Sunday, July 9, 2017

Korea and the Prophets: George Albert Smith, Gordon B. Hinckley, Thomas S. Monson

Even as ISIS peaks, then falls--so we hope--North Korea emerges as the greatest threat to a long and happy life for hapless millions. The West and her allies far exceed North Korea in military might; yet that most unfortunate of little lands might prove our Achilles' heel. Little Athens trumped Persia. Articles I read by day, and sleepless, by night, show how quickly the West could demolish that state--but only at the loss of millions of South Korean and Japanese lives. A week ago I didn't realize how many millions would surely die from artillery, chemical weapons--and from nuclear warheads--already in place.

I'd like to avenge Mr. Warmbier's murder. But what of the unbounded love I've always had for the people of Japan and South Korea? I would die for them. We must forever tuck away thoughts of a simple vengeance.  

On July 3 our experts assure us that North Korea tests a run-of-the-mill missile. On July 4 news reports interrupt our celebrations of freedom as our experts tell us that North Korea tests an ICBM that can hit Alaska, but not Hawaii--but, yes--comes the update--Hawaii, too.

It'll be another 5 years even so, they say, before California and New York can be rubbed out within one half hour from launch time. We have time. Time to waste on politics, quarrels, jarrings, assurances. Captain Moroni warned the government in his day of the fatal consequences of "great neglect," "thoughtless stupor," and "great slothfulness": "Could ye suppose that ye could sit. . . and because of the exceeding goodness of God ye could do nothing and he would deliver you?" (Alma 60). Have we prepared? Moroni prepared.  

As I've pondered, I have recalled words spoken at the end of the April 1950 General Conference of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints by a latter-day prophet, President George Albert Smith: "It will not be long until calamities will overtake the human family unless there is speedy repentance. It will not be long before those who are scattered over the face of the earth by millions will die like flies because of what will come. Our Heavenly Father has told us how it can be avoided, and that is our mission, in part, to go into the world and explain to people how it may be avoided, and that people need not be unhappy as they are everywhere but that happiness may be in their lives—because when the Spirit of God burns in your soul, you cannot be otherwise than happy" (Conference Report April 1950, 167-170; I read either "scattered over the face of the earth by millions" "will die like flies"; or "millions will die"; it all adds up to the same sad tally).

Can the impenitence, the sins and the pride, of the West, his audience, lead to disaster throughout the world? Who today would argue to the contrary?

When he was 1st Counselor in the First Presidency of the Church, our living Prophet, President Thomas S. Monson, also cited President Smith's words in General Conference, April 2007. Why did he refer to them? Who knows, really? In the talk, President Monson was revisiting several "Tabernacle Memories." 

"These were alarming words," President Monson said, "for they came from a prophet of God." He then spoke of finding the somber fulfillment of these words in the 2.5 million killed in the Korean conflict that broke out thereafter. "The event prompted me to reflect on the statement President Smith made as we sat in this building that spring day." 

So I've wondered of late, whether that "prophetic warning" will visit us again, and whether they will come again in terms of a Korean conflict that has never really ended, there being only an armistice to the war, not an end.

In past months, I've also become better informed about the true cost in human lives under Communist regimes in the 50's and thereafter. A new book, exploding the lesser tallies of apologetic textbooks, now establishes that up to 45 million died in China's Great Leap Forward (1958-1962), some 20 million more than previously thought The Cultural Revolution perhaps caused the loss of 8 million more "scattered throughout" China, with millions more victims of persecution.
(Frank Dikotter, Mao's Great Famine: the History of China's Most Devastating Catastrophe;

These presumptive 53 million deaths must surely increase the estimated number (103 million) of people under Communist rule who lost their lives, in peacetime, at the hands of their own governments, mostly during the second half of the 20th century (see David Hackett Fischer, Liberty and Freedom). And of themselves these 65 millions deaths rank high on the list of the greatest wipe-outs of recorded history. As Bible readers, we speak of the great Flood that swept over the inhabited world. Would there have even been 103 or 115 million people "scattered over the face of the earth" at that time? Have we passed through a Second Flood and, in large measure, failed to truly "see" it? That's how it is when we lack charity. George Albert Smith saw it.

And we could speak of the purge of communists throughout Southeast Asia: the Malayan Emergency, for instance, or of the "at least half a million people in Indonesia alone" in 1965. Vietnam. Cambodia. Congo. Guatemala. Peru (See: ).

So we are safe to build on what the living Prophet of God now says about the fulfillment of the "prophetic warning" of George Albert Smith in April 1950, when, in addition to the Korean conflict, we add to the count the latest tallies of the Great Leap Forward, the Cultural Revolution, Southeast Asia, Africa--and "thus far, with all un-able pen," to cite the forecasting epilogue of Henry the Fifth.

But no farther.

Disregarding what the living prophet says about the fulfillment of a past prophet's words, some distribute throughout social media or in books what they say are fuller accounts of President Smith's prophecy, accounts that speak of a supposed future war between the "Soviet Union"(?) and America. The conflict is to begin shortly after the election, but before the inauguration, of an American President of Greek descent. We all need to laugh a little more these days--and here's the perfect material.

The tale relies on one adult's jumbled recollections of what he thought he heard, as a mere child, in a family meeting with President Smith. And no wonder that the story to be credible at all not only gives family "credentials," it weakly calls upon such well-known names as Sidney Sperry and Hugh Nibley for supporting outside "evidence," though what that evidence may be comes either thirdhand and unstated (Nibley) or as simply bizarre (Sperry). And who hasn't heard about Event X being like a Sunday School picnic compared with Event Y? Apparently you can't be a latter-day prophet unless you make such a comparison; in the account making the rounds today, the actual picnic menu appears!

We would do well to take to heart a true account, a General Conference account, from President George Albert Smith. In a time of sickness, it seemed to him that he passed through the veil and found himself on a forest path. His grandfather, George A. Smith, met him there with a question: I want to know what you have done with my name?

When we attribute preposterous visions to George Albert Smith, or to any other prophet, and especially when money is at the root of the matter, What are we doing with his name?

President Harold B. Lee warned the Church about chasing after purported visions and prophecies (October 1972). He spoke of "many loose writings," saying, "Let me give you the sure word of prophecy [for instance, JST Matthew 24] on which you should rely for your guide instead of these strange sources which may have great political implications" (Conference Report October 1972). Talk about a startling prophecy by the Lord's mouthpiece at General Conference! "Strange sources"? "Great political implications"? It is a sure word: "This day this Scripture hath been fulfilled in your ears" (Luke 4:21).

