Monday, June 25, 2007

Upon All the Ships of the Seas

I rarely post over on RfM (Recovery from Mormonism) any more because it's a little hostile for my tastes (meaning disagreement is more often met with name calling and accusations of being a mormon apologist troll than any kind of reasoned debate) I still drop in for the occasional nugget information or juicy news.

Tonight I found one that addresses one of my few unanswered Mormon questions.

The title of this post should link to Brent Metcalf's web site which I'd never visited before. It has an essay about an interesting passage in the Book of Mormon.

While I was on my mission in Bolivia I diligently read every doctrinal and historical church book I could get my hands on. I remember reading about 2 Nephi 12:16. What's so important about that verse? Nothing from a doctrinal standpoint, but when you compare it to its corresponding verse in Isaiah 2:16 you'll see that it adds a phrase. The King James Bible says:
And upon all the ships of Tarshish, and upon all pleasant pictures.
But the Book of Mormon says:
And upon all the ships of the sea, and upon all the ships of Tarshish, and upon all the pleasant pictures.
The footnote in the Mormon edition of the King James Bibles makes the following claim which I found quite compelling:
16a The Greek (Septuagint) has “ships of the sea.” The Hebrew has “ships of Tarshish.” The Book of Mormon has both, showing that the brass plates had lost neither phrase.
For those unfamiliar with Mormon doctrine and the Book of Mormon, the Book of Mormon extensively quotes from the book of Isaiah in the Bible and is almost word for word identical to the King James version. The Book of Mormon states that the passages come from plates of brass that Nephi stole from their Jewish caretaker in Jerusalem prior to leaving for the promised land. Therefore, one would expect it to be a close to the original writings of Isaiah. This verse seems like evidence that the Book of Mormon preserved an obscure phrase that was dropped over the years as a result of translation or transcribing or something.

If Joseph Smith were plagiarizing the Bible, the how in the world could he have known to add back in that phrase that the Septuagint had, but was missing from his edition of the Bible? He couldn't have, right? Surely an unschooled farm boy couldn't have done this.

That is the argument of the church's apologists and since it agrees with their preconceived conclusions they stop there and don't dig deeper.

As with so many other things Mormon, the answer is quite simple. Click on the Book of Mormon link over on the web site and you'll find a single essay by David P. Wright that provides a pretty straightforward explanation. Many bible commentaries of the time correctly explained that "ships of Tarshish" was commonly translated as ships of the sea and the proper noun "Tarshish" was commonly rendered as "sea" by translators.

To quote Wright's article:
The many pre-1829 editions of Thomas Scott's The Holy Bible Containing the Old and New Testaments (Philadelphia: 1810-12; New York: 1812-15; Boston: 1823-24, 1827) also cite Lowth's comment:
 [[   View the original source   ]] 'Ships of Tarshish signify in scripture, any trading or merchant ships: accordingly here the Septuagint render the words "ships of the sea," as our old English translation does: Ps. xlviii. 7.' (Lowth.)[16]
¶16 The appearance of this datum in so many printed sources indicates that it was not obscure, but relatively well-known. Joseph Smith could have learned about it from any one of these commentaries, or, as is far more likely, from sermons he heard or conversations he had on biblical subjects with those who might have known this particular Bible "fact." Smith may have come by this bit of information specifically via Methodist influence, since John Wesley's teachings provided the matrix for Methodism—a religion for which Smith had felt a passing affinity.
If I'd know this, I wouldn't have been at all impressed by his inserting a footnote into the proper text as if he was restoring an ancient text instead of merely repeating two redundant translations. Of course, I also didn't know that the Isaiah chapters quoted in the Book of Mormon are almost exactly the same chapters quoted in Ethan Smith's "View of the Hebrews" which appears to have contributed a significant number of ideas to the Book of Mormon.

In the end, this has been the pattern of my study of Mormonism. As a believing Mormon I came across items that seemed contradictory or troubling but put them on a shelf believing that they'd eventually be clarified or answered in the church's favor. But as I started studying non church sources I systematically discovered the lies, distortions, misrepresentations, half truths, and omissions of the church and found explanations for all the things that sat on my shelf of questions gathering dust. In the process I had to put some things on another shelf of things that seemed to support the church and that I didn't have an explanation for. That shelf was pretty bare and this is the last item left that I'm aware of. All my reading had taken care of everything else.

