Saturday, December 17, 2011

Mosiah 13

1. We continue the Exodus imagery, explicitly comparing Abinadi to Moses.

2. This idea that Abinadi expresses that things that we do now are a "type and a shadow" of things to come is at the heart of the religion of the visionary men.  This is the lesson of the Small Plates of Nephi: they saw the temple rites that they practiced, which are confused and half-reported in the OT, as foreshadowing the Lord's future incarnations and the redemption of Israel.

3. I like that Abinadi describes the law of Moses as a law of "performances".  It makes me think of a play, and the temple ordinances are all -- and were all -- a kind of prophetic theater.  The performances keep people "in remembrance"(cf. Leviticus 24 and Luke 22).

4. This reads like a thumbnail interpretation of the Day of Atonement rite, except possibly the resurrection of the dead reference.  I'll have to think about that one.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Moving Again!


Our plan is to move to a new blog home this weekend.  The reason is that lots of people have complained that they liked getting the blog content delivered to them by email, and don't read it now that it's in a blog.  The new site will a) be a blog, b) be private and password-protected and c) permit subscription, so posts and/or comments can be emailed directly to you.  We'll try to make this painless.  Stay tuned.

Mosiah 12

1. What kind of disguise is it, when he uses his own name?  Maybe it was like Catholic priests in Tudor England -- he traveled around in disguise, but revealed his identity to the faithful.  In any case, someone heard his preaching who didn't like it.

2. The furnace reference echoes interestingly in the OT: Sodom & Gomorrah, refining by affliction, and the Exodus.  This last is especially interesting in that what follows sounds a lot like the plagues of Egypt.

3. I guess the trap that Noah's priest is laying for Abinadi in vv. 20-24 is that Abinadi's message seems contrary on first reading to Isaiah.  Abinadi is not a messenger who brings good tidings.  So Abinadi has to distinguish himself from what Isaiah was saying, and the priests will be able to accuse him to denying the truth of the prophets.  Abinadi avoids the trap by not answering the question, and blasting the priests instead.

4. One of Abinadi's criticisms of the priests is that they haven't been "wise".

5. I am reminded that the LXX translation of zevach hashelamim ("the sacrifice of peace offerings") in Leviticus 7:11 is thusia soteriou, the "sacrifice of salvation".

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Mosiah 11

1. In Lehi-Nephi, too, the King is the head of the church.

2. The description of Noah's building projects and his priests reminds me of the great and spacious building and its occupants in 1 Nephi 8.  Remember that "fine" in the KJV OT is the adjective par excellence that describes things made for use in the temple -- see it occur here three times in succession in vv. 8-10.

3. Both the various references to building in wood (vv. 8-10 again) and the vineyards in this chapter make a Mesoamerican setting challenging to accept.

4. A "fifty" as a military unit recurs (remember that Laban commanded a fifty).

5. Abinadi arrives, and will occupy center stage for the next six chapters.  Unlike Sherem, who "came among" the Nephites, Abinadi "was among" Noah's people.  This sounds to me like he was a local boy upon whom the mantle of prophecy fell.  The people try to arrest and try Abinadi once and he escapes.  Noah hardens his heart against Abinadi, like Pharaoh did against Moses.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Mosiah 10

1. P.S. to Mosiah 9.  There's an interesting ambiguity to the two accounts of Zeniff's revolt, in Omni and in Mosiah.  I think the normal way to read them is that Omni's "stiffnecked man" and Mosiah's "austere and bloodthirsty" "ruler" are the same unnamed man, Zeniff's commanding officer.  But this guy isn't identified, and I think there's another way to read these verses: that for Omni, the "stiffnecked" leader is Zeniff, and for Mosiah (Zeniff), the "austere and bloodthirsty" "ruler" is Benjamin.  This gives us more nuanced visions of both Zeniff and Benjamin, and eliminates the need for an unnamed mystery officer in our interpretation, and explains why Omni doesn't have Benjamin comment on or try to help Zeniff's apparently righteous mission, and why Zeniff doesn't say anything about the apparently righteous King Benjamin.

It's an interpretation, a theory.  I think the accounts can be read either way, and it's not clear to me that Occam's Razor cuts in either direction here.  Personally, I kind of like to think of Benjamin as an amazing man who was not perfect.  But that's me.

2. Mosiah 10 reminds me of 2 Nephi 5, in which Nephi talks about his people in the same place.  Hard to imagine the similarities are accidental -- Zeniff sees himself as the new Nephi.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Mosiah 9

1. Unlike everyone else in this period, Zeniff seems to have no problem finding his way around

2. The Lamanites may have handed down the royal name "Laman" like the Nephites handed down "Nephi".

3. It seems important to the Nephite kings to report that they've done things with their own hands.

Monday, December 12, 2011


My weak suit is modern church history, and the D&C.  I had a dim recollection that the appearance of Elijah came on the heels of Joseph and Oliver taking the sacrament within the Kirtland temple, and yesterday, sitting in the back of Primary, I finally took the time to look it up.

D&C 109 and 110 make interesting reading in light of our adventures of the last two years.  In the temple context, we're told to seek wisdom in the best books (see also v. 14).  The temple will be full of glory, because it will house God's presence (cf. Isaiah 6).  Angels are sent out from the temple.  Day of Atonement image.  The church is a woman (like OT Zion).  Joseph and Oliver take the sacrament (in the heading to D&C 110; cf. Leviticus 7:11ff) and then they see the Lord (cf. Exodus 24, with very similar imagery) -- I think this is the first zevach hashelamim (Lev. 7:11) of the Restoration.

Mosiah 8

1. Post-script to Mosiah 7.  Hem is also a name with a royalist echo to it.  It's an Egyptian word that means "person", and means "Majesty" in the expression equivalent to "Your Majesty" (hm.k).  So Ammon is described as a nobleman, and Hem and Amaleki have royalesque names.  And Hem and Ammon both have Egyptian names -- Ammon is a very old name in Egypt, the name of a god, whose position developed into early virtual monotheism.  Don't know about Helem.

2. If Limhi knew Benjamin's last words (presumably because Ammon reported them), then he may have deliberately modeled himself on Benjamin in summoning everyone to the temple.

3. Verse 12 is a sort of verbal pin that ties together a lot of what the Book of Mormon is about through the missions of several men.  Limhi wants to read the record of the destroyed Jaredites, and needs a translator; Mormon is composing the record of the destroyed Nephites, knowing that there will be a future audience who will read it in translation; and Joseph Smith translated the verse of the dead Nephite historian talking about the record of the dead Jaredites.  And why do we want knowledge of these dead people?  To "know the cause of their destruction".  Mormon must have seen the Jaredites as an analog of his people.

4. At this point, verses 19-20 come like a punch in the eye.  "Doubtless a great mystery is contained within these plates", but men "will not seek wisdom, neither do they suffer that she should rule over them!"

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Mosiah 7

1. Interesting that after two generations the Nephites didn't know how to get back to Lehi-Nephi.  These are record-keeping people; does their ignorance reflect the nature of their flight, hurried and arduous rather than the orderly exodus of 1 Nephi?

2. Of course, forty is a significant number.  It's how long one always spends in the wilderness -- forty years for the Israelites, forty days for Jesus.  It's also how long Jesus taught the disciples after the resurrection, and how long King David reigned, and idem Solomon, et cetera.

3. Amaleki is the first appearance of a triliteral root (M-L-K) name variants of which are going to recur throughout Nephite history, and frequently be associated with dissent.  Amlici, Amalickiah, Amulek, Mulekites, Amalekites, Amalickiahites and even "king men" all have this root in common, this last because melekh in Hebrew (M-L-K) means "king".  Interesting that Amaleki is in the expedition of Ammon, who was a descendant of Zarahemla.  I wonder if he and Ammon were kin -- brothers or cousins.

4. The encounter with Limhi in vv. 7ff looks judicial.  Verb of motion "surrounded", "taken and bound", brought before an authority, the stakes are capital punishment.  It's not identified as a trial, but it's narrated like one.

5. Who built this temple?  It's hard to miss the parallel between Benjamin summoning everyone to the temple in Zarahemla to invite his people to take upon them the name of Christ, and Limhi inviting his people to the temple in Lehi-Nephi to invite them to make a break for it.  Freeing the slaves is one of Isaiah's metaphors for the atonement.

6. Limhi reports Abinadi's prophesy in temple language.  As the Lord created Adam in his image (Genesis), he would take that image on himself.  It's also reminiscent of Lehi's vision (going forth upon the face of the earth).

