Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Book of Abraham Facsimile 2, Number 8: Something New Under The Sun

The saying Fools rush in where angels fear to tread ought both to sober and to encourage anyone who attempts to read the cuneiform and hieroglyphs that come to us from the Ancient Near East. The ancients beckon us to a rich feast, carefully spread; if we expect McDonald's and fast answers, we're going to drive away both humiliated and disappointed. And we often won't even recognize the humiliation, for the less we truly partake, the more we will crow. Thus it is when anyone insists that a particular type of document, or oft-appearing sentence or idiom in said document, is an open book to any-and-all comers, fully understood by all students everywhere, it doesn't quite ring true. It rings like a french fry machine. 

To study the ancient writings calls for patience, daring, depth. The challenge ever is to take up the task with new eyes and not simply to rely on all previously said or translated, as if all that might be said had already been said. 

Yet some cast aspersions on the Prophet Joseph Smith for saying that a line of hieroglyphs found on Facsimile 2 of the Book of Abraham: "8. Contains writings that cannot be revealed unto the world; but is to be had in the Holy Temple of God." Nonsense, they say, anybody can read the line: there is no mystery at all. None at all. Not only can these writings indeed "be revealed unto the world," they challenge nobody.

Here is a run-of-the-mill Egyptian sentence, promptly (though variously!) translated by everybody, a sentence whose prolonged theme fills numbers 9-12 (as numbered on the facsimile), and whose focus appears in the final box of text, our number 8 (focus in italic): 

O noble god, lord of heaven, earth, netherworld, mountains, and primordial seas, cause that the ba-soul of Osiris Sheshonq, the deceased, might live.

The sentence under consideration thus has as focus a single, simple verb: s'ankh (s'anx). (And let me assure the reader that the hieroglyphic trace is indeed an [s].) Simple, they say, s'ankh is quite simply the causative form of the verb 'ankh (to live) and, merely, signifies to cause to live

Yet today I find a beautiful, daring, and carefully documented study on that same verb, a study which shows us just how misguided a simplistic reliance on the lexicon and grammars can be. S'nkh, it turns out, has semantic resonance undreamed of. These 30 pages, with their repeated references to initiation, guild, religious ceremonies, divine emanation, and individual induction into the renewing cycles of the cosmic order evoke, for this reader, something more along the lines of what the Prophet Joseph Smith set down than what some fleeting students, shaking their heads with a smile, and staking their reputations on it, have attested. That's quite a verb, that s'ankh, not the simple causative--y punto fijo--we've been sold on. But read the article for yourself. (And more later from this contributor.)

J. Rizzo, « À propos de sʿnḫ, “faire vivre”, et de ses dérivés », ENiM 8, 2015, p. 73-101.

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Free Access: Religious Freedom in Alma 23

Attitudes prevalent in the West regarding religious freedom, especially freedom of worship and of open religious teaching, portend danger to those who hope to continue both to live and to teach religious truths at home, at Church, and in the public square. The Twenty-third chapter of the Book of Alma tackles the question head on--and, at once, returns us to our First Amendment rights and helps us gain a fuller appreciation of them.

Alma's account of the Lamanite mission of the sons of Mosiah, the Nephite king, contemplates the preaching of the gospel of Jesus Christ to "a wild and a ferocious people," "a people who did delight in bloodshed." The resultant "success," to borrow Alma's own language, suggests that anything is possible in our world, when Christians share truth with love. "Let your light so shine."

The story opens with drama and miracle; yet Alma insists on our grasping a broader view of the work of teaching and conversion. It is not enough to focus on the stunning accounts of Ammon in the court of Lamoni nor of Aaron in the court of the old king, Lamoni's father. Here, we read of wonders, of trances, of visions, a dramatic beginning to the story of the Lamanite conversion. Even so, the sons of Mosiah spent 14 years in the mission field, and we suppose that each year was as necessary as the last--or as the momentous first year.

It was after the shake-up at the palace-centers that the real work of teaching the Gospel began. The visions, while providing preliminary gospel instruction and blessings to a few, only opened the door for teaching so many more and so much more deeply: "Now, as Ammon was thus teaching the people of Lamoni continually (Alma 22:1). Note, too, how Ammon convinced Lamoni's father to grant Lamoni full autonomy over his own kingdom prior to any further attempt to convert the father, the "old king," himself. Ammon needed time and scope and freedom--religious freedom--or he could not have gone a step further.

