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Parallels: How do we analyze them?


LifeOnaPlate

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In another thread, John W issued a warning about overreaching for various parallels and how such things can be misleading. How do we decide between various parallels and what they indicate? I have some ideas myself but would like to hear from other people regarding how they make decisions or conclusions based on parallels.

A review of Rick Grunder's new dvd-rom regarding "Mormon parallels" discusses the "Reynolds Arcade," something we are presumably to understand as the source of Joseph Smith's "great and spacious building" in 1 Nephi 8:

Among the most interesting of Grunder?s entries is his work on Lehi?s

dream related to Rochester, New York in the late 1820s (?Reynolds

Arcade?, entry 350). While modern-day visitors might have no difficulty

viewing Rochester as a dark and dreary wasteland, the author begins his

Mormon parallels in a series of articles, reminiscences and histories on

the Rochester area?s reputation as a major fruit growing region. He

quotes an 1838 account of the area, stating ?that the various kinds of

hardy fruits, such as the apple, pear, plum, quince, cherry, &c., are

the best varieties and easily cultivated; and that many of the more

delicate fruits, such as peaches, apricots, nectarines, grapes &c.,

attain a size and richness of flavour rarely equaled in our northern

latitudes. Of these facts a visit to the Rochester fruit-markets at the

proper seasons will convince any observer, and show that the southern

shore of the Ontario is emphatically A FRUIT COUNTRY.? (1371, Emphasis

in original.) As travelers from the east on the Erie Canal approached

Rochester, they crossed over the Genesee River on an 802-foot stone

aqueduct. The horse towpath became very narrow at this point, ?so narrow

that horses had to be hitched one in front of the other.? (1375) The

danger at this point became very real, and the Laws of the State of New

York determined that this path should be ?protected on the out side by a

substantial, but plain iron railing? to prevent horse and rider from

tumbling into the churning Genesee. (1375) A few blocks downriver from

the iron rod-protected aqueduct roars the 100-foot drop of the Genesee

Falls. One visitor to the falls in 1812 described ?beholding this mighty

sheet of water take its awful leap of nearly one hundred feet, far below

the common level of the surrounding country, into a deep channel

excavated by its own power through a bed of limestone for more than

three miles, running smoothly along in a surpentine [sic] course until

it passed beyond our vision.? (1381) Grunder states that according to an

1824 dictionary, a ?gulf? ?was not a flash-flood desert canyon or wadi

of Lehi?s Arabia, but more appropriate to Joseph Smith?s immediate

world, ?a bay; a whirlpool.?? (1383) ?I have stood at this very spot

after heavy rains?, Grunder writes, ?when the river was dirty and full,

the color of coffee and cream. I have exclaimed to myself in an

unguarded moment, ?Truly, this is the fountain of filthy water in

Nephi?s dream!?? (ibid)

While these are all very interesting comparisons, the image of the brand

new Reynolds Arcade will convince even the most stout believers of

Joseph Smith?s prophetic calling that the image of that structure could

not but have been present in his mind a few weeks after visiting it when

he translated the portion of the Book of Mormon dealing with the ?great

and spacious building?. (1399) Grunder writes that the building was

?nearly ninety feet tall, nearly a hundred feet wide. The Arcade,

described in the pamphlet at hand as ?the most magnificent structure

west of Albany . . . ,? was built by Abelard Reynolds, politician and

Freemason, one of the ten wealthiest men of Rochester, at a cost of

$30,000.? (1395) Taller than any other building in Rochester, it was

only two blocks from the Erie Canal aqueduct across the Genesee, and

?the Arcade was indeed all doors and windows by the standards of that

time. Its tower atop four stories of offices and shops commanded a view

not only of ?the farms and forest in the vicinity?, but ? more to the

point ? of the poorest laborer tenements in town, across and down the

adjacent Genesee. The city?s underprivileged looked up from their

?jumble of shacks and cheap rooming houses? on Water Street to the tall

structure crowning the richest block of the business district on the

other side of the river ? filled with entrepreneurs, clothiers and the

most stylish merchants ? and they came to understand that they were no

longer part of ?better? society as a whole.? (1397) http://www.confettiantiques.com/book-reviews/mormon-parallels-a-bibliographic-source-by-rick-grunder/

