Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Do Muslims Believe in the Same God Christians Do?

Dear Madame L,

A friend of mine, a Catholic, recently told me that Muslims believe in the same God that Christians and Jews believe in. Only they call him "Allah," the Arabic name for God. She said there are only two difference between Muslims and Jews and Christians: Their beliefs about Jesus Christ, and their beliefs about Muhammad.

But I don't think that can be true. If Muslims believe in the same God, then why do they go around killing Christians and Jews, as well as other Muslims?


A Christian

Dear Christian,

Yes, Muslims do believe in the same God that Christians and Jews believe in. In fact, check out this verse from the Qur'an, the so-called Throne Verse (2:255), which, as LDS writer Dan Peterson notes, "offers a fine summary of basic Islamic Teaching regarding God":

 “Allah! There is no god but he, the Living, the Everlasting. Neither slumber nor sleep seizes him. His are all things in the heavens and the earth. Who is there who can intercede with him, except by his leave? He knows what is before them and what is behind them, while they comprehend nothing of his knowledge except as he wills. His throne extends over the heavens and the earth. Sustaining them does not burden him, for he is the Most High, the Supreme.”

Peterson, who studies Islam and the Qur'an, wrote in the Encyclopedia of Islam and the Muslim World:

"Perhaps the most popular and beloved passage in the Qur‘an, this often-memorized assertion of God’s universal dominion is a favorite of artists across the Islamic world. Tradition credits it with a special saving power and reports that the prophet Muhammad himself considered it the greatest verse revealed to him. The depth of Muslim devotion to Allah is apparent virtually everywhere in Islamic life, including even in the use of elaborate calligraphic renditions of the word Allah as architectural and artistic ornamentation."
I am positive that those of any and every faith who kill other people, even supposedly in the name of their God or their religion, are not in fact obeying the precepts of their religion and are not pleasing God with that behavior.

I also want to remind you of all the Christians who have killed others in the name of God throughout the centuries.

We cannot judge a religion by the actions of its misguided and mis-understanding adherents. What we can do is work together with believers of every faith to bring peace and love, follow the teachings and actions of Jesus Christ, and keep improving our own behavior.

Monday, June 29, 2015

More on the Kinderhook Plates

Dear Madame L,

Thanks for answering my question about the Kinderhook Plates. It seems like you're saying there are two questions for historians and LDS believers to consider: Were the plates authentic or a forgery, and did Joseph Smith translate them or not.

Also, it seems like you're saying the people in Joseph Smith's time thought they were authentic, though after examination in the 1980s they were found to be a modern hoax; and that Joseph Smith did not translate them. Yet you mentioned in your post that some of his closest friends wrote in their journals that Joseph Smith did make some kind of translation.

Also, I have read that in the History of the Church, the entry for May 1, 1843, Joseph Smith himself wrote, "I have translated a portion of them,” referring to the plates.

Can you please clarify?


Still Wondering

Dear Wondering,

Thanks to you for asking about this again. I've found another source, an article by Brian M. Hauglid: "Did Joseph Smith Translate the Kinderhook Plates?" published in No Weapon Shall Prosper: New Light on Sensitive Issues, ed. Robert L. Millet (Provo, UT: Religious Studies Center, Brigham Young University; Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 2011), 93–103.

I haven't read the whole book, just this one article, which is available online.  Here's what I've learned:

One of the Kinderhook Plates, from the online article cited
That entry in the History of the Church wasn't actually written by Joseph Smith and it wasn't added to the history until 1909. It was based on William Clayton's May 1843 journal entry. Here's what he wrote in his journal in 1843:

“I have seen 6 brass plates which were found in Adams County. . . . President Joseph has translated a portion and says they contain the history of the person with whom they were found and he was a descendant of Ham through the loins of Pharaoh king of Egypt, and that he received his kingdom from the ruler of heaven and earth.”

Hauglid notes that changing Clayton's journal entry to first person and attributing it to Joseph Smith was "unfortunate" but also was done in the 19th century, and done in other instances in the History of the Church.

As I mentioned in my previous post about the Kinderhook Plates,  it's possible and even likely that, as Hauglid mentions (quoting another historian), "...that Clayton’s journal entry may be based on speculation circulating at the time..." This possibility is supported by the fact that Clayton's journal and Parley P. Pratt's letter on the subject had significant discrepancies.

