Monday, September 04, 2006

The Buried Plates: Evidence of Authenticity

Where did Joseph Smith get the idea of ancient records on metal plates hidden in a stone box that was buried in the earth? Critics mocked this for decades--until many other examples of ancient records preserved on plates or in stone boxes were found. In our day, scholars know that there is a vast ancient tradition pertaining to preserving sacred records by concealing them for some future time. Some of this evidence is brought together lucidly in John A. Tvedtnes, The Book of Mormon and Other Hidden Books (Provo, Utah: Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies, 2000). Also see my Book of Mormon "Nugget," "Hiding Sacred Records like the Golden Plates: A Well Established Ancient Practice." It turns out that this practice of concealing records "is most prominent in the ancient Near East, the land from which the Book of Mormon people emigrated to the New World. The practice of concealing records in stone boxes is also well attested in the ancient world and was still being practice in Moroni's day. And the use of metal for preserving sacred records is also attested, particularly in the ancient Near East. Joseph Smith could not have known this, and his early critics had no clue either (and many modern critics still remain blissfully unaware of the extensive discoveries in this area). How, then, if the Book of Mormon is a forgery, did Joseph manage to be so lucky as to make up a story about the plates that fits ancient patterns so well?

Why does Alma 7:10 say that Jesus will be born at Jerusalem when Micah 5:2 and Matthew 2:1-7 speak of Christ being born in Bethlehem?

Since virtually everyone - children and adults - in Joseph Smith's day knew that Jesus was born in Bethlehem, how could the prophet possibly have erred" The name Jerusalem has to be deliberate. It is, in fact, significant that in this passage Alma did not claim that Jesus would be born in the city of Jerusalem, but "at Jerusalem which is the land of our forefathers." While it is not found in the Bible even once, the term "land of Jerusalem" occurs over 40 times in the Book of Mormon, while other passages also refer to Jerusalem as a "land" (Alma 7:10; 21:1; 3 Nephi 20:33, 46).

Lehi and Nephi seem to have known the designation of Jerusalem as both a city and the land it governed. Lehi's sons, thinking to pay Laban for the plates of brass, "went down to the land of [their] inheritance" to gather up their wealth (1 Nephi 3:22). They then "went up again" to Jerusalem to meet with Laban (1 Nephi 3:23). He chased them away and, after a time, they returned to "the walls of Jerusalem" (1 Nephi 4:4), and Nephi "crept into the city and went forth towards the house of Laban." From this, it is evident that the "Jerusalem" where Lehi lived had to be other than the city, and therefore somewhere nearby, in the "land of Jerusalem.

"Throughout the Book of Mormon, the terms city and land seem to be interchangeable. There is a city of Nephi and a land of Nephi, a city of Zarahemla and a land of Zarahemla, and so forth. This is especially clear in Alma 50:14, where we read of the construction of a new site: "They called the name of the city, or the land, Nephihah." The pattern followed by the Nephites (and by the Lamanites when they became sedentary) was evidently brought from the Old World. In ancient Israel, the "fenced [walled] cities" were places of refuge for farmers in surrounding villages (see Leviticus 25:31; 1 Samuel 6:18; Ezekiel 38:11). In time of war, the peasants could flee to the protection of the city walls, where arms were stored for defense. This is precisely what we find described in Mosiah 9:14-16.

Biblical cities, like those in the Book of Mormon, controlled nearby land. Hence, we read of "the king of Ai, and his people, and his city, and his land" (Joshua 8:1) and of the city of Hebron, its suburbs, fields and villages (1 Chronicles 6:55-56). In the Bible, cities are sometimes called by the term "land." Tappuah is called a "land" in Joshua 17:8, but a "city" in Joshua 16:8. Jeremiah prophesied that Jerusalem would become "a land not inhabited" (Jeremiah 6:8; cf. 15:5-7). The use of the name Jerusalem to denote both a city and a land is followed, in the Bible, by references to Samaria, the capital city of the northern kingdom of Israel.

Old Testament scriptures frequently extend the term Samaria to include surrounding regions or "the cities of Samaria" under the political control of the state (1 Kings 13:32; 2 Kings 17:24, 26; 23:19).Clay tablets written in the fourteenth century B.C. and found in 1887 at el-Amarna in Egypt use the term "land" for Canaanite sites known from the Bible to have been ancient cities. But there is evidence that, even in the Old World, Bethlehem was considered to be part of the "land of Jerusalem."

One of the Amarna texts (EA 290) speaks of "a town in the land of Jerusalem" named BoLai, [problem with diacritics here] which is the Canaanite equivalent of the Hebrew name rendered Beth-lehem in English Bibles. We conclude that Lehi's descendants in the New World followed authentic Old World custom in denominating each land by the principal city in the land. This kind of detail lends evidence to the authenticity and antiquity of the Book of Mormon text.

The Place-Name Shazer

"The first important stop after Lehi's party had left their base camp was at a place they called Shazer (1 Nephi 16:13?14). The name is intriguing. The combination shajer is quite common in Palestinian place-names; it is a collective meaning 'trees,' and many Arabs (especially in Egypt) pronounce it shazher. It appears in Thoghret-as-Sajur (the Pass of Trees), which is the ancient Shaghur, written Segor in the sixth century. It may be confused with Shaghur 'seepage,' which is held to be identical with Shihor, the 'black river' of Joshua 19:36. This last takes in western Palestine the form Sozura, suggesting the name of a famous water hole in South Arabia, called Shisur by Thomas and Shisar by Philby. It is a 'tiny copse' and one of the loneliest spots in all the world. So we have Shihor, Shaghur, Sajur, Saghir, Segor (even Zoar), Shajar, Sozura, Shisur, and Shisar, all connected somehow or other and denoting either seepage?a weak but reliable water supply?or a clump of trees. Whichever one prefers, Lehi's people could hardly have picked a better name for their first suitable stopping place than Shazer."14
14. Nibley, Lehi in the Desert, 78—79.

Sunday, September 03, 2006

Oliver Cowdry - A Witness to The Book of Mormon

Oliver Cowdery, one of the eleven witnesses to the creation of the Book of Mormon and of those was one of the 3 special witnesses that saw an Angel of the Lord. A man who left the church and rejoined but never denied the truthfulness of Gods word. Not once. What a testimony of the Restoration of Gods words in these latter days.
Book of Mormon Importance

Something for Latter-day Saints to remember.