Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Where Were the Waters of Mormon?

“All this was done in Mormon, yea, by the waters of Mormon, in the forest that was near the waters of Mormon; yea, the place of Mormon, the waters of Mormon, the forest of Mormon, how beautiful are they to the eyes of them who there came to the knowledge of their Redeemer” (Mosiah 18:30)
Left: Mormon in background listening intently to Abinadi’s testimony of Christ; Right: Later Alma converts and baptizes 400 at the Waters of Mormon
After Alma’s conversion listening to Abinadi in the councils of King Noah, he went about preaching privately among the people so his works would not become known to the king (Mosiah 18:3). Alma must have changed the place of his meetings during this time, for the people began to assemble in an area called Mormon, an area so named by the king (Mosiah 18:4). The location was evidently in the borders of the Land of Nephi and perhaps the narrow strip of wilderness that ran from sea to sea across the Land Southward, which had at times and season been infested with wild beasts (Mosiah 18:4).
The author of this verse is the prophet Mormon who is abridging the writings of Alma, and for a moment waxes eloquently about this area. Some historians believe that the term “place” in this sense means the same as land, or the land of Mormon; however, the term Place of Mormon is used three times—if it were called the Land of Mormon or meant the same thing, that term surely would have been used in at least one of these three areas by Mormon. Yet, it is Mormon himself who calls it a land when he first introduces himself about 175 years later: “And behold, I am called Mormon, being called after the land of Mormon, the land in which Alma did establish the church among the people, yea, the first church which was established among them after their transgression” (3 Nephi 5:12). However, Mormon also tells us his father was named Mormon (Mormon 1:5), which is a strange combination unless Mormon’s father was also named after the Land of Mormon where Alma established the first church—which might tell us a little about Mormon’s ancestry and the strength of character among his forbears, which allowed him at age 15 to have the faith and desire to know Jesus and preach against evil (Mormon 1:15-17), and at 16 for the Nephites to appoint him their military eader (Mormon 2:1-2).
Very probably, this area, which would not have been very large not to have been given the formal name land, was probably just called Mormon, and included a small area, like a pond, a forest, and evidently not occupied other than by wild animals. The fact that later an area named Hermounts is introduced that had ravenous beasts, might suggest these in Mormon were not man-eating wild animals, but merely wild—in fact, the term “infested” suggests “to trouble greatly, to disturb, to annoy,” which sounds less like dangerous, and more like pesty and annoying. And since the king called the area Mormon, perhaps the term at the time was a derogatory one.
In any event, the area of Mormon was on the borders of the Land of Nephi, near a “forest,” might also suggest that from its root word the original meaning in all languages of “expressing distance from cities and civilization,” and “expressing departure or wandering,” well fits his melancholy expression in verse 30.
This is also suggested when Mormon describes the area as being a thicket of small trees, which is an area of “a wood or collection of trees or shrubs closely set,” which is not descriptive of a forest. And since this place or area was not called the Land of Mormon at the time, but later grown in size and scope, perhaps the best term would be the one Mormon uses—the Place of Mormon, and not try to make it something more than it was in terms of size and importance.
At the time of Alma, the place was evidently unsettled and insignificant, though it had a fountain of pure water where Alma spent his time, and hid himself during the day in the thicket when the king’s army came to search for him. It is not likely that when Alma said, “Here are the waters of Mormon,” when his converts wanted to be baptized (Mosiah 18:8), that he was referring to a large lake as Mesoamerican Theorists claim, such as their Lago de Atitlan, which could not be “searched daily” by the king’s men (Mosiah 18:5), nor would any activity around it not be visible from numerous vantage points. Hardly an area of secret or of hiding described by Mormon.
Lake Atitlan, Mesoamerican Theorists’ Waters of Mormon, a large 80-square-mile lake in Panajachel, Guatemala
Obviously, this area or Place of Mormon would not have been far from the City of Nephi, “in the borders of the land,” Mormon tells us. The City of Nephi, of course, was in the Land of Nephi, a term that may have had both smaller and larger dimensions, depending on its use. For when Ammon “came to a hill, which is north of the land of Shilom…he took three of his brethren…and went down into the land of Nephi” (Mosiah 7:5-6). Yet the Land of Nephi stretched from the west sea to the east sea (Alma 22:27; 50:8), with all the land south of the narrow strip of wilderness was the Land of Nephi (Alma 27:14), and Lamoni’s father was king over all the land except for the land of Ishmael (Alma 22:1). Yet, there were other lands within the greater Land of Nephi, such as the land of Middoni (Alma 20:4), land of Jerusalem (Alma 36:29), land of first inheritance, where Lehi landed (Alma 54:12), etc.
It was probably into this narrow strip of wilderness that Alma led his 450 converts after being apprised of the king’s army approaching (Mosiah 18:34)
It is interesting that when Mormon was about eleven his father “carried him” into the Land Southward from their home in the Land Northward. They went as far as the Land of Zarahemla (Mormon 1:6); however, whether his father intended to visit the Land of Mormon near the City of Nephi is not known, and a war broke out between the Lamanites and Nephites that year (Mormon 1:8) and further travel might have been restricted. On the other hand, the Lord may have directed Mormon’s father to take him to Zarahemla, where his future as a leader of the people and prophet was to be realized.
In any event, it stands to reason that the Place of Mormon (or Land of Mormon) was located within a day or two travel of the City of Nephi, on the outskirts of the Land, or where it bordered with a wilderness, no doubt the narrow strip of wilderness described by Mormon, and possibly one of the reasons why he knew so much about the topography of this area.