President Boyd K. Packer further taught that even something the President of the Church may be known to have said to an individual or small group, or written in a private letter, does not carry the same authority as a statement of the full First Presidency (see Doctrine and Covenants 107:27, 29; "Boyd K. Packer, "The Law and the Light"). No one has the right to pass around a letter, journal entry, or written recollection, even if reflecting the very words of a President of the Church of Jesus Christ, in order to announce a prophecy or revelation. What President Smith shared at General Conference may well distill impressions felt over time, including impressions only gradually grasped, but it is the Conference Report, which comes out under the imprimatur of the councils of the High Priesthood, that becomes the channel for Truth to all the world.

What is lesser than that is not the Truth.

Let's be clear. Is there a letter? is there a journal entry? Of course not. The tale of George Albert Smith's vision of American presidents of Greek descent trading missiles with the "Soviet Union" is as phony as it gets. It is bizarre; it is contradictory; and it is the epitome of vanity and light-mindedness. To set aside the unthinkable loss of life in the 50's and the 60's, throughout the world, and particularly in Asia, and under Communism, and in its place conjure up the apocalyptic terror of some Great War of the West under a Greek President is to fail to learn the greatest lessons of the modern era about what constitutes a just and righteous government. 

We must never lose sight of those who died under unjust and unrighteous ideologies, governments, and dictatorships of every stamp during the second half of the 20th Century. Those are the unfortunate souls a prophet foresaw and of whom our living prophet also speaks.

Shall we lose sight of our beloved brothers and sisters of every land, of their struggles and crosses and losses, of their hopes and dreams and needs, and instead fixate upon our own preferred vision of apocalypse, one that matches our own notions, our own politics, and our own love of the phony, of speculation, of anonymous visionaries, and so forth?

Prophecy does not work by preference. Prophecy doesn't consult our politics. From President Smith's words we receive what we have received--it's as simple as that and it's all a matter of history now--and we would do well to look back, and for a blessed moment, stop meddling with the future.

For Latter-day Saints, to gaze into the future is to "look beyond the mark."

How many false visions and false prophecies about the coming War of the West circulate in Utah and Arizona! Each in its own way, and each bristling with political overtones, lays claim to apostolic authority, and therein fulfills the words of the Doctrine and Covenants: "and they who are not apostles and prophets shall be known" (64:39). How often the First Presidency and other apostles have warned the Saints about the phony White Horse Prophecy and the like, in which reticulated giraffes of various paint gallivant about representing the nations of the earth.

The people of Nephi, very much alone in a bewildering American homeland, "searched much" "to know of things to come" (2 Nephi 9:4). What Jacob, finally, shared to comfort them is also what the Lord intends for readers in 2017, including the following promise: "And I will fortify this land against all other nations" (see esp. 2 Nephi 10:10-19).

And what of Hawaii? "Great are the promises of the Lord unto them who are upon the isles of the sea" (2 Nephi 10:21). Among those promises, we today have the prophecy of President David O. McKay at the dedication ceremonies of the Church College of Hawaii in 1955: "From this school, I'll tell you, will go men and women whose influence will be felt for good towards the establishment of peace internationally" (

Not so very long ago, I heard an apostle advise a Thanksgiving chapel meeting to give thanks. For what? Food, shelter, a solid meal? No. Thanks that the Lord has spared us as yet. (The words prompting a lifetime of repentance also echo what President Gordon B. Hinckley said at General Conference after 9/11.) I think of these words from time-to-time. Perhaps, then, that was what it was like to hear the words of George Albert Smith.

Some of us may also recall the words of Elder Dallin H. Oaks at the dedication of the Nauvoo Temple. It's not within our right to recall them here, but we have come to see their fulfillment. It's in our daily lives, over time, that we face the varied tests of the Lord's judgments, decisions, and will. Latter-day Saints know that. The Test has nothing to do with pitching a tent, hoarding vast supply, or being an adherent of any particular party line. No. Doing such things would be to fail the Test "of a sound faith and a firm mind" (Mormon 7:30). I'm now remembering some counsel Hugh Nibley gave a class about surviving a possible future moment of grave emergency. I jotted it all down. For now, I'll paraphrase his key point: Do nothing until the Brethren direct. Then quickly respond!

But what of North Korea? Is it to be war in our times? Do George Albert Smith's words in 1950 extend the full length of the endless armistice? Who can tell? Even a troubling vision of war can be turned to peace in the light of sufficient repentance. Remember Jonah; remember Ammon; in fact, remember every Elder and every Sister of this dispensation of the fulness of times who has ever lifted up the voice of peace! Has there been no harvest? "Can ye tell"? (Alma 26).

I remember the keen love Gordon B. Hinckley had for the people of the Koreas. Knowing of that love, I would often pray that President Hinckley might live to see the dawn of Gospel light for the people of North Korea. It would be amiss to set such prayers aside in these troubled days. "Miracles can occur as we do so" (Thomas S. Monson, Conference Report October 2009). I think of the love Harold B. Lee had for Korea--as a Lee, he was taken for Korean on one occasion. It's wonderful to know that Joseph Fielding Smith dedicated the land for the preaching of the Gospel. So let's soberly reflect on the lessons of history--and build a future "as bright as our faith." Here is the love and the hope of all the living prophets. 

I recall another General Conference in which a prophet spoke of the food he arranged to be sent to North Korea: "This very day hungry children are eating food in North Korea because of the aid which you have sent." President Hinckley looked beyond politics to the needs of the individual soul. He looked for the day of peace in which the Gospel in its fullness would be taken to the Land of the Morning Calm--to Choson. Despite a fleeting cloud cover, and a fleeting fear, let us honor the true vision of that beloved prophet by fostering the same hope and the same love (Conference Report October 1997, "Look to the Future").

"Weeping may endure for a night, but joy cometh in the morning" (Psalm 30:5).

In the light of the everlasting Gospel, I believe in that peace. I trust we shall see it.


Nothing I say here should be taken as anything other than what any reader of history duly notes about documents and source criticism. Read history and discern the phony. Yes, I have also been influenced by the teachings of the living prophets and apostles, and I am glad to point interested readers to the talks that they have given at General Conference or at BYU. We'd all be lost without those talks, and we constantly need yet more reminders and more light from the Brethren.

Saturday, July 8, 2017

How Firm a Foundation--and What Singing! The Johan Söderholm Journal

The following story, found in the journal kept by Johan Söderholm, my 2nd great-grandfather, shows the clear-minded and frank faith of the early converts to the Gospel of Jesus Christ. How could a simple factory worker, but newly baptized, find the words and the power to defend a position before a learned Lutheran priest, a man whose name yet appears in Växjö's biographical registers? While the narrator obviously has a gift with words, the answer is as simple as he was, and neither priest nor police mattered to him at all. As President Boyd K. Packer would often remind us: All members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints have had hands laid upon their heads and received the Gift of the Holy Ghost, which "giveth utterance." The Truth is received, loved, studied--and shared.

