Sunday, September 29, 2013

From the Department of Useless Statistics

The following list shows the current group of apostles and the likelihood (based on previous talks) that if they cite a scripture they will cite the Book of Mormon:

David A. Bednar 46%
Richard G. Scott 40%
Henry B. Eyring 37%
Niel L. Andersen 37%
Boyd K. Packer 36%
D. Todd Christofferson 34%
Dallin H. Oaks 31%
M. Russell Ballard 30%
Robert D. Hales 30%
Quinten L. Cook 30%
M. Russell Nelson 29%
L. Tom Perry 27%
Jeffrey R. Holland 25%
Dieter F. Uchtdorff 25%
Thomas S. Monson 11%

(based on information from

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Scripture Index to Mormon's Codex

Any extensive serious work on the Book of Mormon needs a scriptural index. Since John Sorenson's new book, Mormon's Codex did not include a scriptural index, I have posted one on this site. (You can find it here, and a number of you already have.)

Sunday, September 22, 2013

New Book of Mormon Bibliography Resource

The BYU library has computerized A Comprehensive Annotated Book of Mormon Bibliography, originally published in 1996 and made it searchable in ways that is was not before. This is a great resource since it covers all the Book of Mormon publications up to about 20 years ago. This is the Beta version.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

The Flight of the Nephites from the Land Southward

The Maxwell Institute Blog has provided another preview of John Sorenson's book Mormon's Codex which discusses archaeological evidence for the flight of the Nephites from the land southward during the mid fourth century B.C.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Wages and Measures in the Book of Mormon

Before narrating Zeezrom’s offer to bribe Amulek (Alma 11:22), Mormon places Zeezrom’s bribe in context by giving an account of Nephite weights as compared to measures of grain (Alma 11:1-20). In doing so, he observes that “a senum of silver was equal to a senine of gold, and either for a measure of barley, and also for a measure of every kind of grain” (Alma 11:7). This listing of an exchange rate provides a means of comparison that sheds light on the Nephite practices. Unfortunately, we know neither the grain measure nor the weights in question, which diminishes our understanding an appreciation of the passage.

In order to shed light on the Nephite measurement, earlier studies have compared the Nephite system of weights with a set of Egyptian measures.1 Unfortunately, the system of Egyptian measures used is a small one normally used in recipes and ranging in size from the equivalent of two teaspoons up to about a gallon. In which case, Zeezrom’s bribe would be the equivalent of about 28.8 liters (about 6 ½ gallons) of grain, and judges would get paid just less than half a liter (about 1 3/4 cups) of grain per day of judging, perhaps half a loaf of bread, an unrealistically small wage. This suggests that a one to one comparison of Egyptian measures to Nephite ones is not likely. Another comparison, however, might prove a bit more enlightening.

Most ancient systems have two sets of measures, one for smaller prices, measured in the equivalent of grain, and one for larger prices, measured in the equivalent of metal. At a certain point, these two measuring systems meet where a certain amount of grain is equivalent to a smaller amount of metal. We will refer to this point as the equivalence point. A number of ancient monetary systems follow this pattern, including the Nephite system.

Ancient Egypt follows the same pattern where prices on less expensive items are usually given in grain measures rather than in units of money,2 and more expensive items are given in weights of copper, silver and gold. The equivalence point is at one copper weight called a diban (91 grams)3 which is the equivalent of a measure (h3r, literally “sack”) of grain (= 76.88 liters).4 Silver in ancient Egypt is worth ten times the same amount of copper.5 The normal monthly wages of grain given to ordinary workmen at Deir el-Medina was 422.84 liters (5 ½ h3r) of grain per month,6 or 14.09 liters of grain per day. Officials at Deir el-Medina received about a third again as much at 7 ½ h3r of grain per month.7 The exchange rate in Ramesside Egypt was roughly 8.49 liters of grain per gram of silver.

The earlier Assyrian king, Shamshi-Adad I, claims to have fixed the prices in ancient Assyria to 2 gur (240 liters) of barley for a shekel (8 1/3 grams) of silver,8 or 28.8 liters of grain per gram of silver, but this price was artificially low and was generally ignored, the actual price being much higher.9 If, for purposes of comparison, we assume that a Nephite measure is about equivalent to a h3r of grain and a Nephite worker gets paid about the same as a worker at Deir el-Medina, then a Nephite judge is paid approximately 6 times what a Nephite worker is paid. Zeezrom’s bribe would then be about a year’s worth of wages for a worker. This is a considerable sum of money. If something more like the Assyrian system were in use, Zeezrom’s bribe would amount to about three and a half years’ worth of wages. These comparisons, rather than about two day’s wages as suggested above, are more likely to give us an idea of the magnitude of Zeezrom’s bribe.

