Sunday, December 8, 2013

Just How Small You Are: Part 3

A while back I put up two posts entitled "Just How Small You Are" (part 1, part 2) In those posts I referred to a picture of colliding galaxy clusters and noted just how many galaxies there were in that one picture, and each galaxy had about 200 billion stars in it (in reality the number of stars in a galaxy varies from 100 million to 20 trillion, or possibly higher). The other day I saw this image on the Astronomy Picture of the Day:

As far as I can tell there are only four (4) individual stars from our own galaxy in that picture. Every thing else is a galaxy, or stars in another galaxy. Just take a look at that picture and think about it for a while. Every smudge, every point of light, every fleck of apparently inconsequential light in that image is a mass of billions of stars. Even the smudges of light that may seem like nothing more than dust on the lens is a galaxy.

What is really cool about this image is that even though the image is dominated by the galaxy NGC 4921 you can still see galaxies behind it. Even close to the center if you check out the high resolution image you can see entire galaxies that lie beyond the galaxy in the foreground. What is interesting about those galaxies is that they are probably about the same size as the main galaxy in the image, but because they are so far away they appear to be so much smaller.

Let me highlight some of my favorites from the image.

This comes from the right side just above the center. Galaxy A is a grand design spiral similar to our own galaxy. Just like the main galaxy in the image we are viewing it face on. Based on its shape I would guess that it has somewhere in the neighborhood of 100 billion stars in it. Galaxy B is another spiral galaxy. We can't tell how developed it is and because it is much, much further than either galaxy A or C. Because it is so far away it appears as just a dim smudge, but it is probably the same size as A or C. Galaxy C is much like galaxy A except that we are not viewing it face on. We see it at a slight oblique angle.

Galaxy D is another spiral galaxy that we see at a slight inclination from the plane. It is probably about the same size as A or C, just further away. Galaxy E, yes that insignificant smudge that you thought was random noise in the image, is a galaxy. It is impossible to tell how big that galaxy is from this image or how far away it is but it is a galaxy none the less.

This image comes from the bottom left corner-ish. All the marked galaxies in this image are giant ellipticals. Even though they appear to be approximately the same size as the spiral galaxies near by these ellipticals are actually much, much bigger. When I say much, much bigger I mean 100-1000 times bigger (more massive). They are also much older. The spiral galaxies (in astro-speak) are called late type galaxies. The elliptical galaxies are called early type galaxies. So of course that means that the early type galaxies are old and the late type galaxies are younger (don't ask, the naming convention is there for historical reasons, thank you Edwin Hubble).

What is interesting about galaxy A is that there appears to be a dust lane across the galaxy (either that or another galaxy in front of it). An early type galaxy with a dust lane is not really common. It was interesting to see it.

This image comes from just down from the center. What is really interesting about it is we can see galaxies beyond the main one in the foreground. Galaxy A is a spiral galaxy that we are viewing from an oblique angle. Galaxies B, C and D are viewed edge on. It is interesting that can still see them even through the veil of stars and dust in the foreground. The dark patches are regions of dust that collected after it got blown there from the center of the galaxy after a particularly intense round of star formation.

The star formation was so intense that it effectively stopped star formation in the center of the galaxy and now the only place where stars are forming is in a ring just outside of the dust lanes. The blue patches in the image are regions of star formation in the galaxy.

Try exploring the image a see if there are any other interesting galaxies that you see. I could find at least two mergers and a few other indications of galaxy mergers.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

How many days has a 70 year old Greek lived? Calculating calendars and other oddities.

Last week I read a short blog post about an ancient Greek who was trying to figure out how many days a 70 year old man would have lived. In the post the author points out that for us this is a fairly straight forward calculation.

70 * 365 + (70/4) = 25,567 +/- 1 days

That is 70 years times 365 days plus approximately 17 leap days (the actual number of leap days depends on the year and date of your birth). But for the Greeks the number of days was entirely different. The Greeks had approximately 30 days in a month, with 12 months per year with an extra leap month added every two or three years depending on how they chose to do their counting. If we assume that a leap month was added every other year (i.e. every other year has 13 months) we get:

(70 * 12 + 70/2) * 30 = 26,250 +/- 30 days

Thus for a 70 year old ancient Greek (ancient in many ways) he would have lived for 26,250 days or about 71 years and 10 months (plus or minus a month depending on when he was born). So a 70 year old Greek was actually almost 72 years old by our reckoning.

But now it gets more complicated.

Here I figured a leap month added every other year, but in reality it would have been every three years instead. You see the way the ancient Greeks did their calender was they used the new moon to mark the first day of a month and the first month was always began on the first new moon after the summer solstice. The only problem is that the summer solstice happens every 365 days (~365.24 days really) but twelve lunar cycles take approximately 354 days.

Thus if the months are determined by the lunar cycles but the years are set by the sun then every year the months will drift approximately 11 days with respect to the start of the year, every year. Hence they Greeks in order to keep the same month as the first month of the year would add an extra month (of 30 days) every two or three years. It works out better if we do it every three years (i.e. they had to do less fudging of the dates), so if we now assume a leap month is added every three years and no every other year let us figure out how many days a 70 year old man would live.

(70 * 12 + 70/3) * 30 = 25,890 +/- 30 days

This is getting closer to our original count using our system of 365 days plus a leap day every 4-ish years. There is only a 323 day difference so our 70 year old Greek went from being almost 72 to being not quite 71 simply by changing how we factor in leap months.

But wait there's more! You may recall that I mentioned that for the Greeks a month begins when they see the new moon. Up until now I have assumed that this happens every 30 days, but this is not quite true. You see it takes the moon about 29.5 days to return to its relative position from our point of view. Which means that the Greeks would have measured a month to be either 29 or 30 days depending on how they determined when the new moon appeared. Over all it should average out to about 29.5 days per month (or about 354 days per lunar year). So let us go back and recalculate how many days a 70 year old Greek man would have lived.

(70 * 12 + 70/3) * 29.5 = 25,458 +/- 30 days

Wow! This turns out to be 108 days shorter than our 70 years! Thus by this reckoning a 70 year old Greek would not have quite been 70 years old according to our counting. And all of this depends on how the Greeks chose to set their calendar.

All this was of course complicated by the fact that the Greeks could choose to add a few random days here and there in order to get festivals or other special occasions to land on a certain day depending on what they decided. Plus this way of calendaring was not uniform among the Greeks themselves and neighboring kingdoms may choose their new years and other dates, such as leap months, differently. So in some cases you could walk 20 miles to a neighboring kingdom and when you cross the border your age changes! (And you thought crossing timezones was complicated.)

This is just one thing to keep in mind while reading ancient documents. Dates and things may be a little different than you would expect. It also makes it harder to calculate a date unless you are given some astronomical standard by which to calculate the date.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Stories from My Mission: "Just imagine how they would behave if you weren't a member of the church!"

In my last area of my mission I got to know a particular member family fairly well. They were one of the few very active families in the ward (yes! a ward! the only one I had in my entire mission) and we could rely on them to always be at church and not have to worry about them getting offended because someone looked at them cross eyed and never coming back to church.

One day I decided that we should pass by their house. We had not seen them at church on Sunday so I had a brief thought to pass by and see how they were doing. At the time I thought I was just being lazy and we didn't have anything better to do so I thought, "Well we'll just go stop by to kill some time." Little did I know that our visit would help the family. When we got to their house we could tell that not everything was familial love and peace at home. There was yelling and much commotion. I wondered if we should just walk on by without stopping but we did stop and stood at the gate and clapped. No one immediately answered our call but soon some of the younger children (early teens to pre-teen) came out of the house. Let's just say that there were some uncharitable words exchanged in front of us quickly followed by some physical violence, immediately followed by extended yelling.

The children went back into the house, and we could hear some more commotion coming from the house including general punishments being given out by the mother. At this point one of the older children came out and with a rather embarrassed look on her face asked what we wanted. I told her that we were just stopping by to see how they were doing. She gave me an icy glare that said, "Can't you tell? What are you deaf and dumb (not mute)?" Trying to suppress a smile I asked with a slight hint of sarcasm in my voice if there were a more convenient time for us to stop by. Again she gave me an icy glare through her embarrassment and told us that we could stop by later that evening. I told her that we would and then said goodbye.

