Are Mormon Academics Winning the Debate with Evangelicals?

Mormon HereticAnti-Mormon, apologetics, book of mormon, evangelicals, historicity, Mormon, scripture, theology 61 Comments

I’ve been reading Terryl Givens book, By the Hand of Mormon.  While acknowledging archaeological data isn’t as strong as other aspects of the Book of Mormon, Givens seems to feel Mormon academics have made some impressive contributions.  I posted a longer version of this on my blog.  Givens starts with Hugh Nibley on page 118:

No one in the history of Mormon scholarship has done more to establish rational grounds for belief in the Book of Mormon than Hugh Nibley.  Acquiring impressive scholarly credentials (summa cum laude from UCLA and a Berkeley Ph.D. dissertation written in three weeks in 1938) before heading off to war….

From page 124,

Nibley’s legendary erudition, fluency across a spectrum of languages, and prodigious output (appearing in a wide range of scholarly publications from the Classical Journal and Encyclopedia Judaica to Church History and Revue de Qumran) have lent his work a weight that is unprecedented in Mormon studies.

Praised by the likes of non-LDS scholars Raphael Patai, Jacob Neusner, James Charlesworth, Cyrus Gordon, Jacob Milgrom, and former Harvard Divinity School dean George McRae (“it is obscene for a man to know that much,” he grumbled, hearing him lecture), Nibley has done more than any Mormon of his era to further the intellectual credibility of the Book of Mormon.23 Inspired by his work, a more recent generation of LDS researchers brings a range of impressive scholarly credentials to serious Book of Mormon scholarship.24

Many critics of the Book of Mormon take issue with this idea of “Reformed Egyptian.”  Givens quotes Moroni on page 132,

“we have written this record according to our knowledge, in the characters which are called among us the reformed Egyptian, being handed down and altered by us, according to our manner of speech” (Morm. 9:32)

Mormon scholars take this to suggest the possibility that the writers used modified Egyptian symbols to represent Hebrew words (“Hebrew words, idioms, and syntax written in Egyptian cursive script”53), certainly a bizarre idea for a nineteenth-century audience.  Now as John Tvedtnes points out, “the use of Egyptian symbols to transliterate Hebrew words and vice versa, is known from the sixth century B.C. text discovered at Arad and Kadesh-Barnea,”54 Papyrus Amherst 63, for example, “contains a scriptural text in Northwest Semitic tongue written in an Egyptian script.”55

Givens shows other parallels in the chapter, including:

  • Lehi’s travel through the desert,
  • his poetic structure,
  • the golden plates parallel with the Copper Scroll found with the Dead Sea Scrolls (and other writings on ancient metal plates),
  • similarities between Moroni’s Title of Liberty and the Quran,
  • King Benjamin’s coronation was similar to Bablyonian rituals, and
  • important plates buried in stone boxes by Darius, king of Persia.

Givens goes on to talk about John Welch.  As a missionary in Germany in 1967, Welch attended a lecture on chiasmus, a Hebrew literary device.  Welch soon discovered chiasmus in Mosiah 5:10-12, a form of inverted parallel poetry.  Welch went on to work with FARMS, the Foundation of Ancient Research and Mormon Studies (formed in 1979.)  The group looks at Old World parallels in the Book of Mormon.  Givens addresses John Sorenson, the most recognized archaeologist advocating a Central American setting for the Book of Mormon.  (I plan a future post exclusively to Sorenson and his theory.)

Givens says that Mormon Scholarship is causing alarm among Evangelical critics.  From page 143,

Under the burden of Mormon scholarship that is increasingly well credentialed, and in the face of Mormon growth that is alarming to evangelicals,110 the polemics of nineteenth-century preachers are no longer an adequate response.  Until recently, for example, criticisms of barley or pre-Columbian horses in the Book of Mormon would come from writers of anti-Mormon books–not from botanists or archaeologists.  The latter have not, for the most part, taken the Book of Mormon seriously enough as a text to analyze its historical credibility.  A recent paper by two evangelical scholars suggests that a realignment of the Book of Mormon wars may be coming.

The 1997 address of Carl Mosser and Paul Owen at a regional meeting of the Evangelical Theological Society was remarkable for a number of reasons.  First, it accorded high praise to the state of Mormon scholarship.  They summarized a number of recent publications to illustrate their assertion that “in recent years the sophistication and erudition of LDS apologetics has risen considerably…[and] is clearly seen in their approach to the Book of Mormon.”  As difficult as it may be to accept the fact, “LDS academicians are producing serious research which desperately needs to be critically examined,” they insisted.111

In addition, Mosser and Owen are adamant that evangelical responses to Mormon scholarship have been, almost universally, “uninformed, misleading, or otherwise inadequate….At the academic level evangelicals are losing the debate.”112 Actually, it hardly resembles a debate, because Mormon scholars, they acknowledge, “have…answered most of the usual evangelical criticisms.”  And, as of 1997, there were “no books from an evangelical perspective that responsibly interact with contemporary LDS scholarly and apologetic writings.”113

…[page 144]  The major force in anti-Mormon polemics has long been Jerald and Sandra Tanner…It is no wonder that non-Mormon historian Lawrence Foster has faulted these critics, the most prolific of all anti-Mormon writers, for “twisting” scholarship, resorting to “debaters’ ploys,” and, in general, demonstrating “lack of balance and perspective.”117

So, what do you think of the state of Mormon Scholarship?

Comments 61

  1. I remember talking to Robert Millet about The New Mormon Challenge when it came out. He commented that the scholarship of the Church is in a similar position today (early 00s) to where the evangelical scholars were in the 80s—namely, starting to become comfortable speaking academically about our faith and theology. We’ve come a long way—Rough Stone Rolling, the Joseph Smith Papers—in talking about our history, but I think the next shift is widespread acceptance of alternative theories about the Book of Mormon origins among the scholars; not necessarily “inspired fiction”-type opinions, but FARMS holds doggedly to a Mesoamerican setting for the Book of Mormon to the exclusion of much else. The quality of our Church education (seminary) has crept up, especially with the 79/81 scriptures, but it’s time to take it to the next level still. If we ask more, expect more, we can get more.

    We have settled for far too little for too long.

  2. I just finished “By the Hand of Mormon”. I think he has some valid points, but completely leaves out of the discussion the DNA controversy (perhaps the book was published before this became more widely known), but I found this omission to be rather glaring. I also don’t think the evangelicals are as interested in the argument as they were ten years ago. They have their own problems with general religious malaise that has crept into the American public over the past 10 years.