Since “the judge received for his wages according to his time–a senine of gold for a day” (Alma 11:3), rather than on a per case basis, it is in the judge’s economic interest to judge more often; “it was for the sole purpose to get gain, because they received their wages according to their employ, therefore, they did stir up the people to riotings, and all manner of disturbances and wickedness, that they might have more employ” (Alma 11:20). Keeping our assumptions that a judge is paid a week’s wages for a laborer per day, this could have been instituted by Mosiah to be roughly compensatory assuming that the judge would only need to judge once a week. But the amount of pay would be sufficient that a judge would have reason to want to work more often.

The lawyers were not paid per diem but rather they “get money according to the suits” (Alma 11:20). Thus if a judge heard ten cases per day, he was paid the same amount as if he only heard one, while a lawyer would get paid for ten cases. So a lawyer would potentially get paid much more unless the judges took bribes. Zeezrom’s actions indicate that a bribe was standard procedure: Zeezrom “being one of the most expert among them, having much business to do among the people” (Alma 10:31) begins his examination of Amulek by proposing a bribe (Alma 11:21-22). Thus, in Ammonihah, the judges, the lawyers, and the clergy (Alma 14:16, 18; 16:11; 1:3, 12) all served their own economic interest rather than whatever interests they should have served. Thus, Amulek’s charge “that the foundation of the destruction of this people is beginning to be laid by the unrighteousness of your lawyers and your judges” (Alma 10:27), is certainly in keeping with speaking “in favor of your law, to your condemnation” (Alma 10:26).

1The topic is also discussed in John W. Welch, “Weighing and Measuring in the Worlds of the Book of Mormon” in Journal of Book of Mormon Studies 8/2 (1999): 36-46; John W. Welch and J. Gregory Welch, Charting the Book of Mormon: Visual Aids for Personal Study and Teaching (Provo, Utah: FARMS, 1999), charts110-13.
2Jac. J. Janssen, Commodity Prices from the Ramessid Period: An Economic Study of the Village of Necropolis Workmen at Thebes (Leiden: Brill, 1975), 514-23.
3Ibid., 101.
4Ibid., 109.
5Ibid., 101-2.
6Ibid., 460.
7Ibid., 460.
8RIMA A.0.39.1, in A. Kirk Grayson, Assyrian Rulers of the Third and Second Millennia BC (to 1115 BC), RIMA 1 (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1987), 49; Albert Kirk Grayson, Assyrian Royal Inscriptions, 2 vols. (Wiesbaden: Otto Harrassowitz, 1972-76), 1:20; the conversions are based on M. A. Powell, "Masse und Gewichte," Reallexikon der Assyriologie 7:499, 510.
9Grayson, Assyrian Royal Inscriptions, 1:20-21, n. 64.

Monday, September 9, 2013

Another Preview from Mormon's Codex

The Maxwell Institute Blog has provided another sneak peak at John L. Sorenson's forthcoming book Mormon's Codex which is expected to appear sometime next week.

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Book of Mormon Word Usage: Opposition

The word opposition is used in the Book of Mormon to contrast things that are opposed to each other. Lehi illustrates this with a number of word pairs that are opposed or contrary to each other. His list includes:
  • punishment vs. happiness (2 Nephi 2:10)

  • righteousness vs. wickedness (2 Nephi 2:11)

  • holiness vs. misery (2 Nephi 2:11)

  • good vs. bad (2 Nephi 2:11)

  • life vs. death (2 Nephi 2:11)

  • corruption vs. incorruption (2 Nephi 2:11)

  • sense vs. insensibility (2 Nephi 2:11)

  • the forbidden fruit vs. the tree of life (2 Nephi 2:15)
Indeed, Lehi argues that "there is an opposition in all things" (2 Nephi 2:11). But it is not so in the Book of Mormon. The term opposition appears only in 2 Nephi, in Lehi's speech to his son Jacob (2 Nephi 2:10-11, 15).

Friday, September 6, 2013

Timber at Old World Bountiful (Howlers # 21)

1 Nephi 18:1 indicates that the Jews make a ship from the ample timber in Arabia. The same objection applies here also. 

     Thomas Key, "A Biologist Examines the Book of Mormon," (1985), 1.

At this point Nephi is instructed to build a ship for passage into the New World, at a location probably more remote from shipbuilding timber than any place on the globe. 

