The Book of Mormon:
A Marvelous Work and a Wonder*
by Kevin Winters

 

Introduction.. 2

FARMS.. 2

The Book’s Inception.. 3

Word Print Analysis.. 5

Metal Plates and Reformed Egyptian.. 7

Seismology.. 10

Chiasmus.. 11

Names from Antiquity.. 15

Alma. 16

Mosiah. 17

Sariah. 19

Conclusion.. 20

 

 

 

 

 


Introduction

            Brothers and Sisters, it is a pleasure to come here to speak to you today on the Book of Mormon. It is a most important topic and one that I have personally invested literally hundreds of hours into. In my life there have been three topics of study that have been foremost: the Book of Mormon, the Temple, and Philosophy (which basically covers everything else in the known universe!). If I may be a little autobiographical: it was the Book of Mormon that first got me interested in scholarship, which then led me to the Temple and, finally, to Philosophy. We could say that, for me, the Book of Mormon started it all. You can see, then, at least one reason why I am incredibly grateful for the Book of Mormon and Joseph Smith.

            The Book of Mormon is truly a “marvelous work and a wonder.”[1] It is an impressive Book that is more complicated and intricate than most suppose. This is incredibly unfortunate. Today I hope to increase your understanding of the Book of Mormon. The format that I wish to use is by discussing the “evidences” that have been found for the Book of Mormon through Book of Mormon scholarship in the last 20 or so years.

Allow me to give a preliminary remark on “evidence.” When I use the term “evidence” or “evidences” I use it rather loosely. An “evidence” is information that could be in favor of a given truth claim. “Evidence” is hardly, if ever, conclusive and certain. In spiritual matters, as with the Book of Mormon, the only sure witness is the Spirit, and even there some would dispute. “Evidence” may buoy up our testimonies but, because of its uncertain nature, it should not be the basis for testimony. Thus, though the information I will give could very well place the Book of Mormon in the ancient context that it purports to be from, it truly proves nothing and can be disputed. With that in mind, let us proceed.

 

FARMS

      For some background: the majority of the information that I will be presenting today has been furnished by the Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies (a.k.a. FARMS). FARMS is a non-profit organization that, since October 1997, has been a part of BYU, invited by President Hinckley himself. Before that time it was an independent organization, run by dedicated LDS scholars. FARMS

 

encourages and supports research on the Book of Mormon, the Book of Abraham, the Bible, other ancient scripture, and related subjects…. The work of FARMS rests on the conviction that the Book of Mormon and other ancient scriptures are authentic historical documents written by prophets of God. Scholarly and scientific research and study of scriptures are considered to be valuable means for assisting students to more fully appreciate and understand sacred texts. Such efforts are meant only to compliment, not replace, personal study of the scriptures for spiritual and moral ends.[2]

 

FARMS meets these ends, in my humble opinion, quite satisfactorily. There are, generally, three different areas of research that FARMS produces scholarship on:

 

1)      Digitizing ancient records

 

One branch of FARMS is the Institute for the Study and Preservation of Ancient Religious Texts (i.e. ISPART). Among their first projects, ISPART (then CPART) digitized the Dead Sea Scrolls into a searchable database. This allowed scholars from all around the world to have high quality, searchable, and endurable texts from the DSS that, otherwise, would not have been available. A current project includes being active in the Vatican, digitizing ancient records that have not been touched for hundreds of years and are currently eroding. Other projects include multi-spectral imaging of burnt parchments from Petra, in Jordan, imaging of glyphs in Bonampak, in Central America, among many others.

 

2)      Translating Ancient Texts

 

FARMS and ISPART are currently working on a few translation series’. The first, and most prominent currently, is the Islamic Translation Series.

 

3)       

 

 

FARMS stands as the main provider of much, if not all, of the information presented here today. Their products, in the realm of research, provide us with material that, otherwise, would not have been done. Standing as the sole provider of research on the Book of Mormon as an ancient text is nearly invaluable. I would suggest to anyone who wishes to gain a better understanding of the scriptures to contact FARMS. I can promise you that you will not come away fruitless.

 

The Book’s Inception

            The very existence of the Book of Mormon is an incredible phenomenon. The book, according to our historical records, was produced in about 90 days (from April 5 – June 30, 1829). In production this amounts to about 8-11 pages a day. We would do well to remember that the Book of Mormon’s production could not have been constant: Joseph had other duties to fulfill including moving three times during the translation process. In addition to translating,

 

[Joseph and Oliver] also took time to eat, to sleep, to seek employment (once, to work for money when supplies ran out)…to make at least one (and possibly two) trips to Colesville thirty miles away, to convert and baptize Hyrum and Samuel Smith (who came to Harmony at that time), to receive and record thirteen revelations that are now sections of the Doctrine and Covenants, to move on buckboard from Harmony to Fayette, to acquire the Book of Mormon copyright, to preach a few days and baptize several people near Fayette, to experience manifestations with the Three and Eight Witnesses, and to begin making arrangements for the Book of Mormon’s publication.[3]

 

Needless to say, they did not spend all their time translating and had more than enough to keep them busy otherwise. Even if we would doubt that the Book of Mormon is a translation, the production of any book of this length in such circumstances is incredible, to say the least.