  3. A lot of problems with DNA (and many other things) go away if you accept that the “correlated” date for the Jaredite crossing of 3000 BC or so comes from accepting a traditional BIBLE chronology for a world-wide flood and makes it near simultaneous (within a couple of generations) with the building of the tower of Babel.

    There is no internal dating for the Book of Mormon prior to 600 BC — which makes the dating and origin of the DNA of the first Americans simply a carry over of the same problem the Bible has for the flood and the tower.

  4. I enjoyed Givens’ book when it first came out and used it when teaching Book of Mormon on a stake-sponsored institute class.

    Susan, I think you may be right, that Givens’ book was published before the DNA question was so popular, but in any case, the purpose of the book seems not to be an answer to all critics, but a call for greater scholarship beyond the status quo.

    Also telling for me was Givens’ assertion that this is, above all, a spiritual text which requires a spiritual approach for believers; it is an artifact of Joseph Smith’s work and can stand as such in a spiritual examination of his role and story.

  5. There is far too much discrepancy within the teachings of the LDS church.
    The scriptures, the theology, the doctrines, the prophecies and church history…
    all of these qualify for serious questioning and challenges to take place.
    Although I see these things beginning to happen, there is much more that needs to be brought out into the light!

  6. I think there are many interesting and compelling tidbits the scholars can find, like chunks of gold, to give credence to the Mormon position. What if the find of tidbits increased to the point Mormons won the debate, what then? Would we see Evangelicals flooding into the Mormon church? If so, what would be the source of their “conversion”, academic tidbits or manifestations of the Holy Ghost?

    In my opinion, there needs to be something more than intellectual persuasion in the mix to bring about true conversion. The Book of Mormon is the keystone of our faith. To me, this means it is the primary tool for conversion. If the Lord brings about further evidence via the tidbits, to draw men and women to seriously investigate the churches claims, that would be a wonderful sight to behold.

    MH, thanks for this fine post

  7. I agree with Jared that spiritual conversion will retain its dominance over intellectual pursuits.

    I think that at the time of the 1997 regional Evangelical meeting cited, that Mormons had reached a peak effort of apologetics. Evangelicals at that time were hard pressed to answer the points of Hebraisms in the Book of Mormon, historical parallels, and so forth. However, since then there have been a flock of Christians who have entered into a ministry to the Mormons. These young evangelicals are building on the work Jerald and Sandra Tanner did and impressively addressing our Mormon apologists. Their stuff is online at MRM and many other places. I have only to look at Aaron Shafovaloff’s facebook to see each chapter of the Gospel Principles manual contrasted with Biblical principles week by week. I think the state of the debate today is far different than it was thirteen years ago.

  8. I think that Givens quite dramatically overstates his case by reading somewhat selectively. Mormon apologists have certainly produced some impressive materials that have gone unanswered, but the evangelicals have done the same. I still periodically hear the Tanners’ “Black Hole and the Book of Mormon” cited by Mormons as a troubling study, even after all these years. And while there is still a lot of loony countercult literature out there, evangelical scholarship on Mormonism has moved in some very respectable directions with the publication of such tomes as The New Mormon Challenge and By His Own Hand Upon Papyrus. Meanwhile, Nibley’s work has not demonstrated much staying power, and the Book of Abraham apologetic front is falling apart.

  9. The DNA problem can also go away if you understand that more than two families came across with Jared and his family (Ether 6:6). There were eight barges. It appears of all the families that arrived in the new world we only have the record of Jared’s descendants. Could the other families have populated North America and become the Native Americans we know today. It also makes a lot of sense if you understand that Jared and his friends went east through modern day China. I would not be surprised if many who came to the east coast of China did not cross the “great deep” in sealed barges. Not unlike how many did not make it to the Salt Lake Valley from Nauvoo. It is not at all surprising that the DNA of the Asian people match the DNA of the Native Americans. I would have expected that based on the Book of Ether. I agree that one needs a spiritual testimony of the Book of Mormon, but it was clear that Nephi and Lehi both had success among the Lamanites “because of the greatness of the evidences which they had received” (Hel. 7:10). I think more and more evidences will help in the conversion of people but it alone is not enough, one must still gain a spiritual testimony strengthened by a physical testiomony.

  10. The problem I see with LDS apologetics and scholarship is that so much of it continues to be published in insular outlets. Mormon defenses of an ancient setting for the Book of Mormon haven’t been getting published in peer-reviewed Mesoamerican journals where they’ll be subject to the scrutiny of the wider scholarly community, and to my knowledge the apologists have yet to convince a single non-Mormon scholar that the BoM is of ancient origins. Even their beloved Margaret Barker admitted that she does not think the BoM is an ancient text.

    As for Nibley, as smart as he was, he was only one man, and the leaps in logic and strained parallels he’s prone to making are fairly obvious to anyone who doesn’t already hold his views. I see Nibley as someone whose theories seem to be deeply comforting to shaken Mormons, but not someone who poses a serious threat to the evangelical worldview. Even Mormon intellectuals have taken to mocking him.

    Where LDS scholarship has done best are in the areas where the bulk of biblical scholarship has been in agreement with it: henotheism of the Old Testament, the late origins of creation ex nihilo, and biblical errancy, among others. Those are issues that the evangelical community needs to engage more fully.

    But on establishing the historicity of the Book of Mormon, defending the Book of Abraham, and coming up with a theological narrative that can account for the historical foibles of its leaders while still maintaining the church’s exclusive claims to divine revelation, the church still has a long way to go. Personally, I think at least two of those three issues are lost causes. I wouldn’t start throwing the victory party just yet.

  11. #12 Ms. Jack Meyers and others pointing out the opposition that exist for faith in the Lord’s church.

    As you already know, faith requires opposition. So far the balance, with things faith promoting, and faith destroying is such that one can not prove the church’s claims, or disprove them. Therefore, faith/belief is what we have to go on, that is, until the Lord see fit to provide a witnesses that allows the faithful to move from faith to knowledge. The Book of Mormon writers, and many today have received that witness. I am grateful for it.

  12. “Even their beloved Margaret Barker admitted that she does not think the BoM is an ancient text.”

