As I read War and Peace, it occurred to me that it has a bit in common with my favorite book, the Book of Mormon.
I mentioned in my notes on lesson #1 that I like to picture and even map out the structure of text, but I also find it useful to mark out who’s talking when there are multiple speakers.
Below is a PDF copy of 1 Nephi 11-14 with all the dialogue color-coded. The angel doesn’t have much to say at first, but monologues quite a bit in chapters 13 and 14.
Some of this attribution is speculative or convenient, though, so take it with a grain of salt. For example, in 13:34, I have “Behold, saith the Lamb of God” as spoken by the angel, just to make it clear that the angel is quoting the Lord there, but that phrase might very well be part of the Lord’s statement–in fact, it probably is. Ditto in 14:7.
My suggested personal study aids for this week. (I’ll try to post earlier in the week from now on.)
Lesson objective: “To help class members see, through the examples of Lehi and Nephi, that safety and salvation come through obedience to the Lord.”
When my family studied 1 Nephi 1 together this week, we stopped in verse 4 to check out the references in footnote d. Two of them go to Jeremiah.
With that in mind, I first want to recommend this movie:
From a post about it four years ago:
Checked this out from the library a while back and really enjoyed it. This drama not only has better production values than most small, Biblical movies, but it even stars future Grey’s Anatomylead Patrick Dempsey, to boot.
Jeremiah tells a vivid story of the Old Testament prophet’s reluctant, melancholy rebellion against a corrupt and complacent status quo, and keeps the major narrative very faithful to the Biblical text. Dempsey shines in this role; his acting strong suit has always been an uncanny ability to convey betrayed surprise–the hurt look on the face of a lost puppy dog. That woeful innocence comes in handy a lot as he portrays the saddest prophet in Israel’s history.
Latter-day Saints have a special soft spot for Jeremiah, I think, as the Book of Mormon suggests that he was a contemporary of the first patriarch in that sacred text, a man named Lehi, who likewise foretold doom in Jerusalem and was violently rejected for it. One can easily imagine Lehi preaching just around the corner in most scenes of this film.
The few shots of violence are tasteful and true to the source material, but perhaps a little too intense for the youngest viewers. Other than that, anyone with an interest in Biblical literature, history, or belief would be better off for seeing Jeremiah.
Speaking of 1 Nephi 1, I like to picture the structure of things I read, as it helps illuminate for me the author’s intended messages more clearly. The following arrangement of verse 1 shows just how much information is packed into that first sentence: six factual statements about Nephi–three paired clauses describing who he is and how he got to be that way, and all meant to explain why he’s making this record; only that last of the six statements shows an active choice on Nephi’s part:
Also, these two posts about the Book of Mormon come highly recommended:
2016 Gospel Doctrine- Recommended Resources on the Book of Mormon. I endorse all the titles shared there, most especially Grant Hardy’s Understanding the Book of Mormon.
And, of course, I must urge you to keep up with the development of Book of Mormon Central this year. If it lives up to its potential, it’ll be a fantastic resource.
Each week in 2016 I’ll post (or re-post) things relevant to that week’s Sunday School lesson about the Book of Mormon.
These items might help with that:
Spoiler: I’m going to propose that this amazing, majestic sermon was probably written and delivered by Mormon when he was just a teenager.
I read Moroni chapter 7 this last weekend. That’s where Moroni records his father’s great sermon about faith, hope, and charity. The rhetorical background of this text intrigues me.
First of all, we know to whom it was delivered; Mormon says quite clearly at the beginning that it’s for “you that are of the church, that are the peaceable followers of Christ, and that have obtained a sufficient hope by which ye can enter into the rest of the Lord, from this time henceforth until ye shall rest with him in heaven” (v. 3).
We can infer from the text, and what we know of that period of history, why it was given: surely, this was during a period of societal decline, and these faithful church members–no doubt a beleaguered minority–needed encouragement and guidance for dealing with their troubled times.
The text does a great job of achieving that goal. Here’s how: Mormon counsels them to, first and foremost, maintain righteous desires in their hearts (vv. 5-11), then proceeds to remind them of how to discern between good and evil (vv. 12-19–note that here he also stresses that everyone originally has the light of Christ in them [v. 16], which would be a striking teaching as they were surrounded by an increasingly wicked, crumbling society).
Mormon goes on to comfort and motivate them by preaching of the blessings of having faith (vv. 20-39), which leads to the blessings of enjoying hope (vv. 40-43), which leads to the blessings of exercising charity (vv. 44-48).
But my big question here is when it was given. Mormon’s most typical teaching mode–extrapolating morals from historical narratives (i.e. all of his famous “and thus we see” statements)–is completely absent here. Indeed, even the many contextual details that he drops in his second letter to his son in Moroni ch. 9 about the imminent doom of their ruined society has no corollary in ch. 7. In fact, the odd absence of that facet of Mormon’s modus operandi leads me to the theory I propose here.
One of my favorite things about the Book of Mormon is its pragmatic view of human nature. Undoubtedly, its authors knew the best and worst of the human experience, and weren’t pulling any punches.
