Monday, September 30, 2019

"Chains of Hell" as Poetry, part 1

It seems the imagery of the "chains of hell" shows up more than once in poetry form in the Book of Mormon.

Compare this chiastic formatting of 2 Nephi 1:13-23:

13 O that ye would 
A     awake
        awake from a deep 
        sleep, yea, even from the 
        sleep of hell, and shake off the awful 
        chains by which ye are bound, which are the 
        chains which bind the children of men, 
B                that they are carried away captive down to the eternal gulf of misery and woe.
C                        14 Awake! and arise from the dust, and hear the words of a trembling parent
D                                whose limbs ye must soon lay down in the cold and silent grave, from whence no traveler                                                  can return; a few more days and I go the way of all the earth.
E                                         15 But behold, the Lord hath redeemed my soul from hell; I have beheld his glory, and I                                                                am encircled about eternally in the arms of his love.
F                                               16 And I desire that ye should remember to observe the statutes and the judgments                                                       of the Lord; behold, this hath been the anxiety of my soul from the beginning. 17 My                                                       heart hath been weighed down with sorrow from time to time, for I have feared, lest                                            for the hardness of your hearts the Lord your God should come out in the fulness of                                                          his wrath upon you, that ye be cut off and destroyed forever; 18 Or, that                                                                    a cursing should come upon you for the space of many generations; and ye are                                                              visited by sword, and by famine, and are hated, and are led according to the will and                                                         captivity of the devil19 O my sons, that these things might not come upon you, but                                                        that ye might be a choice and a favored people of the Lord. But behold, his will be                                                            done; for his ways are righteousness forever.
F'                                                20 And he hath said that: Inasmuch as ye shall keep my commandments ye                                                                     shall prosper in the land; but inasmuch as ye will not keep my commandments ye                                                             shall be cut off from my presence.
E'                                   21 And now that my soul might have joy in you, and that my heart might leave this world with                                                    gladness because of you, 
D'                               that I might not be brought down with grief and sorrow to the grave
C'                     arise from the dust, my sons, and be men, and be determined in one mind and in one heart, united in                                    all things, that ye may not come down into captivity;
B'               22 That ye may not be cursed with a sore cursing; and also, that ye may not incur the displeasure of                                 a just God upon you, unto the destruction, yea, the eternal destruction of both soul and body.

A'     23 Awake, my sons; put on the armor of righteousness. Shake off the chains with which ye are bound, and come forth out of obscurity, and arise from the dust.

...with this arrangement of Alma 5:7-9:


Even more evidence that the layers of depth in the Book of Mormon text are not accidental.

Hat tip: Jeff Lindsay (If you haven't read his multi-part series on these themes, you should.)

