Monday, September 28, 2020

Desolate and inhabited

Whenever I notice that certain words tend to appear several times in certain context, I have often found it worthwhile to study it more closely. This is the case with the word "desolate". It often seems to appear when there is a curse, destruction or scattering, especially in the Old Testament and in the Book of Mormon. Given the meaning of the word, that shouldn't come as a big surprise, but it seems that the authors sometimes go out of their way to include the word.

Here are some examples


Alma 16 tells about the destruction of Ammonihah. In verse 11 we read 

And now so great was the scent thereof that the people did not go in to possess the land of Ammonihah for many years. And it was called Desolation of Nehors; for they were of the profession of Nehor, who were slain; and their lands remained desolate.

This is what happened to a people that Alma called "highly favored" (which I believe to signify a covenant people) that had fallen into transgression.

Nephites at the time of Christ

We see a similar pattern when Samuel the Lamanite warns the inhabitants of the great city of Zarahemla. Samuel declares
And many highways shall be broken up, and many cities shall become desolate. (Helaman 14:24)
And now, my beloved brethren, behold, I declare unto you that except ye shall repent your houses shall be left unto you desolate. (Helaman 15:1)
This is what would happen to a people that Samuel called "a chosen people of the Lord" (Helaman 15:3). In 3 Nephi we read the fulfillment of this prophecy.
And many great and notable cities were sunk, and many were burned, and many were shaken till the buildings thereof had fallen to the earth, and the inhabitants thereof were slain, and the places were left desolate. (3 Nephi 8:14)

The Jaredites

The Brother of Jared was also "highly favored" (Ether 1:34). He was given a land of promise along with his brother and their families.
And who knoweth but the Lord will carry us forth into a land which is choice above all the earth? And if it so be, let us be faithful unto the Lord, that we may receive it for our inheritance. (Ether 1:38)

Ether 2 and Ether 13 are also full of promised land/covenant language. The Jaredites are a chosen people who should serve God. Eventually they fall, just like the Nephites. The Book of Ether tells us about their complete destruction. This happens in the land that the Nephites later referred to as the land northward. What was this land called? Desolation!

And it bordered upon the land which they called Desolation, it being so far northward that it came into the land which had been peopled and been destroyed, of whose bones we have spoken (Alma 22:30)

It started out as a promised land and an inheritance for a favored people, but because of wickedness it became Desolation.

Biblical connections

When a voice is heard from heaven after the signs of Christ's death and the destruction among the Nephites, it says:
O ye house of Israel whom I have spared, how oft will I gather you as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, if ye will repent and return unto me with full purpose of heart.
But if not, O house of Israel, the places of your dwellings shall become desolate until the time of the fulfilling of the covenant to your fathers. (3 Nephi 10)

This is an echo of something Jesus had told his disciples a little more than a week earlier.

37 Jerusalem, Jerusalem, thou that killest the prophets, and stonest them which are sent unto thee, how often would I have gathered thy children together, even as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, and ye would not!
38 Behold, your house is left unto you desolate. (Matthew 23)

In Matthew, Jesus goes on to talk about the destruction of Jerusalem and scattering of the Jews by the Romans. Keep in mind the other examples shown here that all ended with destruction. Jesus also goes on to talk about the last days culminating in his second coming. Notice the addition in 3 Nephi: "until the time of the fulfilling of the covenant to your fathers". This leads me to the following insight: When desolation is used in the scriptures, it often describes a promised land not inhabited by its original covenant people. It does not necessarily mean that it is empty. It only means that the covenant people that God established there broke the covenants and were cursed, bringing destruction upon themselves. The scattering of Israel happened in several promised lands with several branches at different times. But in the latter days, they will be restored. That is "the time of the fulfilling of the covenant to your fathers".

There is a lot of desolation language in the Old Testament, often connected to the scattering of Israel as a result of disobedience or breaking covenants. The prophet Jeremiah states

For if ye do this thing indeed, then shall there enter in by the gates of this house kings sitting upon the throne of David, riding in chariots and on horses, he, and his servants, and his people.
But if ye will not hear these words, I swear by myself, saith the Lord, that this house shall become a desolation.
For thus saith the Lord unto the king’s house of Judah; Thou art Gilead unto me, and the head of Lebanon: yet surely I will make thee a wildernessand cities which are not inhabited. (Jeremiah 22)

Psalm 69 is another example. This is a Messianic Psalm and contains prophecies about the Jews being scattered for rejecting the Messiah

25 Let their habitation be desolateand let none dwell in their tents.
26 For they persecute him whom thou hast smitten; and they talk to the grief of those whom thou hast wounded.

