Monday, June 3, 2024

Makmahod in Lebanon?

In my May 30 post "Makmahod in France?" I describe a brief vision of a disembodied had holding a crowned sword, which I compared to the Ace of Swords and to the coat of arms of Joan of Arc. In the vision, the sword had an inscription which suggested that it was Makmahod, the Sword of Laban.On June 1, in "Joan: Look out the window. Come over to the window" -- about a dialogue in which Joan talks a lot about snow -- I reposted this image linking the image also to the cover of one edition of the novel Snow Crash.

Today I remembered a very similar vision I'd just read about a month or two before, reported in an 1841 letter from early Mormon apostle Orson Hyde (from here):

Jaffa, October 20, 1841

DEAR BROTHER PRATT,

Yesterday I arrived in this place from Beyrout, and just as I was about to start from the American consul's in this place to Jerusalem, at a most enormous price, a company of English gentlemen rode in from Jerusalem with many servants all armed, and they were to return immediately to Jerusalem, and I can go for little or nothing comparatively speaking.

I have only time to say a few words; but through the favour of heaven I am well and in good spirits, and expect, in a day or two, to see Jerusalem.

My journey has been long and tedious, and consequently expensive. If I get back to England with money enough to buy my dinner, I shall think myself well off.

The country is in a terrible state. While I was at Beyrout, a terrible battle was fought in Mount Lebanon, about six hours' walk from Beyrout, between the Drewzes and Catholics. It was said that about four hundred were killed on each side. An English officer, returning from St. Jean d'Acre to Beyrout, was taken by the Drewzes, and would have been killed had not the Pacha come to his rescue.

He said that he found ten human bodies in the street on his way without heads. Thefts, murders, and robberies are taking place almost continually. The American missionaries in Beyrout and Mount Lebanon have had notice from the Grand Sultan, through our minister at Constantinople, Commodore Porter, to leave the country, and a prospect that all the missionaries in Syria will have to leave. This is only conjecture, however. But in this, if it do take place, I can see plainly the hand of Providence. The fact is, this land belongs to the Jews; and the present fermentation thereof shows to me that it is fast working back into the hands of its rightful heirs. God will, in due time, drive out the Canaanites, so that no more a Canaanite shall be found in the land, or in the house of the Lord.

I find that almost an universal anxiety prevails respecting the return of the Jews. The waters are troubled because the Angel has descended. My heart leaps for joy at the prospect of seeing that land, and there fulfilling my mission.

When we left Smyrna for Beyrout, we only took in stores for one week, thinking that would surely be sufficient, as the voyage is usually made in four days; but we were nineteen days on the passage. A number of days I eat snails gathered from the rocks, but the greatest difficulty was, I could not get enough of them. I was so weak and exhausted that I could not go on shore after the slight exertion of drawing on my boots. But that is past; I am now strong and well, and have plenty to eat. I now have nothing but land pirates, in the shape of Arabs, to encounter. An Englishman seems like a brother, let his religion be what it may. Yet I am very partial to the fulness of the gospel; for in it I have great joy.

The servants are now waiting for me, and I must gird on my arms and be off. Yet one thing I will notice, which is this: On my passage from Beyrout to this place, the night before last, at one o'clock, as I was meditating on the deck of the vessel, as she was beating down against a sultry schroke wind, a very bright glittering sword appeared in the heavens, about two yards in length, with a beautiful hilt, as plain and complete as any cut you ever saw. And, what is still more remarkable, an arm, with a perfect hand, stretched itself out and took hold on the hilt of the sword. The appearance really made my hair rise, and the flesh, as it were, to crawl on my bones. The Arabs made a wonderful outcry at the sight; O, Allah, Allah, Allah! was their exclamation all over the vessel.

I mention this because you know there is a commandment to me which says, "Unto you it shall be given to know the signs of the times, and the sign of the coming of the son of man."

May the Lord bless you all in England and in America. And I pray that he will bless my wife, and my dear little children; God knows that I want to see them—yea, and all the saints.

I have many particulars that I would like to write, but time will not allow at this time. You will hear from me again by the first opportunity, if the Arabs don't kill me. There is no post here; letters are sent by private conveyance, through friends, &c. God bless you and the cause of Zion is my last prayer.

My love to brothers Snow and Adams, and all the brothers and sisters in the communion: pray for me.

Yours, in great haste,

ORSON HYDE.

I had remembered only the sword vision itself, but looking up the letter just now I discovered the other parts I have bolded: Lebanon (from the same Hebrew root as the name Laban), Snow, and St. Jean d'Acre -- the last being obviously extremely similar to St. Jeanne d'Arc.

Hyde emphasizes that the sword had "a beautiful hilt." Nephi makes the same observation upon drawing out the sword of Laban:

And I beheld his sword, and I drew it forth from the sheath thereof; and the hilt thereof was of pure gold, and the workmanship thereof was exceedingly fine, and I saw that the blade thereof was of the most precious steel (1 Ne. 4:9).

I know about the letter quoted above because it was mentioned by Don Bradley in his speech "Knowing Brother Joseph Again: How the Historical Record Demonstrates the Prophet’s Religious Sincerity." Bradley points out that Hyde's vision -- which was apparently of something objectively there in the sky, as the Arabs with him saw it, too -- took place just eight days before Joseph Smith married Zina Peterson, whom Bradley argues was Joseph's first plural wife. When he proposed to her, he reportedly said, "I put it off and put it off until an angel came with a drawn sword and told me I had to move ahead" -- the implication being that this was Joseph's interpretation of a vision similar or identical to Hyde's, and that Hyde's report supports the reality of the vision and therefore Joseph's sincerity.

