I visited a website the other day in which a former Latter-day Saint kept insisting that in order for him to accept the Book of Mormon as a genuine document, he needed to see the stone box that the Golden Plates were kept in. Such a withered little stick of dried-up faith!
Twenty years ago, I began a project to take notes on all the literature I planned to read in my lifetime. My first book of choice was "An Approach to the Book of Mormon." I thought I would share the notes with you. I apologize in advance; they are choppy and not always easy to understand. I was just beginning my project.
But if nothing else, they tell me this: Who needs the "stone box" when the strongest evidence for the authenticity of the Book of Mormon can be accessed by anyone who is to any degree literate? It is right within the pages of the book!
I plan to share my other book-notes with you as I transcribe them from my notebooks. Certainly not all of them are "Mormon" books.
Review of “An Approach to the Book of Mormon,” by Hugh Nibley, pub. 1957.
Notes from Part One, Chapter One: Introduction to an Unknown Book.
1) You cannot prove that any document is genuine, to someone who has already decided not to accept it. Example: The Bible still remains unproven to many, after thousands of years.
2) Ancient documents are the diary of the human race – vital to our study of the world. Yet they have been almost completely ignored in research.
3) Purported ancient documents are often denounced, because:
a) They deal with subjects of concern to the contemporary world, therefore “obviously were written today.”
b) They do not deal with subjects familiar to the contemporary world, therefore were obviously made up.
4) It is wrong to examine the authenticity of a purported ancient document only in the light of, or framework of, one’s own culture. Instead, these p.a.d.s must be examined in regard to, in the background of, the culture that is claimed for it.
5) “Christian” clergy once led the attack on the Book of Mormon, because it:
a) claimed God’s inspiration
b) set forth prophecy and supernatural visions (crazy Mormons see visions in the Age of Railways) as well as miracles.
Now their successors are leading attacks on the Bible for the same reasons.
6) The Modern Predicament: Man is faced with an “unbridgeable gulf” between “knowledge” and “faith.” Traditional Christianity cannot bridge this gap. We believe that the Book of Mormon can.
7) Some say, the Mormon has “a heavy burden of proof on him.” Yet, they violate the tradition, standard, followed in science, law, that he who calls false a document, theory or proposition, has rather on himself to prove that, not vice versa.
Part One, Chapter Two:
The Book of Mormon can and should be tested. By application of the promise in Moroni 10. And by comparison with Mideastern culture, artifacts, documents, etc. This is the background from which it purports to emanate.
Mideastern study, especially of documents, is constantly turning up new information; knowledge and theories change overnight. But this is recent – this flood of documents supporting Biblical (and Book of Mormon) history began in the 1880s.
Before that, not a single such historical document was available for study.
Gold plates are an ancient method of record-keeping, now substantiated by archaeology.
1) Darius’ plates, circa 520 B.C. Discovered 1938.
2) Sumerian Umma. Discovered 1937.
But even were we to have Joseph Smith’s gold plates today, that would not prove his story – just that he found or acquired gold plates.
Silver, lead, copper and bronze plates have also been found. The ancients carried them (also leather and papyrus scrolls) on their journeys (having inscribed them with scriptures or charms).
Part Two, Chapter 3:
The Book of Mormon implies a culturally unified, universalized world. This is not what has customarily been taught. That custom is now changing.
Lehi, 600 B.C., lived not at the beginning of ancient times, but at the end, in a very special century. It was a cosmopolitan, exciting century. Population exploded, initiating colonization projects like Lehi’s. Greek Marseilles and Oblia. As the “best” spots became taken, exploration became more daring.
Chapter Four: Lehi, A Representative Man
Lehi was a goodly parent, morally and socially. He was a prosperous merchant. Old-time merchants had to be brave, and nomadic.
His time (600 B.C.) was one of great wise men: Buddha, Solon (the founder of democracy), Thales (father of Western philosophy and science), Confucius, Lao-Tze, Mahavira (Jainism), Zarathustra and Pythagorus. But of the great philosophers, only Lehi had hope, found joy.
It was a prosperous, busy age, but everything was about to change.
Chapter Five: Jews and the Caravan Trade
The Jews were not a primitive agricultural society. They were active traders. The era of 600 B.C. was one of great private fortunes.