Later that evening we did return to a much more peaceful house and a few less embarrassed and icy glares. We sat down with the mother and her two oldest daughters (one of whom was the one who tried to burn me away with her icy glare). The mother was slightly embarrassed that we had to witness the "dysfunction" of her family. She told us that she tried so hard to make her children behave but they never seemed to listen to her. At this point I asked about their absence from church on Sunday and she said that it had rained very hard the day before (it had) and the roads were extremely muddy (they were) and they had overslept (church is at 9 am) so they didn't really have the motivation to get to church.

I also asked if they were having family scripture study and prayer. She said that they tried but the past two weeks they had been a little vago (lazy) about it. I asked about family home evening and again she said that they had not had it for two or three weeks and at this point one of the daughters stopped me and said, "And that is why we were fighting! We weren't doing any of those things!"

But her mother then said, "I try so hard to teach them to behave, and in the church we are taught to teach our children to behave but it seems like they never listen and they never learn! Don't you agree Elder? They are some of the worst behaved children at church! I thought that going to church and living the gospel would teach them to not fight and to behave but they can't learn anything! That is why we joined the church in the first place, but they can't behave! Don't you agree Elder!?! They just behave like savages!"

So here I was in a friendly predicament, on the one had I had to agree with the mother her kids were quite a rowdy bunch. On the other hand I had her two oldest daughters there (aged 21 and 18 I think) and I couldn't just readily agree with the mother that they were a bunch of savages with her daughters there with both of them looking like hungry wolves ready to pounce on me if I agreed with their mother's sentiment that they were a bunch of savages. So that is when I hit on a brilliant way out of this predicament.

I said, "If you think about how bad they behave now, just image how bad they would behave if you weren't a member of the church!"

The eldest daughter looked at me and laughed and said, "Ah! You are very intelligent Elder!"

I had successfully agreed with the mother while at the same time praising the children for being better than they could be. We all laughed and the mother commented about how it was true what I said. She said that they had let many of the things they normally do, such as family prayer and family home evening and because of that contention and animosity quickly entered their home.

The next Sunday they were all back at church, the kids were wiggly and noisy, but still reverent and they were all getting along and there was obvious love in their family. They were back into their routine of family prayer, scripture study and church attendance. The children weren't perfect but they were better than they could have been.

This is one of the experiences that taught me that the gospel does not make us better than other people, but it does make us better than ourselves.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Stories from My Mission: The Spirit Leads Me to People

I was in my first area of my mission in Bella Vista with my mission trainer, Elder Tenny, when I had my first experience with being lead by the spirit to find someone who needed to hear the gospel. This was not the first time that my companion and I were lead to find someone but this was the first time that the spirit worked through me and not my companion. I don't remember how long I had been on my mission but it was probably about 10 weeks into my mission.

We were having a hard time finding people to talk to and a number of appointments "fadged" us. ("fadge" is a Spanish speaking American missionary slag word that comes from the Spanish word "fallar", which means "to fail" or "to let somebody down". In Argentina the double l (ll) is pronounced with a strong "-sh" sound so it would sound like "fashar" and when someone didn't keep an appointment that we made we would say "nos falló". That word, "falló", got corrupted by American missionaries and we would say "Someone 'falled' us" which, if you remember the double l has a "-sh" sound so it would sound like "fash-ed" or "fadged".)  If I remember correctly we had something like 20 appointments fadge in one week, so we were feeling a little down.

One morning I was thinking and praying about what to do and I looked over at a big map of Bella Vista we had on the wall of our apartment and I started thinking about where we could go to find people. While looking at the map I had a strong impression that there was a specific place on the map where we should try tracting. I remember two streets standing out in my mind and where they crossed I felt that we should go even though I had never been there nor even walked down either street. I was unsure if I really had the impression so in my mind I rephrased my question and I again felt that we should focus on a specific corner where the two roads crossed. I looked at the map and considered that specific block where I had the impression that we should go and in my mind I asked if we should focus on that entire block or on the two streets and where they crossed.

The answer came back that it was that block specifically but that one corner of it was the place that we should go. To make sure I again asked in my mind if that was the place where we should go and I even asked about the surrounding area and about the rest of the block. The spirit again impressed on me the importance of those two specific streets and where they crossed and it even indicated the exact spot on the block where we should go. By this time I was convinced that that is where we were supposed to go so I pulled out my small copy of the city map that I kept in my pocket and noted the place and then continued getting ready for the day.

We had one person that we wanted to try and visit that morning so we went there first, but they were not home. We tried clapping at a few houses but no one was home. At this point Elder Tenny looked at me and asked it I had any ideas. I had not told him about the impression I had that morning but I pulled out my map and recalled where the spirit had indicated. I again considered the location and wondered if we should focus on the entire block or just on the one corner. Again the spirit indicated that we should go to the corner it had indicated before.

I pointed out the location on the map to Elder Tenny and said that we should go there. I was still mostly unfamiliar with the area so I really didn't know the best route to get from where we were to where we needed to go. When I pointed to the spot on the map Elder Tenny said "OK" and headed out. I think by that time he was discouraged enough that when his junior companion pointed out a seemingly random location on the map he didn't ask any questions. I just told him that we should go to that specific city block (it turned out to be a bit of a walk, about 1 km from where we were).

After walking for a while we came to the block that I had indicated to Elder Tenny. He pointed it out but I realized that we were at the wrong corner of the block, we still needed to go one street over to the next corner. Because I still wanted to see if the impression I had was correct I said we could try starting at the nearest corner of the block even though the spirit had indicated to me that we should go to the next corner. We clapped at the house on the corner but no one answered. Elder Tenny was still rather discouraged and probably would have given up on the seemingly random suggestions from his junior companion. After no one answered our clap I pulled out my map again and again the spirit confirmed that we were at the correct block but the wrong corner.

I told Elder Tenny that we needed to go to the next corner and he acquiesced without a comment and we walked down to the other corner. At the corner I again asked in my mind if this is where we were supposed to be. Again the spirit indicated the same as it had done before. We went over to the first house and clapped. A young man came out and we talked for a while and explained who we were. He seemed interested in our message so he agreed to have us come back. At the second house a middle aged man answered and again we talked for a while and he agreed to listen to us so we set another appointment. At the third house a women with a few small children answered. We talked for a while and she told us that she would like to talk to us, but that she would be at her parents house for the next few days in a place called barrio EPAM. Because it was a place where we would go about once a week we agreed to stop by.

The next house there was a man who came to the door. We talked briefly and he agreed that we could come back later and talk to him. We had spent an entire week with little success and in less than an hour we had met, talked to and set appointments with four new people all in a row. After the fourth house there were no more houses on that side of the street. My companion newly energized by our string of "good luck" decided that we needed to cross the street and keep going. I knew that it was pointless because the spirit had instructed me to only go that one corner and after the fourth house it told me that we were done. We tried clapping a few more houses in the area but no one wanted to talk to us.

Of the four people that we found that day we never were able to find two of them after that. The young mother we talked to was one of the people we never saw again, but we did pass by her parent's house a few days later and talked to them. They listened to a few discussions but were never very interested. The only member of their family who would talk to us was their teenage daughter, who was one of the most intelligent people I ever met in the area. More than anyone else she was willing to read and study the Book of Mormon. She had a sharp mind and over the next few months with my new companion Elder Bullock we had some of the most intellectually stimulating conversations that I ever had on my mission.

When some of the members found out that we were teaching her they were very surprised because she was known as the "popular, but dumb" girl in their high school (think ditzy cheerleader). They had no idea that she was actually very smart. She managed to read through almost the entire Book of Mormon in a few months. We taught her for a few months until one day we passed by her house and her parents informed us that she had run away to Buenos Aires with her boyfriend. She had not even bothered to stay and finish high school. I never found out what happened to her, but I know that through a unique chain of events that started with a prompting to go to a specific street corner we were supposed to meet her and teach her about the gospel and about the Church.

