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Benjamin McGuire

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About Benjamin McGuire

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  • Birthday August 16

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  1. Rajah - In getting back to the OP, what makes your comparisons better than the ones in the article? How do you avoid parallelomania? How do you differentiate between corollaries that are meaningful and those that really are completely coincidental?
  2. Robert writes: Ryan responds with: I don't agree with Robert's conclusion here (really any of it). But on the assumption that he is right, it also makes no sense to me. After all, if the language is different enough that (as Carmack has argued) " The linguistic fingerprint of the Book of Mormon, in hundreds of different ways, is Early Modern English. Smith himself — out of a presumed idiosyncratic, quasi-biblical style — would not have translated and could not have translated the text into the form of the earliest text. Had his own language often found its way into the wording of the earliest text, its form would be very different from what we encounter." If this is true, then it means that the Book of Mormon is not a good, or a fluid translation, and it means that its first readers were not terribly competent readers. So what are we to make of a text that is lousy translation - and not just a lousy translation but one that would progressively become more and more difficult for its readers to understand? What is the purpose of this obsolete language in the text? One of the biggest problems that I have with much of these discussions is what Ryan does here. He tries to turn the issue towards the question of authenticity. I commented on this in my FairMormon presentation: Ben McGuire
  3. Clark writes: I can agree generally with this (at least to the point that I don't think we need to keep beating the nail with the hammer). I want to focus for a moment just on that last part. Unless a text has multiple authors working together at the same time, it isn't a multiple authored work in any practical sense. This is a view of a textual history which presupposes a complex work that has an editorial and redactive history. But that describes a series of texts which changes over time - it doesn't describe the text that is being read. The topic of the unity of Isaiah (or its disunity if you will) doesn't change the fact that we can read Isaiah with the expectation that it was written by a single author perhaps at a single point in time (and many people read it this way). I expect that if we were to look at a historical Nephi, he would have read Isaiah in this fashion (as a single author). We (as the audience) usually don't have access to the hypothetical audience that an author had in mind - this is more true when we are dealing with ancient history, and not really true at all when we are dealing with personal correspondence addressed to us personally. Regardless of the complexity of its sources, each new version of a text is authored at a certain point in time with certain understandings and expectations (which as you note don't have to resemble the expectations and understandings of the sources on which it is built). When we have real multiple authors of a text - when a text comes about not through editing and redaction, we fully expect that there is some communication and dialogue between the participants. This doesn't happen with these historical processes where the present author doesn't engage the original author - he only engages the text and constructs a hypothetical author. As Davidson notes in his essay "The Third Man": The idea that authors change is something that I believe (and discuss in that essay). In fact, in that essay, I argue that Nephi uses four narrative beginnings, one at the end of his writing - which functions as an invitation for us to re-read his writing with a new set of expectations. And as I describe Nephi's change over his lifetime: And then: Perhaps I should describe it as the "text-that-is-read" then. I think we are talking past each other. When you call Isaiah a complex work with multiple authors, you cannot easily say that Part A was written by author A, and Part B was written by author B, and so on. What we have is a fully formed text, not a text of parts. As Walter Bruggemann liked to point out, this is one of the challenges of textual criticism (from David and his Theologian) If we want to reduce the issue to one of simple intertextuality, then of course, there are no texts that aren't already a patchwork of many different authors and sources. But when we read Isaiah, if our objective is to identify the different authors and their points of view, we are no longer reading Isaiah, we are reading a series of hypothetical documents, none of which actually look like the text that we have in front of us. This is what I mean when I speak of the "text-that-is-read". It is not a text that has multiple authors even if the author that is responsible for it took much or even most of his material from historical sources. I hope that this makes sense to you. I agree with you completely here. Ben McGuire