Commerce followed rules and customs, i.e., the chuwa. You shelter me, I’ll shelter you.
The discovery of the monsoon winds led to the decline of southern Arabia. Accordingly, the Arabs pushed north and began to challenge the Jews. The Nabateans were an Arab kingdom existing between 600 B.C. and the time of the Romans.
Desert chiefs like Lehi, often owned “city homes.”
Jewish merchants were always missionaries, and built altars wherever they settled. (Cf. Bernhard Stafe, Geschicte des Volkes Israel). They were also colonizers.
--adab, a name ending, as in Jonadab ben Rechab, was peculiar to 600 B.C.
Chapter Six: Lehi and the Arabs
The tribe of Manasseh, Lehi’s tribe, lived furthest into the desert and had the most contact with Arabs and with Egypt. They were also a semi-nomadic tribe.
Ammon comes from either their nearest neighbor or Amon of Egypt.
Ishmael was probably an Arab, probably a relative of Lehi. The Native American can in many respects be compared to the Bedouin. (Cf. Harmer). The central shrine of Ishmael was at Beer Lehai-roi.
Sam is Arabic for Shem. Lehi is a name of the desert, as well as Lemuel – a young man’s name. Leimun is a corruption of Lemuel. Alma is a popular Arab name.
Wilderness – howling wilderness – was a mere half-hour journey from even the biggest cities [in the Holy Land].
-on is an archaic place-name ending.
Arbitrary, “on-the-spot” naming of places, was a custom of the desert people. Rivers and valleys (wadis) often had different names and camps were named for valleys (permanent), not rivers (seasonal).
Chapter Seven: Dealings with Egypt
Lehi and Jeremiah were enemies of the pro-Egyptian faction – yet Lehi was not unappreciative of Egyptian culture. The ties between Palestine and Egypt were strong.
To do business with Egypt required ships, and the Hebrews, never a ship-building people, went through Phoenicia to ship their goods.
Sidon was the “old conservative center” [of Phoenicia], rivaled by Tyre. Lehi supported Sidon and the Book of Mormon bears this out.
Chapter Eight: Politics in 5th Century B.C. Jerusalem
Politics were in conflict in Lehi’s day, with power held by the Sarim, the pro-Egyptian , upstart new aristocracy that made a puppet of Zedekiah; and who opposed Lehi and the old, conservative, land-holding aristocracy. “Lands of inheritance” were [the latter’s] source of wealth.
Judges would have been a familiar concept to the Nephites (and Mulekites). In the Old World, the office was corrupted, linked with corrupt priests and prophets.
Chapter Nine: The Laban Story
(Compared to the Labanic episode, the tale of Ishmael was very uneventful, perhaps revealing his [Ishmael’s] rural roots ((he lived far outside of disturbed Jerusalem)).
Record-keeping distinguished the civilized nomad from the wild “riff-raff.”
Laban was a high military official. His (i.e., the disguised Nephi’s) orders, however strange, were not likely to be questioned.
Chapter 10: More on Laban
Laban resembled the “rabu” or pasha of the East, whose main function was to hear petitions. Typically, the fellow robbed his petitioners. (Cf. The Eloquent Peasant, Tales of the Quadis, Wenemon and Zakar Baal).
Bribing him was typical, as was the accusation of theft. (Think of the [story of] Joseph [and his brothers in Egypt.)
A garrison of 50 formed the typical protection of an Eastern city.
Zoram was a servant, i.e. an official representative. His abandonment of Jerusalem reveals his awareness of its terminal condition.
Chapter 11: Wilderness
In the Biblical and Book of Mormon sense, refers to desert. Was a place of teaching and testing.
God typically “quarantines” the wicked and leads away the righteous into other lands. Even in the New World, the Nephites continued [this wandering away pattern].
Chapter 12: Wilderness, Continued
The Exodus is considered by the Jews to be their ideal time – the desert was their teacher. It was a refuge, yet also a trial. A redemption – the Redeemer freeing them from bondage. How interesting, that [the early LDS] pioneers would partake of that tradition.
Furthest from the cities and left to themselves, the desert people are the most honest and humble of people. Their plundering lifestyle is in reaction to their treatment in the cities.
