Friday, August 19, 2016

KnoWhy App

The new KnoWhy app from Book of Mormon Central is generating favorable response from many people. It debuted at BYU Education Week two days ago. KnoWhys are frequently published brief essays about some interesting aspect of the Book of Mormon. Each essay has a Know portion explaining insights from the text, and a Why portion explaining significance or personal application. Well-illustrated, KnoWhys draw on the best LDS scholarship from the last 60 years to engage students in an immersive learning experience. Each KnoWhy starts with a question about a passage and provides one or more faithful answers in an attractively-packaged format including an audio podcast and a short YouTube video.

We began publishing KnoWhys on January 1, 2016. Today we published #169 about the Levitical laws of vessel impurity which shed light on Alma 60:23. The organizing principle behind KnoWhys in 2016 is one essay per chapter. We are working our way through the Book of Mormon, roughly following the Gospel Doctrine lesson sequence.

KnoWhys begin in brainstorming sessions. Ideas that show promise are then worked into a draft which is reviewed by John W. (Jack) Welch, generally regarded as the foremost Book of Mormon scholar of our generation. Drafts are then polished, edited, and formatted, at which time they are reviewed by a panel of volunteers who provide feedback which often gets incorporated into the final product. A script is written summarizing each KnoWhy. Illustrations are gathered. Professional voice talents record each full-length essay as a podcast and each short script as the voice track for a video. Each KnoWhy then goes into video and meme production and on the appointed day gets published in about a dozen social media channels.

A KnoWhy is like a gold brick in a Fort Knox vault. Eventually there will be thousands. Collectively they constitute a veritable treasure trove of information about the Book of Mormon. Go to your app store, search for "knowhy" and download your free key to the vault from the Apple iTunes Store or the Google Play Store.
KnoWhy App Icon on Android
After launching the app, the first thing you see is a list of KnoWhys.
List of KnoWhys
Tapping on a KnoWhy downloads its content, including the live YouTube link.
KnoWhy Content
Book of Mormon Central was built to help people come unto Christ by feasting on His word. The KnoWhy app is one way this is happening.

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Chiasmus Day 2016

Today, August 16, 2016, marks the 49th anniversary of Jack Welch's discovery of chiasmus in the Book of Mormon. 49 years was a biblical 7 X 7 jubilee cycle. Here are seven things we did to commemorate:
Look for even more exciting developments next year as we celebrate the 50th anniversary.

The article "Chiasmus Day" has additional context.

Voyages of Columbus

1 Nephi 13:12 is often interpreted as referring to Christopher Columbus. Columbus made four voyages to the New World between 1492 and 1504. This is a simplified map of the four expeditions.
4 Voyages of Christopher Columbus 1492 - 1504
This is a more detailed map of the first expedition.
Voyage of Christopher Columbus 1492 - 1493
The second expedition.
Voyage of Christopher Columbus 1493 - 1496
The third expedition.
Voyage of Christopher Columbus 1498 - 1500
The fourth expedition.
Voyage of Christopher Columbus 1502 - 1504
Columbus visited the following countries and territories (in this approximate order) that have Church presence today:
  • Bahamas More than 1,000 members in 3 congregations.
  • Cuba More than 100 members in 2 congregations. See this Church News article.
  • Haiti More than 21,000 members, 1 mission, and 44 congregations.
  • Dominican Republic More than 129,000 members, 3 missions, 199 congregations, and 1 temple.
  • Dominica More than 100 members in 1 congregation.
  • Guadeloupe More than 500 members in 3 congregations.
  • Saint Kitts and Nevis More than 200 members in 1 congregation.
  • Virgin Islands More than 500 members in 2 congregations.
  • Puerto Rico (US Territory) More than 23,000 members, 1 mission, and 42 congregations.
  • Trinidad and Tobago More than 3,000 members, 1 mission, and 10 congregations.
  • Venezuela More than 165,000 members, 4 missions, 256 congregations, and 1 temple.
  • Martinique More than 200 members in 1 congregation.
  • Honduras More than 169,000 members, 4 missions, 232 congregations, and 1 temple.
  • Nicaragua More than 92,000 members, 2 missions, and 103 congregations.
  • Costa Rica More than 46,000 members, 2 missions, 74 congregations, and 1 temple.
  • Panama More than 51,000 members, 1 mission, 71 congregations, and 1 temple.
  • Jamaica More than 6,000 members, 1 mission, 19 congregations.
If 1 Nephi 13:12 really does refer to Columbus, then the seed of Nephi's brethren, the Lamanites, inhabited Central America, South America, and the Caribbean at European contact and those areas were part of the Book of Mormon promised land.

