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.

Friday, November 18, 2011

1 Nephi 19-20

1. The book motif is back.

2. 19:13 interesting that the apostates in Jerusalem don't ask for signs -- they reject signs and wonders.  Reminds me of Isaiah 7, where Ahaz is told to ask for a sign, refuses, and is given one anyway (and remember that the DSS copy of Isaiah has "ask a sign of the mother of the Lord", in response to which "the" Virgin shall conceive, etc...

3. Trying to read the Isaiah passages strictly for how they might sound to Laman and Lemuel.  20:6 really resonates differently for me now -- about showing us "new" and "hidden things".  And of course the end of the chapter sounds themes of fleeing the wickedness of civilization, and the Exodus.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

1 Nephi 16-18

1. "Father's tent" references here in chapter 16 bracket some marriages and God's commandment to move on.  Don't know if this is significant or not, it's not as obvious to me.

2. It's nice to see Paleo eating endorsed (17:2) (ha!).

3. I note vv. 17:12-14... when did the Lord say this?  Was it on the Liahona?  Is this a revelation Lehi received?  Hmmn.

4. Sam (or someone else) helps build the ship ("ye" in 17:19).

5. Laman and Lemuel (and Ishmael's sons?) are Deuteronomists (17:22).  Someone in Lehi's party has to be, for this strain to show up again in Sherem (as we'll discuss in December).  Nephi takes up the cudgels for the visionary men and the prophets (vv. 23-26), arguing that the law is not the important thing about Moses, his revelations were.  This is the position of the Enoch people, who thought that the Babylonian captivity was the result of the forsaking of "Wisdom" (revelation, etc.), and who were so underwhelmed by the Law of Moses that they couldn't even bring themselves to mention it in their entire corpus.  Righteousness is not obeying the Law, it is accepting Revelation (vv. 34-35).

6. Temple and temple vision imagery in vv. 39-47: the heavenly throne, covenants, the rod (1 Ne 8), the serpent (Genesis, Numbers 21 -- 2 Kgs 18:4), angel.

7. In 2:14, Lehi "confounded" and made Laman's and Lemuel's "frames" "shake" with the "power" of his exhortation.  Now in 17:52-55, Nephi does the same, with all the same words used to describe the action, so we see that Nephi has grown in stature, and is destined to assume Lehi's mantle.

8.  18:7 says that Lehi begat Jacob and Joseph, but doesn't specify that Sariah was the mother.  "Their mother" is mentioned but not named in verse 19.  Is there a verse elsewhere that clarifies that, or might Lehi have had other wives or concubines?

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

P.S. 2

(And a Day of Atonement setting for the vision makes Nephi's themes of the time of "probation" and judgment, in his chapter 15 exhortation, more pertinent.  The more I consider it, the more I'm convinced.  I'm so convinced, I'm starting to think I'll remember that I read this in some Hugh Nibley essay twenty years ago.)

Okay, shutting up now, for reals.

P.S. 1

Three more quick thoughts.

1. Notice that Nephi mentions the fruit again in 11, but doesn't describe it being eaten... this is all "after" it is eaten, i.e., on a different occasion.  This is consistent with a Day of Atonement interpretation, of course, since the fruit (the shewbread) was eaten on the Sabbath (Lev. 24:8), and the Day of Atonement, being the 10th day of the New Year, COULD BE a Sabbath, but wasn't necessarily.

2. By the way, although the Evangelists all describe Christ's ministry in terms of Passover, Nephi wouldn't be the only one to use a Day of Atonement metaphor.  Hebrews 6-9 does the same, as does the very old Epistle of Barnabas (5:1).

3. Check this link out (fifth paragraph) for a (not in the OT) traditional Jewish doctrine about BOOKS that ties to the Day of Atonement: the period between the new year and the Day of Atonement was the time given to repent, and on the Day of Atonement your name is inscribed either in the Book of Life or in the Book of Death.  Shades of "only two churches", per Nephi's vision, and of course Nephi's harping on about books.

Who's taking notes so we can write a paper?

Tomorrow: Ishmael dies!

1 Nephi 13-15

1.  So again, the book motif (13 and 14).  It'd be interesting to read through all the book mentions in 1 Nephi and just compare them -- I bet it would generate insights.

2.  You know how sometimes you read the BoM and you think you're seeing something that no one else has ever noticed?  Today is one of those days.  Here's what I think: 1 Nephi 11-14 isn't just a temple vision generically, it's a vision of the Day of Atonement.  Here are some points of comparison (references are to 1 Nephi, Leviticus, Tractate Yoma (in the Mishnah) and 1 Enoch):
High Priest comes out of the Holy of Holies and the Temple: Lev. 16:19-20; Yom. 6:2, 1 Ne. 11:7.
High Priests atones with sacrificial blood on various parts of the Temple: Lev. 16:11-19, Yom. 5:1-7, 1 Ne. 12:10-11.

The Lord's goat: One goat is designated "for the Lord " or "the Lord" and is slain -- Lev. 16:15, Yom. 5:4, 1 Ne. 11:32-33.

The scapegoat: The other goat, designated as being for Azazel or else identified with Azazel (Yom. 6:1), is driven into the wilderness (Lev. 16:21-22).  Tractate Yoma adds the detail that the Azazel goat had its head bound with a thread of "crimson" wool (Yom. 4:2) and that the goat was actually thrown into a ravine to die (Yom. 6:6).  Interestingly, 1 Enoch knows Azazel as the leader of the rebel angels.  Raphael "binds" Azazel, digs "a hole in the desert" and throws Azazel in (1 En. 10:4-5).  Now look at 1 Nephi's description of the Great 'n' Abominable: the "scarlet" of their garments (1 Ne. 13:7-8) and they fall into a great "pit" (1 Ne. 14:3).

