Monthly Archives: May 2012

The Transition

Skipping over 2 Nephi, probably the most useless book in the Book of Mormon, I’ll resume with the minor books of the so-called small plates of Nephi: Jacob, Enos, Jarom, and Omni.  For those interested, 2 Nephi isn’t worth covering because half of the book is text copied nearly word for word from Isaiah, with some occasional changes.  Two facts are evident at this point in Joseph Smith’s creative process:  First, he had mentally moved on from his project of “translating” the gold plates and had already started his next project of re-writing the King James Bible, which he would commence after writing these last few books.  2 Nephi’s Isaiah is a precursory exercise, identifiable by Smith’s obvious obsession of removing all the italicized words from the KJV text, sometimes to the point of meaninglessness.  An in-depth study of his process isn’t really very interesting or reader-friendly, however, and would be more suitable if this blog ever gets up to what’s known as Joseph Smith’s Inspired Translation of the Bible.  The second and more obvious fact is that Joseph Smith is just filling space at this point.  Apparently, even in this supposedly abridged version he felt he had to cover a certain number of pages to make up the lost material.

With the original manuscript conveniently lost, we can only speculate why Smith decided at this moment that he had rambled on enough to resume the narrative.  Whatever the reason, he abruptly abandons the character Nephi and for these next few transitionary books, pretends to pass the plates down from father to son.  I call these transitionary books, because during this period Joseph Smith is decidedly trying to connect this re-told beginning with the rest of the book he had already written after Mosiah.  This transition is far from smooth, making the grafting point one of the most confusing sections of the whole book, as we’ll see later.

The books get progressively smaller, and by the time we get to Omni the plates are supposed to have passed through five different authors in one book.  This suggests that Joseph Smith was aware that he had rambled a little too long in Nephi’s voice, and if he was going to bridge a gap of hundreds of years then Nephi’s descendants could not be so long-winded.  He lets the character Jacob ramble on a little, interestingly making the Book of Mormon the only sacred text in the world to explicitly condemn polygamy (Jacob 2:27), and giving an early glimpse into Smith’s own psychological preoccupation with plural marriage.  Enos and Jarom aren’t given nearly as much space, but Smith still had not learned to economize words, these still read like the same ramblings only shorter.

Finally, we get to Omni, perhaps one of the most fascinating sections of the Book of Mormon.  As Jerald and Sandra Tanner have pointed out, this is the very moment that Joseph Smith safely passes the black hole made by the 116 lost pages.  In this book, the plates pass from Omni, a self-confessed “wicked man”, to son Amaron, to son Chemish, and Abinadom.  These writers tell us practically nothing, and only seem to etch a paragraph or two on their death bed.  My theory of the Book of Mormon as a parallel Bible suggests that Joseph Smith has arrived at the book of Judges in his Bible reading and is influenced by accounts of the lesser judges: Shamgar, Tola, Jair, Ibzan, Elon, and Abdon.  Interestingly, the passages here seem to be considered Mormon scripture solely because they were written on the same plates as the others, as Chemish even suggests that divine revelation has ceased altogether at this point (Omni 1:11) .

Finally, we get to Amaleki, the point where the “small” plates crash awkwardly into the (as of yet) incomplete book of Mosiah and the finished book of Ether.  Here it helps to have read the rest of the Book of Mormon first, but even then it can be difficult to understand, especially if one tries to abide by the Mormon interpretation.  The Nephites venture out to the land of Zarahemla, populated by another group of Jews who crossed to the Americas during the reign of Zedekiah.  Not only this, the people of Zarahemla had been in contact with Coriantumr, the last survivor of the Jaredites, and had the plates of the book of Ether.  What Joseph Smith attempts to do here is rather brilliant, by tying together his post-Tower of Babel Jaredites to the Nephites in a form of foreshadowing; his actual execution, however, is lacking and raises a lot of questions.

First, this Amaleki serves a king named Mosiah, the father of king Benjamin.  In the next book, however, we’re introduced to king Benjamin, who has a son named Mosiah, who in turn sends a man named Amaleki to Zarahemla (Mosiah 7:6).  The LDS explanation, unsupported by the text, is to refer to these duplicates as Amaleki I and II, and Mosiah I and II.  While this certainly helps the narrative flow, I think the more logical explanation is that Joseph Smith intended these characters to be the same person, but his memory had faded in the re-write process.  The book of Mosiah is the actual point where the lost pages cut off, but where exactly is unknown; nevertheless, it had been almost a year since Smith had worked on Mosiah until the time he wrote Omni.  Furthermore, we also know that Mosiah received substantial editing by Joseph Smith before the printers manuscript was delivered, but even then, Smith had failed to catch errors in the first edition, as he continues to refer to King Benjamin (Mosiah 21:28, 1830 edition) well after his death.  I suspect he originally intended Mosiah to be the father of Benjamin, but by the time he came back around he accidentally reintroduced them in reverse order and killed off Benjamin prematurely.  Although the narrative makes less sense that way, I think it seems much more likely to conclude that these were supposed to be the same people in different tellings of the story.  The Mormon interpretation, after all, presupposes that this is a story that’s supposed to make sense to anybody other than Joseph Smith.