An example of this is the honest depiction of missionary work here, namely its tediously frustrating reality. Though the Book of Mormon does have some more neutral general observations about how people are (such as here and here), most of the time the text is pessimistic.
Here are nine such passages:
O that cunning plan of the evil one! O the vainness, and the frailties, and the foolishness of men! When they are learned they think they are wise, and they hearken not unto the counsel of God, for they set it aside, supposing they know of themselves, wherefore, their wisdom is foolishness and it profiteth them not. And they shall perish.
Reading Ether chapter 6 in the Book of Mormon this week, I was struck by some quick and minor details in these verses:
19 And the brother of Jared began to be old, and saw that he must soon go down to the grave; wherefore he said unto Jared: Let us gather together our people that we may number them, that we may know of them what they will desire of us before we go down to our graves.
20 And accordingly the people were gathered together. Now the number of the sons and the daughters of the brother of Jared were twenty and two souls; and the number of sons and daughters of Jared were twelve, he having four sons.
21 And it came to pass that they did number their people; and after that they had numbered them, they did desire of them the things which they would that they should do before they went down to their grave.
22 And it came to pass that the people desired of them that they should anoint one of their sons to be a king over them.
Any time I’d read these before, I’m sure I just assumed that the “numbering” mentioned in verses 19 and 21 was some kind of census, and moved on. Certainly, the totals given in verse 20 seem to indicate a census.
But I wonder if there’s more going on here. A formal meeting needed to count a few dozen people? Hardly seems necessary.
What if the “numbering” here isn’t counting, but is a ritualistic ceremony meant to culminate the work of one generation and sanctify the next?
Webster’s 1828 dictionary suggests this possibility in its final definition of “number,” as:
To reckon as one of a collection or multitude.
“He was numbered with the transgressors.” Isaiah 53:12.
In that light, if we consider that “number” in verses 19 and 21 might be synonymous with the verb “to name,” as in “to give somebody a name,” then we see a pattern here that reminds us of Mosiah 5-6 earlier in the text: one generation of leaders is about to die, the people are gathered, the people are numbered or named, a new king is anointed, and then the old generation passes away. Was the spiritual purpose of both of these ceremonies, Nephite and Jaredite, to identify the people as, and have them covenant to be, followers of God?
On this note, a comment about Ether 6:20 on the Book of Mormon Archaeological Forum points out that
I heard you on the radio last Monday talking about Mormonism. I tried calling in but the lines were busy. I tweeted you on Tuesday asking to talk about it, but you haven’t responded yet–maybe you’re busy?
At any rate, I thought this post might be a good way to open a dialogue, if you’re OK with that. Feel free to respond to any and all of the items I discuss here, or proceed as you see fit. I look forward to a friendly and respectful, but candid and productive discussion!
I didn’t hear the entire program, as I was driving around and running errands at the time, but I think I got the gist of it; certainly, I heard enough to be able to address what I think your major points were.
First, I want to offer some general observations, in the form of questions, about what I heard you say on the radio. (I’d love to hear your actual answers to these questions, please–they’re not meant to be merely hypothetical!) Then I’ll cover a few of the biggest specific issues you raised.
10 questions regarding general observations
1. You invited Mormons to call in and discuss your teachings, and this leads me to wonder: have you engaged many Latter-day Saints in conversation about your claims regarding us? Have any of them had the equivalent education and training in their religion that you’ve had in yours? Do you feel you have a solid understanding of what LDS answers to your objections are?
What have their responses been? Have you found any of those responses compelling at all?
If not, doesn’t it strike you as odd that a religion with so many adherents should be incapable of adequately explaining *any* of your claims? Might that seem to indicate the presence of confirmation bias on your part?
Do you ever address these responses in your presentations on Mormonism? If not, why not?
2. If you have not sought out responses from qualified Latter-day Saints, why not? Shouldn’t someone who professionally teaches about the perceived negatives of another group seek out responses and even rebuttals from that group as assiduously as possible as part of their own preparation? Wouldn’t that bolster your credibility and, frankly, be the most civil thing to do?
3. What have been the primary sources of your education about Latter-day Saints? What would say are your top five sources? Continue reading
Some anti-Mormon critics have pointed out that the Book of Mormon uses specific and unique phrases from the Bible several dozen times. They’re wrong, of course.
The Book of Mormon uses specific and unique phrases from the Bible several hundred times.
This amazing presentation by a BYU scholar at a recent conference on the complex language of the Book of Mormon goes into this. There’s no concrete explanation for how this phenomenon is to be accounted for: for the faithful, we don’t know exactly how so many of these non-quotation uses appear in the Book of Mormon; for the critics, since there’s so much subtlety and deep understanding evident in the phrasing (and it in no way helped any hypothetical hoax), there’s no way to simply write this off as lazy copying.