            The evidence that the Book of Mormon was produced within this three-month time-period is convincing. The original manuscript of the Book of Mormon consists of about 600 straight pages of text: no paragraphs, no punctuation, and no breaks with very few revisions. An analogy would be producing around 240,000 words first draft, last draft. For those of us with some experience writing term papers, this is indeed an incredible feat, especially without a word processor!

            One more point in this section: Joseph Smith, Jr., had very little education. According to his mother, Joseph was “much less inclined to the perusal of books than any other the rest of our children.”[4] Of his education, Orson Pratt stated:

 

His advantages for acquiring scientific knowledge were exceedingly small, being limited to a slight acquaintance with two or three of the common branches of learning. He could read without much difficulty, and write a very imperfect hand; and had a very limited understanding of the elementary rules of arithmetic. These were his highest and only attainments; while the rest of those branches, so universally taught in the common schools throughout the United States, were entirely unknown to him.[5]

 

Orson Pratt describes Joseph, in his youth: “He was not a learned man himself, but an ignorant farmer's boy, scarcely having the first rudiments of education. He could read and write a little, and that was about the amount of his educational acquirements.”[6] This “illiterate youth” and “unlearned boy,” according to Wilford Woodruff and Charles C. Rich,[7] produced the Book of Mormon. Emma Smith told her son that “it would have been improbable that a learned man could [fabricate] the Book of Mormon], and for one as unlearned as [Joseph] was it was simply impossible.”[8] On the surface it is astonishing. When we go deeper, as we will here, it is simply mind-boggling to say the least, nearly impossible at most. We must keep this in mind as we proceed to look at the text itself:

 

Word Print Analysis

            Starting in 1988 a group calling themselves “The Berkley Group” did a wordprint study on the Book of Mormon. The Group consisted of three individuals – a Mormon, a Jew, and an Agnostic – giving us a variety of religious persuasions and more security against tampering with the evidence.

            A wordprint study consists in studying patterns in a given text of words such as the, of, a, and, that, and so on. The test, using computers, took seven years to finish. The texts used were 5,000 word blocks by Samuel Johnson, Mark Twain, Oliver Cowdery, Solomon Spaulding, Joseph Smith and two authors within the Book of Mormon: Nephi and Alma, they being the most prolific within the text.

            To tackle the translation issue, the Group did wordprint studies on translations of several German writers, each work translated by the same translator. Each translation of the same German author, by the same translator, was shown to be consistent, according to wordprint analysis, with the other works by the same author. This provides plausible evidence that distinctive wordprint patterns remain consistent through a translation process by the same translator.

            Here are some results of the Berkeley Group’s tests (see Table 1):

 

1)      Texts written by one author typically differed from each other in respect to only one, two, or three of the sixty-five testable word prints.

2)      No two texts written by one author differed from each other in more than six tests, giving us a <6 failure verification that two texts have a single author.

3)      Texts written by different authors usually manifested six, seven, or more differences or rejections, giving us a >6 failure verification that two texts have different authors.

4)      In six tests, writings of Nephi were compared with other writings of Nephi, and writings of Alma were tested against other writings of Alma. Only one to five wordprint differences were ever found in the writings of a supposedly single author, verifying a single author according to #2 above.

5)      In nine tests, writings of Nephi were measured against writings of Alma. In eight of these nine tests, five or more rejections resulted. Four [of the five] produced seven, eight, nine, and ten rejections, respectively. These results tell us that there is a 99.5, 99.9, and 99.997% chance the writings said to be by Nephi were authored by a different person than whoever wrote Alma’s pieces (hence Joseph Smith could not have originated both).

6)      Thirty-six tests were run, comparing writings of Nephi and Alma with the words of Joseph Smith, Oliver Cowdery, and Solomon Spaulding. In every set matching the texts purported to be by Nephi or Alma with texts of these three modern writers, at least seven (and often many more) rejections were measured with respect to at least two (and often many more) of the ancient-to-modern comparisons run for all five of these authors. Never were fewer than three rejections found for any given single textual comparison within these sets.

7)      New vocabulary introduction rates are relatively level throughout the Book of Mormon, as was also found to be the case in academically translated works.[9]

 

Wordprint studies are not incontestable or inerrant in their statistics. But, they do provide a somewhat objective report on the authorship question. Furthermore, that three individuals, two of which were not LDS (being Jewish and Agnostic), came to a consensus on the technique of wordprint studies and the statistical findings of those studies provides for a strict guard against tampering with the evidence. With the chances that the words of Alma were written by the writer of Nephi, Joseph Smith, Oliver Cowdery, or Solomon Spaulding being as small as they are (and likewise in relation to the others), wordprint studies provides a convincing statistical proof of the multiple authorship of the Book of Mormon.