Remember, the truth has nothing to fear and distrust any person or organization that tries to limit your information.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Taking a Break

I haven't posted much lately. Things have been hectic, but they always are so that's not really much of an excuse. I guess I just haven't felt a need to share.

I was talking to my sister the other day and she informed me that a couple of her friends missed the posts and want me to post more, just not about running. So I guess I'll apologize for boring you with the details of my running. I understand that it may seem irrelevant or boring, but it is actually quite important to me on a number of levels.

First, I only have one body and everything depends on it working properly. Running has cured my high blood pressure and helped relieve day to day stress. I also suffer from migraines which comes with an associated elevated risk of stroke so maintaining good cardiovascular fitness is important to protect by brain.

Second, it helps meet my need for competition. I'm only competing against myself, but that's enough. Having goals drives me to train and gives purpose to the training. It's disappointing when result don't come, but when I have a breakthrough race like I did in my last race of the season it feels great.

I don't think I wrote about it, but on May 19 I ran a 5k around the Texas state capitol. I averaged 7:36 per mile and beat my personal record by a minute and a half. I followed that up about an hour later by running the Congress Avenue Mile. My mile was relatively slow because my legs were shot from the 5k, but I'm still excited by my 5k performance a month later. But after I finished I realized that I needed to take a break. My hips hurt, I had sharp shooting pains in my right shin, my right foot was sore again and had started having shooting pains in the ball, and my hamstrings were very tight and tender. I'd started my marathon training at the beginning of August and trained hard with only a week break after the Dallas Marathon in December and two weeks after the Austin Marathon in February. I'd exceeded all of my goals, but now my body was starting to break down and needed a break.

So I actually haven't run since before Memorial Day. It's only been a little over 3 weeks, but it feels like forever. Am I really a runner? I don't feel any compulsion to put on my shoes and go out for run. In fact, I'm appreciating having a little bit more time each day. Part of me dreads starting running again but not for the reason you might think. I enjoy running, but I'm afraid that I'll be so out of shape that it won't feel good and that I'll be nearly starting over. Plus, I still have my niggling aches and pains.

I received notification that I didn't get a lottery spot in the New York Marathon so my winter marathon plans are up in the air but I'm thinking of doing the Marathons of Texas series and doing Dallas in December, Houston in January, and Austin in February. Regardless I won't start marathon training again until after Labor Day. Between now and then it will all be about losing weight, regaining flexibility, doing some strength training, and having an enjoyable summer.

Saturday, June 02, 2007

Islam and World Peace

I finally finished my book on Islam and thought I'd follow up on what I learned.

The book met my expectations because it clearly articulated a belief system that is appealing and attractive and helped me understand why many good people can believe in Islam. As long as I restrained my critical thinking and an instinct to mentally rebut what he was saying I found myself agreeing with a lot of his philosophy and doctrine. In fact, at one point what he was saying resonated to the point where I felt that he was teaching a universal truth that would be helpful for me to follow.

It's tough for me to review an audio book because I have no text to refer to and as a result I'm really relating my recollections and what I received and perhaps not what the author originally intended, but I'll briefly relate the key points.

The author clearly and repeatedly stated that no follower of Islam would ever use violence or coercion or harm another person. Despite the teachings in the Koran and Hadith that can be used to justify violence, he believes that true Jihad is a spiritual battle using the spiritual tools of the teachings of the Koran to help each person conquer their natural "monkey man" and exemplify the divine attributes of God. This strongly follows Paul's teaching that the natural man is an enemy to God that must be conquered and also reminiscent of Paul's whole armor of the Gospel.

So, the whole point of Islam is to follow certain practices that aid people to overcome their 4 trillion and 10 thousand base attributes and learn to have the attributes of God. The author repeatedly used such numbers, but I suspect that this is shared by the Bible where numbers are not meant literally but figuratively. Anyway, some of the practices include certain declarations of belief such as that there is only one God and that Mohammed is his messenger. Another is praying 5 times a day. Another is to fast. Another is to pay alms. And others that I can't recall. It doesn't really matter to me; the point is that the practices are to serve as a constant reminder of an ideal that you are trying to achieve.