Truth must be shared:

"In the month of June, J. Cannon and I rented a hall on the west of the farmer Peter Johan Magnusson's house. We wanted to use it as our meeting hall. We were going to use it for the first time on the next Prayer day with Brother J. Cannon, and Brother Andersson from Norrkoping.

We began the meeting at 4:00 P. M. when the Wäxjö Township Parish Priest, whose name was Granstrand, came up with the entire Wäxjö police force with him, and fisherman Graffman leading the way. He wanted to prevent the people from coming in and hearing our message, but we started singing and the people continued to come.

Brother Cannon opened the meeting with prayer and song. Brother A. Andersson spoke and bore his testimony to the people in its entirety. At the meeting's end the Lutheran Priest Granstrand stood up and said it was false doctrine, and that Joseph Smith was a false prophet; that the doctrine was contrary to that of the pure Evangelical Lutheran Church, and what revelations were claimed were of the devil.

There was a physician, whose name was Hjällenqvist, who spoke to the brethren. I couldn't hear what they talked about because the Priest Granstrand called me privately into an anteroom and asked me if I had left the Lutheran Church. I said yes. He asked me why I had done so. I answered him that the Lutheran Church did not have the truth because it was built on a false premise and therefore it must stagger as those who stood outside the door for it was not built upon the foundation of Apostles and Prophets but upon Reformers whom God had never sent; but I knew for certain that God had sent the Prophet Joseph Smith, and that He had revealed Himself to him, and had given him the authority to establish God's Kingdom and the Church of Jesus Christ upon the earth, and had commanded him to preach the Gospel. That same Gospel have I accepted and therein I am happy and fortunate.

All the same, he said, it was a deception. I said to him that the church which is not built upon the foundation of Prophets and Apostles is not true. He said accordingly then you believe in a prophet. I said we believe in God and in those whom He had sent and in those whom He would send.

Then the Priest rushed out. . . "

As Johan Söderholm continues his account, and once the threatening fisherman also said his piece and went his way, we learn that the congregation simply returned to its singing. "Babylon's gentility," as grandfather terms it, could not "interrupt [their] rejoicings" (see Alma 30:16). They "heeded them not" (1 Nephi 8:18). It was clear: once "awake unto God," nothing on earth could interrupt the desire of these Saints of the Dawn to "sing redeeming love" (see Alma 5; 26:13). And we know from the journal that as they sang, they sang of the glory and blessings of the Holy Temple in Mount Zion, and all this years before Temple spires in St. George, Manti, Logan, and Great Salt Lake City, pierced crystalline skies.

In the Gospel of Jesus Christ we are happy and fortunate: "If ye have felt to sing the song of redeeming love, I would ask, can ye feel so now" (Alma 5).

Friday, July 7, 2017

"Moroni Did Not Stop" (Stopping Amalickiah, Phase II)

Beginning of the 19th year of the Reign of the Judges, we continue to look at the character and energy of the man we call Captain Mormon by paring the narrative to its verbal quick.

"Moroni, on the other hand":

"had been a preparing the minds"
"strengthening the armies"
"erecting small forts"
"throwing up banks of earth"
"building walls of stone"
"he did place"
"thus he did fortify and strengthen"
"thus he was preparing to support"

Mormon here pauses to sketch, with high praise, the character of Moroni.

Then back to work:

"Moroni had stationed an army"
"Moroni had altered the management"
"Moroni had fortified or had built forts"
"by the means of Moroni, became strong"
"for he had supposed"
"Moroni had appointed Lehi"
"Moroni had kept the commandments of God in preparing"

End of 19th year: the Lamanite invasion has failed, and they will not dare it again for some five years.

Beginning of the 20th year

"Moroni did not stop making preparations"
"he caused that his armies should commence"
"that they should commence in digging up heaps"
"he caused that there should be timbers, yea, works of timbers built up"
"he caused that. . . there should be a frame of pickets built"
"he caused towers to be erected"
"and he caused places of security to be built"
"Thus Moroni did prepare"
"Moroni caused that his armies should go forth"
"when Moroni had driven"
"he caused that. . . should go forth. . . and possess the land"
"he also placed armies"
"and caused them to erect fortifications"
"And thus he cut off"
"fortifying the line"
"Moroni, with his armies. . . they did seek to cut off the strength"

End of 20th year: the Nephites have never exerted themselves with such power, built so many new cities and fortifications, or been so secure. Thus far "there never was a happier time" in their recorded history. These days, a few choice years before war breaks out again, are forever remembered as "the days of Moroni."

Monday, July 3, 2017

"Moroni, Being A Man": Responding to Attacks on The "Foundation of Liberty" (Phase One)

Alma 46 shows one man's prompt answer to a driven and gifted politician seeking to destroy "the foundation of liberty." To capture both the response and the character and dynamism of the champion, we need only follow the verbs in the swift yet dense narrative, a verbal outpouring without parallel in the Book of Mormon. And amid the swirl of events, and the escalating anger, there's one verbal action that hits me at the heart: "Moroni prayed."

"When Moroni" "had heard"
"he was angry"
"he rent"
"he took"
"and wrote"
"and fastened"
"fastened on"
"girded on"
"he took"
"bowed himself"
"he prayed mightily"

"Moroni prayed"

"he had poured out his soul"
"he named"
"Moroni had said"
"he went forth"
"he had written"
"crying with a loud voice, saying"
"Moroni had proclaimed"
"Moroni said"
"when Moroni had said"
"he went forth"
"he sent forth"
"and gathering together. . . to stand against"

At this point, the enemy flees!

But Moroni is not finished with him.

"Now Moroni thought"
"he thought to cut off"
"to take them and bring them back"
"and put Amalickiah to death"
"for he knew"
"this he knew"
"Therefore Moroni thought"
"that he should take"
"he took"
"and marched"
"to cut off"
"he did"
"marched forth"

The politician now flees again!

"Moroni, being a man, who was appointed"
"he had power"
"to establish"
"to exercise authority"
"he caused to be put to death"
"he caused the title of liberty to be hoisted"
"Moroni planted the standard of liberty"

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Book of Mormon Sources and Abridgment and iPhones. What does Helaman or even "Deutero-Isaiah" Show?

We take up the Book of Helaman and, starting with its ancient title page, see in the very last line: "the record of Helaman and his sons, even down to the coming of Christ, which is called the book of Helaman, etc." (The 1830 edition shows an ampersand; in today's edition we see "and so forth.") The Book of Helaman, and so forth? The very last verse of the work significantly answers, in ring composition, to the end of that title page: "And thus ended the book of Helaman, according to the record of Helaman and his sons."

