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My Testimony of the Book of Mormon

My testimony of the Book of Mormon came to me as a borrowed gift from my great-grandfather, Marius Falslev, who converted to Mormonism in Randers, Denmark, and gave up everything to emigrate to be with the Saints in the new “Zion.” He was not an easy target for the missionaries, buffeting them a number of times and refusing their “Good News.” Once he “caught the Spirit” his testimony was rock solid. As a child he told me that until I had a testimony of the Book of Mormon and Joseph Smith, I should borrow his. “Lean on my testimony,” he said, “until you have one strong enough to stand on your own.” I did just that.

During my elementary school years, I read Deta Petersen Neeley’s books based on the Book of Mormon, and the characters and history began to speak to my heart, a child’s innocent heart. Upon reaching junior high school I began in earnest to read the Book of Mormon in its entirety. I remember well the day that I finished and felt the seeds of a testimony begin to grow that it was indeed “the word of God.” Following Moroni’s admonition, I did seek confirmation of the Spirit, that it was divine writ. My testimony was one of simple faith. I had such deep respect and love for my grandparents, parents, teachers . . . all of whom bore witness of the truthfulness of the Book of Mormon. That was sufficient for me.

During my collegiate days, I continued my study of the Book of Mormon and began to teach its concepts to children in my Primary and Sunday School classes. That had a deepening effect on me, enabling me to understand the core of the work, not just the characters and scenes. I began to receive a personal association with the principles discussed by the ancient prophets. My most significant mentor, who was not a member of the church but who had studied comparative religions, saw the Book of Mormon as nothing more than a literary contrivance of the nineteenth century. I tried to convince him logically, through scientific evidence and literary content, why I believed as I did. I had no influence with him. I don’t believe he wanted the Spirit to bear witness to him because it would require some alterations within his life. Our last conversation regarding the Book of Mormon ended on his saying, “When you go away to graduate school and become more educated, you will be able to see the fallacies of your belief in the Book of Mormon.”

Quite the contrary has been the case! In the process of acquiring a PhD and venturing into the world of scholarly pursuit, the more I studied the book, the more “evidence” I found of its truthfulness. In 1994 my family and I moved to Jerusalem, Israel, to spend a sabbatical year. Little did I know that our experience living there would unlock a multitude of insights into the Book of Mormon. I had assumed that we would be enlightened regarding the Old and New Testaments, but the reality was that it did more to secure my knowledge of the accuracy and astonishing clarity of the Book of Mormon.

From the moment we moved into our apartment on Ha Nachal street near Hebrew University, clarity came to my mind with regard to a concern I had harbored from my adolescence concerning the first pages of I Nephi. The term “river of water” is found a number of times within the early part of the document. I remember thinking that it was redundant (all rivers have water, I thought, that is why they are called rivers!), or perhaps Joseph had used the phrase to sound as if it were from the “Old World.” It was not until the name of our street was translated that I understood why Nephi referred to a “river of water.” Ha Nachal means a river without water; nahar is the word for “river of water.” There are two kinds of rivers in ancient Israel (Jerusalem), one with and one without water. Joseph could not possibly have known that. He never lived in a region where there are “wadis,” or “rivers without water.” Only someone from such a region (ancient Judea?) could have been acquainted with such.

The allegory of the olive tree in Jacob is so accurate in terms of the husbandry of these remarkable and rare trees. Having lived in Israel and Italy, where the care of olive trees is very serious business, I have gleaned a great deal of information regarding the art and science of their care. It is so accurate that it could be used as a horticultural text. Neither Joseph nor any American easterner could possibly have had knowledge of this ancient art/science. Someone from the Old World would have to have written it.

In my study of Biblical Hebrew, I discovered continual “Hebrewisms” in the text of the Book of Mormon. Joseph was not afforded an education sufficient to have enabled him to do that. The more I have learned about the ancient world, the more absolute has become my knowledge that the Book of Mormon was written by an ancient remnant of the house of Israel.

A truly revelatory surprise came to me in studying “chasanot” (the ancient practice of cantillation [chanting] of the scriptures). It was my desire to be able to read the markings set down in the eighth century by rabbinical scholars in the area of Tiberias (Galilee) giving symbols to what Moses had done when he first chanted the Torah (the first five books of the Old Testament). There are few scholars left in the world who can decipher these markings. I was fortunate to work with Professor Ezri Uval at Hebrew University. Knowing how few experts there are on this ancient art, I asked him what unusual experiences he might have had in his years of study. He told me of a lecture he presented in Albuquerque, New Mexico, at the university there. He was asked to enlighten the students as to the various practices used in the Torah, the Prophets and the Psalms.