Monday, April 29, 2013

Jaredites, Olmecs, Human Sacrifice, and Stepped Pyramids

I don’t very often defend matters of Mesoamerica, but someone sent me an article written on another website in which the stepped-pyramids of Mexico and Guatemala were being likened to the Tower of Babel and were of Jaredite design. It seemed worthwhile to take a look at what was written, and also to correct the many mistakes and inaccurate innuendos included in the article.
Ancient Mesoamerican ruins; Left: A modified stepped pyramid; Right: Tulum on the Yucatan, no pyramid at all
Title of Article: “Mesoamerican Pyramids—Satanic Temples”
Response: Sounds like this was titled by the Dominican priests that accompanied the conquistadors in Central and South America, and in the name of God, claiming all was built by Devils, destroyed much of two magnificent cultures that were far superior to the Spanish themselves.
Article: “The nature and purpose of the Mesoamerican pyramids…were originally initiated by the so-called “Olmec” people who in all probability were Jaredites, or other closely associated groups…”
Response: The Olmec, whoever they were, settled south of the isthmus, or the Mesoamerican narrow neck of land, or in their Land Southward—yet the scriptural record is very clear the Jaredites never went south of the narrow neck except to hunt, so the Olmec could not have been Jaredites. Nor did the Jaredites have any “other closely associated groups."
Article: “The pyramids were patterned after the original tower temple, the infamous Tower of Babel. The Jaredites acquired this cultural tradition in Babel…”  
Response: The scriptural record does not show that the Jaredites ever built a temple—in fact, the word temple never appears in the record of Ether. Nor does stepped pyramid or pyramid or ziggurat appear in the record. In fact, according to Genesis, we have no idea what the Tower of Babel looked like—the record only says it was a “tower” (Genesis 11:4-9). It is historians who claim the tower was a stepped pyramid based on what has been found in Mesopotamia—but it is still only an assumption.
Article: “These temples (or ziggurats as they are known in the Middle East) were stepped pyramids, accessed by ramped stairways, with a very small temple placed on the top.  The pyramids themselves were constructed of packed earth cores and normally faced with brick, rock or plaster. The political or religious elite would use these structures as the focal point of their heathenistic rituals in order to gain power and influence over the population.  The common people were not allowed access to these sanctuaries.  Only the priests and the elite were so privileged…” 
Response: No one knows how these stepped pyramids in Mesoamerica were originally used, or for what purposes, or even if they were temples of any kind. The word pray is used only once, and that is during Moroni’s insertion of his religious comments in the 12th chapter. Consequently, we have no idea how, where, or when the Jaredites prayed, worshipped, or honored their God, other than going into a high mountain (Ether 3:1). Yet, after ignoring the Lord for four years, He approaches the Brother of Jared in a cloud (Ether 2:14) as he was in the Valley of Nimrod (Ether 2:4) and on the way to the seashore (Ether 2:5).
Article: “The pyramid-topping temple was only large enough for a small number of people, normally the priests, and was not intended for groups…” 
Response: We do not know for what purpose these small buildings on top were used, who entered into them, and what was done there.
Article: “Their rituals included the practice of human sacrifice.  In Mesoamerica such sacrifices were perfected to the point of maximum barbarism…”  
Response: Once the Nephites were gone, and once the barbarous Lamanites gained control over everything, we can see from scripture that they were involved in human sacrifice—however, by no means did the Lamanites construct these magnificent buildings.
Article: “The Spanish invaders, who were barbarous people themselves, were horrified when they witnessed these horrible rituals…”
Response: So were the Nephites horrified when the Lamanites sacrificed their women and children (Mormon 4:14-15).
Article: “These barbaric rites were of ancient origin dating back to the original Tower of Babel.  They were not a recent invention just prior to the conquest…” 
Response: We do not know that the people of the Tower of Babel did human sacrifice in or upon the Tower they built—there is not a single mention of sacrifice, either human or animal in the entire record of Ether.
Article: “An accurate account of the early practice is given in the Book of Abraham 1:5-20…” 
Response: The sacrifice mentioned by Abraham was by an Egyptian priest, long after the Tower of Babel had been destroyed and the people’s language confounded and their disbursement around the world. It is not associated in any way with towers or ziggurats “Now it was the custom of the priest of Pharoah, the king of Egypt, to offer up upon the altar which was built in the land of Chaldea, for the offering unto those strange gods, men, women and children” (Abraham 1:8). This altar stood by the hill called Potiphar’s Hill at the head of the plain of Olishem, in the land of Ur of Chaldea, where boys and virgins had been sacrificed “and it was done after the manner of the Egyptians” (Abraham 1:11). It might be considered, that the experience Abraham writes about took place some time after the Jaredites left Babylonia, and some distance away from Babylon.
Article: “The Jaredites (or Olmecs) continued these practices during their periods of apostasy and passed them on to the Maya, Aztecs, etc…”  
Response: It would be unlikely, even if the Olmecs were the Jaredites, that the Jaredites continued with what Abraham writes about—in fact, is unlikely that human sacrifice was even known among the Jaredites in Babylon. We know that the Jaredites were aware, or at least the records they brought with them stated, “them of old, that by their secret plans did obtain kingdoms and great glory” (Ether 8:9), which included murder (Ether 8:10), intrigue and secret combinations, or the oaths of Cain (Ether 8:11-15), but nowhere does it include human sacrifice in religious and ritual manner as is indicated by Abraham.
Article: “The purpose of the Mesoamerican pyramid was to practice these rites…” 
Response: We do not know why the pyramids of Mesoamerica were built, or by whom, let alone for practicing the rites of human sacrifice. That they were later used for this purpose by Lamanite descendants appears to have happened, but it is not known about the purpose of their original construction.
Actually, the stepped pyramids of Mesoamerica mostly resemble the ancient pyramids found in Egypt: Left: Chichen Itza in the Mexican Yucatan; Right: The step pyramid of Djoser near Memphis in Egypt
Article: “The Mesoamerican pyramid temples do not resemble temples of the Lord in our day or in any other dispensation of time…” 
Response: LDS Temples today do not resemble temples built in biblical times.
Article: “In particular they do not resemble the Nephite temples described in the Book of Mormon…” 
Response: We do not know what Nephi’s temple looked like, nor do we know what the temple at Bountiful looked like. These could have been stepped pyramids as well as anything else. Pyramids, after all, were known to Lehi and his family because of his involvement with Egypt, nor was his involvement unique among many Jews of his time.
Article: “Solomon’s Biblical temple was the model for Nephite temples (it was not as elaborate and ornate, but in design it was the same) and did not resemble the Mesoamerican pyramid in any way.”
Response: It would appear that Nephi was likening his temple in the fine workmanship, and its purpose, and in its magnificent—not necessarily in its design. After all, LDS temples today can be likened to Solomon’s in almost all ways except in design.
The article concluded with the statement: “If the information is erroneous, whether written, audio or visual, the Holy Ghost will not, or is limited in, witnessing to the truth of the information.  It is that simple.  If we expect the Spirit to witness to the truthfulness of this most important event, we need to be accurate in our depiction of it.” I couldn’t agree more regarding the need for accuracy—the problem is, the article itself is not accurate!

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Mesoamerica’s Narrow Neck of Land