    Where and when was this? Just a month or so ago, Kevin Christensen was hinting that he thinks Margaret is a believer. (He also said that he thinks her work is a partial fulfillment of 1 Nephi 13:39 about “other books” that come forth “unto the convincing of the Gentiles”!)

  13. “while still maintaining the church’s exclusive claims to divine revelation”

    and it’s overly broad, inaccurate generalizations like that from even knowledgable evangelicals that make it hard to have good discussions. Granted, I hear far too often on Sunday just as inaccurate statements about what other churches teach . . .

    I don’t think either side is winning the debate, because very few in the debate really are listening to each other with an effort to alter their opinions even a little as a result. In most cases, it’s still much more of a fist fight than a debate. BCC has a ludicrous article linked in their sidebar from TownHall about a Bsptist “church planter” in Payson, Utah that, while representing the ridiculous extreme, certainly shows how far we still have to go to even begin to approach reasonable discussion with most – and, unfortunately, that’s true on both sides of this particular debate.

  14. Jared, I don’t see what proving the claims of the LDS church has to do with anything I just said. I’m talking about convincing apologetics and theological narrative, not proofs.

    Chris, I distinctly remember a thread at MADB wherein someone e-mailed Margaret Barker and asked her if she believed the Book of Mormon was an ancient text, and she responded to the effect that she thinks it’s a 19th century document. I think you’re the second person who’s asked me where I heard it, so I should probably go try to look it up.

  15. Because personally, I think it’s nit-picking the statements of others and forcing them to qualify every adjective they write instead of trying to grasp what they mean that makes it difficult to have good discussions.

  16. This is for Jared
    Jared you asked me… What are the top 5 discrepancies, in your opinion, that hinder the churches progress?

    Well Let’s just start with theses 5

    1. Why did Joseph Smith condone polygamy as an ordinance from God (Doctrine and Covenants 132) when the Book of Mormon had already condemned the practice (Jacob 1:15, 2:24 2:27 & 3:5)?

    2. If God is an exalted man with a body of flesh and bones, why does Alma 18:26-28 and John 4:24 say that God is a spirit?

    3. Why does the church baptize for the dead when both Mosiah 3:25 and the Bible state that there is no chance of salvation after death?

    Also in Alma 34:33-35 it states….

    ALMA 34:33-35: “And now, as I said unto you before, as ye have had so many witnesses, therefore, I beseech of you that ye do not procrastinate the day of your repentance until the end; for after this day of life, which is given us to prepare for eternity, behold, if we do not improve our time while in this life, then cometh the night of darkness wherein there can be no labor performed. Ye cannot say, when ye are brought to that awful crisis, that I will repent, that I will return to my God. Nay, ye cannot say this; for that same spirit which doth possess your bodies at the time that ye go out of this life, that same spirit will have power to possess your body in that eternal world. For behold, if ye have procrastinated the day of your repentance even until death, behold, ye have become subjected to the spirit of the devil, and he doth seal you his; therefore, the Spirit of the Lord hath withdrawn from you, and hath no place in you, and the devil hath all power over you; and this is the final state of the wicked.”

    4. Why do the Bible verses quoted in the Book of Mormon contain the italicized words from the King James Version that were added into the KJV text by the translators in the 16th and 17th centuries?

    5. If the LDS church teaches that the Father, Son and Holy Ghost are three seperate Gods then why does 2 Nephi 31:21 say…. And now, behold, my beloved brethren, this is the way; and there is none other way nor name given under heaven whereby man can be saved in the kingdom of God. And now, behold, this is the doctrine of Christ, and the only and true doctrine of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, which is one God, without end. Amen.
    Also in the Book Of Mormon it teaches
    the last sentence states: And the honor be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Ghost, which is one God. Amen.

  17. I think a particular dynamic that may lead to the impression that Mormons are “winning the debate” is that Mormons have real academics in the game, and Evangelicals generally don’t. For real Evangelical scholars Mormonism is a fringe topic, whereas obviously for Mormons it is front and center. The New Mormon Challenge was an important exception that kind of proves the rule. To me that was an important book, an attempt to take the Evangelical critique of Mormonism to a new, more scholarly, and more responsible level. In general I thought it was successful in doing that. But my impression, and correct me if I’m wrong, is that that volume has had very little boots on the ground impact. Rank and file Evangelicals seem to much prefer the older style of polemic, a la Kingdom of the Cults and the like. The more responsible scholarly approach just doesn’t seem to resonate as well as the older boundary maintenance type of literature. That is understandable, because the increase in the responsibility quotient results in a like increase in the intellectual capital necessary to follow the argumentation, and it is easier not to go down that road.

    I tend to agree with Ray that it is sort of meaningless to talk about who is “winning the debate,” as there isn’t really much of a genuine debate going on, but just lots of boundary maintenance on both sides of the fence.

  18. In the spirit of Christopher’s comment (#10), I would like to add that some Book of Mormon defenders have taken too facile an approach to supposed non-nineteenth-century concepts which, in fact, were strong components of Joseph Smith’s time. It is a lot of work to delineate such things, particularly if readers are not truly interested, so let me confine myself to the first example quoted in the post:

    Mormon scholars take this [Reformed Egyptian] to suggest the possibility that the writers used modified Egyptian symbols to represent Hebrew words (“Hebrew words, idioms, and syntax written in Egyptian cursive script”), certainly a bizarre idea for a nineteenth-century audience. [Quoting Dr. Terryl Givens, By the Hand of Mormon, 132.]

    This was certainly not “a bizarre idea for a nineteenth-century audience.”

    – Elias Boudinot (president of the Continental Congress, 1782-83; directing negotiator for the treaty with England after the Revolutionary War; founding president of the American Bible Society, 1816-21; and benefactor of Princeton and other institutions of learning) reasoned that prophecy is, in a sense, hieroglyphic speech, using symbolic representations which do not change (just as hieroglyphic written characters are based on unchanging concrete phenomena, unlike highly evolved phonetic characters which may not be comprehensible to future civilizations). Boudinot commented that “This may serve to shew the nature of this hieroglyphical language. The Jews understood this manner of writing, being the learning of that age . . .” –The Second Advent, or Coming of The Messiah in Glory . . . (Trenton, (N.J.): Published by O. Fenton & S. Hutchinson, 1815), 171.

