Saturday, October 12, 2013

Henry the V, Hummers, and the Book of Mormon

Why don't you "pray" to know if some purported history has Henry V going into battle at Agincourt in a Hummer is TRUE?? Are you so certain that new evidence (for Hummers several centuries ago) won't come forth to change the thinking of experts? How limited is THAT kind of thinking??  In other words, you haven't been paying attention: the BOM is FULL OF ANACHRONISMS, just as bad as Henry riding in a Hummer.”[1]

This is fairly typical of the kind of mockery that critics heap upon the Book of Mormon.  But I’ve been going through storage that includes hundreds of books. So I recently read several about the Hundred Years War. This was a conflict between England and France that, naturally, lasted on and off for 100 years. It started in the 1337 with Edward III trying to expand England’s holdings and independence in Southwestern France.  They quickly won several outstanding victories including ones at Poitiers and Crecy. Agincourt was another outstanding victory in 1415 that ensured the French would continue to try and avenge their loss.  Shakespeare’s Henry V immortalized the conflict by embellishing items like the St. Crispin’s Day speech. This includes the famous line, “We few, we happy few, we band of brothers.” This period witnessed the rise and murder of Joan of Arc as well. The conflict ended in 1453 when the more widespread use of cannons ousted the English from their fortifications.  This was also the same year as the invention of the printing press and the fall of Constantinople.    

So naturally it sounds ridiculous to think that Henry the V had hummers. At first I thought about it facetiously.  If one of the soldiers was humming on a wagon, to the point that he was nicknamed "the hummer" then it wouldn't be an anachronism. It would be somewhat weird, but not laughably outrageous as the critics imply.   But then I remembered there was a prominent group in England called the Lollards. Some think the word comes from the Dutch for mumbling or English for singing softly, similar to the word lullaby. This described a group of people that followed the heresies of John Wycliffe.  I looked a little deeper, and the Gesta, a medieval chronicle and one of the earliest sources for the battle, discussed Agincourt in the same space as the Lollards.  So the idea of people who hum, or hummers, at the battle of Agincourt might not invite derision.

I know this author meant the vehicle, but the funny thing about language is that one word can have many different variations and mean various things. If somebody is unfamiliar with the language, unfamiliar with the history, and the text has no clarifying passages, they might think that hummer meant the vehicle, which is something they could laugh at and mock; but it could really mean another thing that actually enhances our understanding of the text. Just like hummer could mean the anachronistic vehicle, or it could be another term for a Lollard. A chariot in the Book of Mormon could mean what you see in Ben-Hur, but it could actually mean a carried sedan or litter accompanied by a ceremonial war animal. The first invites derisions since common knowledge assumes they didn’t have the wheel.[2] But the second actually enhances our understanding of the text, and helps us overcome faulty assumptions.

I should add that in order for critics use of the hummer to work, they have to do what critics usually do- insist upon one and only one meaning of a word. So hummer can only mean the vehicle. But language doesn't work like that. If I walked into a British bar and asked for a football game, they would not show RGIII and the Redskins. It wouldn't be called a bar either, but it would be a pub. When asked for a football game they would show what Americans would call soccer. So one word can contain multiple meanings for people who speak the same language in the same era. The same word can mean many things especially when working with two different languages from different eras as translation texts are, and as the Book of Mormon purports to be.

The reader can identify the exact meaning of terms if there are passages that provide context. Unfortunately, terms like chariot in the Book of Mormon don't have the clarifying context that this critic provided for hummer. He started calling it the “internal combustion kind” of hummer. But when the word chariot is used within the text, there are no discussions of wheels, no discussion of how exactly it was used, what the animal associated with it was used for, what it looked like and so forth. In fact, there are only several mentions of chariot in the entire text outside of the Isaiah chapters. Alma 18: 9, 10 and Alma 20:6 says that horses and chariots were made ready.  3 Nephi 3:22 said that the people took their chariots to their appointed meeting place. 

So critics insist that chariot has to mean the Ben-Hur kind. Even though a reader who strips away the assumptions gained from popular knowledge would not know what exactly was being described. When a person studies the passages context a new picture emerges. Mesoamerican Kings were often carried on a sedan. The word chariot actually means several different words in Hebrew, including litter or sedan. Mesoamerican kings also travelled to war with a ceremonial animal designated as a war token.[3]  So stripping away our assumptions of what the text should mean, it is just as likely that the term chariot refers to a carried sedan used by elites for transportation, accompanied by a battle beast or ceremonial war animal.[4]  This enhances the text since 3 Nephi 3:22 actually described a massive preparation of the Nephites for battle.

In short, when a critic attacks the Book of Mormon by using such obvious anachronisms such as hummers at the Battle of Agincourt, or chariots in Mesoamerica, a person should study the language, history, and any clarifying passages to better understand the text. Because you might find out that Henry V did take hummers to battle.   

[1] CARM Discussion Board. Father JD October 10th 2013, (Accessed, October 12th, 2013.)
[2] John Sorenson, though,  has discussed extensive evidence for the wheel in pre Columbian Mesoamerica.  John Sorenson, Mormon’s Codex: An Ancient American Book (Salt Lake City, Deseret Book, 2013) 350-356.
[3] See Lintel 2 of temple 1 at Tikal.
[4] Brant A. Gardner, Second Witness: Analytical and Contextual Commentary on the Book of Mormon, 6 vols. (Salt Lake City, UT: Greg Kofford Books, 2007) 4:287-288.