 

Metal Plates and Reformed Egyptian

At the Book of Mormon’s first inception, the idea of scripture inscribed on metal plates for its continual preservation was considered ludicrous (admittedly, many today still find it ludicrous). One critic triumphantly stated, “No such records were ever engraved upon golden plates or any other plates, in the early ages.”[10] Modern scholarship has shown otherwise.

Jacob aptly describes the reason for using metal plates:

 

Now behold, it came to pass that I, Jacob, having ministered much unto my people in word, (and I cannot write but a little of my words, because of the difficulty of engraving our words upon plates) and we know that the things which we write upon plates must remain; But whatsoever things we write upon anything save it be upon plates must perish and vanish away.[11]

 

The need for metal engravings was for the perpetuation of the ancient text. The use of other transmission materials, such as papyrus, cured leather, or paper of some type, would endanger the chance of the text to endure time. The need, then, of a more durable material for more precious documents became paramount to the Nephite record keepers. Thankfully for them, they had a long history stretching behind them of inscription on metal plates.

There is at least one Biblical reference to writing on metal plates as well as numerous non-Biblical references in relation to the same. Isaiah 8:1 stands as an excellent, and singular, Biblical example of this idea:

 

Moreover the LORD said unto me, Take thee a great roll, and write in it with a man's pen concerning Maher-shalal-hash-baz.

 

The KJV does a less-than-good rendering of this text. The Hebrew word for “roll” is actually gillayown (pronunciation: ghil-law-yone’) whose interpretation would better be rendered “table, tablet, mirror, [or] flat shiny ornament.”[12] In addition, the Hebrew for the word “pen” is cheret (pronunciation: kheh’-ret) that would better be rendered “an engraving tool…chisel, [or] graving tool”[13] as in the “graving tool” by which Aaron made the golden calf,[14] which is the same Hebrew word.[15] Here, then, we have Isaiah being commanded by God, for no given reason, to write on what probably is a metal plate, or tablet, scripture and revelation.

To give a few extra-canonical works referring to writing on metal plates: in one Apocryphal text John Tvedtnes, of BYU, notes that “a treaty between the Jews and the Romans in the second century B.C. was inscribed on bronze plates.”[16] A fifth-century A.D. text relates the tradition that Seth was told by an angel to “write upon bronze tablets and store them up in the desert land”[17] which, interestingly enough in a corollary account, was left “behind for the subsequent generations.”[18]

Our earliest example of the practice of writing in metal plates is the Byblos Syllabic inscriptions. These have been dated to about the eighteenth century B.C. This syllabary was inscribed in copper plates whose writing “is clearly inspired by the Egyptian hieroglyphic system, and in fact is the most important link known between the hieroglyphs and the Canaanite alphabet.”[19] Thus, we find an inscription written on copper plates whose writing is “inspired,” or derived from, an Egyptian alphabet system but is based on the Canaanite alphabet.

As for scriptural records being kept on metal plates anciently, we have a good number of references and archeological finds that give credibility to our proclamation. For Biblical records, we do not have much by the way of archeological evidence. There is one of note: in 1980 an excavation in Jerusalem found “two small, rolled-up strips of silver.”[20] On these two silver strips were found quotations from Numbers 6:24-26. This find was designated by Michael D. Coogan, in the Biblical Archaeology Review as one of the “Ten Great Finds” in Biblical archaeology. These silver plates “are the earliest inscriptions containing a text also found in the Bible.”[21] Though these plates are said to have been “prayer-like, or amuletic, in nature”[22] they stand as a wonderful example of the practice in question.

Furthermore, Walter Burkert, Professor of Classics at the University of Zurich, in speaking of the dependence of the Greeks on Near Eastern culture, traces “the reference to ‘bronze deltoi’ as a [Greek] term for ancient sacral law [that] should point back to the seventh or sixth century [B.C.].”[23] Thus, though our finds thus far do not give us any archaeological examples equivalent to the Nephite plates in size or scope (at least in reference to Biblical texts, past the silver strips and the reference in Isaiah), the practice was practiced and originated in the Near East around the time in question.

For anyone familiar with the claims of the Book of Mormon the above is directly in line with its claims. We have evidence for the writing of “sacral law,” or scripture, on metal plates, originating in the Near East, and even have references of this inscribing being done in a reformed Egyptian script. More could be said and referenced on this but this will suffice for the time being.

 

Seismology

            Many will wonder what seismology has to do with the Book of Mormon. In 3 Nephi, just prior to Christ’s physical appearance to the Nephites, a calamitous event occurs: darkness covers the face of the earth, lightning’s, thundering, earthquakes, flooding, etc. The remarkable thing is that these descriptions are true to life of volcanic eruptions.