We received this in an email and thought it might do well as a post for the blog:
Comment: “I read your three-part series last July about the Isthmus of Rivas regarding James Warr’s so-called Nicaraguan Land of Promise and thoroughly enjoyed it. I thought you might enjoy this following exchange between Warr and a reader of his blog on this same subject" Addison M.
Top: The Isthmus of Rivas, looking left to right (south to north) with the Pacific Ocean at the top and Lake Nicaragua on the bottom. This distance across from ocean to lake is 12 miles; Bottom: The east side of the Rivas Isthmus, looking west. Note the extremely flat land which presents no challenges to walking, and which also provides no defensive positions for the Nephites to guard against an enemy reaching the Land Northward. It would not take a day and a half, or even a day, to walk across 12 miles of this terrain
Warr: The place I consider to be the Narrow Neck of Land is located in Nicaragua, more precisely the Isthmus of Rivas between the Pacific Ocean and Lake Nicaragua. I believe this is the only isthmus in the western hemisphere that matches the description in the Mormon scripture.  This "narrow neck" should be traversable in 12 hours or a normal day. It should be remembered that the Nephites did not travel at night even when pursuing, or being pursued, by their enemies, so it is not legitimate to suggest a 24 hour day. I challenge those espousing other theories to prove them by actually walking across their proposed "narrow necks" in a day as I did mine.  The Isthmus of Tehuantepec in Mexico, the "narrow neck" of one of the proposed theories, would take at least four days to cross on foot.  The Isthmus of Panama, which was the route of some of the "forty-niners" traveling to the California goldfields, required three days to cross.  If the geography is incorrect, the archaeology is irrelevant, no matter how impressive.
Reader: Your reading is inaccurate: 1. The "line bountiful" was 1.5 days wide, the narrow neck was not that wide. 2. It was a flat, straight plain for 1.5 days distance. There is nothing in either central or South America that meets that criteria.
Warr: There were two measurements of the Narrow Neck. One, as you mention, was 1.5 days travel across. The other, mentioned in Hel. 4:7, was one days journey across. This could have been the same place with different interpretations of distance. However I feel that they were two different locations on the Narrow Neck. The first being the distance from the Bay of Hogath (Bay of Salinas) to the East Sea (in this case Lake Nicaragua), and the other being the shortest distance across the isthmus which today is covered by the highway from La Virgen to San Juan del Sur. The first measures approximately 18-20 miles, the second 12 miles.
Reader: "Neck" is inferred but not stated. The "Line Bountiful" was "1.5 days wide" NOT the narrow neck, pass, or passage. The second reference only refers to "the line they had fortified." In any case, 1.5 or 1 days distance was not perceived by Mormon as something "narrow" capable of being blocked by snakes. Whatever you believe the "line bountiful" to be, it must be flat.
Warr: The area I visualize as the Narrow Neck is fairly flat. But I would be interested in knowing where you find a reference indicating it had to be flat.
Response: I did enjoy it, thanks.
Regarding this exchange, there is so much misinformation contained in it I thought I would respond to it here in this post. So let me cover those errors one at a time:
1. Actually, “neck” is not inferred, it is stated: “there being a small neck of land between the land northward and the land southward” (Alma 22:32). The inferred part is that this neck is “narrow,”  by the fact it can be crossed in one and a half day travel of a Nephite, which suggests a narrow width, probably about 25 to 30 miles;
Top: The Andes rise dramatically upward east of the Bay of Guayaquil. Bottom Left: A narrow neck of land existed between the Land Southward and the Land Northward, connecting these two major land masses. Before the Andes rose up during the tectonic movement when the Pacific Plate overrode the South American Plate, this narrow neck was approximately 26 miles across from water (bay) to sea (East Sea). Bottom Right: After the rise of the Andes, which form nearly a sheer wall of mountains at this point, the narrow neck still existed, only then (as now) is was bordered by the water (bay) and the mountains. The narrow passage  or pass through this narrow neck (Pass of Huayna Capac still exists today and was the scene of the epic Inca battle with the people of the north). It might be important to remember that the East Sea is not mentioned here or elsewhere after the Andes rose, or after 3 Nephi.
2. There is no list, suggestion or indication about the topography of the narrow neck of land. Within the narrow neck is a “narrow pass,” or passage (Alma 50:34; 52:9). Since this pass “leads into the land northward,” and the Land Southward was surrounded by water except for this narrow neck of land, the inference is that the pass was within the neck of land that separated the two lands;
3. It would seem likely that this narrow pass, which Mormon also calls a narrow passage (Mormon 2:29), which led both into Land Northward and into the Land Southward, is the same pass or passage, and it is within the narrow neck of land. This pass, or passage, would likely be flat since it was a path, road or trail over which Nephites and Lamanites traveled, and, no doubt, those Jaredite “hunters” who came into the Land Southward after game (Ether 10:19); however, there is no other inference to the neck itself as being flat outside this pass—for if it was, then why have a pass and what would its importance be if the entire neck was flat; therefore it could have been hilly, mountainous, etc. In fact, if it were flat as is Warr’s Isthmus of Rivas, and his Reader’s claim, why would Limhi’s 43-man expedition looking for Zarahemla have crossed into the Land Northward seeing the sea on each side and knowing they were no longer in the land from which they came, or for which they sought?
4. “The Line Bountiful” is mentioned only once in the scriptural record (Alma 22:32) and refers to the narrow neck between the Land Southward and the land Northward. This “line” was obviously considered the boundary or border between the Land of Bountiful and the Land of Desolation. Whether this line was at the southern end of the narrow neck or the northern end, or in the middle, is not stated. However, in Alma 63:5, we can figure out that the line was probably at the southern end since Hagoth built his ship “on the borders of the land Bountiful, by the land Desolation, and launched it forth into the west sea, by the narrow neck which led into the land northward” suggests the narrow neck was to the north of his shipyard, though he was along the border of the Land Bountiful. However, no  matter how you state it, the Line Bountiful and the narrow neck would both have been the same in distance, being one and a  half day journey for a Nephite;
5) As for the fortified line that was a one day journey, Mormon is not referring to the same area, but a place within the Land of Bountiful (Helaman 4:7) where the Nephites had been pushed so far north that they had given up all their possessions in the Land Southward (Helaman 4:8). This line was a last stand position for the Nephite army, decided by Moronihah, and so valiant were the Nephites in holding this line, that they stopped the crazed Lamanite advance, and form this point eventually regained half their Land Southward (Helaman 4:6-7, 9-10);
6) There was no Bay of Hogath or Bay of Hagoth mentioned in the record, however, it seems there would have been some type of bay or inlet where he built his shipyard—it would not likely have been along the coast itself. However, the record states no measurement from any bay (or Hagoth’s shipyards) to the East Sea. The measurement was across the narrow neck;
7) There is no way it would have taken a Nephite a day and a half to cover 12 miles (the distance across the Isthmus of Rivas). The fact that Warr crossed it in 6 hours, evidently from his description afterward, he not being in good shape to make the trek. Six hours does not equate to 18 hours (1 ½ days). His very experience should have told him that this was not the narrow neck of land. By the way, if you were to take a ride along highway NIC 16 from San Juan del Sur (Pacific Ocean coast) to La Virgen (Lake Nicaragua), you would find it to be rather flat, farm land and partially wooded, and a rather easy 12-mile distance to cover on foot, one that could be done by a Nephite or normal person in a matter of 5 to 6 hours as Warr pointed out;
8) I agree there is nothing in Central America that meets Mormon’s description of the narrow neck of land. However, in South America, the distance from the east shore of the Bay of Guayaquil to the sharp rise of the Andes Mountains creates a narrow neck or narrow stretch of land for a few miles as the land bends around the shore. Within it is a narrow pass made famous by the Inca for the battles they fought there when conquering the Ecuadorian cultures. This distance is about 28 miles in width, and before the Andes rose, the ocean occupied that area, so that before and after the Andean mountain revolution, there was this narrow stretch of land that would take about a day and a half to cross, then and now.
I do agree with Warr on one point: “If the geography is incorrect, the archaeology is irrelevant, no matter how impressive.” The Isthmus of Rivas is incorrect, his interpretation of scripture claiming a day’s journey across the narrow neck is incorrect. From his standpoint, nothing else matters about his model--it is irrelevant!

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Comments from our DNA Series – Part IV