Therefore... when Alma divides the whole world into two flocks (Alma 5:39), in a sermon also containing references to garments cleaned by blood (5:21), is he actually making reference back to this vision, or perhaps a more fulsome version that he knows but that we don't have?


1 Nephi 9-12

1. 1 Nephi 9 reminds me that 1 Nephi is also a book about books.  1:1-2 introduces the record, Lehi's first vision centers around a book, Nephi and the lads go back for a book, Lehi has a vision one of the centers of which is the iron rod, the word of God (remember that this is an Egyptian pun for writing and a reference to the brass plates), now Nephi tees up his dual set of records.

2. 1 Nephi 9 twice uses an interesting word, "ministry".  This word appears a lot in the KJV NT, where it stands in for "diakonia", which, you remember, is one Greek translation of the Hebrew "'avodah", and of the 4 OT appearances, one of them is "'avodah" (Num 4:47).  Remember that "'avodah" is "service" and is the work of the priests in the Temple.  coming between two temple visions, this is an interesting piece of vocabulary (Nephi says his book is about the "ministry of his people", twice).  Also, verses 3-5 here, at least, are a chiasm.  I wonder if this bit is a deliberate chiastic connection between Lehi's temple vision and Nephi's?  Oh, look how 9:1 starts on tent goes to things which can't be written, and then 10:15-16 goes things not written to tent...  who wants to try to diagram out 9:1 to 10:16?

3. 10:13 is interesting, I don't think I've noticed this before.  Does this mean Lehi is teaching that all of scattered Israel will come to a single promised land, along with his party?  Or what does "with one accord" mean?

4. 11:1 -- interesting that he's caught away "into" a mountain... Cf. Matt. 5:1.

5. The temple imagery in this vision is just rife.  For those of you who missed it two years ago, I'm sorry, I won't recap, but see, for instance, verse 7: the image here is the eating of the shewbread before the menorah and the descent of the ritually-clothed high priest through the veil of the temple, down from the Holy of Holies.  In verse 30, the veil opens again, and priests (angels) come out to minister.  Those who say that 2 Nephi is a spiritual barrier preventing the unprepared from getting to the spiritual meat of the BoM are talking nonsense.  The meat is right up front.  Joseph Smith didn't mess around.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

1 Nephi 5-8

5:4 uses a turn of phrase that stuck in my mind -- the "goodness of God", which Lehi knows because he is a "visionary man" and has "seen the things of God in a vision".  piques interest because the same phrase appears in 1:1, where it is connected with and may be synonymous with the "mysteries of God".  quick search shows that the same phrase shows up twice in Benjamin's speech, another Temple passage -- I'll note it and come back to it another time.

in 8:33 it strikes me that Nephi (Lehi?) describes the corrupt temple, as well as the roads by which people are lost, as "strange".  does he mean "odd", or "foreign"?

Sunday, November 13, 2011

1 Nephi 1-4


Attached please find the outline, so far, of our lesson arc on Book of Mormon legal cases.  I'll add to the same outline for future lessons and circulate again.

I read 1 Nephi 1-4 today.  I had a couple of thoughts I'd like to share, because they're new thoughts to me.

1) Nephi's first use of the odd phrase "my father Lehi dwelt in a tent" is in 2:15 and is bracketed with a reference to returning to his father's tent in 3:1.  What do we find in between?  Nephi again says he wants to know the mysteries (a "hot button" word), he cries unto the Lord, the Lord promises him a promised land, and to make him a ruler and a teacher, and makes promises about his seed.  Sam believes, but Laman & Lemuel don't.

What's going on here?  Remember that references to Lehi's tent Bracket both Lehi's vision (7:22 and 9:1) and Nephi's explanatory second vision (10:16 and 15:1), which are both temple visions.  I think this is a very subtle but plain reference to Nephi, somewhere in the borders of the Red Sea, taking out his endowments or having some similar temple-like covenant and visionary experience.  I increasingly think that the whole point of 1 Nephi 1:1-2 is that Nephi is telling us that his book is all about the temple.

2) It's interesting that in telling of his killing of Laban, Nephi uses juridical imagery -- in other words, like Jacob confronting Laban in Genesis 31, he describes his experience in language and imagery drawn from trials.  The suit commences with the verb of motion (he "came near" in 4:7); the action is at the "house" of Laban, one of the city's leaders, and his "treasury", both public buildings; the Spirit presses its case and Nephi resists (v. 10) but when the Spirit persists (vv. 11ff), Nephi "shuts up" -- he surrenders; interestingly, the arguments that Nephi makes to himself have to do with the need to know the law (vv. 14-17); the remedy is carried out immediately (v. 18); Zoram, interestingly, thinks that Nephi's references to his brothers refer to the elders of the Jews (i.e., leaders of the tribe of Judah, the royal tribe) (vv. 22-27), who of course should have been worthy judges for Nephi's cause, only they're apostate; since there are no worthy elders, Nephi makes Zoram the judge -- he grabs him, makes his case and swears an oath, and when Zoram makes a return oath, Nephi knows he has been vindicated (vv. 30-37).

Cool, huh?

I'll check in again tomorrow.