Monday, October 24, 2016

Early Modern English, Freemasonry, and the Book of Mormon

I wanted to present a possible pathway for Early Modern English to have found its way into the Book of Mormon. Freemasonry contains an oral tradition dating back to the 1600s, and in its 19th century form contained at least some examples of Early Modern English (see below) . Passing through the degrees requires significant amounts of word-for-word memorization, which would provide a mechanism for preserving archaic language. Though there is no evidence that Joseph Smith passed through the degrees prior or during dictation of the Book of Mormon, there is a large body of evidence showing that he was familiar with at least some aspects of Freemasonry.

Enochian Legend and the Book of Mormon
The most important points of contact come in the Enochian legend from the 13th, 14th, and 21st (I think) degrees of Royal Arch Freemasonry. The legend has Enoch constructing a stone vault in Mount Moriah complete with arches, a brass pillar with the creation account written on it, another pillar, spheres/globes on the pillars containing the maps of the universe that also acted as oracles, a stone lid, and most importantly a gold plate preserving the name of God, which had originally been given to Adam. The purpose of the vault was to preserve divine knowledge past the coming flood. According to the legend, in the time of King Solomon, the vault was uncovered, and on top of a pillar was was found a book, which had the entire Gospel of John written in it.

If the parallels with the Book of Mormon haven't hit you over the head yet, early accounts of Joseph retrieving the gold plates include the stone lid having "arches" and the artifacts being on "pillars" (See Bruno presentation linked below). The liahona was a sphere that gave directions. The brass plates contained the books of Moses, of which Genesis contains the creation account. Joseph Smith found the gold plates in a stone box in a hill and restored ancient knowledge. That hill's name is cuMORAH, which is readily seen as related to MORIAH. Also, according to Nick Frederick's work, Joseph Smith's revelations are highly intertextual with the Gospel of John, and it could be argued that the Gospel of John is central to the theological exposition of the text. In the Book of Moses, Enoch learns the name of God in the "language of Adam." Scholars have been exploring these connections for over half a century, and there is more than what I've listed here (one recent example: Cheryl Bruno Presentation, and there are many before her including mentions in The Refiner's Fire and the infamous address by Reed C. Durham).

While there is no official record of Joseph's membership in a lodge, his brother Hyrum was a member and his father was possibly a member. More importantly, Joseph lived in the geographic vicinity of Batavia, NY, where the anti-Freemason movement of 1830s-50s began. William Morgan, a disaffected Freemason, was kidnapped in 1826 after threatening to publish masonic secrets (his wife joined the church in 1834 and became a plural wife of Joseph Smith soon after). This was the crime of the decade, a hot topic of conversation and press, and spurred the anti-Freemason movement. It seems plausible that in an environment such as this Joseph could have been exposed to Freemasonry without becoming an official member.

Freemasonry and Archaic Language
Despite not knowing exactly how Smith became influenced by Freemasonry, the possibility that it deeply affected him demands consideration in light of the heavy overlap between the Enochian legend and many elements from Joseph Smith's life including the Book of Mormon text, the book of Moses, and his interactions with the Book of Mormon artifacts. Grammar may be another area of overlap. Granted, I'm not a linguist, but reading an 1853 exposition of Masonic ceremony published in NY (https://babel.hathitrust.org/cgi/pt?id=nyp.33433075953525;view=1up;seq=7 ), it quickly becomes clear that the English is archaic to the time period. Following are some examples that I could pick out.

A few examples from the Entered Apprentice (first) degree:
  • "From whence came you?" p. 33
  • "I did not so recieve it, neither can I so impart it." p. 36
  • "What came you here to do?" p.38
  • "Where was you first prepared to be made a mason?" "Where was you secondly prepared?" "How did you know this to be a door, you being hood-winked?" p. 40
  • "How was you then disposed of?" p. 41
  • "What was you next presented with?" p. 43
  • "Finally, brethren, be ye of one mind..." p. 55
There are plenty more examples of "was you" throughout the questions of the degree ceremony. This is just a quick peek, and it's kind of late. We really need to see what the language was like in the 1820s, when I'm proposing Joseph somehow became familiar with Freemasonry. However, this is enough to establish that this is a valid line of inquiry and a potential path for Early Modern English to have made it into the Book of Mormon.

