Sunday, December 26, 2010

Does Chiasmus Prove the Book of Mormon is True?

Chiasmus is a literary technique in which either words, ideas, or grammatical structures are repeated in an inverted way. In 1787, Anglican bishop Robert Lowth discovered that chiasmus is used in the Bible. For example, in Matthew 19:30 the words "first" and "last" get repeated in reverse order:

  But many that are first
      shall be last;
      and the last
  shall be first.

Another example is found in Psalms 124:7 where the words "escaped" and "snare" create an inverted parallelism:

  Our soul is escaped as a bird
      out of the snare of the fowlers:
      the snare is broken,
  and we are escaped.

Chiasmus can be unintentional at times, but there are other instances where it's obviously done on purpose, such as in Isaiah 6:10:

  Make the heart of this people fat,
      and make their ears heavy,
        and shut their eyes;
        lest they see with their eyes,
      and hear with their ears,
  and understand with their heart, and convert, and be healed.

Here, the pattern is heart, ears, eyes, eyes, ears, heart.

In the late 1960's, John W. Welch, the founder of the Mormon apologetic group Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies (FARMS), discovered that there is chiasmus in the Book of Mormon. For example, Mosiah 5:10-12:

 And now . . . whosoever shall not take upon him the name of Christ
    must be called by some other name;
      therefore, he findeth himself on the left hand of God.
        I would that ye should remember also, that this is the name . . .
          that never should be blotted out,
            except it be through transgression;
            therefore, take heed that ye do not transgress,
          that the name be not blotted out of your hearts . . .
        I would that ye should remember to retain the name . . .
      that ye are not found on the left hand of God,
    but that ye hear and know the voice by which ye shall be called,
 and also, the name by which he shall call you.

Welch claims that it would have been very unlikely for Joseph Smith, who produced the Book of Mormon, to have known about chiasmus, therefor, the existence of chiasmus in the Book of Mormon proves that Joseph Smith didn't write it.

Does this mean that the Book of Mormon really was written by ancient Jews living on the American continent?

In his book, Early Mormonism and the Magic World View, D. Michael Quinn obliterates Welch's claims in a footnote. Quinn points out that Robert Lowth's study of chiasmus in the Bible from 1787 was available in an American edition by 1815, well before the 1830 publication of the Book of Mormon. Welch himself admits this in his 1970 master's thesis, although he hasn't acknowledged it since.

Chiasmus received much more recognition with the first American edition of Thomas Hartwell Horne's Introduction To the Critical Study and Knowledge of the Holy Scriptures in 1825. Not only was Horne's book advertised in Palmyra's newspaper (which Joseph Smith was known to have read), but the 1818 London edition of the book was for sale by 1820 in the Canandaigua Bookstore (which also had a lending library) only nine miles from Smith's home.

Far from being nearly impossible, Joseph Smith being aware of chiasmus is actually rather likely. He could have found out about it by going to a nearby library or bookstore, by noticing the advertisement in the newspaper he always read, or by having a conversation with someone who'd heard about it. Sorry John, but chiasmus does not prove the Book of Mormon is true.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Against Apion

In his book, Antiquities of the Jews, Flavius Josephus relates the history of the Jewish people from the creation of the world up to the time of the First Jewish Revolt against the Romans. The main source for his history is the Old Testament, although he also borrows from the Apocrypha as well as some other sources now lost to us. Understandably, there were many critics who doubted the historicity of his narrative. Josephus responded to his critics in a book titled Against Apion. This is his answer to those who doubt the story of Noah's ark:

Berosus shall be witness to what I say: he was by birth a Chaldean, well known by the learned, on account of his publication of the Chaldean books of astronomy and philosophy among the Greeks. This Berosus, therefore, following the most ancient records of that nation, gives us a history of the deluge of waters that then happened, and of the destruction of mankind thereby, and agrees with Moses's narration thereof. He also gives us an account of that ark wherein Noah, the origin of our race, was preserved, when it was brought to the highest part of the Armenian mountains; after which he gives us a catalogue of the posterity of Noah, and adds the years of their chronology, and at length comes down to Nabolassar, who was king of Babylon, and of the Chaldeans. (Against Apion Book I, 19)

There you have it, critics! Berosus says it happened and he's well known by the learned, so it must have happened!

To prove that the Jews really are an ancient people, Josephus quotes from several writers who mention Jews in history, including the following story from Hecateus which demonstrates the triumph of skepticism over psuedo-science:

As I was myself going to the Red Sea, there followed us a man, whose name was Mosollam; he was one of the Jewish horsemen who conducted us; he was a person of great courage, of a strong body, and by all allowed to be the most skillful archer that was either among the Greeks or barbarians. Now this man, as people were in great numbers passing along the road, and a certain augur was observing an augury by a bird, and requiring them all to stand still, inquired what they staid for. Hereupon the augur showed him the bird from whence he took his augury, and told him that if the bird staid where he was, they ought all to stand still; but that if he got up, and flew onward, they must go forward; but that if he flew backward, they must retire again. Mosollam made no reply, but drew his bow, and shot at the bird, and hit him, and killed him; and as the augur and some others were very angry, and wished imprecations upon him, he answered them thus: Why are you so mad as to take this most unhappy bird into your hands? for how can this bird give us any true information concerning our march, who could not foresee how to save himself? for had he been able to foreknow what was future, he would not have come to this place, but would have been afraid lest Mosollam the Jew should shoot at him, and kill him. (Against Apion Book I, 22)