I don't know if any thing ever came of the other people that we talked to that day, but I do know that I was lead very specifically to that location. I would use the feelings and promptings that I had that day as a reference throughout my mission when ever I was prompted to find people. It was something that happened many times on my mission, and that is where I first learned to listen to those promptings.

Monday, October 28, 2013

Update to a previous post.

I have an update about a post that I wrote last year called "Orson Hyde and the Fourteen Articles of Faith". When I wrote it I could not find any place that had an image of the original except for one anti-Mormon website, which I didn't want to link to. The original appeared in a newspaper called The Frontier Guardian, which was published by Orson Hyde in Iowa from 1849-1851 (then taken over by others and published until 1853). In June of this year the original newspaper was digitized and uploaded to the website of the LDS Church History Library.

I have updated my original article with a link to the images, and with a citation to the original. It turns out that the copy of The Frontier Guardian in the Church history archives was owned by President Willard Richards, since it has his name handwritten on the first page (I assume it was his copy, it has his name on it).

There are some other interesting articles that I saw while looking at the full newspaper. Perhaps I will do a transcript of one or two of them.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Stories from my Mission: "I know you want some money."

In my last area in the city of Barranqueras one day we were clapping houses on a random street when we got to a house where there were an unusual number of dogs. After we clapped at the front gate a man came to the door and greeted us (along with all his dogs). We quickly explained who we were and said that we were sharing a message about Jesus Christ. He noticed the Book of Mormon that I had in my hand and asked if that was the book that we were selling. I informed him that we were not selling the book but if he would like to read it then we would let him have it for free.

He continued on as if I had not said anything and explained that he could not buy our book today because he didn't have any money right then (he explained that he had spent all his money on food for the dogs, apparently he had taken it upon himself to take care of all the strays in the neighborhood). I again told him that we were not selling anything and that he could have a book or a pamphlet for free and that we would never demand payment. He looked at us and said, "I know you want some money. I know how this works."

I again protested and said that we were not selling anything and we would not ask for money. We only wanted to talk to him about Jesus Christ and tell him about the Book of Mormon. He responded by saying, "I know you have your quota to fill and you have to sell a certain number of books. That is just what you do."

My companion asked him if he was getting us confused with the Jehovah's Witnesses and he said that he knew we were not the same people and that he had seen us pass by several times. We tried to explain a little more about what we did and our basic message, but he again insisted that he would not buy our book. We again told him that we were not trying to sell anything and that we were giving the Book of Mormon away for free.

He looked at us and with a slightly exasperated tone in his voice he again told us that he wouldn't buy our book and that he knew that we were just here talking to him because we were getting paid to do it. At this point my companion was also getting a little frustrated and he told him quite bluntly that we would never ask him to pay for anything, nor are we getting paid to do what we do. He interrupted my companion to ask him how much we were getting paid, to which my companion said that WE were PAYING to be here, we did not receive any money for our work.

The man responded by saying, "Oh you may not be paid right now but when you go home you will be given a position in your church where you will be paid. That is how it works, I know."

I told him that we did not get paid for our work and we would never be paid for our work and that the leaders in our church do not receive any money for their work. The man looked at us like we were stupid and said, "You have to get paid or have some guarantee of a future position where you are paid or you would never do what you do."

My companion looked at the man and said, "How can we explain to you that we do this because we want to and not because we are paid? We will give you a book for free and not ask for any money. We will talk to you and explain to you our message, and we will never ask for money."

To which the man responded, "You are planning on getting paid or of having some position in your church because of what you are doing. There is always money involved. It's always about money. I know you want some money for that book."

My companion, now thoroughly fed up with the man said, "If you really want to pay us for the book then you can give us 2 pesos [about $0.70] but we will give it to you for free."

At that point the man said, "See I knew you would ask for money! It's always about money."

We said goodbye and wished him and his 37 dogs a good day and continued on. We walked down the street and at the corner we paused to marvel at the man that we had just talked to. We concluded that he was just really off his rocker.

As I thought about that man I realized that I had actually met many more people like him. They may not have been as extreme in their view that it is always about money, but there were many people who for them everything was about money. They may not have been as fixated on money as that man was but still there was always this undercurrent in all they said and did that everything in life was about money. Everything.

There were people who were members of the Church who always seemed to find fault with the branch president or with other church leaders. When I asked them what was wrong and why they had problems with the church leaders they were always slightly evasive, but at some point in the conversation it would always boil down to money. Basically they would look for anything in the actions or manners of the branch president or bishop to complain about because he got to hold the tithing money and he got to disperse the tithing funds and fast offerings. They hungered after money, even if they only got to hold it. For them money was the purpose of existence and because it was their motivation in all things they assumed that it was the same for everyone.

For those who were fixated on money (let's call them money fixers) they could not conceive that anyone else would be motivated by anything other than money. To the money fixers it didn't make sense that we would give a book away for free or that we would not only not be paid as missionaries but that we would pay to be there. We may as well as told him that we were fish swimming in the ocean.

The reason why I thought of this experience is because I recently came across a blog of someone who has recently been excommunicated from the Church. In his blog he spends an inordinate amount of time discussing the scriptures and gospel topics. Based on what he has written it may be hard to understand why he was excommunicated. Several people have expressed disbelief that such a "spiritual man" would be excommunicated. But in a recent blog post of his I noticed a major red flag that makes me suspect that he is fixated on money.

He stated that the only reason why the Church was building temples was to increase tithing revenue. He said that the church leaders were taking a business approach to everything and were planning all temple construction around maximizing tithing revenue. For him it was all about money. There could be no other explanation, for why else would we build temples if not to drive tithing revenue? Like the man I met in Argentina because he assumed that everything the church leaders did was about money there is no argument, statement or fact that could convince him otherwise. Just like the line from the Simon and Garfunkel song The Boxer "Still, a man hears what he wants to hear and disregards the rest."

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Evil Villain Lairs, why can nobody ever find them?

When ever I watch a movie and there is some evil villain who has is secret lair, I always wonder how no one knows about it, especially when there are evil henchmen wandering around the place. You see the problem is that it is very difficult to build anything without anyone knowing about it, especially in our day and age. Let me run down a few of the issues with these "Secret Lairs" that the evil villains always have (I suppose this could apply to superheros as well).

You see evil villain lairs look like this (from the first Bond movie Dr. No):

It looks great in a movie but there are several problems here. First, all those people. Do you see all those people? Those are people who have to eat, sleep, go home to visit their families occasionally, go to a bar and drink (let's face it, if you work in an evil lair you aren't going to be Mormon), or do any number of other things that normal people do. I guarantee it that all those people don't live, and don't want to live, in an evil lair. Some of them may even play football (both types) or at least have a fantasy league. In addition to that they have to eat, so that place must have a cafeteria, which means it has a loading dock where all the food comes in.

So the question is, with all these people coming in and out of that evil lair, going home, or on vacation (hey evil minions have to get vacation days too), bringing in food and other supplies, not to mention fuel for their power plant (nuclear power you say? OK where did they get the nuclear fuel? It's not like you can buy that stuff online! Wait, hold on a second...I was wrong, you can. I think I am going to be on some sort of government watch list after my little Googleing session just now. Maybe I shouldn't Google "Where to buy nuclear fuel".) At any rate if you have an evil lair like that then you will have people going in and out of that place. So it is pretty hard to keep it secret.

About a week ago Randall Munroe in his What If blog where he answers random questions was discussing data centers used by Google and others. As part of the discussion he addressed the question of how to find these top secret data centers that Google has where all the Google magic happens. As it turns out that all you have to do is ask taxi drivers and pizza delivery men where they are and they can tell you (because the people that work there tend to order out for pizza alot). So how does this relate to secret lairs? Well in the movies they always portray it as this massive secret lair that nobody on the outside knows about, and the heroes have to go to great lengths to find and then enter the secret lair. I guess Mr. Bond could have just saved himself some trouble and asked the local pizza joint where the secret lair is, and then dressed up as a pizza delivery boy to get in (if Daniel Craig, or whoever is the next Bond, uses this gag in his next Bond film I claim origin and inspiration and will settle for a modest 0.25% of the profits).

