Monthly Archives: July 2010

Trends in Mormon scripture citations

Someone recently referred me to Brigham Young University’s online LDS Scripture Citation Index, a database of scripture citations from General Conference (an event, held twice a year, in which the top leaders of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints give speeches addressed to the general membership), and, just as I usually do when presented with a lot of data on a topic that interests me, I proceeded to waste far too much of my rather limited free time crunching numbers and looking for interesting patterns.

The Mormon scriptural canon consists of the Old and New Testaments, the Book of Mormon, the Doctrine and Covenants (a collection of Joseph Smith’s “revelations”), and a slim volume of miscellanea called the Pearl of Great Price. The graph below shows how many times each book of scripture was cited each year from 1942 to 2009. (The figures for 1957 have been doubled because only one conference was held that year instead of the usual two.)

As you can see, the Book of Mormon, which had previously been languishing in Pearl-of-Great-Price-like obscurity, suddenly shot to the top in 1985, since which time it has been cited about as frequently as the New Testament (formerly the undisputed top dog) and Doctrine and Covenants. What happened in 1985? Ezra Taft Benson.

It’s also interesting to look at the changing fortunes of some individual verses. The tables below show the number of citations per decade for eleven especially prominent passages. These eleven were chosen because each of them has had at least one decade in which it was cited 30 times or more.

Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.

Matthew 11:28 has been steadily rising in popularity and is the only Bible verse to have reached the 30-citation mark in the post-Benson era.

And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.

And this is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent.

Matthew 22:39 and John 17:3 both peaked in the sixties and have been declining — but not dramatically — since.

Neither is there salvation in any other: for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved.

Acts 4:12, which also peaked in the sixties, is clearly on the way out.

Wherefore, ye must press forward with a steadfastness in Christ, having a perfect brightness of hope, and a love of God and of all men. Wherefore, if ye shall press forward, feasting upon the word of Christ, and endure to the end, behold, thus saith the Father: Ye shall have eternal life.

For the natural man is an enemy to God, and has been from the fall of Adam, and will be, forever and ever, unless he yields to the enticings of the Holy Spirit, and putteth off the natural man and becometh a saint through the atonement of Christ the Lord, and becometh as a child, submissive, meek, humble, patient, full of love, willing to submit to all things which the Lord seeth fit to inflict upon him, even as a child doth submit to his father.

Yea, and are willing to mourn with those that mourn; yea, and comfort those that stand in need of comfort, and to stand as witnesses of God at all times and in all things, and in all places that ye may be in, even until death, that ye may be redeemed of God, and be numbered with those of the first resurrection, that ye may have eternal life—

These three verses from the Book of Mormon — 2 Nephi 31:20, Mosiah 3:19, and Mosiah 18:9 — all leapt to prominence in the Benson era and have been popular ever since.

And when ye shall receive these things, I would exhort you that ye would ask God, the Eternal Father, in the name of Christ, if these things are not true; and if ye shall ask with a sincere heart, with real intent, having faith in Christ, he will manifest the truth of it unto you, by the power of the Holy Ghost.

Moroni 10:4 is the only Book of Mormon verse to have reached the 30-citation mark before Ezra Taft Benson. It actually dropped in popularity during his tenure, though it seems to be making a comeback.

Yea, come unto Christ, and be perfected in him, and deny yourselves of all ungodliness; and if ye shall deny yourselves of all ungodliness, and love God with all your might, mind and strength, then is his grace sufficient for you, that by his grace ye may be perfect in Christ; and if by the grace of God ye are perfect in Christ, ye can in nowise deny the power of God.

If scriptures were stocks, this would be the one to invest in. It’s gone from zero to 36 and shows no signs of slowing down. I’m not sure what exactly that says about the Mormon zeitgeist, since it seems like a pretty nondescript verse to me.

For behold, this is my work and my glory—to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man.

It no sooner appeared than I found myself delivered from the enemy which held me bound. When the light rested upon me I saw two Personages, whose brightness and glory defy all description, standing above me in the air. One of them spake unto me, calling me by name and said, pointing to the other—This is My Beloved Son. Hear Him!

Although the Pearl of Great Price is consistently Mormonism’s least-cited book of scripture, the two heavyweight champion verses — Moses 1:39 and Joseph Smith History 1:17 — both come from it. Moses 1:39 is the only verse to have been cited at least 30 times in every one of the six decades.

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Cold-blooded in cold water

I’ve recently watched several BBC clips about the marine iguanas of Galapagos, and all of them make a big deal about the danger the cold water poses to the cold-blooded iguanas. This clip goes into the most detail:

Down on the shoreline live the most extraordinary of the island’s many strange inhabitants: marine iguanas, the only saltwater lizards in the world.