Omni ends with Amaleki wasting precious space to tell the reader that the “plates are full”, which would have been obvious to the reader had there actually been any real plates.  Time and time again, purported authors describe parameters about the plates that are not only unnecessary to anybody who would have actually handled them, but rather tedious to chisel into metal.  For unknown reasons, Smith seems to have paced himself to fill up a precise amount of pages and once that is accomplished he brings it to an abrupt end.  Mormons struggle just to derive a coherent narrative from this transition, yet without the LDS church’s guidance I think most Mormons would be at a loss to make sense of these different characters.

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Why Islam Offends the West

It’s no secret that Islam is incompatible with Western values.  Even overlooking the character deficiencies of Islam’s prophet–a mass-murderer, thief, slave-trader, rapist, pedophile, and terrorist–the religion’s values are in conflict with Western sensibilities on a fundamental level.  Interestingly, the non-religious are often offended by Islam for the very same reasons as Christians, even if they don’t acknowledge that this difference in culture is due to Christianity.

Modesty

Follow any internet discussion about the burqa or Muslim headscarves, and somebody will eventually always suggest the Muslim men should cover themselves rather than the women.  This suggestion may not even come from a Christian, but the idea behind it is certainly derived from Western society’s Judeo-Christian background:

But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.  If your right eye causes you to sin, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell.   Matthew 5:28-29

The burqa and other compulsory head coverings offend Western sensibilities because we’ve taught that men are personally responsibility for their behavior, regardless of the temptation, whether inadvertent or intentional.  In Islam, however, the woman ultimately bears responsibility for causing temptation whether she means to or not.  The only defense of the burqa that has ever gained popularity in the West is if the woman claims to feel empowered by wearing it out of her own free will, but this ultimately misses the whole point about a garment designed more to protect men with little willpower from facing temptation.  These women may explain how being completely covered protects them from  being sexually harassed by passing men on the street, but this is again a problem caused by the Muslim male, not the female.  Western Civilization expects its men to be disciplined, self-controlled, and respectful, to the point of hyperbolic blindness.  There is no reason why the Muslim man should seem helpless to restrain himself from jeering, groping, or raping just because he sees a woman’s face, arms, or legs, when men in the West are perfectly able to behave respectfully and decently.  If Islam is the only reason why self-control is in such short supply among Muslim men, then Islam is conclusively an inferior ideology.

Public Displays of Worship

From public Christmas decorations to prayer in public schools, the West is often offended by religion in public, but this isn’t necessarily exclusive to the anti-religious.  The post-Christian heresies of the modern atheist are still very much rooted in Christian principles, and the disdain for public displays of worship can be traced back to Christ’s teachings on hypocrisy:

But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.  Matthew 6:6

“When you fast, do not look somber as the hypocrites do, for they disfigure their faces to show men they are fasting. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full.”  Matthew 6:16

Whatever the religious persuasion, Westerners tend to view displays of piety with suspicion and mistrust.  We see religion as a personal issue partly because when we see it in public we see it as an ingenuous cry for attention.  Islamic  culture, on the contrary, has no concept of private worship, rather believers are expected to be seen in the community performing salat and not seen eating during Ramadan.  Muslims who develop a “prayer bump” on their foreheads are respected as devout members of the community.  Islam demands public visibility of one’s faith, yet sadly has no safeguards to prevent hypocrisy.

Childhood

Dutch psychologist Nicolai Sennels identifies that Muslims, particularly men, start out with more relaxed freedom in childhood, which is then curtailed as they grow older.  Girls, for instance, do not need to wear burqas, but they do when they reach puberty.  Eventually, even the decision of their marriage is outside of their control when they enter into adulthood.  This is the complete opposite of Western parenting, where children gradually acquire freedoms as they mature.  What Sennels may not have noticed, though, is how these are both related to each culture’s theological beliefs on sin.  Western culture has been shaped by the doctrine of Original Sin, or in simplest terms, the reality-based idea that children are born imperfect with the tendency to do wrong.  Islam, on the other hand, teaches that children are born sinless and acquire sin as they grow older.  This difference in parenting style results in an individual completely at odds with the Western mindset.  When Muslims act infantile, it is the result of an upbringing that raises boys into babies instead of men.

Turning the Other Cheek

Without fail, whenever a harmless cartoon is published or even if a Qur’an is unintentionally burned, it will result in worldwide Islamic protests, riots, and the deaths of non-Muslims.  Even non-Chrstiains can be heard telling Muslims to turn the other cheek when they react with such disproportionate violence, but this is futile because Islam has no such concept.

