Come Follow Me: 1 Nephi 13-14

For those of you who are new to the blog (and the stats suggest there are a few), check out my suggested reading list on the Book of Mormon.

Nephi’s vision seems at times to border on the genre called apocalyptic [link to all my posts and podcasts talking about genre]. Apocalypses came up recently in my first post on Revelation. The genre is important to recognize, because it inform how we understand it. Continue reading “Come Follow Me: 1 Nephi 13-14”

Come Follow Me: 1 Nephi 1-7

These are the most familiar chapters to any Mormon, and I’ve literally spent weeks on them in Institute, going slowly and thoroughly. I’d wager many of us could recite 1 Nephi 1:1 from memory, and a good number of us in our mission language; not from trying to memorize it, just from having read it so much. Familiarity does not necessarily mean understanding, though. The following questions appear unrelated, but are clues to what’s going in in the initial chapters and indeed, all of 1-2 Nephi. And it’s quite different than what people assume. Continue reading “Come Follow Me: 1 Nephi 1-7”

2020 Come Follow Me Resources: Book of Mormon (Updated)

Black Friday sales are coming (Kofford Press already has theirs up), as are Christmas present opportunities, so I wanted to get this post out the door.

I have written elsewhere that you cannot fully learn from scripture unless you are also actively learning about scripture.The first is the act of a disciple and the second that of a scholar, although in an ideal world, they blur together. So this list includes both kinds of thing, and aimed at different audiences. I’ve got a section for Seminary teachers, for example.

The BoM is really kind of a double-edged sword; on the one hand, people haven’t been writing about it for 2000 years, so the bibliography is a bit more manageable. On the other hand, we tend to assume that because the Book of Mormon is easy to read,  it’s easy to understand, and therefore “we don’t really need anything else.” But the Book of Mormon rewards slow, careful, deep reading and teaching.

And of course, this list is all enhancement. I don’t want to imply that if you’re not reading these, somehow you lack all spiritual insight (spiritual in-tune-ness has little to do with Oxford Press) or that you are a clueless chump who knows nothing. I can, however, testify that these books have taught me things and rid me of some of my ignorance. They’re worth reading. 

Continue reading “2020 Come Follow Me Resources: Book of Mormon (Updated)”

A Paradoxical Preservation of Faith: LDS Creation Accounts and the Composite Nature of Revelation

Creation of the Sun, Sistine Chapel

My 2019 FAIRMormon Conference presentation is up now, here. There’s a lot in the footnotes as well.

The takeaway is this: Many LDS have unsustainably fundamentalist assumptions about the nature of revelation, prophets, and scripture. The conflict these cause sometimes leads to a loss of faith, instead of recognizing and reexamining the assumptions.

I draw on a variety of things to argue against these assumptions, to argue that revelation is composite, that is, always contains divine and human aspects, and we should expect those. It’s ok, though, because it’s a progressive, iterative process. As time goes on, the human progresses towards the divine until the categories overlap completely. But we’re not there yet and won’t be for a long time.

So I take Acts 15:28 as my paradigm for understanding Church leadership. “It seemed good to the Holy Ghost and to us.”

Paradoxically, it is by recognizing and understanding the presence of the human that my faith in the divine is preserved.

Give it a read.

As always, you can help me pay my tuition here, or you can support my work through making your regular Amazon purchases through the Amazon links I post. You can also get updates by email whenever a post goes up (subscription box on the right). You can also follow Benjamin the Scribe on Facebook. If you friend me on Facebook, please drop me a note telling me you’re a reader. I tend not to accept friend requests from people I’m not acquainted with.

Mormon Said It, I Believe It, That Settles It?

My image.

My image.

Occasionally, one hears Mormons (usually laypeople) critiquing Protestants for slavish and uncritical interpretation of the Bible, for “God said it, I believe it, that settles it” kind of bibliolatry. Certainly, some Protestants merit this critique. The intellectual crisis and problems among Protestants, and their effects on American culture and politics have been written about extensively by Mark Noll (e.g. The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind), Randall Balmer, George Marsden, Grant Wacker, Kenton Sparks, and others. These scholars are themselves largely Evangelical, so it’s an internal critique.

