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JarMan

Joseph Smith: The World's Greatest Guesser

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Posted (edited)
On 6/7/2019 at 11:30 AM, clarkgoble said:

It's tied to a recent Interpreter article that has been alluded to in a few comments. The thread title refers to that paper. Again, I'm not discussing everything in this thread.

The problem was what many of us see as fundamental misapplication of Bayesian approaches as well as obscuring the fundamental subjective interpretive nature of most of the judgments.

Yes, I read the OP and (now) skimmed the article.  I saw the Dales' description of Bayesian.  I understand the methodology as he presented it.  I can only defer to their numbers (determination of inputs) since I'm certainly not an expert.  But assuming their numbers (inputs) are correct, the math seems to have been done correctly.

But none of that matters.  I believe I see the schism of understanding here.

The paper offers two options in its analysis: 

  1. The Book of Mormon is a factual history of the Ancient American peoples.
  2. The Book of Mormon was a fictional work made up of whole cloth by an ignorant farm boy who made a bunch of guesses (deftly created a fictional world to tell a fairy tale).

The OP's objection starts out as a criticism of the results of this comparison because of their methodology.  Then the bulk of the criticism simply discounts the article because they didn't explore a third option  -- that someone else who had knowledge of the Mediterranean cultures wrote it separately.  This is an unreasonable approach for several reasons.

  1. Much of the article had nothing to do with isolated Mediterranean cultural aspects.  It dealt with the fact that Ancient Americans (confirmed through archaeological and anthropological history) practiced many things that are indeed Mediterranean in origin.  But were unknown to be practiced among the Native Americans at the time of Joseph Smith.  The OP completely ignored that in his criticism.
  2. So, they did not include another possibility.  OK.  Fine.  What would be the point?  If the OP's alternative explanation is that a "third party" with such knowledge wrote it and Joseph somehow took credit for it, then wouldn't a corollary to that be that the Nephite prophets MAY BE THAT THIRD PARTY that he suspected?  So, such an analysis tells us nothing.
  3. This article was NOT an attempt to be an all encompassing study of the Book of Mormon vis-a-vis the possibilty of multiple possible sources.  It was supposed to be a direct comparison between the claims Coe made and the claims that Joseph Smith made.  It was a rebuttal.  That's all.  If you want another comparison, that would need to be the topic of another paper. 

If I were to explain how the United States was modeled after Ancient Rome, then I could make a lot of comparisons, bring up historical records, and writings, etc.  And there would be great authenticity to it.  And it would be quite valid.  But then someone else could bring up just how much English influence there was (and indeed Jewish influence) in the formation of this country.  And they may be correct that there was.  But what would be the point?  It would be beyond the scope of the comparison I made.  And it doesn't invalidate what I said.

Edited by Carborendum

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6 hours ago, Carborendum said:

Yes, I read the OP and (now) skimmed the article.  I saw the Dales' description of Bayesian.  I understand the methodology as he presented it.  I can only defer to their numbers (determination of inputs) since I'm certainly not an expert.  But assuming their numbers (inputs) are correct, the math seems to have been done correctly.

But none of that matters.  I believe I see the schism of understanding here.

The paper offers two options in its analysis: 

  1. The Book of Mormon is a factual history of the Ancient American peoples.
  2. The Book of Mormon was a fictional work made up of whole cloth by an ignorant farm boy who made a bunch of guesses (deftly created a fictional world to tell a fairy tale).

The OP's objection starts out as a criticism of the results of this comparison because of their methodology.  Then the bulk of the criticism simply discounts the article because they didn't explore a third option  -- that someone else who had knowledge of the Mediterranean cultures wrote it separately.  This is an unreasonable approach for several reasons.

  1. Much of the article had nothing to do with isolated Mediterranean cultural aspects.  It dealt with the fact that Ancient Americans (confirmed through archaeological and anthropological history) practiced many things that are indeed Mediterranean in origin.  But were unknown to be practiced among the Native Americans at the time of Joseph Smith.  The OP completely ignored that in his criticism.
  2. So, they did not include another possibility.  OK.  Fine.  What would be the point?  If the OP's alternative explanation is that a "third party" with such knowledge wrote it and Joseph somehow took credit for it, then wouldn't a corollary to that be that the Nephite prophets MAY BE THAT THIRD PARTY that he suspected?  So, such an analysis tells us nothing.
  3. This article was NOT an attempt to be an all encompassing study of the Book of Mormon vis-a-vis the possibilty of multiple possible sources.  It was supposed to be a direct comparison between the claims Coe made and the claims that Joseph Smith made.  It was a rebuttal.  That's all.  If you want another comparison, that would need to be the topic of another paper. 

