of the back and out of the cab and proceeded to calmly arm themselves with shotguns, gas masks, riot shields, and body armor. While I watched them arming themselves (now about 20 feet away) I looked past them and noticed that about a block away there was a large crowd of people gathered in the street carrying banners and waving flags. I stepped over to Elder Tenny pointed at the policemen arming themselves and said, "Um...should we be concerned?" Elder Tenny was paying more attention to the office elders discussing bus schedules, and no one else seemed to notice the growing riot and escalating, armed police presence.

I stood there thinking, "Surely someone else notices the police with the shotguns 20 feet from us, and surely someone with some authority will say something." But no one did. About the time the shotguns were being loaded I went over to Elder Tenny again and again asked him, "Um...should we be concerned?" This time I got his attention and pointed to the police. He looked at them for a moment (he was rather tired) and eventually said to one of the Assistants to the President (AP), "Hey Elder Mackey! This doesn't look good, maybe we should go inside!" Finally the AP's and the office elders looked down the street and quickly assessed the situation.

"Alright! Everyone INSIDE NOW!!!", one of the AP's yelled out.

"You, you, you and you get in the car right now! Everyone else MOVE!!", he yelled pointing at me, my companion and a few other missionaries that needed to get to the bus station right away. As all the other missionaries quickly filed into the mission office, we hurriedly stuffed our bags in the van, jumped in and quickly drove away past the forming line of policemen. As we drove by the police Elder Tenny turned to me and said, "Welcome to Argentina!"

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Orson Hyde and the Fourteen Articles of Faith (LDS)

[Update 10/28/13: I noticed that the Frontier Guardian has been digitized and now appears on the LDS Church History Library website. Here is a link to the images. The segment containing the articles of faith is on the first page in the right most column. This copy was apparently owned by President Willard Richards, since it has his name on it.]

This is something I came across today I and thought I should share it. Everyone in the Church is familiar with the thirteen Articles of Faith as they appear in The Pearl of Great Price, but few know that Orson Hyde also wrote down some articles of faith using the thirteen Articles of Faith, from the Wentworth Letter by Joseph Smith, as a template. But in Elder Hyde's version he added one more article of faith (to read a brief history of the Articles of Faith I would recommend this brief explanation at

The fourteen articles of faith appeared in a newspaper edited by Elder Hyde called the Frontier Guardian, (Feb. 20, 1850, Vol. 2.) Interestingly enough, the only copy of the fourteen articles of faith by Orson Hyde I could find online was on an anti-Mormon website. I could not find anywhere else a copy of the text or an image of the paper, though the original is listed as being held in the Church History Library in Salt Lake City, Utah. [Update 10/28/13: This part no longer applies, see above.]

Because I think it is interesting I will provide a transcription of the fourteen articles of faith as written by Orson Hyde in the Frontier Guardian. Spelling and punctuation are preserved. Differences from Joseph Smith's original version are marked in red. The "fourteenth article of faith" is inserted between the tenth and eleventh articles, and deals with the resurrection.

Latter Day Saint's Faith.
     We believe in God the eternal Father, and his son Jesus Christ, and in the Holy Ghost.
     We believe that men will be punished for their own sins, and not for Adam's transgressions.
     We believe that through the attonement of Christ all mankind may be saved. by obedience to the laws and ordinances of the gospel.
     We believe that these ordinances are:—1st. Faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. 2d. Repentance. 3d. Baptism by immersion for the remission of sins. 4th. Laying on of hands by the gift of the Holy Spirit. 5th. The Lord's Supper.
     We believe that men must be called of God by inspiration, and by laying on of hands for those who are duly commissioned to preach the gospel and administer in the ordinances thereof.
     We believe in the same organization that existed in the primitive church, viz : apostles, prophets, pastors, teachers, evangelists, &c.
     We believe in the powers and gifts of the everlasting gospel, viz : the gift of faith, discrning of spirits, prophecy, revelation, visions, healing, tongues, and the interpretation of tongues, wisdom, charity brotherly love, &c.
     We believe the word of God recorded in the Bible, we also believe the word of God recorded in the Book of Mormon, and in all other good books.
     We believe all that God has revealed, all that he does now reveal, and we believe that he will reveal many more great and important things pertaining to the kingdom of God and Messiah's second coming.
     We believe in the literal gathering of Israel, and in the restoration of the ten tribes; that Zion will be established upon the western continent, that Christ will reign personally upon the earth a thousand years, and that the earth will be renewed and receive its paradisaical glory.
     We believe in the literal resurrection of the body, and that the rest of the dead live not again until the thousand years are expired.
     We claim the privilege of worshipping Almighty God according to the dictates of our conscience unmolested, and allow all men the same privilege, let them worship how or where they may.
     We believe in being subject to kings, queens, presidents, rulers and magistrates, in obeying, honoring and sustaining the law.
     We believe in being honest, true, chaste, temperate, benevolent, virtuous and upright, and in doing good to all men ; indeed we may say that we follow the admonition of Paul. we "believe all things," we "hope all things," we have endured very many things, and we hope to be able to "endure all things." Everything virtuous, lovely, praiseworthy, and of good report we seek after, looking forward to the "recompense of reward." But an idle or lazy person cannot be a christian, neither have salvation. He is a drone, and destined to be stung to death and tumbled out of the hive.

     The Frontier guardian, 1849-1853: 1850-1851 (Volume 2); 1850 February 20 (No. 2). Church History Library, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Salt Lake City, Utah