Still, let's suppose that Joseph Smith did take the time to translate even a little bit of the plates in the same way he had translated the Book of Mormon and the Book of Abraham. If he did, and if he thought those plates were anything at all like the Book of Mormon, the Book of Moses, the Book of Abraham, and the Doctrine and Covenants, Hauglid writes, "he would have steered the text through the same process" that he put those sacred scriptures through, the "three important phases [of] transcription, publication, and distribution." And he didn't do any of that.

Hauglid speculates, "Perhaps Joseph inspected the plates and tried to translate them but received no revelation, and, recognizing the stupor of thought, lost interest and moved on to other things."

Or, maybe Joseph thought of his look at these plates as a scholarly exercise. He had been studying Hebrew and Egyptian. "He was particularly interested in ancient languages and may have encouraged experiments in learning Egyptian while he translated the Book of Abraham. It is possible that he saw the Kinderhook Plates as an occasion for attempting (if futilely) a scholarly study of an ancient language rather than an inspired translation of ancient characters. Rather than carrying the experiment forward, however, he may have abandoned it almost immediately and made no attempt to establish the translation as scripture."

Hauglid speculates further: "Or perhaps Joseph sincerely believed that the Lord had led him to another sacred record that could be translated to provide the Saints with additional scripture, but when no inspiration came he quickly abandoned the Kinderhook Plates. It may also be that both Joseph the scholar and Joseph the prophet tried to do something with the plates, but nothing really came of either approach. Although William Clayton gives fairly strong evidence that Joseph attempted to translate at least some of the plates, apparently Joseph did not go far enough for the conspirators to spring the trap."

Because that's what the hoaxters intended, was for Joseph to make a translation that they could then show was incorrect.

A footnote in Hauglid's article refers to Don Bradley's presentation, “Joseph Smith’s Translation from the Kinderhook plates: A Historical Mystery,” given at the Thirteenth Annual Mormon Apologetics Conference of FAIR (Foundation for Apologetic Information and Research) on August 5, 2011, which I referenced in my previous post on this subject.

Hauglid notes a detail pointed out by Bradley, which I didn't write about in my earlier post, but which again points to the idea that Joseph Smith didn't think of the Kinderhook Plates as ancient scripture but as an interesting scholarly relic: "...evidence that a character on the Kinderhook Plates resembles one found on page 4 of the GAEL [the Grammar and Alphabet of the Egyptian Language]. The description of the character also corresponds closely to Clayton’s description. Bradley argues that the use of the GAEL indicates that Joseph Smith took a secular interest in the plates rather than a revelatory one."

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Supreme Court Decision on Same-Sex Marriage

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints made this statement on Friday, June 26, after the U.S. Supreme Court announced its decision that same-sex marriages are legal:

"The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints acknowledges that following today's ruling by the Supreme Court, same-sex marriages are now legal in the United States. The Court's decision does not alter the Lord's doctrine that marriage is a union between a man and a woman ordained by God. While showing respect for those who think differently, the Church will continue to teach and promote marriage between a man and a woman as a central part of our doctrine and practice."

Also, Elder D. Todd Christofferson told a Salt Lake City TV station that Mormons who support gay marriage, mentioning their support through various social media, will not be in danger of losing their church membership or temple privileges.

He said members would have trouble with the church "only for 'supporting organizations that promote opposition or positions in opposition to the church’s.,'" according to an article by Peggy Fletcher Stack of the Salt Lake Tribune, published online by the Religion News Service.

The article quoted Elder Christofferson further as saying, “Our approach in all of this, as (Mormon founder) Joseph Smith said, is persuasion. You can’t use the priesthood and the authority of the church to dictate. You can’t compel, you can’t coerce. It has to be persuasion, gentleness and love unfeigned, as the words in the scripture.”

Saturday, June 27, 2015

Homed in SLC

Dear Madame L,

I saw a clip from the Daily Show with a hilarious story about Salt Lake City's solution to the problem of homelessness. Why haven't other cities done something like this?