Compare this review to Kent Brown's article that posits something else that might have influenced the scene drawn in 1 Nephi 8:

The "great and spacious building" of Lehi's dream appeared unusual enough to his eye that he called it "strange" (1 Nephi 8:33). He also wrote that this building in his dream "stood as it were in the air, high above the earth" (1 Nephi 8:26). Why would Lehi, who had evidently traveled a good deal during his life (he possessed "tents," 1 Nephi 2:4), call a building strange? And does the word strange fit with the fact that the building soared into "the air, high above the earth"? Evidently, Lehi's descriptions of this building point to architecture unfamiliar to him. Furthermore, his words prophetically anticipate architecture that he and his party would see in south Arabia.

Recent studies have shown that the so-called skyscraper architecture of modern Yemen, featured most vividly by the towering buildings in the town named Shibam in the Hadhramaut Valley, has been common since at least the eighth century BC and is apparently unique in the ancient world. The French excavations of the buildings at ancient Shabwah in the 1970s, including homes, indicate that the foundations of these buildings supported multistoried structures. In addition, "many ancient South Arabian building inscriptions indicate the number of floors within houses as three or four, with up to six in [the town of] Zafar." Adding to the known details, "these inscriptions also provide the name of the owners" of these buildings.

In this light, it seems evident that Lehi was seeing the architecture of ancient south Arabia in his dream. For contemporary buildings there "stood as it were in the air," rising to five or six stories in height. Such structures would naturally give the appearance of standing "high above the earth" (1 Nephi 8:26). Could Joseph Smith have known that any of these architectural features existed in the days of Lehi and Sariah? The answer has to be no.

http://mi.byu.edu/publications/books/?bookid=8&chapid=61

Brown's analysis can be combined with other articles from FARMS and elsewhere that discuss ancient parallels for Lehi's dream. Margaret Barker, non-Mormon Old Testament scholar, for instance, was very impressed with the imagery of Lehi's dream which fits well with similar motif's from the same time period Lehi is said to have had this dream (see http://www.joehunt.org/joseph-smith-margaret-barker-talk.html for more, and elsewhere).

So how do we decide between such things? Do we need to decide between them? What are the methods, assumptions, approaches, etc. that will lead to our conclusions?

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For clarity's sake, and perhaps to better judge the parallels, here are the verses in question:

1 Nephi 8

26 And I also cast my eyes round about, and beheld, on the other side of the river of water, a great and spacious building; and it stood as it were in the air, high above the earth.

27 And it was filled with people, both old and young, both male and female; and their manner of dress was exceedingly fine; and they were in the attitude of mocking and pointing their fingers towards those who had come at and were partaking of the fruit.

...

33 And great was the multitude that did enter into that strange building. And after they did enter into that building they did point the finger of scorn at me and those that were partaking of the fruit also; but we heeded them not.

(Emphasis added)

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I don't know what happened any more than anyone else who will respond to this thread knows exactly how the BOM was translated, but I have no problem with the notion that Joseph's inspiration was filtered through his very human, 19th century American mind. It doesn't lessen the degree of inspiration I know is in the BOM for me one whit.

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LOAP - you of the thousands of postings (while I can't seem to find time during the day to go to the bathroom) have asked a very good question. I'll look forward to the discussion I know will ensue. /G

Laptop + wireless internet = problem solved.

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Interesting to see this work in print at last. Around fifteen years ago, Signature had promised a similarly titled work from Grunder. At a symposium, I picked up a much shorter but still useful print out of various parallels.

I think that Blair is starting off on the right foot by noting that a one-sided comparison is not enough. We have to compare and ask, "Which is better?" In doing that, I personally lean to Kuhn and Ian Barbour. I also like Nibley's essay on "The Grab Bag" approach (now in the Prophetic Book of Mormon), as well as Brant Gardner's discussion of the need to look for complex convergences of interrelated significant points.