There's still more to that et cetera: Helaman, and so forth, is not only full of Mormon's summarizing comments, it is a "book" "according to the records of Helaman, who was the son of Helaman, and also according to the records of his sons, even down to the coming of Christ--wonderfully down to Christmas! (The last phrase is part of the ancient title, and states the thesis of the whole: the Christ is coming.) Helaman was the governor and Chief Judge of the Nephites. Who were his sons? Nephi and Lehi. Nephi clearly wrote, but here we learn that Lehi likewise kept his records and that either Nephi or Mormon added what Lehi wrote to his father's book. All this detail comes from the short but labored and repetitious--and marvelously informative--title page. Such headings and subheadings found in the various books that are easy to overlook: Helaman, for instance, includes two ancient subheadings introducing both the prophecies of Nephi and those of Samuel.

And note how the pairing of Nephi and Lehi and that of Nephi and Samuel (in the divisions of the Book of Helaman, son of Helaman), matches the book's pairing of such ancient prophets as Zenos and Zenock, Ezaias and Isaiah (Nephi and Jacob, Mosiah and Abinadi, Alma and Amulek). Ezaias and Isaiah? What's that all about? What we see is clearly the name Yesha'yahu given in two forms as a simple matter of differentiation; in other words, we see Isaiah and Isaiah, which answers--does it not?--to First and Second (Deutero-) Isaiah, both of which were seemingly and surprisingly available to the Nephites. Might not these Isaiahs, both prophets, have also been father and son? and perhaps also prophet and prophetic editor? When we consider the prophetic naming of Helaman's two sons (in Helaman 5), we should also bear in mind how two of Isaiah's sons, Shear-Jashub, Maher-shalal-hash-baz, bear names of sign and prophecy. Shear-Jashub refers to the Return, which is the burden of the second half of the book, or the "Second" Isaiah. "The Book of Isaiah the prophet, and so forth."

That's one way to look at things, a rather unitary way, and it's very much in line with what Hugh Nibley says in Since Cumorah: "If others than Isaiah wrote about half the words in the book, why do we not know their names? The answer is, because of the way is which they worked. They were (as it is now explained) Isaiah's own disciples or students," sons, grandsons, and so forth. "If anything," says Nibley, "the Book of Mormon attests the busy reshuffling and reediting of separate pages of sacred writings that often go under the name of a single prophet."

The form of the name Ezaias, Ezias, Esaias, etc., in Greek, English, or whatever linguistic cast or spelling we may choose to present, functions merely as a semiotic pointer--this Isaiah, not that. Each is absolutely swallowed up in the other anyhow, etc. One of the Nephite chosen Twelve bears the name Isaiah. Doctrine and Covenants 84 tells of yet another Isaiah, in this case semiotically, and thus simply, differentiated as Esaias, who "lived in the days of Abraham." Again, when Doctrine and Covenants 76 addresses all professing partisans, including "some of Esaias, and some of Isaiah," it helps to read the words as being a critique not only of an undue--even a nitpicking--sectarian devotion to a particular prophet or gospel dispensation or book of scripture or even spelling of a name, but also as a critique of overzealous devotion to some kinds of higher criticism: these are the true words of Isaiah, these not; this is genuine Peter, this not; Romans is Pauline, 2nd Timothy not; John is Johannine, the Revelation not; Nephi quotes Deutero-Isaiah and is therefore in error, Joseph Smith mistakenly refers to Elias as other than Elijah, etc. In other words, some are partisans of such-and-such a theory; some of another. As disciples progress toward sainthood, we shed the partisan line, however learned it may seem, however we may have learned it, and no matter how much we have been draped in "all the rights and privileges pertaining thereto." And let's stop boasting about knowledge of biblical languages, as if some kind of badge of supremacy. By the way, Brother Joseph's differentiation of Elias and Elijah is another instance of a metalinguistic and semiological indicator of difference for two men having the same name, Eliyahu, but different roles to play. How many stumble, or parade, over such matters!

The occurrence of the unusual--and the pairing of Ezaias and Isaiah is unprecedented--signals that the Book of Mormon has something to tell us. When the Doctrine and Covenants chimes in, it's time to perk up our ears.

The Book of Mormon (that is, ensconced Helaman) thus resolves, with deft plainness, a weighty and long-standing difficulty about quotations from what many consider a Deutero-Isaiah. Helaman's ampersand-plus-c(etera) and the side-by-side naming of two Isaiahs in both Helaman 8:20 and Doctrine and Covenants 76:100 together provide us with sufficient answer for those who dispute one Isaian chapter or another making an appearance in the Book of Mormon. As for a pre-exilic Deutero-Isaiah in Father Lehi's hands, consider the chapters his son Nephi includes in his own double book, and what he leaves out--then get over it. Nephi left Jerusalem with a unitary copy of Isaiah, etc. It's as simple as that. (Nephi includes Isaiah 48-49 in his own first book; Isaiah 2-14, and then 29, in his second book; Isaiah 50-52, 55, in Nephi's brother Jacob's record, again in Nephi's second book. Mosiah and a Third Nephi (Trito-Nephi) include Isaiah 52-54.)

The later 20th Century scholarship confirms, says Hugh Nibley, how "the peculiar practices employed in the transmission of inspired writings in the Book of Mormon, as well as the theory and purpose behind those practices, are the very ones that prevailed in Palestine at the time Lehi lived there." Indeed: "We have come across a great tradition of prophetic unity that made it possible for inspired men in every age to translate, abridge, expand, explain, and update the writings of their predecessors without changing a particle of the intended meaning or in any way jeopardizing the earlier rights to authorship. Isaiah remains [one Isaiah], no matter how many prophets repeat his words or how many other prophets he is repeating. The Book of Mormon explains how this can be so, and its explanations would seem to be the solution to the Isaiah problem toward which the scholars are at present moving" (Hugh Nibley, Since Cumorah). When Brother Nibley further cites Hans Wildberger about how Isaiah and Micah, in prophesying of the Mountain of the Lord's House, the Salt Lake Temple, may be quoting from "archaic ritual texts" (or a single ancient text?) might not the Book of Helaman also afford a solution to the "problem toward which scholars are at present moving?" Could that archaic source perhaps be Helaman's Ezaias? or yet another of the name?

That's the sort of thing for which readers should forever be on the lookout, for the Book of Mormon continually invites our awareness as it awakens and enlarges our memories. Just so, the Brass Plates, a supersized and up-to-date Library of Hebrew Scripture in Lehi's hands, once served "to enlarge" "the memory of [his] people" (see Alma 37).

As Professor James Sanders would tell his students: 'Scripture is full of itself''--consciously so. It's kaleidoscopic, with built-in intertextuality that serves a crucial purpose. If otherwise, "it were not possible," as Benjamin tells his sons of Lehi, that he [or we] could have remembered all these things, to have taught them to his children" (Mosiah 1:4). I'd add that "Scripture is also full of the latest world report and abounding in politics"--a BBC of sorts. (I'm thinking of the well-informed Prophets here--they were Prophets to the World.)