Archaic Language in Joseph's 1832 History
Finally, a small attestation that Joseph used archaic English in a non-revelatory setting can be found in the 1832 account of the first vision and coming forth of the Book of Mormon. After finishing the first vision account, Joseph switches from writing himself to dictating. At this point he begins to slip into scriptural language, including beholds, therefores, and it came to passes. The archaic grammar includes at least the following:
  • "there was plates of gold upon which there was engravings which was engraven by Maroni & his fathers"
  • "and found where the plates was deposited"
  • "I supposed it had been a dreem of Vision"
  • "therefore thou was left unto temptation that thou mightest be made accquainted with the power of the advisary"
  • "thou shalt obtain them"
http://www.josephsmithpapers.org/paper-summary/history-circa-summer-1832/4

Sunday, October 23, 2016

Shim, Shemer, and Olishem

Mount Moriah, according to Jewish/Christian tradition

Recently, I discovered intertextuality in place names in the Book of Mormon. Essentially, place names can be references to Biblical parallel locations.

Ramah
For example, the hill Ramah (the Jaredite name for the the hill Cumorah, where both the Jaredite and Nephite nations ended), can be read as an allusion to the city Ramah where the Benjamites were killed and/or carried away captive at the beginning of the Babylonian exile. The pertinent Old Testament verses are Jeremiah 31:15-17:

"15 ¶Thus saith the Lord; A voice was heard in Ramah, lamentation, and bitter weeping; Rahel weeping for her children refused to be comforted for her children, because they were not.
 16 Thus saith the Lord; Refrain thy voice from weeping, and thine eyes from tears: for thy work shall be rewarded, saith the Lord; and they shall come again from the land of the enemy.
 17 And there is hope in thine end, saith the Lord, that thy children shall come again to their own border."

Rahel weeping is a reference to Rachel, the wife of Jacob, mother of Benjamin and progenitor of the Benjamites, as it's the Benjamite's whose territory the city Ramah can be found in. So, hill Ramah + city of Ramah = places of destruction of covenant peoples = biblical allusion built into a place name in the book of Mormon.

Shim and Shemer
The hill Shim is another important hill in the Book of Mormon. It's where a collection of Nephite records were buried and where Mormon retrieved the Gold Plates when he was around the age of twenty four. It also plays a role in the Jaredite narrative. It's the hill that King Omer passes by as he and his family flee a civil war in Ether 9:3:

"3 And the Lord warned Omer in a dream that he should depart out of the land; wherefore Omer departed out of the land with his family, and traveled many days, and came over and passed by the hill of Shim, and came over by the place where the Nephites were destroyed, and from thence eastward, and came to a place which was called Ablom, by the seashore, and there he pitched his tent, and also his sons and his daughters, and all his household, save it were Jared and his family." 

This seems to be an allusion to the hill owned by Shemer, purchased by king Omri in 1 Kings 16:23-24:

" 23 ¶In the thirty and first year of Asa king of Judah began Omri to reign over Israel, twelve years: six years reigned he in Tirzah.
 24 And he bought the hill Samaria of Shemer for two talents of silver, and built on the hill, and called the name of the city which he built, after the name of Shemer, owner of the hill, Samaria."

So far, we have: 
  • Omri = Omer 
  • hill with owner and city named Shemer = hill Shim

If this wasn't enough there is a whole series of allusions throughout Ether 8-9 to 1 Kings 16:
  • Civil wars under both Omer's and Omri's reigns
    • 1 Kings 16:21: "half of the people followed Tibni the son of Ginath, to make him king; and half followed Omri")
    • Ether 8:1-3: "And it came to pass that he begat Omer, and Omer reigned in his stead. And Omer begat Jared; and Jared begat sons and daughters. And Jared rebelled against his father, and came and dwelt in the land of Heth. And it came to pass that he did flatter many people, because of his cunning words, until he had gained the half of the kingdom. And when he had gained the half of the kingdom he gave battle unto his father, and he did carry away his father into captivity, and did make him serve in captivity;
  • Secret combinations or conspiracy, which are condemned in the text.
    • 1 Kings 16:9-16: "And his servant Zimri, captain of half his chariots, conspired against him... 16 And the people that were encamped heard say, Zimri hath conspired, and hath also slain the king: wherefore all Israel made Omri, the captain of the host, king over Israel that day in the camp."
    • Ether 8-26.
    • Omer and Omri are on the opposite side of the conspiracy in both cases.

