Sunday, 22 April 2012

Book of Mormon Names

It is amusing I suppose for those familiar with Mormon names to hear the variety of mispronunciations people come up with. The classic one is Nephi, the name of the main Book of Mormon writer, and of no fewer than four characters in the book. Usually pronounced Knee feye, it can often come out as Neffee. Moroni, pronounced Mor own eye, often comes out as Mor on knee.

So how do you pronounce the unfamiliar names in the Book of Mormon? In the back of every copy there is a pronouncing guide.  Where did it come from and how do we know it is correct?

Of course biblical names, like Abraham or Jeremiah, are easy enough. For these we can turn to the unbroken history of the Jews, represented today in a living culture and language, and in a rich heritage of literature and tradition.

But how do we use names peculiar to the Book of Mormon which, it is claimed, was written in ”Reformed Egyptian”, a language unheard of by scholars of any age? This question was answered in the July 1996 Ensign magazine. The answer highlighted more problems than it's author set out to solve.

Pronouncing Guide

The first pronouncing guide was published in the 1921 edition of the Book of Mormon. A committee of scholars was appointed in 1903 by Joseph F Smith, sixth President of the Church, to decide upon a standardised pronunciation of Book of Mormon names. It was reported at the time that changes were "constantly being made in spelling and pronunciation" and "fads...existed in the Church".

Diversity was the order of the day. A strange state of affairs for a church lead by a living Prophet who, surely, would find such issues comparatively easy to resolve. Not so, for it took a committee eighteen years to come up with a standardised guide.

And sixty years, and six living Prophets, later the guide was revised for the 1981 edition to reflect current usage. Surely a case of the tail wagging the dog!?

But how did Joseph Smith pronounce Nephi? Donald W Parry, assistant professor of Hebrew at Brigham Young University, and author of the Ensign article, points out that "the Prophet was visited by a number of Book Of Mormon prophets who probably introduced themselves by name as did Moroni".

He goes on to say that "the Saints in the Prophet's day [probably] heard him pronounce some Book of Mormon names during gospel discussions and discourses". Joseph, then, would have pronounced Nephi the way Nephi pronounced Nephi.

Proto-Mormonism

Parry further points out that the Prophet's familiarity with name pronunciation is supported by his mother's testimony who said, "During our evening conversations, Joseph would...describe the ancient inhabitants of this continent ...with as much ease as if he had spent his whole life with them". (Lucy Smith, Biographical Sketches, p.85. Quoted in No Man Knows My History, p.35. Fawn Brodie)

However, these tale-telling episodes related by Joseph's mother occurred in their earliest form before the death of Joseph's brother Alvin in November 1823 who was among those who heard these tales.

Chronologically this puts most, if not all of them before the first visit of Moroni in September of 1823, and certainly years before Moroni gave Joseph the Book of Mormon in 1827.

The Church's own official history tells us that, between the First Vision in 1820 and the visit of Moroni, "little of importance took place". In other words Moroni was the first Book of Mormon character to visit Joseph.

How could Joseph have been speaking of Moroni and other Book of Mormon characters before September 1823 and before he had met them? How could he have known how to pronounce their names before he had ever heard their names pronounced? Is this proto-Mormonism a clue to Mormon origins?

His familiarity with Book of Mormon history, as related by his mother, was extensive and intimate long before the Book of Mormon was "revealed" to him. Long before the hill Cumorah gave up it's ancient treasure. How do you pronounce Nephi?  Ask his creator, Joseph.

Friday, 13 April 2012

Mormons Still Destroying the Presses

Most of the 12,000 inhabitants of Nauvoo (formerly Commerce) Illinois in 1844 were Mormons led by their controversial leader Joseph Smith Jr. On June 7 of that year a new newspaper, the Nauvoo Expositor, rolled off the presses. Its primary purpose was to expose what was seen by some disaffected Mormons as the corruption of their prophet.Nauvoo Expositer

The publishers charged that Smith was a fallen prophet because of his introduction of polygamy and the doctrine of exaltation, that he was too powerful and had theocratic ambitions and that he was a corrupting influence on young women whom he tried to initiate into plural marriage. Not only had their prophet introduced plural marriage, he also proposed marriage to these men’s wives.

Above the Law

It has been observed that “[Joseph] believed he had been given powers that transcended civil law. Claiming sole responsibility for binding and unbinding marriages on earth and in heaven, he did not consider it necessary to obtain civil marriage licenses or divorce decrees. Whenever he deemed it appropriate he could release a woman from her earthly marriage and seal her to himself or to another with no stigma of adultery.” (Richard Van Wagoner, Mormon Polygamy, p.42)

Thus his conduct was, "not adultery because a man could not commit adultery with wives who belonged to him.” (Daynes, More Wives than One, p.202)

Joseph SmithJoseph [left] "believed he had been given powers that transcended civil law.” In other words, Joseph considered himself above the law. This is an interesting assertion in light of the Mormon twelfth Article of Faith. “We believe in being subject to kings, presidents, rulers, and magistrates, in obeying, honoring, and sustaining the law.”