The wee but rich Book of Helaman, compressing 51 years into 38 columned pages, cites as vital sources and guiding points of reference: Amulek, Zeezrom, Alma, Nephi, Lehi, Joshua, Zenock, Zenos, Ezaias, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Elijah, Abraham, Lady Wisdom, Ether, Moses--and Messiah. Hugh Nibley, who labeled Helaman "the Book of Crimes," while also calling it the most spiritually charged book in the entire collection, further noted surprising correspondences between Helaman and the apocryphal Enoch literature and the Dead Sea Scrolls, etc. He filled the margins of his own copy with such references.

All that's not going to make for a once-over or easy reading. Helaman's going to require effort, its going to require checking the footnotes and reviewing other stories, so turn the TV off. Yet take away the words and deeds of these prophets, and the authorial expectation that the reader will know what he is referring to--the Red Sea, the Brazen Serpent, Elijah's contest with the priests of Baal, imprisoned Jeremiah--and the message of Helaman falls flat. We'll need Bible literacy to understand the Book of Mormon. On the other hand--so turn the tube back on--too much quoting from these prophets, and Helaman's own delicate narrative line would be lost. So when we speak of Mormon and abridgment, much of his work had to do with pruning citation, and ever more quotes and citation.

We only get the thousandth part of citation and of story, or something like that, for a hundreth part," of these and many other matters, "cannot be contained in this work [the entire abridgment of the plates of Nephi]" (Helaman 3:14). Editing Mormon, who ultimately has access to "many books and many records of every kind" (v.15), including "many records," "which are particular and very large" (v.13) gives us a list of the 99%: wars, contentions, dissensions, preaching, prophecies, shipping, building of ships, building of temples, building of synagogues, sanctuaries, righteousness, wickedness, murders, robbings, plundering, abominations, whoredoms. The shipping and craftsmanship intrigues the acolyte of Rick Steves, but you'd want to avoid interacting with the tense, preachy, even violent, locals. Note how righteousness is hopelessly outnumbered: 1 to 6; note the ceaseless building, the restless troublers of civility.) Mormon still cannot help but include in his abridgment of Helaman's record, what Mormons today might paradoxically call an "Omni-sized" but endlessly compelling note about far-reaching explorations into lovely, long since abandoned but yet timberless lands of lakes and rivers, the consequent building of houses, temples, synagogues, sanctuaries, and "all manner of their buildings" with cement, and the necessary shipping of timber. The description reminds us of Chaco Grande's timber-consuming construction--an ecological disaster. (Hugh Nibley would mull over this verse.)

To get a feel for Mormon as condenser, pick up a library copy of Ibn Ishaq, the first editor-biographer of the Prophet Muhammad, then scroll through a version online. The unabridged copy in the library, which stuns us with its prolixity, being "particular and very large," preserves the sourcing. It gives each particular isnad, or connecting chain tracing who reported what to whom, etc., while the online version frees the casual reader of that ponderous chain of reference. What readers have, thanks to prophetic and judicious pruning, may be called the online Book of Mormon. It's all preset for ready reading on iPads and iPhones, and during TV commercials. . .
(For the uses of abridgment in packaging literary works for the media, ponder the following: .)

So find a chair--you'll need one--link to Helaman 1, and safely turn it over to your favorite news channel: politics and political theater, campaigns, disputed elections, accusations, curtailment of freedom of speech, growing skepticism, detection, elitism, corruption, collusion, gangs, crimes, assassinations, intense famines, ecological disasters, financial collapses, surprise attacks on urban centers, and ordinary people "visited with terror"--everything you get when the shield of protection slips from an America of favor and promise (see President Boyd K. Packer, Conference Report, April 2004; Elder Neal A. Maxwell, Conference Report October 2001). Such applies equally well to Venezuela or to the United States.

Keeping up with Helaman? You'll need a 24/7 cable news network.


Though I know no instance of it in print, likely others, perhaps even many other readers have noted the possibility of an Ezaias/Isaiah authorship or dual editorship of what we call the Book of Isaiah. My own thoughts on such a relationship, with the one prophet's name, identity, and book completely enveloped in the other's, simply derives from reading and thinking about Helaman 8 yesterday and today--30 June 2017, yet the idea builds on what Hugh Nibley presents in Since Cumorah, ideas I've mulled over since the age of 10 or 11. The Scriptures of the Restoration give us so many prophetic doubles, double books, "and so forth's." There are so many possibilities in the Holy Scriptures. The Septuagint, the Dead Sea Scrolls, the New Testament all know but one Isaiah. The Book of Mormon, that great Scripture of the Restoration, with Ezaias and Isaiah, like Urim and Thummim, a double-Isaiah, or Isaian figure, likely father and son. It's moments like these in which Scripture enlarges our memory.

As a child, I often read from George Reynolds's Dictionary of the Book of Mormon, which describes Ezias (or Ezaias) as "An ancient Hebrew prophet, referred to by Nephi." Exactly! Because there are multiple kings and prophets in the Book of Mormon who are named Nephi, even Zenephi (Egyptian for "son of Nephi," z3-nb-hy), one particular Nephi might have talked about one Ezaias, another about another; one Isaiah may have spoken about a particular Nephi, an Esaias of another--and so forth.

I will add that I accept without question that Isaiah's prophecy addressed to Cyrus by name came by the spirit of prophecy and of revelation and was recorded long before the great Cosmocrator appeared on the scene. Here is one of the great moments of prophecy in the history of the world. It is God who appoints a Cosmocrator--Cyrus himself recognized that (see the Cyrus Cylinder). As the Coffin Texts state: God knows every name.
See the various forms of the Ezaias name in the helpful:

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

2 Nephi 33:1, the Egyptian Tale of Petese, and the Corpus Hermeticum

"When a man speaketh by the power of the Holy Ghost," says Nephi, "the power of the Holy Ghost carrieth it unto the hearts of the children of men:"

And now I, Nephi, cannot write all the things which were taught among my people; neither am I mighty in writing, like unto speaking; for when a man speaketh by the power of the Holy Ghost the power of the Holy Ghost carrieth it unto the hearts of the children of men (2 Nephi 33:1).

We can start thinking plainly about this scripture by noticing how Nephi favors speaking because of a perceived weakness inherent in writing, in his writing anyway. "I cannot write" is a theme that Moroni, the last living man trained in the scribal tradition of Lehi and Nephi, takes up again, and poignantly, at the end of the Book of Mormon. For Nephi, the immediacy of the spoken word is both personal gift and cultural value, but, here, rhetoric finds enhancement "by the power of the Holy Ghost" and thus becomes the "divine word" as well. 

To speak by the power of the Holy Ghost, is to speak "in a new tongue, yea, even with the tongue of angels" (2 Nephi 31). And might not writing also be done by the same power? Moroni, the final scribe, later explains that gift of writing with power as a higher gift, one possessed alone by the ancient Brother of Jared after the Flood and after the confounding Tower.