As I was listening I was strongly reminded of the appeal of religion. First and foremost is the belief in an idealized being who is perfect in every way. This belief in perfection is very important because it is the measure by which we judge good and evil and that is the ideal to which we aspire. Mormons capture this in their belief that our ultimate goal is to be perfect like God and to eternally progress until we become gods ourselves. While this is heresy to some, it mirrors what I think is a core belief for devout religious people: God is a model of perfection that we try to follow in our lives.

This lead to a realization on my part. I feel like my loss of faith in Mormonism and a personal God has left me somewhat adrift and cut off from the one part of my religious life that I valued. I realized that I still valued that and that there was no need to lose it. The only thing that has changed is a realization that I can't rely on authorities, whether they be sacred books such as the Bible or Koran, or people such as Abraham or Mohammed or Joseph Smith or a pope or a pastor to set my ideals. Those may be useful sources, but I believe that rationalism, evidence, and reason need to be the basis of my ideals. This leaves me free to draw on the strengths of the worlds great thinkers and religions and also to reject their errors. Along with that freedom comes the burden of accepting responsibility for my own beliefs; I can no longer say I believe because of my book or my prophet, it has to make sense to me. I think that religious people vilify atheists because they think that along with rejecting God they've also rejected the ideals that God represents for them. At least in my case, that is not the case. I've rejected some ideals that are unjustifiable, such as that coffee drinking is a sin, but retained others such as that we should treat others the way we'd like to be treated.

In that context, the five daily prayers of Muslims makes a lot of sense, not in a literal sense, but in a figurative way. It is a call to regularly form in our mind an ideal of what we would like to be and then to reach out to that regularly throughout the day in an appeal to try to conform to what we want to be. For me, that would mean to control my anger, to try to have more empathy for others, and to work toward my goals instead of getting distracted. For you it might be something completely different. If God represents our personal ideals, then regularly touching base with those core beliefs throughout the day would seem to be a good thing. I think that for me this would be more a meditation or perhaps some time of cognitive behavioral therapy, but I think it would be a good thing and make me a better person.

The best analogy I can think of in my personal life is weight loss. I have in my mind an ideal body composition that I'd like to attain. I know what it takes to lose weight, but I've only ever been successful when I log every calorie I eat every day. What essentially happens is that the logging make me very conscious of all of my eating. I have limited calories each day and try to make them count. Every bite involves a conscious decision because I have to log it. The goal is my ideal and life becomes a journey of changing my life to meet that ideal. The process takes something that is otherwise impossible for me and sets me on a long term journey of personal transformation.

Anyway, I can now see both sides of Islam. It's very clear that it can be used to justify horrific human behavior. It is equally clear that at least some Muslims are horrified at the atrocities committed in the name of Allah and that they believe that such things are completely incompatible with the true nature of God and Islam. I hope that the latter group grows stronger in the same way that Judaism and Christianity have mostly moved past their violent pasts to become more moderate and compassionate religions.

One last interesting observation was the very Mormon belief of the author that Islam is a superset of all the good of all the religions of the world. For him a good Jew or Christian or Hindu is practicing Islam because they are trying to be peaceful and godlike. To him since there is only one God that he calls Allah, everyone is really worshiping the one true God. This is very like Mormons who believe that all religions of the world have a part of the truth, but the complete and pure truth is only found within Mormonism. The only difference is that he thinks that everyone will ultimately follow Allah and Mohammed and Mormons think that ultimately everyone will follow the Godhead and Joseph Smith. My belief is that they are all wrong and that ultimately everyone has to be accountable for forming their ideals as best they can and trying to live them as well as they can.

Full of It

It seems that when I occasionally post over on RfM my alias is misinterpreted as indicating what I'm full of. It really doesn't bother me since I was raised in a very literalist Mormon household by a father who was a devout John Bircher and lover of unorthodox thinking. So I'm used to being an oddball and an outsider.

But that's not why I call myself Bull. That moniker was applied by one of my employees who loved giving everyone a nickname. The guy with allergy problems was Hack because he was constantly hacking up his phlegm. I became Bull when I showed up at work with a shaved head because I reminded him of the giant, shaved-headed bailiff on the TV show Night Court. I thought it beat the nickname I picked up in junior high (Jimmy, after the peanut farming former president) and I've used it ever since. The nickname probably fits in a number of other ways such as my physique and my direct approach toward handling problems.