I recently shared with some classes the acceptance speeches of great American authors who had won the Nobel Prize in literature. I’m always struck by William Faulkner‘s declaration that:
The ancient commission of the writer has not changed. He is charged with exposing our many grievous faults and failures, with dredging up to the light our dark and dangerous dreams for the purpose of improvement.
It reminds me so precisely of this statement from Moroni at the end of the Book of Mormon:
give thanks unto God that he hath made manifest unto you our imperfections, that ye may learn to be more wise than we have been.
Another reminder that the greatest literary achievements tend to admit the inherent darkness of existence, because only then can we actually rise above it.
I’ve been reading Grant Hardy’s Understanding the Book of Mormon again. It does the Book of Mormon a great service: it examines that text with an eye towards figuring out how it does what it tries to do.
He analyzes how each of the book’s three main voices–Nephi, Mormon, and Moroni–organize and present their thoughts, with careful conclusions drawn from close study of those evident agendas.
Here is a brief summary of the largest lessons:
Mormon and Moroni are very close in the narrative—father and son—but their editorial approaches are radically different.
Mormon demonstrates the reality of Christian doctrine by presenting a factual, historically sourced record with very light editorial intrusion.
Moroni demonstrates the reality of Christian doctrine by presenting a didactic, spiritually plaintive record with very heavy editorial intrusion.
Nephi, meanwhile, is largely content to preach directly from scripture and base his attendant remarks primarily on those texts.
Indeed, though Hardy never uses these exact formulas, his book suggests that the three narrators’ messages could be summarized as follows:
Nephi: come to Jesus by studying the scriptures
Mormon: come to Jesus by following the prophets
Moroni: come to Jesus by seeking the Spirit
Talking online with a critic of the Book of Mormon recently, I was reminded of a scene from M. Night Shyamalan’s last good movie, 2002’s Signs.
In the film, two brothers living on a farm in the Midwest investigate noises outside at night. In classic suspense style, movement just off screen causes the characters and camera to look, just in time to miss whatever was there, but it was clearly someone. When a police officer comes out the next day to look into it, the following exchange takes place:
How certain are you, that this was a male?
I don’t know any girls can run like that.
I don’t know, Merrill. I’ve seen some of those women on the Olympics. They could out run me easy.
This guy got on the roof in like a second. That roof is over ten feet high.
He’s telling you the truth. Whoever it was, is very strong and can jump pretty high.
They got women’s high jumping in the Olympics. They got these
Scandinavian women who could jump clean over me.
I know you’re making a point. I just don’t know what it is.
Yesterday afternoon, an out of town woman stopped by the diner and started yelling and cussing cause they didn’t have her favorite cigarettes at the vending machine. Scared a couple of customers. No one’s seen her since… My point is, we don’t know anything about the person you saw. We should just keep all possibilities available.
Excluding the possibility that a female Scandinavian Olympian was running around outside our house last night, what else is a possibility?
So, what does this have to do with the Book of Mormon?
In my online conversation, I offered to share three of the best evidences for the Book of Mormon, and invite the critic to analyze and account for them if the book is a hoax. I suggested 1) the accurate, previously unknown geography of Arabia (Nahom, Bountiful, etc.), 2) the ancient texts that nobody had access to, given in 2 Nephi 12:16 and 3 Nephi 4:28-29, and 3) chiasmus.
His responses were quick. Continue reading
UPDATED 1.8.2017 Here is a PDF of the revised draft–it still isn’t complete, but it’s a huge improvement over the original posted here two years ago.
This graphic is a rough draft of a project I’m working on—organizing all the standard works of the LDS Church into a single timeline. I think this will be a valuable scripture study tool because it will help us see these writings outside of their monolithic arrangement in our books, and inside their chronological contexts.
For example, instead of seeing the Old Testament as the law, and then the writings, and then the prophets—where the timeline actually ends halfway through the Old Testament and then doubles back to fill in the narrative with the writings of the various persons in that narrative—we can read it in the order in which all of its contents occur. It will aid understanding and appreciation. This makes sense.
Not only the Bible benefits from this, though. By integrating its unique scriptures into this timeline, we can really see just how much time the book of Ether occupies, and how much the early Book of Mormon authors were in tune with the events of the end of the Old Testament.
We can see Book of Mormon stories filling in the gaps between the two testaments, and continuing the tragic legacy of the earliest Christian era after the New Testament ends.
We can see how complicated the “flashbacks” in the books of Mosiah and Alma are.
Much of this is speculative. I’m happy to hear from anyone with refinements. I intend to keep revising it, myself. As I said, this is only a draft.
Narratives that take place at the same time—or nearly so—are presented next to each other. This is most important in the four gospels.
I’ve used the gospel harmony available here at lds.org for this, as well as the chronological order of the Doctrine and Covenants, available here. These are both products of the LDS Church, not mine, and they belong to the Church.
The color coding should help us all to follow the flow and see the connections between the various bodies of scripture. The first three—the law, writings, and prophets—are traditional divisions of the Old Testament (see Luke 24:44).
Here’s everything significant I’ve ever written here about the Book of Mormon:
Apologetics / Evidence
Faith and Teachings