O you who have believed, prescribed for you is legal retribution for those murdered – the free for the free, the slave for the slave, and the female for the female. But whoever overlooks from his brother anything, then there should be a suitable follow-up and payment to him with good conduct. This is an alleviation from your Lord and a mercy. But whoever transgresses after that will have a painful punishment.  Surah 2:178

[Fighting in] the sacred month is for [aggression committed in] the sacred month, and for [all] violations is legal retribution. So whoever has assaulted you, then assault him in the same way that he has assaulted you. And fear Allah and know that Allah is with those who fear Him.  Surah 2:194

And We ordained for them therein a life for a life, an eye for an eye, a nose for a nose, an ear for an ear, a tooth for a tooth, and for wounds is legal retribution. But whoever gives [up his right as] charity, it is an expiation for him. And whoever does not judge by what Allah has revealed – then it is those who are the wrongdoers.  Surah 5:45

And the retribution for an evil act is an evil one like it, but whoever pardons and makes reconciliation – his reward is [due] from Allah . Indeed, He does not like wrongdoers.  Surah 42:40

Retaliation is a legal obligation in Islam, the exception being when the victim opts for monetary compensation instead, the “expiation” and “reconciliation” mentioned above, which is not actually forgiveness.  Even if one accepted the incorrect explanations of an apologist, and disregarded the vast majority of Muslim scholars, that these exceptions are comparable to turning the other cheek, Western values are still in conflict with Muhammad commanding followers to repay evil with evil in the first place.  It’s laughable to imagine Jesus Christ saying “repay evil for evil except when you turn the other cheek”, and this predictably explains just why, if given the choice, Muslims always retaliate with evil instead of forgiving.  Anybody raised to believe that these were both morally equivalent choices would elect the most despicable of the two every time.

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Who Is the Book of Mormon’s Target Audience?

The focus on the Book of Mormon usually centers around Joseph Smith, which can sometimes present more questions than it answers.  Though many have tried, Smith is admittedly a difficult person to analyze, and many Mormons unable to thoroughly determine his motivations for deceiving so many people tend to give him the benefit of the doubt.  The authors of holy books are, however, usually complicated personalities, many with questions that may never be fully resolved.  Muhammad, the Bab, Baha’u’llah, and countless others display dual traits of seeming to believe their own claims or theology to a certain extent, while simultaneously demonstrating awareness of the deception.  Clearly, we cannot just give them all the benefit of the doubt.  Personally, I don’t think I have to be able to explain the motivations for why any holy book was written, I actually think more can be learned from looking at its target audience instead.

For starters, the Book of Mormon’s own descriptions of itself hardly sound like conventional scripture.  As the story goes, the gold plates were the only copy in existence, guarded more as a private journal or a secret book than one for the spiritual benefit of an entire civilization.  The fictitious Nephites didn’t make and distribute copies of their scripture as the real Jews did the Law and the prophets, nor did they create liturgical structure like the Jewish parashot,  or commentaries.  The Nephites seem to be the most unique sect in history for being so incapable of spreading their own holy books, that even believers would have to admit that the Book of Mormon didn’t become scripture in the traditional sense until Joseph Smith started to publish it.  It was only then that he and his followers actually started to treat it as such, carrying it to church, preaching from it, and creating study materials.  It’s ironic that Mormons today are so aggressive in printing and scattering their word around the world, when there seems to be no explanation why their supposed predecessors couldn’t do the same.

Next, the contents of the Book of Mormon aren’t very applicable to its supposed audience.  So-called prophecies about Columbus, the Revolutionary War, or even the book’s own discovery would be meaningless to a civilization that would perish centuries before any of these events occurred.  And since  its remarkably specific prophecies end abruptly at the early 19th century, it seems obvious that was its target audience, which logically points to Smith and/or his companions as the author.  Furthermore, the Book of Mormon anachronistically quotes or paraphrases many New Testament scriptures that would have been unavailable to an audience in the Americas, totally defeating the purpose of quoting, as only a later audience could have appreciated the connection.

Finally, the theology of the Book of Mormon and the LDS church bears an undeniable resemblance to American folk beliefs of the period.  While New Testament authors took it for granted that future generations might not preserve the exact method of baptism practiced by John and later followers, the Book of Mormon is practically written as an instruction manual.  Similarly, disputes over infant baptism, works vs. grace, and even polygamy were all-too-conveniently resolved by the Book of Mormon in one pretty package with ribbons, even though this same book seems to have been useless to preserve the religion of the ones claimed to have written it.

If Mormons treated the Book of Mormon as the Nephites supposedly did, they wouldn’t be trying so hard to plant a copy of it in every house and hotel room.  It would be a more secretive book like the embarrassing Book of Abraham, which they withhold from prospective converts until they’re ready to swallow its absurdity.  The reason they don’t act like the Nephites, though, is because the Book of Mormon wasn’t written for the Nephites, it was written in the 19th century for Joseph Smith’s 19th century contemporaries.

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