  4. No, it doesn't. Part of the reason for this is that we can, from the record, identify much easier when something new enters the language. Often, we can pinpoint with some degree of certainty when something changes. The challenge is that a change in usage doesn't eliminate the record of past usage, or its meaning in popular understanding, which doesn't go away immediately, even if it becomes progressively less and less common in contemporary usage. Things do change more quickly when there is a strong shift in meaning, or the shift comes with a surge in frequency. Words like chauvinism for example, which changed dramatically in the mid 1970s is one example that I like - or perhaps we could go back to the 18th century poet who wrote: "The great creator raised his plastic arm." Where we might need now to consult a historical dictionary to understand its meaning. But, while we can identify a first usage in the written record as a starting point for a term or form, the last usage does not indicate that obsolescence has occurred. It not just about usage, but about how well it's understood. And inevitably we can find outliers for different usages in written material published long after the usage moves from current to archaic. The fact that we have the usage of archaic language as a rhetorical device makes this idea of obsolescence even more difficult to narrow down. So no, I don't agree that identifying first uses and obsolescence share the same constraints and limitations. Further - and this is also important in this discussion - there are many usages in EME that are identical to the same uses in ME. These are features of the English language that haven't become obsolete yet. So our distinction between ME and EME is one of parts, not of wholesale replacement. And as my presentation that I link to above points out, the approach that has been taken by Skousen and Carmack seems to put the proverbial cart before the horse. Ben McGuire
  5. You can read my presentation here: https://www.fairmormon.org/conference/august-2016/book-mormon-communicative-act I was, at the time, referring to Carmack's essay here: http://www.mormoninterpreter.com/joseph-smith-read-the-words/#more-8037 Carmack wrote: And: I agree that Carmack has never implied that there is a rhetorical purpose at all to the archaic language of the text. Some of my concluding remarks go like this: There is (at least in the context of what I am saying in this thread) this problem with the idea of audiences reading texts. If the Book of Mormon was produced for an audience, what does the use of EME tell us about the audience that the Book of Mormon is intended for? Ben McGuire
  6. I mean a couple of things. We can discuss English language usage in terms of its earliest usage (and Skousen does). We can go through the OED and look at what documentation exists for a specific kind of usage first appearing. But, what is much more difficult is looking for the latest usage. Skousen points to all of this EME in the Book of Mormon, but the problem is that we don't really care about when it first shows up, but rather, whether or not it would be understood at the time the Book of Mormon was published. It is much more difficult to put a date on when a usage would no longer be understood by English language speakers and readers. So the idea that EME appears in the Book of Mormon does not convince me in any way that the Book of Mormon text (or portions of it) originate in a time frame earlier than the 1828-1830 translation period. (This is another issue I bring up in my FAIR presentation on the translation of the Book of Mormon). So when we talk about the EME in the Book of Mormon, much of that EME still exists in ME. And even more would have still existed within the awareness of readers in 1830. And so we can talk about when specific words and usages enter the English language, but we usually cannot talk with any certainty about when they leave. My belief is that the Book of Mormon in translation uses archaic language as a rhetorical style, as a way of making the text as a whole mean something different. As I noted: Ben