No, my problem when this critique is made by Mormons is that oft-times Mormons are making it hypocritically. Continue reading “Mormon Said It, I Believe It, That Settles It?”

BoM Gospel Doctrine Lesson 45-46: Ether

A few general notes about the Book of Ether.

First, unlike the other two Book of Mormon migratory peoples, the Jaredites (as we call them) are not Jews under the Law of Moses. Abraham>Isaac>Jacob (Israel)>>>>Moses. They’re not even Israelite (also a late term) or Canaanite, but Mesopotamian. So they are operating under a different set of religious ideas, different language (Sumerian, Akkadian, something else? Hebrew isn’t an option), different cultural background than the rest of the Book of Mormon. And indeed, Ether has a different feel to it than the rest. It’s largely political history, stories of wars between scheming royal families, imprisonment, regicide, etc. All very Game of Thrones-y.

Second, Ether has often been read as directly confirming the historicity of the Bible’s accounts of both the Tower of Babel story and the Flood, the first because of  Jared talking about “the tower” and language change, the second because of Ether  13:2 “after the waters had receded from off the face of this land it became a choice land above all other lands, a chosen land of the Lord.” It is assumed that this refers to the Genesis flood. There are a few problems here, which I think are illustrated in principle by a story told by Elder Oaks.

I remember the reported observation of an old lawyer. As they traveled through a pastoral setting with cows grazing on green meadows, an acquaintance said, “Look at those spotted cows.” The cautious lawyer observed carefully and conceded, “Yes, those cows are spotted, at least on this side.”

We need to take careful account of the text, and not go beyond it, leaping to conclusions. The first issue is that Ether is, I think, the most heavily edited and translated book we have. Records of some kind are kept by the Jaredites and centuries later, edited and compiled by Ether. These plates are then translated (edited?) by Mosiah. 500 years later, they are re-edited by Moroni (Eth 15:33)who makes expansive and editorializing commentary into the Book of Mormon, and then they are translated again by Joseph Smith. So although it appears we are reading an immediate first-hand eyewitness account of a tower and language change, in actuality that record passed through lots of minds and editing, who we know inserted their own comments to the record.

Another issue is that Mesopotamia had its own traditions. The Sumerian epic of Enmerkar and the Lord of Aratta describes a time when all humans spoke one language (Sumerian), but because of a conflict among deities, the language was changed. The text is fragmentary, and scholars differ about how much this dovetails with Genesis 11 which few, if any, take as historical and with good reason. Note that Ether never refers to “Babel,” only “the tower” and “great tower.” Mesopotamia certainly had towers and great towers in the form of ziggurats. Genesis shows strong Mesopotamian influence in the short Tower of Babel story, and is probably using Mesopotamian traditions to argue against and ridicule Babylon as a source of confusion, not education and high culture. As for “waters receding” this is an offhand comment by Moroni, perhaps based on something he’s read (Mesopotamians had several flood stories), but it’s not a direct witness to anything except the tradition Moroni has received.

In short, I think we need to read critically and not assume Genesis and Ether are talking about the same thing, the same way.

Outline

Ether 1-Introduction, summary, lineage.

Ether 2- Begin voyage, cross, camp, build barges. 2 Problems.

Ether 3- Bro. Prepares stones, mountain episode.

Ether 4 –Moroni is fulfilling commandments/prophecy in writing them on   the plates. Testifies of their truth and a vision he had.

Ether 5-Moroni- don’t translate sealed portion and three witnesses.

Ether 6-Moroni, “and now, back to our story”. Load barges and go, 344 days (v.11) Jared gets old, picks a king.

Ether 7-The soap opera begins.Rebellion, murder, wars, prophets, etc. houses divided.