A few verses later, the Psalmist describes "the time of the fulfilling of the covenant to your fathers". 

35 For God will save Zion, and will build the cities of Judah: that they may dwell there, and have it in possession.

This is a latter-day reversal of the various "desolations". We find plenty of this language in Isaiah too, both the desolation as a covenant curse/scattering and the regaining possession of the promised land/desert blossom as a rose/building Zion etc. in the latter days as a renewal of the covenants. But I think the examples given here suffice for now. I will let Nephi have the final word, though.

36 Behold, the Lord hath created the earth that it should be inhabited; and he hath created his children that they should possess it.
37 And he raiseth up a righteous nation, and destroyeth the nations of the wicked.
38 And he leadeth away the righteous into precious lands, and the wicked he destroyeth, and curseth the land unto them for their sakes.
39 He ruleth high in the heavens, for it is his throne, and this earth is his footstool.
40 And he loveth those who will have him to be their God. Behold, he loved our fathers, and he covenanted with them, yea, even Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob; and he remembered the covenants which he had made; wherefore, he did bring them out of the land of Egypt. (1 Nephi 17)

Come, Follow Me, Sep 28 - Oct 11. 3 Nephi 17-19: “Behold, My Joy is Full”

This "Come, Follow Me" lesson consists of only three chapters and lasts for two weeks, giving us plenty of time to listed to and study the upcoming General Conference talks. As usual, the links below give some previous insight on this blog related to Book of Mormon chapters contained in the CFM lesson.

3 Nephi 17 -- The relationship between the Father and the Son, "Encircled", "Sufficient"

3 Nephi 18 -- "Filled", Clouds in the Book of Mormon, Internal consistency

3 Nephi 19 -- Psalms quotes, Spirit and flesh, Pentacost

"Dreadful Groanings"

 A subtle detail in 3 Nephi stood out to me during my recent studies. Notice the description of the noises made by the people:

23 And it came to pass that it did last for the space of three days that there was no light seen; and there was great mourning and howling and weeping among all the people continually; yea, great were the groanings of the people, because of the darkness and the great destruction which had come upon them. (3 Nephi 8)

Compare this to the description of the noises made by the earth at the same time:

9 And it came to pass that thus did the three days pass away. And it was in the morning, and the darkness dispersed from off the face of the land, and the earth did cease to tremble, and the rocks did cease to rend, and the dreadful groanings did cease, and all the tumultuous noises did pass away. (3 Nephi 10)

The people and the earth make the same sound!

Readers of this blog know that I frequently bring up what I call the "creation-covenant connection." In short, the earth was created to bring about the everlasting covenant. As a result, there is a resonance between the righteousness of a covenant people and the creation around them.  The negative manifestation of this pattern is displayed in these verses.  Other symbols of covenant rebellion include barrenness, desert, wastelands, dark caves, etc.

By contrast, covenant faithfulness can be represented as abundance, plenty, rejoicing, unity, a jar of meal and a cruse of oil that shall never fail, the bread of life, a fountain of living water, rain upon the mountains, a garden, etc. Jeremiah 31 puts it this way:

12 Therefore they shall come and sing in the height of Zion, and shall flow together to the goodness of the Lord, for wheat, and for wine, and for oil, and for the young of the flock and of the herd: and their soul shall be as a watered garden; and they shall not sorrow any more at all.
13 Then shall the virgin rejoice in the dance, both young men and old together: for I will turn their mourning into joy, and will comfort them, and make them rejoice from their sorrow.
14 And I will satiate the soul of the priests with fatness, and my people shall be satisfied with my goodness, saith the Lord.

After Christ's departure, having established a covenant people, we find many examples of the material manifestations of the people's covenant faithfulness:

3 And they had all things common among them; therefore there were not rich and poor, bond and free, but they were all made free, and partakers of the heavenly gift.
4 And it came to pass that the thirty and seventh year passed away also, and there still continued to be peace in the land.
7 And the Lord did prosper them exceedingly in the land; yea, insomuch that they did build cities again where there had been cities burned.
10 And now, behold, it came to pass that the people of Nephi did wax strong, and did multiply exceedingly fast, and became an exceedingly fair and delightsome people.
15 And it came to pass that there was no contention in the land, because of the love of God which did dwell in the hearts of the people.
16 And there were no envyings, nor strifes, nor tumults, nor whoredoms, nor lyings, nor murders, nor any manner of lasciviousness; and surely there could not be a happier people among all the people who had been created by the hand of God.
17 There were no robbers, nor murderers, neither were there Lamanites, nor any manner of -ites; but they were in one, the children of Christ, and heirs to the kingdom of God.
18 And how blessed were they! For the Lord did bless them in all their doings; yea, even they were blessed and prospered until an hundred and ten years had passed away; and the first generation from Christ had passed away, and there was no contention in all the land. (4 Nephi 1)

