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Critics Corner


Correspondence between 
Dr. Daniel C. Peterson and John L. Smith
Regarding the use of Alma in 
The Book of Mormon

On March 20, 1998 Dr. Daniel C. Peterson of FARMS received a communication from Rev. John L. Smith, founder of UMI.  For years Dr. Peterson and other LDS have had continuing conversations with the folks at UMI concerning the use of Alma as a male name in The Book of Mormon.  It is claimed by the folks at UMI that Alma is a Latin feminine name and the use of it as a male name in The Book of Mormon proves that book is not true and that Joseph Smith was a false prophet.  Research has demonstrated that Alma was indeed a Hebrew male name in ancient times and that The Book of Mormon usage is correct.  Though the folks at UMI (Rev. Smith, Michael Reynolds, and Robert McKay -- Reynolds and McKay are no longer with UMI) have repeatedly been given evidence for this fact, they have failed to follow through on their promises to print a retraction in the pages of UMI's tabloid, The Evangel.  The following correspondence demonstrates UMI's lack of integrity.

Letter One

Dear Sir:

A reader just called my attention to your article (Chapter 6, footnote 10 on page 167), in the Book of Mormon Authorship Revisited.

She believed your footnote referred to me.

I seem to remember some correspondence years ago about the word "Alma."  I'm sure I responded to a criticism from someone but I did not remember that it was you.

Even if "Alma" was a man's name it would have no serious bearing on the truthfulness of Mormonism.  Mormonism's errors go far beyond the word "Alma."

However, the word is found (I am not a Hebrew scholar) in earlier manuscripts of Isaiah 7:14.  Interestingly it is copied from the King James (exactly) in 2nd Nephi 17:14.

Don't you recall that when two students translate exactly there is good grounds to accuse one or the other of copying?

I checked up on the Hebrew.  There is a word for a young male, a "stripling."  It is "elam."  The word used in Isaiah, however, is "almah," a feminine word which means "a lass, damsel, maid, or virgin" according to Strong's Concordance, Hebrew and Chaldee dictionary.

Even if you were right -- as you mention on page 158 of your chapter, the Book of Mormon (which is said to contain the fullness of the gospel) does not teach "the plurality of gods, eternal progression, celestial marriage, baptism for the dead, the corporeality of God, the denial of ex nihilo creation, and (OR) the three degrees of glory."

Quite an admission!

If I were a "prophet," which I am not (not even the son of a prophet), I would predict that you will eventually go the way of Steve Benson, Stanley Larsen, Brent Medcalfe, Sterling McMurrin, Michael Quinn, Samuel Taylor, and others!

In view of the multitude of problems faced by Mormonism (you covered some of them pretty well in your chapter), I thought your question about "Alma" was unworthy of any extensive study or reply on my part.

(Don't quote me, but "if that was Mormonism's only problem, I just might become one)!

However, after an inquiry I did a little checking.  It only took a few minutes to check the Isaiah and 2nd Nephi passages.


John L. Smith

Letter Two

Cc: Dennis A Wright <DAW@STARCOMM.NET>
Organization: BYU

To: Rev. John L. Smith, of Utah Missions, Inc.

Dear Rev. Smith:

I received your letter of 20 March.  Thank you for contacting me.

Yes, the footnote in my article in Book of Mormon Authorship Revisited, to which you allude, does refer to you.  And in an article now in preparation, I refer to you and UMI by name in my discussion of this little episode.  I have decided that roughly fifteen years are enough time in which to have come clean, and that I have covered for you too long.  Your remark that my "question about 'Alma' was unworthy of any extensive study or reply on [your] part" is (a) patently untrue and (b) no excuse for your failure to act on the promise you yourself made to me, in writing, that, if I could show you to be in error on this point, you would say so in the pages of The Evangel.

You dismiss the matter of "Alma" as unimportant.  Yet it was you and UMI who brought it up.  And you saw fit to repeat your fallacious argument on the matter at least once and possibly twice AFTER I had provided you the evidence you requested, demonstrating beyond any possible doubt that you were wrong, and AFTER you had promised to report on that evidence if I supplied it to you.  You never did so report.

Your dismissal of "Alma" as insignificant parallels precisely what both Rev. Michael Reynolds and Robert McKay told me, repeatedly, while they explicitly and defiantly refused to tell the truth about it to your readers.  "You are majoring in the minors," Rev. Reynolds used to say.  Mr. McKay even went so far as to publish a little piece about the issue and about some anonymous Mormon's "problem" with it, professing ignorance as to what could be behind it -- while, all the while, he knew EXACTLY what was going on.  Of course, one of the things at issue here was, and has always been, the integrity of UMI.  And UMI has not come out of this looking very well.

Why, exactly, is "Alma" unimportant?  UMI thought it plenty important when it seemed to be evidence AGAINST the Book of Mormon.  UMI brought it up.  UMI repeated the argument.  UMI repeated the argument even when it knew the argument was false.  UMI expressly refused to clear up this "minor" error, even against UMI's own direct promise to do so.  Why?  Why, when it is recognized as clear evidence FOR rather than against the Book of Mormon, does "Alma" suddenly become too trivial to mention?

Since the name "Alma" has now been found in several places in ancient Semitic documents (more, even, than are mentioned in my article) as belonging to a man, your arguments from the text of the Old Testament are completely irrelevant -- except to make the Book of Mormon's use of "Alma" as a personal name belonging to a Semitic male even more striking, since Joseph Smith could not have derived it from the Bible.  And your other arguments, with all due respect, seem merely an obvious attempt to change the subject.  (It is apparent, by the way, that you do not understand at all the argument advanced by my article in Book of Mormon Authorship Revisited.)

Finally, you predict that I will "eventually go the way of Steve Benson, Stanley Larsen [sic], Brent Medcalfe [sic], Sterling McMurrin, Michael Quinn, Samuel Taylor, and others!"  I am not sure why you think that I am going to become a practicing homosexual and be excommunicated like Mike Quinn.  Have I ever given you any reason to expect something like that?  Should I warn my wife?  And why would you think that I am about to become an atheist or agnostic, as Benson, Larson, Metcalfe, and McMurrin have or did?  And why would you, as a minister of the Christian faith, seem to think such an outcome desirable?  Very puzzling.  It is, of course, quite likely that I will continue to be active in the Church, as, to the best of my knowledge, was Sam Taylor.  In that, you may be right.  I certainly hope so.

Reread my article in Book of Mormon Authorship Revisited.  It is a DEFENSE of the Book of Mormon against silly and unwarranted attacks.  You misread it very badly if you see it as any kind of admission that you and UMI are right, or are "winning" the battle you have chosen to wage against the Church of Jesus Christ.


Daniel Peterson