Sunday, September 29, 2019

Moroni and the prophecy of Joseph

This post shows how Nephi repeated a lot of elements from the prophecy of Joseph in 2 Nephi 3 later in his writings. Grant Hardy points out that Moroni does the same thing in Mormon 8 when he finishes his father's record.
14 And I am the same who hideth up this record unto the Lord; the plates thereof are of no worth, because of the commandment of the Lord. For he truly saith that no one shall have them to get gain; but the record thereof is of great worth; and whoso shall bring it to light, him will the Lord bless.
15 For none can have power to bring it to light save it be given him of God; for God wills that it shall be done with an eye single to his glory, or the welfare of the ancient and long dispersed covenant people of the Lord.
16 And blessed be he that shall bring this thing to light; for it shall be brought out of darkness unto light, according to the word of God; yea, it shall be brought out of the earth, and it shall shine forth out of darkness, and come unto the knowledge of the people; and it shall be done by the power of God.
Compare the bold phrases with the following phrases in 2 Nephi 3
which shall be of great worth unto them (v.7)
unto the bringing of them out of darkness unto light (v.5)
that seer will the Lord bless (v.14)
power to bring forth my word (v.11) 
This occurs again later in Mormon 8, in verses 22-26.
22 For the eternal purposes of the Lord shall roll on, until all his promises shall be fulfilled.
23 Search the prophecies of Isaiah. Behold, I cannot write them. Yea, behold I say unto you, that those saints who have gone before me, who have possessed this land, shall cry, yea, even from the dust will they cry unto the Lord; and as the Lord liveth he will remember the covenant which he hath made with them.
24 And he knoweth their prayers, that they were in behalf of their brethren. And he knoweth their faith, for in his name could they remove mountains; and in his name could they cause the earth to shake; and by the power of his word did they cause prisons to tumble to the earth; yea, even the fiery furnace could not harm them, neither wild beasts nor poisonous serpents, because of the power of his word.
25 And behold, their prayers were also in behalf of him that the Lord should suffer to bring these things forth.
26 And no one need say they shall not come, for they surely shall, for the Lord hath spoken it; for out of the earth shall they come, by the hand of the Lord
Compare with he following phrases in 2 Nephi 3
this promise...shall be fulfilled (v.14)
cried unto them from the dust (v.19-20)
unto the remembering of the covenant which I made (v.21)
for I know their faith (v.19)
because of their faith their words shall proceed forth...unto their brethren (v.21)
the thing which the Lord shall bring forth by his hand (v.15) 
This is certainly no coincidence since several of the phrases are occuring only in Mormon 8 and 2 Nephi 3 in all scripture. What do we make of this?
  • It is reasonable to assume that both Nephi and Moroni were working with notes
  • Nephi, Moroni and probably all the Nephite prophets held the prophecies of Joseph in high esteem. 2 Nephi 4:2
And the prophecies which he [Joseph] wrote, there are not many greater. And he prophesied concerning us, and our future generations; and they are written upon the plates of brass.
  • The second bold part of this quote leads to another point: Lehi, Nephi and Moroni found a lot of relevance in Joseph's prophecies because they knew they and their posterity were of his seed. Both Nephi and Moroni had visions about these "future generations". As for Nephi, see 1 Nephi 12-14. As for Moroni, we read in Mormon 8:35 and Mormon 9:30
Behold, I speak unto you as if ye were present, and yet ye are not. But behold, Jesus Christ hath shown you unto me, and I know your doing.
Behold, I speak unto you as though I spake from the dead; for I know that ye shall have my words. 
Interestingly, the last phrase before Mormon 8:35 is "these things shall come forth among you", which again links to 2 Nephi 3. In Mormon 9:30 he repeats the "speak from the dead/cry from the dust" theme, also in 2 Nephi 3. It is evident that Moroni is relating Joseph's prophecy to his audience that he seems very aware of.

Connections between covenant themes in the Book of Mormon and the Book of Moses

This post discusses Hebrew wordplay in 2 Nephi 1:23.

Notice the connection between "obscurity" and "dust" in the verse (they are used in parallel).  They are both things we are told to "come forth from" or "arise from" (which is really interesting to me).

Also notice the connection to darkness and filthiness -- obscurity refers to darkness and dust has definite connections to being dirty. This post discusses the connections between nakedness/filthiness/darkness/captivity/cursing/rebellion, etc., all of which are code words for breaking the covenant.

Here is a list of other "negative code words":

  • 17 "cut off and destroyed"
  • 21 "captivity" 
  • 22 "sore cursing"  
  • 22 "eternal destruction"
  • 23 "chains"

The chapter also contains several "positive code words" associated with keeping the covenant:

In verse 10, Lehi says:

10 But behold, when the time cometh that they shall dwindle in unbelief, after they have received so great blessings from the hand of the Lord—having a knowledge of the creation of the earth, and all men, knowing the great and marvelous works of the Lord from the creation of the world; having power given them to do all things by faith; having all the commandments from the beginning, and having been brought by his infinite goodness into this precious land of promise—behold, I say, if the day shall come that they will reject the Holy One of Israel, the true Messiah, their Redeemer and their God, behold, the judgments of him that is just shall rest upon them.
I see a temple/covenant theme in the bolded phrases. There are more:

  • 15 "I have beheld his glory"
  • 15 "I am encircled about eternally in the arms of his love"
  • 25 "sought the glory of God, for your eternal welfare"

It seems like all of these themes are connected. Lehi is asking his sons to be faithful to the covenant. It makes a lot of sense to me in this context that when the Lamanites rebelled from the covenant, the Nephites would have quickly taken to referring to their darkness, nakedness, and filthiness as a way of pointing out their wicked choice.

Saturday, September 28, 2019

Hebrew wordplay in 2 Nephi 1

Much more on the topic of dust is coming over the next few days, but for now I'd like to point out a possible example of Hebrew wordplay in Lehi's words to Laman and Lemuel found in 2 Nephi 1.

A note about this--I know the Book of Mormon wasn't written in Hebrew, but it claims to have been authored by people who spoke Hebrew.  Thus, it seems reasonable to look for evidence of Hebrew wordplay even through the English translation.  This is especially true if the terms have clear Old Testament parallels.

In 2 Nephi 1:23, Lehi says:

23 Awake, my sons; put on the armor of righteousness. Shake off the chains with which ye are bound, and come forth out of obscurity, and arise from the dust.