    – Ethan Smith, in his small work entitled A Key to the Figurative Language Found in the Sacred Scriptures . . . (Exeter, [New Hampshire]: Printed by C. Norris & Co. and Sold at Their Bookstore.- Sold Also by E. Little & Co. Newburyport, 1814) stated, in his Discussions No. 10-11, that many ancient nations used Egyptian hieroglyphics to write their own more symbolic material.

    – and Moses Stuart, arguably America’s greatest exegetical biblical scholar of his day (and a friend of Joshua Seixas who would teach Hebrew to Mormons in Kirtland, Ohio), commented on Abraham’s affinity with the Egyptians, and asked, inasmuch as “. . . Moses was learned in all the wisdom of the Egyptians, who can well suppose that some of his written characters in Hebrew, where these agreed in sound with the Egyptian letters, would not be more or less conformed to the Egyptian mode of writing them?” –Moses Stuart commentary, in J. G. H[onoré]. Greppo, Essay on the Hieroglyphic System of M. Champollion, Jun. and on the Advantages Which it Offers to Sacred Criticism. Translated from the French by Isaac Stuart, with Notes and Illustrations. Posuit Dominus in Ægypto signa sua. (Boston: Perkins & Marvin, 1830), 270. The diverse appendix of this work includes a translation of the Rosetta Stone, a discussion of Mexican hieroglyphs and their comparison to the nature of anaglyphs of the Egyptians, and a section on the “Similarity of Egyptian and Hebrew Writing and Language,” concluding that “. . . much more relation will be shown to have existed between the old Egyptian and the Hebrew, than has hitherto been supposed.”

  19. Well, there is an interesting debate going on here, and it is interesting that many people are commenting on pieces of the puzzle: DNA, Mesoamerica, trinity, polygamy, 19th century ideas, hieroglyphics, Book of Abraham, etc. There’s too much to comment on, but let me offer a few comments. Who’s winning the debate? Well, I think that depends on whether you think the glass is half empty, or half full.

    I am always reminded that ALL religions struggle to deal with intellectualism. The purposes of scripture are theological, rather than scientific. Scripture has a purpose of teaching us about God; it wasn’t written with scientific rigor in mind, and when we try to subject religion to scientific rigor, I think religion and scripture will always come up short. It is always interesting when religous people use science to “prove” their position. I think such tactics are always shaky, because science is really a two-edged sword. For every proof we come up with to support scripture, there are other proofs which do not seem to support scripture (or at least our interpretations seem to be wrong.) Evolution vs creation, was Noah’s flood worldwide or local, did the Exodus even happen, is Jonah just a fish tale, was Christ really resurrected, did Nephi exist–all of these questions have extremely questionable scientific validity. Sometimes we have to settle for “is it possible?”

    I must say that I was surprised by Givens’ sunny portrayal of Mormon academics. To be fair, he offers much more on the debate than I have quoted here. I must say that he went into great detail on Thomas Ferguson and his archeological expeditions in Central America, but I was surprised Givens did not talk more about Ferguson’s disillusionment. The DNA issue didn’t arrive until 2004, 2 years after Givens’ published his book, so I’m not surprised it wasn’t addressed. Givens’ book was about the Book of Mormon, not the Book of Abraham, so I can see why that wasn’t addressed.

    There were some other things that Givens did address, which I referred in the longer version of my post. Rick, while there may have been pockets that referred to hieroglyphics, I don’t think any of the examples you mention were widely held beliefs. The quote from Givens on page 132 continues on, and cites that some original charges made by anti-Mormons have actually turned to the Mormon’s advantage. He uses the reformed Egpytian idea as one example.

    Though the expression “reformed Egyptian” garnered no small amount of ridicule at the time and since (“deformed English” rather than “reformed Egyptian,” sniffed Charles Shook in 1910, after looking at the Anthon transcript57), scholars now generally recognize that “Demotic Egyptian, of origin not long before Lehi’s Exodus, is certainly a ‘reformed Egyptian’ as are other well-known and less-known variations.”58 Nibley points out that Meroitic, “a baffling and still largely undeciphered Egyptian script which developed out of Demotic under circumstances remarkably paralleling the purported development of the Nephite writing, has the most striking affinities to the characters on the so-called Anthon Transcript.”59

    I’m sure that Owens and Mosser’s call to Evangelical scholarship has not gone undeeded, and I am not surprised that there are more books along this line. However, it does appear that some non-Mormon scholars are taking the Book of Mormon more seriously. In this post, Wilfred Griggs “told of a conversation with another Egyptologist. Griggs had previously given this person, (Prof Berger?) a copy of the Book of Mormon, and asked him what he thought of it. Berger replied that “it is certainly an ancient book.” He had no problems with the gold plates, because archaeologists have found plenty of gold plates. He had no problem with Joseph Smith. He said something to the effect of “a lot of savants to strange and special things. His problem was “we’ve got to get rid of angels. We could really make this a good book.” He went on to say that the Book of Ether fits very well in the 2000 BC time period.”

  20. Suzanne,

    A couple of quick answers.

    1. Jacob 28 – a full reading is “For if I will, saith the Lord of Hosts, raise up seed unto me, I will comand my people, otherwise, they shall hearken unto these things”.

    2. It seems Ammon was refering to Jehovah who was a spirt before his mortal experience (when this was written). Christ asked his disciples to “Handle me and see, for a spirit hath not flesh and bones as ye see me have”. This was shortly after Christ’s physical resurrection – did he die again (separation of spirit and body) after his ascention?

    3. I am sure someone can write a better response than mine, but Christ taught that a physical baptism was essential for inheritance in the Kingdom of God and no, the thief on the cross did not go to Heaven, he went to Paradise. Most creedal Christians conclude that 1. not heard of Christ or received baptism? you are damned or 2. Christ didn’t mean what he said about baptism. Baptism for the dead is a proxy ordinance that allows individual who did not have the opportunity in this life to hear the gospel and receive this saving ordinance, choose to receive it.

    4. Again, someone else here probably has a better response

    5. Three in one in unity, not physically. Fundamentally, we believe we and God are the same species. I guess you could say we are Biblical literalists – we are his children. The trinitarian paradigm is not consistent with our familial one.

    We don’t expect you to agree, but it would be helpful if you were to understand. Your anti-Mormon cut and paste approach here indicate that you are not that interested in understanding.

  21. #14 Chris ~ I’ve spent the morning searching for the thread and I just cannot for the life of me find it. So I would like to retract what I said about Barker in my #12 until I do find the thread or until I ask her myself.