But we still have to identify the end of the beginning, the act that closes Scene One of the Lamanite mission. Tellingly, that act is not the miraculous conversion of Lamoni's father and household, in the central palace, but his subsequent proclamation and decree of "free access" for the sons of Mosiah as they began a fourteen-year work of teaching throughout the length and breadth of the realm.

Alma 23 allows us to understand that without a firm decree of religious freedom, not only to practice but fervently to publish and to establish, the entire Lamanite mission would have hit a dead end. It is the decree of "free access" that truly and surely and permanently opened the floodgates to the success of "Ammon and his brethren"; no wonder the conversion of kings and princes, at mission's beginning, provides the crucial key to success.

(The reader will wish to compare the proclamation in Alma 23 with that of Nephite King Mosiah in Mosiah 27. Each of these proclamations appeared in differing circumstances, and they differ in focus and expression, but each had as aim a royal defense of religious freedom, and each worked for the salvation of souls.)

Alma goes to great pains to describe the comprehensive-and-no-loopholes nature of the Lamanite royal proclamation, which was not only decreed at the palace but also "sent" "throughout the land." Why did I miss the full import of these verses in prior readings? I lacked Erlebnis: I had never before lived in the second decade of the 21st century, a moment of challenge to the enshrined freedom to teach religious truth, with frankness and boldness--even with blessed, loving rebuke--in the public square. "Behold, now it came to pass that the king of the Lamanites sent a proclamation among all his people, that they should not lay their hands on [those] who should go forth preaching the word of God, in whatsoever place they should be, in any part of their land." Whatsoever and any! "Yea, he sent a decree among them, that they should not lay their hands on them to bind them, or to cast them into prison; neither should they spit upon them, nor smite them, nor cast them out of their synagogues, nor scourge them; neither should they cast stones at them, but that they should have free access to their houses, and also their temples, and their sanctuaries. And thus they might go forth and preach the word according to their desires."

Today's missionaries increasingly have limited access to condominiums, apartments, gated neighborhoods, and the like--on the other hand, new technologies now augment our access.

Contemplate the all-embracing nature of the royal decree. Free access, here, has all the force and protection of a royal embassy. The sons of Mosiah were to be held sacrosanct, as if enjoying the privileges of the king himself. Never in all the annals of missionary endeavor in the Latter-days do missionaries enjoy such immunity along with such permissions, access, or allowances. Free access is the telling phrase here; for without such scope, as contemplated in the royal decree, the fourteen-year labor of converting seven lands and cities of the Lamanites would never have met with "success." Even so, we can never pin the Book of Mormon down to a single formula: "the Lord worketh in many ways to the salvation of his people" (Alma 24:27). When Nephi and Lehi, a century later, preached to the Lamanites, they enjoyed no royal proclamation. Yet so great was the power of their words and the accompanying manifestations of the Holy Ghost that, ultimately, nothing could withstand the truth, and a nation of converts was born in a day "because of the greatness of the evidences" (Helaman 5:50).

Despite their success with the converted Seven, much of the kingdom, though all but required to hear them, stolidly rejected the sons of Mosiah. And Hugh Nibley keenly notes how the sweeping grant of "free access" went too far in the direction of royal sponsorship: "I mean he practically transfers the kingdom over to the missionaries and lets them do what they want. A lot of people resent it, and they stage a revolution" (Teachings of the Book of Mormon, Semester 2: 401). One of the purposes of the Book of Mormon, Moroni tells us, is to reveal for our own instruction something of the weaknesses inherent in the character of the Lehites, high among which, says Joseph Smith, is the trait of being overzealous. Yet without the access so provided and decreed, it may be doubted that even a single city would have been "converted unto the Lord" in the fullness of the meaning of the phrase. Besides, there are the surprises.

The royal aim was "that the word of God might have no obstruction," and the "old king" surely foresaw all contingencies: the Amalekites and Amulonites, Nephite dissenters who lived in Lamanite lands, might block access to their own sanctuaries, and they and others might spit, smite, and bind. Note how the decree does not touch on the intellectual rights of the hearers: they might freely choose to reject, disbelieve, even mock--but they had to hear the message, or let it be heard by any and all who might be willing, in a moment of free access. And--here's the surprise--the record does note how many who initially rejected the message and thereafter fervently sought the destruction of the converted community--the Anti-Nephi-Lehies--did later, in the very teeth of struggle and bloodshed, remember, with stinging conviction, the words once taught them. It was not too late for them: they, too, "were converted unto the Lord." And to today's terrorists--en garde! With love irresistible, God may be seeking even you: for "we see that the Lord worketh in many ways to the salvation of his people" (Alma 24:27). He will find His people, though He turn the earth over in unrelenting pursuit.