If parallels were not extremely common in literature and culture, there would be no point to literature or culture. If the Book of Mormon lacked meaningful parallels to human life everywhere, it would also be irrelevant everywhere. It would not be like anything in our experience, would not be comprehensible, and would not be useful. But beyond the parallels, there are also specific differences and important distinctions, which are often very telling. Even so, neither the Book of Mormon nor the D&C makes any claim to exclusive truth or inspiration, or even, for that matter, vocabulary. Exclusiveness is a separate quality altogether.

I start by noticing the list of fruits in the "parallel" and compare that with what I see in the Journey of Faith DVD. A striking breakdown in the parallel.

Kevin Christensen

Pittsburgh, PA

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What are the methods, assumptions, approaches, etc. that will lead to our conclusions?

These approaches inevitably leads towards finding something that Joseph "couldn't have known", so the parallel becomes evidence for his divine inspiration. Why do apologetic "scholars" always follow this reasoning? Is it, in fact, the unstated goal of their efforts? To prove Joseph Smith a prophet?

In this light, it seems evident that Lehi was seeing the architecture of ancient south Arabia in his dream. For contemporary buildings there "stood as it were in the air," rising to five or six stories in height. Such structures would naturally give the appearance of standing "high above the earth" (1 Nephi 8:26). Could Joseph Smith have known that any of these architectural features existed in the days of Lehi and Sariah? The answer has to be no.

If you want to be credible, LOAP, don't follow this pattern of trying to skyhook a tenuous parallel into something greater than it can possibly be. It's fairly likely that Kent Brown's musing about south Arabian architecture is just plain wrong.

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In another thread, John W issued a warning about overreaching for various parallels and how such things can be misleading. How do we decide between various parallels and what they indicate? I have some ideas myself but would like to hear from other people regarding how they make decisions or conclusions based on parallels.

A review of Rick Grunder's new dvd-rom regarding "Mormon parallels" discusses the "Reynolds Arcade," something we are presumably to understand as the source of Joseph Smith's "great and spacious building" in 1 Nephi 8:

Compare this review to Kent Brown's article that posits something else that might have influenced the scene drawn in 1 Nephi 8:

Brown's analysis can be combined with other articles from FARMS and elsewhere that discuss ancient parallels for Lehi's dream. Margaret Barker, non-Mormon Old Testament scholar, for instance, was very impressed with the imagery of Lehi's dream which fits well with similar motif's from the same time period Lehi is said to have had this dream (see http://www.joehunt.org/joseph-smith-margaret-barker-talk.html for more, and elsewhere).

So how do we decide between such things? Do we need to decide between them? What are the methods, assumptions, approaches, etc. that will lead to our conclusions?

Personally I think both parallels are a stretch.

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These approaches inevitably leads towards finding something that Joseph "couldn't have known", so the parallel becomes evidence for his divine inspiration. Why do apologetic "scholars" always follow this reasoning? Is it, in fact, the unstated goal of their efforts? To prove Joseph Smith a prophet?

Apologetic "Scholars" don't always follow that line. I think it's an interesting line, and Brown takes it here, but I am personally even more interested when discoveries like this might add more depth or contrast to a given scripture. For instance, reading Barker's, Peterson's, and Brown's writings on this vision have significantly affected my views of it, making them more rich. (My views, not the scholars!)

If you want to be credible, LOAP, don't follow this pattern of trying to skyhook a tenuous parallel into something greater than it can possibly be. It's fairly likely that Kent Brown's musing about south Arabian architecture is just plain wrong.

If you want to be credible, Jango, don't follow this pattern of glib dismissal. It's fairly likely you haven't looked into the issue near enough to have an informed opinion of it. ;):P

But you inadvertently gave one piece of advice that pertains to the original intent of this thread, which is to talk about how to assess parallels. You suggest checking the accuracy of the parallels that have been advanced as parallels. That is a pretty good bit of advice, though also rather intuitive.

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Personally I think both parallels are a stretch.

OK, that's a fine answer, but go further for the purposes of the thread. "So how do we decide between such things? Do we need to decide between them? What are the methods, assumptions, approaches, etc. that will lead to our conclusions?"

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Interesting to see this work in print at last. Around fifteen years ago, Signature had promised a similarly titled work from Grunder. At a symposium, I picked up a much shorter but still useful print out of various parallels.

