Tuesday, 5 February 2008

Oh, this should be fun.

Anyone who's spent any time at all defending the Book of Mormon against dedicated unbelievers will, sooner rather than later, have come across the statement that "there have been more than 3,900 changes in the Book of Mormon since the 1830 edition!" Unfortunately, I have never before found anyone willing to tell me what those changes, exactly, are. If Joseph Smith used 'cherubims' instead of 'cherubim' as the plural, that's hardly earth-shaking.

But now, O joy of joys, I've been handed a website purporting to list the "Significant Changes in the Book of Mormon". It starts off by telling us of the Church's claim that "such changes as were made were made by the prophet Joseph Smith because under those adverse conditions the Book of Mormon was published. But there was no change of doctrine." That's perfectly reasonable. But, according to the website, "Although there are 3,913+ changes in the Book of Mormon; not all of them are minor." Why, then, let us see these non-minor changes.

Their first list is entitled 'Doctrinal Problems'. Let's see now:

Item 1: The title page. This is the well-documented change from 'Joseph Smith, jr., author and proprietor' to 'translated by Joseph Smith, jr.' Can it be that there are still people who don't know that this is a copyright issue -- that 'author and proprietor' was the standard phrase used to secure the rights to a book? Moving on.

Items 2-5: All of these are changes from 'God' to 'Son of God'. There's some variation -- 'Son of the Eternal Father' in two cases, 'Son of the Everlasting God' in another -- but it's all the same theme. Interestingly, all four of these are from 1 Nephi, and the issue doesn't come up again. Even better -- three of them are from the same vision in 1 Nephi 11. I count six instances of 'Son of God' in that chapter, and one of them (v. 24) lies between two of the changes. Could Nephi not make his mind up? Far more likely that he missed words out in his haste, or simply used awkward phrasing. One of their examples, v. 21, reads 'Behold the Lamb of God, yea, even the [Son of the] Eternal Father'. Even if we ignore the fact that Christ is the Father of the faithful, could not the 1830 version mean, 'the Lamb of God, which God is the Eternal Father'? The sentence refers back to the last noun used -- is that 'God' or 'Lamb of God'? Well, I don't know, I'm not Nephi.

Item 6: 'and the mean man boweth [not] down, and the great man humbleth himself not'. This is one of the Isaiah chapters, 2 Nephi 12, and both instances of 'not' are absent in the original (Isaiah 2:9). In this verse, the [not] is clearly supposed to be there -- it gives a nicely balanced phrase ('the mean man boweth not down, and the great man humbleth himself not, therefore, forgive him not'). This is clearly a simple scribal error. Again.

Item 7: A change from 'white and delightsome' to 'pure and delightsome'. Given that 'white' is used as a synonym for and an image of 'pure' pretty much everywhere in the scriptures ('pure as driven snow', anyone?), I would argue that this is a change designed to preserve the meaning -- indeed, to clarify it -- while removing possible unsavoury overtones brought about by the word choice. It's not a 'doctrinal change'.

Item 8: Another scribal error, insertion of 'of' into a sentence. You can check the list for details, but it's clearly an error; it's a subject addressed countless times before this instance.

Item 9: This is an interesting one. It's an entire phrase which vanished for the 1950 edition, but reappeared in the current version, back in its original form. It's not a terribly important phrase, either, really. I'd need to do some more research to be sure on this, but I suspect it's simply a printer's error -- if the phrase in question falls neatly between two lines in the 1950 edition, which I suspect it will, this is simply a case of someone skipping over them while laying the type.

Item 10: Another interesting one. Half a verse is simply absent in the 1830 edition. But the first edition of any book has errors (I own a copy of an Arthur C. Clarke book which, on the cover, proclaims itself to be called 'AThe City and the Stars', inserting an extra 'A' at the beginning of the title), and I suspect this is the same as Item 9 -- a line was skipped over in the original version, and added back in in the very next edition.

Items 11-12: These are both the same change in separate verses; it's a change of 'directors' into 'interpreters', referring to the Urim and Thummim. This is an interesting one, because the description of them states, "I will prepare... a stone... that I may discover unto my people... the works of their brethren, yea, their secret works." In this case, I'd think that 'directors' is actually the more appropriate word. But the Urim and Thummim are best known for being interpreters; I'd have to know when this change was made to know why, but both readings seem to me 'correct'.

So much for the "profound changes in doctrine" predicted by the page. Let's see if their second list, entitled "Major errors in logic, consistency or grammar," does any better.

Item 1: 'King Benjamin' changed to 'King Mosiah'. I'm putting this down to the scribe Oliver Cowdery slipping up (or maybe the printers, though that's less likely). This is in Mosiah 21:28, when neither Mosiah or Benjamin have been heard of in more than a dozen chapters. Their last mention is brief, with Mosiah taking the throne. If Oliver was on form, he probably remembered that Benjamin was king in Zarahemla, and just put the wrong name down. We don't know.

Item 2: "Wrecked" replaced with "racked". That's just a typo, it really is.

In fact... Item 3 is a change from 'arrest' to 'wrest', 4 and 5 are verb forms, and 6 -- o! nitpick! -- is 'who' for 'whom'. According to the blurb at the top, "Typos are one thing, ...major errors in consistency and common sense are quite another," so why are they citing typos as major errors? Putting "fell" instead of "fallen" is hardly a major error. Moving on.

