Shulem, One of the King’s Principal Waiters

Abstract: Shulem is mentioned once in the Book of Abraham. All we are told about him is his name and title. Using onomastics, the study of names, and the study of titles, we can find out more about Shulem than would at first appear. The form of Shulem’s name is attested only at two times: the time period of Abraham and the time period of the Joseph Smith papyri. (Shulem thus constitutes a Book of Abraham bullseye.) If Joseph Smith had gotten the name from his environment, the name would have been Shillem. Continue reading

“From the Sea East Even to the Sea West”: Thoughts on a Proposed Book of Mormon Chiasm Describing Geography in Alma 22:27

Abstract: Jonathan Neville, an advocate of the “Heartland” geography setting for the Book of Mormon, claims to have identified a novel chiastic structure that begins in Alma 22:27. Neville argues that this chiasmus allows the reconstruction of a geography that stretches south to the Gulf of Mexico in the continental United States. One expert, Donald W. Parry, doubts the existence of a fine-tuned chiasmus in this verse. An analysis which assumes the presence of the chiasmus demonstrates that multiple internal difficulties result from such a reading. Neville’s reading requires two different “sea west” bodies of water: one “sea west” placed at the extreme north of the map and a second sea to the west of Lamanite lands, but neither is to the west of the Nephites’ land of Zarahemla. Neville’s own ideas also fail to meet the standards he demands of those who differ with him. These problems, when combined with other Book of Mormon textual evidence, make the geography based upon Neville’s reading of the putative chiasmus unviable. Continue reading

Alma — Young Man, Hidden Prophet

Abstract: The biographical introduction of Alma the Elder into the Book of Mormon narrative (Mosiah 17:2) also introduces the name Alma into the text for the first time, this in close juxtaposition with a description of Alma as a “young man.” The best explanation for the name Alma is that it derives from the Semitic term ǵlm (Hebrew ʿelem), “young man,” “youth,” “lad.” This suggests the strong probability of an intentional wordplay on the name Alma in the Book of Mormon’s underlying text: Alma became “[God’s] young man” or “servant.” Additional lexical connections between Mosiah 17:2 and Mosiah 14:1 (quoting Isaiah 53:1) suggest that Abinadi identified Alma as the one “to whom” or “upon whom” (ʿal-mî) the Lord was “reveal[ing]” his arm as Abinadi’s prophetic successor. Alma began his prophetic succession when he “believed” Abinadi’s report and pled with King Noah for Abinadi’s life. Forced to flee, Alma began his prophetic ministry “hidden” and “concealed” while writing the words of Abinadi and teaching them “privately.” The narrative’s dramatic emphasis on this aspect of Alma’s life suggests an additional thread of wordplay that exploits the homonymy between Alma and the Hebrew root *ʿlm, forms of which mean “to hide,” “conceal,” “be hidden,” “be concealed.” The richness of the wordplay and allusion revolving around Alma’s name in Mosiah 17–18 accentuates his importance as a prophetic figure and founder of the later Nephite church. Moreover, it suggests that Alma’s name was appropriate given the details of his life and that he lived up to the positive connotations latent in his name. Continue reading

Mormonism and the Scientific Persistence of Circles: Aristotle, Spacetime, and One Eternal Round

Abstract: The prominence of circles and circular motion has been one present in scientific discussion of the structure of the universe from Aristotle to Einstein. Development through Ptolemy, Copernicus and Kepler created elliptical variations, but in essence, the scientific community has been unable to break free of a certain degree of circular motion that ultimately seems fundamental to the very nature of the universe. Just as the circle featured prominently in Aristotle’s cosmology, it remains an integral aspect of reality, though perhaps it is more difficult to pick out in its present forms as planetary ellipses and curved space-time. In this paper I analyze the intellectual tradition surrounding the circle as a reflection of God’s eternal nature as discussed in Doctrine and Covenants 3:2. Essentially, I argue that the traditional Mormon conception of “one eternal round” is evidence of the eternal and divine nature of circles, which, the tradition indicates, is an inescapable feature of physical reality, and indicative of God and his purposes. Continue reading

Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dream Map: Part 2 of 2

Abstract: The Arabian Peninsula has provided a significant body of evidence related to the plausibility of Nephi’s account of the ancient journey made by Lehi’s family across Arabia. Relatively few critics have seriously considered the evidence, generally nitpicking at details and insisting that the evidences are insignificant. Recently more meaningful responses have been offered by well educated writers showing familiarity with the Arabian evidences and the Book of Mormon. They argue that Nephi’s account is not historical and any apparent evidence in its favor can be attributed to weak LDS apologetics coupled with Joseph’s use of modern sources such as a detailed map of Arabia that could provide the name Nahom, for example. Further, the entire body of Arabian evidence for the Book of Mormon is said to be irrelevant because Nephi’s subtle and pervasive incorporation of Exodus themes in his account proves the Book of Mormon is fiction. On this point we are to trust modern Bible scholarship (“Higher Criticism”) which allegedly shows that the book of Exodus wasn’t written until long after Nephi’s day and, in fact, tells a story that is mere pious fiction, fabricated during or after the Exile. Continue reading