Where the Book of Mormon text speaks of the presence of “darkness for the space of three days”[24] modern reports speak of ash fall “so dense that cars had to use their headlights in daytime.”[25] Where the Book of Mormon states, “there could be no light…neither could there be any fire kindled,”[26] another ancient source on the destruction of Santorini (15th Century B.C.E.) states “a torch could not be lit in the Two Lands.”[27] Where the Book of Mormon states that cities were flooded and sunken into the sea[28] Santorini was buffeted by “tidal waves…estimated to have been one mile high…at 200 miles per hour” which was powerful enough to “drown the ancient port of Ugarit in Syria.”[29]

We would do well to note that the city of Moroni, said to have been “[sunk] in the depths of the sea,” is thought of by John Sorenson, LDS Mesoamerican scholar, to have been a city by the now Gulf of Mexico in the Upper Grijalva Valley.[30] Other happenings, such as the “whirlwinds, and the thunderings and the lightnings, and the exceedingly great quaking of the whole earth”[31] are common occurrences during a volcanic eruption. If you want to see a good representation of these happenings I would suggest seeing the movie Dante’s Peak.

 

Chiasmus

            Chiasmus is an ancient literary device found in most ancient civilizations including the Babylonians, the Greeks, the Sumerians and the Hebrews. The term comes from the Greek chi (or “X”), which means a “cross-over.”[32] This is due to the structure of chiasmus, to become evident soon.

            Within these ancient cultures chiasmus is seen as a type of poetry. This poetry is unlike much of our modern poetry: instead of rhyming words the ancients would rhyme ideas and concepts. I’ll give you a few small Biblical chiastic examples and then we will move onto the Book of Mormon:

 

Proverbs 18:6-7

A – A fool's lips enter into contention

B – and his mouth calleth for strokes.

B’ – A fool's mouth is his destruction,

A – and his lips are the snare of his soul.

 

      This chiasm consists of two parts centering around two words, “lips” and “mouth.” For the first half of the chiasm, we start with “lips” and end with “mouth” and, in the second half, we start with “mouth” and end with “lips.” This is a simple two part chiasm.

 

Jeremiah 2:27-28

A – but in the time of their trouble they will say,

B – Arise, and save us.

C – But where are thy gods that thou hast made thee?

B’ – let them arise, if they can save thee

A’ – in the time of thy trouble:

 

            Here we see a three part chiasm with a single center point. We start with the “time of their trouble,” then go to “arise” and “save us,” where we are then brought to the “gods,” that stands as the center of the chiastic pattern, who are then told to “arise” and “save thee” in the “time of thy trouble.” In chiastic structures, one may or may not repeat the middle section. Most often it is repeated to emphasize the middle term/idea.

            We now turn to chiastic patterns in the Book of Mormon. It is surprising, but there are a good number of these poetic verses in the Book of Mormon text. I will give you a few of my favorites.

            In King Benjamin’s incredible speech we have a few instances of chiasm. The one that I wish to give to you happens to be the first chiastic pattern discovered by John Welch, the LDS scholar who brought the chiastic presence to the LDS imagination. It is in Mosiah 5:10-12. The terms, in their chiastic pattern, go as such:

 

A – Not take upon him the name of Christ (v. 10)

B – Must be called by some other name (v. 10)

C – He findeth himself on the left hand of God (v. 10)

D – I would that ye should remember (v. 11)

E – Name…that never should be blotted out (v. 11)

F – Except it be through transgression (v. 11)

F’ – Take heed that ye do not transgress (v. 11)

E’ – That the name be not blotted out (v. 11)

D’ – I would that ye should remember (v. 12)

C’ – That ye are not found on the left hand of God (v. 12)

B’ –The voice by which ye shall be called (v. 12)

A’ – Also, the name by which he shall call you (v. 12)

 

 

            Here we see that King Benjamin repeats the term “transgression” as he gives us the requirements of being found on the “left hand of God” and then follows posthumously with what we must do to not be found on the “left hand of God.” Thus, King Benjamin states in a very poetic way, using stark contrasts that could be termed inverted antithetical parallelism, the basic requirements of the covenant of taking upon one the name of Christ and achieving salvation. This structure would prove very effective in teaching if one were familiar with the literary structure he is using.

            My next chiastic selection comes from Alma, who you will soon see gave us among the most beautiful and elegant chiastic structure in the ancient world. Though not the “most beautiful” chiasm, the following is very beautiful and creative in its makeup. In Alma 41, Alma is speaking to his son Corianton. The topic, in verses 13-15, is “restoration” and what it entails. In explanation, Alma gives the following chiastic structure:

 

A – The meaning of the word restoration (v. 13)

B – Is to bring back again…good for that which is good (v. 13)

C – Righteous for that which is righteous (v. 13)

D – Just for that which is just (v. 13)

E – Merciful for that which is merciful (v. 13)

E’ – My son, see that you are merciful (v. 14)

D’ – Deal justly (v. 14)

C’ – Judge righteously (v. 14)

B’ – Do good continually (v. 14)

E’ – Ye shall have mercy restored unto you again (v. 14)

D’ – Ye shall have justice restored unto you again (v. 14)

C’ – Ye shall have a righteous judgment restored unto you again (v. 14)

B’ – Ye shall have good rewarded unto you again (v. 14)

A’ – Therefore the word restoration (v. 15)

 

            We see that in the first half of the chiasm Alma gives the words in pairs: Good for Good, Righteous for Righteous, etc. In the second half, Alma artfully separates the word pairs into two descending chiastic forms, returning to the term “restoration.” Further, on the second half, in utilizing the split chiastic structure, Alma elucidates how we will gain “good for that which is good” and “[mercy] for that which is merciful.” This is a very inventive and incredibly clever chiastic pattern.