I think that Blair is starting off on the right foot by noting that a one-sided comparison is not enough. We have to compare and ask, "Which is better?" In doing that, I personally lean to Kuhn and Ian Barbour. I also like Nibley's essay on "The Grab Bag" approach (now in the Prophetic Book of Mormon), as well as Brant Gardner's discussion of the need to look for complex convergences of interrelated significant points.

If parallels were not extremely common in literature and culture, there would be no point to literature or culture. If the Book of Mormon lacked meaningful parallels to human life everywhere, it would also be irrelevant everywhere. It would not be like anything in our experience, would not be comprehensible, and would not be useful. But beyond the parallels, there are also specific differences and important distinctions, which are often very telling. Even so, neither the Book of Mormon nor the D&C makes any claim to exclusive truth or inspiration, or even, for that matter, vocabulary. Exclusiveness is a separate quality altogether.

I start by noticing the list of fruits in the "parallel" and compare that with what I see in the Journey of Faith DVD. A striking breakdown in the parallel.

Kevin Christensen

Pittsburgh, PA

Thanks, Kevin, I have some of your stuff in mind of course. What Gardner piece are you referring to?

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OK, that's a fine answer, but go further for the purposes of the thread. "So how do we decide between such things? Do we need to decide between them? What are the methods, assumptions, approaches, etc. that will lead to our conclusions?"

Hi LifeOnaPlate,

Well my own personal view can be summed up by this thread.

http://www.mormonapologetics.org/topic/37178-the-problem-with-pahoran-or-why-such-parallels-are-unconvincing/page__fromsearch__1

That is parallels should be first be judged on the basis of proper comparisons. If I have parallels X, Y and Z and I am arguing these parallels are evidence that the BOM is either historical or a 19th century fraud. Then I need to use appropriate control texts to estimate what the "baseline" level of similarity would be. For example say I am arguing the set of parallels is good evidence for historicity. I need to use appropriate control texts like for example pseudo scriptural texts known not to be ancient. In order to estimate what degree of similarity for texts known not to be ancient have with the ANE etc. Then I can start arguing the set of parallels X, Y and Z have much greater similarity with the ANE etc. than the parallels I obtained from my set of control texts. And the same process reversed if I was arguing the BOM is a 19th century fraud.

With regards to where my assumptions come from it is probably due to my training in the hard sciences. It has been beaten into my head from day one that observations without proper comparisons are worthless. For example suppose someone claims ginger is a cure for cancer. It does not help at all to observe out of 10 people that took ginger 4 got better and six died without also knowing what the expected rate of remission for that cancer using a placebo would be. If the the expected rate of remission is 40% this exactly matches my observation and it is likely ginger has no effect on the given cancer. If on the other hand the expected rate of remission is say 90% then ginger actually makes the cancer worse. The same observation (i.e. 4 out of 10 people got better) is given a very different meaning based on appropriate comparisons with control groups. In the case of the BOM it does not help at all to point out similarities X, Y and Z with the ANE or the 19th century. Without also knowing what degree of similarities would be expected by random chance or common human experiences.

Without such rigorous comparisons it becomes highly subjective. Someone comes along and finds parallel X to be highly significant and impressive. Someone else comes along and finds it to be not at all interesting and a stretch. It is not because one or the other of them are being willfully blind it is because of the highly subjective nature of evaluating the significance of observations without using appropriate comparisons. I think we see this all the time on this board when believers or critics are evaluating the parallels for or against BOM historicity.

All the Best,

Uncertain

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Without such rigorous comparisons it becomes highly subjective. Someone comes along and finds parallel X to be highly significant and impressive. Someone else comes along and finds it to be not at all interesting and a stretch. It is not because one or the other of them are being willfully blind it is because of the highly subjective nature of evaluating the significance of observations without using appropriate comparisons. I think we see this all the time on this board when believers or critics are evaluating the parallels for or against BOM historicity.

All the Best,

Uncertain

Excellent post. The subjective nature of the parallels (without adequate controls) explains why some people find the Kishkumen/Kishkiminetas parallel compelling but dismiss "sheum" as mere coincidence, and vice versa. I guess I'm not all that impressed with parallels on either side. I try to look at the bigger picture. But then no one is perfect.

