Saturday, November 29, 2014

My Comparison Is Better Than Yours

In What Are the Odds Brian H. argues that Smith copied the terms Cumorah and Moroni come from the Comoros Islands and its capital of Moroni.  Other posters made sure to remind Brian that the terms were not on any maps known during the time, nor are there any extant dime novels or sources that contain the terms. But I wanted to take a step back and discuss methodology and comparisons.  Outside of the military kind, I’m not very strong with theory, but I think this is a good description of why ancient comparisons are stronger than modern ones. 

I wanted to comment on methodological consistency. In order for critics to support a naturalistic origin of the BoM they must find all sorts of sources and documents that Smith was supposed to have read, memorized, and then recalled in bits and pieces. For example, I read a critical website which claimed Smith had enough knowledge to plagiarize from: Caesar, Frontinus, Procopius, multiple Irish Legends, The Venerable Bede, Jonathon Swift, Vegetius, Sunzi, Wu Chi, Emperor Maurice, Moorish Legend, the Irish Book of Invasions, The Aeneid by Virgil, Roman legends, Plutarch, Polybius, Livy, Cincinnatus, Josephus, Pliny the Elder, Augustine, Eusebius, Tacitus, The Iliad by Homer, Sallust, Thucydides, and Herodotus.

            So now we can add Captain Kidd to that.

            Though when a world renowned non Mormon Egyptologist sees a distinct connection between Pahor and Paanch in historical sources and Pahoran and Paanchi in the BoM, it is immediately discounted without a second thought. Or its discounted with some lame attempts to show its just a common Italian name, but I guess we can just add that right next to the Irish legends and accounts of Sullust.  

             As my graduate adviser used to say, any monkey can make comparisons, so many of these, even the ones which support Mormonism aren't very strong. DJB and others have certainly shown that is the case with the Captain Kid comparison. They might be weak on their own, but when you end up having hundreds of comparisons, and dozens of names attested in ancient sources from the warrior Tecum in the Popul Vuh, to Egyptian names like Pahor and Paanch (noted by an eminent non Mormon Egyptologist), to the Olmec Kish, to the city of Lamani, who then happen to exist in the same time and place as the BoM suggests; it becomes much stronger than doing a google book search for some nouns or phrases that Smith supposedly learned within his vast underground library, that he secretly committed to memory during his nights off as a day laborer, so he could quote them, one line at a time, at random moments while dictating an intricately complicated text without notes. The absurdity of this theory is shown in this excellent satire by Jeff Lindsey, called One Day in the Life. Modern day scholars with access to the best research libraries, ample amounts of free time, and access to even more information on the internet would have trouble doing that.

             So that is the problem with comparisons and why this theory is rather weak. A stronger theory, and what ancient comparisons have going for them, is that it is consistent with Smith translating an ancient text. So he didn't have to know a few dozen sources- a couple from Kidd, a couple from a Greek source, a couple from a Roman source, and so on- and then plagiarize them, he could simply translate using the power of God, and the ancient comparisons (person names, place names, cultural clues, societal information [see the Mesoamerican Custom of Smiting Off Arms on murals for example], geographical tidbits, and so on) are there because its an ancient text. So ancient comparisons end up making that theory sound more plausible, while modern comparisons or plagiarisms combined with what we know about the production of the BoM make it the theory seem even more absurd.

             And to answer your question about percentages, there are only so many sounds in the human language. So there is a fairly good chance that any two sounds from two different languages can sound familiar. Thanks.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Free Holiday Giveaway!

Greetings. It is that time of the year when most of you are stressing about presents.  So thought I would offer you a chance to have a White Christmas, but even a Bleached Christmas, with a free copy of my book Bleached Bones and Wicked Serpents, Ancient Warfare in the Book of Mormon. This is your chance to grab what has been called, "a must for anyone studying the Book of Mormon." The raffle begins on Wednesday the 19th and ends one week later.  The latter two options reset daily, because I know all of you will want to discuss this amazing deal on a daily basis! Good luck!
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Thursday, October 30, 2014

Thoughts on General Grant

[This is more of some unofficial consulting I did about the American Civil War general Ulysses Grant. I'm working on several fellowships and research grants in addition to my teaching and full time work, so it was a light month for research into the Book of Mormon. Though I do have a copy of my manuscript submitted to a publisher. I will describe that project in a later post and hopefully have something to report.] 

I don't have quite as much about Grant on hand.  He gets a bad rap because of his actions in Virginia in 1864. The combination of political pressure, hard to ford rivers, and a better opponent in Lee made him adopt frontal tactics that were incredibly bloody and exhausted his army. Though he still out maneuvered Lee, and  he didn't let tactical failures override his strategic objective of  eventually capturing Richmond.

His best campaign was in Vicksburg.  He crossed the Mississippi, detached from his supply line which gave him more maneuverability (and its something Sherman later did in capturing Atlanta), and then out maneuvered and defeated the rebel armies before investing the fort. He captured it a short time later.

He started his career capturing river forts in Tennessee.  There is a story I don't remember much, but he ran into an enemy detached early in his career. And he reportedly saw the look on the face of the enemy commander and recognized the sheer terror in his eyes.  So he realized that the enemy armies were just as afraid of enemy contact as he was at the time. He resolved there not to be afraid to take the fight to the enemy and attack, which is why the rest of his career was rather audacious and he was the commander that won the war. (I remember the story because I try to remember that as I'm dating- the ones that like me are just as nervous as I am to talk to them.)

Historiographically, its somewhat odd that the winner of the war is studied less than the losers like Lee and Stonewall Jackson. A part of that has to do with how Grant won in Virginia. His brutal frontal assaults are like the trenches of WWI and not very romantic. The lost cause mythos, where the south reinvented their generals as patron saints of lost causes also helps add to the aura of Lee. And Lee definitely sought out climatic Napoleonic battles to win the war, which just like Napoleon, are very fun to study.  But notice how Lee looked to the past to win, while Grant (and Sherman) ended up being a harbinger of the future and actually won.  

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Book of Mormon Guns

I came across at great post about guns at the group blog: By Common Consent. I got a good chuckle out of it.