  7. Clark writes: This just isn't true Clark. Authors have no control over who actually reads what they write, but they have absolute control over the hypothetical audience that they are writing for. Authors always write to some audience, even if the audience that they write for and to bears no resemblance to the real audience that eventually reads the material. I do go over this in that essay. The degree to which a real audience understands the text as intended by its author is to some extent the degree to which that audience resembles the hypothetical audience that the author is writing to. I write this: The author doesn't actually write to the real audience over which he has no control. At the same time, the question of composite authorship is not as meaningful as you suggest in this discussion. Why? Because we don't have the text as-it-was, we only have the text-as-it-is. And the meaning of the text can change dramatically as it goes through a complex history, but, we don't have the text in the form in which it starts (we can only speculate about this). When we deal with reader-response, we don't deal with the text in terms of how the reader is responding to the earlier forms of the text because the reader doesn't encounter them. We can discuss how the later editors/redactors/contributors function both as readers and as authors, but in the end the text that we have is the text that we encounter. We don't have to understand the complexity of the history of a text (and a textual tradition) to find meaning in a text. And in fact, it is likely that a person who believes that they understand the complexity of the textual tradition will read a text much differently than someone who has no clue. But, unless the author of a text was writing to someone who understands the complexity of the textual tradition, our understanding of that textual tradition doesn't necessarily make us better at reading the text and coming to the meaning intended by the final author(s) of the text. This is certainly true in places. The problem is that in 2 Nephi 26-27, where Nephi is quoting Isaiah, he also quotes Nephi. Here is 2 Nephi 26:14 -15 - This isn't Isaiah's prophecy, it is Nephi's prophecy. But in verse 15, we get Isaiah 29, right (starting with that bit from 29:3-4a)? We can reconstruct this from two sources - Isaiah 29 and 1 Nephi 13:34-25. And while a lot of this comes from Isaiah, we progress through the prophecy given to Nephi in 1 Nephi 13. the Lord God shall bring these things forth (2 Nephi 26:14) I will bring forth unto them (1 Nephi 13:34) After my seed and the seed of my brethren shall have dwindled in unbelief (2 Nephi 26:15) after thy seed shall be destroyed, and dwindle in unbelief, and also the seed of thy brethren (1 Nephi 13:35) and shall have been smitten by the Gentiles (2 Nephi 26:15) and smitten them by the hand of the Gentiles (1 Nephi 13:34) They shall write the things which shall be done among them (2 Nephi 26:17) they shall write many things which I shall minister unto them (1 Nephi 13:35) And so on. This isn't to say that Nephi isn't using a different version of Isaiah (something I think is inevitable - it gets corrected to the KJV in translation because it has to become meaningful in translation - something I discussed at the FAIRMormon conference a few years ago). What I am saying is that Nephi employs Isaiah as a way of interpreting his own prophecy. And in doing so, he recontextualizes the events that Isaiah describes into a context that no one in Jerusalem at the time that Isaiah 29 was written would have ever considered. This means that it isn't a traditional pesher, or a midrash. And this is why I disagree with your comment here: Nephi is more than willing to tell us (and I do think it is unusual in a way) about what he intends to convey in his text. We have very, very few ancient sources that explicitly describe the appropriation of texts in the way that Nephi does. And it seems to me that Nephi is giving us examples of this sort of thing in his text, not just talking about it. Clearly, this is colored by expectations (which isn't a bad thing). The challenge is that for any specific reader, the text isn't ambiguous at all. Isaiah was wildly popular, we have plenty of interpretations of Isaiah, all of which change as the contextualization changes (as the reader changes). So our argument that there's no unambiguous prophecy in the Old Testament is only a reflection of the interpretive history of the text spread across many different communities. This doesn't mean that Isaiah wrote ambiguously. What it means is that the audience becomes partners with the author in terms of forming meaning. And just as the author writes to a hypothetical idealized audience, so to, audiences read with assumptions about a hypothetical, idealized author. Obviously we can't read the author of Isaiah's mind. Ben McGuire