So prophesies the stunning Book of Mormon! And so, speaking in that same spirit, "we can plainly discern" like transformations in days not long delayed in which He will also verify his word unto us "in every particular" (see Alma 24:30; 25:17; and also Elder Bruce R. McConkie, "The Coming Tests and Trials and Glory," in Conference Report, April 1980).

Alma 23 also lends further insight into the stupendous work of preaching the gospel to the dead: free access brings the mighty harvest.

"Thus we see" that the proclamation of Alma 23, with its sweeping terms and allowances, including full allowance of religious speech and proselytizing in every public place, without let whatsoever, became necessary for the full measure of missionary success, whether instantly realized or no.

And, in that light, notice how everything, despite prior hardships, labors, and miracles, remains merely a beginning: "And thus they began to have great success. And thousands were brought to the knowledge of the Lord, yea, thousands were brought to believe in the traditions of the Nephites; and they were taught the records and prophecies which were handed down even to the present time." Even so, among the recalcitrant revolutionaries, when once deeply stung by the recollected Word: "there were more than a thousand brought to the knowledge of the truth" (Alma 24:27).

And note again the idea of "teaching continually," teaching thoroughly and deeply. Here was no brisk announcement of gospel truth, but a full-blown program of replacing all prior tradition, as passed from father to son, with an entirely unknown tradition, though record based, and stretching over hundreds of years. By the end of the fourteen years, those "converted unto the Lord" had "searched the scriptures" as diligently, as completely, and as comprehensively and comprehendingly as ever had Himni or Omner or Muloki. Clearly free access contemplated no brief stops in sanctuaries and houses, but a continuation of teaching until the task reached all desired ends. Not until the Millennial dawn can Latter-day Saints imagine enjoying such free access in converting the world to Christ.

While grateful for the provisions of the Bill of Rights and other world documents that guarantee freedom to publish the Word, we realize that such privileges and protections do not obtain in many parts of Africa, Asia, or the Middle East. There remain many places where No access obstructs the Word. For now, we glory in any and all access enjoyed throughout the Americas, Europe, and large swaths of Asia and Africa--yet even the boasted Bill of Rights, wise and inspired though it be, carries but little of the sweeping power of the Lamanite royal proclamation. "Oh, that I were an angel!" cries Alma. And well may we cry: Oh, that I and we enjoyed the privileges of free access, including the freedom of preaching without any let or harassment whatsoever, once enjoyed by special sons of Mosiah for a fourteen-year period, in a little "hemmed-in" land,  a century before the coming of Christ.

But, to borrow Alma's wording, we are men and do sin in our wish. And do we not often ask for what we ought not? As splendidly sweeping as free access sounds, the freedoms of speech and religious expression granted by our own Bill of Rights, even with all the limitations on carefree access inherent therein, will better serve God's purposes. Balance, respect, public safety, choice, and an openness to thoughtful judicial interpretation: there lies the safe path. As the Ancient Egyptians would say of justice and order: "Follow Ma'at, but do not exaggerate" (quoted in Erik Hornung, Idea into Image).

Let us fervently rejoice over what religious freedoms we do now enjoy, under the strictures of the First Amendment, and let us protect, preserve, and defend those sacred freedoms forever. Even in that millennial day, when truth, as prophesied, will fill the earth, the spread of the gospel of Jesus Christ will lend itself to both the spirit and the wording of our own treasured Bill of Rights.

Monday, July 27, 2015

A Duckling Called Love

Ducklings in City Creek Park, a block away from Temple Square in Salt Lake City, are an event--even a Sabbath delight.

A family, who had been strolling by the Temple, caught sight of the ducklings, and an excited mother quickly steered children toward the pond, as Dad crouched down by the bank to shoot some pictures. They appeared to be an assortment: Mom, Uncle, Dad, Aunt, and the various 'ducklings.'

"They don't have any names," I offered. "Nobody's given them any names yet!"

The children eagerly responded. A wee Fairhair, pointing out her duckling, cried out: "That one's Grandma."