     Gordon Fraser, What does the Book of Mormon Teach?, 1964, 37.

Recent research in southern Oman indicates that several kinds of wood were found in the region of Southern Oman that could have been used in building Nephi's ship.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

The Future of the Book of Mormon

In 1881, President George Q. Cannon of the First Presidency made the following remarks.

Today there is probably no greater stumbling block in the way of the people regarding this Latter-day work than this record. Everything has been done that could be done to blind the eyes and darken the understanding of the children of men concerning the Book of Mormon. Every conceivable falsehood, almost, has been put into circulation concerning the origin of that work, and the inhabitants of the earth have been led to believe that it is one of the greatest impostures that was ever palmed upon mankind. And the name "Mormon" has been applied in consequence of this, in derision to us because of our belief in that work. . . .

Beliefs change and misrepresentation and falsehood fade away as time passes on and truth is received and accepted; and the day will yet come--and it is not far distant . . . when this Book of Mormon and all connected with it will be received and accepted, that is, all the truth, as the truth of the living God, for the reason that it is true, and that God himself is its author. For that reason, and for that reason alone, the time will come--and as I have said, it is not far distant, though it may seem very presumptuous to make such a statement--when this record will be accepted, as the Bible is now accepted, as a book of divine origin, and that it has been revealed through the ministrations and agency of holy angels.

[From George Q. Cannon, 18 September, 1881, in Journal of Discourses 22:252).

Monday, September 2, 2013

How to Read the Scriptures

[From Brigham Young, 8 October, 1859, in Journal of Discourses 7:333).

Do you read the Scriptures, my brethren and sisters, as though you were writing them a thousand, two thousand, or five thousand years ago? Do you read them as though you stood in the place of the men who wrote them? If you do not feel thus, it is your privilege to do so, that you may feel as familiar with the spirit and meaning of the written word of God as you are with your daily walk and conversation, or as you are with your workmen or with your households. You may understand what the Prophets understood and thought--what they designed and planned to bring forth to their brethren for good. When you can thus feel, then you may begin to think that you can find out something about God, and begin to learn who he is.

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Book of Mormon Word Usage: Neglect

The word neglect, occurring only seven times in the Book of Mormon, is easy to neglect. All of the occurrences are in Alma, and all but one of them come from a single chapter, Moroni's petition to Pahoran (Alma 60). The other occurrence is in one of Alma's discourses (Alma 32).

Four times the noun neglect is modified by the adjective great (Alma 60:4, 5, 6, 14) and twice is described as "exceedingly great neglect" (Alma 60:6, 14). Moroni complains to the Pahoran, the chief judge, and asks:
Is it that ye have neglected us because ye are in the heart of our country and ye are surrounded by security, that ye do not cause food to be sent unto us, and also men to strengthen our armies? (Alma 60:19)
Moroni can classify this as neglect because
ye yourselves know that ye have been appointed to gather together men, and arm them with swords, and with cimeters, and all manner of weapons of war of every kind, and send forth against the Lamanites, in whatsoever parts they should come into our land. (Alma 60:2)
The two challenges facing Moroni and his armies were
myself, and also my men, and also Helaman and his men, have suffered exceedingly great sufferings; yea, even hunger, thirst, and fatigue, and all manner of afflictions of every kind (Alma 60:3)
great has been the slaughter among our people; yea, thousands have fallen by the sword, while it might have otherwise been if ye had rendered unto our armies sufficient strength and succor for them (Alma 60:5).
Thus Moroni asked for food and men.

Moroni blames the situation first on "your thoughtless state" (Alma 60:6), second because perhaps "ye yourselves are seeking for authority. We know not but what ye are also traitors to your country."
(Alma 60:18). The real reason is a rebellion (Alma 61:3), which is a possibility that Moroni mentions but does not consider as the present problem (Alma 60:16-17).

Moroni, seeing the dire consequences of neglect and thoughtlessness, classifies those who neglect their duties as "wax[ing] strong in your iniquities" (Alma 60:31) and bringing the judgment of God on them (Alma 60:32).

Given this sort of background on the use of neglect, consider now the other use of the term:
But if ye neglect the tree, and take no thought for its nourishment, behold it will not get any root; and when the heat of the sun cometh and scorcheth it, because it hath no root it withers away, and ye pluck it up and cast it out. Now, this is not because the seed was not good, neither is it because the fruit thereof would not be desirable; but it is because your ground is barren, and ye will not nourish the tree, therefore ye cannot have the fruit thereof. (Alma 32:38–39)
The two uses form a curious, and telling, parallel.