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Excellent post. The subjective nature of the parallels (without adequate controls) explains why some people find the Kishkumen/Kishkiminetas parallel compelling but dismiss "sheum" as mere coincidence, and vice versa.

Quite right. Personally, I'm not fond of "sheum" because I can't make adequate connections to explain why it should be there. Oh well, as you said, no one is perfect.

Here is an explanation of methodology that I find quite instructive. It comes from historical linguistics, which is a branch of linguistics that is certainly not perfect, but which does have sufficient rigor to make some very interesting and important (and widely accepted, in most cases) conclusions.

Sets of words exhibiting similarities in both form and meaning may be presumed to be cognates, given that the languages involved are assumed to be related. This of course is quite circular. We need a list of cognates to show that languages are related, but we first need to know that the languages are related before we may safely look for cognates. In actual practice, therefore, the hypothesis builds slowly, and there may be a number of false starts along the way. But gradually certain correspondence patterns begin to emerge. These patterns point to unsuspected cognates that reveal additional correspondences until eventually a tightly woven web of interlocking evidence is developed. Bruce L. Pearson, Introduction to Linguistic Concepts (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1977), 51.

The issue is one of parallels, but of particular kinds. It assumes that there will be random parallels that have not actual meaning, but that some parallels will. Finding them might begin with happenstance, but demonstrating them depends entirely upon careful analysis and layering of evidence so that there is a large body of data, not single pieces. Note also that it requires that correspondence patterns should exist. That is, there should be something that holds them together so that they function as a set rather than as completely independent correlations.

I believe that if we are going to find any kind of parallels in cultural context that they must obey similar processes--and similarly create "a tightly woven web of interlocking evidence."

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Without such rigorous comparisons it becomes highly subjective. Someone comes along and finds parallel X to be highly significant and impressive. Someone else comes along and finds it to be not at all interesting and a stretch. It is not because one or the other of them are being willfully blind it is because of the highly subjective nature of evaluating the significance of observations without using appropriate comparisons. I think we see this all the time on this board when believers or critics are evaluating the parallels for or against BOM historicity.

I'm still waiting for Consig to post how the word "the" in the BoM is a direct hit. :P

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If you want to be credible, Jango, don't follow this pattern of glib dismissal. It's fairly likely you haven't looked into the issue near enough to have an informed opinion of it. ;):P

Pray tell, LOAP, how would you know if Brown's assessment is right or wrong? Somebody quoted the Nephi scriptures in this thread: there's hardly anything in those bare phrases upon which to build an informed opinion! Claiming it's solid and Joseph couldn't have known it is overreaching, don't you think?

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Pray tell, LOAP, how would you know if Brown's assessment is right or wrong? Somebody quoted the Nephi scriptures in this thread: there's hardly anything in those bare phrases upon which to build an informed opinion! Claiming it's solid and Joseph couldn't have known it is overreaching, don't you think?

Check out Brant Gardner's post. We need to be careful both in glib dismissal and too quickly accepting a parallel as significant.I like the idea that Uncertain puts forth using proper controls to help ascertain the significance of different parallels. Eventually we can build, maybe not a complete picture, but at least have enough data to label something plausible, possible, or maybe even probable. I do not think that we will be able to get any more specific than that. It is much like the search for the land Bountiful. Several possible candidates have emerged, but there is no definitive evidence that really makes any one of them "the place" or even the most probable place although there are many people who have their pet theories and reasons for them.

Glenn

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Check out Brant Gardner's post. We need to be careful both in glib dismissal and too quickly accepting a parallel as significant.I like the idea that Uncertain puts forth using proper controls to help ascertain the significance of different parallels. Eventually we can build, maybe not a complete picture, but at least have enough data to label something plausible, possible, or maybe even probable. I do not think that we will be able to get any more specific than that. It is much like the search for the land Bountiful. Several possible candidates have emerged, but there is no definitive evidence that really makes any one of them "the place" or even the most probable place although there are many people who have their pet theories and reasons for them.