Paddling nearby were two female mallards, and one of the mothers said: "Look, two mommy ducks!" Fairhair, not-quite-three, immediately corrected her: "No! It's the mommy and the daddy!"

There came to mind a story from President Boyd K. Packer: "Hey there, you little monkeys. You'd better settle down." "I not a monkey, Daddy; I a person!" ("Little Children," Conference Report, October 1986).

What about that yellow duckling named Grandma? Childish absurdity? You never know. . . "Grandma" might have been any of the young ladies present. To the little ones, Grandma has nothing to do with age anyhow--what do they care about age?--and everything to do with Love.

Sunday, July 26, 2015

The Title of Liberty: "In the air" and On the Air and Through Cyberspace

In memory of our God, our religion, and freedom, and our peace, our wives, and our children

So reads Moroni's Title of Liberty, written on a rent piece of cloth and "fastened" "on the end of a pole" (Alma 46:12). Title recalls either Hebrew zikkaron (memorial sign or inscription) or, given the specific reference to a pole, tsiyyun (roadmark, signpost; see KJV 2 Kings 23:17).

Moroni waved the Title of Liberty "in the air, that all might see" (v. 19); we can broadcast religious freedom and family values on the air and through cyberspace.

Friday, July 24, 2015

David Reeder: Willie Handcart Company

The justly famed hardcart pioneer, Levi Savage, made the following entry in his journal:

Platte R. Wednesday 1st Oct 1856

Today This morning, Brother David Reader was found dead in his bead. He has ben ill Some time. He had no pertient deseas. But debility He was a good man and a worthy member of the Church.

Robert Reeder gives us precious added insight into the nature of a Mormon pioneer's "debility":

My father, David Reeder, would start out in the morning and pull his cart until he would drop on the road. He did this day after day until he did not rise early October 1, 1856.

I thankfully acknowledge my pioneer ancestry, those of the tall ship and of the handcart, those of the last wagon, and those of the first.

I am grateful, humbled, to know that my grandfather, David Reeder, belonged to the Willie Handcart Company. I am far more grateful to know that he lived and died "a worthy member of the Church."


Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Follow Thou Me

Of late, a flurry of articles and media discussions hovers about the matter of vacancies in the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Speculation abounds over who might be called and how newer members of the Quorum might help direct the future of the Church. Journalists seek out experts from the fields of history, anthropology, and what-not to weigh in.

The wise look to the past. They will remember stories about men and women who were called to service by prophets. They will remember reading about the simple yet moving pledge of a young Thomas S. Monson to President David O. McKay to put "my very life on the line if necessary." They will remember the simplicity of the call to Boyd K. Packer. Brother Packer had been invited to join President Joseph Fielding Smith and his counselors in greeting a delegation from Japan. After the meeting, as Brother Packer readied to leave, President N. Eldon Tanner said to him: "I think the President wants you to stay" (Heidi S. Swinton, To The Rescue. The Biography of Thomas S. Monson, 215-217; Lucille C. Tate, Boyd K. Packer: A Watchman on the Tower, 170).

Catch the humility in that statement: "I think the President wants you to stay."

N. Eldon Tanner knew what pertained to him as a counselor in the First Presidency--and he knew what did not pertain to him. 

We recall the visit of President Spencer W. Kimball to the hospital bed of Neal A. Maxwell. The invitation to serve came quietly.

Latter-day Saints may yet someday learn of the serene manner in which prophets will call any future members to the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles or to the Quorums of the Seventy. A serene sky may still produce a bolt out of the blue! As quiet as such stories may often seem, they will become a matter of record, of the History of the Church, for angels and children to look upon. What, then, shall one say of articles, experts, interviews, political and ecclesiastical surmises? Will not these latter descend into the place of footnotes or step aside to the place of marginalia?

The apostolic calling is "not of men, neither of man, but by Jesus Christ, and God the Father, who raised him from the dead" (Galatians 1:5).

The "plain humility" of the Lord Jesus Christ stands far removed from the flurry of speculation (Ether 12:39). We do not know what Peter said to Joseph and Oliver when Peter, James, and John conferred the Holy Melchizedek Priesthood and then ordained them to the holy apostleship; we do know the words of Jesus when He first called Peter and Andrew to discipleship: "Follow me, and I shall make you fishers of men" (Matthew 4:18-19). "He called them"--even Peter and Andrew, James and John, Philip, Nathanael, and the rest (Matthew 4:21; John 1:43). "And it came to pass in those days, that he went out into a mountain to pray, and continued all night in prayer to God. And when it was day, he called unto him his disciples: and of them he chose twelve, whom also he named apostles" (Luke 6:12-13; Mark 3:13-14).

