Category Archives: History

Bows, Arrows & the Book of Mormon

This is just a “holder” post for a discussion I was having over whether references to “bows and arrows” in the Book of Mormon should be considered atlals or actual bows. The main argument is over whether there are bows and arrows in the pre-classical period of mesoamerica. A lot of apologetic works have quoted a few articles saying they were. Most of these end up going back to Bill Hamblin’s article “The Bow and Arrow in the Book of Mormon” from the 90’s.

I brought this up in a discussion primarily due to a Book of Mormon Central article on weapons in early Nephite times. While I really like the Book of Mormon Central stuff I was much more mixed about this article due to using art from centuries after the period of the Book of Mormon in question. I think that bows and arrows in pre-Christian Nephite society is perhaps at best controversial. (Roughly 400 BC – 40 BC) As such I think good apologetics should engage with the mainstream views of the data. There was some pushback to this view, mainly based upon a debate over whether there was consensus over the period of the introduction of the bow and arrow in mesoAmerica.
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Hebrew Conceptions of Truth

I quoted a bit earlier this week from Hazony’s excellent The Philosophy of Hebrew Scripture. While I don’t necessarily agree with everything he writes, from my limited perspective he does seem to get a lot of the epistemological issues right. At least it lines up with what I’ve read elsewhere. Since my interests are much more philosophical than historical I don’t get wrapped up too much in the details of the history. From a philosophical perspective and also hermeneutical perspective Hazony helps illuminate many issues in theology and LDS scripture. Consider for instance the issue of truth. Now people like Jim Faulconer have written on this in various papers but Hazony is a great resource that goes through it in a sustained fashion.

Hazony’s argument is that it is things not words or propositions that are true for the Hebrews. While our culture retains some elements of this such as a true friend or to true a wheel by and large we’ve adopted the Greek notions where true or false are properties of language or the meaning behind language. Something is true when it lines up with reality in some way. Further truth is conceived statically rather than as a process. To talk about truth is to talk in some way about something like correspondence now between proposition and reality. Later theories like coherence theory or the like still tie truth to language following this basic stance of Greek thought. In contrast to the Hebrews a thing is true when it shows over time that it is the thing is purports to be. 

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Demythologizing Plato

Steve Fleming, who’s done a lot of work on neoplatonic influences on early Mormonism, had up an interesting post at the Juvenile Instructor. The context was a brief book review of Wouter Hanegraaff’s Esotericism and the Academy. I’ve not read the book, although I picked up the Kindle version after Steve’s recommendation. The most interesting bit was about how anything superstitious gets expunged from western thought. Steve then quotes from Stephen Webb’s book on Mormons.

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Masonry and Kings

Interesting blog post on the relationship of masonry and kingship myths in Europe. A few excerpts to catch your interest.

James Anderson, not only tried to examine the history of freemasonry since the creation of the earth with Adam as the first Grand Master of freemasonry. He also described it as a brotherhood which was in all times ruled and protected by wise kings and emperors. Its lodges therefore brought together the best noblemen, clergymen, scientists and craftsmen who worked harmonically and silently on the perfection of mankind through geometry or architecture. This point needs further explanation.

As I argued…these myths were not that specifically masonic, as it first may seem. They are based upon relatively common beliefs of the people of the early 18th century about the creation and development of mankind – and – much more important especially for noblemen – are based upon the belief about the heredity of virtue through blood.

In this belief “pictures of life” were imprinted in one’s blood which transferred a part of the soul and of its experiences to next generations. For this reason it became very important to live in a virtuous environment, to be impressed by paintings showing virtues sujets and architectuaral buildings which also communicated through their style such virtues. Even the masonic rituals were believed to be somewhat like performances of virtuous behavior. And of course, as the members of a lodge were “handpicked”, those rituals were excuted in an virtuous environment.

For Georgian nobility Freemasonry therefore became interesting as it seemed to be another place to strengthen one’s virtue. And – what is much more important – the virtue of the noble race which govern’d over mankind and guided the later one to perfection by its example.

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On the Logic of Seerstones

I spent far too much time commenting in the various blog posts about the new Ensign article about Joseph Smith’s seer stone. I have to admit that I was a bit taken aback about the reaction. Even knowing that blogs are about as far from representative of the Church as possible I was surprised. I won’t repeat all the various discussions. Richard Bushman’s post at BCC probably gets at the basic reason people are bothered. Basically people just have a difficult time with things their culture aren’t used to. Within Mormonism outside of the temple we basically adopt low church Protestant approaches to religion. That is subdued worship with very little ritual or trappings. Other than the bread and water in the sacrament (which everyone is used to) the only other non-temple trapping is olive oil for blessings. Yes we have garments, but again within Mormonism we’re used to them no matter how odd they appear to non-Mormons.

That said, moving away from gut reactions and emotion, the logic of critiques always seemed odd to me. In all LDS literature the Urim and Thummim are mentioned. They are always described as two rocks attached with a bow-like rod. (e.g. JSH 1:35) No one seems to have problem with that. Then people find out that a different rock was used after these were taken away after a delay in translation due to Joseph losing part of the translation. They freak out. Yet in terms of objects all that has changed is instead of two rocks there’s one rock. Why is this rock harder to accept than the traditional story?

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Joseph as Seer

The Ensign has a nice historical discussion of seership in the early Church focused on Joseph. It even has a photo of his seerstone. That should put to rest some bloggers complaints. I’m glad they’re putting these articles explaining more academic issues back into the Ensign. Frankly the Ensign had gone downhill for a number of years. It used to be great back in the 80’s but started changing in the early 90’s. I loved it when there were a ton of articles like this on topics ranging from history to theology to exegesis and apologetics. Let’s hope this marks a permanent change back to how the Ensign used to be.

Trib on Messy LDS History

Peggy Stack at the Salt Lake Tribune has an article up on how the Church is attempting to deal with controversial aspects of history through articles on its website. This is a very positive step that the Church has been taking the past few years. We can perhaps critique some of the articles or how the Church promotes the articles to regular members. I’m loath to be critical though as it’s a difficult balancing act for the Church. I think one thing that is helpful is to simply see that many of us familiar with the history aren’t bothered by it at all. Honestly the history in the Bible seems far more controversial in many ways than LDS history – even at its most controversial. I think the difference is that because Biblical history is at least 2000 years old it seems distant in a way that the 19th century doesn’t. Put an other way, dealing with controversy in history seems more an issue of the oddities of human psychology rather than necessarily an academic problem.

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