Ether 8-Continued. Akish and secret combinations. Warned against them.

Ether 9- Continues. Some kind of drought, and snakes. People repent  sufficiently for God to send rain.

Ether 10-More history.

Ether 11-Starts getting bad. “Began to be wars and contentions.” Reject the prophets.

Ether 12- get to Ether and Coriantumr. Ether and faith, Moroni diverges. Faith, atonement, charity.

Ether 13- ether and the New Jerusalem. Beginning of the end. Ether prophecies to Coriantumr. No one repents.

Ether 14- curse upon the land. Coriantumr vs. Shiz. Coriantumr wounded.

Ether 15- Wakes up, remembers Ether’s prophecy. Final battle.


Notes and tidbits

2:8-11 Curse on those who don’t obey God. This would be quite prominent in Moroni’s mind, as he’d just seen it happen to his own people. He wants Gentiles to have that example in mind.

2:13-14 The Jaredites get to the beach and apparently get too comfortable. Four years later, Brother of Jared is chewed out by God for three hours for not praying during that time. Note that after the less comfortable trip across the great waters, the first thing they do when they land is pray and give thanks (Eth 6:12). What’s the connection between our life situation, prayer, and giving thanks?

2:16-  Barges. Problem solving and the nature of revelation. (v. 25) What do you want me to do? Revelation (particularly here) includes a human component and God rarely just hands over answers.

“Usually we think of revelation as information. Just open the books to us, Lord, like: What was the political significance of the Louisiana Purchase or the essence of the second law of thermodynamics?…aside from the fact that you probably aren’t going to get that kind of revelation…this is too narrow a concept of revelation.”- Elder Holland.

3- See M. Catherine Thomas, “The Brother of Jared at the Veil” for some temple typology here.  Link to paper, Amazon link to the book.

5:1 Moroni is writing from memory.

12:26-27 Listen in your classes. We tend to misread this as “weaknesses” plural, but the text has “weakness” singular. I suspect this is the weakness of mortality, not a divinely selected package of problems customized for each person.

15:33 People of Limhi find plates. (Mos. 8:8-9). Coriantumr among people of Zarahemla    (Omni 1:21).

As always, you can help me pay my tuition here, or you can support my work through making your regular Amazon purchases through this Amazon link. You can also get updates by email whenever a post goes up (subscription box on the right). If you friend me on Facebook, please drop me a note telling me you’re a reader. I tend not to accept friend requests from people I’m not acquainted with.

BoM Gospel Doctrine Lesson 43-44: Mormon 1-9

I’m combining these lessons for two reasons. First, lesson 44 (chapters 7-8) is included within the reading of lesson 43 (chapters 1-6, 9). Second, since time is limited and both the end of the semester AND the Book of Mormon draw nigh, I need to write efficiently. So I’ll be posting the (shorter) final Book of Mormon lessons soon, along with some pre-D&C posts and my “What to Read for Gospel Doctrine.”

With Mormon, we finally arrive in “the present” or at least, Mormon’s present. He’s no longer working from records that were ancient to him; Remember, the time difference between him and Jesus is roughly the time difference between us and Columbus; rather, Mormon’s now working from his own life’s experience, his own memories and thoughts. This is now a primary source, unfiltered through anyone else (well, except translation through Joseph Smith, however that worked.)

You can’t read the beginning of the end of the Book of Mormon without thinking of President Kimball’s stark call against modern idolatry which included this observation— “We are a warlike people, easily distracted from our assignment of preparing for the coming of the Lord.”

Outline

Mormon 1– Mormon gives account of himself, how he got the records.- Gifts of the spirit are absent due to wickedness (14), 3 Nephites are gone, wars.

Mormon 2– Mormon is appointed general. Wars, mourning of the damned, too much wickedness to write.

Mormon 3– 10-year break, Mormon preaches, but no one listens. Nephites victorious two years straight. Nephites boast, and Mormon resigns. He writes unto the remnant and “gentiles”.