Jeff Lindsay argues in this paper that the likely Hebrew roots here (with Isaiah connections to back up his claim) are: “obscurity” = "ʾophel / ʾâphêl" and “dust” = "ʿaphar."

There are also very clear covenant/temple-related themes in this imagery, which will be the topic of future posts.

Friday, September 27, 2019

An overview of records referenced in the Book of Mormon

To get a better overview myself, I wanted to list all the various records that are referenced in the Book of Mormon. Here is what I have found:

The brass plates

We are introduced to these already in the 3rd chapter of the Book of Mormon. We all know the story of getting them from Laban in 1 Nephi 3-4. We know they were structured similarly as the Old Testament (see this post for an interesting detail). We also have pretty strong evidence that they originated in the northern kingdom of Israel.

In Mosiah 1:4 we learn that it was written in the Egyptian language (possibly similar to the plates of Mormon, written in "reformed Egyptian", assumed to be the Hebrew language expressed with Egyptian script). We also learn that these plates were handed down the generations of prophets and record keepers (see e.g. Alma 37). Undoubtedly, they were used in preaching and missionary work (like in Alma 18:36).

An interesting question is what happened to them. There is a late account by Joseph Smith's sister indicating that the brass plates were in Cumorah along with the gold plates. This seems to be contradicted by the Book of Mormon itself, which tells us that all Nephite records where hidden up and Moroni only took the plates of Mormon (with the small plates of Nephi attaced to them) with him. Of course, it's impossible to know what Moroni did when he wandered around for decades and the fate and current location of the brass plates remains a mystery.

The large plates of Nephi

The first time these are referenced in the Book of Mormon is 1st Nephi 9:2. It's described as giving a full account of the history. Other references describes it as containing the more secular things as opposed to the small plates. But since the small plates were full around the time of King Benjamin, it may seem that the large plates were used for both historical and spiritual matters.

Nephi made these plates after he had arrived in the promised land (see 1st Nephi 19:1)

Mormon's abridgment is taken from the large plates of Nephi.

The small plates of Nephi

After Nephi had made the large plates, he was commanded to make another set, the small plates (see 2nd Nephi 5:30). He didn't know why but later it turned out, they were God's back-up plan when the 116 pages were lost.

Also, both the large and small plates were used by the Nephites is their contents is referenced by later prophets throughout the Book of Mormon

When Amaleki had finished his record, the small plates were full. He gave them to King Benjamin who had the large plates. As Mormon 500 years later worked on his abridgment from the large plates of Nephi, he searched through the records that had been given him and found the small plates. He liked what he saw and attached them to his abridgment.

The record of Lehi

We are informed in 1st Nephi that Lehi wrote a record. 1st Nephi 19:1 tells us that Nephi engraved his father's record on the large plates. Perhaps because Lehi did not use plates for his record and this was a way to preserve it? 1st Nephi 1:17 tells us that Nephi engraved an abridgment of his father's record on the small plates. This is what the first half of 1st Nephi seems to be, even though Nephi blends a lot of "I, Nephi" into it.

The plates of Mormon

These are plates made by Mormon and contain the abridgment from the large plates of Nephi. More on Mormon and his record is found here.

The record of Zeniff

The entire chapters 9 and 10 of Mosiah seem to be quoting the record of Zeniff who led an expedition to the Land of Nephi. From chapter 11 when Noah starts his reign the narrative shifts from first to third person again. We learn from Mosiah 8:5 that the people in the Land of Nephi had kept a record, probably also after Zeniff's death. But perhaps others than Noah took care of the record keeping and Mormon just abridged after having copied directly from Zeniff.

It makes me wonder how many other records like these existed that Mormon decided not to include in his abridgment.

Multiple records from people in the land northward

In Helaman 3, we read about migrations to the land northward. We also read
15 But behold, there are many books and many records of every kind, and they have been kept chiefly by the Nephites.
So no specific reference, but interesting to get the hint that there really were "many records of every kind". So this list probably only contains a small fraction.

The Jaredite stone tablet

This was brought to Mosiah-1 after his group found Zarahemla and merged with the Mulekites. He translated it and found that it contained an account of Coriantumr and his forefathers (the Jaredites).

The Jaredite record (24 gold plates)

This was another Jaredite record found by the people of Limhi when they searched for Zarahemla and got lost. They couldn't translated it so they had to wait until they got to Zarahemla where they gave it to King Mosiah-2, who translated it with the Urim and Thummim (and wrote it on a separate set of plates?). Moroni later abridged this record on the plates of Mormon and it's currently know as the Book of Ether.