And who may qualify to speak by the power of the Holy Ghost, or the tongue of angels? Lehi, we are instructed, "received" this "power" "by faith in the Son of God" (1 Nephi 10:17).

As every reader knows, Nephi says he "makes my record in the language of the Egyptians," though his father had also taught him "in the learning of the Jews." "I cannot write," Nephi says, because writing and speech, for him, already stand far apart, writing in Egyptian is a far different matter than writing in Hebrew letters (as Moroni, at the end, also painfully observes.) Nephi, whose very name looks Egyptian (Nepri?), speaks a dialect of Hebrew (as evidenced throughout his record), reads the Hebrew of the courts (the Hebrew of Isaiah), yet also knows how to read and write in Egyptian language and script. We note that the Egyptian of Nephi's day includes much Hebrew or other West Semitic vocabulary. In other words, when Nephi speaks to his errant brethren, he catches the spirit of a Hebrew prophet at court, yet phrases all in what he calls the "plainness of my speech." When he records the same words, that is, when he translates the same words into Egyptian, his plain preaching now appears to him markedly simple and bland. 

We may ask why it is that Nephi, a Hebrew, should give us a record "in the language of the Egyptians," especially when the record, for us, appears only in English? Moroni explains it as a way to save space on precious plates. I see another reason for all that linguistic transfer and that is so the record might stand above human language and thus be carried by the Holy Ghost to our hearts, even expansively "unto [the hearts of] every nation, kindred, tongue, and people." Nephi's language, the language he speaks of in 2 Nephi 33:2, is a universal language. The Bible, too, stands above human language, while also being wrestled and wrested to the last syllable of recorded Hebrew, Aramaic, or Greek. That is why we write Exhaustive commentaries and the like, and have endless translations.

All this recalls, in both parallel and in a nice reversal, the Egyptian expression for the written word: the mdw-nTr or "Words of God," "divine words"; it also recalls what the Late Antique Hermetic books claimed about the nature of the Egyptian language, a claim reflecting "the Greek perception of Egyptian anxiety about the translation of Egyptian texts into Greek." In his Perfect Discourse to King Ammon, Asclepius says: "The very character of the sound. . . of Egyptian words has in itself the power meaning (energeia) of what is said" (Orly Goldwasser, From Icon to Metaphor, 27).

"Leave this text untranslated, so that these secrets remain hidden from the Greeks [cf. from the Gentiles] and their irreverent, feeble, and orotund speech does not undermine the dignity and vigor of our language and the energy of the names. For the discourse of the Greeks, though outwardly impressive, is empty, and their philosophy is nothing but verbose noise. We by contrast, we employ not words but sounds full of energy" (quoted in Jan Assmann, The Mind of Egypt, 396). 

This boast about "efficacious (energetikos) speech" (Goldwasser, 27), recalls how Nephi spoke to his brethren "in the energy of my soul" (1 Nephi 16:24).   

The notion of an effective spiritual energy (3x, 3xw) inherent in Egyptian ceremonial speech may everywhere be found in the Ancient Egyptian texts themselves, and elsewhere I note how the Greek phrase describing Egyptian speech can in fact be matched by a well-known Egyptian idiom for such speech: "Akhu-power upon the mouth": "According to the Corpus Hermeticum spells do not consist of mere words, they must be repeated 'in mighty speech of 3x.w' (= 3x.w m tpj-r3, phonais mestais ton ergon)."
(See Val H. Sederholm, Papyrus British Museum 10808, 105, Festugiere and Nock, CH XVI: II 230).

Such "mighty speech" may also be called the speech of a Pharaoh: "Be an artist in speech, then you will be victorious. for behond: the sword-arm of a king is his tongue," which recalls Alma's statement about "the preaching of the word" having "had more powerful effect upon the minds of the people than the sword, or anything else, which had happened unto them" (Wisdom of Merikare, see Jan Assmann, The Mind of Egypt; Alma 31:5).

Nephi says of his own preaching:1 Nephi 15:25: "I did exhort them with all the energies of my soul" and 16:24: "they had humbled themselves because of my words; for I did say many things unto them in the energy of my soul." Again, both energy and soul invoke the Egyptian word akhu, a word signifying (in the plural!) an efficacious power and also a spiritual being, an akh (or ghost). Nephi, in the Hebrew sense, is speaking in the energy of "my nephesh," quite a powerful phrase, in the energy of my life-force, bekoakh naphshi or bekoakhei naphshi, in or through the power of my life's soul. Koakh and Akhu (k-w-x and '-x) sound a bit alike--these are strong-sounding words bespeaking a powerful drain on the life force. Here is something beyond how we look at speech in present times.

So much for the spoken word.

I also note the immediate power on my heart of Nephi's written word--well, we're also told that the Book of Mormon comes to us as if a spoken word: "a voice out of the dust."

We next move toward the heart. What is the distance between speech and heart? Is it forever? or can the gap be bridged? 

In riddling out what Nephi is saying, we must also look at the prepositions. The unto in "unto the hearts" must be the equivalent of the Afroasiatic preposition l, or le (the Egyptians write r), but as we shall see, perhaps also the equivalent of the Egyptian preposition n. Given that we only have Nephi's written words in English, so what does unto mean? Gothic-Low Germanic un-to or Gothic-North Germanic un-til are variants of the same thing: "even to" or "all the way to." So how does speech, human speech, ever go "all the way to" the human heart? From mouth to heart--the Holy Ghost carrieth the word. Does "all the way to" signify "into" as well? (See Mason's English Grammar.) Again: Mason tells us that und is the Gothic equivalent of German bis; when the two Germanic prepositions, und and to, of like meaning, combine, the first takes on an emphatic, adverbial quality: bis-to, un-to, un-til, and seems to convey the idea: "really, all the way to--lest there be any doubt."

Elder David A. Bednar makes a fine distinction in explaining how the Holy Ghost carries the divine word unto the heart, the into depends on each hearer, as in the distinction between hearing and obeying, though intended for synonyms, an idea also expressed in Scripture as not "being hearers only." That attentiveness to the prepositional difference is therefore consistent with the doctrine of a learner's agency, as also found in the Parable of the Sower and in the many Scriptural statements about "hardening the heart." When you see the words "hardening the heart," the distinction between unto and into doesn't seem all that fine, after all. The words are carried until, all the way up to the heart, or unto the heart, but not all the way into the heart. And notice how Nephi reminds us in the following verse that some do reject the word, lodge-the word where it may.  It's a matter of "until the heart accepts the word"--a temporality which may never find fruition.