The next thing about all those secret lairs is all the stuff they have in them. Do you see all those desks, electrical panels, fancy displays, and stuff? You have to buy all that stuff from somewhere, or at least build it yourself. The thing is you have to buy every nut, bolt, switch, light and relay. So where would you get all those things? Home Depot won't have them all. That's where you go to some company like McMaster-Carr. They have a catalog with all the things you could possibly need for you secret lair. It looks like this:
That's 7 lbs 10.5 oz.
So with that handy catalog you could buy all the things to make your secret lair. But if you put in an order for 100 tons of stuff they will have to deliver it, and that means a shipping address, or at least coordinates where you want your 100 tons of nuts, bolts, pipes, tubes, struts, warning lights, alarms, protective screens, surveillance cameras, etc. Then you have to hire people to install all these things, replace broken ones, then you have to deal with payroll, evil society luncheons, promotions, firings, staff meetings, committee meetings and things like that.

So to make a secret lair you would need the resources of a very large company or an entire nation to build and maintain it, and even then you really can't keep it secret. But they will never put all that in a movie or TV show.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Science Problems in the Kolob Theorem

A number of people have asked me to expound upon my first and second reviews of the book The Kolob Theorem (KT). I am hesitant to do this because there are many things in the KT that are obviously incorrect to me, but for those who do not spend a good portion of their time studying and learning astronomy then these errors are not so obvious. Thus it may take a bit of explaining, but if you are interested then read on.

[Again a strong note: I will not speak about the theological implications of the Kolob Theorem. This is only to point out that the book uses some very shaky science to establish its claims. I will again point out that this book was not written by an astronomer. There is a reason why no LDS astronomer has written a book like this, and that is because we recognize that we do not know enough about God, or the universe for a book like this to be written.]

The main text of the KT starts on page 24 (at least in the version that I have access to, linked above). There are a few pages of introductory material before, with some pictures and I will get to those, but my analysis starts on page 25.

I will start near the bottom with the quote by Fred Hoyle. First off, Fred Hoyle was a well known astronomer in his day (he is credited with inventing the phrase "the big bang") but between the publication of his book, Frontiers of Astronomy, in 1955 and the publication of the KT in 2005, our understanding of astronomy has changed more in those 50 years than in the previous 200 years. Yes it really has changed that much. So to rely on an astronomy text book published in 1955 to establish a speculative theory in 2005 automatically places the KT on shaky ground.

Quoting Fred Hoyle Dr. Hilton states:
"The stars in the elliptical galaxies and the stars in the nuclei of the spirals are old stars like the stars in the globular clusters. In contrast, the highly luminous blue giants and super giants are young stars. Young stars are found only in the arms of the spirals."
Our theory would require such a distinction, for the stars in the nucleus must be of a celestial type created first and those of the outer regions of a terrestrial or telestial type and created later.
So the structure that Dr. Hilton sets up for his first corollary, that is central to his entire theory, requires older stars created first to be in the center of galaxy with progressively younger stars as you move out from the center. While it is true that there are many old stars in the center of the galaxy, there are also many old (and in some cases older) stars out in the disk of the galaxy away from the center. The question of where stars form, and how many and how fast they form is still a major area of research. But to illustrate the point here are two pictures of galaxies that are actively forming stars in their center regions.
NGC 3079: The center of the galaxy is an active star forming region. The star formation is actually so strong that it is pushing gas from the center out of the disk of the galaxy. Image credit: NASA and G. Cecil (UNC, Chapel Hill).
M 82: This is actually a composite of images taken from three different telescopes. The green-yellow is from the visible light, the blue is X-rays, the red is infrared. The plane of the galaxy goes from bottom left to top right, but the bright red and blue that is perpendicular to it is hot gas that has been blown out of the galaxy from recent star formation in the center. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/STScI/CXC/UofA/ESA/AURA/JHU.
As can be seen from the above images there is star formation (and A LOT of it) that happens in the center of the galaxy. Despite what Fred Hoyle states, young stars are not only found in the spiral arms of galaxies. There are plenty of young stars there, but there are even more young stars in the center of galaxies, it's just that they are packed closer together and are mixed with more older stars. As a matter of fact the oldest stars that we can track are found in Globular Clusters (such as M 80), which are most definitely not in the galactic center.

Now on to page 26! (Yes, I have only covered one page.)

Dr. Hilton quotes astronomer Joseph Ashbrook to make the case that there is a dense cluster of old stars in the center of the Milky Way. He sates:
"The core of the Milky Way Galaxy would also possess a tightly packed system of ancient, huge stars in the very heart of the galaxy".
Two things here, he quotes Ashbrook, who may have been a great astronomer (and I can detect nothing wrong with anything Dr. Ashbrook says), but the referenced paper comes from 1968, and the title of the paper refers to Andromeda as a "nebula", not a galaxy. I will get to that in a moment. But the main problem here is that Dr. Hilton is confusing the fact that there is a high amount of stellar mass in the center of the galaxy with there being very massive ("huge") stars in the center of the galaxy. At about this point I probably lost about 98% of my readers and your eyes are glazing over. Stay with me.

So what is the difference between a high amount of stellar mass and a high number of massive stars. Let me explain it like this. Consider two groups of people, groups A and B. In group A the total mass of the group is 20,000 lbs. In group B the total mass is 15,000 lbs. Which group is "bigger". Depends on what you mean by "bigger". It turns out that group A is a group of 300 elementary school students, group B is a NFL football team. Which group is "bigger" now that you know that? Overall the school kids are "more massive" than the football players, but taken individually the football players are 2-8 times more massive than the children. So just because there is a lot of mass in a group of people doesn't mean that the individual people are massive. It means that there could be a lot of them.

The same thing with stars. Just because there is a lot of stellar mass (Dr. Hilton quotes the figure of 10% of the total mass of the galaxy) in the center of the Milky Way, doesn't mean that the individual stars are "huge". As a matter of fact, having "huge" stars would actually be detrimental to his theory, because it turns out that the youngest, most recently formed stars are the most massive, while the oldest, slowest burning stars are the smallest. It seems counterintuitive, but this is precisely the type of mistake that Dr. Hilton makes again and again that undermines his theory. So the "ancient" stars cannot be "huge". In fact the oldest stars would probably be about the same size as our sun, just a lot older.

Next Dr. Hilton moves into a black hole and never makes it out. He gives a definition of a black hole as:
"A black hole is defined as a compact energy source of enormous strength of the order of a billion solar masses".
How can I explain how this definition sounds to a professional astronomer. Assume you had had just finished reading an article about an election in England and read that a new prime minister had been appointed. You turn to me and ask, "What does that mean, 'to be appointed prime minister'?" And I respond, "That is when the Pope comes and crowns the prime minster and puts him on the throne of England." There happens to be a British citizen who over hears this who promptly goes into convulsions and runs screaming from the room, yelling something about "Ignorant Americans". As ridiculous as my statement that a prime minister is "appointed" by being crowned by the Pope is, Dr. Hilton's definition of a black hole is just as ridiculous. It's the kind of thing that keeps astronomy professors up at night fearing that their students may go out into the world and give definitions like that. If you want to know what a black hole is try Wikipedia.

When it comes to black holes there are two types. Stellar black holes that have a mass approximately equal to that of the sun, and super massive black holes that have a mass ranging from 1,000,000 to 10,000,000,000 times the mass of the sun (1e6-1e10 Msun). Stellar mass black holes are all over the place, while super massive black holes are slightly more rare. It is assumed that at the heart of every galaxy, dwarf galaxy, galaxy remnant, compact dwarf galaxy, and ultra compact dwarf galaxy is a super massive black hole. Dr. Hilton later wonders if it is possible that there is a super massive black hole at the center of the Milky Way. Well he doesn't have to wonder since we have already found it! In fact we found it in 1974! (For someone who uses out of date materials he sure missed this one.)