  8. Robert F. Smith writes: Language is not broken into such discrete slices as Skousen suggests that it is.
  9. Clark writes: I would agree with this. I think for all intents and purposes that we can isolate Nephi's experience of the Isaiah material he had from whatever the historical antecedent was. Unless we want to get bogged down in the debate over meaning and how texts acquire meaning, and who owns that meaning so to speak, it's not an issue. I accept the idea that authors write to audiences, and the assumptions that authors have about their audiences influence what they write. At the same time, when we get to Nephi, all of the same issues apply to Nephi as apply to us (or to Nephi's descendants) when we talk about reading Isaiah. Would you agree that Nephi understood the text that he had as a text written by Nephi, and not the text that we look at as a composite work? In any case, you also note this And as I point out, I don't think Nephi is engaging in a pesher on Isaiah. Because he isn't explaining Isaiah (at least not in the parts that I deal with in my essay). Rather, he starts with his own prophecy, quotes his own material, and then uses Isaiah as a commentary on his own text. In otherwords, rather than Nephi's material becoming a pesher on Isaiah, Isaiah becomes a pesher for Nephi's material. It is possible that it is the other way around, but the structure in the parts I deal with don't really follow this line of thinking. In any case, either because he uses his own prophecy to interpret Isaiah, or because he uses Isaiah to interpret his own prophecy, the necessary part of this (Nephi's prophecy) would be unavailable to Isaiah's (even as a composite work) audience. And the conclusion is that those readers of Isaiah who have no knowledge of Nephi or Nephi's prophetic statements could not have understood the Isaiah material in the way that Nephi is presenting it to his people. They could not have come up with the same pesher (if it is a pesher). Nephi's use of Isaiah is more cannibalistic than merely interpretive. He completely recontextualizes it. And this is why I can say with some personal certainty that Nephi's reading would be foreign to the original audience of Isaiah (this is different from saying that the way of reusing the Isaiah material would have been foreign). And finally - And the part from the OP quote from Bokovoy: There certainly has been some support for this idea in this thread (even if most of the participants don't support it). I was merely trying to phrase the issue in a different way. How many of the first readers of Isaiah (prior to Nephi) would have been able to understand Isaiah in the way that Callister does? Ben M.
  10. Clark: I think you have moved to a tangent - which is interesting - but not really about what I am discussing. Whether or not Isaiah meant for his text to be read in different ways doesn't change the question of whether or not Isaiah could have envisioned the reading that occurs. As I point out, from the other direction, Nephi is quite clear that his reading is foreign to the original audience. Nephi's audience (according to Nephi) does not resemble Isaiah's audience (which is true regardless of which model of Isaihan authorship you accept). And by extension, Nephi also makes the explicit suggestion that he intentionally prevents his audience from getting closer to Isaiah's audience and closing the gap so to speak - this is part of what I detail in the essay that I linked: My point is that we routinely (whether consciously or not) understand texts within our own experience. We liken scripture unto ourselves in this way. There is nothing wrong with this. Where the problem occurs is when we read a text, understanding it in a certain way informed by all of the things that we bring to the text when we read it, and then make the claim that this is, in fact, exactly what its original author intended when he wrote the text. Very few LDS readers would ever make the distinction that you suggest that it is okay for us to take interpretive liberties with the text because that is what the prophetic author intended for us. Rather, most LDS (at least most that I know) assume that the Book of Mormon has a determinate meaning, that they understand that meaning, and that this is exactly what the book's ancient authors intended for the text to mean. Nephi's writings seem to be cognizant of this issue, and he seems to embrace it in his model of likening scripture. Ben
  11. I wasn't very clear. The problem is access to reproductive health services (which includes abortion services and birth control). In the issue of abortion, the push to eliminate abortion has made access to reproductive health services more difficult for poorer people. For many people, abortion becomes at least in part a financial decision, and so we would naturally expect there to be more abortions in the poorer sectors of society - but the goal is to reduce the number of unwanted/unplanned pregnancies and we do that through expanded easy access to reproductive health services. I do have data.. But really, my experience is that you really have no interest in it.
  12. I tend to side with Bokovoy. My own discussion of the use of Isaiah 29 in the Book of Mormon was published here: https://www.mormoninterpreter.com/nephi-a-postmodernist-reading/ One of our challenges in the Church is that we have a desire to flatten everything in terms of history. And we have adopted this idea of restoration (even though we have moved beyond it significantly) and reversed it so that we want to believe that everything we teach and practice now is exactly like the historical reality (when it isn't). Part of this comes from a desire to confront the critical view that for religion to be revealed that it cannot be the result of a historical process. There are other reasons. But this is a natural sort of view (and it is reflected in other religious traditions). I point out with that Isaiah passage (Isaiah 29) in my article linked above: Nephi re-purposing the Isaiah text is an explicit rejection of the idea that Isaiah meant his text to refer to the Nephites. Less comfortable is the idea that we (as modern LDS) regularly liken scriptures unto ourselves, using them in ways that are foreign to their original contexts, even if we are using them to teach contemporary religious truth and gospel principles. But we need to be just as clear that when we do this, we are recontextualizing scripture in ways that create meaning that would be foreign to original authors and audiences. This idea was built into the cultural foundations of early Mormonism and it still remains a popular notion among members of the Church today.
