Monday, October 26, 2015

Deep Study and Exhaustive Searches

"For mortals, therefore, the gospel is inexhaustible, because 
'the Spirit searcheth all things, yea, the deep things of God.'"
-- Neal A. Maxwell

Today I wanted to write about two seemingly unrelated topics, the Book of Mormon translation and plastic surgeons per capita in the the United States.

A few years ago I started a personal project to compare all quotes from Isaiah in the Book of Mormon with their corresponding Biblical texts. When I started I did not know what I would find and what I would learn. I decided to compare the texts side-by-side and keep track of all the variation that I found. From seminary and other places I had heard comments about there being differences between the two but I had never gone through systematically to compare.

It took me a while since I was going through verse by verse, word by word, comparing the two texts, marking the differences, similarities and formatting both into a side-by-side presentation. There were subtle nitpicky things that I had to deal with. I learned a lot, not just about Isaiah, but about other things like html formatting, Hebrew grammar, and where I could find many different Bible translations. I discovered that I liked the New International Version of the Bible better than the King James Version. I began to see patterns in the text and understand better what Isaiah was talking about.

Also by forcing myself to find and keep track of each variation in the text between the Bible and the Book of Mormon I learned to recognize interesting patterns in the variations. Some where minor, some were significant. While working slogging through the comparisons, and noting the most minuscule of variations, and at one point I remember clearly thinking, "These variations are not random. They are not mistakes. There is a reason and a method to them."

All of it taught me something about how Joseph Smith translated the Book of Mormon. Occasionally I read speculations by members of the Church about how they think Joseph Smith accomplished the translation, whether it was a tightly controlled translation, a loosely controlled translation, or even maybe Joseph Smith just drew on language that was common to him in order to render the text of the Book of Mormon.. Based on what I have learned many of the proposed theories are untenable. Before, when I read the different speculations I had to evaluate each one based on the quality of the argument. But after much deep study and personal familiarity with the Isaiah chapters in the Book of Mormon I can easily dismiss most of them as inconsistent with what I know about the text.

Based on my study I can say that there were two major influences to the text of the Book of Mormon that we have. The "translation" process, which was more revelatory than anything else, that came through Joseph Smith was a very, very, tightly controlled process, down to spellings, individual word placements and the rendering of certain phrases. There was no room for personal interpretation or variation on the part of Joseph Smith. But, and this should teach us something about God, everything else after that was left entirely to the discretion, the personal competency, hearing ability and handwriting ability of the scribes. If there were errors introduced by one of the scribes, those errors were not corrected. Once the revelation had been given, God did not attempt to correct what Joseph and Oliver had done. The translation process was in fact a two step tight-free translation process. It was tight in the initial revelation, and free and uncontrolled thereafter.

I can say this because I have spent time studying the text and keeping track of thousands of variations. I would not expect anyone to idly accept what I have to say just because I said it, because I only reached my conclusions after much study and an exhaustive search all quotes from Isaiah in the Book of Mormon. It was only after becoming familiar with the subtleties of variations in the text that I was able to some to my conclusions. There are other things that I learned that are difficult to explain because they would only make sense to someone who has also gone through the same experience and has seen the same things. There is some knowledge that is only available after studying a subject deeply.

So how does this relate to plastic surgeons per capita in the the United States? I'm glad you asked.

Recently I took a comprehensive look at all plastic surgeons in the US listed on the American Society of Plastic Surgeons website. There were a a few news stories circulating citing a story from 2007 that which found that Salt Lake City had more plastic surgeons than any other city and was therefore the "Vainest City in America". While many people questioned that conclusion and attempted to rationalize away or attempt to explain why the article from 2007 listed Salt Lake City as #1, I could only find one or two people who actually questioned the data. The problem was, in order to question the data you would need to have your own data and be able to demonstrate a different conclusion and most people have neither the time nor the inclination to gather that data. But I'm weird like that.

There is something about looking at all 1407 cities, towns and villages that had a least one plastic surgeon that allowed me to begin to see patterns in the data. By doing an exhaustive search I was able to learn things that I would not have learned otherwise. This includes things that have nothing to do with plastic surgery. For example, I learned how convoluted the system of government is in states like Pennsylvania, Maryland and Massachusetts. I also learned about how the US census aggregates their data. I also learned that Hawaii only has one incorporated city. I learned about little out of the way places like Edina, Minnesota, and Crestone, Colorado. There are things that I learned that I would not have learned if I had not done an exhaustive search. There was something about going through every single city that allowed me to see things that I would not have seen otherwise.

There are some insights and knowledge that are available only after deep study and an exhaustive search. Some of these truths are not easily communicated with those who have not also studied the topic deeply. In some cases the knowledge and insight can be stated in clear language, but others will not understand until after they have also put forth the effort to study it out in their minds and consider to its fullest extent.

This is a principle of learning that is careful, ponderous, slow, and takes great effort. Many in our modern world think that if the answer is not quick, easy, readily available, and effortless then it is not worth considering. But anyone who has learned something to great depth knows otherwise, and knows that the depth of knowledge is inexhaustible.


Michaela Stephens said...

Yes and yes. I totally agree.

I've looked at comparisons between BofM Isaiah and Bible Isaiah and I've learned a lot from that comparison, but I hadn't thought about what that implied about Joseph Smith's translation process. But now that you point that out, I can see you are right.

Quantumleap42 said...

Before I started that project I really didn't have an opinion one way or another. I think I was leaning towards a model that was neither strict nor loose. Like many members for a while I thought Joseph was translating the BoM in the same way the Bible or any other book was translated. But that didn't fit with first hand accounts of the translation, so I didn't know what to think. At about this time I started my Isaiah study and it just became apparent what had happened.