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Mosiah 6

1. Interesting that the account goes out of its way before Benjamin's speech to say they didn't count the crowd, but once the covenant has been entered into, the covenanters' names are collected.  It's almost like it's a deliberate enactment of the Day of Atonement idea of two books -- during the ten days of probation, no one gets recorded, and then he has the covenant people's names written in the Book of Life.

2. As of this moment, the King is the head of the church.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Mosiah 5

1. When people cry "with one voice" four paragraphs worth of stuff (5:2-5), it isn't spontaneous.  They're being led through covenant-making language, which is how Benjamin responds to it (5:6ff).

2. Taking upon them the name of Christ is a priestly image.  The plate on the front of the high priest's turban bears the inscription QODESH L'YHWH, "Holiness to the Lord", so the high priest literally had the name of Christ, YHWH, upon him.  I think Benjamin's repeated reference to this "head" in the verse is an allusion to this.  Benjamin is turning the people of Zarahemla into a nation of priests.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Mosiah 4

1. In 4:1-2 everyone falls to the ground and asks for the atoning blood to be applied to them.  This is clear Day of Atonement behavior.

2. 4:11-12 is more temple imagery.  Glory is what fills the temple.  Tasting "of" the "love" of God is eating the fruit of the tree, the peace offering.  I like the promise that you can grow in your knowledge of the glory.

3. 4:13 and of course, you will leave "peaceably", "peaceable" being "shalem", also meaning completed, reminding us of Leviticus 7:11 and Matthew 5:48.

4. 4:21 reminds us of the Sermon on the Mount, the triple petition before entering into the strait gate.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Mosiah 3

1. 3:1 sounds like there's been a break, something has happened, and Benjamin calls the people's attention back.

2. It's easy to imagine this summons and response in 3:2-3 as a rite.  Of course, he gets the same message as the shepherds in Luke 2.  Like the shepherds, Benjamin is told that all people get the good tidings.  It's interesting to note that shepherd is a traditional imagine in Israelite prophesy for the leaders of the people (see, e.g., Ezekiel 34, Zechariah 10-11), but I don't know what to make of that, that wouldn't be pure speculation.

3. 3:15 -- I'll say!

4. 3:17 -- previously we had Nephi saying that there was "none other name given under Heaven", save Christ (2 Nephi 31:21), and now Benjamin says the same thing, omitting the "under Heaven" bit -- "there shall be no other name given", period, except Christ, who is the Lord Omnipotent (=YHWH).  Nephi separated out Yahweh in Heaven from Christ on Earth, identifying them and also distinguishing them by which side of the temple veil they're on -- Benjamin collapses them together.

5. Put[ting] off the natural man is an undressing / clothes-changing image.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

The Sword of Laban

I started thinking about the "handed down" and "delivered up" comment in Dave's post about the "Words of Mormon", and ended up on a complete tangent about the Sword of Laban.

The evolution of the Sword of Laban as an object of power is a very interesting one that takes us from the time Nephi and family were still in Jerusalem, all the way to the 19th century, Joseph Smith and the Three Witnesses.

When we first see the sword, it is the sword of a high noblemen of exceedingly fine workmanship. It rests in the hands of Laban who is obviously not favored by the Lord, so much so that Nephi takes the sword and uses it to part Laban from his head as seen in 1 Nephi Chapter 4 starting with verse 9:

"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."

At this point it is the weapon of his fallen enemy and becomes the property of Nephi. A common practice that has survived even into modern times whether it be swords, knives, or guns.

The next time we see the sword in 2 Nephi it is being used as an exemplary weapon in the patterning of others. Nephi, who was apparently very good at metal work, used the sword as a model to fashion additional weapons for the Nephite defense against the Lamenites:

"And I, Nephi, did take the sword of Laban, and after the manner of it did make many swords, lest by any means the people who were now called Lamanites should come upon us and destroy us; for I knew their hatred towards me and my children and those who were called my people."

Unless at this point there has already been significant assimilation into the native populations, probably a small number of swords were made by the hand of Nephi. As an aside, it makes one wonder what happened to those original swords of Nephi, and if they might have been handed down among generals. As a double aside, this is the first verse where we see the people identified as Lamanites so called. It makes one wonder if a degree of assimilation had not already occurred by this point with native peoples. Otherwise, why not simply say "the children of my brothers…"

The third time we see the sword is when Jacob, the brother of Nephi, in Jacob 1:10 is conveying the transfer of power to future kings, and mentions the sword as being used by Nephi in the defense of his people:

"The people having loved Nephi exceedingly, he having been a great protector for them, having wielded the sword of Laban in their defence, and having labored in all his days for their welfare—"

At each of these three references so far we see a clear progression in the reverence given to the blade.

The next time it is mentioned is not until the time of King Benjamin in the Words of Mormon where King Benjamin uses it also in the defense of his people, and is where I picked up its trail. At this point it is becoming clear that the blade is being used as a symbol of authority, and a vehicle used in the anointing of the next King:

"And it came to pass also that the armies of the Lamanites came down out of the land of Nephi, to battle against his people. But behold, king Benjamin gathered together his armies, and he did stand against them; and he did fight with the strength of his own arm, with the sword of Laban."

After King Benjamin's use of the Sword of Laban in the defense of his people, he then passes it on to his son Mosiah in Mosiah 1:16 along with many other objects of power further elevating the status of the sword as a nearly divine tool for defending peace and righteousness:

"And moreover, he also gave him charge concerning the records which were engraven on the plates of brass; and also the plates of Nephi; and also, the sword of Laban, and the ball or director, which led our fathers through the wilderness, which was prepared by the hand of the Lord that thereby they might be led, every one according to the heed and diligence which they gave unto him."

At this point, despite the many years and dynasties left in the story of the children of Lehi, the sword goes into hiding, and does not reappear until the 19th century when it makes a cameo in the Doctrine and Covenants 17:1 as the promise to the three witnesses along with many other sacred objects. At this point it is again being used as a clear transfer of power directly to Joseph Smith:

"Behold, I say unto you, that you must rely upon my word, which if you do with full purpose of heart, you shall have a view of the plates, and also of the breastplate, the sword of Laban, the Urim and Thummim, which were given to the brother of Jared upon the mount, when he talked with the Lord face to face, and the miraculous directors which were given to Lehi while in the wilderness, on the borders of the Red Sea." 

It is clear that what began it's existence as a sword of fine workmanship evolved through use and the passage of time into an object of power, as well as an object to symbolize the transfer of power.

Mosiah 2

1. 2:1, they're still "going up" to the temple.

2. Does 2:2 mean that on this occasion (a coronation, the farewell of an old King, the Sukkot / Rosh Hashanah / Yom Kippur feast complex) a census was customary and expected, but they just didn't have the resources?  The record says they "did not" number them, not they "could not".

3. The phrase "established peace" in 2:4 now rings differently for me.  Peace on earth, to men of good will.  A quick search shows that "established peace" is a stock phrase in the BoM but not elsewhere in the scriptures.  Here it's paired with "love towards God".

4. The tents in 2:5 are big tents -- these are not nuclear families, they are extended families.

5. Look at 2:9 -- you have to open your "ears to hear", and hearts and mind, to understand the mysteries.  Remember this verse next time you read one of the evangelists saying "let he who has ears, hear"... they're talking about the mysteries, too.

6. Echoes of Isaiah 6:1-3 (et cetera) in 2:19-20 -- praising the heavenly king.

7. 2:25-26 dust, from which Laman and Lemuel did not arise, and in which the serpent crawls, and to which God compared Abraham's promised seed.

8. 2:32 this sounds like a reference to some famous or important discourse that we don't have.  Yet.

9. 2:36-38 echoes 2 Nephi 31:14, and shows us that both verses are references to the temple.  Once you can "speak with the tongue of angels" or are "in wisdom's paths" (think 1 Nephi 8, wisdom = the tree), best not to turn aside.  (I notice with interest that "wisdom's paths" are also referred to in Helaman 12:5 -- can't wait til I get that far in my reading.)

(The hypertext links, by the way, are the result of Ryan Hunt's D&C 121-style leadership, setting a righteous example for me.)

Monday, December 5, 2011


Slightly changed the colors to try to make hypertext links less invisible.  Tell me if I have chosen poorly.

Mosiah 1

1. 1:1 people who "belonged to King Benjamin" is a very feudal, pre-modern formulation.  Sounds like a reference to the multiple ethnicities that make up the kingdom of Zarahemla.

2. 1:2-4 confirms that this is a different line of Lehi's family.  I guess Nephi gave his small plates to Jacob, and the "man" anointed by Nephi to be Nephi II in Jacob 1:9 was some other family member.

3. 1:3 tantalizes with its reference to the "mysteries".  Literally, it seems to say that the brass plates enabled Lehi to preserve temple ritual among his people.  As a prolog to Benjamin's great temple address-farewell sermon, this makes great sense.  This puts a different nuance on Nephi's internal debate over killing Laban in 1 Nephi 4:12-18.