Orson Hyde at that time was on a ship, taking passage to Beirut, I think it was. He’d gone to dedicate Jerusalem — he was on the other side of the world. But he sees a sword in the sky and a hand grabbing the hilt. And I was dumbfounded by this, it seemed nuts. I looked and it turns out that there was a meteor shower going on at the time. There were others on the boat with Orson Hyde. They were Arabs and they cried out at the exact moment that he saw the sword and the hand. They cried out "Allah! Allah! Allah!" — so they saw this too. It wasn’t a vision; it was something actually in the sky.

It wouldn’t have been visible at the exact same moment in Nauvoo, but the same meteor shower would (at different hours) have been visible in Nauvoo. And this goes along so remarkably with Joseph describing at this time seeing an angel with a drawn sword. And I thought about when, during the Great meteor shower of 1833, Joseph wrote in his journal about it — how someone called him to "rise and behold the signs in the heavens; I arose and to my great joy, Behold, the stars falling from heaven, like a shower of hailstones, a literal fulfillment of the Word of God, as according to the Holy Scripture is a sure sign that the coming of Christ is close at hand."

Bradley's meteor shower theory seems weak to me. A meteor shower just doesn't look much at all like a hand holding a drawn sword, "plain and complete." I suppose it is conceivable that some freak chance made the meteors appear in a configuration suggesting a sword -- but twice? As Bradley points out, it's geographically impossible that Orson Hyde in the Mediterranean and Joseph Smith in Nauvoo should have simultaneously observed the very same astronomical event.

Or is it? 1:00 a.m. in Lebanon would have been 5:00 p.m. in Nauvoo -- about an hour before sunset in late October -- and the two locations are separated by about 126 degrees of longitude. If the "sword" was bright enough to be visible even before sunset, and if it appeared in both locations relatively low in the sky (an average of less than 27 degrees angular elevation), then I think it is possible that Joseph Smith saw it in the eastern sky at precisely the same moment Orson Hyde saw it in the west. Hyde mentions a strong wind (surely the Levante, not the Sirocco as reported), which at that time of year near Lebanon would likely have been blowing from east to west, making it likely that Hyde was standing with his back to the wind, facing west, when he saw the sword. Meanwhile, Joseph would likely have been facing his east, rather than staring into the setting sun.

Anyway, whatever the details, I do agree that Hyde's letter -- written at such a time and place as to ensure its independence from Joseph's account -- lends credence to the otherwise risible "angel with a drawn sword" story.

3 comments:

Ben Pratt said...

That letter is speaking to me via my personal knowledge of my own family history and a book I recently read.

First, it was written to and published by my great-great-great grandfather Parley P. Pratt.

Second, the place St. Jean d'Acre or St. John of Acre is modern Acre, which was extremely important during the crusades. The wife of King Edward I of England there gave birth to their daughter Joan, known as Joan of Acre. Through Parley, I am a descendant of Joan of Acre, and have known her name and its similarity to that of Joan of Arc since at least my teen years.

Third, as I looked up the genealogy, I was reminded that the line of descent from Joan to Parley goes remarkably through Anne Marbury Hutchinson and her daughter Susanna, the only survivor of the Siwanoy Indian massacre that killed Anne.

Fourth, I recently read the 2013 novel Swords of Joseph by M. R. Durbin. I do not recall how I came to own this book in the last year or so, but I was driven to read it after watching an interview of Don Bradley. The plot is that restless Hebrews Joshua and Caleb are tasked by recently-returned Moses to find the bones of Joseph so the Hebrews can leave Egypt. The Plagues occur during their adventures and often aid them in their quest. The seership of Joseph is heavily emphasized. One of the titular swords is clearly that which will later be called the Sword of Laban. An endnote says this:
"....Some scholars suggest that the sword was created by Joseph in Egypt and was passed down to his posterity. Others suggest that it may predate Joseph (Maxwell Institute: "Prophets, Kings, and Swords," v2, issue 1). These sources consistently suggest that swords were symbols of birthright or lineage. That would fit the concept of zyf in this book. But, if the sword of Laban belonged to Nephi and his posterity, then it would be the sword of Manasseh. Since Ephraim obtained the birthright and thus the right to the sword, either the sword would have rightly belonged to the posterity of Ephraim, and Nephi stole it, or there were two swords." (emphasis in original)

Wm Jas Tychonievich said...

Very interesting, Ben.

Looking up Joan of Acre, I see that she was married into the House of Clare, died in Clare Castle, and was buried in Clare Priory.

William Wright (WW) said...

On one vs two swords, Makmahod ultimately became two swords fused into one.

Dairon (who would later be born as Laban in my story) stole the sword Anglachel from Joseph of Egypt (Dior at that time in Doriath), and called it an 'heirloom of his house' and his right to have it. Anglachel was one of two swords forged by a Being named Eol, the other being named Anguirel.

Anglachel is the sword that Izilba (Eowyn) would have removed from the honeycomb later (it had been used by Turin in Tolkien's stories and known as Gurthang) in Words of the Faithful. It was later broken, however, and at that time reforged with Anguirel.

So, Anguirel and Anglachel became one sword, and this would have been known later as Laban's sword in the Book of Mormon. Thus, it definitely could have been a sword that was an emblem or birthright of two different houses, given it was two different swords in one.

Go to the window; it’s dark but clear

In a period of just a few days, the following things happened: On May 30, William Wright proposed that the beings I know as Joan of Arc (Je...