They eat algae — seaweed — growing on rocks between the tides, so they have to wait for the water to go down before they can feed. They live only on shores exposed to cold currents. The arrival of the cold water is a double-edged sword. Its nutrients stimulate the growth of the algae they eat, but because the lizards are cold-blooded, cold water slows them down and could even kill them. The best algae grow lose to the low tide mark, so it’s a race to eat all they can before the rocks are covered again and their bodies are chilled to danger point. Strong claws and a good grip are essential if you’re not to be swept away.

For most iguanas, life is ruled by the tides, but the big males have another option. Below the low tide mark, the growths of algae are more luxurious because the rocks are always covered. The males use the heat of the tropical sun to exploit them. They expose the greatest possible surface to its warming rays. Because their bodies are larger, they can store more heat and don’t chill down so quickly. When they’ve warmed to an optimum of 25 [or 35? unclear pronunciation] degrees, they take to the water. Down here they can take advantage of a food supply that’s out of reach for the smaller iguanas. They can hold their breath for 20 minutes or more, but they have to feed fast. Every minute they spend here, the heat is draining from their body. If their temperature falls too low, they’ll be unable to move, and they’ll die. It’s time to go.

As the voiceover  goes on about how dangerous the cold seawater is to the iguanas (on account of they’re cold-blooded, you see), the camera shows plenty of equally cold-blooded fish swimming around without any problem. The obvious question this raises is never addressed. The program talks as if the iguanas’ way of life were almost unheard of — “Get this!” it seems to say, “a marine animal that’s cold-blooded!” — when in fact ectothermy is the norm for marine life, even in the coldest parts of the sea. (What do penguins eat? Fish, squid, and crustaceans.) Warm-bloodedness is a terrestrial trait which has never evolved in aquatic animals. The only endotherms in the sea are whales, seals, penguins, and other air-breathing animals whose warm blood is a legacy of their terrestrial ancestors. (That’s actually pretty strange, when you think about it, given that the sea — especially the deep sea — tends to be much colder than the land. My guess at an explanation would be that the ambient temperature doesn’t change as much in the sea as it does on land, so marine animals can just adapt to whatever the ambient temperature happens to be. On land, there are seasons and weather to cope with.)

So why is cold-bloodedness such a big problem for iguanas but not for fish? At first I thought it might have something to do with the antifreeze proteins some fish (but not reptiles) have — but antifreeze proteins are only for dealing with water so cold that it would otherwise literally freeze a fish’s blood, and, according to this map, the sea around the Galapagos, while certainly a bit chilly by equatorial standards, isn’t anywhere near cold enough for freezing to be an issue. According to the range map here, cold-blooded sea turtles seem to do just fine without antifreeze both in the Galapagos area and in waters a good 10 degrees cooler.

So far I haven’t figured this out — this post has been in my drafts folder for quite some time now waiting for me to find the answer — but I’m going to go ahead and post it in hopes that some knowledgeable person will happen upon it and leave an enlightening comment. I’ll keep reading and thinking and post again if I find anything that sheds any light. In the meantime, here are some more entertaining marine iguana clips.

With an annoying sea lion:

With lots of spitting:

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The Book of Eli: Why Eli?

Vn and I recently watched the film The Book of Eli, and she, not knowing much about the Bible or Christianity, asked me if there was some connection between the biblical Eli and the story in the film. I rattled off what came to mind about Eli, but couldn’t really think of anything that related to the movie. The only connection I could think of was that, just as the biblical Eli knew what his wicked sons were up to but failed to do much of anything to stop them, the Eli in the movie refused to intervene in most of the rapes and murders he witnessed. (“Stay on the path. It’s not your concern.”)

Later, thinking there must be some other connection I was missing, I got a Bible and started skimming 1 Samuel. What I found matches the themes of the film so closely that it is surely what the screenwriter had in mind when he chose that particular moniker for his hero:

And the child Samuel ministered unto the Lord before Eli. And the word of the Lord was precious in those days; there was no open vision.  And it came to pass at that time, when Eli was laid down in his place, and his eyes began to wax dim, that he could not see; . . . (1 Sam. 3:1-2)

Obviously appropriate for a movie about a blind man carefully guarding what is supposedly the only surviving King James Bible in the world. (I say “supposedly” because, though Eli says his Bible is a King James, when he begins dictating the Book of Genesis it’s not quite the same. He says “was hovering” instead of “moved” in describing the Spirit over the waters, for example. Having once myself tried Eli’s project of memorizing the whole Bible, I noticed the discrepancy immediately.)

As for the movie itself, it was a bit of a wash, despite the considerably talent of Denzel Washington and Gary Oldman. The whole post-apocalyptic thing has been done to death and doesn’t make any more sense this time around. (Shoes and drinking water are hard to come by, but sunglasses and high-tech weaponry — including the occasional conveniently book-shaped time bomb — apparently grow on trees.) And although the central theme has a lot of potential, the movie doesn’t really deal with it very well. We never really get a sense of what Carnegie would be able to do if he had a Bible which he isn’t already able to do anyway.

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