I have been wondering if there is a possibility for "24 plates" to actually mean 24 sets of plates. Since Moroni could only write "a hundredth part", 24 (or 48) pages of writing doesn't seem that much.

The record Jared and his brother brought with them

The Book of Ether contains a reference to the "record which our fathers brought across the great deep" (Ether 8:9). Apparently, the Jaredites had a record that they brought with them across the ocean. This makes a lot of sense. The Nephites brought a record and were therefore capable of preserving the language and keep a record themselves. The Mulekites, however, did not bring any record and therefore didn't keep one either and their language became corrupted. The Jaredites were more like the Nephites. They could keep a record because they had brought a record so they had a written language.

The Bible

The Jewish Bible is also referenced in the Book of Mormon. For instance in 1st Nephi 13 and 2nd Nephi 29. Interestingly, there seems to be a distinction between the record on the brass plates and the Bible. In 1st Nephi 13:23 the two are also compared
it is a record like unto the engravings which are upon the plates of brass, save there are not so many
Apparently, the brass plates contained more writings than the Old Testament

These are all I have found, but I might have overlooked something. The Book of Mormon we have today consists of:
  • The small plates of Nephi, including an abridgment of the record of Lehi. This covers 1st Nephi-Omni
  • The plates of Mormon, containing the Words of Mormon, an abridgment of the large plates of Nephi, an abridgment of the Jaredite record (24 gold plates) and various other direct quotes from letters, Zeniff's record, etc.

The origin of the brass plates

We know from Biblical history that the Israelite kingdom was divided in two. The northern kingdom consisted of 10 tribes while the southern kingdom was made up primarily of the tribe of Judah and Benjamin. Since the tribe of Judah was larger, these people were referred to as Jews. The tribe of Ephraim, Joseph's son, was the main tribe in the northern kingdom. So when the Old Testament talks about Judah and Ephraim, it often talks about the two kingdoms.

A close reading of the Book of Mormon reveals quite strong indications that the brass plates originated from the Israelite northern kingdom (the 10 tribes) as a Josephite/Ephraimite version of the Old Testament, as opposed to the Jewish version we have today.
  • The fact that Laban was a descendent of Joseph is given as a reason for him having the brass plates. 1st Nephi 5:16:
And Laban also was a descendant of Joseph, wherefore he and his fathers had kept the records.
  • They contained a genealogy of Lehi's forefathers, who was also a descendent of Joseph (See 1st Nephi 5:14)
  • The brass plates contain the writings of prophets who are unknown in our common Old Testament originating from the Jews: In particular, Zenos, Zenock, Ezias and Neum are mentioned (see 1st Nephi 19:10 and Helaman 8:20)
  • At least Zenos and Zenock were from the tribe of Joseph. 3rd Nephi 10:16:
Yea, the prophet Zenos did testify of these things, and also Zenock spake concerning these things, because they testified particularly concerning us, who are the remnant of their seed.
  • The brass plates contain extra-biblical writings of Joseph. The most prominent example is 2nd Nephi 3, but also Alma 46:24 contains a quote from Jacob/Israel to his son, Joseph, which we don't find in the Old Testament
  • Zenos did not seem to reside in Jerusalem. 1st Nephi 19:12-13:
An all these things must surely come, saith the prophet Zenos... And as for those who are at Jerusalem, saith the prophet... 
It should come as no surprise that the Book of Mormon prophets are very concerned with "a remnant of their seed". They know that they are descendants of Joseph and that he received special promises about his posterity. They had the brass plates which contained those promises, more so than our current Old Testament.

Nephi and the Prophecy of Joseph

In 2 Nephi 3:6-21, we read a prophecy from Joseph in Egypt about a choice seer who will be raised up from his seed in the last days.

Nephi clearly studied the words of this prophecy and carefully and deliberately weaves them into his final sermon found in 2 Nephi 25-33.

Below I will embed references from Nephi's final sermon in excerpts of Joseph's prophecy:

