Monday, July 4, 2016

More on the Book of Mormon

Turtle Submarine
1875 artist's depiction

As I was slogging through the Book of Mormon for the article I wrote last week, I kept thinking of The Emperor’s New Clothes.That story was first published in Denmark in 1837, so it’s unlikely that Hans Christian Anderson had the Book of Mormon in mind specifically. But no doubt he’d met his fair share of charlatans and was writing about all of them.

When you read something hard to understand, there is a tendency to assume that you’re not smart enough, that the writer must know things you don’t. And if the writing contains a lot of “thee, thou, thine” language, it must be old, right?

So, if you want to write a book that fakes out a lot of people, make it hard to understand and make it sound old. That way, most readers will assume that ‘everyone but me seems to understand it, so I’m not going to ask questions and make myself look stupid.’

Giving it a religious spin is especially cunning, as it will make some readers believe that, if they don’t understand it, there is something wrong with their own spirituality. It’s a great twist on“The Emperor’s New Clothes."

The writing style of the Book of Mormon is similar to that of the King James Version of the Bible. People were no longer using that old English style even in Joseph Smith’s day. Here’s what really reveals the true Joseph Smith, however: He didn’t really understand the King James, and he assumed no one else did, either.

For example, at Mosiah 4:22 he wrote: “Ye put up no petition, nor repent of the thing which thou hast done.” Sounds vaguely King Jamesean, doesn’t it? But Joseph Smith apparently didn’t realize that old, Shakespearean English was written that way for a reason. In modern English we make no distinction between singular “you” and plural “you.” (That’s why some southerners use “you all” to indicate that they are referring to more than one person.) But old English did make a distinction. “Ye put up no petition” means ‘you all (plural) put up no petition’ yet the second half of the sentence, “the thing which thou hast done” refers to a single person.

There are literally hundreds of these grammatical errors in the Book of Mormon. “Thou shalt also behold a man descending out of heaven, and him shall ye witness” in 1 Nephi 11:7 would have been written as ‘him shalt thou witness’ by Shakespeare. (In fact, as I’m typing this in MS Word 2007 its grammar-checking tool is telling me that “ye witness” is wrong, but of course Joseph Smith didn’t have MS Word.)

Shakespeare would not have confused “rememberest” with “remembereth” as the original printing of the BoM did at 1 Nephi 12:9. (The Mormons have corrected the supposedly perfect book on several occasions.) Shakespeare would have known that “strait is the gate” of Matthew 7:14 meant ‘narrow or difficult or cramped’ is the gate. Yet Joseph Smith wrote “straight is the gate” when he plagiarized Matthew 7:14 at 3 Nephi 14:14. He in fact wrote “straight” for “strait” in all the many places where he plagiarized it from the KJV, even when “straight” makes no sense. “The place is too straight for me; give place to me that I may dwell” (1 Nephi 21:20) makes much more sense in the original at Isaiah 49:20 where, according to the New King James Version, it reads 'The place is too small for me; Give me a place where I may dwell.'

Official Mormon doctrine is to blame the printer. They claim “The BoM original handwritten manuscripts had no punctuation, sentences or paragraphs. Those things were all added in by the printer, Gilbert, a non-mormon.” So it was that old meanie Gilbert who screwed up the grammar, confused the spelling, and who put in “and it came to pass” at the beginning of nearly every verse, not their beloved Joseph Smith.

Why King James language at all? It was no longer in use in Smith’s day; it is certainly outdated now. It adds a patina of age, but it doesn’t make the message easier to understand. Quite the opposite, in fact. Which is precisely the point.

Now, what’s this about a Mormon submarine?