Here is a plot of the orbits of the stars surrounding the Milky Way's central black hole (know as Sagittarius A*):
Source: Wikipedia.
So continuing on, Dr. Hilton tries to tie in the motion of the stars around the central black hole to "rotation" (a key word from the Book of Abraham, he is trying so hard to make the connection, but this isn't going to do it despite his best efforts). He states:
"One measurement of the radial velocities near the nucleus of Galaxy M 84, in the area of Virgo, shows a speed of rotation of 400 kilometers per second at a distance of only 25 light years from the center."
Wow! 400 km/s that sounds fast! For comparison the sun is doing a positively leisurely 220 km/s in its gentle stroll around the Milky Way. But just a second, where did this 400 km/s number come from. These velocities were measured in M84 (also known as NGC 4374) which is about 60 million light years away, i.e. too far to resolve individual stars. So this velocity is more likely a velocity dispersion, that is a difference in velocities averaged over many thousands of stars, this is not the actual velocity of the stars. The max velocity of an individual star is about half of that, so about 200 km/s, which is about how fast the sun is moving. He tries to make something of this much later (chapter 5), but the motions of stars gets very complex, and I'm not going to get into that. Let's just say that you have to distinguish between the motion of individual stars and the motion of the overall galaxy, and sometimes that can be a very tricky thing. Think of the difference between the motion of individual water molecules and the motion of ocean waves. They are not necessarily the same thing.

On page 26 he mentions "Galaxy 87" I assume he means M87, or Messier 87. Messier was the name of an astronomer who spent his time looking at the stars and made a catalog off all the interesting things he saw in his telescope that weren't stars or planets. He made a list 110 "Messier objects" in 1771 that kept interfering with his hunt for comments. Little did he know that he made one of the most important astronomical object catalogs that would define observational astronomy for the next 200 years.

Wow, we are only 3 pages into the text and I already want to quit. I'll mention one more thing.

On page 27 he mentions a star 3000 times the size of the sun. He uses the word size, but fails to understand the fine distinctions he just ran rough shod over. The "3000 times the size of the sun" here obviously refers to physical size, meaning radius, and not mass. There are no stars out there with a mass 3000 times the mass of the sun. Some astrophysicists think that you can get up to 70 or 80 times the mass of the sun, but generally upper cut off value is 40 times the mass of the sun, and those stars are very few and far between. So to have a star that is "3000 times the size of the sun" must refer to physical size, or radius. With stars, it is very tricky to match physical size with mass. They don't always correlate the way you would think. This is another case as I mentioned previously where this is precisely the type of mistake that Dr. Hilton makes again and again that undermines his theory. You see, black holes are the smallest things out there. The vast majority of them are smaller than the earth, and are even smaller than Pluto. It's just that they have a lot of mass in a very small space.

OK to finish off I'll just leave my remaining notes in their raw format. I only got to page 33 (starting on 24) before I gave up and decided that if I went on this post would be way too long.

p. 28 J Ruben Clark quote (concept of galaxy has changed since then, other galaxies were known as extragalactic nebula, other galaxies were still known as extragalactic nebulae until the mid 1950's, and there are even a few references to them in the 1960's. concept of galaxy not pinned down until 1960's.)

p. 29 A galaxy is self gravitating. It's a concept that has it's finer issues.

p. 33 Fred Hoyle again, yes there is dust in the center! Star formation! Lot's of it. Need dust to form stars. No dust, no new stars, it's that simple. Where ever there is dust there are stars forming. Where ever stars are forming there is dust. Dust in the galaxy is a very complex issue. It is no where near as simple as he makes it out to be. There are entire books written on dust in the Interstellar Medium.

Andromeda--How the picture was made--mention false coloring

Link to false coloring of images.

In the end the science issues are so dense and numerous that it is impossible to extract them from the book and from his theory. The only thing to do is to scrap the whole thing and do something else.


Joseph Ashbrook, The Nucleus of the Andromeda Nebula, Sky and Telescope, February 1968
Bok and Bok, The Milky Way 5th Edition, Harvard University Press, Cambridge, MA, 1981
Fred Hoyle, Frontiers of Astronomy, New York, Harpers, 1955

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Stories from My Mission: I Enter the MTC

So this story isn't strictly from my mission, but is about the few days right before I entered the Missionary Training Center (MTC).

The actual act of entering the MTC is the ultimate step before you are really committed to being on a mission. Even though the missionaries are set apart usually the day before, or perhaps sooner, and are thus technically missionaries, it is not until they enter the MTC that there is a real feeling of being on a mission. It is an almost indescribable feeling. For all missionaries there are always the last minute things ("Did I pack everything that I need?", "Do I have all my shots?" etc.) and it was the same with me except my last few days were perhaps more hectic than most other missionaries.

At the time I was attending my first semester at BYU and when I submitted my papers to go on a mission I set my availability date at the end of my first semester after finals were done. But when I got my mission call my entry date into the MTC was Dec. 19th, which was a Wednesday, in the middle of finals, and before my listed availability date. Finals week started on Monday of that week and went through Friday. I had 5 classes, with one final scheduled for each day of the week. This meant that my entry into the MTC would conflict with 3 of my 5 finals. Fortunately I was at BYU and all when I explained my predicament to my professors all of them were willing to reschedule my finals.

So from Monday to Wednesday this was what I did.


Take geology final first thing in the morning (note: On the syllabus they were quite clear that the final could not be rescheduled for any reason. They were adamant that the final had to be taken at the scheduled time. When I asked my professor about it he was unsure about it (it was a department final) but after asking the department he told me that the final was in the testing center and I could take it any time during finals week. Thus the claim that the final could not be rescheduled for any reason was completely false...grrr).

Second, take mission prep final (This class was with out question the second worst class that I took at BYU. The teacher was a marriage counselor in his day job and thus he kept turning it into a "marriage prep" class rather than mission prep. But he never actually went the full marriage prep route and it just turned into this mish-mash of wobbly warm-ish fuzzy-ish sentimental-ish "take that and stick it in your spiritual pipe and smoke it", hodge-podge of useless goop. I was not a fan, and I think I got a C.)

Third, take my astronomy final from 2-5pm (Dr. Jones who taught the class told me, after I finished the final and he took a moment to chat with me, that I should look him up after my mission and he would get me a job as an astronomy TA. I did and he did manage to find me 2-3 hours a week as an astronomy TA, which may not have been much but that meant that the next semester when I applied for a normal physics TA position I was already technically an employee of the department which meant that I was automatically hired, despite the fact that I had 1 less year of experience than all the other TAs, and it meant that I was the TA for physics majors that were in the same classes that I was in (or higher classes!) but it meant that I got 4 solid years of TA experience under my belt in just about every class, which greatly benefits be now as it has put me in a position where I have 4 more years of experience than all the other graduate students which means I get first pick of TA assignments. Rather than being told what I have to teach I get to choose what I get to teach, and that is nice).


In the morning I took my biology final, for my first, last and only biology class that I ever took in my entire academic career.

In the afternoon I took my physics 121 final. Looking back I don't think I did as well on it as I should but I wasn't too worried since I calculated it out and determined that in order to drop my grade for the class from an A to an A- I needed to get below a 30%. In order to get a B+ I had to score below 5% on the final, and if I just showed up and wrote my name on the answer sheet I would be guaranteed a B+ in the class. This was of course after having used the class as my guaranteed 3 hours of sleep each week and not turning in more than 3 homework assignments. I always wondered about those "engineers" who failed the class. Wouldn't they rather go into business? But what did I care? They dragged the curve down and gave me the easiest A that I ever got.

I finished my last final at 4 pm. I went directly from there to the BYU bookstore and there I bought the sound track to the movie Oh Brother, Where Art Thou? The movie was quite forgettable, but the music is still some of my favorite. I went out to my car, put in the CD, and drove around for a little under an hour listening to the music. Then I drove over to my brother's apartment, got changed into my new suit, walked up to the JKHB (which technically no longer exists) and at 5 pm I went in for my final interview and got set apart as a missionary.

I spent the night at my sister's apartment and then Wednesday morning my parents took me over to BYU one last time to say goodbye to my sister and brother in law and then up to the MTC where another sister came with her two kids to see me off.
Can you tell which one is me? Hint, I don't have a pacifier in my mouth.
At the time I was still in the process of getting all of my required shots. There was one series of shots that required 3 shots spread over several months (a hepatitis vaccine if I remember) and I had the first two but had not gotten the third, so on the first day they went ahead and gave me the third and final dose. It turned out that 6 years later that incredibly minor event saved me a lot of trouble and red tape when I was trying to get into graduate school.