Not Homeless

Dear Homed,

Thanks for the tip. I found an article in the Salt Lake Tribune about the Daily Show clip and the issue of homelessness. The article begins, "Utah all too often is a punchline for Comedy Central's The Daily Show with Jon Stewart. That wasn't the case Wednesday night."

I was able to watch the clip on the Daily Show's own website, but couldn't find a YouTube version of it to include here. You maybe be able to find it on Hulu.

From the Tribune:
Lloyd Pendleton, the director of the Utah Homeless Task Force. It focused on Utah's housing-first approach to end chronic homelessness, which stresses finding housing for a person so that medical issues, substance problems and employment can be dealt with.

Hasan Minhaj served as The Daily Show's "reporter" on the story, and he concluded the segment by saying, "So if you see a homeless person, don't feel bad. Know they can get a second shot at life. All they have to do is live in Utah."
San Francisco's SFGate online service reported last year:

What Salt Lake City did was simple: It created attractive housing that street people actually longed to live in, provided the new residents with plenty of on-site counseling to help them with problems such as drug abuse and unemployment, and put one person in charge who could get government and nonprofit agencies to work together.
I live near a large city in Oregon, where many women, including myself, are afraid to walk too early or late on the streets because of the aggressive and sometimes insane homeless people who accost pedestrians.

In fact, in that city, early one recent morning, I sat in a famous bookstore (rhymes with "Howell's" and starts with the same letter as the name of the city) with a cup of hot cocoa, and watched the homeless people wake themselves up from doorways and street corners as a city vehicle drove by. On the side of the vehicle was the proud motto, "[City Name], The City That Works." Certainly something about the city works, and certainly some people in the city work. But to say that [City Name] "works," as in, solves problem and helps its residents, is grossly inaccurate.

Then when I visited Salt Lake City recently, just as the Daily Show's Hasan Minhaj reported, I saw no homeless people on the streets. I walked into a huge bookstore in the very center of the city, bought a couple of books, and walked out again without anyone getting in my face and asking me for money. It was amazing!

Oh, I know there are still problems in Salt Lake City. In fact, the Salt Lake Tribune can be trusted to continue to point them out, as in this article.  And that's good. That's what a newspaper is supposed to do.

And the city is doing what it's supposed to do: continuing to work on the problem of homelessness, because city leaders care about the people who are homeless instead of caring about presenting a false image of a "city that works."

Friday, June 26, 2015

Fiction Friday: June 26, 2015: Smash (Again)

This fun graphic novel for all ages was written by Chris Bolton and illustrated by his brother Kyle. I got it because I attended a workshop led by Chris Bolton, who is about the nicest guy ever, and from what he said I figured I would learn a lot about formatting a graphic novel.

I already reviewed this book, but here's another recommendation:

So yesterday, the kids got in a big fight over who got to read Smash.  Saiph had finished it, but then Rigel read it and loved it and had only like 10 pages left to go, and Saiph admitted that he hadn't read it from beginning to end, he'd started reading somewhere in the middle and like it but it didn't completely make sense to him.  Rigel insisted that he had to read it from the beginning because it was SO GOOD and it would make more sense to him.  So then Saiph started reading again but Rigel wanted to finish the last 10 pages and it turned into a physical fight over the book.  Then this morning, Rigel came to me and said, "Can you write to Grandma and ask her if there's a sequel for Smash?"  I said that I didn't think there was but I'd ask.  And now you have a good sense of what kind of graphic novels they love!
You can also read a little about Smash on Amazon, where I found the answer to Rigel's question, which is that the writer IS working on a sequel right now! But it probably won't be published for a few months from now. Here's the whole paragraph from Amazon:
Chris A. Bolton has written comics, short stories, stage plays, sketch comedy, and screenplays. He wrote and directed several short films and an acclaimed web series called "Wage Slaves." His first published book is the all-ages graphic novel SMASH: TRIAL BY FIRE (Candlewick Press, 2013), illustrated by his brother, Kyle. He lives in Portland, Oregon, where he's hard at work writing SMASH Book 2.
Better yet, you can go to the Smash Comic Web site to get the latest installments in the new book! 

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Weird Expression of the Week: Interpretive JIggery-Pokery

Many thanks to Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia for this expression, which he used in his dissenting opinion in the court's decision to uphold the Affordable Care Act.