Cumorah and Moriah
Having put this much together, the next logical question is, what about Cumorah? That's the other prominent Book of Mormon hill name. Does it have some allusional meaning? Probably. 

If the hill Shim is a reference to the hill of Samaria and the city of Shemer, which is the city of Samaria, the capital of the northern kingdom of Israel, I propose Cumorah, the other prominent hill name, could be an allusion to Jerusalem, the capital of the southern kingdom. Traditionally, Solomon's temple was built on mount Moriah, where Abraham was to sacrifice Isaac. Others before me actually have already proposed this connection. The MORAH from Cumorah, being an allusion to MORIAH. This would be little to go on by itself, but it actually fits in with a large body of evidence that connects the Book of Mormon to a masonic legend about Enoch that Joseph Smith was likely familiar with, which includes a gold plate and some indecipherable hieroglyphics among other things. Scholars have been exploring these connections for over half a century (one recent example: Bruno Presentation, and there are many before her including mentions in The Refiner's Fire and the infamous address by Reed C. Durham). In the legend, Enoch places his gold plate in a stone vault in mount Moriah. 

Olishem and Ulisum
Alright, so now we've pretty safely established the intertextuality of at least a few place names (and one character name) in the Book of Mormon, but it gets better! There is another hill in the book of Abraham, the one where he was suppose to be sacrificed. It's called Potiphar's hill and it's at the head of the plain of Olishem. Did you catch that? Yes, we've got another Shem, this time Joseph's Egyptian version. Only this one isn't an allusion as far as I can tell. Instead, their is a chance that it represent an authentic location, Ulisum, in the correct time and place in which a figure like Abraham would have lived. Here is one example typifying the apologetic argument from Kerry Muhlestein, "Egyptian Papyri and the Book of Abraham: Some Questions and Answers," in Religious Educator 11, no. 1 (2010): 91–108:

"While critics pounce on what they see as anachronisms, what they ignore are textual elements that support an authentic Abrahamic context. Space permits only one example: Abraham mentions that the altar on which he was nearly sacrificed was located in a valley called Olishem. During Joseph Smith’s day, this name was completely unknown. However, since then an Egyptian text roughly contemporary with Abraham, which outlines geographic areas in the Levant, names an Olishem.[31] Further, this Olishem is in the same area as a likely candidate for the city Ur.[32]The odds that Joseph would make up a random name that happened to match a real ancient place in the correct time and region are extremely slight."

Critics argue superficial similarity and the chance that it's just the result of coincidence. If this was the only interesting parallel that Joseph hit on that, according to modern scholarship, wasn't available in the 19th century, we might overlook it. However, there are other features of the Book of Abraham like the narrative aspects of being an intended sacrifice and teaching astrology in Egypt that align with pseudepigrapha, and some of these aspects wouldn't have been known in Joseph Smith's time (just do a search Abraham apologetics and you'll find references to what I'm talking about). While, this doesn't convince me of historicity--we are talking pseudepigrapha here and there is the fact that Abraham is very possibly not a historical person to begin with--it certainly gives me pause.

When push comes to shove, I believe in revelation. I've experienced it in my life in many ways that have brought me closer to God. Beyond my own experience, we can read about the revelatory experiences of millions of people across cultures and throughout history, whose experiences may have not revealed historical truth, but certainly brought them closer to God (I know there are counter examples as well). So, if Joseph was somehow tapping into some spiritual knowledge through a creative process, likely unbeknownst to him, I don't want to pass up the potentially authentic experience with God that his revelations preserve just because I can dissect them for their 19th century context. Their underlying messages, the ability of man to commune with God and become like him, far outweigh any concerns I have over historicity, as I have experienced revelation and divinization through Joseph's teachings and revelations. At the very least, his revelations are worthy of study. They have inspired a significant religious movement that, in many ways though not all, is a productive and person-building tradition. They are also tightly organized with surprising features, as evidenced above, which show a little of the genius behind the creation. More on that in the future.