You see, in North Carolina where I am currently going to school, state law requires all students to be vaccinated. As a child I received all the standard vaccines and my mom kept a very accurate record of every shot I ever got. Unfortunately my mom is not a certified nurse, so even though the record was very accurate and complete, UNC would not accept that record. So I was facing the prospect of having to get every single shot again to satisfy the bureaucracy of UNC. All my "official" records were spread all over Arizona in who knows what doctor or government office and it would have been an incredibly hard task to track down all those records. But when I entered the MTC I had received one shot. And that one shot went on my record at the BYU health center, and that was the only nurse certified record that I had access to. So I went there to talk to a nurse and get that one record. While I was there I explained my predicament and asked how I might go about tracking down my record. She looked at the meticulous record that my mom had kept of every shot I ever received, and she thought about it for a second and then offered to enter all that information that my mom had kept over the years into the computer (she was only a certified nurse, and not a nurse practitioner, which meant that technically she was not allowed to do this, but she did it anyway). So she sat there and entered everything into the computer, put it all in my file and printed it out. She signed it (again, I think NC state law required the signature of a nurse practitioner but we were already up to our eye balls in "irregularities" and she didn't want to have to track down and explain to a nurse practitioner what was going on so she just did it).

The only reason why she was able to do that was because I had received that one shot on my first day in the MTC so I was already in the system and she just had to "amend" my file. UNC accepted my new file because it was on official health center letter head and had some sort of signature at the bottom, despite the fact that all the information came from the exact same source that they had strenuously told me was unacceptable.

In so many small ways my experience of entering the MTC was crazy and stressful, but there were the tiny things (me getting to talk to Dr. Jones about getting a job, and me getting a shot) that turned out to be tender mercies much later in my life. There were so many other things about my mission, the people I met, the companions I was with, and the areas I was in, I would have never had those opportunities had I not entered the MTC when I did. Even though from an outside perspective the timing may have been very inconvenient it did in fact make it so that so many things were timed just right during my mission and after my mission so that many opportunities were made available all because of when I went into the MTC.

It kind of made up for the fact that the day I went into the MTC was the same day that the first Lord of the Rings movie came out. But it was OK since I came home and was able to watch the first two in quick succession on DVD and then go see the third one in the theater. Well worth the wait.

Friday, September 6, 2013

Key Differences in the BoM and Isaiah Texts

[This is a cross post from my other blog where I am doing a side-by-side comparison of Isaiah chapters and quotes found in the Book of Mormon.]

After doing a side-by-side comparison of 21 Isaiah chapters in the Book of Mormon I noticed a few interesting things about the variations in the texts. There are many very minor variations between the two texts, but there are also some major variations that quite significantly change the meaning. There are some differences that can obviously be attributed scribal error, on the part of Joseph Smith or Oliver Cowdery (or others, such as the printer) that were never found or corrected. Still there are others that point to a difference of translation, and still others that indicate a fundamentally different text from the ones used in translating the Bible. I will try to give examples of each of these interesting differences below.

I was also impressed with how consistent the two texts are, even though there are obvious differences. After going over the two texts from the Book of Mormon and Bible, I could tell that the text found in the Book of Mormon was not a simple, sloppy, or ignorant attempt at plagiarism of Isaiah found in the KJV Bible. The differences and distinctions are too nuanced, and even when they differ the differences are too unintentional that it would take a world class scholar to produce them, or a very inspired man.

In no particular order here are a few of the interesting differences.

Difference in Translation

Differences in the text are marked in RED.
Variations in the text are marked in ROSE.
Mosiah 14:9
Differences in the text are marked in BLUE.
Variations in the text are marked in GREEN.
Isaiah 53:9

9 And he made his grave with the wicked, and with the rich in his death; because he had done no evil, neither was any deceit in his mouth.

9 And he made his grave with the wicked, and with the rich in his death; because he had done no violence, neither was any deceit in his mouth.

In these verses there is one difference, the word violence is replaced with the word evil. While we may at first assume that this is a difference in the original texts, instead this appears to be a difference in translation. If we compare many different English translations of the same text almost all of them use the word violence, but if we look at a Bible commentary on that passage we find that the same Hebrew word used in that verse is alternately translated as wrong in other verses in the Bible. When Peter quotes the same verse in his first general epistle he uses the word ἀμαρτία which translates, usually, as sin. Also Jesus himself uses a paraphrase of the verse to defend himself as recorded in John 8:46, with the word in question is again translated as sin. So ultimately what we have here is a rather interesting difference in translation. It is a subtle difference but I think that it is still a valid translation of the original concept.

Scribal Error -- The wrong word

2 Nephi 24:19 Isaiah 14:19

19 But thou art cast out of thy grave like an abominable branch, and the remnant of those that are slain, thrust through with a sword, that go down to the stones of the pit; as a carcass trodden under feet.

19 But thou art cast out of thy grave like an abominable branch, and as the raiment of those that are slain, thrust through with a sword, that go down to the stones of the pit; as a carcase trodden under feet.

I was surprised and intrigued when I found this difference. At first I thought that it could be a difference in translation, much like the previous example, but I looked up other Bible translations and it quickly became apparent that the concept bound up in the original text strongly implied raiment and not remnant. In context, and comparing other similar passages from Isaiah, I am inclined to think that this difference is due to a scribal error. Considering the fact that the two words are very similar when spoken aloud (at least with your standard American accent), and considering the fact that Joseph Smith was dictating the text, it would be very easy for this error to happen. Also because the word remnant makes sense in context this would not be an error that would be easily found and corrected without a review of the original text.

Additional Text -- Slight changes in meaning

2 Nephi 24:2 Isaiah 14:2

2 And the people shall take them and bring them to their place; yea, from far unto the ends of the earth; and they shall return to their lands of promise. And the house of Israel shall possess them, and the land of the Lord shall be for servants and handmaids; and they shall take them captives unto whom they were captives; and they shall rule over their oppressors.

2 And the people shall take them, and bring them to their place: and the house of Israel shall possess them in the land of the Lord for servants and handmaids: and they shall take them captives, whose captives they were; and they shall rule over their oppressors.

In several places there are whole phrases or sentences added that expound on the meaning of the original text. In the verses above there is an additional sentence that adds additional information about what is meant by the verse. There are a few other seemingly minor differences later on in the verse but when they are considered in conjunction with the earlier addition, the subtle changes made to the content is consistent and insightful.

The Missing Words -- Italicized text

2 Nephi 15:28-29 Isaiah 5:28-29

28 Whose arrows shall be sharp, and all their bows bent, and their horses’ hoofs shall be counted like flint, and their wheels like a whirlwind, their roaring like a lion.

28 Whose arrows are sharp, and all their bows bent, their horses’ hoofs shall be counted like flint, and their wheels like a whirlwind:

29 They shall roar like young lions; yea, they shall roar, and lay hold of the prey, and shall carry away safe, and none shall deliver.

29 Their roaring shall be like a lion, they shall roar like young lions: yea, they shall roar, and lay hold of the prey, and shall carry it away safe, and none shall deliver it.

After doing a few chapters I decided that I needed to keep track of the italicized text in the Bible. For those who don't know, in the KJV of the Bible there are many words that are in italics. These are words that do not appear in the original Greek or Hebrew, but must be added to make it grammatically correct in English. For any one who has learned a foreign language this is something obvious about translation. Sometimes certain words (pronouns, participles, adverbs etc.) are not needed in another language, but are needed in English. After a while I noticed that a number, but not all, of the italicized words in the KJV were either missing or different in the Book of Mormon. This would indicate a slightly more literal translation was used for the Book of Mormon. That was a particularly remarkable realization and changed the way I viewed the basic text of the Book of Mormon.

Also there were a few cases where a phrase that appeared in a previous verse was moved to the next verse in the corresponding chapter and verses. The two above verses are an example of that.

Joseph Smith's Commentary

1 Nephi 20:1 Isaiah 48:1

1 Hearken and hear this, O house of Jacob, who are called by the name of Israel, and are come forth out of the waters of Judah, or out of the waters of baptism, who swear by the name of the Lord, and make mention of the God of Israel, yet they swear not in truth nor in righteousness.

