Getting Cain and Gain

Abstract: The biblical etiology (story of origin) for the name “Cain” associates his name with the Hebrew verb qny/qnh, “to get,” “gain,” “acquire,” “create,” or “procreate” in a positive sense. A fuller form of this etiology, known to us indirectly through the Book of Mormon text and directly through the restored text of the Joseph Smith Translation, creates additional wordplay on “Cain” that associates his name with murder to “get gain.” This fuller narrative is thus also an etiology for organized evil—secret combinations “built up to get power and gain” (Ether 8:22–23; 11:15). The original etiology exerted a tremendous influence on Book of Mormon writers (e.g., Nephi, Jacob, Alma, Mormon, and Moroni) who frequently used allusions to this narrative and sometimes replicated the wordplay on “Cain” and “getting gain.” The fuller narrative seems to have exerted its greatest influence on Mormon and Moroni, who witnessed the destruction of their nation firsthand — destruction catalyzed by Cainitic secret combinations. Moroni, in particular, invokes the Cain etiology in describing the destruction of the Jaredites by secret combinations. The destruction of two nations by Cainitic secret combinations stand as two witnesses and a warning to latter-day Gentiles (and Israel) against building up these societies and allowing them to flourish. Continue reading

Psalm 82 in Contemporary Latter-day Saint Tradition

The nature and function of Psalm 82 has long been a subject of debate within biblical scholarship.1 The text is rather brief and has no real significant textual instabilities,2 but it stands out within the Hebrew Bible as a text particularly steeped in mythological imagery. Precritical exegetes understood the gods of the narrative to be human judges, but subsequent textual discoveries and concomitant lexicographical advances, combined with more critical methodologies, have largely undermined that reading.3 A divine assembly setting has become widely accepted since the middle of the twentieth century,4 and more contemporary scholarship focuses on the psalm’s possible distinction between yhwh and El,5 its literary form, and its historical contextualization.6 Continue reading

Why the Oxford English Dictionary (and not Webster’s 1828)

In order to properly consider possible meaning in the Book of Mormon (BofM), we must use the Oxford English Dictionary (OED). Royal Skousen opened the door to this approach,1 but unfortunately many have resisted accepting it as valid or have not understood the advantages inherent in it. The usual method of consulting Webster’s 1828 American Dictionary of the English Language has serious drawbacks. First, that approach is based on the incorrect assumption that the English language of the text is Joseph Smith’s own language or what he knew from reading the King James Bible (kjb). That incorrect assumption leads us to wrongly believe that nonbiblical lexical meaning in the BofM is to be sought in 1820s American English, or even perhaps from Smith making mistakes in his attempt to imitate biblical language (which is a canard). Second, by using Webster’s 1828 dictionary we can easily be led astray and form inaccurate judgments about old usage and we can miss possible meaning in the text. Continue reading

Say Now Shibboleth, or Maybe Cumorah

Abstract: The Deseret Alphabet represents a bold but failed attempt by 19th century LDS Church leaders to revolutionize English language orthography. As 21st century members of the LDS Church, we can benefit from this less than successful experiment by studying the 1869 Deseret Alphabet Book of Mormon and learning how early church members most likely pronounced Book of Mormon names. Continue reading

Sustaining the Brethren

Abstract: Believing Latter-day Saints hold different views about what it means to sustain the presiding Brethren of the Church. In this article, I outline some considerations that might be kept in mind as members of the Church evaluate their views on this vital topic and the Lord’s admonition to sustain the Brethren by their faith, prayers, and actions. Continue reading