In such a reading, unto is not quite into, West Semitic l not quite b, Egyptian r not quite m (though the Egyptian preposition n slips through the barrier), though well on the way; for already there's a spiritual impact, a clear invitation, the transfer, in plain terms, of a idea (or is it a feeling) upon which one may lay hold, in faith. The Book of Mormon does make much of distinguishing prepositions: Amulek discourses on the salvific necessity of realizing that Christ saves us from not in our sins, a clear-cut distinction, though unto and into becomes a more delicate matter, a matter of the heart. 

Leaving prepositions aside, What of the heart? What does "unto or until the hearts of the children of men" signify? Speech is carried by the Holy Ghost all the way to the heart--but What is the heart? Does heart speak primarily in English to feelings? to intellection? or both? (Answer: Primarily it is feelings. For as Frost says "never with the heart") And how about heart in other languages? lev, jb, h3ty, kokoro. . .Well, the heart escapes us.

In English, or in any language you may please, the phrase "unto the hearts" can be unpacked variously: "touching upon the feelings" or "entering into our feelings;" or, on the other hand: "beginning to enlighten our understandings," entering into our understandings. In English, when something is carried unto our heart, that's where we begin to love it, to feel it, but in Hebrew and Egyptian the heart first references what we call the mind, with the heart being the seat of intelligence, though English also knows the thoughtful heart (thoughtful in what sense? in mind or heart?). So is Nephi speaking to us, here, more in English or in Hebrew or in Egyptian? Does his heart signify feeling or thought? Or does heart capture both ideas? 

Nephi does have much to say about the heart. His poetic personification of his heart, found in 2 Nephi 4, shows an active, speaking, even exclaiming heart. This Prayer of the (Personified) Heart and Soul, while slipping away, here and there, beyond the culturally comprehensible, still speaks directly to each of us. The Ancient Egyptian reader would pick up the cultural references more precisely than we can, but we understand Nephi's heart, do we not? Somehow Joseph Smith's translation gives us our heart, and Nephi's, while also holding fast to the cultural truth of the original language. (See Jan Assmann, "The Theory of the Heart," in The Mind of Egypt, 135ff.)

While avoiding any attempt at definition, I also like the way Nephi's words resonate with an Egyptian phrase ph n h3t, a phrase which students of Egyptian and Demotic (the late form of the language) are also trying to grasp, but which seems to mean "reach the heart" as "reach till understanding." Words that "reach the heart" or are carried unto or into the heart, are words plain to the understanding, and thus words understood. Yet there are always those who do not or will not understand the words, the seed fallen on hard ground, the obdurate heart, the blind mind, those who will not understand my words, the tongue of angels. 

But now to a story.

Nephi's words about speaking by the power of the Holy Ghost resonate with a story from Ancient Egypt in which Re speaks to a woman in the voice of her deceased husband--and his words reach her heart. Is there not a parallel here, with God speaking to us through the power of the Holy Ghost, in some ineffable way that yet reaches the heart? 

So let's see how Professor Kim Ryholt understands this moment from the Ancient Egyptian storybook: The Story of Petese, Son of Petetum: and Seventy Other Good and Bad Stories. 

It's a strange story anyhow, with seventy other stories packed into the principle story of Petese. The priest Petese learns from the god Osiris, through a spirit messenger, that he has but 40 days left to live. His name is already inscribed on Osiris' netherworldly register.

After confronting the pain and shock, Petese plans three vehicles for achieving immortality--a bit of crafty overkill typical of the Egyptians. First, he arranges for a lavish, even sumptuous, burial--an immortal tomb--which is what one may expect of a wealthy Egyptian priest. In Ancient Egypt, mummification and burial makes up not only the eternal monument of the worthy dead, it is the ceremonial gateway to eternal life. Second, Petese, through the agency of magical creatures he himself fashions, gathers 70 tales, 35 good, 35 bad. As Kim Ryholt observes, the collection, or composition, of these spellbinding tales of the good and bad deeds of women will win Petese deathless acclaim. The Egyptian word for such a magical creature is Hk.t, a hikat--and note how story and magic flow together in a single stream. Third, Petese also sets to work preparing a magic potion (pHr.t) which, when prepared by his widow--for he will enter his coffin and "die"--will assure his escape from death altogether, even his resurrection. 

Petese thus covers all bases--indeed achieves all three forays into immortality. For me, these three finally combine into one--his efforts comprehend the entire Egyptian encyclopedia of glorious immortality, even as the offerings of frankincense, myrrh, and kuphi evoke the three offerings to Re at morning, noon, and dusk, and thus also comprehend the immortal solar cycle to which Petese now, too, belongs (see Ryholt, here). Note that 70 is for the Egyptians a solar number, a number of completeness.

So on to the moment in which his wife, The Beautiful One of Sakhmet, like Isis or Helen, administers the pharmakon, burning three measures of incense to the sun god.

Column 5, lines 24-30 (page 57)
After this, Sakhminofret [went] to his store-rooms on the morning of the following day. On this day, her heart was exceedingly sad because of Petese, her husband, who she did not see, and [she] truly [hoped (?) in (?)] her heart that Petese [had (?)] made the remedy for the illness. . . She acted according to everything which he had commanded [to her]. She put myrrh, frankincense, and kyphi, [on the brazier], and she said: My brother, Petese. Do you watch for yourself. O, son of Petetum. [I pray that] Re will rescue you in the remedies which you are making. Re spoke [with] her. He answered [her with the] voice of Petese. It reached her heart. Petese said [. . .

What a surprising outcome, the voice of Re:

Re spoke [with] her. He answered [her with the] voice of Petese. It reached her heart (pH [=s] Xn H3t[=s]. hieroglyphs pg. 19

It reached her heart, or it reached to within her heart (ph khn h3t). ph what it signifies how it is written

Re responds to the plea for deliverance from death and his voice descends: an act of nHm--of rescue

Professor Ryholt comments on the story (p. 42):

"If it is correctly understood in lines 29-30 that Re answers Sakhminofret with the voice (3spy) of Petese, then the phrase 'it reached her heart (ph=s Xn H3t=s) must mean that she understood it. Erichsen, DG, 137, lists di pH=s n H3t in the meaning 'sich etwas ueberlegen, o.a.? consider something."  

In other words, the idiom it (the voice) reached her heart means she understood it: she understood the voice of her husband speaking to her through the medium of the divine voice, that is, "the tongue of angels." The voice "speaketh unto their understanding," that is, "unto the heart."

Saturday, June 10, 2017

Eyewitness: Joseph Smith "Interpreted Hieroglyphics for Us"

Oft repeated, and much repeated of late, is the assertion that no on-the-spot, eyewitness accounts exist of Joseph Smith translating from the Egyptian papyri. Warren Parrish, scribe, gives but a one-line summary of his work as scribe, and three years after the fact: "I have set by his side and penned down the translation." The lack of such an account has seemed to leave an unbridgeable gap in understanding: How did the Prophet translate the Book of Abraham! What of the papyri! Owing to the supposed absence of an eyewitness account showing how the "work of translation" unfolded, an account that brings both papyri and the act of translation to one table, it's as commonly believed as not that the Prophet did not translate from the papyri he owned at all; instead, he "translated" by receiving a revelation about a lost record. As for the Egyptian artifacts, though so very physically present, these played the role of "catalyst" or "springboard" to the revealed "translation."