            The last chiasm in the Book of Mormon that I will bring to your attention is Alma 36. Though not the largest chiasm in the Book of Mormon, Alma 36 stands among the most elegant and beautiful chiastic structures in the ancient world. Consisting of seventeen parts, all beautifully brought in on themselves in a chiastic pattern, Alma 36 is a beautiful testimony of Christ:

 

A – My son give ear to my words (v. 1)

B – Keep the commandments and ye shall prosper in the land (v. 1)

C – Do as I have done (v. 2)

D – Remember the captivity of our fathers (v. 2)

E – They were in bondage (v. 2)

F – He surely did deliver them (v. 2)

G – Trust in God (v. 3)

H – Supported in trials, troubles, and afflictions (v. 3)

I – Lifted up at the last day (v. 3)

J – I know this not of myself but of God (v. 4)

K – Born of God (v. 5)

L – I sought to destroy the Church (v. 6-9)

M – My limbs were paralyzed (v. 10)

N – Fear of being in the presence of God (vv. 14-15)

O – Pains of a damned soul (v. 16)

P – Harrowed up by the memory of my sins (v. 17)

Q – I remembered Jesus Christ, a Son of God (v. 17)

Q’ – I cried, Jesus Christ, Son of God (v. 18)

P’ – Harrowed up by the memory of my sins no more (v. 19)

O’ – Joy as exceeding as was my pain (v. 20)

N’ – Long to be in the presence of God (v. 22)

M’ – My limbs received strength again (v. 23)

L’ – I labored to bring souls to repentance (v. 24)

K’ – Born of God (v. 26)

J’ – Therefore my knowledge is of God (v. 26)

H’ – Supported under trials, troubles, and afflictions (v. 26)

G’ – Trust in him (v. 27)

F’ – He will deliver me (v. 27)

I’ – And raise me up at the last day (v. 28)

E’ – As God brought our fathers out of bondage and captivity (v. 28-29)

D’ – Retain a remembrance of their captivity (v. 29)

C’ – Know as I do know (v. 30)

B’ – Keep the commandments and ye shall prosper in the land (v. 30)

A’ – This according to his word (v. 30)

 

            Notice the middle, repeated, section: “Jesus Christ, Son of God” – a fitting turning point, both poetically and in Alma’s life. Notice that every point has a match; every phrase is, more or less, repeated at a later section in the chiasm in direct condescending order, with the minor exception of I’ (though I’ stands in its proper context to keep the flow of ideas steady). Such an extensive chiasm, beautifully done, is rare in the ancient world. Thus we come to ask ourselves, how could Joseph Smith, our uneducated farm boy, have created such a literary masterpiece? For those who might think it easy to create such a chiastic pattern, try creating your own chiasm, about 1200 words long, that will match the above in style, poeticism, and content. It is not an easy task, even though we have, literally, a hundred times more education than Joseph did at the Book of Mormon’s production.

            I will close this section by noting that there are two chiasms that are particularly long, the first being the whole book of 1 Nephi and the second being the whole of King Benjamin’s speech. Both exhibit a high degree of chiastic presence and poeticism, each with a number of chiasms within the wider chiasm. We could also add that there are a good number of smaller chiasms as well as numerous other Hebrew literary patterns throughout the Book of Mormon not touched on at this time. Literarily speaking, the Book of Mormon is far from “small and simple.”[33]

 

Names from Antiquity

I would like to end today by talking about Nephite names, not found in the Bible, that have been authenticated from ancient Hebrew texts. We should start out by stating that finding ancient parallels for names is not an easy task. As one resource puts it:

 

Sound research to shed light on exotic names is complicated. Only those with a strong base of knowledge in one or more of the languages that are thought to be involved are able to participate fruitfully in the process. In the case of the Book of Mormon names, that means that researchers must thoroughly control at least one of the background Near Eastern languages: Hebrew, related Semitic languages such as Akkadian or Arabic, Egyptian, Coptic, or neighboring tongues like Greek or Sumerian.

 

This intense preparation needs to be used so that “ill-prepared, speculative” evidence will not be given. [34] Moreover, due to the nature of trying to find etymological similarities between ancient names and modern translations of such names puts much of the following in the realm of speculation. Still, this does not mean, in any way, that the findings are wrong. With this in mind we will proceed.

 

Alma

The name “Alma” must be the most amusing evidence on Book of Mormon names that we have. As Hugh Nibley has pointed out, “Roman priests have found in this obviously Latin and obviously feminine name--(who does not know that Alma Mater means "fostering mother"?)--gratifying evidence of the ignorance and naiveté of the youthful Joseph Smith--how could he have been simple enough to let such a thing get by?”[35] Surprisingly enough, for some of us, Alma has been attested to as a male Hebrew name in a number of ancient inscriptions.