He began with Genesis, chapter one, verse one. As he began to chant “Brseet bara Elohim” …בָּרָא אֱלֹהִים בְּרֵאשִׁית, a group of Navajo Indians began to become very animated. During the first break, they approached him, asking from whence the tune came to which he chanted the story of the “creation.” He pointed out that the markings were there in the Hebrew Bible since the eighth century. He asked why they were asking. Their response perplexed him. They said: “Though the language is different in the way you delivered it, the tune is the same as the tune to which our forefathers have told the ‘creation’ story for generations.” “How is that possible?” Ezri asked me. “Is it possible that part of the lineage of Israel made it to the New World with the scriptures?” “Yes!” I responded, “but I cannot tell you how I know that because I have promised your government not to proselytize here in Israel.” He said “I only want an explanation. I don’t want to convert!” I said, “Ah, but if I give you an explanation, you will convert!” I told him that if he could come to the USA I could explain why I believe that the lineage of Israel did come to the New World, with the scriptures (Plates of Laban). I arranged for him to come to Utah State University and present a symposium on cantillation of the scriptures. I presented him with a Book of Mormon, which he devoured. It made perfect sense to him and it does to me. The aural transmission of music can go on through millennia. I have every reason to believe that Lehi and his family brought from the Temple/Synagogue the Books of Moses chanted and passed them on to their children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren to the present day. Languages change (especially those that are not written). Music is so orderly and sticks in the brain with such accuracy, it can be passed on century after century and remain the same.

Bottom line: The more I have learned (in the learning of the world, language, history, music, art) the more convinced I am of the authenticity and accuracy of translation of the Book of Mormon. I suspect that trend will continue until it is time to meet with Lehi, Nephi, Alma, etc. in the next realm.

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Michael Ballam has had an operatic and recital career spanning four decades and every continent. A native of Logan, Utah, Dr. Ballam has performed in the major concert halls of America, Europe, Asia, Russia, and the Middle East, with command performances at the Vatican and the White House. His operatic repertoire includes more than six hundred performances of over a hundred major roles. He has shared the stage with the world’s greatest singers, including Joan Sutherland, Beverly Sills, Kiri Te Kanawa, Birgit Nilsson, and Placido Domingo, performing regularly with such companies as the Chicago Lyric, San Francisco, Santa Fe, Dallas, Washington, Philadelphia, St. Louis, and San Diego Operas.

As a recitalist, Dr. Ballam has performed with critical acclaim in some of the most important concert halls in the country, including the Kennedy Center (Washington DC), Orchestra Hall (Chicago), Jordan Hall (Boston), Jones Hall (Houston), and the Los Angeles Music Center. He has also performed with Broadway legends Karen Akers, Tammy Grimes, Douglas Fairbanks Jr., Jean Stapleton, and Ethel Merman.

At the age of twenty-four, Dr. Ballam became the youngest recipient of the degree of Doctor of Music (with Distinction) in the history of the prestigious Indiana University. An accomplished pianist and oboist, he is the Founder and General Director of the Utah Festival Opera, which is fast becoming one of the nation’s major Opera Festivals. Professor of Music for the past twenty-four years at Utah State University, he has also been a faculty member at Indiana University, the Music Academy of the West, the University of Utah, and Brigham Young University (where he was awarded the Teaching Award in Continuing Education in 1992), and, as a guest lecturer, at Stanford, Yale, BYU Idaho, Catholic University, and the Manhattan School of Music.

He is the author of more than forty publications and recordings in international distribution, has a weekly radio program on Utah Public Radio, starred in three major motion pictures, and appears regularly on television. Dr. Ballam serves on the boards of directors of twelve professional arts organizations. In 1996, he was designated one of the 100 Top Achievers in the State of Utah by Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher of the U.K.. He was appointed Artist Extraordinaire by the Governor of Utah in 2003, given Honorary Life Membership in the Utah Congress of Parents and Teachers, received the “Excellence in Community Teaching Award” from the Daughters of the American Revolution in 2007, and was awarded the Gardner Award by the Utah Academy of Science, Arts, and Letters for “Significant Contributions in the Humanities to the State of Utah” in 2010.

Posted November 2011