4. 1:5 hits the "mystery" bell again, and seems to say that's specifically the thing the Lamanites have lost.

5. Typo!  My copy has an asterisk in 1:10, with no footnote.  That's what I get for reading closely.  Ha!

6. 1:10ff sounds like court ceremony.  I think it's likely everyone was already gathered for the fall festivals, and this summons (Benjamin "had Mosiah brought before him") was a bit of theater that was part of the prelude to making Mosiah co-king with Benjamin (1:15ff).

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Words of Mormon

1. Mormon transitions from Amaron's death farewell (O 30), which lacks the glorious and prophetic quality of Nephi's and Moroni's parallel farewells, nicely into the destruction of the Nephites in his own day.  Then, since the small plates are full of teaching and prophesying about Christ, he notes that in the meantime, Christ has come, and he hopes his son Moroni will be able to write something about him.

2. This is a stark change out of the constant temple imagery of the small plates, other than the sly hint in v. 7 (a "wise purpose").  It's administrative, behind the scenes, explaining what Mormon has been up to.

3. WM 10 here again, it looks like Mosiah took with him the Nephite royal records (and in v. 13, we have the sword of Laban) (cf. 2 Nephi 5:12-14).  So one guesses he was of the royal class or party of the Nephites before he fled, maybe a (more or less distant) cousin of the record-keeping branch of Nephi's descendants.

4. Interesting that plates get "delivered up" (vv. 1, 10) and "handed down" (v. 11).

5. WM 15 it seems that in Benjamin's day, whatsoever a man believed could indeed be a crime.

6. WM 16 the Lamanites might have been barbarians in tents, but there was still something attractive enough about them that they continued to attract Nephite defectors... "many dissensions".  What was it?  A different doctrinal preference?  Maybe not everyone liked Benjamin's reforms and consolidation of power.

Sherem v. Jacob

Here's the outline for today's lesson, for those who can't make it.  It further develops some observations I made in prior posts on this blog.

1)    Who is Sherem? (Jacob 7:1-4, 24)

a)     Come from somewhere else
b)    Learned
c)     Preaches and works hard, has success
d)    Counter-missions?
e)     Content of preaching is Law of Moses and no-Christ

2)    What is the controversy?  Sherem attacks temple doctrines and the visionary men.

a)     What is the doctrine of the Christ?
i)      Angels sing before the Lord in the temple
(1)  2 Nephi 16:1-3
(2)  1 Nephi 1:8
(3)  Luke 2:8-14
ii)    Nephi’s doctrine of the Christ in 2 Nephi 31:2, 13-14, 17-18, is:
(1)  Repentance
(2)  Baptism
(3)  Gift of the Holy Ghost
(4)  Speak/sing with the tongues of angels (13-14) = enter in at the strait gate (17-18)
b)    Sherem sought to “overthrow the doctrine of Christ” (7:2).
i)      There should “be no Christ” (7:2).
ii)    The “right way of God” is the “law of Moses” (7:7).
iii)   Worship of a being to come is “blasphemy” (7:7).
iv)   You “cannot tell of things to come” (7:7).
v)     He hates the things of the temple—prophecy and the worship of the Messiah to come—and wants people to just obey the law of Moses.
c)     After Sherem’s defeat, “peace” and “the love of God” were restored. (7:23)
i)      “peace” is a hot-button temple word
(1)  Christ’s coming is “peace on earth”; Luke 2:13-14, “to men of good will”
(2)  But 1 Nephi 20:22 (Isaiah 48), there is no “peace” for the wicked
(3)  Peace offerings
(a)   Leviticus 7:11-36
(i)    zevach hashelamim; “shalem” is “peaceable” or “complete” (cf. Matthew 5:48, teleioi), so this is the “worship of the initiates”;
(ii)  cf. “shalem”, initiate, and “Sherem”, a close but incorrect substitute;
(iii) LXX is thusias soteriou, sacrifices of salvation
(iv) Peace offerings are a feast in the temple, including an eating of bread.
(b)  Exodus 24:9-11
(c)   Psalm 23 (cf. 1 Nephi 8)
(d)  Luke 14 (esp. 14:15); Matthew 22
(4)  Christ and bread / peace
(a)   Christ identifies himself as the “bread” of “heaven” (John 6:30-35)
(b)  Christ identifies himself with the Shewbread offering (Leviticus 24:7, “memorial”; Luke 22:19, “remembrance”)
(c)   Christ says the spirit gives “remembrance”, Christ brings “peace” (John 14:26-27)
(d)  Plays on disciples’ knowledge of him and peace in Matthew 10:34 (Luke 12:51) – not peace, but a sword
(e)   Paul knows this connection: Romans 5:1, Galatians 5:22, Ephesians 2:13-14; also Hebrews 12:11; also James 3:17-18
(5)  “peace” is the fruit
ii)    “love of God” is the tree in the temple (1 Nephi 11:21-22)
d)    Reminiscent of prior conflicts
i)      Josiah’s reformers:
(1)  Margaret Barker: “One way to reconstruct the religion of Jerusalem before Josiah’s changes is to note how many of the practices forbidden by Deuteronomy are permitted elsewhere in the Old Testament.”  What Did King Josiah Reform? in John W. Welch et al. eds., Glimpses of Lehi’s Jerusalem, Provo: FARMS, 2004.
(2)  Deuteronomy 4:12, you cannot see God; cf. 1 Nephi 1:8
(3)  Deut 4:19, deprecates “stars” and “host of heaven”; cf. 1 Nephi 1:8-10
(4)  Deut 4:5-6, Torah is Wisdom; cf. Mosiah 2:17, wisdom = temple insight
(5)  Deut 29:24-29, stick to the law, no secret things; cf. 1 Nephi 1:1, “mysteries”
(6)  What do the reformers hate?  Not random things, but the plain and precious things of the temple.  The way Nephi front-loads his account with exactly these things, it’s almost like he’s nailing his flag to the mast, proudly shouting from the rooftops all the things the reformers in Jerusalem hated.
ii)    Laman and Lemuel grumble against visions, are pro-Law of Moses and Jerusalemites (1 Nephi 17:19-22)

3)    How does the confrontation go?

a)     Juridical (cf. Jacob v. Laban in Genesis 31)
b)    Process
i)      Sherem “comes unto” Jacob (7:6).
ii)    Sherem presents his case (7:6-7).
iii)   Jacob responds, calling two witnesses (7:8-12).
iv)   Resolution by ordeal/miracle (7:13-15).
v)    Prompt remedy (7:16-20).

Saturday, December 3, 2011


1. Omni tells us up front that he's just keeping track of the chain of custody (O 1).  Did he even understand the record he was keeping?  From O 2, I doubt it.  This reads like a secular intrusion into a profoundly sacred book, with none of the hot buttons words or themes previous recordkeepers have touched on.

2. The series of recordkeepers that follows is interesting.  They are meticulous to record that they were duly given the small plates and kept them (because they were in the family), but none sounds like a temple writer at all, or even very spiritual.  None says he was a priest or talks about his ministry.  Abinadom (O 11) charmingly shrugs that he doesn't know of any revelation or prophecy.  I wonder if these plates were handed down within the family, but the keepers were apostate or "inactive" or just not very inspired men.  I wonder if there were spiritual fireworks, but they were just going off elsewhere, outside the blood descendants of Nephi?

3. When spiritual fireworks do again enter the record, it's with some guy, apparently from another family, named Mosiah (O 12).  Mosiah's in Lehi's mold, flees because he's warned in a dream, then is led by prophesying.  Mosiah flees the Nephites, but he has the brass plates (O 14) -- does that mean he was connected with the royalty of the Nephites?  Did he steal them, like Nephi did?  If Mosiah was already a king, that might help explain his assuming kingship over the combined people of Zarahemla (O 19); he might have seemed the natural choice.

4. O 25 the small plates end on the theme of seed -- I have no more seed, so I'm handing over these plates to someone else.

5. Why does Amaron mention Zeniff's party?  Is it because he had a brother among them, and that brother might have been expected to be the next record keeper, so making mention of him would legitimize the brother if the small plates came into his possession, and he started up with "Now behold, I am Bob, the brother of Amaron..."  Only he never did, and the small plates were finished.

6. Amaron's farewell sounds wholly secular, and tired.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Enos - Jarom

1. E 1 what are the nurture and admonition of the Lord?  If the Lord = the fruit of the tree in 1 Nephi 8 and 11 = the shewbread, isn’t the Lord’s nurture the eating of the fruit?  Admonition is warning… is “nurture” the endowment, the eating of the fruit, and “admonition” the Day of Atonement, the great warning of the Lord’s coming?