Item 7: Captain Moroni waving the "rent of his garment" becomes "the rent part of his garment". Unfortunately, the objection to this change betrays the website's author's lack of familiarity with Hebrew. I quote from Jeff Lindsay, who's quoting from elsewhere to say that:

When the word "rent" is used as a noun in English, it may refer to a hole caused by rending, but not, to my knowledge, to a portion of rent cloth; the unlikely usage of "rent" in English as a noun no doubt contributed to the fact that, in subsequent editions of the Book of Mormon, it was changed to read "rent part" (Alma 46:19). But the Hebrews would, in this instance, use but one word, qera', "rent (part)," coming from qara', "he rent, tore," for nouns, in Hebrews, are derived from roots--as are Hebrews verbs--by the addition of certain vowel patterns that distinguish them from other parts of speech.

Oops, little website.

Item 8: This is a change from 'diseases which was subsequent to men' to 'diseases to which men were subject'. Now I can't prove this, but (ignoring the word 'was' for 'were') we seem to have here a use of 'subsequent' to mean 'able to affect'. Subsequent has the sense of 'following, in time', and is related to 'consequent', 'following as a result of interference or natural effect', which is related to 'consequences'. In light of the 'natural effect' line, the fact that the section in full reads 'to which men were subject by the nature of the climate' begins to look suspiciously apt. I don't know 170-year-old American English, or the upstate New York dialects thereof, but I wouldn't be surprised if either subsequent or the related consequent were actually linguistically (or dialectically) appropriate in this use.

Item 9: 'Ammon' used in place of 'Ammoron'. Simple typo.

That's the end of the list. They go on to cover six 'just plain strange things' that were not removed from the BoM, running from Jacob's use of 'adieu' (perhaps they would prefer 'Brethren, I trust you into the arms of God'? This is a word in use in English at the time of Joseph Smith; remember, there are only about half a dozen non-name words rendered directly from the original language; everything in the Book of Mormon is translated. What's wrong with using French?) through some of Mormon's copying errors ('they buried their weapons of peace, or they buried the weapons of war for peace'), to the death scene of Shiz (which would take too long to explain -- suffice to say that if Coriantumr cut off the top of Shiz's head rather than the whole thing, the death scene is very plausible), but I'm not here to explain every perceived error in the Book of Mormon -- I'd be here all year. I've done what I came here to do; their 'significant changes' have all, I hope, been adequately explained.

After all that, do you know how many changes they list? Twenty-one. Out of more than 3,900 alterations made, only twenty-one of them were 'significant'. I'd call that pretty good.

Friday, 1 February 2008

Suffer the little children to come unto me.

Woolworths withdraws 'Lolita' bed

Bedroom furniture for young girls with the brand name Lolita has been withdrawn by Woolworths following complaints from parents.

A parenting website said it was in "unbelievably bad taste" to give the bed the same name as a novel about a sexually precocious young girl.


I've already posted a rant elsewhere about how truly appalling this is (the store claim they "had no idea" about the connotations of the name. Even I knew instantly that it was a bad name, and I've had no contact with the book, ever), so I won't repeat myself. Instead I'll take this opportunity to look at this development in light of the scriptures.

I'll start off with Jeremiah 31. This is a prophetic chapter about the Last Days, specifically the gathering of Israel. As verse 31 states, it is the time when the Lord 'will make a new covenant with the house of Israel, and with the house of Judah'. So let's look at verse 29:

In those days shall they say no more, The fathers have eaten a sour grape, and the children's teeth are set on edge.

Note especially the no more in there; this is something that will be said right up until that point -- that the children are affected by the sins of their fathers. Considering the sinfulness of the world today (as Alma would term it, we have become 'carnal, sensual and devilish', see Alma 42:10), this does not bode well for our children. And we were warned, by the Saviour himself:

Take heed that ye despise not one of these little ones. (Matthew 18:10)

How better can we despise our children than to usher them into the ways of carnality as soon as we are able? The news article talks about other such incidents -- stationary with the Playboy bunny on, 'Little Miss Naughty' underclothes for pre-teen girls. This isn't an isolated incident -- this is a trend.

For behold that all little children are alive in Christ... (Moroni 8:22)

Children are sinless -- that's the message of the entirety of Moroni 8 -- but they will not always be so. Why would any caring parent burden their child with so much carnality that they cannot help but fall into sin once they reach the age of accountability? There can be no excuse for such behaviour -- none. And this isn't just me speaking: it's a commandment of God. We don't even have to rely on an interpretation of the Saviour's words recorded in Matthew:

I have commanded you to bring up your children in light and truth. (D&C 93:40)

So there it is. The Lord has spoken, and we are condemned if we disobey.

Is this a new problem? No, not at all. In 1831 -- only a year after the Church was founded -- the Lord spoke of his people at the time:

Now, I, the Lord, am not well pleased with the inhabitants of Zion, for... their children are also growing up in wickedness; they also seek not earnestly the riches of eternity, but their eyes are full of greediness. (D&C 68:31)

The Lord had specific condemnations of the people in Zion: their children were growing up in wickedness, and they themselves were greedy for material things. Now, nearly two centuries later, we find the same thing: our children are being corrupted because of greed; not ours, but that of the corporations around us. They will do anything to sell more junk to our children -- and if we accept the Lolita bed, or the Playboy pencil case, they will only think up something even worse.

The Saviour said, Suffer the little children to come unto me (Mark 10:14). Every time something like this comes up, we make that a little bit harder; we hold our precious children that tiny bit further away from him. Don't let's do that.