So it was with Moses on "the mountain of God," for "God called unto him out of the midst of the bush, and said, Moses, Moses" (Exodus 3:1, 4). Pharaoh, when he first faced meek Moses, sensed nothing of the power attending Moses' prophetic calling. Power came by demonstration, yet a continuing darkness and ignorance enshrouded the divine king all the way to the Sea. I would love to know the name of that Pharaoh. I've consulted an expert or two, but his name, though appearing in its turn in the king lists--carved into stone--remains out of reach. Yet even should we come to know the Pharaoh of the Exodus; given the power and glory of the divine triumph of Israel, the name would slip into the footnotes of God in History. Don't be part of a footnote.

The invitation to prepare for the future comes to all. Speculation may hover; the invitation stands. "And he said unto the children of men: Follow thou me" (2 Nephi 31:10). The "beloved of God" are all "called to be saints" (Romans 1:7; 1 Corinthians 1:2). The calling of beloved saints "into the grace of Christ" surely also comes "by his grace" (Galatians 1:6, 15).

Prepare for new scripture by reading and observing the scriptures we now have. Prepare for new apostolic messages at General Conference--all 19 or so new apostolic messages--by reading and applying those shared in April or October by apostles and prophets, seventies, bishops, and the other chosen leaders. Each message carries an imprimatur, the prophetic imprimatur of President Thomas S. Monson and of the First Presidency of The Church of Jesus Christ.

The simple stories of the special callings will take care of themselves. Slipping under the media radar, they will join the historical record of the joy of the saints (see Enos 1:3).


I solely am responsible for what I post; nothing, here, represents the official viewpoint of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Some Thoughts on the Study of the Book of Mormon: Another Testament of Jesus Christ

The testimony of the two witnesses of Christ, the Bible and the Book of Mormon, runs together. The flood of truth "shall grow together" "unto the laying down of contentions, and establishing peace" (2 Nephi 3:12). We do not take up Scripture to contend, for by Scripture comes the millennial peace.

Such rising scriptural convergence changes for all time the very nature of Scripture, even as it opens the sluices for yet "other books" to swell the tide. The Book of Mormon, in expression of its own witness, both signifies and clarifies the Bible and, therefore, also contains "the fulness of the gospel of Jesus Christ." That being so, can we ever truly separate, even in casual speech, what has so fruitfully grown together? 

See Doctrine and Covenants 20:9; Boyd K. Packer, "The Reason for Our Hope," Conference Report, October 2014; Neal A. Maxwell, "The Book of Mormon: A Great Answer to 'The Great Question,'" The Voice of My Servants: Apostolic Messages on Teaching, Learning, and Scripture, 221-38.

Hugh Nibley felt the Book of Mormon to run deeper even than Shakespeare: We should not be surprised at finding traces and echoes on every side. Conjuring up enemies and apostates on every side is a different matter; the waters of life will inevitably flow into the dry patches, "unto the confounding of false doctrines," if we will keep up with our reading and sharing (2 Nephi 3:12).

To find and to trace, and to listen well, is inevitably to write--and to write well. But I hope readers of the Book of Mormon will dust off scholasticism and a clinging Alexandrian staleness. I hope those who take up the Book of Mormon as their theme will be so caught up into the heavens that their words will ring with a high beauty. I hope writers will let endless geographies alone, let insincere critics alone, let entirely alone online debates (see Titus 3:9; 1 Timothy 1:4).

May we teach, not tilt.

Latter-day Saints, by the millions, give themselves to daily study. Such spirited and spiritual absorption among the general membership partakes of more intellectual horsepower and yields more insight than do the methods of the schools. And how sophomoric to label someone else's reading devotional and one's own, academic (2 Nephi 9:28)--how close to sophistry. There is no advanced Book of Mormon scholarship beyond the scope of child or teen. Even so, none of us can daily approach the Book of Mormon from every angle or, daily, multiply comment beyond measure. 
See Elder David A. Bednar, "Three Methods of Scripture Study," CES Fireside, 4 February 2007.

One method stands superior to the rest:

We must all discover the scriptures for ourselves. 

Then we must walk in their light.