2. E 2 the famous Biblical character who wrestled before God was Jacob (Genesis 32); he met an angel and was given a new name, which are temple images.  Genesis Jacob’s first encounter with angels is told in Genesis 28, an episode that is also rife with temple imagery: a dream, a ladder with angels ascending and descending it, the Lord above the ladder, a covenant promise about seed, and look what Genesis Jacob says in verse 17 – the “house of God” and the “gate of heaven”.  Enos is the new Genesis Jacob, the third patriarch in the line (Abraham-Isaac-Genesis Jacob, Nephi-Nephite Jacob-Enos), and here in Enos we similarly have the voice of the Lord making promises about Enos’s seed.

3. E 14  Interesting that the Lamanites want to destroy the Nephite records.  Why?  Because they contained or supported Nephi’s claim to legitimacy as a ruler and teacher?  Because they contained the teachings and writings of the visionary men, whom the Lamanites disliked, and against whom they had sent their missionary Sherem?

4. E 20  Interesting that “dwelling in tents”, which was repeated so often of Lehi, has now become the mark of the Lamanites’ savagery.  Is this a sign they haven’t progressed?  Is it irony – they hate the temple (God’s tent) and stick to their own tents instead?

5. E 22  The heirs to the “prophets” and “visionary men” continue to have “many prophets” among them.  (See also Jarom 4, 10-12.)

6. E 27 is temple imagery.  Enos plans to “put on immortality” (like a garment) and see God’s face.

7. J 1 Jarom is clearly not keeping their “genealogy” in any ordinary sense.  Where are the lateral branches, not to mention the women?  Instead, he’s making a record of who was in the line of keepers of the small plates.

8. J 2 Nephi wrote a book all about the temple, for the benefit of his brothers who rejected the temple.  Jarom finds that Nephi’s explanation is thorough, and has nothing significant to add.

9. J 5 This sounds like a defense to me, like the Lamanites in their grudge against the Nephites are at this point still saying that the Nephites had forsaken the law of Moses.  Since the shewbread was eaten on the Sabbath (Leviticus 24:8), and the Nephite endowment appears to contemplate the eating of the shewbread (1 Nephi 8, the bread = the fruit of the tree; remember that Christ is the “bread of heaven”), I wonder if Jarom’s statement in this verse that the Nephites kept the Sabbath day holy is a statement that the Nephites faithfully kept BOTH the law of Moses AND the visionary temple worship (see also verse 11, “the law of Moses and the intent for which it was given”).  Also, did the Lamanites accuse the Nephites of “profanity” or “blasphemy” in their temple rites?

10. J 10-12 are poignant, since they tell us how it might have gone for Jerusalem, if the Jerusalemites had repented.  I think Jarom includes the historical stuff on the temple plates because it’s specifically an account of how many of the temple prophecies about “seed” have been fulfilled.  We still see absolutely nothing of the kings and other secular actors.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Jacob 6-7

1. 6:3 "their own place" reminds me of the line from Paradise Lost: "Better to reign in Hell, than serve in Heaven."

2. It seems like all this section (Jacob 4-6) is written and not spoken, and Jacob keeps addressing his "beloved brethren".  Who is talking to?  In light of 4:17, it feels to me like he's addressing "the Jews" in 6:4ff -- God is merciful to all of Israel, root and branch; God is patent (Jacob 5), so repent; will you reject the prophecies you had of Christ?

3. 6:11-13 is a quick dash of temple imagery.  Strait gate; be wise; Day of the Lord.

4. 7:1 Sherem seems to have come from somewhere else.  Is he from the Lamanite / Lemuelite group, bringing their Deuteronomist ideas to the erring Nephites?  If so, his people might have seen him as a missionary (7:3) and a martyr.

5. 7:10-11 tie us back into the previous chapter, 6:8 -- if you read the scriptures and don't see Christ in them, you're missing the point.  Maybe 4-7 is all together one unit, and that's the point.  So maybe Jacob's "beloved brethren" include presumed or actual Lamanite / Lemuelite readers.

6. 7:12 ties together the two great visions of 1 Nephi: if there is no atonement (chapters 11-14), then all men are lost (chapter 8).

7. Remember that on the Day of Atonement, as the Name is pronounced, everyone falls down.  In 7:21, at Sherem's confession, the power of God is made manifest, and it knocks everyone down.

8. 7:23 "peace" and "the love of God" are restored.  Remember that the "love of God" is an image from 1 Nephi 11, and is associated with the tree and the plain and precious things.

"Peace," "shalom" in Hebrew, is an interesting word.  Its three-letter root is SH-L-M, which gives us various words, expressing coming to an end, staying healthy, making amends, repaying or rewarding, and completing or becoming complete.  When Matthew 5:48 urges us to be "perfect", it uses the Greek word "teleioi" for "perfect", a word that embodies many of the same meanings and can specifically refer to someone who is initiated, someone who has been through the mysteries, learned the secret doctrines and is a temple insider (in LDS parlance, "endowed").  "Peaceful" would be a Hebrew-English equivalent, and "peace" would be a word that means something equivalent to "mysteries" or "temple blessings".  In this context, Isaiah 48:22 (there is no "peace" unto the wicked) is interesting, and, in fact, has already been quoted by Nephi (1 Nephi 20) in his temple-rich writings.

So, to recap: Sherem comes seeking to overthrow the "doctrine of Christ", which we've learned from Nephi includes various stages that lead one to speaking with the tongues of angels (2 Nephi 31:2, 13-14), which we know from Isaiah means being in the holy of holies (2 Nephi 16:2-4).  Sherem works hard and has some success (7:3).  After he's defeated and dies, "peace" and "the love of God" return.  Yeah, Joseph Smith stuck his face into a hat and made that up.  Ha!

9. With Sherem's mission having been foiled, Jacob immediately talks about the countermissions he sent back to the Lamanites (7:24).

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Jacob 4-5

1. If "minister" and "ministry" reflect an underlying "'avad" and "'avodah", referring to Temple service, then 4:1 gains a really interesting nuance -- Jacob had performed priestly temple service "in word".

2. Lots of temple hints through chapter 4: the power of the name (v. 6), "mysteries" (v. 8), creation of the earth and man (v. 9), taking counsel ("sod"?) and "wisdom" (v. 10), "glory" (throughout), "atonement" (v. 12), the stone that is the foundation (the eben shetiyyah, like in Matthew 7 / 3 Nephi 14, vv. 15-16).  Jacob is writing on the small plates, and riffing on the small plates' themes.

3. Jacob then copies out of Zenos.  That an Israelite prophet would prophesy using plant imagery is strictly traditional (Isaiah 5:1-7, 6:13, 11:1, 60:21, 61:1-3; Jeremiah 1:10, 2:21, Psalms 80:9-19, 1 Enoch 10:3, 10:16-21, 84:6, 93:2, 5, 8 and 10, 4 Ezra 5:23, 2 Baruch 36-37, and various NT passages).  I especially like Isaiah 61:3, whose those who mourn are given oil and garments and become "trees of righteousness", but many of these passages have temple connections.  I am reminded also of the plants in the first chapters of genesis.  I wonder what physical analog in the temple might underly all the plant talk?  There's the candle, of course, which is a tree (Exodus 25:31-37).  What else?

4. Remember that the purpose of the parable is to show how the Jews, having rejected Christ, can still build on him (4:17).  So this parable is all about mercy and second chances and the Lord's patience.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Expounding on Hope: In response to Jacob 1-3

Original Post Here.

I agree that hope is very misunderstood. The power of hope is often sidelined, yet it is a prominent part of the plan of salvation and fundamental to gaining the Kingdom of God. Hope like faith deals with the intangibility of Truth. This is evidenced by statements such as that found in Romans 8:24.

"For we are saved by hope: but hope that is seen is not hope: for what a man seeth, why doth he yet hope for?"

Compare this to the statement about faith: "And now as I said concerning faith—faith is not to have a perfect knowledge of things; therefore if ye have faith ye hope for things which are not seen, which are true." Alma 32:21

It is as if Hope is a building block for Faith, and Faith a building block for Knowledge, and Knowledge a precursor to salvation.

As for the triad of Faith, Hope and Charity it is clearly spelled out in Moroni:

"Wherefore, there must be faith; and if there must be faith there must also be hope; and if there must be hope there must also be charity…" Moroni 10:20-23

Here we clearly see the relationship between the three aspects. These are all three aspirational elements of our human condition. Concepts that remove us from self indulgent knowledge mongering, and instead turn our attention to God and salvation.

