long ago ideas

“When we are tired, we are attacked by ideas we conquered long ago." - Friedrich Nietzsche. Long ago, Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery conquered false claims that the Book of Mormon was fiction or that it came through a stone in a hat. But these old claims have resurfaced in recent years. To conquer them again, we have to return to what Joseph and Oliver taught.

Thursday, May 10, 2018

Mesomania Magazine and the Sorenson translation resurfaces

[Note: while I'm out of the country, we're re-posting the most popular posts from the last few years]

You wouldn't believe how much material I have for this blog. Even if the Mesoamerican advocates stopped publishing altogether, I have a couple of years' worth of material already stacked up. But they continue to publish new stuff, and it's awesome. Obviously I can't cover everything, but sometimes, the material is so exquisite I can't pass it up.*

Yesterday, Mesomania Magazine (sometimes called Meridian Magazine) published a classic KnoWhy about the serpents in Jaredite times. I had some fun with this one at one of my other blogs. In case you missed it, go here.

Throughout 2016, Mesomania Magazine has been publishing these daily items on Book of Mormon topics. When they're not trying to foist Mesoamerica off onto members of the Church, they're pretty good. But they whenever possible, they promote Mesomania. That's why Mesomania Magazine republishes them.

It is not only Meridian that is completely devoted to Mesomania. So is Book of Mormon Central, the organization which generates these KnoWhys.

(For new readers, Book of Mormon Central is a front for the Ancient America Foundation, a long-time proponent of Mesoamerican theory. People have started referring to these daily entries as "no-wise" because of the contortions they go through to (i) cram the Book of Mormon into Mesoamerica and (ii) portray Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery as confused speculators who misled the Church about Cumorah.)

All year, I've offered to give an alternative perspective on the daily KnoWhy, but Book of Mormon Central has refused because it doesn't want its readers exposed to anything other than Mesomania. Book of Mormon Central purports to be a neutral scholarly site, but in reality it's a full-blown, 100% proponent of the two-Cumorahs theory and the Mesoamerica setting for the Book of Mormon. Consequently, for a while I commented on the most egregious examples of Mesomania, but readers of this blog now know how to spot them, so I let several pass without comment.

Yesterday's on serpents was just too absurd to ignore.

Today's is almost as good, as I discuss below.

Yesterday I also posted an observation about the burden of proof on the Cumorah issue. This was on my consensus blog, here.

Sorry to give you these links, but I'm trying to keep the blogs organized by theme.

Today's Mesomania KnoWhy appears in Mesomania Magazine here: http://ldsmag.com/why-did-riplakish-construct-a-beautiful-throne/This one pulls a fascinating sleight-of-hand you'll enjoy.

If you recall, early in this blog I identified one reason for Mesomania. LDS scholars and educators have been using the Sorenson translation of the Book of Mormon instead of the translation provided by Joseph Smith. Today's nowise is a great example of this.

Plus, it's a nice example of the illusory "correspondences" we see in all the Mesomania-inspired interpretation of the text.

The no-wise starts out by accurately quoting Ether 10:6, "And he did erect him an exceedingly beautiful throne." But in no time, this is retranslated as a "stone" throne. It's not even a subtle transition. Look at this paragraph:

Riplakish, the tenth Jaredite king, was a vain and wicked ruler who “did erect him an exceedingly beautiful throne” (Ether 10:6).[1] While it is difficult to determine the exact timing, it is safe to say that this story about an extravagant throne dates to very early on in pre-Columbian America.[2] LDS archaeologist John E. Clark confirms that: “The earliest civilization in Mesoamerica is known for its elaborate stone thrones.”

Unless you're reading through Mesomania lenses, the text says nothing about stone thrones. The Book of Mormon refers to a "throne" in 23 verses. Most of these are references to God's throne or generic thrones of various leaders. Only two thrones are described with adjectives.

Riplakish's throne in Ether 10:6 is "exceedingly beautiful."

Noah's throne in Mosiah 11:9 is part of the palace, described this way:
"And he also built him a spacious palace, and a throne in the midst thereof, all of which was of fine wood and was ornamented with gold and silver and with precious things."

So we have a throne and palace made of fine wood and ornamented with precious metals, and a throne that is "exceedingly beautiful."

That's it.

But in the Sorenson translation, as explained in today's no-wise, we have "thrones of stone... usually made out of a single, large, altar-like stone, ornamentally carved with three-dimensional depictions of the rulers themselves seated in cave-like openings... painted or otherwise adorned in 'brilliant colors.'"

The text says the throne was "exceedingly beautiful" but in the Sorenson translation, we have instead a "massive," "elaborate" throne that "depicted him as seated between the earth and the supernatural or divine realm." Here's what was involved with creating this throne: "The massive stones used to make these thrones and the Olmec’s colossal stone heads could weigh up to 40 tons, and were transported from as far as 90 km (about 56 miles)."

Not only that, but "To construct an 'exceedingly beautiful throne' required that Riplakish possess sufficient power to harness a massive labor force."

Wow. Later, I'll show what the text actually says about this "massive labor force," but for now, let's look at my favorite paragraph, the last one:

"The book of Ether’s overall portrayal of the construction of an elegant and elaborate throne very early in ancient American history is entirely correct, even though, as John E. Clark put it, “American prejudices against native tribes in Joseph’s day had no room for kings or their tyrannies.”21 This led Clark to ask, “How did Joseph Smith get this detail right?”22 However one wishes to answer that question, the study of early pre-Columbian thrones sheds considerable light on the story of Riplakish."