    The closest I could find was this this exchange here, where Christensen admits that he has never asked her for her private views. But that was back in 2006.

  22. #23 “However, it does appear that some non-Mormon scholars are taking the Book of Mormon more seriously.” Please tell me you don’t really believe this. Your link didn’t work for me, but I searched for Wilfred Griggs on google and found what appears to be an account of a fireside talk that was likely an exaggerated version of events from a believer’s bias. Prof Berger? apparently had “no problem joseph smith”, but didn’t believe in any of the supernatural stuff. Lots of anti-mormons could fit that same description. What does it mean to have “no problem with joseph smith” when you don’t believe most of what he claimed? The website also had a typical conspiracy theory type of claim, “Griggs made it sound like many Egyptologists have a belief that the BoM is authentic, but angels and miracles don’t fit into an academic mind.” Sure–they all really believe, but they are just ashamed to admit it in their academic circles. Get real.

    Are mormon academics winning the debate with evangelicals? That is like asking whether the easter bunny or the tooth fairy people have a stronger claim on the truth. I’d say that mormons will eventually win the academic argument–simply because we are more likely to change our beliefs as time goes on. The evangelicals will be stuck in a literalist biblical view that is wholly indefensible. Mormons will evolve to at least tolerate “inspired fiction” and similar ideas that give us a stronger academic claim.

  23. Jack, all I meant is that we all tend to speak in broad terms that don’t do jusitce to the actual teachings of the other side. Your quote fits that perfectly. Mormonism never has claimed exclusive divine revelation – that nobody but Mormons and/or Mormon leaders receive revelation. That’s EXACTLY how almost any evangelical would interpret what you wrote, and it isn’t accurate of Mormonism.

    There is a huge difference between what some Mormons believe and what is “current doctrine”. The Bible Dictionary definition of “revelation” makes it perfectly clear that ANYONE who is striving to live the principles of the Gospel is entitled to receive revelation for their own lives and stewardship. The “exclusive revelation” claim of the LDS Church is institutionally for the world – and is NO different in that sense than the evangelical claim that Mormons, as non-Chritians, can’t receive revelation from their apostate, ridiculous God. That’s FAR more exclusionary than most Mormons would say it if asked if others can receive revelation. So, the EXACT same charge you made could be made more broadly and accurately about the evangelical community than the Mormon community.

    (Most Mormons: Sure, evenagelicals (and many others) can receive personal revelation from God if they are sincerely striving to live the Gospel of Jesus Christ to the best of their own understanding. Most evangelicals: Those [literally] damned Mormons (and Catholics and Jehovah’s Witnesses and Muslims and Hindus and Jews and Buddhists ad infinitum) can’t receive revelation from God.)

    That’s my point: Over-eggagerations on both sides don’t yield fruitful debate; they just yield arguments. I’m not nit-picking your words; I’m pointing out what those words mean to almost every “average” evangelical who will read them and that the meaning they will take from those words is inaccurate and, frankly, hypocritical.

  24. “while there may have been pockets that referred to hieroglyphics, I don’t think any of the examples you mention were widely held beliefs.”


    I think your statement above is a good example of why LDS scholars will never be able to determine if the BoM is historical or fictional. In a previous thread when we discussed Nahom in the BoM and I pointed out that the place had actually been identified in the mid 1700’s and placed on many of the better maps by 1820, you said the same thing. (Those particular maps probably weren’t available to JS) That reasoning is starting to sound very hollow anymore as you really have no idea of what JS may or may not have learned before the BoM was published.

    In Dan Vogal’s “Joseph Smith: The Making of a Prophet” he makes a good case for showing that nothing in the BoM is original to JS and the needed information was available within a couple hundred miles of his home. Grant Palmer came to the same conclusion in his book “An Insider’s View of Mormon Origins” Therefore, I think that you could be intellectually honest enough to admit that these scholars at least have a point worth considering. Obviously, no amount of evidence will be enough for some to change their mind about the BoM, on either side of the debate. For a neutral investigator into Mormonism though, I think an intellectual investigation of the BoM is going to yield a determination of it being a 19th century work. Just my opinion… 🙂

  25. Doug, that Dan Vogel book is on my “to read” list. We’ve been down this road before, and I don’t think Joseph Smith did the kind of research Dan Brown did to come up with the Book of Mormon. What do you make of the following quote from Givens book, page 118:

    Nibley compares the Book of Mormon “Hermounts” (the wild country of the borderlands) with Egyptian “Hermonthis” (a land of Month, god of wild places and things), and points out the “bulls-eyes” of the Book of Mormon characters Paanchi, Korihor, and Pahoran. Paankhi turns out to be an Egyptian name in the seventh century B.C., and Korihor turns up in both Egyptian and Asiastic derivatives.8 In this regard, it is well worth nothing that William Foxwell Albright, doyen of American ancient Near East studies, wrote to a critic seeking to debunk Smith’s writings that “when the Book of Mormon was written, Egyptian had just begun to be deciphered and it is all the more surprising that there are two Egyptian names, Paanchi[i] and Pahor[an] which appear together in the Book of Mormon in close connection with a reference to the original language being ‘Reformed Egyptian.’”9

    I don’t know if you’ve studied biblical archaeology, but Albright is THE big wig of Biblical archaeology.

  26. MH,

    Ever studied the similarities between President Lincoln’s assassination and President Kennedy’s? There would appear to be LOTS of strange coincidences, but in reality no connection. I think the same applies when you go looking for things like this name deal with Pahoran etc. There could be many explanations for how those names came into the book which may be just as valid as the assumptions being made by LDS scholars. I guess my point is, if you look hard enough at 520 pages of text, you’re bound to find similarities to most anything. Look what they’re doing with bible code, using computers to sift through pages and pages of text to find hidden writings. An independent analysis by scientist as shown that any book with as much text as the bible has can demonstrate the same kinds of coincidences in messages appearing.

    I don’t have a problem with members of the church claiming that they’ve had a spiritual witness of the BoM, but let’s not say that science is starting to lean towards the book as historical. For the professionals that study ancient America, the BoM is not even on the radar of helping them understand those people. Out of respect for our religion, I think most keep their opinion to themselves, but I wouldn’t interpret that silence as secretly believing it has merit.