Notice also the reference to unbelief. Often belief is discussed in the negative, and when it is discussed in the positive it is usually belief in man, or one of the aspirational elements of God that is just shy of perfect knowledge.

Notice the references to unbelief:

"After my seed and the seed of my brethren shall have dwindled in unbelief, and shall have been smitten by the Gentiles; yea, after the Lord God shall have camped against them round about, and shall have laid siege against them with a mount, and raised forts against them; and after they shall have been brought down low in the dust, even that they are not, yet the words of the righteous shall be written, and the prayers of the faithful shall be heard, and all those who have dwindled in unbelief shall not be forgotten." Helaman 15:15

And also here:
2 Nephi 26:15
Mormon 9:35

These are all in reference to dwindling in unbelief.

Now look at some references to belief:

"Nevertheless, they durst not lie, if it were known, for fear of the law, for liars were punished; therefore they pretended to preach according to their belief; and now the law could have no power on any man for his belief." Alma 1:17

And also here:
Alma 25:5
Mosiah 25:18

These are all in relation to belief in man or a man who has Faith in God. The reference to Alma 25:5 is a Lamanite false belief.

So it seems that belief can be in Truth, or in fallacy, but Hope, Faith, and Charity are all highly aspirational and dealing with key aspects of the divine.

Jacob 1-3

1. Jacob definitely wants to establish a continuity with Nephi's work.  He's going to write the "precious" things (1:2, reminds us of 1 Nephi 11); we have talk of plates and seed (1:3); he'll only write sacred things, great revelations and prophesying, which Nephi did -- when Nephi wrote such things, they all had temple connections or themes, and, sure enough, Jacob immediately gives us a temple discourse (1:17 and 2:1); like Nephi, Jacob sees his people in terms of the Exodus (1:7); not rebelling and bearing the shame of the world (1:8) remind us of Lehi's vision.

2. 1:11 and 1:13 on the Nephite kingship and the division of the people into tribes effectively remind me how small a slice of Nephite history we have -- especially in the small plates.

3. In 2:8, 11 we see that, at least in Jacob's day, the Nephites continued the Israelite linguistic usage of describing all movement towards the temple as "going up".  (Remember we see this something like 17 times in 1 Nephi, always accurately.)

4. 2:18-19 the kingdom of God = hope in Christ.  This is interesting; I think that "hope" is the most misunderstood and most neglected of the three great spiritual gifts (faith, hope, charity).

5. 2:23-30 Jacob delivers the prohibition against polygamy like it's an original commandment in the name of the Lord.  Interestingly, he then indicates that Lehi has already given his sons this commandment (2:34 and 3:5).  What happened out there in the family's desert sojourn?  Does this have anything to do with the disappearance of Sariah from the record before Lehi's youngest sons were born?

6. 2:32 "fair" daughters in Egyptian would be daughters who are nfrt, from the same root as Nephi and Nephites.

7. 3:2  Feasting on the "love of God" ties us back into 1 Nephi 11:21-22 -- the love of God is the tree who is the virgin who is Jerusalem.

Monday, November 28, 2011

2 Nephi 29-33

1. Chapters 29 and 30 both start on "seed".

2. 29:12 "I shall speak unto all nations [goyim?] of the earth, and they shall write it".  29:14 does "fight against my word" here mean "Word" as in John 1?

3. 30:6 after "scales of darkness" "fall" from the the eyes of the Lamanites, they become "pure and delightsome".  Again, I don't think that when Nephi talks about his relatives having "skins of blackness", he means that they turned from Semites to Amerindians.  We're talking about something that is more figurative here, unless we believe that the Lamanites were both black and lizards.

4. 31:3 God gives light to the understanding -- that's the mind, not feelings.  It's funny to see Nephi say he delights in plainness after all the visionary, almost encrypted stuff he's written, but of course he had to.  Let he who has ears hear, the evangelists would say.  So now, at the end of his writings, Nephi gets to the heart of the matter as directly as he can, without connecting it to or explaining the visions that have gone before.

5. 31:13-14 the tongue of angels shouting praises to the Holy One of Israel is temple imagery -- it's the Levites, singing in the temple.  (In apocalyptic visions, angels = priests).  So even Nephi, in his plain doctrine of Christ, talks (subtly) about entry into the temple.  Then when he repeats the repentance, baptism, Holy Ghost sequence in verse 17, he doesn't talk about the tongue of angels anymore, but instead talks about the strait and narrow path... for which, see below -- we are again in temple imagery.  And once you're in the strait and narrow path, you just press forward to get eternal life (= life with God = entry into the Holy of Holies).

6. 32:7 Don't make Nephi mourn -- search knowledge!  Understand great knowledge!  How?  vv.8-9, prayerfully!

7. 33:1 It's absolutely hilarious that Nephi says he isn't powerful in writing.  Either he's super-modest, or he has a little bit of mischief in his heart and a wink in his eye when he scratches this out on the plates.  Ha!

8. Temple and Day of Atonement images in 33:9.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Tractate Yoma

So I read Tractate Yoma of the Mishnah, and the corresponding sections of the Tosefta, today, rather than go to Sunday School (ahem).  Relative to what I've been writing about for the last two weeks, I want to make four observations.  This is a bonus post.

1. 1 Nephi 20:1 quotes Isaiah, with a significant addition.  Nephi addresses those who "are come forth out of the waters of Judah, or out of the waters of baptism".  Like Coriantumr's "moons", this was a passage that made me cringe when I was younger, because it seemed wrong, too modern, too Christian to be truly written in the sixth century B.C.

As of today, I love this passage.  Remember that Lehi was oppressed the Temple hierarchy of Jerusalem (as vividly depicted in 1 Nephi 8).  Remember that the tribe of Judah, the royal tribe, ruled Jerusalem, which probably helps explain why Nephi is so interested in Isaiah passages foretelling woes to Judah.  And know that, per Tractate Yoma, on the Day of Atonement the high priest was immersed over and over again (and priests were immersed at other times, whenever they went into the temple) in the "place of immersion" (Yoma 3:3).  Remember that baptism and immersion are the same word.  In other words, Nephi inserts this clarification that for him the waters of Judah = the waters of baptism because he wants to focus the condemnation of 1 Nephi 20 (Isaiah 48) on the priests in Jerusalem, the ones who come out of the waters of the place of immersion.

2. Remember, those of you who were around two years ago, that we talked about the elements of the vision in 1 Nephi 8 and compared them to the architecture and furniture of Solomon's temple?  And remember that we talked about rivers, and I pointed out that Lehi's vision had a river, which was consistent with other Temple visions (Daniel 7, 1 Enoch 14, Genesis 2, Ezekiel 47, Revelation 1, Psalms 1-2), even though I didn't know what the river corresponded to in "real life"?

I know what the river might be now.  Yoma 5:6 tells how the excess blood from the Day of Atonement sacrifices flowed through "channels" into the brook Kidron.

3. Yoma 5:1 records a disagreement among the earliest rabbis about the veil of the temple.  Some thought it was a single sheet; others thought it was two sheets, one cubit apart, with the nearer sheet having its opening against one wall of the temple and the further curtain having its opening on the other side of the building.  So you entered the Holy of Holies by entering the curtains at one side, turning and walking all the way across, perpendicular to the direction of the building, inside the veil, through a one-cubit-wide passage, and then exiting.

Strait is the gate and narrow the way, anyone?

4. Yoma 1:1 says a curious thing about the requirements for a high priest to perform the Day of Atonement sacrifices.  There is discussion of preparation for the rite, and this is reported: "R. Judah says: Also another wife was made ready for him, lest his own wife should die, for it is written, He shall make atonement for himself and for his house; 'his house' -- that is his wife."  So A) the high priest, who represented the Lord coming to make his atoning sacrifice, had to be married, and B) there's this peculiar connection between the high priest's (the Lord's house) and a feminine presence or person.

The Deuteronomists stamped really hard on Israel's memories of the Lord's mother, but the memories of her keep bubbling up at every turn.

2 Nephi 27-28

1. 27:7 this is a very good description of a book built upon temple rites, including an endowment rite that included the creation narrative and a Day of Atonement ceremony, which Nephi's two books are.  Makes me wonder about the sealed portion.

2. Obviously the book motif has returned with a vengeance.  I think 1 and 2 Nephi should be read as a single work, and as we started on writing we are now finishing on writing, too.

3. 27:27 reminds me of Psalms 2:2, in which the wicked kings take counsel (nosdu, sod being a secret learned in council) against the Lord, in vain, to be told that they should seek wisdom instead.  (Remember that Psalms 1 and 2 are one document in many ancient copies, and are full of the same temple images that are in 1 Nephi 8).