Josephus doesn't get around to the titular Apion until Book II. Here, we learn about Apion's claim that the Jews worship the golden head of an ass. Josephus wittily replies that Apion has an ass heart:

Apion ought to have had a regard to these facts, unless he had himself had either an ass's heart or a dog's impudence; of such a dog I mean as they worship; for he had no other external reason for the lies he tells of us. (Against Apion Book II, 7)

Take that Apion! You're the one who worships animals, not us! You think we worship an ass? Well... you're an ass!

And say you so, sir! as I may reply; then does Apion load the ass, that is, himself, and lays on him a burden of fooleries and lies. (Against Apion Book II, 10)

In response to Apion's criticism of the Jewish practice of animal sacrifice, Josephus questions Apion's ethnicity:

However, he accuses us for sacrificing animals, and for abstaining from swine's flesh, and laughs at us for the circumcision of our privy members. Now as for our slaughter of tame animals for sacrifices, it is common to us and to all other men; but this Apion, by making it a crime to sacrifice them, demonstrates himself to be an Egyptian; for had he been either a Grecian or a Macedonian, [as he pretends to be,] he had not shown any uneasiness at it. [...] Yet if all men had followed the manners of the Egyptians, the world had certainly been made desolate as to mankind, but had been filled full of the wildest sort of brute beasts, which, because they suppose them to be gods, they carefully nourish. (Against Apion Book II, 14)

If we didn't perform animal sacrifice, the world would be so overrun with wild tame animals that mankind would be in danger of extinction! As a final coup de grâce, Josephus makes fun of the way Apion died:

Which makes me think that Apion is hereby justly punished for his casting such reproaches on the laws of his own country; for he was circumcised himself of necessity, on account of an ulcer in his privy member; and when he received no benefit by such circumcision, but his member became putrid, he died in great torment. (Against Apion Book II, 14)

Apion made fun of circumcision... and then he died from having one! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha!

Wow. Josephus was a jerk.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

The Body is a Temple

When the scriptures say the body is a temple, what do they mean by that? Jesus refers to his body as a temple, but it's not entirely clear why:

Then answered the Jews and said unto him, What sign shewest thou unto us, seeing that thou doest these things? Jesus answered and said unto them, Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up. Then said the Jews, Forty and six years was this temple in building , and wilt thou rear it up in three days? But he spake of the temple of his body. When therefore he was risen from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this unto them; and they believed the scripture, and the word which Jesus had said. - John 2:18-22

Paul uses the temple metaphor for the membership of the church as a whole:

Now therefore ye are no more strangers and foreigners, but fellowcitizens with the saints, and of the household of God; And are built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief corner stone; In whom all the building fitly framed together groweth unto an holy temple in the Lord: In whom ye also are builded together for an habitation of God through the Spirit. - Ephesians 2:19-22

Here Paul is addressing the church at Corinth, so the "you" is plural:

Know ye not that ye are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwelleth in you? If any man defile the temple of God, him shall God destroy; for the temple of God is holy, which temple ye are. - 1 Corinthians 3:16-17

So all the members of the church together form the temple and the Spirit of God dwells within. If that's the case, how does one defile the temple of God? One traditional interpretation is that tattoos and body piercing are forbidden. However, the Bible never forbids body piercing and only forbids tattoos indirectly in that they can be considered graven images. One could make the argument that since we are created in God's image, modifying our bodies is an insult to God (with the one notable exception of circumcision).

Another interpretation of the phrase is we should be physically fit. Smoking, drinking, over eating, and anything else that makes us less physically fit is a defilement of our bodies. We should make our bodies as perfect as possible through diet and exercise just as we would want our place of worship to be perfect and without flaw.

Other people think that when the scriptures compare our bodies to temples it means that abortion is forbidden. However, abortion is never condemned in the Bible (unless you count the Apocrypha).

My own theory about this phrase involves looking at when the scriptures were written. According to tradition, the Pauline epistles were written between 50-70 AD, however there's no evidence of their existence until the second century. If they are second century creations, the epistles were written after the Temple of Jerusalem was destroyed by Titus in 70 AD. The Temple was the only place where God was said to have dwelt.

Theology had to change once the Temple was destroyed. The practice of animal sacrifice was stopped. (Today, modern Jews argue whether the practice should continue if the Temple gets rebuilt.) Also, the idea that God dwelt only in the Temple had to change.

"Lift the stone and there you will find me. Split the wood and I am there." - Thomas 30

Now, instead of only being able to commune with God at the Temple in Jerusalem, Christian Jews could commune with God anywhere. God was no longer limited to a single building. Every member's body was now a temple. (Even if the epistles were written before the Temple was destroyed, the idea that God dwelt everywhere could have been arrived at by Christian Jews who were barred from the Temple.)

