Category: Book of Mormon

Amazon’s take on the Book of Mormon has an algorithm for noting the “Statistically Improbably Phrases” in any given book. The idea is to look for word combinations that are uncommon generally but common in the book in the hope that this provides potential buyers some insight into what the book is about. Here are the ones for the Doubleday edition of the Book of Mormon:

Prophecy vs. History

Not too long ago, I stumbled across the PBS presentation of Jared Diamond’s book Guns, Germs, and Steel (2d ed. 1999). It reminded me of dealing with the book at college and enjoying the ideas presented and the sweeping take of world history that it offered. But while watching the presentation and contemplating the message of the book itself, I was reminded about how much Diamond’s whole analysis depends solely on inference from extremely scant historical evidence.[1]

Is Poverty Satanic?

One of the most important scriptural texts for the theological consideration of poverty is to be found in Alma 32. This chapter discusses Alma’s mission to the Zoramites. During a sermon on the hill Onidah, Alma is approached by a group of impoverished individuals who were “poor in heart, because of their poverty as to the things of the world” (v. 4). In effect, because of poverty and social exclusion, these people had become an ideal audience for Alma’s missionary efforts. So the question arises: Is poverty therefore a virtuous force, bringing people to Christ who would otherwise reject the gospel message?

Did Nephites ride horses?

In our recent tirades about the obvious evils of deer, it was noted , once again, that some scholars think that the horses mentioned in the Book of Mormon may not have been horses, but another hoofed animal. The common one that lives in the right place is similar to a deer. Unfortunately, such comments often are made in the context of how funny it is to think of riding deer into battle.


Yesterday at the Basilica of the Sacred Heart, here at Notre Dame, I attended a service of prayer and lamentation called “Tenebrae”, remembering the darkness of the night when Christ suffered in Gethsemane and was arrested, and anticipating his death. It closed with a final candle carried out, leaving us in complete darkness, and the congregation producing a loud noise, like the rolling of the stone to close the grave. Today I had a conversation with some friends, in which we reflected on the meaning of these events, and the difference in the darkness from a Mormon point of view.

Modern Gadiantons?

One last post, before my non-philosophical blogging stint is done. One thing I’ve thought of with recent events in the middle east was the parallels to the Book of Mormon. I know that’s not exactly an original point to make, but I think the Book of Mormon has a lot of parallels both regarding our enemies as well as how we act towards our enemies. Dan Peterson has long written about the strong parallels between the Gadianton movement and various guerilla movements and insurgencies. I’ve listened to him describe extensive parallels, for instance, between Mao’s insurgency in China and events in the Book of Mormon.

Savior and Destroyer

William Blake wrote two poems that are usually studied together. These two poems, titled “The Lamb” and “The Tyger” explore the idea that as the Lord God created these animals, He isolated his own (seemingly contradictory) characteristics of meekness and ferocity and imbued each of these creatures with one of them. William Blake is inviting us to ponder how the isolated characteristics of a lamb and a tiger can share the same space in the heart of divinity. I only mention these poems in order to recognize that the issues and questions I’m raising and discussing have been pondered since a long time ago by far greater minds. And perhaps by some rather silly ones as well.

Political Discourse

During this election season in the U.S., I have been troubled repeatedly by the tone of political discourse among my friends, in my community, on the internet, and in the mainstream media. I have been astonished by the extent to which the dominant motivation for political action has become hate. Most people I know are voting against a candidate for president, not in favor of ideas that might improve our country or the world. Last night, while reading in Alma 43 with my family, I perceived in the portrayal of Zerahemnah elements of both major candidates for president, and read with sadness the description of the then-wicked Lamanites — symbolic, in my account, of those who allow themselves to be manipulated by purveyors of hate. Consider the following passages (emphasis added): Zerahemnah appointed chief captains over the Lamanites, and they were all Amalekites and Zoramites. Now this he did that he might preserve their hatred towards the Nephites, that he…

Shameless Self-Promotion, or Thoughts on Writing an Apologetic Article

The most recent issue of the FARMS Review has arrived, and it finally contains my article, “‘Secret Combinations’: A Legal Analysis”. I actually wrote this article two years ago, so it has been a while in coming. It is fun to finally see it in print. The article is essentially apologetic. I am trying to respond to the claim that the phrase “secret combinationâ€? was exclusively associated with Masonry in Joseph Smith’s time and that as author of the Book of Mormon Joseph was producing, among other things, an anti-Masonic pamphlet. The real question, of course, is why I would bother with such a project in the first place.

Book of Mormon (Doubleday)

About two weeks ago, the Church announced that Doubleday would be publishing a new edition of the Book of Mormon for general readers. How does it differ from the one that you and I use? “The new hardcover edition will reflect design changes introduced by Doubleday to make the volume more easily read and understood by a non-Mormon audience, but will remain faithful to the text itself. For example, the new edition will not include the exhaustive cross-references and index included in the volume used by Church members.” The list price of this new book is $24.95 (though you can pre-order on Amazon for $16.97). Hmm … less for more. Not the usual marketing pitch, but Sheri Dew, who played a crucial role in getting the project off the ground, believes that the new book fills a niche: The purpose of this project is to extend the reach of the Book of Mormon. I have wished a dozen times for…

Ambulation in Mosiah 4

Ambulation in Mosiah 4. Part 1. King Benjamin has infused his sermons with a theology heavily freighted with corporeal rhetoric. I mean by that, he preaches the gospel of Christ, and living the divine life, by using lots of sensory verbs–seeing, hearing, tasting–and lots of mental operations–believing, knowing, understanding, speaking, asking, rejoicing. He also uses lots of ambulatory verbs: such as walking, standing, running, wandering, falling. Rhetorical ambulation proceeds to itinerancy: travelling a path or taking a journey. I want to explore the significance of the ambulatory and itinerant images. (I haven’t a thesis, only a number of heuristic themes.) So, an informal meditation on a theology of ambulation, in two parts.


We are reading the Book of Mormon as a family, and last night we came to the story of Amulek and Zeezrom. Would it surprise you to learn that Zeezrom is my favorite character in the Book of Mormon? Of course, Zeezrom was a lawyer, who is described as “a man who was expert in the devices of the devil.” (Alma 11:21) At one point in the exchange with Amulek, Zeezrom attempts to purchase Amulek’s testimony against God, and Zeezrom fails. (Alma 11:22) But when Amulek describes spiritual death, “Zeezrom began to tremble.” (Alma 11:46) Then Alma jumps in, calls Zeezrom a liar and reads his mind — “Now Zeezrom, seeing that thou hast been taken in thy lying and craftiness, for thou hast not lied unto men only but thou hast lied unto God; for behold, he knows all thy thoughts, and thou seest that thy thoughts are made known unto us by his Spirit.” (Alma 12:3) At this…