Mormon 4– Nephites begin to be smitten permanently, “swept off as dew before the sun”. Most wicked ever among Nephites.

Mormon 5– Mormon “repents” of the oath, leads Nephites in war. Writes to descendants and Gentiles and Jews to persuade them to accept the gospel.

Mormon 6– They arrange for the final battle, gather everyone in to the land of Cumorah. Final battle. Mormon laments for his people.

Mormon 7– Mormon writes a final time to the remnant of his people, and the Gentiles, telling them to repent and embrace the gospel.

Mormon 8– Moroni takes over, talks about what’s happening. Talks to the translator, and the people who will read the Book of Mormon, as well as what our time period will be like.

Mormon 9– Moroni continues talking to us, signs off. (then picks up with Ether.)


1:14 no gifts from the Lord, and the Holy Ghost did not come upon any, because of their wickedness and unbelief.” How does he know? Did it come upon him?

2:1 “Stature” is often used of physical size in scriptures (e.g. Luke 19:3) Likely lineage played into it as well.

2:13-14 “it was rather the sorrowing of the damned, because the Lord would not always suffer them to take happiness in sin.” C.f. Alma 41:10. Joy in their stuff for a time. 3 Ne 27:11

Their problems did not lead them to repentance. Neither did Alma’s. In other cases it did. Do we respond well to our problems or do we “curse God and die” (Job 2:9)?

3:16 “idle witness” Mormon has given up. Writes to us instead.

6:6 and Ether 15:11 Note that Mormon buries all the plates except the Book of Mormon plates he’s been writing, in the hill Cumorah. We are never told where Moroni buries the Book of Mormon plates, but early LDS reading (misreading?) assumed that the Book of Mormon too was buried in Cumorah, which meant the  hill in New York had to be where the final battle was and where the Nephites had lived. A lot of assumptions are rolled into this reading, many of which are not justifiable. (That doesn’t mean they’re wrong, necessarily.) Also, this is not necessarily a geographical question as much as a textual question. What is the traditional reading or understanding of the text, and what does the text actually say?

8:35 “Behold, I speak unto you as if ye were present, and yet ye are not. But behold, Jesus Christ hath shown you unto me, and I know your doing.” To whom is Moroni speaking and when? Who are the “you” he addresses himself to? Does this imply a vision of a specific time, and if so, what “time” was Moroni shown? Do the verses around it provide hints? Was it 1823? 1830? 1844? 1944? 2015? 2215? A typological vision?

As always, you can help me pay my tuition here, or you can support my work through making your regular Amazon purchases through this Amazon link. You can also get updates by email whenever a post goes up (subscription box on the right). If you friend me on Facebook, please drop me a note telling me you’re a reader. I tend not to accept friend requests from people I’m not acquainted with.

BoM Gospel Doctrine Lesson 42: 4 Nephi

sign-car-information-exit-driving-travel-utopia

4 Nephi, this way. Public domain

Since I’ve already covered 3Ne 27-28 in previous posts, I’ll focus on 4 Nephi.

Why is 4th Nephi so short? Two interrelated ideas, I think. Remember, Mormon is dependent upon his written sources for writing the Book of Mormon. As Elder Widtsoe articulated, “When inspired writers deal with historical incidents they relate that which they have seen or that which may have been told them [as with written sources], unless indeed the past is opened to them by revelation.” Evidences and Reconciliations, (1960): 127.

Mormon never suggests that he’s drawing any of his information from visions or whatnot, so he’s dependent on whatever written sources he has. It may be that Mormon has less in the way of records or sources to draw on for this period. Secondly, Mormon largely skips over an apparent golden age of about 200 years. There may literally be nothing to write about. Good film and literature, even historical non-fiction, revolves around conflict, change, obstacles to be overcome. (I explore this idea with Abraham and Sarah here.)