1 Hear ye this, O house of Jacob, which are called by the name of Israel, and are come forth out of the waters of Judah, which swear by the name of the Lord, and make mention of the God of Israel, but not in truth, nor in righteousness.

The very first chapter that I did, the very first verse, turned out to be one of the most interesting in terms of providing insight into not only how the translation process worked, but also Joseph Smith's idea of what it meant to "translate" something. If Joseph Smith had ever had the opportunity to attend a real university, and if he had taken a class on Biblical Hebrew then he surely would have failed the class and would have driven the professor to the point of insanity. Joseph Smith's idea of "translation" was to say or write down whatever he thought it meant, not what it actually said.

Fortunately Joseph's translation of the Book of Mormon was more of a revelatory process and not an academic process, which is what most people think of when they hear the word "translation". Most people think that Joseph sat there and translated, in an academic sense, the etchings on the gold plates, which would have required him to actually learn Reformed Egyptian. But from the many accounts of people who witnessed the translation process, the translation was more of an inspired revelation that utilized the resources of Joseph's mind to formulate the text into English. It was by all measures quite remarkable.

So why this little rant of mine? Because of the phrase "or out of the waters of baptism". That phrase does not appear in original manuscript, nor in the printer's manuscript, nor in the 1830 edition of the Book of Mormon, but it does appear in the 1840 edition of the Book of Mormon. What that phrase appears to be is a "prophetic commentary" by Joseph Smith. It is something that he apparently had no problem adding to the text as he considered it his job to "translate" and to expound scripture, but it is something that would make academics working on a translation tear out their hair and curl up in a ball in the corner of the room and cry for hours on end. It is a major indication that Joseph Smith did not understand translation in the same way that you and I view translation. Upon finding out that he would change the text like that some people would, and do, criticize him for improperly changing the meaning, but as far as we can tell this is the only instance of "prophetic commentary" by Joseph Smith in the Book of Mormon. The rest of the text seems to be as it was on the gold plates.


To be honest I was never wild about Isaiah like some people are in the Church. It never crossed my mind to take the class Writings of Isaiah at BYU. I did, and still do, read Isaiah in my personal scripture study. I think that by far my favorite chapter in all of scripture is 3 Nephi 22, which is also Isaiah 54, so it cannot be said that I dislike Isaiah, it's just that never felt an intense desire to take a class devoted to Isaiah, or to write a book about him. So it may be a little odd that I spent, and will still spend so much time on this project. Still, I think I learned more about Joseph Smith and how he translated the Book of Mormon than I did about Isaiah by doing this. It definitely changed the way I view the actual text found in the Book of Mormon and it gave me a greater appreciation of how real, and in some cases, how literal the text is. I think the translation is a very good one and will stand the test of time.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Was Lehi a Samaritan?

A few days ago I read an article entitled "Who Were the Samaritans?" on Interpreter that I thought was very interesting. It gave a basic outline of the Samaritans from their perspective and not from the perspective of the Jews and early Christians. The entire article is worth the read, but I will sum up the important points that are relevant to my current post.

I remember being taught in Seminary, Sunday School, Institute classes and in Religion classes at BYU that the Samaritans were descended from the people brought in by the Assyrians after they conquered the northern kingdom. What I had been taught was that the Assyrians carried away the remaining Israelites and brought in other conquered people and told them to worship the god of the land (meaning the Hebrew god). Thus the Samaritans, although they followed the Mosaic Law, were considered illegitimate and not true Israelites and thus were excluded from all official worship, rights, and privileges. They were therefore looked down upon by the time Jesus began his ministry. This negative view formed the basis of the parable of the Good Samaritan, and also Jesus teaching the woman at the well.

It's a nice neat picture and seems to be supported by history, and the Bible, until you hear the Samaritans' side of the story.

The Samaritans consider themselves to be pure descendants from Israel (yes I used the proper verb tense, the Samaritans are still around), and have a slightly different version of what happened. The split between the northern and southern kingdoms goes back to the time of the prophet Samuel and the high priest Eli, and the high priest Uzzi. ("huh? what? who in the world is Uzzi?", well that's the point, the Jews don't like to talk about him, so that is why you never heard his story.) If you read the Bible (that is the collection of books, prophecies, and histories kept by the Jews, emphasis on the Jew part) then you can read the story of how the high priest Eli wasn't such a great guy because he didn't do anything about his sons wickedness. God had to speak to the young boy Samuel at night to get him to tell Eli that he (Eli) had been rejected as high priest. Thus began the prophetic career of Samuel who would go on to be prophet and anoint Saul as king of Israel.

The part that you never hear, but is told by the Samaritans is that Eli actually wasn't the legitimate high priest, Uzzi was. But because Uzzi was only a young boy he could not act as high priest, but Eli wanted to take over the post. There was an intense debate regarding who should be the high priest. The tribe of Judah supported the usurper Eli while the other tribes supported Uzzi as the legitimate successor of Aaron. This started the general rift between the tribe of Judah and all the other tribes (as a side note, it would appear that this was the basis of the north-south split that would not break out until after king Solomon died). So each kingdom traced their priesthood authority back to what they considered to be the legitimate source, and each kept their own history, prophecies and revelations, but almost all of the history kept by the northern kingdom was lost when the Assyrians destroyed the capital Samaria. Thus the only surviving histories that we have are those kept by the Jews that may have been edited for political reasons (i.e. "We aren't going to tell their side of the story." and "We won't include the writings of these prophets in our scriptures because they are "Northern" prophets.").

So where does Lehi fit into all of this? If you recall, after Lehi's sons returned from Jerusalem with the brass plates, Lehi (or at least Nephi, according to how he told the story many years later) was surprised to learn that he was descended from Joseph. Apparently this was significant enough that Lehi decided to name his a son after Joseph. So why was this significant? If you recall from what was previously explained, in the social, political, and historical context that Lehi (and Nephi) came from this meant that they learned, perhaps for the first time, that they were not Jews. To them this may have been a real paradigm changer since they realized that they were actually part of the alternate history of the northern kingdom. If you carefully review all instances where Nephi refers to the Jews, you will find that Nephi never refers to himself or his descendants as Jews. They are referred to as a remnant of the house of Israel, but never Jews. In fact if you reread the verses where Nephi references the Jews you may get a sense that he considers them to be a separate people from him, his ancestors, and his descendants.

We learn later that Lehi was actually descended from Manasseh, which would put him, historically, as a member of the northern kingdom. It could be that Lehi's family fled Samaria (or some other place up north) when the northern kingdom was overthrown by the Assyrians, or they could have come later, we will never be sure. It seems that by the time it got to Lehi it may have been a little unclear which tribe he was descended from. But in any event, by being descended from Manasseh would mean that Lehi was technically part of the people who were considered to be, or would later be called Samaritans. We are not sure when the people who were the remnant of the northern kingdom were labeled as Samaritans, and based on the information provided in the article that I linked to at the very beginning the intense animosity between the Jews and Samaritans may not have come to fruition until after the Jews' return from their Babylonian captivity. Thus the kind of animosity that we find in the New Testament most likely grew in the 600 years that separated Lehi from New Testament times.

So why else may all this have been significant? I find it interesting that God was so particular that Lehi send his sons back to Jerusalem to get the records from Laban. Were there not any other scriptures lying about Jerusalem that were easier to get? Or perhaps they had to go get that particular set which, because it is implied that Lehi and Laban were somehow related, were the scriptures kept by the Samaritans living in Jerusalem, and thus had a slightly different set of prophetic writings, including NeumZenos, Zenock and Ezias (for wild speculations as to who Ezias was read my ramblings here, perhaps my conclusions in that post are extremely interesting considering the current topic). Something interesting to consider.

So in the end, was Lehi a Samaritan? Well, in the sense that we tend to think of Samaritans, no he wasn't. But he was a descendant of Manasseh, which would make him one of  the people of northern kingdom. Those people would eventually become the Samaritans that we know from the New Testament, and that are still around today. So strictly speaking we can't call Lehi a Samaritan, but based on the writings of Nephi, it would seem that we can't call them Jews either, and that I think is something to think about.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Stories from My Mission: "You need to repent!"