Glenn

Hey, Glenn, I wouldn't even bother to comment here if it weren't for the inane "how could joseph know" summation that inevitably follows with parallelomania like a cherry on top of a banana split. You can speculate all you want. You can throw out your best, most creative guess and I won't dismiss it because you aren't asking for more than a minute of my attention. I'll say "huh, that's interesting." But when somebody pretends that his imaginative connection between passage X in the BoM and element Y in the world of antiquities is so rock solid that it merits the coup-de-gras of "how could joseph know?? he must've been a prophet!"... well, no non-believer is going to take you seriously after that.

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LoaP,

I think Ben's article here makes a lot of good points.

When I am assessing the value of parallels, I ask myself a number of questions:

1) Can we establish a direct link between the two texts?

In linking 19th century texts to the Book of Mormon, this means we have to evaluate the plausibility and the probability that the author of the Book of Mormon had read the 19th-century text. If there is no direct evidence of a connection, then the value of the parallel is significantly diminished.

In making ancient parallels, this means that we have to judge how probable or plausible it is that the Mulekites came to have the word shulem 2000 years after the word went out of usage in the Middle East. It means we have to judge how probable or plausible it is that medieval Christian and Muslim legends about Abraham came to record accurate details of his life. If we cannot establish a chain of evidence across the millennia, then the significance of such parallels is significantly diminished.

2) Can we establish the direction of dependence?

This is a problem, for example, in Lucy Smith's reminiscence of Joseph Smith, Sr.'s tree of life dream. Which was dependent on the other? The Book of Mormon on the dream or the telling of the dream on the Book of Mormon? Or does the dependence perhaps go both ways? Sometimes the direction of dependence simply cannot be determined with any probability.

3) Is it possible that instead of direct dependence, there is mutual dependence on a third source?

I have found that in many instances where there is a purported parallel between JS's scriptures and ancient apocrypha or midrashim, the parallel is more likely due to the two texts' mutual dependence on the Bible. Similarly, the purported similarities between the Book of Mormon and View of the Hebrews or the Spalding Manuscript may be due to their mutual dependence on contemporary speculations that circulated through the oral culture of New York.

4) Is it possible that the dependence of one text on the other is mediated through a third source?

Although similarities can be found between the writings of Joseph Smith and theological or historical works of his day, we also have to remember that his culture was largely oral culture. He probably got most of his theology from sources like sermons or his Methodist class meetings. Similarly, parallels to the ancient mysteries may have been mediated through Masonry, the occult, or the Bible.

5) What is the "strength" of the parallel?

I have found that accidental parallels are far more common than one might think, and parallels often appear deceptively "strong" when in fact they are quite weak.

When we can use quantitative or experimental methods to determine the likelihood of parallels emerging by accident, we should. A long time ago on this board we created a quantitative methodology for judging the significance of Hebrew names in the Book of Mormon. That method has not yet been applied. Similarly, I believe that one could judge the likelihood of the Anthon characters accidentally paralleling Demotic or Meroitic if one were to ask people with no knowledge of Egyptian to write out a series of made-up Egyptian characters and then see if you can find parallels. The Edwards and Edwards study of chiasmus went a long way toward convincing me of the intentionality of Book of Mormon chiasmus, though the methodology of that study was not airtight. There are quite a few cases where experimental and quantitative rigor could help bring a measure of objectivity to the discussion.

Unfortunately, in many cases a quantitative approach is simply not possible or practical. In these cases experience is the best guide. The historian who has chased down hundreds of false parallels will hopefully eventually develop an eye for the significant ones. Questions I ask myself are, "could these authors have come to the same conclusions or motifs independently?" "Is there evidence of independent development or invention of these ideas?" Independent invention is surprisingly common throughout history. Certain ideas are simply practical, reasonable, or archetypally appealing, and so humans arrive at them independently for similar reasons. It is also worthwhile to ask how many points of similarity there are, how close and complex are the parallels, and what are the major points of difference. We should not make too much of differences, of course. They rarely disprove dependence, since borrowers have their own agendas and thus can hardly be expected to robotically reproduce all of their source's ideas without modification. But they can raise doubts about it. And if borrowing is occurring, they can be very revealing as to the borrowing author's mind and motivation. In particular, he may be subverting or modifying his source material in very deliberate ways.

