“Verbal Punctuation in the Book of Mormon I: (And) Now”

“Verbal Punctuation in the Book of Mormon I: (And) Now” January 14, 2022


Sterling Library Yale
The Sterling Memorial Library at Yale University in New Haven, Connecticut, where John Gee earned his doctorate and where, for whatever it’s worth, Harold Morowitz received his B.S., M.S., and Ph.D. degrees and taught for more than three decades in the Department of Molecular Biophysics and Biochemistry

(Wikimedia Commons public domain photo)




A new article went up today in Interpreter: A Journal of Latter-day Saint Faith and Scholarship:


“Verbal Punctuation in the Book of Mormon I: (And) Now,” by John Gee

Abstract: The Book of Mormon, being an ancient book, was originally written without typographic punctuation and employs verbal punctuation instead. This article looks at the use of “and now” as verbal punctuation in the Book of Mormon. The phrase is used to mark major breaks in the text, not only for chapters but also within chapters of the text. The Book of Mormon usage is borrowed from Classical Biblical Hebrew (the Hebrew used before the exile) and follows the pattern set by pre-exilic Hebrew scribes. While in the Old World, this usage dropped after the Babylonian exile, as Aramaic replaced Hebrew as the major language spoken. The Book of Mormon preserved the usage until the end of Nephite civilization.




Among the elements of genuine religiosity, I believe, are humility and a sense of awe.  So, in that spirit and as we enter into a weekend, I offer a few humbled and awed thoughts derived from a reading, some time ago, of Richard Panek, The 4 Percent Universe: Dark Matter, Dark Energy, and the Race to Discover the Rest of Reality:


“Saying that all the billions of stars we see are part of our galaxy and that billions of galaxies lie beyond our own doesn’t do justice to the scale of the universe.  Just as our eyes didn’t need to evolve to see radio waves in order for us to survive, maybe our minds didn’t need to evolve to understand the numbers that astronomers were now trying to incorporate into their thinking.  Like cultures that count ‘One, two, three, more,’ we tend to regard the scale of the universe — to the extent that we regard it at all — as ‘Earth, planets, Sun, far.'”  (28)


To help us picture the magnitudes, Panek uses the “one Mississippi” method of counting.  (If you say “one Mississippi,” “two Mississippi,” and so forth, you’re giving each number approximately a second.)


At the “one Mississippi” rate, it would take you 11 days, 13 hours, 46 minutes, and 40 seconds to count to a million.


To count to one billion — that’s a thousand millions — it would, obviously, take you a thousand times as long as counting to a million.  That is, it would require 31 years and 8.5 months.


To reach a trillion, you would be obliged to count one thousand times to a billion — which would occupy about 32,000 years of your life.  It would leave little time for vacations, let alone for retirement in St. George.


(Try not to think, in this context, of the federal government deficit in Gree . . . er, in the United States, which, at the end of 2012, stood at roughly thirty trillion dollars — although that figure apparently doesn’t include unfunded Social Security and Medicare commitments.  If you simply counted those thirty trillion dollars individually, taking a second for each, doing so would require approximately 960,000 years.  No, let’s stick with Richard Panek and astronomy.  They’re much less depressing.)


A light-year — the distance that light travels in twelve earthly months — comes to about six trillion miles.  To count that high would take you 6 x 31,000 or 186,000 years.


(Sorry.  I can’t resist pointing out that it would take you far less time to count the miles in a light-year than to count the number of dollars in the federal debt.  But back to the much more humble figures involved in astronomy.)


The Sun is 93 million miles from Earth.  Otherwise, the nearest star is 4.3 light-years, or 25 trillion miles.  (If you would like to count those miles, block out 800,000 years in your calendar.  Maybe you can get to it this weekend.  After all, Monday is a holiday.)


Our galaxy, the Milky Way, from the edge of one of its spirals over to the edge of the one opposite, is about 100,000 light-years in diameter.  That would take you eighteen billion years of counting.  You’ll probably need to wait until your next time in a COVID-testing line before tackling that number, of course, and then you face the fact that there are estimated to be at least 100,000,000,000 — one hundred billion — galaxies in the observable universe.


In other words, the thing is pretty big.


And yet, curiously, it may not be big — or, perhaps more accurately, old — enough.  Consider this statement, attributed to the late biophysicist Harold J. Morowitz (1927-2016), who, after teaching for thirty-two years in the Department of Molecular Biophysics and Biochemistry at Yale University, finished up as Robinson Professor of Biology and Natural Philosophy at George Mason University, in Virginia:


The probability for the chance of formation of the smallest, simplest form of living organism known is 1 to 10,340,000,000. . . .  The size of this figure is truly staggering, since there are only supposed to be approximately 10^81 electrons in the whole [visible] universe!




Finally, just in case some of you have been lulled into comfortable complacency now that the horrors of the Christmas season are receding into the scarcely remembered past, I want to remind you that theism and religious belief still wreak enormous harm upon the world and that they continue to do massive evil.  So here is an appalling item from the apparently inexhaustible Christopher Hitchens Memorial “How Religion Poisons Everything” File© that you’ll surely want to contemplate in solitude, away from the tender eyes and ears of impressionable children:


“Photo Essay: Jordanians Receive Medical Help from Latter-day Saint Charities: Medical clinic in Palestinian refugee camp serves those in need”


And here’s something that might keep you up at night, shivering in sheer, abject terror:


“Could Sabbath closure laws make a comeback?  Here’s why some political commentators and legal scholars are tweeting their support for taking a Sabbath”


By the way, I myself don’t favor Sabbath closure laws.  But I am an enthusiastic fan of the idea of a Sabbath.



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