If there’s no conflict, no tension, no change, then there’s literally no story. How would it be to read 20 straight pages “and everyone THAT year was ALSO good and kind, and nothing bad happened at all, because they were all true disciples of Jesus.” I’d rather we double the Isaiah chapters 😉

Tongue-in-cheek outline4 Nephi 1– Zion established and destroyed, 34

th

year through 302

nd

. (Note that “establishing Zion” isn’t really Book of Mormon terminology.)

So, what happens to this golden age utopia? Is it destroyed from the outside? Not really. This is the problem of “the mixed multitude.” Exodus 12:38 (cf. Numbers 11:4) describes how the Israelites left Egypt as a “mixed multitude.” In other words, the Israelites may have left Egypt geographically, but as a group, they brought Egypt with them internally. It’s rarely a question of Us vs. Them, but Us vs. Us, or even I against I. This kind of struggle has been described by poets, humanitarians, and General Authorities.

William Wordsworth— “the world is too much with us; late and soon, Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers;”

Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn— “If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds, and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being.” Although he wrote this about his experience in a gulag labor camp in the USSR, he didn’t see a binary division in people but in hearts.

Elder Neal A. Maxwell called upon Latter-day Saints to “establish our residence in Zion and give up the summer cottage in Babylon.” (see A Wonderful Flood of Light, 47).”

A few notes on language.

4Ne 1:3 Partakers of the heavenly gift (cf. Ether 12:8-9)- This particular phraseology is unique to the Book of Mormon but echoes Hebrews 6:4, “For it is impossible for those who were once enlightened, and have tasted of the heavenly gift, and were made partakers of the Holy Ghost…” In Book of Mormon usage, people partake of

  1. the fruit of the tree of life (1Ne 8:11ff, 11x; Alma 5:34, 62; ) and
  2. the “forbidden fruit” of Genesis (2Ne 2:18-19). These are sometimes one and the same thing (Alma 12:22-23)
  3. God’s salvation and goodness (2Ne 26:24, 27, 28, 33; 33:14; Jac 1:7; Moroni 8:17)
  4. the fruits of their labors (Alma 40:26, but figuratively about the afterlife)
  5. the bread and wine of the sacrament (3Ne 18:28; Mormon 9:29; Moroni 6:1)
  6. spoils (1x, Hel. 6:38)
  7. waters of life (Alma 42:27)

4Ne 1:7- The Lord did prosper them in the land. – Use of prosper as a transitive verb is unusual in today’s English. (English reminder. Intransitive verbs cannot take objects, like “I’m sleeping.” You can’t sleep something, you have to put it to sleep. Transitive verbs can take objects, like “I’m eating pizza.”) The Book of Mormon uses it both ways, e.g. Mosiah 2:22, 3 Nephi 5:22 (c.f. KJV Nehemiah 2:20 and 1 Co 16:2). Forms of prosper often occur with forms of bless, and this suggests it is covenantal. Way back in 1Ne 1:9, prospering on the face of the land is connected with blessings for keeping the commandments, and all of this makes sense within Lehi’s covenantal setting in 2Ne 1-4, which strongly echoes the covenantal language of Deuteronomy 28.

Combined with the other language of peace, marriage, fertility, and “being blessed according to the multitude of promises” all suggests the Mosaic covenant. Compare the blessings listed in Deu 28:1-14. This may be why the very next phrase clarifies that they “did not walk any more after the performances and ordinances of the law of Moses; but they did walk after the commandments which they had received from their Lord and their God, continuing in fasting and prayer, and in meeting together oft both to pray and to hear the word of the Lord.” So while the blessings may suggest the covenant of Moses, this suggests obedience to a post-Mosaic covenant.

As always, you can help me pay my tuition here, or you can support my work through making your regular Amazon purchases through this Amazon link. You can also get updates by email whenever a post goes up (subscription box on the right). If you friend me on Facebook, please drop me a note telling me you’re a reader. I tend not to accept friend requests from people I’m not acquainted with.