-Chris

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I always found Lehi's dream somewhat apocalyptic and not so much a 19th century American induced piece. I think parallels or comparisons are used to have the reader look at something a new way rather then a place where someone ripped it off from.

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As I've considered various approaches to Book of Mormon parallels over the past 35 years or so, I've become more impressed with line the D&C that says "I will give unto a pattern in all things that ye may not be deceived." (D&C 53:14). I also like Alma 32:35, "because it is discernable, therefore ye must know that it is good."

When weighing rival sets of parallels, in deciding what is significant in different claims, or whether something I've come across might be significant, from Kuhn and Barbour's discussion of Kuhn and religion in Myths, Models, and Paradigms, I consider accuracy of key predictions, comprehensiveness and coherence, fruitfulness, simplicity and aesthetics, and future promise.

For example, Grunder's says "I have stood at this very spot

after heavy rains," Grunder writes, "when the river was dirty and full,

the color of coffee and cream. I have exclaimed to myself in an

unguarded moment, 'Truly, this is the fountain of filthy water in

Nephi's dream!'"" (ibid)

At this point in time, because of other readings, I read a one-sided balance scale, which tilts to an unavoidable conclusion due to lack of opposition. But I've got to consider not just this narrow path, an iron rod, and a dangerous fountain of filthy waters. I have to consider just how unusual a combination of features these are. Given a narrow highly used path, and the dangerous proximity of waters, how unusal a feature is a guard rail? Or does such a circumstance in general tend to produce that combination. I notice that Grunder's description does not mention a plaque commemorating the world's first and only guard rail. The description Grunder provides does include many culturally specific features that do not appear in the Book of Mormon, just as the Book of Mormon account includes features that are not likely to emerge as significant when considered only against a 19th century context.

What about Lehi's world? Nibley had discussed this long before, both in the specific details, and in the culturally specific contrasts with Joseph Smith Senior's dreams, and S. Kent Brown has done so more recently. And I also must consider things like Welch's study of the Narrative of Zosimus, which includes a tight cluster of parallels in a 1st century text that does claim for itself a connection to the Rechabites of Jeremiah's time. Jermeiah, Ezekiel, and 1 Enoch offer important comparisons. And there are the Orphic Gold plates that Wilfred Griggs studied in 1982. Plus, in my own study of NDE literature (JBMS 2/1), especially in Carol Zaleski's Otherworld Journeys, and the Grof's book Beyond Death, I saw many representations of the same archetypal themes depicted with many telling "inflections to culture" (Joseph Campbell's phrase).

And beneath and through all of this, I always recall the arguments in Nibley's 1953 discussion of textual criticism, and the importance and implications of testing historical documents against the context that they claim for themselves. (The Prophetic Book of Mormon) Only there will the telling details appear. Only there we legitimatly argue that one or the other explanation might be better. I've seen his observations confirmed hundreds of times over the past 35 years.

Kevin Christensen

Bethel Park, PA

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Hey, Glenn, I wouldn't even bother to comment here if it weren't for the inane "how could joseph know" summation that inevitably follows with parallelomania like a cherry on top of a banana split. You can speculate all you want. You can throw out your best, most creative guess and I won't dismiss it because you aren't asking for more than a minute of my attention. I'll say "huh, that's interesting." But when somebody pretends that his imaginative connection between passage X in the BoM and element Y in the world of antiquities is so rock solid that it merits the coup-de-gras of "how could joseph know?? he must've been a prophet!"... well, no non-believer is going to take you seriously after that.

First, any claim that a parallel helps vindicate JS's prophetic status needs to be evaluated on its own merits. To toss out any and all such parallels is not responsible or reasonable. At the same time, it is not responsible or reasonable simply to assert any parallel however tenuous is "proof" of anything, though some might wish to make a cumulative case. I'm certainly not advocating any simple "how did Joseph know" declaration whatsoever, and the purpose of this thread is to talk about how we analyze parallels, what makes them hold weight to us, and so forth. Do you have any thoughts on that? It would really add to the thread to hear your ideas instead of discuss this tangent. Thanks.

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