  27. Yes, Doug, your points are well taken. This isn’t a post of religion vs science, but rather religion vs religion using science as a vehicle. As I mentioned in 23, science and religion don’t always support each other at all times. I do find it a little ironic that you said, There would appear to be LOTS of strange coincidences, but in reality no connection. When we studied the Spaulding Manuscript theory, you felt these coincidences were supporting your view.

  28. “When we studied the Spaulding Manuscript theory, you felt these coincidences were supporting your view.”

    Yep, I did… So you’re saying I’m no better than standard LDS apologetics??? Ouch, that hurts! 🙂

  29. Doug, as an FYI, I plan to talk a bit about wordprint studies (specifically Jockers) in a future post. I’m sure you’ll find it interesting. Serious, sorry about the link, but it looks like you found it. I fixed it for others.

  30. Wyoming….
    Why are you so offended by questions? Why do questions always warrant the label of anti-mormon? My cut and paste? Those are questions that I have from studying! If I didn’t want to understand… why would I ask you about these things? I want to understand why you believe some of these things… I really do see things that need to be clarified for everyone! Please refrain from labeling me, when you have no idea of where I am coming from. Suzanne

  31. Doug, I don’t no if you realize it, but an implication of your argument is that no matter what ANY 19th Century writer writes about the ancient world, you will eventually be able to find someone who had an earlier version of the same idea.

    I’ve even come across ancient references to black holes — but Einstein still gets credit for relativity.

    As I noted in MH’s version of this post on his own site, my belief in the historicity of the BofM comes on the basis of personal testimony. As a scientist, I think of it as an anomaly, neither very explainable as genuine ancient text nor as 19th Century fiction. As a scientist, I try to remember that if explanation A is bad and explanation B is also bad, you don’t try to pick the least bad explanmation and say its the true one. You say the mystery remains scientifically unsolved, and decide what you will believe based on other factors.

    Eventually, there will be sufficient scientific evidence to decide among explanation A, B, or an as yet unrecognized explanation C.

    However, I expect I’ll be dead before that happens, at which time I’ll have personal experimental confirmation, or will no longer be able to care. 😀

  32. SUZANNE, are you glad Wyoming also answered all of your questions in full?

    On Nibley, he is really similar to Eliade or Campbell. It was an interesting era, and you can see the same approaches and tools and glosses used by each of those men.

    The Book of Abraham, taken on its own as a temple text is actually gaining a great deal of strength.

    Interesting stuff though. The ebb and flow of things continues.

  33. RE: #29 (“. . . I don’t think Joseph Smith did the kind of research Dan Brown did to come up with the Book of Mormon.”)

    The point of familiarizing ourselves with Joseph Smith’s culture is not to suppose that young Joseph was some sort of researcher or magus. Instead, it is to suggest that his culture was much more rich, diverse, and available than we may heretofore have thought. Some writer two thousand years from now may encounter a 1990 high school essay by a kid from Kalamazoo discussing speculative life in outer space. If that writer is unfamiliar with late twentieth-century entertainment and science, he may imagine that this kid was some impossible exception, or genius.

    I won’t pretend to know if or where Pahoran or Paanchi may have entered the mix in Joseph Smith’s time, but it will be interesting to begin, now, to watch. For something else along the lines of nomenclature in the meantime, try the following . . . (.pdf of 1.7 MB)

  34. Stephen M (Ethesis)
    Yes, I am glad he attempted to answer my questions… although they are just a repeat of what he has been taught and are very weak explanations at best.

  35. Suzanne #38

    Do you mind highlighting the weaknesses in Wyoming’s explanations ? I think Wyoming did a very good job of providing clear unbiased answers to your top 5 issues.

    RE: issue #4 I don’t really have a good explanation for your question, additionally there is a JST in Isaiah and in the respective portion of the Book of Mormon additionally there is a JST from the Sermon on the Mount that should therefore be in 3 Nephi.

    I recognise that the Bible has key errors but I believe it to be true, that same spirit that tells me the Bible is true also tells me the Book of Mormon is true.

  36. Regarding the Nibley egyptian name parallels, ie, pannchi, pahoran, korihor, etc:

    When I took statistics, one of the most profound obseravations made our professor was regarding the human mind and patterns. He said that peoples minds were conditioned to take observations, be it sight, sound, short stories, or correlation data, and create context. In short, he said, “…therefore people have become quite adept at detecting patterns when they exist. Unfortunately, we have also become skilled at detecting patterns when they don’t exist”. I recall reading a review of Nibley’s work several years ago, from a BYU colleague who was quite critical of Nibley’s old world parallels based on the logic of my stat’s professor. He argued that Nibley was notorious for cherry-picking parallels from cultures entirely dissassociated from one another, and molding them into a Mormon collage that ultimatey betrays the individual parts from which he draws his narrative. I will concede that I am no Nibley, however I have read a few of his books. In particular was “The Temple and the Cosmos”, which was what led me to research Nibley and find the critical reviews. After reading most of “The Temple and the Cosmos”, I couldn’t help but have the impression that the criticism was probably right and fair. He seemed to jump all over the place for his old world connections to Mormonism.

  37. Suzanne, and your questions aren’t a repeat of what you’ve heard and “been taught”??

    I’m NOT saying that in a sarcastic or accusatory manner. I’m trying simply to point out that you are rejecting those answers out-of-hand in the EXACT same way you chasitized him for doing to you. You are making assumptions about those answers and him in the exact same way you accused him of doing to you – which reinforces what I said in my first comment on this thread.

    To re-state to my previous point:

    There is FAR too little listening in order to understand in religious debates and FAR too much out-of-hand rejection to say that either side is winning. I think the best one can say is that both sides generally are further entrenching and claiming victory because their foritifcations are getting higher.

    One last point:

    It’s really sad when winning in the religious arena means causing more casualties.

    There are those who really are trying to preach their beliefs with love and patience and no ill-will or vitriol – but there are those on BOTH sides who preach from a position of destruction and viciousness and hatred (whether they understand and admit it or not). I think an objective analysis would show that this happens now more on the evangelical side than the Mormon side (or, at least, more obviously and in an inflammatory manner) – but our earlier years in the LDS Church were full of statements like what we face now.

  38. Sadly, I think most of the debate boils down to the fact that different types of people are attracted to different religions. I’d rather be happy for those who have found what they want outside of Mormonism than debate why what I want or think is better than what they prefer. But people sure do like to be right.