  13. Quillette is not peer reviewed. It self-identifies as being on the political right. It is not academic in any sense, and it shows. Why anyone would think that Tucker Carlson should be cited in an article like this is rather mind boggling. And that's before we get to the contents - and frankly, I have read a fair amount of material on the question of family stability that is much, much better than this. And of course, the 'report' that is referred to is itself not an academic report. It is a document prepared by a neo-conservative political think tank. And so the report is also ideology. One of the challenges with the underlying report is that virtually all of the negative characteristics claimed for single parent families can be linked to economic conditions rather than marital status. Issues like fertility rates can be more easily explained in light of the fact that the poorest women do not always have adequate access to birth control (and/or abortion services). In other words, it isn't family structure that is an important indicator of all the rest - it is at least as likely that economic status is a strong indicator of family structure. If instead of worrying about fixing the family structure we started working to fix the economic status, and we worked to make sure that reproductive services were widely and easily available (instead of trying to limit or remove them), and so on, many of these conditions would begin to trend upward. One of the fundamental problems that we are facing in our society with regards to the family is that we are losing (and appropriately so) the social contract that marriage represented in the past. This article doesn't recognize any of this, and is sort of an appeal to the populist notion of "make America great again", which is wonderful if you are an old white person longing for the stability and order that you remember from the 1950s. And which of course sucks if you are anyone else. The failing of traditional marriage comes because the social contract that marriage represents no longer carries its traditional values. That is, in today's more egalitarian environment, women no longer need to settle for a marriage so that they and their children can be financially provided for (they can do it themselves - even if it is not yet where it needs to be). Women are increasingly educated (men are now a minority among college students). And women today have a relatively unprecedented control over their reproductive capacity. And so on (it's a rather long list). The right (whose position is represented in this article) will never achieve greater family stability by attempting to push 'traditional' family values - because much of that historical social contract (and the family values that were supported by that contract) have become to some extent meaningless in today's environment. The way forward is not to push for a return to a historical precedent, but to work to frame a new social contract, which is based on today's (and more so the future's) social equality between men and women. And unfortunately, this is not what the political right is trying to do at this time. And this conundrum for the political right (trying to find a way to explain why the social contract of marriage is failing and what is to blame) is illustrated quite well in this article. Ben McGuire
  14. For Carborendum - The problem with the article is that it is a comparison of two literary sources (two books) - the Book of Mormon and The Maya. It then attempts to transform that comparison into a comparison between the historical environment that the Book of Mormon describes and the historical environment described in The Maya. In a sense, your comments illustrate the problem. The United States wasn't modeled after Ancient Rome. Some aspects of the early United States were modeled on a perception of Rome (there is an interesting discussion in this book of that sort of thing if you are interested in it: https://www.amazon.com/Drudgery-Divine-Comparison-Christianities-Religions/dp/0226763633 ). So you don't bring up historical examples from Rome, because in a sense, they are completely irrelevant. You bring up instead accounts of Rome, and the ways in which Rome was understood in a context contemporary with the establishment of the United States. The problem isn't one of whether or not history is interpreted accurately and the comparison between two historical models is valid and significant (although these are interesting questions). The two major issues for me are first, whether or not the way in which this is transferred is valid (whether or not the literary comparison between two modern texts is in fact a suitable surrogate for a comparison between two historical realities) and second, whether or not an appropriate comparison is being made between the two modern sources. For the first part, I believe that this is an inappropriate transfer. And for the second part, I believe that the comparison being made is more parallelomania than anything else. And based on these two conclusions, the statistics (and the math behind it) becomes irrelevant.