Joseph Smith was indeed given the translation of the Book of Abraham by revelation, but the words of Abraham were also inkbrushed onto a specific papyrus in his keeping, according to a clear statement in his last sermon, given on June 16, 1844: "I learned it by translating the papyrus now in my house."

From that date, Sunday, June 16, 1844, we move forward a mere eleven days to Thursday, June 27 and Martyrdom; and we move back exactly one month to Wednesday, May 15. These are days of witness, days consisting of the final explanations to his hearers and of the final demonstrations of his purported prophetic power to teach new Christian doctrines, prophesy of future events, and, uniquely, to translate "by the gift and power of God." And so, the ministry of a Prophet closed as it began.

The assertion about there being no contemporaneous eyewitnesses linking papyri to spiritual interpretation is untrue. On Thursday, May 16, 1844, young Josiah Quincy, later mayor of Boston, wrote his "very darling wife" about what it was like for him and Charles Francis Adams to spend an entire day with the Mormon Prophet.

So what was it like?

Thursday, May 16, 1844 (describing the events of the previous day, the 15th).

"We passed the whole day in his society and had one of the most extraordinary conversations I ever participated in he preached for us prophesied for us interpreted hieroglyphics for us exhibited his mummies and took us to his temple which he is now erecting on a most majestic site of hewn stone."

Jed L. Woodworth, "Josiah Quincy's 1844 Visit with Joseph Smith," BYU Studies 39/4

Joseph Smith, to honor his esteemed guests, and to satisfy their wishes, was more than willing to demonstrate for them in "an extraordinary conversation" exactly What it meant to be a Prophet, Seer, Revelator, and Translator, charged with spiritual gifts and powers. It seems most unusual--there was absolutely no reticence--but that is who and what Joseph Smith professed to be, and as he clearly intended, what they saw and heard that day left a lasting and "extraordinary" impression on both men. That is what they came to see and to hear, after all, and that is what they were given. What Brother Joseph chose to share yet reverberates, as many others who have read their various accounts of the experience have likewise sensed something of what it was like to share a whole day with a Prophet. How it impressed this reader as a child!

Josiah Quincy, in the letter, uses many active verbs to describe what an energetic Joseph Smith did and said that day, mundane and otherwise, but it is a special few that describe his renowned prophetic gifts:

On greeting them:

He "blessed us."

Then, throughout the day:

"He preached for us,

prophesied for us,

interpreted hieroglyphics for us."

Latter-day Saints will fondly note where this "extraordinary conversation" ultimately led--to the Holy Temple.

Jed Woodworth has edited the letter to a perfection and sorted out how it correlates with the other, more famous, and more whimsical, accounts of Quincy and Adams, including Adams's diary. (Quincy's ten-page journalizing has never been archived.) Yet as we take up this priceless letter, we must also momentarily set these other records aside. We must take that rare fresh look at a much repeated conversation. What this letter does better than all other accounts, in their paint and detail, is to capture, with succinctness, the interview as a manifestation of spiritual charisma, something Joseph Smith himself described as that special moment when a Prophet speaks and acts as a Prophet, something Scriptures describe as a Prophet speaking by the power of the Holy Ghost.

These two men might as well have find ourselves suddenly alongside Nephi, as journeyed in the wilderness from Jerusalem, a man who "opened his mouth and it was filled" (Doctrine and Covenants 64), or now with seeric king Mosiah, when he interpreted engravings on a large stone by the power of God, a stone others carried into his presence. And whether Mosiah interpreted the writings one or many times for the benefit of wondering court visitors, each time the mysterious
characters had to succumb once again to the seeric vision.

All this is to throw together the "extraordinary" with the diurnal. Brother Joseph's clothing and home, said Quincy, were both somewhat "dirty"; the "conversation" came pure.

And note how message takes second place to the act itself--really, a demonstration in three acts. What mattered was the sign, the expression: what we might call the prophetic "speech-act." These guests wanted to see prophecy in action, not learn doctrine. The men wondered about Joseph as Minister of the Gospel: He preached by the power of the Holy Ghost. And note that he "preached for us," not "to us." They marveled at his claims to be a Prophet: he accordingly prophesied. They had wondered at his translation and publication of New Scripture--a unique, curious, pretention--to satisfy that wonderment, he interpreted hieroglyphs from a roll of papyrus.

And note it well, the Prophet did not show them a copy of the translated Book of Abraham printed in the Times and Seasons newspaper, or anything like that: "What I translated." No. He took up the papyrus and gave them a demonstration of how a prophetic translator "interpreted hieroglyphics" by divine gift: What I translate. And it makes no difference whether he had preached to this theme or translated that particular line before--the gift, with assertion, yes, but no fanfare, was both summoned and manifested in their immediate present and profane presence.

The pair were given to understand that they were witnessing the "act" of divine translation itself, firsthand, and in expression of authoritative charisma. Adams's diary records that Joseph Smith concluded the demonstration in these words: "I say it!"

As remarkable as it all sounds, such odd conjunction of the mundane and the highly charged appears from time-to-time in accounts others left of their own encounters with Joseph Smith, when he took up, in their very presence, the prophetic role. He might preach many times from a particular text or two found in Mark or Matthew; he might repeatedly prophesy of judgments on Missouri--or the like--but for each new hearer the experience was sure to be startling and unique: their chance to meet a Prophet.

Many, it would appear, were those who passed a spell in the Book of Mormon "translation room" back in Pennsylvania, in 1829 through 1830 and, as did Adams and Quincy, witnessed an act of prophetic translation. What they reportedly observed of translation, and what the Bostonian pair observed, do not essentially differ. The action partook of no mystic element. Without ceremony, a man dictated, or claimed to dictate, in English, characters found in "records of ancient date."

"These were days never to be forgotten," writes scribe Oliver Cowdery, who, "day after day," as he puts it, witnessed pretty much the full act. These were long days of listening to an ordinary voice dictate, but along with the seemingly
mundane, he attests that the entire work unfolded "by the inspiration of heaven," a reality certainly lost on the merely curious observer.

Day after day--or just today--let us walk and talk with Joseph Smith as he took on his prophetic mantle and spoke and prophesied and translated by what he called "the unspeakable power of the Holy Ghost." And remember: What is unspeakable is not all to be understood, or even at all to be understood. Yet we can attest that we have heard, in extraordinary conversation, God's voice speaking through a living Prophet, Joseph Smith to Thomas S. Monson, in our walk today.