This would all be well and good except Joseph (or Moroni, or Ether) forgot to mention that Riplakish's throne was made out of stone. That's the detail that the Sorenson translation provides, as explained in this no-wise.

IOW, the "entirely correct" portrayal comes from Sorenson, not the Book of Mormon text. 

And you have to admire the conversion of the simple phrase "he did erect him an exceedingly beautiful throne" into "Ether’s overall portrayal of the construction of an elegant and elaborate throne very early in ancient American history."

There's no better example of Mesomania than this (although there is an overabundance of examples).

Now, regarding illusory correspondences.

I'm curious if there is any human society that did not feature a throne of some kind. Wikipedia notes that "Thrones were found throughout the canon of ancient furniture. The depiction of monarchs and deities as seated on chairs is a common topos in the iconography of the Ancient Near East."

The very first chapter of the Book of Mormon mentions thrones twice (1 Nephi 1:8, 14). The Isaiah passages in 2 Nephi refer to the throne of God and the throne of David. In Mosiah, we read about Noah's wooden throne. Additional thrones are mentioned in Alma and Ether.

I've pointed out before that the Mesomania-inspired arguments about correspondences follow this logic:

Nephites grew crops.
Mayans grew crops.
Therefore, Nephites were Mayans.

We're seeing the same thing here with thrones.

Jaredites had thrones.
Olmecs had thrones.
Therefore, Jaredites were Olmecs.

Except for one important point: the evidence of stone thrones in Mesoamerica contradicts what the text says, at least about Noah's wooden throne. 

Now, critics will say I shouldn't conflate the thrones of Noah and Riplakish. I'll address that below, but first, think about this. If you were Ether, or Moroni, how would you describe a stone throne that looked like the one depicted in the no-wise here:

What terms come to mind?

Massive? Definitely.
Colossal? Sure.
Elegant and elaborate? Maybe, but that's a stretch.

But "exceedingly beautiful?"
No way.
No way in a million years.

The no-wise itself says "Such thrones were usually made out of a single, large, altar-like stone, ornamentally carved with three-dimensional depictions of the rulers themselves seated in cave-like openings."

These Olmec "thrones of stone" were built for 350 years, according to the no-wise. Maybe some were painted, but of all the thrones mentioned in Ether, only this was "exceedingly beautiful." If you have Mesomania, it was more beautiful than all the similar thrones built over 350 years (or more).

It was exceptional.

What would Ether, or Moroni, find beautiful about such a stone throne? Would it be the image of Riplakish? Some other pagan depiction? Difficult to imagine. But it's not just beautiful, it's exceedingly beautiful. Something even Ether, or Moroni, would admire, despite the fact that Riplakish "did not do that which was right in the sight of the Lord."

The text tells us.

It was the "fine work."

The throne is described in Ether 10:6, but look at Ether 10:7. "Wherefore he did obtain all his fine work, yea, even his fine gold he did cause to be refined in prison; and all manner of fine workmanship he did cause to be wrought in prison."

This is actually another link between the thrones of Noah and Riplakish.

Mosiah 11:10: "10 And he also caused that his workmen should work all manner of fine work within the walls of the temple, of fine wood, and of copper, and of brass."

So here, in the only two description of thrones in the entire Book of Mormon, we have two kings having their subjects produce "fine work."

In fact, the text refers to "fine work" only four times, all within the same passages that describes the thrones of Noah and Riplakish:

Mosiah 11:8
8 And it came to pass that king Noah built many elegant and spacious buildings; and he ornamented them with fine work of wood, and of all manner of precious things, of gold, and of silver, and of iron, and of brass, and of ziff, and of copper;

Mosiah 11:10
10 And he also caused that his workmen should work all manner of fine work within the walls of the temple, of fine wood, and of copper, and of brass.

Ether 10:7
7 Wherefore he did obtain all his fine work, yea, even his fine gold he did cause to be refined in prison; and all manner of fine workmanship he did cause to be wrought in prison. And it came to pass that he did afflict the people with his whoredoms and abominations.

Ether 10:23
23 And they did work in all manner of ore, and they did make gold, and silver, and iron, and brass, and all manner of metals; and they did dig it out of the earth; wherefore, they did cast up mighty heaps of earth to get ore, of gold, and of silver, and of iron, and of copper. And they did work all manner of fine work.

Is it really unreasonable to infer from the Ether passages that the "fine work" related back to the "exceedingly beautiful" throne?

As used in the text, "fine work" involves wood and precious metals, all in connection with the only two thrones described in the text.

But according to the Sorenson translation, Joseph made a mistake. He should have explained that these were actually stone thrones, because... because Mesomania.

I suppose we can excuse Joseph for this oversight. After all, he made an even bigger mistake, because the Hill Cumorah is in southern Mexico, right?

The most appalling aspect of these Mesomania no-wise is not thatMesomania Magazine republishes them under the url "ldsmag.com" right next to faith-sustaining articles on other topics, but that LDS scholars and educators continue to perpetuate the false narrative that Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery misled the Church on such a fundamental question as the location of Cumorah. 

*Obviously, if LDS scholars and educators ever decided to jettison their two-Cumorah theory to return to what the prophets and apostles have always said about Cumorah, I'd stop writing about this topic.

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