  15. Rajah Manchou writes: Probably very little. If any at all. I am curious to know why you think that Hyrum (who attended Moor's Charity School from 1811-1816) would have been exposed to much Hebrew there. Remember, he went to the grammar school (he was only 11 after all when he started there) - and the grammar school was founded with the intention to teach the indians English. And while Hebrew was taught at Dartmouth (to the students enrolled in the college and not the grammar school) it was roughly equivalent to what I got in my first year Hebrew course three decades or so ago. This is not all that significant in terms of Hebrew instruction. And this is why when we look at the Hebrew speeches that were given in the commencement ceremonies (that you referred to), it was a demonstration of a student's ability to read Hebrew, and not some sort of more advanced understanding of the Hebrew language. And you do this with nothing but conjecture? Are we to assume that everyone in the area had some knowledge of Hebrew (because of Dartmouth and the grammar school close to it)? Are we supposed to think that a book published in France (by a Frenchman) is a good source to understand the environment that the Book of Mormon came from? I don't doubt that this may well be what you think you are doing ... but it isn't what you are doing. More on this in a moment. Fascinating enough, Webster's 1828 dictionary (which Sidney Rigdon quotes in a November 6, 1829 letter regarding the Book of Mormon), has this entry for the word "seat": http://www.webstersdictionary1828.com/Dictionary/seat So when the Dale's write this: "how did Joseph Smith guess ... that the word “seating” meant accession to political power, " it leaves me wondering what sort of research they did. I can find other examples of this usage in contemporary English literature (including, as the dictionary notes, Shakespeare). When we talk about environments that produce literature, we don't generally focus on how that text fits into the environment. We don't focus on individuals and what they may or may not have known - since environments are more reflective of the collective awareness and not the awareness of specific individuals. So it is hard to understand your interest this question (and the way that you approach it) without realizing that the underlying (and perhaps unvocalized) assumption is that this group of people that you name is responsible for the authorship of the Book of Mormon. The fact that I could get decent instruction in Hebrew at BYU doesn't mean that any more than a tiny minority of students or members of the community there understand Hebrew beyond a recognition that it exists. It becomes a bigger problem when we start to suggest that it was this access to Hebrew that allowed Joseph Smith to use the word "seating" in this way because of course, it is much more understandable as coming from the English context into which the text is allegedly being translated. We don't have to create this string of unsupported assertions that are required - that someone because of their connection to Dartmouth learned that in Hebrew we have this idea of "seating" being used to indicate the accession of political power, when in fact it was something that any audience would understand from normal English. Finally, you note this: You must think I am somewhat clueless. I may be wrong in the actual website that you took the reference from. But, you see the words in yellow in your image? They come from the google search on a string of words. That string of words was "would have the Hebrew substituted to the English". And if I put that string of words in that way into Google books, it gives me (among other things), this link: https://books.google.com/books?id=SwtEAQAAMAAJ&pg=PA1119&dq="would+have+the+Hebrew+substituted+to+the+English"&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwjzuviR_-PiAhUBLqwKHbkvC8QQ6AEIKjAA#v=onepage&q="would have the Hebrew substituted to the English"&f=false And this is where the screen shot comes from that you linked us to. The term you use - "Extracts from the Travels of Marquis de Chastellux in America" is the title of an article in a magazine (actually it is believed to be the first periodical calling itself a magazine) published in London titled The Gentleman's Magazine, which was something of a news source and book review publication, which it why it contained this excerpt. So forgive me if I have some significant doubts that you simply came across this excerpt in this publication, and decided to incorporate it into your argument. You don't do a google search on a specific phrase like this without getting it from someplace else. And while you mention a source, that source is a magazine article, it isn't a reference to the original book. And most importantly, it isn't considered a reliable historical source for an uncorroborated detail like this, and it isn't an accurate reflection of either early American history or the "environment that the Book of Mormon came from". Ben McGuire
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