Jeremiah (49:8) advocated a return to the wilderness.
Chapter 13: Churches in the Wilderness
The Nephites were always a religious minority.
Chapter 14: The Dead Sea Scrolls
Were written before the time of Christ. Until recently, the primitive church was a mystery. The DSS and other recent finds have changed that.
The DSS were deliberately sealed, to endure apostasy and come forth later.
Genizah: a walled-off bin for worn-out scripture rolls.
The scrolls contain “Christian terminology, yet are not Christian; Jewish ideas, yet are not Jewish.
Chapter 15: Qumran and the Church of Anticipation
A people “always waiting.” (Cf. 2 Nephi 6:7, Mosiah 15:11, Alma 2:5.) They practiced baptism, the United Order and taught of the apostasy and the Messiah and the apocalypse – they considered themselves latter day saints. They kept the Sabbath and the first day of the week holy. They had 12 leaders and a presiding council. Their sect dates to 800 B.C.
Ch. 16: Book of Mormon and Apocrypha
Common element in all apocrypha and scripture: the eschatological (apocalyptic) theme.
Apocryphal means it was once accepted by someone as scripture.
Unless a church believes in revelation, it must believe that its scriptures are perfect – otherwise interpretation is confusion and debate.
The Jews never had a canon.
1) The Great Tradition. The righteous are a single, timeless community.
2) The Secret Teaching. Knowledge of the gospel is not possessed by the general public, it is kept hidden away.
3) The Holy Book. A written tradition, directed to people of a later age, with instructions to be hidden away.
4) The Plan. God’s plan for the world.
5) Revelation. They always claim present revelation; prophecy it not so much divination of the future as it is awareness of a pattern. When did it “cease?” Depends on who you talk to.
6) Time and timelessness. A repeating cycle of events; the future is as the present and is one with the past.
7) The Messiah: Central to the plan.
8) Doctrine of Probation. Earth is a place of testing, and of moral freedom: the two ways.
9) Doctrine of Apostasy. A continual occurrence and God withdraws His presence.
10) Apocalypse of Woe. There will be an end to the world, as has happened before.
There is only source for the full and consistent picture of the old eschatology: The Book of Mormon.
Ch. 17: A Strange Order of Battle.
For the ancients, warfare followed a ritual pattern (cf. Milhamah ((Battle)) scroll with Alma 46 – the Title of Liberty.
1) Slogans and war cries of the righteous.
2) Volunteers, blameless and pure (cf. 53: 17-19).
3) The sacred name of Israel (Jacob) on banners.
4) Cf. Kawe’s Banner, Persian founders of the Magi.
5) Garment as a banner.
6) Liberation from a wicked oppressor.
7) Sermons on the banners.
8) Proclamation of allegiance.
9) Formal condemnation to death of all opponents.
10) Attribution of banner’s invention to founder of the race.
Cf. Muhammed ibn Ibrahim ath Thalabi (Marks in the Garment).
Joseph and Judah reconciled – a tale lost to the western world.
Ch. 18: Man vs. Nature
Desert travel was always perilous. Accomplished in slow steps: camp and move, camp and move.
More fertile parts: the wadis.
Nephi and company were skilled hunters, showing their ties to the desert. But skilled hunters are not [necessarily] skilled bow hunters. Arabs only use “nab” wood, from Mt. Jasum and Azd, for bows.
Wild beasts were a real danger, according to inscriptions of the time.
Lehi took wild honey, not bees.
In the deserts of Arabia, the best game is found in the mountain tops – oryx and wild goats.
Firemaking was done only as they journeyed, to avoid raiders, a common threat.
Leaving in secret was typical of the desert, for enemies will take advantage of you.
The Hebrews were a brooding, melancholy people , and the Arabs a nation of robbers. Haramy (robber) was a title of honor, and robbery was a complete and regular system.
The tent was the center of desert authority and administration – a site for talk.
Typical groups were more than a family, less than a clan – proper designation, a tent.
Dhabiyeh-l-kasab: sacrifice to celebrate a successful return, honored an ancestor.
Mother often takes up for sons, causing great family disputes.
Why didn’t Laman and Lemuel just leave? Fear, of losing family; and greed for the promised land.