Of course there is a higher law that anyone should obey God rather than man. However, such a gross abuse of a gospel imperative is inexcusable. When that dictum was coined (Acts 4:18-20) it was in response to a warning not to preach the good news of Jesus Christ. To excuse the taking of other men’s wives by appealing to a higher authority is perverse.

Nevertheless, Mormon Apostle Jedediah M Grant [below] had this toJedediah M Grant say:

“When Joseph Smith was alive, his declaration to me was as the voice of Almighty God. Why? Because he had the Priesthood of God on the earth… When the family organization was revealed from heaven – the patriarchal order of God, and Joseph began, on the right and on the left, to add to his family, what a quaking there was in Israel. Says one brother to another, ‘Joseph says all covenants are done away, and none are binding but the new covenants; now suppose Joseph should come and say he wanted your wife, what would you say to that?’ ‘I would tell him to go to hell.’ This was the spirit of many in the early days of this church…

If Joseph had a right to dictate me in relation to salvation, in relation to the hereafter, he had a right to dictate me in relation to all my earthly affairs, in relation to the treasures of the earth, and in relation to the earth itself. He had a right to dictate in relation to the cities of the earth, to the natives of the earth, and in relation to everything on Land and on sea. That is what he had a right to do, if he had any right at all. If he did not have that right, he did not have the priesthood of God, he did not have the endless priesthood that emanates from the eternal being. A priesthood that is clipped, and lacks length, is not the priesthood of God; if it lacks depth, it is not the priesthood of God; for the priesthood in ancient times extended over the wide world, and coped with the universe, and had a right to govern and control the inhabitants thereof, to regulate them, give them laws, and execute those laws. The power looked like the priesthood of God. This same priesthood has been given to Joseph Smith and has been handed down to his successors.” (Journal of Discourses, vol.2, p.13)

It was these developments, among others, that prompted the publishers of the Nauvoo Expositor to publish what they knew of Joseph Smith’s corruption and corrupting influence. That edition of 7 June 1844 was the first and last because Smith had the paper and the presses destroyed.

Claims Beyond Dispute

All this is beyond dispute; Joseph Smith taught the plurality of gods, was a polygamist who pursued young girls, proposed marriage to other men’s wives and gave approval to those who practiced the evil he invented (Ro.1:28-32) So it is interesting to to read how the Mormon Encyclopaedia describes these events:

“The Nauvoo Expositor was the newspaper voice of apostates determined to destroy the Prophet Joseph Smith and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in the spring of 1844. During the last few months of Joseph Smith's life, an opposition party of disgruntled members, apostates, and ex-communicants coalesced Encyclopedia of Mormonisminto a dissenting church. The principals claimed to believe in the Book of Mormon and the restoration of the gospel, but rejected what they termed Nauvoo innovations, notably plural marriage. Claiming that Joseph was a fallen prophet, the dissenters set out, through the Expositor, to expose the Prophet's supposed false teachings and abominations. They held secret meetings, made plans, and took oaths to topple the Church and kill Joseph Smith. The publication of the newspaper was crucial to their stratagem…the Expositor 's polemics against the Church and Joseph Smith were threatening and polarizing. The anti-Mormons were exultant about the Expositor, but Church members demanded that something be done.”

The perpetrator becomes the victim, his crimes become “supposed false teachings and abominations”. The dissenters become “apostates”, “ex-communicants”, liars and plotters – anti-Mormons! Anyone who has worked in ministry to Mormons will be familiar with this grotesque caricaturing of critics.

Nauvoo Expositor BuildingWhat is also familiar is the wanton destruction of the only organ of free speech that allowed a dissenting voice in Nauvoo to be heard [from the building on the right]. These days, just as did the publishers of  the Expositor, ministries use every legitimate means to publish criticism and challenge the claims of Mormonism. Over the past year however a systematic campaign has been witnessed aimed at shutting down such criticisms by reporting even the most reasonable posts and comments on Facebook as “abusive.”

Today, however, it is not nearly as easy to run critics out of town. Social networking and online publishing is a vast landscape with too many opportunities to bring ideas to the public square to be so easily manipulated. Indeed, it is a landscape that Mormons themselves appreciate and here is the rub for Mormons wishing to engage in apologetics with non-Mormons.

Disengaged Mormons

The aim of Christians and Mormons alike in this respect is to engage the other in discussion, putting your own point across in the hope of making an impression. One challenges Mormon claims while the other aims at “challenging anti-Mormon apologetics.” But, increasingly, Mormons who do publish on the Internet are talking to themselves. Their target audience, in response to this modern breaking of the presses, is moving on to other means of being heard, using different methods to avoid being targeted by the spiteful and small-minded.

The Encyclopaedia of Mormonism makes this telling observation on the original smashing of the presses:

“That action, justified or not, played into the hands of the opposition. It riled anti-Mormon sentiment throughout Hancock County and provided substance for the charges used by the opposition to hold Joseph Smith in Carthage Jail, where he was murdered on June 27, 1844”

Perhaps modern Mormon iconoclasts should learn from history because theirs is proving a pyric victory as Mormons increasingly fail to engage with their critics and their reputation as enemies of free speech is perpetuated.