6 For Joseph truly testified, saying: A seer shall the Lord my God raise up, who shall be a choice seer unto the fruit of my loins.
7 Yea, Joseph truly said: Thus saith the Lord unto me: A choice seer will I raise up out of the fruit of thy loins; and he shall be esteemed highly among the fruit of thy loins. And unto him will I give commandment that he shall do a work for the fruit of thy loins, his brethren, which shall be of great worth unto them, (2 Nephi 25:8; 2 Nephi 28:2; 2 Nephi 33:3) even to the bringing of them to the knowledge of the covenants which I have made with thy fathers.
11 But a seer will I raise up out of the fruit of thy loins; and unto him will I give power to bring forth my word (2 Nephi 29:7; 2 Nephi 25:18) unto the seed of thy loins—and not to the bringing forth my word only, saith the Lord, but to the convincing them of my word, which shall have already gone forth among them.
12 Wherefore, the fruit of thy loins shall write; and the fruit of the loins of Judah shall write (2 Nephi 29:12); and that which shall be written by the fruit of thy loins, and also that which shall be written by the fruit of the loins of Judah, shall grow together, unto the confounding of false doctrines (2 Nephi 28:15; 2 Nephi 28:9, 12) and laying down of contentions, and establishing peace among the fruit of thy loins, and bringing them to the knowledge of their fathers (2 Nephi 30:5) in the latter days, and also to the knowledge of my covenants, saith the Lord.
13 And out of weakness he shall be made strong, in that day when my work shall commence among all my people, unto the restoring (2 Nephi 30:8) thee, O house of Israel, saith the Lord.
21 Because of their faith their words shall proceed forth out of my mouth (2 Nephi 29:2; 33:14) unto their brethren who are the fruit of thy loins; and the weakness of their words will I make strong (2 Nephi 33:4) in their faith, unto the remembering of my covenant which I made unto thy fathers.
This final piece of writing from Nephi is a complicated masterpiece. Keep in mind he is also working in passages from Isaiah into this same set of chapters.

The author of this text had notes.

Hat tip: Grant Hardy.

Thursday, September 26, 2019

Two paths, two peoples, two churches

1 Nephi 14:1-17 speaks of the time when God shall:

manifest himself unto them in word, and also in power, in very deed, unto the taking away of their stumbling blocks

The prophecy then paints a stark contrast between two paths, two types of people, and two churches.

Below I've created a side-by-side summary of what is said in these verses in an effort to highlight the differences between the two paths. The document includes names given to each church, qualities of its members, and promises and outcomes detailed in the prophecy.

An interesting connection I noticed was that just as Jesus Christ is the bridegroom and we as his covenant people strive to be part of his metaphorical bride (as in, the parable of the ten virgins), Satan is the founder of the great and abominable church, the whore of all the earth.

VerseLamb of GodDevil
3great and abominable church
9behold that great and abominable church, which is the mother of abominations
10church of the Lamb of Godchurch of the devil; mother of abominations; the whore of all the earth
11the whore of all the earth
12church of the Lamb of God; church of the Lamb; the saints of Godthe great whore
13the great mother of abominations
14saints of the church of the Lamb; the covenant people of the Lord
15great and abominable church
16the mother of harlots
17his people who are of the house of Israelmother of harlots; the great and abominable church of all the earth

VerseLamb of GodDevil
3founded by the devil and his children, that he might lead away the souls of men down to hell
7convincing of them unto peace and life eternaldeliverance of them to the hardness of their hearts and the blindness of their minds unto their being brought down into captivity, and also into destruction, both temporally and spiritually, according to the captivity of the devil
9founder is the devil
10whoso belongeth not to the church of the Lamb of God belongeth to that great church
11she sat upon many waters; and she had dominion over all the earth, among all nations, kindreds, tongues, and people
12were also upon all the face of the earth; and their dominions upon the face of the earth were small, because of the wickedness of the great whore
13the great mother of abominations did gather together multitudes upon the face of all the earth, among all the nations of the Gentiles, to fight against the Lamb of God
17founder is the devil

VerseLamb of GodDevil
2they shall be numbered among the house of Israel; and they shall be a blessed people upon the promised land forever; they shall be no more brought down into captivity; and the house of Israel shall no more be confounded.
3that great pit which hath been digged for the destruction of men shall be filled by those who digged it, unto their utter destruction (not the destruction of the soul, save it be the casting of it into that hell which hath no end)
4this is according to the captivity of the devil, and also according to the justice of God, upon all those who will work wickedness and abomination before him
5Thou hast beheld that if the Gentiles repent it shall be wellwith themthou also hast heard that whoso repenteth not must perish
6wo be unto the Gentiles if it so be that they harden their hearts against the Lamb of God.
14the power of the Lamb of God...descended upon the saints of the church of the Lamb, and upon the covenant people of the Lord, who were scattered upon all the face of the earth; and they were armed with righteousness and with the power of God in great glory.
15the wrath of God was poured out upon that great and abominable church, insomuch that there were wars and rumors of wars among all the nationsand kindreds of the earth.
16the wrath of God is upon the mother of harlots
17the work of the Father shall commence, in preparing the way for the fulfilling of his covenants, which he hath made to his people who are of the house of Israel.

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