He also called the Obama administration's arguments in the case "pure applesauce."

He wrote, "Today’s interpretation is not merely unnatural; it is unheard of. Who would ever have dreamt that ‘Exchange established by the State’ means ‘Exchange established by the State or the Federal Government?"

And he said the court is essentially rewriting the ACA, so " We should start calling this law SCOTUScare.”

Fine by me, buddy, long as people can get affordable health insurance, call it whatever you want.

Weird Word of the Week: Higgler

According to the Oxford English Dictionary, a higgler is a peddler (or, as the OED people spell it, a pedlar), a person who travels from place to place selling small goods.

Here's a great image of a peddler from the Library of Congress website.

(If you go to this page, you'll find a black-and-white drawing made for you to print out for your children to color.) 

For more "weird-and-wonderful-words," check out the OED's own list.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Solving the Mystery of the Kinderhook Plates

Dear Madame L,

Have you heard of the Kinderhook Plates? These thin metal plates were supposedly found in a mound with other Native American artifacts, and brought to Joseph Smith for translation.And Joseph Smith supposedly translated them.

A few years later, the guy who made these metal plates by engraving on them with acid said it was a hoax. So, if Joseph Smith was a real prophet, how could he claim to translate some writings that were just faked?


Just Wondering

Dear Wondering,

Thanks for telling me about this. I had not heard of the Kinderhook Plates, so I looked them up in some reliable online sources in order to answer your question.

All the details you mention in your question are correct---except for one: Joseph Smith did not "translate" these plates the way the hoaxers thought he would, and not the way his detractors have said he did.

Facsimile of the Kinderhook Plates, from Aug. 1981 Ensign magazine

As you will recall, Joseph translated the Book of Abraham papyri through the power and gift of God. He apparently used the Urim and Thummim to help with the translation, as LDS scholar H. Donl Peterson notes:
In the historical documents currently possessed by the Church, Joseph Smith never described fully the actual process he used in translating ancient documents. ...  He did, in several instances, refer to the book of Abraham as a translation (HC 4:543, 548); and when the installments of the book of Abraham were published in the Millennial Star, it was described as being "translated by Joseph Smith" (July 1842, p. 34). Both Wilford Woodruff (in his journal) and Parley P. Pratt (in the July 1842 Millennial Star ) maintained that the translation was done by means of the Urim and Thummim...  
And, as he translated, he made what has come to be called the JS GAEL, or the Joseph Smith  Grammar and Alphabet of the Egyptian Language.

Shortly after the  Kinderhook Plates were "discovered" on April 23, 1843, they were brought to Joseph so he could translate them. But there is no indication in the historical record that he actually did translate them in the same way that he translated the Book of Mormon and the Book of Abraham.

In fact, Parley P. Pratt and William Clayton reported different details about the plates and the other supposed artifacts found with them and wrote different versions of Joseph's supposed "translation."

From the August 1981 Ensign magazine: 
It seems, then, that there was considerable talk about the plates in Nauvoo—and apparently as much misinformation and hearsay was current among people as there was fact. Pratt heard of a discovery in Pike County; Clayton said Adams County. Clayton said that the find was made six feet underground; Pratt, fifteen. Elder Pratt spoke of a cement vase—an item mentioned in no other account. Clayton mentioned a skeleton nine feet tall—also unmentioned in any other account. Clayton said that the plates gave a history of an Egyptian; Pratt mentioned a Jaredite.
It's unclear whether Joseph ever made a translation, even an off-the-cuff comparison of a character from the plates with a character in his GAEL. If he did, it appears that he only compared one character that was repeated prominently on the top of many of the plates with a character he was familiar with from the Book of Abraham---was not and has never claimed by reputable scholars to be a "translation" in the sense of the ancient scriptures he actually did translate.

(For more on the possibility that he even made a comparison of any characters, see this fascinating 2011 speech by LDS historian Don Bradley.)

Some anti-Mormons have suggested that when one of the journal-writers close to Joseph wrote, "President Joseph has translated a portion," that means they saw Joseph make a translation that was as valid as his translations of true ancient scriptures. I suggest, though, that these journal-writers they were being as accurate in that case as when they wrote about the plates' discovery. 