    Debating the BOM with scholars of other faiths is probably not very useful since “religious scholar” is a bit of an oxymoron. A scholar has to strive to be objective above all else, regardless of where that objectivity leads. If the process begins with the end in mind – it’s really just seeking confirming evidence (proof) for what one already believes, and evidence is unlikely to change one’s view one way or the other.

    It’s impossible to be truly objective about spiritual matters which are by their very nature personal and subjective.

  39. I am skeptical of the whole approach as to who is “winning”. Joseph Smith’s description of the religious turmoil that led to the alleged First Vision, is quite interesting. In Joseph Smith History 1:11 he describes his situation thusly:

    “While I was laboring under the extreme difficulties caused by the contests of these parties of religionists…”

    The description of a religious contest seems to be used pejoratively here. Contained within this same verse is the recounting of how reading in the Book of James led Joseph to settle the debate, not by an appeal to the Bible (or modern scholarship), but rather to ask of God. In verse 26, Joseph is lamenting the alleged persecution heaped upon him in consequence of his telling the story to a Methodist Minister, in at least one instance. As he reflects on this he declare:

    “I had now got my mind satisfied so far as the sectarian world was concerned…I had found the testimony of James to be true—that a man who lacked wisdom might ask of God, and obtain, and not be upbraided.”

    Fast forward 180 years and where are we now? Injected into a contest, and war of words that can neither proved nor disproved, crying “Lo” here and “Lo” there. Kevin Barney eloquently noted that only Mormons have the invested interest to acquire intellectual capital requisite to engage an intellectual debate surrounding Mormonism. I think this is correct, and yet what has been the purpose? Not to advance spirtuality, nor to access the mysteries. Rather, to find an appropriate setting for The Book of Mormon, or to justify origins of the Book of Abraham, or find hebraic/egyptian intricacies in the texts. I suppose we can all see what we want to see from this. I see a Church of people who “firmly” believe in their religion, but who are yet unsatisfied with that conviction – therefore they require an intellectual proof as well. This despite their claim to “know”. At the very least I think this bespeaks an unconsidered (or unspoken) insufficiency of the “witness” of the Holy Ghost.

  40. I’d like to know what arguments Mormon scholars seem to be winning, or the Evangelicals think they are losing. The LDS church takes no official position on the location of activities which supposedly occurred in the Book of Mormon. Fergusen did extensive research in central America in the 1950s and 60s only to conclude nothing in the book ever occurred there. Joseph Smith strongly hinted that the history of the Book of Mormon occurred in and around the upstate New York and Great Lakes region. The Hill Cumorah is the only place the church treats historically and that’s because it is mentioned in D & C. Despite that, no evidence (not one shred) has ever been found in the area of the Hill Cumorah where J. Smith stated the final battles occurred; not one bone, not one sword, not one shred of clothing. The Meso America theory was originally an RLDS assumption that exists now as a type of urban folklore amongst church members. Even down there the correlation is sketchy and tenuous – in other words, unverifiable.

    I welcome any and all rebuttals.

    The truth is in Christ and His teachings anyway – not Joseph Smith.

  41. It seems that most of these discussions are coming from a head and not heart arena.
    I am sorry if I attempted to enter into that. I really intend to reach out through a place of love not hate and discord. I’m sure most if not all of you have your minds made up to stick to what you’ve been taught and believe. I have truthfully researched both sides of the coin and find many unsettleling issues on both sides.
    I am not affiliated with any denomination but I am a believer and follower of the Lord Jesus Christ of the Bible. I pray that the eyes of “all” of us will be opened to “His” Truth.

  42. One massive lacuna in LDS apologetics is work in statistics. The Hugh Nibley-inspired apologetic mania for “parallels” and “bulls-eyes” has has produced a solid number of fairly-arguable coincidences — but as far as I know, there has never been any rigorous statistical analysis of whether these coincidences between ancient and Book of Mormon texts are statistically likely.

    I recall someone making the case that the Book of Mormon word “shum” is related to a similar Old Akkadian word for grain. Query for the statisticians: What are the odds that an invented one-syllable word would have a cognate in one of multiple Old World languages? (How far afield from Hebrew is it fair to go in looking for coincidences? What if there were a word “kurlom” in Old High Slavonic that referred to some kind of animal? Fair to identify it as a parallel for “curelom”?)

    I laughed a little watching the Olympic women’s figure skating finals, in which the silver medal was won by a woman whose name brought to mind the image of barbecued Chinese Communist. (Mao Asada. Hee hee.) There are only so many sounds our primate tongues can form — has there ever been any sound statistical analysis that demonstrates that even with so many Book of Mormon neologisms to work with on the one side, and multiple Old World languages on the other, that a handful of coincidences would be astronomically unlikely?

  43. #27 Ray ~ As I was originally typing the comment, I remember thinking to myself, “somebody is going to complain about that line because Mormons accept that anyone can receive personal revelation,” but I decided to leave it because I figured the LDS audience here would know what I meant. I guess I was mistaken.

    I agree that an evangelical might not understand what I meant, but this is an LDS blog with a largely LDS audience. When I address evangelicals, I break things down much more carefully. When I speak to Mormons about Mormon concepts, I pick up the pace because I assume they can keep up.

    In any case, Mormons hold that only their prophet has the authority from God to receive revelation for their church, which is the only true and living Church of Jesus Christ on the face of the whole earth. Most would hold that only the prophet can receive divine revelation meant for the entire world. The church also teaches that only baptized members of the church can have the gift of the Holy Spirit (which is usually defined as the constant companionship of the Holy Spirit) and that non-members don’t have access to gifts of the Spirit. That’s a lot of exclusive revelation to claim. Affirming that non-members can have occasional flashes of revelation due to “the light of Christ” hardly makes my statement an overly broad generalization.

    I realize that individual members may contest aspects of my last paragraph, but I can document it all with official church manuals, which makes it pretty responsible take on LDS belief in my book.

  44. grimalkin,

    joseph smith said thje final battle occurred at the hill cumorah. many have assumed that the hill where joseph found the plates is the same hill of the battle. joseph did not name the hill where he found the plates cumorah – others did. sorensen and others believe there are 2 hill cumorahs and this has been well documented by sorenson.

    thomas, I have a general statistics post planned. it doesn’t address the issues you raise, but I think you will find it interesting. as a statistician myself, I have always found statistics easier to calculate than probabilities. I am reminded od the furor created when simcha jacobovici had a statistician calculate the probably the tomb of jesus would have 2 mary’s, a joseph, and a james all in the same tomb by chance. it was very unlikely, but that didn’t stop people from complaining about the methodology of the calculations.