Continuing with the comments received after our recent eight-part series about DNA, which includes the newest developments in MtDNA that has been obtained over the past ten years from studies based on much larger sampling knowledge, as well as the American DNA controversies.
Comment #1: “Obviously, because Joseph Smith did not know about DNA when he wrote about the Nephites coming from Jerusalem, he painted himself into a corner now that we know through DNA testing that there is no Jewish blood among the Native Americans” Mathieu G.
Response: Other similar comments have been received. Perhaps the following might surprise you. In an interesting article written by Dr. Joseph S. Amussen several years ago regarding the resurrection from the scientific point of view, he wrote: “There is a “star-dust” in our bodies. A glorious substance that is an inheritance from the divine past. It is a material that is immortal and links the eternity of the past with that of the future. It is a “star-dust” which forms the intelligent and organizing principles which compose our real, individual bodies, and which clothes itself with the food substances we assimilate and use temporarily.” According to Joseph Fielding Smith, the prophet Joseph was the first to call attention to these particles of matter. He called them the fundamental parts of our bodies.
Of course, Deoxyribonucleic acid was unknown during Joseph Smith’s lifetime, and was not even on its way to discovery until 1869 when Swiss physiological chemist Friedrich Miescher (left) first identified what he called “nuclein” inside the nuclei of human white blood cells, but it was more than 50 years later before the significance of Miescher’s discovery of nucleic acids was widely appreciated by the scientific community, and eventually led to the discovery of DNA as we more-or-less know of it today by Francis Crick and James Watson in 1953. It is interesting to note that what scientists are just now learning about what Joseph gave to the world more than a hundred years ago.
Elder Orson Pratt (left) once remarked in Joseph Smith’s presence that the human body changes every seven years, to which the prophet Joseph said:
“There is no fundamental principle belonging to a human system that ever goes into another in this world or the world to come; I care not what the theories of man are. We have the testimony that God will raise us up, and he has the power to do it. If anyone supposes that any part of our bodies, that is, the fundamental parts thereof, ever goes into another body, he is mistaken” (History of the Church, Vol 5, p 339).
J. Arthur Thompson once wrote in The Romance of Chemistry: “Some  biologists hold the view that there is an ‘ultimate molecule’ of life hidden in the protoplasm, which holds the secret of endless building up and breaking down. Sir Ray Lankester gave this “supreme life stuff’ the name of plastogen, and said in regard to its workings that while they can be grouped with the chemical and physical qualities of other bodies, they so far transcend them in complexity and in immensity of result that their appearance constitutes in effect, a new departure, a sudden and to us unaccountable acquirement” [regarding the whole creation of plant and animal life].
Joseph Fielding Smith, in reading the Thompson quote, said, “This corroborates the teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, and indicates that men of science are beginning to recognize the doctrine of a fundamental principle of matter in our bodies, and some, to give it a name, refer to it in such terms as “the ultimate molecule of life,” “supreme life stuff,” and “plastogen” (Improvement Era, Vol. 30, p.701).
Consequently, it might be concluded that Joseph Smith (left), like many prophets before him, knew about matters that had not yet been invented or not yet known in his time, but spoke of them anyway—the problem is, the terms they used to describe future matters were never the terms actually known in the future events. Take Ezekiel trying to describe a helicopter firing missiles nearly two millennia before any such thing had even been considered, let alone designed or flown.
The point of all this is simply that while DNA became known long after Joseph Smith’s time, he, like many prophets, knew of matters other men did not, and knew their effects and purposes. Thus, we might conclude that Joseph Smith did not paint himself into a corner, he simply spoke of matters, as yet, still beyond the knowledge of science and men.
Comment #2: “It is ridiculous that when LDS apologists claim you cannot know the DNA of ancient peoples, you set up an impossible situation and use that as a defensible position as opposed to using and analyzing the DNA evidence we do have for Native Americans. As an example, if you were to take a look at all the DNA evidence we have for Native Americans (meaning people here in America before Columbus) and had to make a conclusion based on that evidence if the Book of Mormon were true then what are they going to conclude?” Pierce W.
Response: The geneticist, Ugo A. Perego (left), who is involved in population genetics and DNA, molecular genealogy, etc., answered this type question best when he said, "If somebody took a look at all the DNA evidence we have for Native Americans (meaning people here in America before Columbus) and had to make a conclusion based on that evidence if the Book of Mormon were true then what are they going to conclude?" the answer is pretty simple. We don't know what the DNA of Native Americans before Columbus is. That evidence does not exist and cannot be created very much like we cannot access the DNA of someone like Lehi, Nephi, or Captain Moroni. Why? Because the people living in the Americas today are not a true representation of those that lived before the Europeans arrived to this continent. Within a couple of centuries, the demographics of the Americas changed drastically and the extermination process that underwent through warfare, slavery or disease was not random. Genetic lineages disappear naturally overtime due to a natural force called genetic drift. This is easily observable when comparing Native American lineages of Asian origin in the Americas with those existing in Asia tofay. There is a lot more variation in Asia than there is in the Americas and one of the explanations is that many lineages in the Western Hemisphere disappeared overtime. This was accentuated and accelerated during the European contest. In population genetics terms, the clash with Europeans resulted in a tremendous bottleneck, which changed drastically the genetic background of the Americas. So, the DNA we observe in modern Native Americans (using classic population genetic markers found on the Y chromosome, autosomal DNA or mitochondrial DNA) does not represent the pre-Columbian history of the people of this continent, but of those that survived the encounter with Europeans—which is a population reduction that has been estimated to be but 1/25 of the original source population.
Comment #3: “How exactly can DNA be used to determine the accuracy of the Book of Mormon or of any past population?” Carrick O.
Response: Under certain circumstances, the process is quite simple. All you need is a sample of the DNA of the past population that lived at the time of your inquiry group—if the Book of Mormon, then you would need the DNA sampling of Lehi (left), or some of the Nephites, or some of the Lamanites of that era. All you do then is take a sampling of that population today, and compare the Y chromosome haplotypes for the two groups—those of the past and those of today. If the values match, then you probably have a biological relationship. If they don't, then you can be 100% confident that you are looking at two non-related individuals. As you can see, this is easy in determining present comparisons, such as paternity suits, or other relationships since the DNA of both parties can be obtained. But when you try to determine the DNA of a people 2000 years ago, whose DNA is not available, with the DNA of people today, you can see where the problem lies. The point is, you simply cannot determine the historical presence of an Israelite family arriving in the Americas 2600 years ago based on the genetic sampling of modern-day Native American populations. If we knew what Lehi’s DNA was, then we could compare it with current Amerinds to see if there was a connection—however, we do not know and cannot find out what Lehi’s DNA was. The sad thing about all this is that critics claim the lack of evidence is evidence, but the fact is that lack of evidence is simply lack of evidence.