There was popular discussion and a lot of hearsay about the plates at that time. Importantly, the plates were taken away from Nauvoo before Joseph could have actually taken a careful look at them, and he was martyred a year after they were "discovered."

Pratt wrote in a letter to a friend on May 7, 1843, "A large number of Citizens have seen them and compared the characters with those on the Egyptian papyrus which is now in this city.”  Thus it appears that it was not the Prophet Joseph Smith who tried to "translate" the plates at all.

One of the hoaxers, Wilbur Fugate, wrote to an anti-Mormon in Salt Lake City that he and the other creator of the plates had made up the whole story in order to trick the Mormons. In doing so, he admitted to having falsely signed a certificate as to the authenticity of the plates and their discovery; in other words, he admitted to having been a liar and a deceiver.

He also claimed to have sent the plates to an antiquarian, who said "...that there were no such Hyeroglyphics known, and if there ever had been, they had long since passed away."

He added, "Then Smith began his translation.” This is another lie: the plates were never returned to Nauvoo after supposedly being sent away, and Joseph died a martyr the following year.

As important is the fact that that neither Joseph nor any of the Saints in Nauvoo tried to keep these plates or buy them, as they had done with the Book of Abraham papyri, even though the owner of the plates, Robert Wiley, wanted to sell them and indeed tried to sell them to "The National Institute" and various antiquarian societies.

If you want more information about the Kinderhook Plates, this article in the Aug. 1981 Ensign magazine gives a thorough and scholarly chronology of the plates' discovery and travels, with historical details from letters, journals, and newspaper reports of the time.

If you want to know more about Joseph Smith the Prophet, please read this brilliant speech by William E. Berrett, which I would like to just go ahead and paste into this post, because he has studied the life and accomplishments of Joseph Smith. He shows how Joseph went from uneducated ignorance of even the English language to learning Egyptian and modern languages. He shows with specific examples Joseph Smith's zeal for learning, his faith, his love for the people, his leadership skills, and his humility. He shows Joseph's faults and flaws, his acknowledgement of those faults and flaws, and his continual efforts to overcome them.

He shows us the Prophet, a man --- but yet called of God to lead and serve, to restore the gospel in its fullness to the Earth. He concludes:

Yes, here was an unusual man, in whom were combined five great elements: intelligence, a zeal for learning, an unusual faith in God, a power of introspection, a love of people. In combination they made him a fit instrument in the hands of God to restore the Church in these latter days, qualities which, if we possess and cultivate, give us the elements whereby we, too, may become useful.

As Joseph Smith rode from Nauvoo toward Carthage, he met Stephen Markham and was asked, “Joseph, where are you going?” Joseph’s answer rings down the ages: “I am going like a lamb to the slaughter, but I am calm as a summer’s morning. I have a conscience void of offense toward God and all men.” Would that all of us could say that!

Of all Americans, probably Joseph Smith has left us the most writings that look into the recesses of a man’s heart. In the six great volumes that we sometimes refer to as The History of the Church and sometimes as The Documentary History, we see into the inmost recesses of his mind. I have said, and repeat here, “I believe that I know him better than I have known any man in this life save my own father.” By it I mean I know how he would react to every temptation. I know what his counsel would be to me in almost every situation in which I might find myself. He is a great companion. I recommend him to you.

I bear you my solemn witness that I know that he is a prophet of the living God, and that the Church of which we are members, founded by him, is directed by Jesus Christ. May the Lord bless you with like testimony, I pray in the name of the Master. Amen.
I also recommend him, the Prophet Joseph Smith, to you.

Sunday, June 14, 2015

The Habitual Be

Dear Readers,

Check out this article on the habitual be, a grammatical construction we've been hearing a lot lately.