4. I haven't been tracking the word "seed" through Nephi's writing, but someone should.  It appears a ton, including in covenant / temple contexts.  His is a book about books, seeds and the temple.

5. The Deuteronomists have left their mark on Chapter 28, and how Nephi talks about the churchmen of the future.  Learned, denying miracles and revelation and the spirit.  We'll see this in Sherem.

6. 28:11-12 recalls 1 Nephi 8, the people lost in strange paths because of the mockery of those in the strange great and spacious building.

7. 28:28 Of course there is famously a large rock on the temple mount, supposedly the altar on which Abraham sacrificed Isaac, etc. (the mosque there today is called the Dome of the Rock).  I wonder if that is the source of Nephi's imagery and, later, Jesus's.  I note that the rock and sand parable appears at the very end of Matthew 7 (24-27), after knocking three times, asking for bread and fish, entering in at the strait gate, seeing the good tree and being seen and accepted by the Lord.

Check out this Wikipedia article on the rock:  Note that some traditions identify this stone with the Holy of Holies.  I don't know how I missed this before.

8. 28:30 is hot-button words again: if you listen to counsel (sod, perhaps), you will learn wisdom (hokhmah).  Following close on the reference to being built on the rock and learning line upon line, getting more when you receive, this is temple talk.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

2 Nephi 25-26

1. 25:14 it's interesting that Josephus, in the critical Book 20 of his Antiquities of the Jews, tells that the Jerusalemites were agitated by a number of prophetic characters at the end (before the Romans destroyed it).  In Antiquities 20:6, for instance, Josephus reports that a false prophet out of Egypt told his followers that he would make the walls of Jerusalem fall down.  I wonder if the Egyptian (and Egypt of course reminds us of the brass plates, written in Egyptian, and the Joseph of Egypt book contained therein that didn't survive in out OT, and Nephi's Egyptian name, etc.) might have been looking at one of these books we don't have (Zenos, Zenock, etc.) in making his prophecy and whether that same passage might be something that stood behind 25:14.

2. 25:19 We know prophecies from the OT and elsewhere that identified the time of the coming of the Messiah, and that were understood to apply to Jesus's time (and were probably part of the turbulent atmosphere leading to the sack of Jerusalem), e.g., Daniel 9:24.  I don't know any that predated the Captivity, so Nephi must be quoting something from one of these books we don't have.

3. 25:20 Nephi's oath is both Exodus and temple imagery, and then he says there is no other name given "under heaven" -- remember that heaven is the temple veil, and the name YHWH is only spoken inside the holy of holies, i.e., "above heaven" or "inside heaven".  So he implicitly identifies Jesus as YHWH.

4. 25:22 implicitly connects two "rod" images that Nephi has deployed.  On the one hand, the iron rod is the word of God (and we have seen that that phrase is an Egyptian pun specifying the brass plates), and on the other hand the rod is the instrument of the Lord's judgment (e.g., 2 Nephi 20:24).  Therefore, people are judged by books.

5. 26:7 sounds like Nephi is telling us that this vision of destruction he has is a temple vision, since he is consumed in the "presence of the Lord".

6. 26:9 I like this succinct statement of the atonement -- "he shall heal them".  I think this metaphor explains much of the reporting we have of Jesus' mortal ministry -- healing people, casting out devils, raising the dead, etc., are all vivid, visual lessons to his audience of his real purpose: the atonement, which is harder to understand.

7. Interesting that between 26:19 and 26:20 we transition from future to present tenses.  What is the meaning of this?  Is he making the account more vivid for his ultimate reader, modern Gentiles, telling us that his prophesy refers to us?  Was he talking about the "Gentile" populations with which the Nephites interacted in his day?  Both?

8. 26:22 is Day of Atonement imagery again.  Remember that Azazel, the fallen angel / scapegoat, had a red thread tied around its neck before it was led out into the wilderness and thrown into a pit to die.  Here the devil leads his victims "by the neck with a flaxen cord".

WARNING: the times, they are a-changing.  Beginning maybe as early as Monday, I'm going to stop emailing these updates and instead post them on a blog (not the URL in my signature, a new home to my blog).  Stay tuned for updates.

Friday, November 25, 2011

2 Nephi 19-24

1. 2 Nephi 19.  This is part 3 of Isaiah's Virgin birth arc, the meaning of the Virgin's child -- he is / will be the Lord, though he's not named as such yet, but given provocative titles.  There's a lot of imagery here in which the Nephites could have seen themselves -- the people that have walked in darkness have seen the light, the nation has been multiplied, the leaders of Jerusalem are cut off, etc.

2. 2 Nephi 20.  The "day of visitation" is the Day of the Lord, when Yahweh comes in judgment, the day promised and enacted in the Day of Atonement rite.  Having seen in 17-19 the birth of the Lord, now we are told what will happen when he returns.  Promised punishments for Assyria might have been understood by the Nephites as punishments for Babylon.  Interesting that vv. 20-21 promise a return to God, not a return to the land of Israel.  Nephi has built a temple for his people, and believes that the presence of God is with them -- did he see this prophecy as already fulfilled, his remnant having returned to God?

3. 2 Nephi 21.  The day of visitation continues.  The "rod of his mouth" (v. 4) reminds me of the iron rod that is the word of God.  Judah will generate righteous leaders again, there will be millennial peace.  There's a lot of King David imagery in this chapter: David's kingdom will be restored (Judah and Ephraim won't vex each other), Jesse is David's father, all of David's enemies return to be defeated (Philistines, Edom, Moab, Ammon).  The Exodus is made permanent (v. 15).

4. 2 Nephi 22.  The Lord is finally emphatically named as the child who has brought judgment and peace in a short psalm.

5. 2 Nephi 23.  vv. 4-5, 10 -- the Lord of Hosts is an astral title, the "hosts" are the hosts of heaven, i.e., the angels = the stars and other heavenly bodies.  the Day of the Lord will be one of cosmic upheaval, and the kingdom that purports to rule the cosmos ("cosmocrators") will be utterly destroy by the cosmos's true king.

6. 2 Nephi 24.  Now we see prophecies of return to the Land, and Nephi must surely have thought of his own people.  The sudden switch to "thee" in v. 3 is very intimate and affecting.  I wonder if Nephi felt it very personally as he inscribed it: "the Lord shall give thee rest, from thy sorrow, and from thy fear, and from the hard bondage wherein thou wast made to serve".  v. 5 the iron rod breaks the rod of the oppressor.

7. 2 Nephi 24:12-19 if Nephi is thinking of the apostate priestly hierarchy in Jerusalem who oppressed the visionary men and the prophets, the Lucifer imagery is even more a propos -- in visionary language, angels are priests, so Lucifer the fallen angel is a strong image for a fallen priest.  the usurper false priest ascends to heaven (enters the temple and the holy of holies without authorization), but is brought down into the pit, because he is the scapegoat, the rebel angel Azazel (see below about 1 Nephi 11 and the Day of Atonement imagery), at the end a mere carcass of a goat.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

2 Nephi 17-18

So, re-reading these chapters was shocking to me.  If what I write about them shocks you, it means you're paying attention.

1. 2 Nephi 17.  Ahaz's situation is like that of the Judahites at the end of the monarchy (Zedekiah, etc.), trapped between foreign powers.  Ahaz is told to ask a sign of the Lord (DSS Isaiah: a sign of the Lord's mother, remember?).  The sign is the Virgin ("the" Virgin, in Hebrew and Greek, not "a" virgin) who shall bear a child, like 1 Nephi 11.  Desolation will come on Ahaz and his people.

2. Incidentally, "virgin" in Hebrew is "'almah".  This is interesting, because it occurs to me that THREE of the Book of Mormon names might be references to the Virgin.  1) Alma.  2) Nephi, because nfr in Egyptian is fair, nfr was pronounced "something like nafi" by Lehi's time, and the Virgin in 1 Nephi 11:13 is described as "fair". 3) Best of all, Laban is a Hebrew word meaning "white".  So actually, "Laban" and "Nephi" are the same name, in Hebrew and Egyptian, "the white one".  This is not really surprising, since they're family, and it makes me wonder if Nephi's family had a particular devotion to the Virgin.

(And of course, the entire people of the "Nephites" have a name that calls out devotion to or memory of the Virgin.)

3. 2 Nephi 18.  Let me parse this carefully.

A) Note the classic sexual symbols in 18:1.  The "man's pen" should be obvious, but a "great roll" is a spiral, a classic symbol of the female generative matrix.  This chapter is going to be earthy.

B) This chapter follows right on the prophecy of "the Virgin" bearing a son and is about "the prophetess" bearing a son.  I do not think this is an accident.  I think this is the second half of the same story.