In the now infamous Dead Sea Scrolls, Biblical scholar Yigael Yadin discovered an inscription that he translated as Alma ben Yehuda, or “Alma son of Judah.”[36] In another find, on clay tablets from Tell Mardikh (in northwestern Syria) we find eight different references to the personal name al6-ma on six tablets, referring to merchants who by and large were male in that period of time. The Semitic nature of this name, a variation of Akkadian, gives us great evidence of the presence of the Hebrew, male name of Alma both predating and postdating Lehi’s journey from Jerusalem.[37]

 

Mosiah

The name of Mosiah, next to Alma, is my favorite evidence in relation to names, and definitely stands as the most intricate evidences in this respect. Thus, before I can provide the evidence I need to dispense with some background information. In the ancient Near East there lies a tradition of renaming an individual at important times in their lives. To refer to some scriptural accounts: Abram received the name Abraham upon his receiving the Abrahamic covenant,[38] Joseph was renamed Zaphnath-paaneah by Pharaoh upon his appointment to a royal office,[39] Daniel was renamed Belteshazzar for his new royal status under the reign of Nebuchadnezzar.[40] This principle of renaming, as seen in the above, was very often associated with royalty.

In the Book of Mormon, we have the same tradition:

 

And whoso should reign in [Nephi’s] stead were called by the people, second Nephi, third Nephi, and so forth, according to the reigns of the kings; and thus they were called by the people, let them be of whatever name they would.[41]

 

We can see, then, that the idea of renaming an individual, “let them be of whatever name they would,” was familiar to the Nephites. It is conjectured that this is the case with Mosiah.

In 1965 a study was done for Vetus Testamentum by John Sawyer entitled “What Was a Mošiav?” (pronunciation: moe-shee’-ah). There are a few peculiarities about this name (see Table 2). First off, “Mošiav is a word peculiar to Hebrew” for “there is no evidence for mošiav in another language, which is not a borrowing from Hebrew.”[42] As for its meaning, “[mošiav] is a word invariably implying a champion of justice in a situation of controversy, battle or oppression. In the legal language of Deuteronomy it can be applied to anyone who happens to be at hand.”[43] Thus, the name Mošiav is not person specific, but can apply to anyone. Nevertheless, there are some restrictions. The name, in the Biblical record as a verb, “is found only with the following individuals: king, judge, prophet, priest…watchmen, father, [and] son…. Thus mošiav is separated from its more general synonyms and brought into a class of people who have a definite office or position in ancient Israel.”[44] Furthermore, “when the subject [i.e. mošiav] is mentioned it is always [in reference to] God or His appointed hero.”[45] The act of championing or freeing from injustice “appears most often, not in context of violence or physical danger.”[46] Lastly, “final victory means the coming of mošivim [plural; pronunciation: moe-shee-eem’] to rule like Judges over Israel.”[47]

Where does our King Mosiah fit into this picture? As recorded in Omni chapter 1, Mosiah I, father of Benjamin, father of Mosiah II, delivered many Nephites from destruction by fleeing the land of Nephi “according as the Lord had commanded him,”[48] thus showing that he delivered them by non-violent means and through divine instruction (via #3 and #4). Furthermore, Mosiah I stood as a deliverer of those at Zarahemla, providing for them the scriptures, as well as order and justice (via #1).[49] Mosiah I, as a mošiav, “did according as the Lord had commanded him,”[50] showing his divine calling (via #2 and #3). Not only was Mosiah I an appointed King (via #2), he was also a prophet with the gift to translate (via #3).[51]

We now turn to Mosiah II: Mosiah II, in the third year of his reign, sent out sixteen men in search of the land of Lehi-Nephi.[52] Upon finding the land of Lehi-Nephi it was discovered that Limhi and his people were in a state of injustice, being “in bondage to the Lamanites, and are taxed with a tax which is grievous to be borne.”[53] The leader of the group, Ammon, in conference with Limhi, devised a non-violent means of bringing all the people of Limhi by getting the guards drunk and sneaking out.[54] Thus, under Mosiah II’s reign, a people were delivered by a non-violent means (via #4). Furthermore, Mosiah II was a king and prophet, having the gift to translate as with his grandfather (via #2).[55] Lastly, at the end of his reign, having no son to confer the kingship on, Mosiah II instituted the judges, who “will judge this people according to the commandments of God” [56] (via #5).

To end, Mosiah II was proclaimed, at the end of his record, as a great man by the people, “for he had not exacted riches of them, neither had he delighted in the shedding of blood [via #4]; but he had established peace in the land, and he had granted unto his people that they should be delivered from all manner of bondage [via #1]; therefore they did esteem him, yea, exceedingly, beyond measure. And it came to pass that they did appoint judges to rule over them, or to judge them according to the law [via #5]; and this they did throughout all the land.”[57] All the above traits attributed to Mosiah are directly in line with Sawyer’s attributes of a mošiav, with very little variation. Due to the peoples great esteem, even “beyond measure,” it would not seem odd for Mosiah I, and his son, to have received that name from them because of his acts. Likewise, we can see more logic in naming the book “Mosiah” as many of the occurrences in the book, more so than any other book, involve a mošiav and all that that entails.