Friday, April 26, 2013

Comments from our DNA Series – Part III

Continuing here with the comments received after our recent five-part series about DNA, which includes the newest developments in MtDNA that has been obtained over the past ten years from studies based on much larger sampling knowledge.
Comment #1: “I read this recently: In 1998 while serving as a Mormon bishop I encountered DNA research that challenged my beliefs and changed my life. My beliefs, based on the Book of Mormon stories of ancient Middle Eastern migrations to the Americas, were at odds with well-established scientific views of Native American origins. DNA research on Native Americans has confirmed their true ancestry and raises serious questions about LDS claims. I’m thinking if a Bishop can question the Book of Mormon over DNA, what about the rest of us?”
Response: In 1998, 4 years before the more recent studies we’ve quoted that were reported in 2002, the DNA family or clan groupings which, since 1987, were based on the belief that mitochrondrial DNA was passed on only from the mother, which is now understood to be completely in error and that the entire concept was wrong—in fact, rather than those earlier results tracing back to 200,000 years ago, they actually traced back only to 6000 years ago when using more accurate information. Having been a bishop, I can only say that bishops are no different than anyone else, each has his own personality, feelings, opinions, etc. They are as fallible as the next person. Some grow considerably in the calling, but some might not. The one you mention obviously didn’t have a strong enough testimony to understand the difference between scientific beliefs, hypothesis, and guesses, which are often proved to be wrong, from the word of God, which is never wrong. I have found over the years that every whit of the Book of Mormon has already, or is continuing to be, proven true in the Scientific World. Give everything time, and it will all be revealed—not as an announcement on high, but as new ideas unfold and studies begin to prove earlier falsehoods in scientific beliefs. After all, true religion and true (accurate) science are very compatible since they originate with the same Being.
Comment #2: “Thank you for your insight and frank responses to everyone’s inquiries. It shows me you are listening to others, know what you’re talking about and not just writing what you like. I have learned a lot from all your posts. Too bad there are so many that haven’t, judged by their responses” Shayne J.
Response: Thank you. We don’t usually list all the nice comments we receive since they don’t require a response and it would appear self-serving. However, criticisms, misunderstandings, and ignorance do require responses since the entire concept of the gospel is for us to learn all we can. And there is much to be learned for all of us.
Comment #3: “Based on a study conducted in 2010 of DNA sampling, it has been shown that not only were there Neanderthals in the past, but that they mated with humans and produced children—us. That sort of spoils your God created Adam theory” Erich V.
Response: It would seem from this that the theories behind genetics using DNA to arrive at conclusions about ancestry are more than suspect! First of all, Neanderthal, a name coined from Neander’s Valley (originally called Gesteins or Hundskipp), a region in Germany, about 8 miles east of Dusseldorf, where the bones of this “species” was first discovered, are known from fossil specimens, and classified as either a subspecies of Homo sapiens, or as a separate species of the same genus. Supposedly, they lived 600,000 to 350,000 years ago, though some dating in other areas show much later dates of 30,000 to 35,000 years ago. These so-called Neanderthals are thought to have been stronger than humans, especially stronger arms and hands, and having larger brains, though their heights were about 66” in men (5’6”) and 61 inches in women (5’1”).
It should be kept in mind that the type specimen dubbed Neanderthal 1, consisted of a skull cap, two femora (thigh bone), three bones from the right arm, two from the left arm, part of the left ilium (upper part of the pelvis), fragments of a scapula, and ribs. The workers who recovered this material originally thought it to be the remains of a bear. They gave the material to amateur naturalist who turned the fossils over to anatomist Hermann Schaaffhausen. The discovery was jointly announced in 1857. To date, the bones of over 400 "Neanderthals" have been found; however, no complete skeleton has been found, nor are these bones connected to single bodies, but just scattered bones claimed to be from a different species or subspecies.
The first draft of the Neanderthal genome, published in the journal Science, took a massive international effort involving more than 50 scientists working for four years. Their work was spearheaded by Svante Pääbo of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany. Harvard Medical School geneticist David Reich led the research to understand how modern humans are related to Neanderthals—basically saying that Neanderthals live on today in the DNA of many people because the Ice Age brutes probably mated with prehistoric humans. He also claims that while Neanderthals and modern humans both descended from a common ancestor, Neanderthals evolved separately for several hundred thousand years.
Of course, it should be noted that this discovery stems from researchers’ striking success in extracting and sequencing genetic material from a pill-size amount of crushed bones found in a cave in Croatia. Then another group at Harvard led efforts to compare the ancient DNA with present-day human genomes, revealing that people from outside Africa inherited a small portion of their genes from "Neanderthal" ancestors. Not only did the team find strong support for the controversial mating theory, but the work also produced a catalog of genetic mutations that set humans apart, yielding potential clues about why we succeeded while "Neanderthals" died off. These researchers claim that modern-day people, except for Africans, can trace about 1 percent to 4 percent of their genome back to "Neanderthals." That suggests mating before Asian and European populations diverged, perhaps in the Middle East as humans migrated from Africa around 50,000 to 80,000 years ago.
If you want to believe this stuff, feel free. Personally, I think, and have often stated, that DNA is in its infancy and it will be many years, perhaps generations, before it is understood well enough to make such absolute comparisons. In the meantime, I would invite you to spend a little time reading the actual circumstances and problems associated with Johann Carl Fuhlrott and his difficulty in collecting and preserving the bones found, and Hermann Schaafhausen and his struggle to find a place among humans for his discovery of the heavy-browed skull cap of what became known as the "Neanderthal"—how “learned” men arrive at such nonsense is always a marvel. What is more of a marvel is how gullible humanity is to think that a guess, in time, becomes a hard and proven fact.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Comments from our DNA Series – Part II

Continuing with the comments received after our recent five-part series about DNA, which includes the newest developments in MtDNA that has been obtained over the past ten years from studies based on much larger sampling knowledge, here are more:
Comment #1: “Your Church says the events described in the Book of Mormon were confined to a small section of Central America, and that the Hebrew tribe was small enough that its DNA was swallowed up by the existing Native Americans, however, the DNA can't be "swallowed up" because mitochondrial DNA is passed on from the mother UNDILUTED” Janis J.
Response: Instead of passing on what you’ve heard from other critics, why not read the scientific papers and journal reports that have been available now since 2002 that MtDNA is not just passed on from the Mother and is not undiluted, but also from the father—old paradigms die hard, but why not keep up? In addition, the LDS Church has no stand whatsoever about where the Book of Mormon lands were located other than the Western Hemisphere, and no stand on any Limited Geography Theory. Individuals have ideas, as individuals always do. Central America, or more accurately, Mesoamerica, was originally the brainchild of several LDS archaeologists and anthropologists over the years since the early 1900s, and promoted vigorously by FARMS, at one time a private organization, now doing work with BYU in numerous areas, such as copying and preserving ancient documents (which my brother-in-law and his wife spent some time doing at BYU). In addition, the LDS Church has never made a comment about DNA being absorbed by a larger, indigenous population in the Land of Promise, and the Book of Mormon itself lays no claim or even suggestion or hint at any other people living in or around the Land of Promise during the time the Book of Mormon covers, about 2000 B.C. to 421 A.D. You quote, as do other critics, things that are not part of the Church’s stated doctrines or beliefs as though they are—however, such statements, when quoted correctly, are made from time to time by individual members or private groups who are speaking for themselves and almost always doing so in printed statements showing they are not connected with the Church as such. The problem with critics is they tend to hear others say things and repeat them blindly without checking out to learn the accuracy or inaccuracy of the statements. Such lack of fact-checking is a curse in our society today and has led to numerous organizations who are “fact checkers” offering their services to government, social and private groups. While your vigorous, and almost always inaccurate statements show your ignorance to those who know, you make yourself a laughing stock among intelligent individual who are not part of your criticizing world.
Comment #2: “Despite your lengthy tirade about DNA in your several posts, the basic problem is that Joseph Smith painted himself and the Church he founded into a corner. Back in the 1800s when he brought out the Book of Mormon, he could not anticipate the day when DNA evidence could be used to disprove the Book of Mormon claim that the Lamanites (native Americans) were descended from Middle Eastern ancestry. That makes the prophet, seer, and revelator look awfully stupid” Mervyn C.
Response: It seems that stupid belongs to the scientists who claimed mitochondrial DNA (MtDNA) was passed on only by the mothers and claimed that Mitochondrial Eve existed 200,000 years ago in Africa as well as all the other people who jumped on the bandwagon in 1987 claiming MtDNA could then be used to trace everyone’s genealogy back to Mitochondrial Eve. How red their faces must have been when, in 2002, new studies showed that MtDNA is also passed on by the father, and there was no Mitochondrial Eve, and that these new findings showed that the earlier studies actually only led backward to about 6000 years for the beginning of the DNA!
On the other hand, Joseph Smith has been proven time and again to have proclaimed matters that have, over time, been shown to be uncannily correct, though unknown by anyone in his day. And if you are going to call someone stupid, perhaps you might want to look inward about matters you have obviously not studied.
DNA is not a proven science no matter how much people believe it is—matters keep changing as more evidences pile up and more studies are conducted by scientists who know they have not found out everything about DNA. In 1987, as an example, the amount of family group testing and DNA sampling was very small—today, that amount is far greater and provides far more accurate information. But for those who think we have learned it all about the most complex of biological breakdown of the human body, they would be wise to change their thinking. The one constant about scientific knowledge is that it keeps increasing. 
Comment #3: “I copied this off the internet and wondered how you would respond to it after reading your series on DNA: Since the late 1990s and the pioneering work of Luigi Luca Cavalli-Sforza and others, scientists have developed techniques that attempt to use genetic markers to indicate the ethnic background and history of individual people. The data developed by these mainstream scientists tell us that the Native Americans have very distinctive DNA markers, and that some of them are most similar, among old world populations, to the DNA of people anciently associated with the Altay Mountains area of central Asia. This conclusion from a genetic perspective confirms a large amount of archaeological, anthropological, and linguistic evidence that Native American peoples' ancestors migrated from Asia at the latest 16,500–13,000 years ago” Everette T.
Response: I have two very important problems with this. First of all, the quoted sentence at the last has a reference you did not quote and that is: “Settlement of the Americas and Genetic history of indigenous peoples of the Americas,” which states: “Human settlement of the New World occurred in stages from the Bering sea coast line, with an initial layover on Beringia for the small founding population. The micro-satellite diversity and distributions of the Y lineage specific to South America indicates that certain Amerindian populations have been isolated since the initial colonization of the region.” The idea of a Siberia to Alaska settlement has been discussed for decades and is really an old belief, not accepted today by numerous scientists, including archaeologists and anthropologists, since the vast majority of recent solid evidence shows a south to north settlement of the Americas, not north to south. Secondly, the dates of this type of discussion is untenable for anyone who believes in the Bible, which I do, for the Book of Genesis makes it very clear that there was a flood in the year 2344 B.C. that encompassed the entire planet and only Noah and his family (8 persons overall and what children they had—it took 100 years to build the Ark) were the only survivors. That means that whatever happened before that time (about 4357 years ago) has no meaning on anything that relates to mankind today such as the dates claimed above of 16,500-13,000 years ago. Thus, when seriously discussing DNA, we have no way of debating anything prior to about 4400 years ago, and the descendants of Noah beginning in 2344 B.C.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Comments from our DNA Series – Part I

