Friday, March 20, 2009

The Missing Ingrediant in the Problem with Comparisons

I have had this post saved in my queue for quit awhile. I haven't posted it yet because I feel there is something missing. Without that missing part I am afraid this post is little more than semi inspired musings (the cynic might say that is all any blog post is, but I am trying to make this better than just a random blog). Being incredibly busy with real life and realizing the need to continue posting, I will post this anyway while begging your indulgence and asking your help for that missing ingredient. Hope you enjoy and help:

This addresses a methodological problem in Book of Mormon studies that I think is largely absent from comparisons of in warfare. Over at mormon matters I found this article (again sorry for no hyperlink, I am still not a techie):

The problem is stated in more scholarly terms by William Hamblin ("Sharper Than a Two Edged Sword" from Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought) and a few other places. What caught my attention at mormon matters was the comparison between Lord of the Rings and Star Wars. Both contain many similar items and yet because we have all seen both movies we know that George Lucas did not simply copy The Lord of the Rings. In the Hamblin and Mormon matters article they describe how both critics and defenders fall into this problem. Critics point many 19th century parallels while defenders point to Mesoamerican parallels. Hamblin goes one step further by providing the correct methodology in a logical proof. If the Book of Mormon is x than details of the Book of Mormon are being compared to y (19th Century American or Mesoamerica). But you should also include q. As in the Book of Mormon bears more resemblance to y than it does to q. In other words, the Book of Mormon is more similar to Mesoamerica than 19th century America. That prevents "parrallelmania" from taking hold where you can make a case that Star Wars is a direct rip off of The Lord of the Rings, or The Book of Mormon was plagiarized from The View of the Hebrews.

In warfare however, such concerns do not matter. The objective of most military theorists is provide principles that can be applied in a wide variety of situations. Thus principles of good generalship largely transcend cultural boundaries. The technology and limits of premodern warfare was also largely similar across cultural lines. (See Robert Hingham: A Military History of China chapter 1)Thus the writings of Sun Tzu are also generally good principles for Moroni, just as the writings of Vegetius, Frontinus, Maurice, B.H. Liddel Hart and Clausewitz. Some writers such as J.F.C. Fuller and Antione Henri Jomini go as far as to claim that warfare is a "science". Gravity applies to you no matter what time and place you live in the earth, thus the military "science" can be applied the same way.

So the military similarities in the Book of Mormon are a result of good generalship that transcends cultural boundaries. And the differences could result in either the poor leadership of the particular individual, or the exception to the rule that makes many theorists say that war is an art instead of science. In short: I feel this is one area where even the supposed mistakes augment the case for the historicity of the Book of Mormon.


Anonymous said...


I really appreciate what you're trying to do in the military history portion of the BofM. I would like to make a general comment about comparing the Book to 19th Century vs. MesoAmerica AS IF IT WERE A SECULAR HISTORICAL DOCUMENT. In that case, if the Book is closer to x than y, than its origin can be validly argued to come from x.

However, what the Book of Mormon actually asserts is that it is an ancient document that is brought to the 19th Century as part of a "vast angel-wing conspiracy" led by God to direct the course of history. So, presumably the "conspiracy" has a reason for picking the 19th Century and the means and motive to influence the receiving culture so it is receptive to the message. In that case, there is simply no way that comparisons to the 19th Century can establish or falsify the Book's assertions.

(The 19th Century can tell us whether the book is "sacred fiction" or outright hoax, but ONLY if one first falsifies its historicity.)

To examine the Book of Mormon's claims on its own terms means looking at the cultures of claimed origin. Because military science does have principles that cut across cultures, and theologians and religious historians are inclined to neglect it, your approach really has a value in opening wider an important window on issues of historicity and allow the theologians to understand the deeper spiritual messages of the Book better.

Morgan Deane said...

Thanks, you make a good point that has crossed my mind but failed to articulate. Basically, the Book of Mormon can still have 19th century influences while keeping its historicity. I thought Joseph Smith's translation process could have some influence on the book with destorying its credibility. But then, where do we make the distiniction between translator influence, Mormon's influence and what actually happened. Thanks for the comment, everybody is brining up good points that I will consist of an ongoing study.