 

Sariah

Here, as with Alma, we have a gender difficulty. In the Biblical account, the derivatives of the name Sariah are spelled “S-e-r-a-i-a-h,” referencing a male as in 2 Samuel 8:17, 1 Chronicles 6:14, and Jeremiah 51:59 where Seraiah is the chief priest. Supposing for a moment that Joseph knew that the two names were etymologically equivalent: how do we explain the gender problem?

To start: the name Seraiah, and derivatively Sariah, means “Jehovah is my prince.” Our first reaction, then, might be noticing that the name has masculine elements, namely Jehovah, the male God, and prince, as opposed to princess. This can quickly be sidestepped by noticing that other obviously Biblical feminine names utilize masculine theophoric rudiments: Jezebel, Abigail, and Athaliah are three examples. The first two, Jezebel and Abigail, end with El, one of the Biblical, and extra-Biblical, names for God. The last utilizes –iah, a short form for Jehovah. Thus, the masculine elements in the name Sariah do not necessitate giving the subject of the name a male gender.[58]

What of the Biblical male name Seraiah? Are there any ancient uses of the name, or its Hebrew equivalent, for a female? Surprisingly, there are. In the opening of the 20th Century a stash of papyri were found at Elephentine, in northern Egypt. On one document, called Cowley #22, we find the following inscription: Sariah barat Hosheaa bar xarman, meaning “Sariah daughter of Hoshea son of xarman.” Significantly, the founder of the papyri, Cowley, used the KJV of the name: “Seraiah daughter of Hoshea.”[59] This document is dated to the 5th Century B.C.E., showing it to be closely associated with Lehi’s time-period.

 

Conclusion

The above that I have tried to fit into the last 40 minutes are only brief summaries of the greater evidence in each case. Each section that I have discussed can be multiplied and I have only been able to, in each case, give a short synopsis of the more thorough works, often with leaving out many pertinent details. Likewise, there are many more topics I could have included, had time permitted: geography (of Lehi’s trip through the Arabian desert, Bountiful, Nahom, as well as the New World), ancient celebrations (Feast of Passover, kingship rites, farewell addresses), literary devices (parallelism, literary forms of revelation, Jewish patterns and word combinations), ancient Jewish seafaring (including water currents that could have brought Lehi to the New World), methods of warfare (including their Mesoamerican equivalents), Nephite calendrical formulations (that, incidentally, places Christ’s birth around 5 B.C.E. as scholars generally concur), and the list can go on.

I must reiterate that the above does not necessarily prove anything. Being inductive, the most we can say is, “Given the evidence and Joseph’s education it is highly improbable that he could have written the Book of Mormon. Furthermore, as the Book of Mormon fits well into the ancient context, it seems probable that it comes from that context.” Fortunately, as I see it, that is the best we can do with scholarly research. Thus, I would ask all present not to go on spouting how the above proves the Book of Mormon’s authenticity. I would ask all present, though, to reconsider what they thought of the Book of Mormon’s simplicity. Simplicity in doctrine is not the same as simplicity in construction.

The only way to be able to prove the Book of Mormon’s authenticity is to learn for oneself through careful searching through its pages and fervent prayer to God. The Book of Mormon is primarily a spiritual book. Its most important message is Christ, his death, and his atonement, not that ancient American’s used cement in their building. As interesting as these other things may be, to focus on them to the exclusion of the Book’s testimony of Christ is to commit a grave error. I testify to the Book of Mormon’s truthfulness both as a historical record and, more importantly, as a true testimony of Jesus Christ. This conviction I pray all may have who are here today, and this I would pray in the name of Jesus Christ, amen.



* This text is adapted (and expanded) from a presentation given at the Glendale Institute of Religion on Friday, November 30, 2001.

[1] 2 Nephi 25:17.

[2] Journal of Book of Mormon Studies 10/1: 81.

[3] John W. Welch, ed., Reexploring the Book of Mormon (Provo, UT: Deseret Book and FARMS, 1992), 4.

[4] Smith, Lucy Mack, History of the Prophet Joseph Smith by His Mother, Lucy Mack Smith (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, Inc., 1958), 84.

[5] Orson Pratt, Remarkable Visions (Liverpool, England, 1848), pg. 1, quoted in Hyrum Andrus, Joseph Smith, The Man and the Seer (Salt Lake City, UT: Deseret Book Company, 1960), 53.

[6] Journal of Discourses, XVIII: 161

[7] Journal of Discourses, XVIII:118, 210; XIX:28, quoted in Hyrum Andrus, Joseph Smith, The Man and the Seer, 53.

[8] Joseph Smith III, “Last Testimony of Sister Emma,” Saints’ Herald (4-10 February 1897; 1 October 1987): 290.