Here's the definition:
If you are speaking so-called white English, “Mara be walking the dog” means the same thing as “Mara is walking the dog.” If you are communicating in AAE, “Mara be walking the dog” says that Mara customarily walks the dog—that dog-walking has some definitional sway over her daily existence. It doesn’t guarantee that she is out walking the dog at this moment.
And one more clarifying bit, from that same article:

In that 2005 University of Maryland at Baltimore study, groups of black and white children were shown images from Sesame Street. In the crucial picture, a sick Cookie Monster languished in bed without any cookies, while Elmo stood nearby eating a cookie. “Who is eating cookies?” Jackson asked her test subjects, and all of them indicated Elmo. “Who be eating cookies?” Jackson then asked. The white kids replied that it was Elmo, while the black kids pointed to Cookie Monster. After all, it is the existential state of Cookie Monster to be eating cookies, while Elmo just happened to be earing a cookie at that moment. Cookie Monster, to those conversant in AAE, be eating cookies, whether he is eating cookies or not. The kids in Jackson’s experiment picked up on the subtle difference when they were as young as five or six.  

Love and cookies,

Madame L, who be having opinions about everything

Photo by Cristina Quicler/AFP/Getty Images

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Cute Little Frogs! (Do They Croak? WILL They Croak?)

One of the species of miniaturised frog found in the Brazilian Atlantic forest. Photo: Luiz Fernando Ribeiro, CC BY SA
Seven new species of frogs have been discovered in the cloud forests of Brazil. Good for them for hiding there!

Here's part of the fascinating information about these frogs: The largest one is about 13mm long, even as an adult. They can be this small because they have evolved with fewer fingers and toes. This miniaturization also means they can emerge from their eggs as full adults, not going through the tadpole stage; and they can survive away from water (as long as they can soak water from damp ground through their skin).

How long will these little guys survive now?

“The really big concern is climate change because the cloud forest depends on the delicate balance between the water that comes form the ocean and the topography. If there’s some sort of warming it’s possible that that sort of really humid forest will disappear and with that all the endemic species, not only our frogs but other types of organisms,” said Marcio Pie, a professor at the Universidade Federal do ParanĂ¡, who led the group that discovered the frogs.

But they have a better chance of surviving a fungus that is killing off many frog species around the world. More than 200 frog species of frog have declined or gone extinct because of the fungus. Pie said the frogs may be protected from chytrid by their ability to survive away from the water sources where the fungus is often found.

Monday, June 8, 2015

John Adams Rap Cut from Final Version

Here are some of the "Hamilton" cast members performing a John Adams number that was eventually cut from the musical:

Saturday, June 6, 2015

Climate Warming Slow-down?

Not on your life! A story has been making the rounds of the anti-science community, i.e., people who can't face the facts about global climate change, that the warming trend has plateaued, or slowed down, over the last 15 years.

I just found this article in The Australian, the first I've heard of this argument. I'll look into it some more and let you know what I figure out about it.

Meanwhile, it appears that a new study making the claim about the slowdown, appears to have been “a highly speculative and slight paper that produces a statistically marginal result by cherry-picking time intervals, resulting in a global temperature graph at odds with those produced by the UK Met Office and NASA”.

At least that's what David Whitehouse, of the a Global Warming Policy Foundation, said about it. I'll see what else I can learn.

Meanwhile, I'm reminded yet again of how important it is for science to remain pure, that is, for scientists to use data to test their theories and refine them as necessary, not to change the data to fit what they already think they know!

Friday, June 5, 2015

Fiction Friday: June 5, 2015: Tony Hillerman

I'm not beginning with a specific one of Tony Hillerman's many titles because I haven't found one yet that I didn't like.

I'm writing about Hillerman today because at my wonderful local public library the other day I picked up his fourth novel, "People of Darkness," thinking I would just scan a few pages and then put it back on the shelf.

But I kept reading until it was time to leave, checked it out, took it home, and kept reading until I was done. That's how good these books are.

In "People of Darkness," a rich woman asks Sergeant Jim Chee of the Navajo Tribal Police to investigate the theft of a memento from her husband's study. She tells a lot of lies, and then her husband tells a lot more lies, and then another cop tells Chee to back off.

Problem is, even if he wanted to, he can't. He's drawn into the mystery of the memento, a box full of mysterious black rocks and some World War II ribbons.

So he has to find out why a man who is already dying of cancer is assassinated and his body stolen from the hospital; who the assassin is and what his connection is with other crimes; what really happened years ago in an oil-drilling accident; and the true identity of the rich man with the box of black rocks.