So my theory was that when early Christians speak of the body being a temple, they mean that you can worship God wherever you are. You don't have to go to a special building designed for worship. Wherever you go, God goes also. My theory might even be what the phrase originally meant, unfortunately it's not backed up by the scriptures as we have them today.

Flee fornication. Every sin that a man doeth is without the body; but he that committeth fornication sinneth against his own body. What? know ye not that your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost which is in you, which ye have of God, and ye are not your own? For ye are bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body, and in your spirit, which are God's. - 1 Corinthians 6:18–20

That's right. When Paul talks about the body being a temple, what he really means is that you shouldn't have sex. How disappointing.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

The Eye of the Needle

It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God. (Mark 10:25, Matthew 19:24, Luke 18:25)

When I first heard this phrase in Sunday school, I thought it was nothing more than a bit of hyperbole illustrating how difficult it is for a rich person to get into heaven. However, when I got to seminary, I was taught that this phrase actually referred to an anti-smuggling gate in the city wall of Jerusalem called "The Eye of the Needle" which was so narrow, a camel couldn't pass through unless you removed its packs. Victorian tourists to the Holy Land even claimed to have seen this gate.

The phrase suddenly made more sense. A rich man can enter heaven, he just has to leave all his possessions behind to do so. A variation of this explanation states that the camel can only pass through the gate on its knees like a repentant sinner. Some have said the phrase refers to a small gate for pedestrians on the side of the larger gate through which camels would pass. Some say the gate was only used at night. In another version, "eye of the needle" refers to a mountain pass so narrow that merchants had to dismount from their camels to get through. Another explanation is that it referred to ancient inns having small entrances to thwart thieves.

The problem with this explanation and all its variations, however, is that there's no evidence that such a gate ever existed. A gate to Jerusalem being called "the eye of the needle" is an urban legend which began in the Middle Ages.

So what does this phrase really mean? An explanation that's been put forth is that the Greek word for camel (kamilos) is a misprint of the Greek word for a ship's cable (kamêlos), which some late New Testament manuscripts actually use. Since dialects change over time, the two words probably would have been pronounced the same way at some point. A camel passing through the eye of a needle is pure nonsense, but someone trying to thread a needle with a large rope, while still nonsensical, at least makes more sense. A rope at least belongs to the same class of objects as a thread. This explanation is certainly possible, but is it the most probable?

Another possible explanation relies on the theory that the Gospels were originally Aramaic, not the Greek of all our surviving manuscripts. In Aramaic, the word for camel and rope are both spelled the same (גמלא). Since ropes were sometimes made of camel's hair, the Aramaic word "gamla" can mean either "camel" or "rope" depending on the context. Again, this is possible, but since the evidence for the Gospels originally being written in Aramaic or based on an Aramaic oral tradition is quite weak, this explanation is unlikely.

Some say that the needle spoken of in the phrase is a six inch carpet needle and "camel" refers to a rope made of camel hair. "A rich man getting into heaven is as easy as passing a rope through a big needle" doesn't sound so difficult.

All these explanation are interesting, but ultimately unnecessary. They're all based on the assumption that the phrase as it is can't be right. Is it really so hard to believe that there would be an ancient saying discussing a camel going through a needle's eye? We use sayings today that would seem quite nonsensical to people living a thousand years in the future. If we put this phrase in the context of other sayings of the time, it suddenly doesn't seem so out of place:

They [dreams] do not show a man a palm tree of gold, nor an elephant going through the eye of a needle. - Babylonian Talmud, Berakoth, 55b (i.e. Men only dream of things which are possible, not things which are impossible such as an elephant going through the eye of a needle.)

Rabbi Sheshith answered Rabbi Amram, "Maybe you are from the school at Pumbeditha, where they can make an elephant pass through the eye of a needle." - Baba Metzia 38b (i.e. Rabbi Amram is making an argument so convoluted that he's able to convince himself of the impossible.)

A needle's eye is not too narrow for two lovers, but the whole world is not wide enough for two enemies. - Solomon Ibn Gabirol, Mibhar HaPeninim, c.1050, #281

The Holy One said, open for me a door as big as a needle's eye and I will open for you a door through which may enter tents and [camels?] - Midrash Rabbah, The Song of Songs, 5.3

The largest animal in the regions where the Babylonian Talmud were written was the elephant. The elephant was virtually unknown in Israel, so the largest animal they would be familiar with is the camel. Basically what the phrase is saying is that it's impossible for the largest known animal to pass through the smallest known opening. Today, we'd say something like a rich man getting into heaven is like a whale slipping through a water purifier.

While the other explanations offered are possible, they are unnecessarily complicated. If the simplest explanation is most likely to be the correct one, then my initial Sunday school interpretation which took the phrase at face value is correct and we've come full circle.

"Slipping the rich through the eye of a needle is easy as getting a camel to heaven." - Meat Puppets