Monday, August 15, 2016

1830 Americas

Occasionally Latter-day Saints reference modern nations in Book of Mormon discussions. It is instructive to understand what the Americas looked like in 1830 when the text first went on  sale to the public.
Sovereign Nations in the Americas in 1830
The white area represents the 24 states of the United States of America. The blue area represents Mexico. The red area represents the Federal Republic of Central America. The green area represents Great Colombia. All of modern-day Canada was a British colony as was Belize, then called British Honduras. The territory in modern-day Washington, Oregon, and Idaho was contested between Great Britain and the US, as was northern Maine.

How the countries ranked in approximate area:
1. Mexico 4.4 million square kilometers
2. Great Colombia 2.8 million square kilometers
3. United States 2.2 million square kilometers
4. Federal Republic of Central America 429,000 square kilometers

How the countries ranked in estimated population:
1. United States 13 million
2. Mexico 6 million
3. Great Colombia 2 million
4. Federal Republic of Central America 1 million

Year the countries declared independence:
1. United States 1776
2. Great Colombia 1810
3. Mexico 1810
4. Federal Republic of Central America 1821

Wars of Independence:
1. United States 1776 - 1781
2. Mexico 1810 - 1821
3. Great Colombia 1810 - 1822

Year slavery was abolished:
1. Federal Republic of Central America 1824
2. Mexico 1824
3. Colombia 1851
4. United States 1865

Many of the Book of Mormon passages that some associate with the United States of America apply equally well to Latin America.

Thursday, August 11, 2016

Central Locations

I was at the Jerusalem Archaeological Park (Davidson Center) in June and saw this striking visual depicting the old city at the crossroads of 3 continents.
Jerusalem as Continental Axis
Photo by Kirk Magleby June 23, 2016
From this originating point, the blood of Israel and Christ's influence spread over much of the earth. This was an ideal location for the blessings of the Abrahamic covenant to extend to every nation, kindred, tongue and people as Nephi foresaw 2 Nephi 26:12-13.

Now consider where an ideal location would be in the New World for the blood of Israel and Christ's influence to spread over much of the earth in ancient times.
Mesoamerica as Continental Axis
The formulaic phrase "all nations, kindreds, tongues, and people" occurs 16 times in the text exclusive of the testimonies of the witnesses and Moroni's instructions to the prophet Joseph. The Book of Mormon writers cared about wide dissemination. In pre-Colombian times Mesoamerica was the crossroads of the western hemisphere with significant communication, trade, and emigration contact both northward and southward.

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Joseph Smith in One Question

Like most Latter-day Saints of my generation, I grew up with a sanitized, out sized Joseph Smith as a persecuted demigod who worked endless streams of wonders against tall odds in his short 38 1/2 years on earth. I did not worship the man, but I was in awe of him as I still am. As I matured and developed a more nuanced view of my prophet, I had an abiding curiosity to know more about Joseph the man. Todd Compton and I were classmates at BYU. When his In Sacred Loneliness: The Plural Wives of Joseph Smith came out in 1997, I was taken aback for a time. My respect for the prophet never waned, but I had even more desire to understand what made him tick.

When Richard Bushman's Rough Stone Rolling: Joseph Smith: A Cultural Biography of Mormonism's Founder appeared in 2005, I became a Bushman groupie. I attended his lectures from Provo to Ogden, asking many questions and carefully weighing his responses. Bushman had a deep understanding of the prophet that I was anxious to absorb. In the end, one sentence from Bushman helped me understand who Joseph really was. Bushman said, "Joseph sucked the air out of every room he ever entered." Joseph was such a powerful presence that no one else held a candle to him. He was supremely confident, without peer. It was always Joseph and the seven dwarfs. People hung on his every word. He had an opinion about and a ready answer for everything. He was often attacked from afar but seldom contradicted in person. That made sense to me given the nature of Joseph's interaction with deity and the divine.