If I were to explain how the United States was modeled after Ancient Rome, then I could make a lot of comparisons, bring up historical records, and writings, etc.  And there would be great authenticity to it.  And it would be quite valid.  But then someone else could bring up just how much English influence there was (and indeed Jewish influence) in the formation of this country.  And they may be correct that there was.  But what would be the point?  It would be beyond the scope of the comparison I made.  And it doesn't invalidate what I said.

If the paper was simply a comparison between the Book of Mormon and The Maya, there would be no obligation to consider different explanations for the Book of Mormon (such as an author with knowledge of classic antiquity). However, by employing Bayes' the authors are obligated to follow the rules of Bayes'. They start out well by setting up a hypothesis and converse hypothesis that is essentially exhaustive. The hypothesis/converse hypothesis presented are that the Book of Mormon is either a real history or else it is fiction. If they had gone on and tested that (if it is even testable in the first place) they would have been fine. Instead, what they really did was compare the hypothesis that Joseph made it up with the converse hypothesis that the Book of Mormon is real and occurred in Mesoamerica. Both of these are subsets of the fact/fiction dichotomy they claimed to be testing. Subsets (except subsets of the whole) are by their very nature not exhaustive. Bayes' requires that the hypothesis/converse hypothesis being tested are exhaustive, meaning that one or the other must certainly be true. If they don't follow the rules of Bayes' then their Bayes' analysis is invalid.

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Posted (edited)
9 hours ago, Carborendum said:

Yes, I read the OP and (now) skimmed the article.  I saw the Dales' description of Bayesian.  I understand the methodology as he presented it.  I can only defer to their numbers (determination of inputs) since I'm certainly not an expert.  But assuming their numbers (inputs) are correct, the math seems to have been done correctly.

But none of that matters.  I believe I see the schism of understanding here.

The paper offers two options in its analysis: 

  1. The Book of Mormon is a factual history of the Ancient American peoples.
  2. The Book of Mormon was a fictional work made up of whole cloth by an ignorant farm boy who made a bunch of guesses (deftly created a fictional world to tell a fairy tale).

The OP's objection starts out as a criticism of the results of this comparison because of their methodology.  Then the bulk of the criticism simply discounts the article because they didn't explore a third option  -- that someone else who had knowledge of the Mediterranean cultures wrote it separately.  This is an unreasonable approach for several reasons.

  1. Much of the article had nothing to do with isolated Mediterranean cultural aspects.  It dealt with the fact that Ancient Americans (confirmed through archaeological and anthropological history) practiced many things that are indeed Mediterranean in origin.  But were unknown to be practiced among the Native Americans at the time of Joseph Smith.  The OP completely ignored that in his criticism.
  2. So, they did not include another possibility.  OK.  Fine.  What would be the point?  If the OP's alternative explanation is that a "third party" with such knowledge wrote it and Joseph somehow took credit for it, then wouldn't a corollary to that be that the Nephite prophets MAY BE THAT THIRD PARTY that he suspected?  So, such an analysis tells us nothing.
  3. This article was NOT an attempt to be an all encompassing study of the Book of Mormon vis-a-vis the possibilty of multiple possible sources.  It was supposed to be a direct comparison between the claims Coe made and the claims that Joseph Smith made.  It was a rebuttal.  That's all.  If you want another comparison, that would need to be the topic of another paper. 

If I were to explain how the United States was modeled after Ancient Rome, then I could make a lot of comparisons, bring up historical records, and writings, etc.  And there would be great authenticity to it.  And it would be quite valid.  But then someone else could bring up just how much English influence there was (and indeed Jewish influence) in the formation of this country.  And they may be correct that there was.  But what would be the point?  It would be beyond the scope of the comparison I made.  And it doesn't invalidate what I said.

The biggest problem with the methodology used in the study is that it is designed to generate way more hits than contradictions. Almost no matter what odds you assign to each, if you have 100 hits and 5 misses, the Bayesian math “proves” authenticity.

Hits are subjectively identified by the authors who are looking for whatever similarities they can find. Misses only count when direct contradictions are found. If something is mentioned in the Book of Mormon or in Coe’s Book but not the other, is this a miss? Not according to the authors. Based on this fact alone the study was nothing but an exercise in futility. 

Edited by SeekingUnderstanding

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Posted (edited)

Rajah Manchou writes:

Quote

We know that Solomon Spaulding and Ethan Smith attended Dartmouth, a center of Hebrew scholarship and literature in America. Hyrum also attended Moors School at Dartmouth. How much exposure to Hebrew would Hyrum have in the 1810s?

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.

Quote

I'm trying to understand the environment that the Book of Mormon came from. I haven't mentioned Joseph once.

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.