Recently we posted a five-part series about DNA and immediately received several comments and criticisms;  however, most of the remarks received were based on old science and not on what has been learned since 2002 onward. Our responses below include the point of view from this new knowledge of MtDNA that has been obtained from more recent studies and much larger sampling techniques.
Comment #1: “Rod Meldrum claims that the primary races of the earth, Asian (Oriental), African (Negroid) and European (Caucasian) are easily distinguished from each other through specific DNA markers or signatures that delineate their ancestry, so it would appear that DNA is a more reliable way of determining location and ancestry than you claim” Tanman Mark.
Response: Rod Meldrum often makes firm, unquestionable claims about things that are not so accurate as a reader might expect. As an example, one of Meldrum's cited references (his #10, pp. 22–23) is taken from David B. Goldstein and Lounès Chikhi, "Human Migrations and Population Structure: What We Know and Why It Matters," Annual Review of Genomics and Human Genetics, Vol 3, 2002, pp 137-138, which in fact, rejects efforts to tie genetics to common conceptions of race, in which they state regarding DNA findings: “One definite and obvious consequence is that races in any meaningful sense of the term do not exist in the human species. The term race as popularly imagined implies groups that can be cleanly separated from one another, and within our species, there simply are no such groups. Rather, differences among groups of humans are always graded, and decisions about whom to cluster with whom on genetic grounds always must include arbitrary criteria.”
And though he cites no evidence or reference, Meldrum even claims that “through DNA sequencing, these three primary genetic groups, called supergroups, can be differentiated one from another due to the presence or lack of certain DNA markers, which makes them identifiable for genetic study and makes it possible to identify peoples’ genetic lineages”; however, according to J. F. Wilson (and 7 others) in, "Population genetic structure of variable drug response," Nature Genetics, Vol 29, Nov 2001, pp 265-269, “One can certainly determine a genetic lineage, but it is difficult to shoehorn everything into a clean threefold division of humanity. One study found that drug metabolism varied among four genetic clusters of humans, but even these clusters had a generally poor correspondence with ethnic labels.”
Typically, Meldrum, either because he does not fully understand what he reads and cites, or ignores the actual information, misquotes and misuses these two examples regarding his claim of three basic “supergroups” which, obviously, he has taken from Noah's children and claims that “from these three brothers and their wives sprang the world's three primary lineages or 'supergroups' which in genetic terms are African, European, and Asian.” Modern Science, and pure logic, should suggest that with intermarrying, etc., and with divergent previous DNA mingling, that there is no “pure” African, European, and Asian. As Goldstein and Chikhi add regarding racial or ethnic groups: “No matter how such groups are defined, it is well known that the majority of the genetic variation in the human species is due to differences between individuals within, rather than between, groups.”
Lastly, another source Meldrum quotes (#27, pp79-80), that totally disagrees with him is Andrés Reséndez and Brian M. Kemp, “Genetics and the History of Latin America,” Hispanic American Historical Review, Vol 85/2, May 2005, pp 296–97, where they wrote: "While DNA scholars try mightily to find variation among populations, the most obvious insight generally remains unstated: namely, that we humans are practically identical when it comes to our genetic makeup. Physical traits that we recognize at a quick glance, such as skin color, eye shape, and body size, may precondition us to believe that there exist significant genetic differences. In fact, these physical traits are rooted in insignificant variations at the level of our DNA. There are no pure races or ethnic/national groupings. The entire eugenics edifice rested on the perception that humans came in a few unadulterated varieties—most commonly Africans, Asians, and Caucasians—as well as a range of mixed or mongrel populations between them. It went without saying that these pure races were tangible, stable, and easily ascertained. Modern DNA research has shown the wrongheadedness of such discrete groupings.”
Comment #2: “The specific theory about your BoM and DNA can't be true because there is no evidence even remotely suggesting that there was ever any Hebrew blood among any native American. There is no archeology to support your theory. There is no linguistic support to your theory. There is no historical support to your theory. So, the DNA just confirms what everyone already knew” Stanley W.
Response: Well, that was a mouthful. Let’s see about each point: Point One: “No evidence even remotely suggesting that there was ever any Hebrew blood among any native American.” I would agree with that. First: The Jaredites were not Hebrew, therefore no Hebrew DNA, plus they were annihilated around 600 B.C. with no survivorsand no intermarryings with another group; 2) The Mulekite with Jewish DNA were absorbed into the Nephite lineage and their DNA mixed with that of the Nephites, and the Nephites with this mixed DNA were annihilated and ceased to exist in 421 A.D.; 3) The Lamanite DNA was changed in about 550 B.C. or so. Therefore, there could be no Hebrew DNA in the Americas from the Book of Mormon peoples. Point Two: “ There is no archeology to support your theory.” The Archaeology of Andean South America has plenty of archaeological evidence of the descriptions of the Nephite lands in the Book of Mormon, just as metallurgy, textiles, stone walls, fortresses, resorts, elephant and horse remains, roads and highways, temples, palaces, two unknown animals, two unknown grains, etc.; however, if you mean nothing has been found that says, “Lehi slept here,” or “this was Nephi’s house,” etc., then, yes, there is no evidence of such a thing anymore than there is that type of evidence of the Bible archaeologically speaking. This is such a spurious argument, it is senseless; Point Three: “There is no linguistic support to your theory.” Another spurious point. There is no linguistic support for any ancient people whose language ended and the people were annihilated. The Lamanites had to be taught the Nephite language, and about five hundred years later there is no indication they still spoke that language—more importantly, with no written records, etc., after 1000 years, there is no reason to expect them to still speak Hebrew or any variation of it; Point Four: “There is no historical support to your theory.” What might be meant by historical support is a curious term.
A Phoenician ship of about 600 B.C. While it is believed they might have traveled up the coast to Britain for the tin trade, there is no way such ships could have broached the Atlantic Ocean and withstood the pounding of waves and currents in the deep ocean. Such speculation is spurious and without value
In 600 B.C., the Phoenicians had been building ships, controlling trading, and sailing throughout the Mediterranean Sea, however, today, almost nothing is known of them in an area where people have lived and kept records for thousands of years. The history we know of the Biblical period is through the Biblical record, so the history we would have of the Book of Mormon period would be through the Book of Mormon. Point Five: “The DNA just confirms what everyone already knew.” Actually, DNA is in such a new state, that it is changing every year, so it is hard to claim DNA has proven any such thing—but the point of DNA is, there should be no DNA of the Hebrews or Jews in the Western Hemisphere as indicated above and in several other posts.
Comment #3: “Your Church says the events described in the Book of Mormon were confined to a small section of Central America, and that the Hebrew tribe was small enough that its DNA was swallowed up by the existing Native Americans, however, the DNA can't be "swallowed up" because mitochondrial DNA is passed on from the mother UNDILUTED” Janis J.
Response: Instead of passing on what you’ve heard from other critics, why not read the reports that have been available now since 2002 that MtDNA is not just passed on from the Mother and is not undiluted—old paradigms die hard, but why not keep up? In addition, the LDS Church has made no stand on where the Book of Mormon lands were located--some authorities over time have specified the Western Hemisphere, but that is all. You need to keep in mind any and all statements made about the geography and placement of the Book of Mormon Land of Promise is done so by individuals, including myself, who do not in any way represent the Church or speak for the Church, or make any claims or insinuations for the Church on this matter. Nor has the Church made any statement about DNA of which I am aware.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Comments and Question about the Book of Abraham – Part IV