A few weeks ago I was privileged to spend time with Mike MacKay of the BYU Religion faculty. He worked on the Joseph Smith Papers Project and co-authored the very important From Darkness Unto Light: Joseph Smith's Translation and Publication of the Book of Mormon. His next major publication will be Joseph Smith's Seer Stones. I asked MacKay how he would characterize Joseph the man. "Joseph had a green thumb for religion" was his reply. As he shared examples of what he meant, I came to understand that post 1829 Joseph consciously fit every person, place, or thing he ever encountered into his expansive religious vision somewhere. That prompted me to ask MacKay one important question: "Did Joseph ever say 'I don't know'?" "No" was his quick reply.

In our current era of internet-inspired transparency, we hear the brethren say "We don't know" frequently. See for example, Pres. Uchtdorf's frank talk entitled "Come, Join with Us" in October, 2013 General Conference or the Gospel Topics Essays such as "Book of Mormon and DNA Studies." Top scholars say "I don't know" all the time. "I don't know" is a fundamental situation endemic to the human condition.

One result from Joseph's tendency to never say "I don't know" were the 1834 Zion's Camp tales about Zelph, Onandagus, and the plains of the Nephites associated with Naples-Russell Mound 8 near Griggsville, Pike County, Illinois. See the 1989 BYU Studies article by Kenneth W. Godfrey entitled "The Zelph Story." Was the germ of the variant Zelph accounts revelation to the prophet? Was it well-meaning speculation? As with so much of the extra-canonical material attributed to Joseph Smith, we don't know.

Saturday, August 6, 2016

Textual Progress

August 2 & 3, 2016 Book of Mormon Central convened a working group to consider the sense of meaning of a number of passages in the text whose interpretations have proven controversial. The verses at issue are listed in the article "Problematic Passages." The group consisted of:
  • Joe V. Andersen, Arizona attorney who has written many articles about Book of Mormon geography. Joe has recently co-authored several pieces with Ted D. Stoddard.
  • Stan Carmack, Massachusetts philologist who has spent years studying and writing about the grammar and syntax of the earliest (Yale 2009) text. Stan works with Royal Skousen.
  • Eric Eliason, member of the BYU English faculty who specializes in folklore and the Bible as literature. Eric edited Mormons and Mormonism, University of Illinois Press, 2001.
  • Grant Hardy, member of the University of North Carolina, Asheville History faculty. Grant is the editor of The Book of Mormon: A Reader's Edition, University of Illinois Press, 2003. He is the author of Understanding the Book of Mormon: A Reader's Guide, Oxford University Press, 2010.
  • Heather Hardy, who collaborates with and edits her husband's work. Heather is a specialist in Book of Mormon - Biblical intertextuality. 
  • Kirk Magleby, author of this blog and Book of Mormon Central's Exec. Director.
  • Alan Miner, author of Step by Step Through the Book of Mormon and A Chronology of Thought on Book of Mormon Geography. Alan's current passion is parallelistic formatting of the text.
  • Neal Rappleye, Book of Mormon Central's Operations Manager. Neal has presented on various methodological approaches to Book of Mormon geography.
  • Richard D. Rust, emeritus member of the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill English faculty. Richard is the author of Feasting on the Word: The Literary Testimony of the Book of Mormon. He was a prolific contributor to FARMS publications.
  • Royal Skousen, member of the BYU Linguistics faculty and editor of The Book of Mormon: The Earliest Text, Yale University Press, 2009. Royal has directed the Book of Mormon Critical Text Project since 1988.
  • Julie M. Smith, biblical scholar, is the author of Search, Ponder, and Pray: A Guide to the Gospels. Julie is authoring the volume on the Gospel of Mark for the BYU New Testament Commentary series.
  • Robert F. Smith, Hebrew scholar, edited the first Book of Mormon Critical Text published by FARMS in 1984 - 1987. Bob also participated in the Book of Mormon geography group convened by David A. Palmer in the 1970's.
  • John W. Welch, member of the BYU Law faculty, is generally considered the leading Book of Mormon scholar alive today. He also has significant expertise in the Greek New Testament. Jack founded FARMS, has edited BYU Studies for 25 years, and chairs Book of Mormon Central. He helps lead the BYU New Testament Commentary and the Academy for Temple Studies. He is a specialist in ancient law.
Participants were chosen for their demonstrated ability to closely read English texts. Many others could have been invited, but we purposely limited the size of the group. The intent of the conclave was to see if these people, working together with good will for two days, could shed light on the most likely interpretation of some Book of Mormon verses that cause much of the geographical turmoil in the world today. That goal proved elusive. There are several viable ways to read some passages in the text. The Book of Mormon contains propagandist hyperbole as does the Bible. There is so much potential intertextuality between the Bible and the Book of Mormon that until we have thoroughly analyzed this fundamental feature of the text, convincing interpretations of some passages are premature. The words we read today may have been authored to resonate with people familiar with the Psalms, for example, or Deuteronomy. Some parts of the text are clearly symbolic or formulaic and other parts may be. The literal approach I have taken in the article "Book of Mormon Lands Map January 2016" and throughout this blog is one way to read the text. Other approaches are not only possible but likely to yield persuasive readings.