In my previous column I promised to comment on the ‘Mormon submarine.’ I had heard years ago that the BoM described vessels that sounded a lot like a submarines. When I decided to write this, how was I to find information on that? I simply googled ‘mormon submarine’ and there were tons of hits, so I’m not the only one to use that term. Here’s the description, starting from Ether 2, verse 17:

“And they were built after a manner that they were exceedingly tight, even that they would hold water like unto a dish; and the bottom thereof was tight like unto a dish; and the sides thereof were tight like unto a dish; and the ends thereof were peaked; and the top thereof was tight like unto a dish; and the length thereof was the length of a tree… ‘And behold, O Lord, in them there is no light; whither shall we steer? And also we shall perish, for in them we cannot breathe, save it is the air which is in them; therefore we shall perish…’ And the Lord said unto the brother of Jared: Behold, thou shalt make a hole in the top, and also in the bottom; and when thou shalt suffer for air thou shalt unstop the hole and receive air. And if it be so that the water come in upon thee, behold, ye shall stop the hole, that ye may not perish in the flood… And the Lord said unto the brother of Jared: What will ye that I should do that ye may have light in your vessels? For behold, ye cannot have windows, for they will be dashed in pieces; neither shall ye take fire with you, for ye shall not go by the light of fire… “

God then touches 16 rocks, and they glow in the dark, and two are placed in each of the submarines so the Lamanites won’t have to spend a year in the dark getting to America.

Questions, anyone? Only about a million, but here are three:
  1. 1. What did they do about waste, both their own and the animals’? And why did they bring flocks and bees and fish with them? Noah was ordered to take animals on the Ark to preserve animal life on earth, as the Flood was earth-wide. No doubt Noah and his family got pretty tired of hauling the manure up to the top of the Ark and throwing it out the window, but at least the Bible makes it feasible by mentioning that detail. But why did the Lamanites need to bring animals? They couldn’t slaughter and eat them on the trip, as their book says there was no fire aboard the submarines, and the New World had no shortage of animals.
  2. 2. How did Jared’s brother know to ask about air, 600 years B.C.E.? There is no mention in the Bible of anyone fearing suffocation in enclosed spaces. Jonah didn’t mention being concerned about it when he was in the belly of the large fish. When American inventor David Bushnell built the submarine called The Turtle in 1775, he knew he would only be able to breathe in it for about 30 minutes, though he may or may not have known why; the understanding that humans exhale carbon dioxide was first made in 1756 by a Scottish chemist named Joseph Black. So Smith would have known about asphyxiation, but would Jared's pre-christian brother?
  3.  3. Since God had solved the light problem by touching some rocks, why not solve the air problem the same way? Why the stupid, ‘open the hatch, and if water comes in, close it and open the other hatch’ solution? Why not touch a stone and have it become an oxygen generator, such as the Soviets used on their space flights? Some oxygen generators produce light and heat as well as oxygen, which would have solved both problems Jared’s brother raised.
I know this is getting long, but I want to make one more point about Joseph Smith’s ‘glowing rocks.’ In point of fact, before he became the famous ‘prophet’ Joseph Smith, he had a certain familiarity with glowing rocks.

On March 20, 1826, in upstate New York, Joseph Smith was tried and convicted of being “a disorderly person and an imposter.” A con man.

The con went like this: People on the eastern seaboard in the early 1800s were convinced that pirate treasure and old gold mines were everywhere, if you just knew where to look. Smith convinced a farmer, Josiah Stowell, that by the use of his special stone he could ‘see’ treasure. He would place the stone in his stovepipe hat and hold the hat over his face, presumably to keep out the daylight and see which way the stone was indicating to look. Hard to imagine why Stowell would buy into this… if you had such a stone, why wouldn’t you simply use it for yourself? In any case, Smith worked for Stowell for several weeks, peering into his stone with his hat over his face and telling Stowell where to dig. Stowell found nothing, of course.

Which may be where the expression ‘talking out of your hat’ comes from.

If you’re interested, here are some of the links I used in preparing this material:
Record of Smith's trial
Scientific problems with the Book of Mormon
Mormons and Racism
"And it came to pass" and other BoM oddities 
BoM Place names and other problems

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