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.