We did manage to reach general agreement on some key points.
  • In a relative hierarchy of classes of evidence, the text itself, subject to interpretation, must be primary. There has been no authoritative revelation on Book of Mormon geography in this dispensation. Revelation to the current Prophet could trump the text, but only if it carried the same degree of certainty as the words Joseph received through the seer stone.
  • The phrase "running from the east towards the west" in Alma 22:27 most likely refers to the narrow strip of wilderness rather than the river Sidon.
  • The words "only the distance of a day and a half's journey for a Nephite" in Alma 22:32 most likely refers to a Nephite convention rather than the extreme performance of an elite athlete.
  • The phrase "down into the borders of the land Manti" in Alma 43:32 refers to travel from the valley west of Sidon where Captain Moroni hid part of his army. Relating this phrase to Jershon which is mentioned several verses before (Alma 43:25) is an incorrect forced reading.
  • The pass mentioned in Alma 62:24 was an entrance into or out of the walled city of Nephihah. See Alma 49:18-22 for similar verbiage describing the walled city of Noah. Interpreting the pass as a natural topographic feature is most likely incorrect.
  • The events described in Alma 62:24-38 occurred within a time period of weeks or months as part of Mormon's annual summary for the 31st year of the reign of the judges which begins in verse 12. Attempting to compress all this action into a single 24 hour period based on the words "awoke" in Alma 62:24 and "on the morrow" in Alma 62:38 is an incorrect forced reading.
The implications of these likely interpretations are:
  • River Sidon flows generally south - north rather than east - west.
  • The narrow strip of wilderness runs generally east - west.
  • The boundary line between Bountiful on the south and Desolation on the north is relatively short. The distance across the Isthmus of Tehuantepec (216 air kilometers) is too long to be the place Alma 22:32 is referring to.
  • The notion that River Sidon flows from north to south is not supported in the text. River Sidon flows from south to north just as Book of Mormon scholars have been saying since the 1800's.
  • The land between Nephihah and Moroni is not necessarily mountainous.
  • The notion that the Nephite east coast was significantly shorter than the west coast is not supported in the text. Both coasts may have similar lengths.
We did not achieve general agreement on these important issues:
  • cardinal directionality.
  • whether the four seas mentioned in Helaman 3:8 are literal or metaphorical. 
A useful analogy emerged. Book of Mormon geography is a 1,000 piece puzzle. We only have 150 of the pieces and we don't have a picture on the box to follow. Some of the pieces we do have fit together which gives us confidence that over time a generally accepted solution will emerge.

Given that some ambiguity is inherent in this text, we came up with a methodology that is likely to advance the state of the art in Book of Mormon geography. We intend to build a website where proponents of various models can advocate their positions point by point and respond to feedback. Invited reviewers can indicate whether they agree or disagree with each point and state their reasons why. Interested parties of good will will have a path to follow to become an insider, propose a model, or write reviews. I talked with Blake J. Allen at the FairMormon Conference. He and his father, Joe, have created a very good model based on decades of boots-on-the-ground experience in Mesoamerica. Blake is willing to advocate his model and interact with reviewers on the proposed website. If a handful of others are willing to do the same, we will see progress.