Continuing with the questions or comments received after our ten-part series regarding the Book of Abraham and the Joseph Smith papyri:
Comment #11: “What exactly was a spell like in the Book of the Dead or the Book of Breathings?” Johanna.
Response: As an example, the First Arit, of the Seven Arits: “The Osiris Ani, whose word is truth, shall say when he cometh unto the First Arit: "I am the mighty one who createth his own light. I have come unto thee, O Osiris, and, purified from that which defileth thee, I adore thee. Lead on. Name not the name of Ra-stau to me. Homage to thee, O Osiris, in thy might and in thy strength in Ra-stau. Rise up and conquer, O Osiris, in Abtu. Thou goest round about heaven, thou sailest in the presence of Ra, thou lookest upon all the beings who have knowledge. Hail, Ra, thou who goest round about in the sky, I say, O Osiris in truth, that I am the Sahu (Spirit-body) of the god, and I beseech thee not to let me be driven away, nor to be cast upon the wall of blazing fire. Let the way be opened in Ra-stau, let the pain of the Osiris be relieved, embrace that which the Balance hath weighed, let a path be made for the Osiris in the Great Valley, and let the Osiris have light to guide him on his way."
To understand its use, the following is given: “If [these] words be recited by the spirit when he shall come to the Seven Arits, and as he entereth the doors, he shall neither be turned back nor repulsed before Osiris, and he shall be made to have his being among the blessed spirits, and to have dominion among the ancestral followers of Osiris. If these things be done for any spirit he shall have his being in that place like a lord of eternity in one body with Osiris, and at no place shall any being contend against him.”
While this has nothing to do with the Book of Abraham or the Lord’s dealings with man, it does show that the ancient Egyptians had a very clear idea of a resurrection and an afterlife, though misguided as it was.
Comment #12: “I heard that the LDS Church did not identify the Joseph Smith Papyri as an Egyptian funerary text until after Egyptologists examined them. They also claim that the Church is hiding or "covering up" the papyri's actual contents” Landon.
Response: Both of these assertions are incorrect. First of all, the Church ran a multi-part series with color pictures of the papyri in the Improvement Era (today called the Ensign) less than two months after they were received from the Metropolitan Museum. The series repeatedly affirmed that the recovered papyri contained Egyptian funerary materials and not the text of Book of Abraham. Although the article erroneously identified the papyrus as the Egyptian "Book of the Dead," it was later correctly identified as a "Book of Breathings.”
Comment #13: “I find it hard to believe that the New York Metropolitan Museum of Art did not know what the papyri they had was and what was upon it until they were contacted by the LDS Church. That certainly sounds suspicious to me” Amos G.
Response: Indeed it would if those were the facts. However, as reported by Egyptologist Klaus Baer working at the Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago, who said, “the Metropolitan Museum was fully aware of what the papyri were when they first saw them in 1918, and they knew what they were doing when they acquired them. I saw photographs of them for the first time in 1963 [3 years before discovered by Prof. Atiya and 4 years before the Church acquired them], and was asked at the time, on my honor not to tell anyone where they were and to keep the whole thing confidential,” which was verified in a letter by Henry Fischer, then curator of the Egyptian department at the Met.
Comment #13: “Your explanations that professional Egyptologists do not understand Facsimile 1 and you do hits at extreme arrogance” Dominic T.
Response: First, as I have said, I am not a trained Egyptologist, but rather a researcher and compiler of information. As such, I do not profess to know more than “professional Egyptologists.” But having said that, I believe most modern scientists are guilty of their own pre-determinations, pre-beliefs, and the academic teaching that has led to that. Second, to answer your comment, I will quote John Baines who pretty much sums up what I have written: “The typical Egyptologist tends not to be very open to issues of theory and methodology, and at the level of interpretation he will often work without an awareness of the presuppositions he applies” (John Baines, "Introduction," Royal Anthropological Institute News, no. 15, August 1976, p 2).
To that might be added John Gee’s comment: “Mormonism has always been controversial. From its very origins, there have been accounts pro and con, and in the midst of this war of words and tumult of opinions, historians may say to themselves: What is to be done? Who of all these parties are right? The most helpful method of sorting through the various accounts and claims about historical events is to use those sources that are eyewitnesses to an event, whether they are Mormon or not, and exclude those that are not eyewitnesses. For history, hearsay sources are irrelevant. Contemporary sources are to be preferred to later reminiscences like Josiah Quincy's..” And “Most of what we as Egyptologists think we know about the Joseph Smith Papyri is demonstrably wrong, whether on the details of their history or on Mormon attitudes about them. The assumptions we make, the presuppositions we have, and the myths that we have invented dominate discussions of the papyri and the Mormons.” Finally, we can quote Professor Ritner's astute observations: "In the past, our theories have dictated our facts as often as our facts have dictated our theories. Theoretical bias has been unrecognized and its pervasive influence ignored. So long as we are willing to allow our preconceptions to structure our questions and answers, to rewrite the historians, or disbelieve the papyrus evidence, how will we ever find examples of positive . . . interaction between Egyptian and [Mormon]? It will not matter whether we use [Mormon] or [Egyptian] evidence, or any evidence at all; we shall see only our long-ingrained stereotypes."
Throughout all the acdtivities and events of the early LDS Church, there were numerous witnesses who testified to what they saw. Those who saw the papyri also wrote not only of seeing the papyri, but what they saw within the images
And to sum it up, there were twenty-six eyewitness sources that describe the Joseph Smith Papyri. These accounts provide diachronic descriptions of the Joseph Smith Papyri during the period when the Mormons first owned them from 1835 to 1856. In addition, the mummies and papyri were transferred, under the difficult travel conditions of the mid 1800s, from Kirtland, Ohio, to Missouri, and then back across the Mississippi River to Nauvoo, Illinois, during which time the fragile documents had to have incurred some damage.
In addition, after Governor Boggs ordered the extermination of all Mormons in the State, and their killing of the Mormons at Haun’s Mill, 4000 to 6000 so-called militia were camped a half mile away from Far West, Joseph Smith’s secretary, James Mulholland, gave the papyri to his sister-in-law, Ann Scott Davis, to hold, thinking they would be safer with a woman from marauding mob. She sewed two packets, sealed the papyri inside, and kept them under her waist in the day and slept on them under her pillow at night. One can only wonder at the damage they would have incurred during all that time (“Life of Sister Ann Davis, of Lyons, Wisconsin,” Autumn Leaves 4, January 1891, p.18).
One of the problems with critics is that they seldom know or understand the details of the things they criticize. So many simply look for something to criticize, and often just repeat what someone they feel has credibility has already said.
Comment #14: “Despite all your articles, and numerous others than can be found on the Internet, I really don’t care how the Book of Abraham was translated, or from what source. To me, the information is scripture” Bernice.
Response: Yours is a position of faith, and one well taken. I have heard about half the members of the Church agree with that position, and rightly so, because the gospel works on faith. On the other hand, there are others who are inclined to want more information, and there are those who need more information to confront in their own minds the many criticisms that academics, Egyptologists, and others have and do make against the truth. To those I dedicate the information in this blog, knowing it will have no affect whatever on those who are disposed to criticize God’s workings in these latter days, and who rely on the knowledge of man rather than the knowledge of God.