C) I do not think "the prophetess" was Mrs. Isaiah.  The OT refers to various prophetesses (Miriam in Exodus 15:20, Deborah in Judges 4:4, Huldah in 2 Kings 22:14 (and Chronicles), etc.), and none of them is Mrs. Prophet -- they are prophetesses in their own rights.  The woman in Isaiah 8 is definitely THE prophetess, in both Greek and Hebrew, in the same way Isaiah 7 talks about THE virgin.  It's difficult, reading them back to back, to think they aren't connected.  Since 17:14 says "the Virgin shall conceive" and 18:3 says "I went into the Prophetess and she conceived", it's very difficult for me think they aren't, in fact, the same person.  Or rather, it seems to me that the Prophetess must have been a figure in Jerusalem something like the High Priest, and just as the High Priest was / represented Yahweh on the Day of Atonement, the Prophetess was / represented the Virgin on certain occasions.

D) The occasion in particular is not an ordinary conjugal encounter.  In addition to the fact that it's the object of prophesy and tied to the giving of signs to a king making crucial foreign policy decisions (you think YOU feel pressure, lads?  ha!), there are WITNESSES (18:2).  This is a formal act, and I think a ritual one.  It looks like a hieros gamos, straight out of Anthropology 101 (hieros gamos is fancy Greek for "sacred marriage"), in other words, human priests and priestesses acting out a heavenly marriage (complete, yes, with child-conceiving acts) on behalf of or standing in for the gods.  (The Da Vinci Code had an amusing, but not totally false, hieros gamos as one of its plot components.)

E) What would be the point of such a hieros gamos in Jerusalem?  I believe that ancient Israel knew a trinity of father-mother-son, which shows pretty clearly in 1 Nephi 11.  I think the point of a hieros gamos for ancient Israel would be the sign and miracle of the Virgin, in the person of her servant the Prophetess, conceiving and bearing a child.  Who is this child?  Nephi tells us, in 1 Nephi 11... the baby, the fruit of the tree, is the Lord Yahweh, the son in the ancient Israelite trinity.

F) Isaiah and the prophetess conceive a son who isn't actually the Lord, but is given a prophetic name to indicate that, despite Yahweh's still-delayed appearance, he's coming soon, with judgment, on the Day of the Lord (reminds me of 2 Nephi 6:13, which defines Yahweh's people as those who wait for him).

G) The prophet, prophetess and the child are "signs and wonders" (18:18).  Remember 1 Nephi 19:13, that caught my eye the other day.  Maybe what the Judahite leaders in Jerusalem rejected specifically was this "sign and wonder", the Virgin and her child, the Lord.

(H) And of course, the Second Temple Israelites who would become the first Christians remembered the prophecy of the Virgin and her son, and applied it (correctly, per Nephi) to Mary and Jesus.  Only later Christians, having lost the plot, concluded that Mary magically and physically remained a virgin her entire life, despite having various children.)


I'm thankful for a lot of things today.  Let me mention four, quickly: my wife, Emily; my family; my country; and the Book of Mormon, which cuts right through the snarl of the re-writing and deception and age that tangles up the Bible and shines a spotlight on the ancient history of Israel.

Happy Thanksgiving, all.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

2 Nephi 11-16

1. 11:4 (the "law of Moses" telling of the "coming of Christ") is very distinctively true of the Day of Atonement rite, which we have seen is very prominent in several places in 1 and 2 Nephi.

2. 2 Nephi 12.  Nephi might read 12:2-3 as a reference to the temple he himself has built.  12:6 reminds me of the appearances of the word "strange" in 1 Nephi 8 -- does Nephi think the Judahites have ruined themselves with foreign ways?  12:10 we have dust again -- the wicked hide in the dust, with the serpent of Genesis, and the righteous arise out of it.  12:11 the Judahites of the great and spacious building will be humbled.  12:12 the Day of the Lord is the Day of Atonement, and the high priest coming from the temple is the Lord returning.  12:15 the Enoch people described the temple at Jerusalem as a "tower" (1 Enoch 89:50, and check out E. Isaac's translation, included in Charlesworth: "Then that house became great and spacious; a lofty building was built upon it for that sheep, as well as a tall and great tower upon it for the Lord of the sheep; that house was low but the tower was really elevated and lofty.  Then the Lord of the sheep stood upon that tower, and they offered a full table before him." (remember that this is from the Animal Apocalypse, and the sheep are the Israelites) !!!!).

3. 2 Nephi 13.  More judgment on the Judahites that drove Lehi out.  This stuff must have really resonated with the Nephites.  How did they feel?  Vindicated?  Comforted that they got away from this judgment?  13:3 the "captain of fifty" here should remind us of Laban.  12:13 reminds me of the strange paths of 1 Nephi 8; the leaders are to blame.  some juridical imagery in the second half of this chapter.  13:26 remember that "gates" are where the courts met (Ruth 4), so the image of the gates "lamenting" is an image of the judges removed from power and turned into plaintiffs.

4. 2 Nephi 14.  14:1 I wonder again if Lehi was a polygamist.  did 14:3 console Nephi that some of his father's fellow-visionary men survived?  (note that what they are called is hagioi / qadosh -- "holy", "saints", "angels").  14:5-6 Isaiah ties the Exodus story to the temple.  he's not the first to do so; in the book of Exodus, the story of the Exodus is then reflected in the building of the tabernacle and in temple imagery (the waters from the rock, the throne of God, the nehushtan/serpents).  and Nephi's two great motifs have been Temple and Exodus, so these verses must have tied it all together for Nephi; his own exodus was over, and shadow and refuge were finally to be had in the temple he had built.

5. 2 Nephi 15.  more judgment on the Judahites.  I wonder if Nephi thought of himself and his people as the ensign.

6. 2 Nephi 16.  here we have the first great temple vision recorded in the OT.  when Nephi says that Isaiah saw the Redeemer, as he and Jacob also did (11:2-3), I wonder if this is what he was talking about -- that all three men were temple visionaries with access to and visions of Yahweh seen in the Holy of Holies.  in any case, Nephi must have felt a lot of sympathy (and projected sympathy for his father and brother) with this narrative of a prophet's calling. 16:11-13 and did Nephi read these as applying to his own people?  Jerusalem wasted, the Nephites "far away", a "tenth" to "return"?

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

2 Nephi 9-10

1. Same speech continues, and we are still on temple themes.  The exit of the high priest from the temple before Israel, on the Day of Atonement, fully garbed in ritual clothing, is/represents the bodily appearance of the Lord (vv.4-5), as the death of the YHWH goat is the Lord's death (v. 5).  I think this speech would be most effective if Joseph gave it as the officiating high priest, exiting the temple on the Day of Atonement -- that would make phrases like being "cut off from the presence of the Lord" (v.6) very vivid.  The atonement, v.7.  The fallen angel = Azazel = the scapegoat, v.8-9.

2. Remember that the Day of Atonement is 10 days after the New Year, and that those ten days are a probationary period during which people scramble to try to repent, because their names will be written either in the Book of Life or in the Book of Death at the end of the ten days -- compare that to vv. 11-15, about spirits coming forth to resurrection and final judgment.  this whole two ways (two books) theme dominates the middle section of the chapter, goes away, and then comes back at the end.  very Day of Atonement-y.

3. Strait gate, knocking and entering, garments clean of blood, shaking off chains, the waters = all temple images we've seen before.  And this chapter ends on "remember how great the covenants of the Lord, and how great his condescensions", reminding me of 1 Nephi 11:16ff, where the "condescension of God" is explained visually as the tree who is the Virgin, and the child who is the Son of God, the Son of God going forth being of course a Day of Atonement vision, per below.

4. 10:3 is a bit mysterious... did the angel tell Jacob the syllable "Christ", or did he tell him that the Lord in flesh would be known as the Messiah?  dunno.

5. 10:3ff again.  remember that Jacob grew up in the wilderness raised by a father who had been persecuted and driven from his homeland by the Jews (Judahites) who ruled Jerusalem.  I think this is who Jacob is thinking about, and the context in which he knows them, and we don't need to imagine that the Book of Mormon teaches that the Jews are or were actually the most wicked people in the world.

6. 10:10-14... this is the sort of stuff that makes me scratch my head about the "Limited Geography" which situates all the BoM action in the Isthmus of Tehuantepec.  I mean, maybe, but this doesn't really seem to describe Guatemala to me.  so I hold out a secret suspicion that the Nephites might have been in the Ohio Valley somewhere... Cahokia, etc.  again, I wonder how much this imagery might have resonated with the experience the Nephites were having at the time with the indigenous people they encountered.

