Let’s begin with this observation about the power of art, by a BYU professor with training in both art and religion.
While art and artists are often credited with making historical, and particularly religious, ideas come alive and plainer to understand, an inherent problem enters when the language of religious art becomes translated into the language of history by its viewer. What we see becomes what we believe, and often, therefore, what we think we know about facts and details of history. And when we learn religious facts and history (from scholars or historians) that contradict what we think we know (through artistic renderings), a state of cognitive dissonance—and in the case of religious art, spiritual dissonance—can often be the result. The translation of the Book of Mormon is perhaps the most pertinent and pressing example of this problem today in the LDS mind.- From Darkness into Light: Joseph Smith Translation and Publication of the Book of Mormon.
(See my post here for further reading.)
All the art and cartoons I know depict Jesus descending to the Nephites immediately after the destruction, but this is arguably not the case. Does it matter? I think it does. How do we know this? The destruction starts on January 4th, Year 34. (It’s not really January, but it’s easier to conceive of with this language.)
3 Nephi 8:5 And it came to pass in the thirty and fourth year, in the first month, on the fourth day of the month, there arose a great storm, such an one as never had been known in all the land.
When does Jesus visit? Sometime at the end of Year 34.
3 Nephi 10:18 And it came to pass that in the ending of the thirty and fourth year, behold, I will show unto you that the people of Nephi who were spared, and also those who had been called Lamanites, who had been spared, did have great favors shown unto them…
[namely, Jesus] did truly manifest himself unto them–19 Showing his body unto them, and ministering unto them; and an account of his ministry shall be given hereafter.
If the Nephites have most of a Nephite year before Jesus shows up (and therefore have gotten used to the changed landscape) then what are the great and marvelous changes the Nephites are wondering at in 3rd Nephi 11:1?
Lesson 1, read closely. The Book of Mormon does not say changes, plural. It says change, singular. Joseph Fielding Smith and others misquote this as a plural when arguing that Jesus appeared immediately after the destruction (Answers to Gospel Questions 4:25), reading it as applying to the changes in the landscape. Where is this “great and marvelous change” observed?
AND now it came to pass that there were a great multitude gathered together, of the people of Nephi, round about the temple which was in the land Bountiful; and they were marveling and wondering one with another, and were showing one to another the great and marvelous change which had taken place. And they were also conversing about this Jesus Christ, of whom the sign had been given concerning his death.
So, at the end of the 34th year, around (in?) the temple, there is a great and marvelous change, which may be connected to Jesus and his death. There is one other suggestive passage as to what this might be.
Lesson 2, compare. As Jesus begins to give the Nephite Sermon at the Temple, an adapted version of the Sermon on the Mount, there are differences, which I’ve italicized. What’s missing in the Book of Mormon?
|KJV Matt 5:23-24||Book of Mormon 3 Nephi 12:22-24|
| 22 But I say unto you, That whosoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment: and whosoever shall say to his brother, Raca, shall be in danger of the council: but whosoever shall say, Thou fool, shall be in danger of hell fire.
23 Therefore if thou bring thy [sacrifice/offering] to the altar, and there rememberest that thy brother hath ought against thee;
24 Leave there thy [sacrifice/offering] before the altar, and go thy way; first be reconciled to thy brother, and then come and offer thy gift.
|22 But I say unto you, that whosoever is angry with his brother shall be in danger of his judgment. And whosoever shall say to his brother, Raca, shall be in danger of the council; and whosoever shall say, Thou fool, shall be in danger of hell fire.
23 Therefore, if ye shall come unto me, or shall desire to come unto me, and rememberest that thy brother hath aught against thee–
24 Go thy way unto thy brother, and first be reconciled to thy brother, and then come unto me with full purpose of heart, and I will receive you.
The central focal point of the temple and the law of Moses, the sacrificial altar, the physical center of atonement and covenant, is no longer present in the Book of Mormon. It is speculative but reasonable to suppose that this physical re-ordering, this radical change in religious ritual, constitutes the great and marvelous change at the temple, connected to the death of Jesus.
This change away from animal sacrifice had been announced in 3Ne 9:19-20, but it’s one thing to hear about a coming change, and another thing to see the implementation and its effects actually happen.
19 And ye shall offer up unto me no more the shedding of blood; yea, your sacrifices and your burnt offerings shall be done away, for I will accept none of your sacrifices and your burnt offerings. 20 And ye shall offer for a sacrifice unto me a broken heart and a contrite spirit. And whoso cometh unto me with a broken heart and a contrite spirit, him will I baptize with fire and with the Holy Ghost
Most people read that passage as having “a broken heart and a contrite spirit” replace animal sacrifice. However, sacrifice was tied not only to atonement, but also covenant and covenant renewal (see here or e.g. Psalm 50:5, or ). In making a covenant, we agree to God’s terms and stipulations. Through ritual or words, we pledge, in effect that “All that the LORD has spoken we will faithfully do!” (Exo 24:7, JPS). That is a submission of our will to God’s. Now, remember Psalm 51, the one I read every Sunday during the Sacrament, with the fantastic Latin music by Allegri? The end of this lament for sin reads
16 For thou desirest not sacrifice; else would I give it: thou delightest not in burnt offering.17 The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit: a broken and a contrite heart, O God, thou wilt not despise.
In other words, after sin, what God really wants is not dead animals. What he really wanted was submission and humility in the first place, i.e. a broken spirit, a broken and a contrite heart. V. 17, by the way, is the only passage I’m aware of in the Old Testament that uses “sacrifice” in a non-literal way, since Hebrew zevach (*ZBḤ, ryhmes with Bach or loch) literally means “slaughter” as in an animal’s death. Doctrine and Covenants 97:8 riffs on all these themes with what should be familiar language at this point.
Verily I say unto you, all among them who know their hearts are honest, and are broken, and their spirits contrite, and are willing to observe their covenants by sacrifice– yea, every sacrifice which I, the Lord, shall command– they are accepted of me.
We keep our covenants by sacrifice in the non-slaughtering sense, by doing things we might rather not do (e.g. up at 5am to teach Seminary instead of sleeping), by donating time and money to things when we’d rather put them to other uses.
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