Quote

But since we're discussing the Dale's article, Joseph's ability to guess correspondences such as usage of the term "seating" would depend on his environment. Was there exposure to Hebrew in his early years through his father or Hyrum who, although a farmboy, was a student at Moors Charity School at Dartmouth?

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

Quote

To place in a post of authority, in office or a place of distinction. He seated his son in the professor's chair.

Then high was king Richard seated. Shak.

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:

Quote

My source was the "Extracts from the Travels of Marquis de Chastellux in America":

"I have often heard them say, “You speak very good American, American is not difficult to learn.” They go further, and have seriously proposed to introduce a new language; and some, for the public convenience , would have the Hebrew substituted to the English, taught in the schools, and used in all public acts."

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

Edited by Benjamin McGuire
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For Carborendum -

Quote

If I were to explain how the United States was modeled after Ancient Rome, then I could make a lot of comparisons, bring up historical records, and writings, etc.  And there would be great authenticity to it.  And it would be quite valid.  But then someone else could bring up just how much English influence there was (and indeed Jewish influence) in the formation of this country.  And they may be correct that there was.  But what would be the point?  It would be beyond the scope of the comparison I made.  And it doesn't invalidate what I said.

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.

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On the other board there were over 712 responses and over 19000 views (many were guests)on this paper. I came away from this debate better informed. I was pleased that the same contributors  on MD debated with the Dales on the Interpreter blog and stuck to the debate with little acrimony  unlike that occurring on a certain blog.

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On 6/12/2019 at 7:33 AM, Benjamin McGuire said:

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.

I was just looking at some old history materials asserting that the Founding Fathers perceived themselves to be a new set of decemviri, gathering in the best legal and government and philosophical treatises available to them to build a lasting edifice better, more moral, and longer lasting than Athens or Rome. But they didn't have the same fears that the ancients did, trusting their words would last without being engraved on metal plates as the decemviri did.

Your distinctions between being influenced by Rome and being influenced by the perceptions/memories of an idealized Rome are a new thought to me. I've got to go think about it. It seems a distinction sans difference.

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On 6/12/2019 at 8:11 PM, Benjamin McGuire said:

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.

Apologies, somehow I missed your response. 

It is true that Hebrew was no longer taught after John Smith died, so Hyrum would have had minimal exposure. I suppose I'm just looking to strike a balance between the apologist arguments that the Smiths were ignorant farmers with no exposure at all to Hebrew language and books and maps. The ignorant Manchester farmboy and the Palmyra Library arguments don't take the Smith's Dartmouth years into account.

On 6/12/2019 at 8:11 PM, Benjamin McGuire said:

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.

We don't need to assume that everyone in the area had knowledge of Hebrew. My assumption is that a school with a mission to bring the Bible and Christianity to the native Americans in the frontier wilderness, as it is drawn out in Hebrew on the school's seal, would be an ideal setting for an author to generate the Book of Mormon narrative.

On 6/12/2019 at 8:11 PM, Benjamin McGuire said:

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. 

My argument is that Dartmouth, and more broadly the Arminian and Congregationalist movements on the American frontier, provided the ideal environment for the construction of the Book of Mormon narrative. To support the argument that the collective awareness in the decades leading up to the publication of the Book of Mormon, I point to the View of the Hebrews and Manuscript Found, two books with similar themes that came from Congregationalist preachers who attended school at Dartmouth. 

That said, I'm not convinced the Book of Mormon was written at Dartmouth. I'm researching the relationship between Emmonite missionaries from Byfield, MA who, inspired by popular contemporary accounts of 6th century BC diaspora Jews with brass plates, sailed to Burma in the early 19th century. There are correspondences that I feel cannot be ignored. The geography matches the Book of Mormon, the toponyms are aligned, and the leading hero shares the same name. It is an extraordinary claim, and I'm only in the data collection and discussion phase. But as I've said elsewhere, I've been to the small village in Burma where these Emmonite missionaries from Byfield, MA ended up. The village church possesses a "golden book" written in unique script that was revealed to them by an angel in a white robe in the 1830s. My opinion is that the collective awareness that gave us the Book of Mormon in 1830 was embedded enough to reach this small village on the other side of the world. 

On 6/12/2019 at 8:11 PM, Benjamin McGuire said:

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:

You're certainly not clueless, but I am confused why you are hung up on the path that lead me to the reference in Extracts from the Travels of Marquis de Chastellux in America. This being a discussion board on the Internet, I believe we all use Google and Google Books to search for phrases. I can see you likely used Google when you looked up references for Dartmouth commencements in Hebrew. I could be wrong about that, my point is that for the sake of forum discussions we're all using Google. If we were writing for publication we'd take the time to tidy up sources. 

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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?

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