Monday, November 21, 2011

2 Nephi 5-8

1. 5:5 Nephi repeats the Lehi maneuver in all respects.  They even take "tents" (v. 7) and "seed" (v. 11).  One really gets the impression that Nephi's (and Lehi's?) background must have been in metallurgy (2:14-15).

2. 5:6 Those who flee are again those who believe in "revelations" (the "visionary men" and "prophets") (v. 6).  Does this mean the Laman-Lemuel group is dominated by the Deuteronomists?  Is that where Sherem and his doctrine might have come from?  Does Nephi hasten to tell us that his people keep the law of Moses because the Laman-Lemuel group accuse him otherwise (v. 10)?

3. After all the temple imagery so far, it should now be no surprise at all that Nephi is quick to tell us he built a temple (5:16).

4. Nephi tells us that Laman and Lemuel were cut off from the Lord's presence in 5:20, right after he tells us that he built a temple (5:16) and he acted as king (5:18).  This makes PERFECT sense in terms of ancient Israelite ideas -- the presence of YHWH was in the temple, and king and high priests were both "anointed", i.e., "Messiahs", because they were / represented YHWH.  Check out Psalm 2:7, in which the King is the Lord's begotten.

5. A discussion of the fate of the Lamanites' culture follows.  We talked in class about the Egyptian pun built into the Lamanites becoming "black" as opposed to the "Nephites" (nfrw?) being "fair"... now we see that fate being tied into covenants and explicitly to the possession or non-possession of a temple.  Those having a temple are fair, washed white in the blood of the Lamb, encircled in the robe of the Lord's righteousness -- those not having a temple and having rejected revelation have "skins of blackness".  I think it's unwarranted to infer that this is a record of people in the Americas actually physically changing color.

6. Jacob's speech in 2 Nephi 6:2-4 starts out all temply, too.  He refers to the order of his priesthood, Nephi's kingship and all the things he's taught, "from the creation of the world", things which are to come, the great temple-prophet Isaiah, "learning" God's name (which can only be spoken in the Holy of Holies on the Day of Atonement) and "glorifying" it ("glory" being a phenomenon of the Holy of Holies).  What is the context of this talk?  Much of the speech is reminiscent of Nephi's Day of Atonement vision and preaching in 1 Nephi 11-15 -- is this a Day of Atonement address?

7. We probably read 6:6-7 as verses being fulfilled in modern days, or yet to be fulfilled.  I wonder if Jacob read them to encourage his people with respect to their relationships with the (unnamed to us) populations around them?  Maybe the Nephi party received help from an indigenous population (remember "corn"?  doesn't exist in the wild, so someone taught the Nephites to cultivate it...), and Jacob taught them to read Isaiah as a prophecy of the help they received, and to welcome them into the church (vv. 12-13)?

8. Again, I am trying to read the Isaiah passages (2 Nephi 7-8) as Nephite self-image.  I think they fit very, very well.  Chapter 7: God has not set the Nephites aside, despite the persecutions they have suffered.  Chapter 8: take comfort from Abraham and God's covenants with you, God will comfort and rescue, etc.  I wonder if the Nephites had any thoughts about who the two sons were (8:19-20)?  Nephi and Jacob, maybe?

9. 2 Nephi 8 has lots of temple imagery, appropriately for a Day of Atonement address.  Covenants, cosmic structure, creation, putting on garments, arising from the dust.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

2 Nephi 1-4

1. 1 Nephi started with Lehi's ministry to Jerusalem, whose leaders proved wicked and unyielding, forcing Lehi's party to flee into the wilderness.  2 Nephi opens on Lehi again, preaching to his sons, the older of whom will prove wicked and unyielding, forcing Nephi's party to flee into the wilderness.

2. 1:10 gives off temple echoes, with its knowledge of the creation and its language about covenants; so does 1:15, and 1:24 (a "glorious view" is a same thing as a "view of glory", which is entrance into the Holy of Holies and seeing God on his chariot throne), and 2:4 (beholding the glory, and one eternal round-type language).  See also seeking the glory of God (1:25 -- is this different from desiring to know the mysteries?  I don't think so) and knowing the greatness of God (2:2).  See also 4:16 and 4:25 and especially 4:33.

3. Whom is Lehi quoting in 1:20?  Or is this revelation to Lehi?  (It gets quoted a lot subsequently in the BoM, but I think this is its first appearance.)

4. Lehi's exhortation to his sons to rise out of the dust (1:13-14, 21-23) also has a temple echo: Genesis 3:14.  It also echoes what Nephi preached in 1 Nephi 22:23.  The chains in this passage also echo Isaiah 3:19, where "chains" are one of the ornaments of the haughty and wanton daughters of Zion who will be punished -- remember Laman and Lemuel's recurring fascination with the wealth they've left behind.

5. 2:1 -- Jacob and Joseph are spoken to apart from Lehi's oldest four sons, and after the sons of Ishmael and Zoram.  This makes me wonder further if Jacob and Joseph are born to an unnamed second wife.  I can't find any mention of Sariah's death, or any mention of her at all after 1 Nephi 8, unless 1 Nephi 18:19 is a reference to her... which would be begging the question.

6. 2 Nephi 2 is full of temple doctrine.  We start with the Day of Atonement (Christ sacrifices himself like the high priest sacrifices the Yahweh goat, to atone), and work backward into endowment narrative (the two trees, the serpent, etc.).  These are the same two rites reported in visions in 1 Nephi 8 and 11ff, and we are taking them in reverse order -- in other words, 1 Nephi 8 reports a Sabbath/endowment vision, and 1 Nephi 11 is a Day of Atonement vision, and in 2 Nephi 2 we hear doctrine about the Day of Atonement, and then are told the endowment story.  These rites are then tied together by the ideas of free will and probation, upon which Lehi preaches extensively.

7. 2:30 whom is Lehi quoting, about choosing the good part?

8. 3:24 doing wonders is a Moses echo, so bookends with 3:9.

9. 4:3-10.  Nephi is recording Lehi's blessings later, after the split from the Laman-Lemuel group (5:30).  It's interesting that he meticulously records Lehi's blessings to Laman and Lemuel's children -- it gives the sense of being an olive branch held out, a hope of reconciliation with the people from whom they've split.

10. Lehi dies and Laman and Lemuel want to kill him again.  This is a low point for Nephi, and I find it beautiful that this is where he records his own great psalm (the second half of 2 Nephi 4).

Saturday, November 19, 2011

1 Nephi 21-22

1. I've always sort of read the Isaiah passages by thinking "okay, here's Isaiah," and trying to think back to 8th century Jerusalem -- this time, I want to focus on what Nephi is seeing in the texts he copies.  It's really easy to see Nephi's selt-image in chapter 21.  So much so, I wonder who he thinks of as the prisoners, and those in darkness (v. 9).  His righteous family?  Laman and Lemuel and theirs?  The people "who are in the east" in verse 13 might be all of the above.  The verses about children (19-26) are really poignant.

2. The whole arc 19:22 to 22:1 is another recurrence of the book motif in 1 Nephi.

3. The word "nations" (22:3) appears a lot in the KJV OT.  It almost always translates "goyim", meaning "gentiles".  Makes me wonder about the wonder about the words underlying the "mighty nation among the Gentiles" in verse 7.  "goy mehagoyim", maybe?  "A mighty and most gentilic nation"?  I dunno, but interesting.

4. (The word "wonders" stuck in my head after yesterday's reading.  I looked it up this morning -- it occurs a fair amount in the OT, but the earliest appearances, and many of the later ones, refer specifically to the plagues in Egypt.  See, e.g., Exodus 3:20, 4:21, 7:3, 11:9, 11:10.  This makes 19:13 a terrifically compact verse implicitly comparing the leaders of Lehi's Jerusalem both to the doubting Ahaz who needed a sign from the Virgin and also to the Pharaoh of Egypt from whom Israel fled.  Wow, subtle and spot on.)

5. I wonder what "saith the prophet" means in 22:15?  I don't think this quote exists in the scriptures as we have them -- maybe Nephi's paraphrasing Isaiah, or quoting Zenos or someone.  Idem for verse 17.

6.  It's really interesting to me that Nephi (22:20-21) interprets Moses' prophecy in Deuteronomy 18:15 differently from Jesus (according to John 1:21).  Nephi applies it to Jesus, but Jesus denies that it applies to him.  This bothered someone so much that though they footnoted Deuteronomy in 1 Nephi, they left out John, and in John, they waived footnotes entirely.  It doesn't bother me, though.  A) I've never been an inerrantist, that's a fool's doctrine and one Joseph Smith never taught.  B) One thing we learn from Nephi is that different prophets apply the same scriptural passages different ways.

7. I don't read verses like 22:23 triumphally.  I think those are a warning to us.

8. End on the book motif.