I won't say where this story happened so that I can preserve the identity of those involved.

In my mission there was a senior couple, the Elder and Sister Wilcox, who were serving as missionaries. Shortly after they arrived Elder Wilcox was asked to serve as a counselor in the Mission Presidency. This meant that he would travel to the various District Conferences (like Stake Conferences) where the Mission President was unable to attend (we had about 15 districts in our mission). It was during one of these conferences that I was asked to accompany Elder Wilcox in an interview. He was not very proficient in Spanish and needed someone to translate for him.

The man Elder Wilcox was going to interview was someone who had been a member for many years but recently had been disfellowshipped. The purpose of the interview was to sort out the problems and to see if the man could return to full fellowship in the Church.

The interview began as a simple fact finding procedure, "So what is your story? When you were disfellowshipped by the District Presidency what were the reasons they told you? What have you done about it?" etc. According to this man's version of events, he was disfellowshipped for having a general disagreement with the local church leaders. Basically what it came down to was they, the church leaders, didn't like him, and he didn't like them so they told him that he couldn't use his priesthood and that he couldn't hold a calling.

Since I was only there as an interpreter and a facilitator I didn't have any say in the matter, and I will refrain from making any statement about who was right other than what Elder Wilcox ultimately decided.

To back up his case he said that he was a good man who did many good things. He said that he took care of his children, even those who were not strictly his children. He mentioned that before he met his wife she had worked as a prostitute and had three children from that. When he married her he took those children as his own and raised them accordingly. He was even sealed to them in the temple (which in this part of Argentina, to have a family like that who had been to the temple was very rare). He used this and other examples to make the case that he was a good man who tried to live within the covenants and commandments.

He then made the case that the District President was not so holy (they were neighbors). He related an experience where he said that he saw the District President beat one of his children in a rather harsh manner. He said that his being disfellowshipped was simply a result of the District President projecting his own sins and failing on him.

After listening to all of this, and after I made sure that Elder Wilcox had understood everything that had been said, Elder Wilcox paused, bowed his head as if in prayer or contemplation for a moment. Then he raised his head, looked the man in the eye and in flawless Spanish told the man, "You need to repent! The problem here is that you have not forgiven your wife! That is what you need to repent of!"

The man was rather taken back, because up until now this had all been about the dispute between him and the District President, but the thought that the real problem was one between this man and his wife had never occurred to him.

Elder Wilcox continued on and explained, "You have never forgiven your wife for the things she did before she met you. You said that she worked as a prostitute before she met you, and you said that you married her anyway. You said that you brought her to church, along with her children who were born of her prostitution, and that this made you a good man. She has been baptized, she has gone to the temple and wears the holy garment."

"The Lord has forgiven her her sins and remembers them no more. But you still remember them and you still think of her being defined by her past sins. You should not have mentioned them or even brought them up. You will not be forgiven until you humble yourself and never speak of her past sins any more. She has given them up, and the Lord has accepted her repentance. Now you need to accept her change of life."

When the man heard this he was left almost speechless. He said that no one had ever told him that. He didn't realize that his perception of his wife was having such a profound impact on him and how he viewed others. In a moment his entire demeanor changed. Whereas before he seemed to be inflated with pride and wounded pride as having been disfellowshipped, be was now immensely humble and contrite. It was as if in a moment all his pride was stripped away from him. He promised that he would forgive his wife, and that he would never again mention her past sins. The issue between him and the District President was not even mentioned again. Due to the force of the Spirit that accompanied Elder Wilcox's admonition he had experienced a sudden and dramatic change of heart.

Monday, August 5, 2013

Stories from My Mission: The Butcher Fist Bump

I thought I should share a some what shorter and lighter story after my last two.

In my first area of Bella Vista there were many things that I had to learn about Argentina. One of the minor things that I had to pick up was how butchers greeted people. Because they work with meat their hands are usually covered in meat juices, and everyone else's hands are well, covered in who knows what. So butchers don't shake hands. What they do instead is extend their hand in a fist are you are expected to grab their forearm just above the wrist and "shake" their hand.

The first time I met a butcher and he extended his closed fist to me I had no idea what I was supposed to do. So I did the only thing I could think of, I gave him a fist bump. My companion, Elder Tenny, busted up laughing and the butcher was very confused, and I had no idea what was going on. Elder Tenny thankfully took the time to explain to the butcher what I had done and to explain to me the proper way of "shaking hands" with a butcher. I still think my way is better.

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Stories from My Mission: The things you don't tell your parents about. (Part 1)

I will go ahead and label this post "Part 1" since there were many things that happened to me on my mission that I, um, just didn't write home about. Not because I had done anything wrong, but there were just the little things that happened that I never told them because I really didn't want to make my parents worry about me. I have no idea how many of these stories I have. I did tell my parents some of my big stories, like being bitten by a dog, breaking my rib, or being robbed on the street, but there were all the other little stories that I didn't bother to write them about.

In my fourth area in the city of Eldorado I had one companion, Elder Caballero, who I was with for one transfer (before I was "emergency transferred" out of the area during a normal transfer, but that is another story. Wait, I don't think I ever told my parents about that one... I told them about my first emergency transfer that brought me to Eldorado, but I don't think I ever told them about why I had to leave Eldorado...oops. Anyway back to my normal story.) So, Elder Caballero was a very outspoken Paraguayan who always made it clear what he thought about things. In Paraguay they speak both Spanish and Guarani so he was obviously fluent in both. I on the other hand only knew how to say 5 or 6 words in Guarani, and two of them were "jagua piru" which means "skinny dog", so in other words, I knew nothing in Guarani. In the city of Eldorado about a third of the people were Paraguayans, and thus there were a lot of people who spoke Guarani.

One day after returning from a mission conference in Posadas, we were getting off the bus and my companion bumped into a woman as he was walking down the aisle of the bus. He turned towards her and said, "Excuse me." and then moved on and didn't think any more about what had happened. We were walking down the street about 2 hours later when a man approached us. All of the talking that happened next happened in Guarani so I didn't understand a word of it, but I could understand the man's tone. My companion explained afterwards what he had said.

We almost walked right past each other on the street but at the last moment the man turned and planted himself in front of my companion. He pointed his finger at my companion's chest and asked him if he was the one who had disrespected the woman on the bus. My companion was at first confused, but the man said that he remembered seeing my companion step on the woman's foot on the bus earlier. My companion said he was unaware of the fact that he had stepped on her foot but he said he was sorry about it. The man was not placated and continued to accuse him harshly with his finger now pointed directly at my companions face.

It was at this point that I noticed the ring on the man's finger. It was, shall we say, bone white and had a swastika carved into it. There was something about the man that was very unsettling. He continued to accuse my companion of "disrespecting" the woman and my companion continued to apologize profusely. The man was insisting that my companion would have to do something to satisfy her "wounded honor", and the general implication was that it would somehow involve a knife. My companion, Elder Caballero, who I had seen stand up to toughs on the street, listened to him talk big and would let nothing diminish his honor was obviously disturbed by the man's accusations and was trying to apologize and placate the man as best he could.

Eventually the man was satisfied with what ever my companion told him and with a parting warning he walked off. After the man left Elder Caballero explained to me what the man had said. My companion also told be about how in Paraguay someone's honor is a very serious thing, and to violate someone's honor could provoke serious consequences. My companion knew people who had been knifed over wounded honor (for example, my companion's full last name was Caballero-Ruiz Dias, but he only went by Caballero since another family in Paraguay had a blood feud with the Ruiz Dias family). So for my companion when the man accused him of dishonoring the woman on the bus, this was a very serious thing, especially considering the man's, um, shall we say, choice in jewelry. We were both a little shaken by the experience.

We explained what happened to our branch president. He was concerned but there was nothing he could do. We told our zone leader and mentioned it to the Elders in the mission office, they filed it away behind all the robbings, and kidnappings that happened in my mission (we averaged about one companionship per year was kidnapped/held hostage and robbed per year, which doesn't include all the street muggings at knife/gun point which happened every two or three months or so...something else I never mentioned to my parents...). Since there really wasn't much we could do we just chose to ignore it. Fortunately we never saw that man again.