Like all of Hillerman's novels, this book is not only brilliantly plotted with complex and believable characters, but it also delves into the history and customs of the Navajo and some of the Pueblo tribes.

This would be an ideal beach book, meaning you can read it fast and furiously, but with the added advantage of feeling you haven't wasted your time. (Get it used for as little as 30 cents at Amazon or maybe you'll be lucky like I was and find it at your local library.)

(You can read more about Hillerman and find lists of his many books here. And here is Amazon's list of his books.)

Monday, June 1, 2015

Witnesses of the Golden Plates

(I originally posted this on my Aunt Louise blog. I'm posting it here as well for my Madame L readers.) 

Thanks to Daniel C. Peterson for this column, published in the Deseret News on Thurs., May 21, 2015. The title is"Defending the Faith: Did Book of Mormon witnesses simply see the golden plates with their 'spiritual eyes'?" He provides a link to a column on the same topic, which he wrote a few years ago, which is also worth reading. 

He points out that if you're criticizing the Book of Mormon and Joseph Smith's story about how he received the Golden Plates, you have to "neutralize" the testimonies of the three witnesses and the eight witnesses.

Anti-Mormons have tried all kinds of ways to do this: Claim that the 11 men were unreliable, insane, irresponsible, and/or unworthy; claim that they later denied their original testimonies published in the Book of Mormon; claim that they were somehow deceived or hallucinated the experience; and even claim that what they witnessed was only "spiritual." 

An artist's conception of the experiences of the Eight Witnesses
The Eight Witnesses, by Dale Kilbourn

The first two arguments have been debunked by LDS historian Richard Lloyd Anderson. Peterson writes that, thanks to Anderson's work:
"... we know a great deal about them and about the six decades, both when they were dedicated followers of Joseph Smith and after they had been alienated from him and his church for many years, during which they testified to the Book of Mormon. For a very long time, those seeking to discredit their testimony accused them of insanity, or of having conspired to commit fraud. In the light of Anderson's work, however, neither accusation can be sustained. They were plainly sane, honest, reputable men."
The witnesses themselves strongly denounced that third claim (that they were deceived or were hallucinating) during their lifetimes. Again, the following quotes are from Peterson's article: 

"Several of the 11 official witnesses were obviously confronted during their lifetimes with accusations that they had merely hallucinated, and they repeatedly rejected such proposed explanations.

"In fact, David Whitmer, one of the initial Three Witnesses, could easily have been addressing today’s skeptics when he declared 'I was not under any hallucination, nor was I deceived! I saw with these eyes and I heard with these ears! I know whereof I speak!'”

Peterson tells of an 1878 interview with John Whitmer by Wilhelm Poulson. Here are the questions and answers:
“I — Did you handle the plates with your hands? He — I did so!
"I — Then they were a material substance? He — Yes, as material as anything can be.
"I — They were heavy to lift? He — Yes, and you know gold is a heavy metal, they were very heavy.
"I — How big were the leaves? He — So far as I can recollect, 8 by 6 or 7 inches.
"I — Were the leaves thick? He — Yes, just so thick, that characters could be engraven on both sides.
"I — How were the leaves joined together? He — In three rings, each one in the shape of a D with the straight line towards the centre. ...
"I — Did you see them covered with a cloth? He — No. He handed them uncovered into our hands, and we turned the leaves sufficient to satisfy us.”

William Smith, who knew the Eight Witnesses well — his father and two of his brothers were among them — explained “they not only saw with their eyes but handled with their hands the said record.” Daniel Tyler heard Samuel Smith testify that “He knew his brother Joseph had the plates, for the prophet had shown them to him, and he had handled them and seen the engravings thereon.”

Peterson concludes, "Those who seek to dismiss the testimony of the Eight Witnesses must, on the whole, flatly brush aside what they actually, and very forcefully, said."

Hip-Hop Commencement Address

Lin-Manuel Miranda gave this year's commencement address at Wesleyan. Remember my posts about his musical "Hamilton"? (If you've forgotten them, they are this interview with Chris Hayes about the musical and the process of writing a musical; and this montage of scenes from the musical from its off-Broadway production.)

Here is the commencement address, with a few more bits from the musical:

(And sorry about all that introductory stuff, though it's interesting in its own way.)