Ch. 20: Lehi’s Dreams
Lehi’s most famous dream, found in 1st Nephi 8, reflects, not the imagery Joseph Smith could have conjured up, but that of the desert traveler, detail for detail.
1) A lone traveler in a wasteland: most common Arabic poetic element.
2) Large and spacious field: the world (maidan) symbol of release from fear and oppression.
3) The Tree of Life: found poetically in the gardens of kings.
4) Search and longing for family.
5) A desert oasis: a spring and a tree.
6) Mist of darkness: common and terrifying in the desert night.
7) Great and spacious building: a tower built Babylonian-style. No ground windows, thus appearing at night to stand in the air.
8) A party of fine people, doomed, like Belshazzar in the Book of Daniel, to destruction.
9) Mockery of the city-folk against “bedraggled travelers” was common, reflecting the ancient enmity between town and nomad.
10) A hasty retreat. Not unheard of in such a situation.
11) Being lost in the desert. Worst fear of the Arab.
12) A great gulf. Like a desert canyon.
13) Fountain of filthy water. A flash-flood, sayl, coming without warning. A “house” built in such a place, a wadi, would surely fall in such a torrent.
Joseph Smith Sr. once had a similar dream. But his had the key difference that makes the Book of Mormon account all the more authentic ... he dreamed of fallen timber. Not wadis, flash floods, canyons and desert mists.
Ch. 21: Lehi the Poet
Desert people: wonderfully poetic in words and speech. Eloquence is the sheikh’s greatest weapon. Poetry and inspiration are one and the same.
Their poetry, however, must not be assumed to resemble ours in the least.
Quellenlieder: Songs composed to fresh water. Earliest desert poetry.
A fountain: any body of water that does not dry up.
Steadfast, firm valleys. An idiom peculiar to the desert.
Quasidah rules: 1) Accompany work or play. 2) Instruct or inform. 3) Reflect on life. 4) A song of travel.
Sajc: A short injunction spoken with solemnity and fervor. Considered binding on the hearer. Best come in pairs, as the exhortation to Laman and Lemuel.
Lehi and Shakespeare. (Cf. 2 Nephi 1:14). Lehi’s phrase far antedated that of Shakespeare; similar phrases can be found in Sumerian, Akkadian, Egyptian and other texts.
Ch. 22: Proper Names in the Book of Mormon
Ten test cases
1) Pa. As in Pahoran, Pacumeni, Paanchi
Paanchi. Famous Egyptian king, contemporary of Isaiah. “He (Ammon) is my life.” Son of Kherihor.
Pahoran. Man of Horan. (Syria or Palestine).
2) Elephantine Egypt. A refuge for Israelites fleeing ruined Jerusalem. Names from there match the Book of Mormon.
3) Other Semitic/near-Eastern names show up in the Book of Mormon. As we’ve already explained, Lehi’s world was a cosmopolitan one. We have Philistine names (Minon and Pathros); Egyptian, as in Aha (Warrior, first hero-king of Egypt, Himni, Korihor, Sam, Zeezrom, Manti, Nephi and Zenoch.
4) Zeniff, a desert name. Zoram: Hebrew and Arabic.
Rules for names: theophoric. Compound names containing that of a deity.
Amon/Ammon: Aminidab, Amnor, Aminadi, Helaman. (Heramon)
Mor: Beloved of ...
Gidianhi: Thoth is my life.
Gidgiddoni and Gidgiddonah: Same elements combined in different order. “I shall live, we shall live.”
Mimation (m-endings) and nunation (n-endings).
Mimation: Characteristic of Jaredite names. Fits in historically; mimation ceased around 2000 B.C.
Nunation: Characteristic of Lehi’s caste. Conservative –iah ending as well.
Non-Semitic endings: Manti = Manda, Hittite, Egyptianized. Kumen=Kumani; Seantum=Sandon, Akish and Kish=Egyptian-Hittite for Cyprus.
Timothy and Lacheonus=Greek. Timothy, Ionian (Palestine) Greek name, Lacheonus: a Laconian, oldest Greek traders.
Lehi: Confirmed repeatedly in our day.
Alma, Nfy and Mormon. Possibly Egyptian, Greek or Arabic. Laman and Lemuel: Pendant names.
No Baal names. Fits with history.