Monday, April 22, 2013

Comments and Question about the Book of Abraham – Part III

Continuing with the questions or comments received after our ten-part series regarding the Book of Abraham and the Joseph Smith papyri:
Comment #8: “I’m confused. Is the Book of the Dead the same as the Book of Abraham? If not, what exactly is the Book of the Dead and its connection to the Joseph Smith papyri you wrote about?” Arcadia.
Response: I apologize for not being more clear. The characters on the Abraham papyri that Joseph Smith translated are considered a portion of the Book of Breathings, an Egyptian religious text buried with mummies that instructed the dead on how to successfully reach the afterlife. The Book of Breathings is really a smaller edition so to speak of the Book of the Dead, which contains all sorts of ancient spells and chants, etc., to assist the dead in gaining acceptance and entrance into the afterlife or Underworld.
Actually, The Book of the Dead is not really a book, but a group of different magical spells written down in various ways by the ancient Egyptians, called a book by modern Egyptologists. Since everyone in ancient Egypt wanted to safely reach the afterlife, which they believed was an actual place, they felt that magical spells would assist them in getting there. Wealthy Egyptians hired scribes to write down all their personal favorite spells on papyrus sheets, and once prepared the collection was packed carefully away with their other grave goods to be placed in their tomb someday. For those Egyptians who didn’t have a lot of money, they could buy a ready-made version that included several of the most popular spells. There was a space left on the papyrus for the person’s name, as necessity so the Ba and Ka could find their way home each night to the person’s tomb.
The Book of the Dead also includes legends about Osiris, Isis and Ra (by the way, Ra is not pronounced Rah like in the movies, but is pronounced Ray and preferably spelled Re); the doctrine of Eternal Life; Egypt’s ideas of God, the numerous gods of the book, geographical and mythological places in the book, funeral ceremonies, etc., and about 37 plates, or vignettes. In addition, there is the Papyrus of Ani, found at Thebes, and is 78 feet long and a little over a foot wide, and contains a number of chapters of the Book of the Dead.
Comment #9: “It was my understanding that the lion couch shown in Facsimile 1 was always used for funeral activity, that is, mummification, wrapping, and laid within the casket. It seems to me that Abraham calling it an altar is inaccurate” Wyatt O.
Response: Actually, there are numerous lion-couch scenes in ancient Egyptian vignettes that are not connected at all to a funery event. As an example, the scenes in the Grand Temple of Philae which, on three of the four shown, mummies exist, but on one of them clearly the man is nude and clearly moving, and Anubis is not included in the scene. The point is, while Egyptologists like to claim a continuity of images and scenes, they vary considerably.
Top Images: Grand Temple of Philae in Upper Egypt; Center Left: Funery scene with no lion couch; Center Right: Funery scene with Anubis, but no couch at all; Bottom Left: Funery scene with no couch, and instead of Anubis, it is the god-hawk mask; Bottom Center: Funery scene with Anubis and no couch; Bottom Right: Funery Scene with Anubis and no couch
In addition, Eric Hornung has many lion couch scenes in his book The Valley of the Kings, and there are numerous others in Budge's two volumes of "Osiris.” One such scene shows a mummy, with five other “gods” or priests around it, and nothing under the couch. Another shows an ithyphallic figure on the couch, with two birds hovering over him, and other types of creatures under the couch. In fact, in checking numerous lion couch scenes, none of them have the combination of figures shown in Facsimile 1 in the Book of Abraham: some have no birds, others have one bird, but typically hovering over the figure, and some have two birds; some have a feathered snake, another a vulture, some birds have crowns on their heads, some birds sit on an elaborate big structure around the lion couch, and some even have three birds. But none have crocodiles, clothed figures on the couch, nor the shendet (apron body cloth), nor the anklets, no pillars of heaven, no knife, and none have the unique combination of figures as in Facsimile 1; some have moving figures on the couch, one in a kneeling position, etc., etc., etc.
In short, the Abraham vignette is not an ordinary funery scene as the critic Egyptologists claim—their comments are far afield when it comes to describing or interpreting the Facsimile 1 they were shown.
Comment #10: “What do you have to say about Dr. Mercer’s contemptuous remark that there was nothing in your fac #1 to remind him of Abraham?” Wenzel.
Response: A simple answer to this is that critics, like Dr. Samuel  A. B. Mercer, or Dr. James H. Breasted of the University of Chicago, or Theodule Deveria of the Louvre, to name a few, for some reason seem to think the scenes depicted like in Facsimile 1 are pictures (like a photograph or a painting). However, as we have shown here, they are not pictures, but symbolic diagrams. Facsimile 1, like other similar symbolic depictions, is describing ritual events—real ancient Egyptian ritual events. An Egyptologist can look at Facsimile and say there is “nothing to remind him of Abraham,” and he would be correct since the drawing is symbolically used to illustrate events in Abraham's life, and not necessarily supposed to be a picture of Abraham himself.
This image is a picture of Abraham and Pharaoh, not a depiction of something in Abraham’s life. There is a big difference between the two and Facsimile 1 is a depiction of an event, not a picture of something that would have included the participants
The scenes recorded and the episodes recounted are strictly ritual. The facsimiles illustrate the most significant events in Abraham's Egyptian career—his confrontation with Pharoah as a rival claimant for God's priesthood power and the supreme authority on earth. The Book of Mormon is a discourse on divine authority, which is also the theme of the 3 facsimiles. The explanations of the facsimiles makes it perfectly clear that they are meant as diagrammatic or formulaic aids to an understanding of the subject of priesthood on earth.
For instance, we read that some figures "signify" others are "made to represent", "answers to", etc. Critics need to begin understanding the nature of the facsimiles, as well as the facsimile themselves. It is rather silly to claim that Joseph Smith drew these all wrong. Joseph Smith didn't draw them, and they are symbols, not exact representations. Yet the Egyptologists continue to get it all wrong since they “noted that portions of Facsimile 1 appeared to be incorrect, based on comparison with other similar Egyptian vignettes,” which is where the problem lies. The depiction or symbolism of the Facsimile 1 is not meant to be “like other depictions,” nor, as they claim, “the god Anubus, bending over the mummy, was shown with a human and strangely un-Egyptian head, instead of a jackal's head usual to the scene.”
There are two problems with this statement: 1) As has been shown in several Egyptian scenes, Anubis is not always the person involved in such a scene, and 2) as has been shown in other Egyptian scenes, the bald-headed Sem priest looks just like the drawing in Facsimile 1. It is not difficult for a critic to say anything he likes; however, when it is clearly shown to be wrong, it is not worth the constant effort to disclaim or refute.