  45. #48 mh — Of course the very existence of the *universe* is “very unlikely,” as far as it can be calculated.

    So would the occurrence of the following letter combinations by randomly pounding on my keyboard:


    And yet it just happened.

  46. mh,

    Says who! DC 72 has Joseph Smith himself saying “Glad Tidings from Cumorah” Fayetteville, Seneca County – look it up!! Smith did call the place Cumorah.

    OK so Sorenson ‘believes’ this, but has no evidence whatsoever. It is all guesswork, ifs, maybes, probably, go with your heart, pray about it stuff. I still want just one peer reviewed, proof positive piece of evidence this didn’t occur in and around New York as Joseph Smith said. Or for that matter that these stories even occurred at all anywhere.

    And although I am no statistician, taking one or two steps back from the brunt of the arguing here, I have to interject that statistics can and are used to lie, decieve or cover up the truth. In this case statistics are being used to create truth from ‘maybe’. This is no science!!! This is grasping at straws.

  47. thomas, we’re probably all familiar with the saying that there are liars, damn liars, and statisticians. yes, there are people that use statistics to decieve, and there are others who misapply and misuse statistics with good intentions. i’m not clear on your last statement. are we to throw all of statistics as nothing more than witchcraft with no useful benefits whatsoever? I doubt you would agree with that, but under what applications are we to responsibly use statistics?

  48. sorry thomas. it’s har to see the full comments on me phone, and my memnory isn’t too good when reading a bunch of comments.

  49. Despite that, no evidence (not one shred) has ever been found in the area of the Hill Cumorah other than the fact that the box was observed for years, washed down the hill side and then was lost. It is amazing that people did not think it significant, other than to discuss in passing.

    non-members don’t have access to gifts of the Spirit — that is definitely not an LDS doctrine. Obviously they have access, both as prophets have noted because gifts of the Spirit would include God speaking to them by the Spirit (and a number of prophets have asserted that God has spoken at all times and in all places to people who were not members — some of whom did not even know of God) and the more mundane witnesses of the Spirit that lead people to join the Church.

    And SUZANNE, you are reading a little like a drive-by, not really engaging. I’m not sure I see the point of your apology I am sorry if I attempted to enter into that since people were and are inviting you to enter into the discussion. It may be a stylistic thing, but you replicate in your style a reoccurring archetype. Just FYI.

  50. Good-bye, Suzanne. I truly and sincerely wish you the best as you attempt to follow Christ. Please grant us the same wish, and please recognize our same effort.

  51. Firetag, #35

    We’re in agreement my friend. At present I don’t believe the “ancient scripture” or “19th century fiction” debate has been won by either side. There are interesting problems for both sides to deal with and therefore science has yet to provide the final answer. Of course for my way of thinking, the evidence against its historicity would seem more substantial than the arguments for it. But I fully admit my bias and therefore concede that I could be wrong.


    “Despite that, no evidence (not one shred) has ever been found in the area of the Hill Cumorah other than the fact that the box was observed for years, washed down the hill side and then was lost.”

    Really???? Perhaps the church should have done a better job of promoting this story and saved themselves lots of work at the Hill Cumorah. I grew up in upstate NY and spent several summers working at the Hill planting trees. The church planted over a thousand trees on the slope that Joseph claimed he found the plates on because members kept digging holes trying to find this box that you claim washed down the hill side. Even for church historians, the story of the box washing down the hill is treated with a certain amount of skepticism. So for you to make the statement that it’s a fact based on the totally unsubstantiated statement of David Whitmer made fifty years later to a Chicago reporter say’s a lot about how little evidence you need to declare something as a fact. Good luck with that…

  52. If God could hide golden plates for over a thousand years, why would he let the box slide down a hill? So silly that I want to laugh. I mean, if one does not believe Joseph Smith to be a real prophet, why would they believe in a box? I think I might drink down some cold medicine to keep my head from falling off my shoulders.

  53. I laughed a little watching the Olympic women’s figure skating finals, in which the silver medal was won by a woman whose name brought to mind the image of barbecued Chinese Communist. (Mao Asada. Hee hee.)

    Thomas #46,

    Mao the commie dictator’s name means “hair,” but Mao Asada’s Mao means something like “dead center” or “true middle.” (Although she was apparently named after a famous actress, so the meaning of her name probably isn’t very significant.)

    But here’s a coincidence for you: in English, the word “pine” has two meanings, of course: “a kind of tree” and “wait” (i.e., “pine away,” “pine for”). The Japanese word for a pine tree is “matsu.” The Japanese word for wait is also “matsu.”

    Since I learned that, I no longer find linguistic coincidences at all startling.

  54. Suzanne,

    I should refrain from posting when tired (and grouchy). I have appreciated the more constructive dialouge from Robert Millet – Greg Jones where they use each other’s religion as the source of their information. I had read your points a number of time in anti-mormon literature and so may have made some incorrect assumptions. I apologize for my tone.

    My favorite ‘truth’ in all of this is that the God that we define differently, deeply loves Evangelicals and Mormons and is eager to reveal Himself in personal ways to each of us.

    Charles from Wyoming

  55. Evangelical objection to LDS doctrine is for the most part expressed in prejudiced and outdated nineteenth century rhetoric and propaganda. The most that the majority of  anti-LDS activists can even hope to accomplish is to sow suspicion about all our doctrines being inspired by alleged demonic doctrine and ritual. There is a lot of wishful thinking out there, predicting the total collapse of “Mormonism”. Our self-appointed enemies can wish in one hand and spit in the other–and I don’t have to tell you which hand will fill up faster…! Nothing short of the sudden and unexpected end of the world (the “rapture”…?) will even slow the growth of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. We bear the Savior’s name–and there isn’t much that needs to be said beyond that…!

  56. I was totally crushed after reading a book titled ” The in’s and out’s of mormonism” a few years back. I don’t recall the authors name but i do recall that it was sent to me by the UTAH LIGHTHOUSE MINISTRIES. Then i got my hands on books from people like Hugh Nibley, or other folks from F.A.R.M.S and it’s so very obvious that we { LDS Believers} got the upper hand with the so called debate. They { anti-mormon scholars} don’t seem to reply to F.A.R.M.S… It’s kinda of funny. Oh and i’m not crushed anymore……

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