[9] John L. Hilton, “Wordprints and the Book of Mormon,” in Welch, Reexploring the Book of Mormon, pp. 222-223.

[10] Martin Thomas Lamb, The Golden Bible: Or, the Book of Mormon. Is It From God? (New York: Ward and Drummond, 1887), pg. 11 quoted in Tvedtnes, John, The Book of Mormon and Other Hidden Books: Out of Darkness Unto Light (Provo, UT: The Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies, 2000), pg. 149.

[11] Jacob 4:1-2.

[12] Strong’s Number 01549.

[13] Strong’s Number 02747.

[14] See Exodus 32:4.

[15] John Tvedtnes makes reference to these alternate Hebrew words in The Book of Mormon, pg. 149, but does not give the specifics.

[16] Tvedtnes, The Book of Mormon, pg. 149; see 1 Maccabees 8:22;

[17] P. Colon. inv. nr. 4780, 50-52, quoted in Tvedtnes, The Book of Mormon, pg. 150.

[18] John C. Reeves, Heralds of That Good Realm: Syro-Mesopotamian Gnosis and Jewish Traditions (Leiden: E.J. Brill, 1996), pg. 142, quoted in Tvedtnes, The Book of Mormon, pg. 150.

[19] Stephen A. Kaufman, “Languages (Aramaic),” Anchor Bible Dictionary, ed. David N. Freedman (New York: Doubleday, 1992), 4:178, quoted in Welch and Thorne, Pressing Forward, pg. 21.

[20] Gabriel Barkay, “News from the Field: The Divine Name Found in Jerusalem,” Biblical Archaeology Review 9/2 (1983):17, quoted in Welch and Thorne, Pressing Forward, pg. 24.

[21] Michael D. Coogan, “Ten Great Finds,” Biblical Arcaeology Review 21/3 (1995): 45, quoted in Welch and Thorne, Pressing Forward, pg. 27.

[22] Gabriel Barkay, “News from the Field,” Biblical Archaeology Review 9/2 (1983): 19, quoted in Welch and Thorn, Pressing Forward, pg. 24.

[23] Walter Burkert, The Orientalizing Revolution: Near Eastern Influence on Greek Culture in the Early Archaic Age (Cambridge, Mass: Harvard University Press, 1992), pg. 30, quoted in Welch and Thorne, Pressing Forward, pg. 21.

[24] 3 Nephi 8:23.

[25] Fairbridge, Rhodes W., consultant, Marvels and Mysteries of the World Around Us (Pleasantville, New York: Reader’s Digest Association, Inc., 1972), pg. 58.

[26] 3 Nephi 8:21.

[27] Tempest Stele line 12, quoted in John Welch and Melvin Thorne, ed., Pressing Forward with the Book of Mormon (Provo, UT: FARMS, 1999), pg. 222.

[28] 3 Nephi 8:9; see also verse 14.

[29] Fairbridge, Marvels and Mysteries, pg. 64.

[30] Sorenson, John, An Ancient American Setting for the Book of Mormon (Salt Lake City, UT: Deseret Book and FARMS, 1985), pg. 242.

[31] 3 Nephi 8:12.

[32] Welch, John W., ed., Chiasmus in Antiquity (Provo, UT: FARMS, 1981), pg. 7.

[33] Alma 37:6.

[34] Editor’s note, “Seeking Agreement on the Meaning of Book of Mormon Names,” Journal of Book o f Mormon Studies 9/1, pg. 29.

[35] Nibley, Hugh, The Prophetic Book of Mormon (Salt Lake City, UT: Deseret Book, 1989), pg.  281.

[36] Yigael Yadin, Bar Kokhba (Jerusalen: Steimatzky, 1971), pg. 176-177, referenced in Ibid., pg. 282.

[37] See Terrence L. Szink, “Further Evidence of a Semitic Alma,” Journal of Book of Mormon Studies 8/1, pg. 70.

[38] See Genesis 17:1-22.

[39] See Genesis 41:45.

[40] See Daniel 1:6-7.

[41] Jacob 1:11.

[42] Sawyer, John, “What Was a Mošiav?”Vetus Testamentum 15 (1965): 475.

[43] Ibid., 476.

[44] Ibid., 477.

[45] Ibid., 480.

[46] Ibid., 480.

[47] Ibid., 482.

[48] Omni 1:12.

[49] See Omni 1:13-22.

[50] Omni 1:13.

[51] Omni 1:20.

[52] Mosiah 7:1-3.

[53] Mosiah 7:15.

[54] Mosiah 22:1-11.

[55] Mosiah 21:27-28.

[56] Mosiah 29:11.

[57] Mosiah 29:40-41.

[58] See Paul Y. Hoskisson’s “Lehi and Sariah” in Journal of Book of Mormon Studies 9/1 (2000), pp. 30-31.

[59] Arthur E. Cowley, ed., and trans., Aramaic Papyri of the Fifth Century B.C. (Oxford: Clarendon, 1923), pg. 65, quoted in Welch and Thorne, Pressing Forward, pg. 7.