This also helps underscore the symbolic importance of the setting of Mosiah 18 (a secluded thicket with "a fountain of pure water"), discussed in this post

To summarize this beautiful doctrine, let's turn to Doctrine & Covenants 104:

14 I, the Lord, stretched out the heavens, and built the earth, my very handiwork; and all things therein are mine.
15 And it is my purpose to provide for my saints, for all things are mine.
16 But it must needs be done in mine own way; and behold this is the way that I, the Lord, have decreed to provide for my saints, that the poor shall be exalted, in that the rich are made low.
17 For the earth is full, and there is enough and to spare; yea, I prepared all things, and have given unto the children of men to be agents unto themselves.

Covenant faithfulness brings about Zion, the natural result of which is abundance, peace, and joy. Covenant rebellion brings about darkness, destruction, and "dreadful groanings."  

Thursday, September 24, 2020

Underlying Hebrew gender of Book of Mormon nouns

In the English language, nouns traditionally have no gender. I guess words like actor/actress, waiter/waitress clearly indicate a gender, but the point is that in many other languages, the article preceding any noun indicates what gender it is. This is not the case in English. In my native language, for example, there are 3 genders: Masculine, feminine and neuter. In Hebrew, there are two, masculine and feminine. Every noun will have a gender. When translated into English, this characteristic is typically lost. But there are some cases in the Book of Mormon, where a gender pronouns refers back to the noun, especially when it is feminine, it seems. (This may also be due to the fact that the feminine nouns are easier to find with searches. I found some searching for "she/her" but couldn't do the same with "he/him/his" because there are way too many results). 

So there may be more, but I have found at least the following:


In Mosiah 8:20, we read:

how blind and impenetrable are the understandings of the children of men; for they will not seek wisdom, neither do they desire that she should rule over them!

Since nouns have no gender in English, there is no reason why wisdom should be referred to as something feminine. Unless you consider the original Book of Mormon language, based on Hebrew, where wisdom is a feminine noun. In fact, wisdom is associated with the devine feminine, and the way it is even personified in this verse is a strong allusion to that concept.


There are two different words for "city" in Hebrew, qiryah and qereth. They are both feminine. 

In Helaman 13:14, we read
wo be unto this great city, because of the wickedness and abominations which are in her.

Similarly, in Mormon 4:14

And they did also march forward against the city Teancum, and did drive the inhabitants forth out of her

So apparently, cities are regarded as feminine nouns in the Book of Mormon too. 


Having little to no knowledge of the Hebrew language, I'm relying on Strong's Hebrew at This one was a bit tricky but the most common word for "ship" in the Hebrew Old Testament (31 occurrences) is oniyyah, which is a feminine noun. There was another masculine noun, tsiy, but it had only 4 occurrences. In the Book of Mormon, ship is feminine:

And it came to pass that one other ship also did sail forth; and whither she did go we know not. (Alma 63:8)

There is another case in Mormon 5:18, when the word, "vessel", is used, but clearly in the meaning of a ship.

as a vessel is tossed about upon the waves, without sail or anchor, or without anything wherewith to steer her; and even as she is, so are they.

The only Hebrew word I found that is translated into "vessel" but defined as "ship" is sephinah. This is also a feminine noun in Hebrew. However, there is only one occurrence of this word (Book of Jonah).


In Helaman 11:13, we read

O Lord, wilt thou hearken unto me, and cause that it may be done according to my words, and send forth rain upon the face of the earth, that she may bring forth her fruit, and her grain in the season of grain.

Again, there are several possible candidates for the word, "earth", in Hebrew. I think the best candidate by far is erets, another feminine noun. Other candidates are Aramaic or have very few occurrences but most of these are also feminine. "Aphar" is masculine and can be translated into "earth" but in the sense of "soil/ground", which does not fit the context in Helaman.


Some of the readers may have had the thought by now: Even though nouns have no genders in the English language, isn't it common to view ships and earth like something feminine? Yes, that is true. "Mother earth" is still a common expression today. The reason why ship and earth are regarded as something feminine in English, is actually the genders they have in other languages like greek and latin, where many of these words come from. For some reason, these "old" genders have stuck to some of the words in the English language. So I admit, at least these two are not the first arguments I would use as evidence of the Hebrew roots of the Book of Mormon. 

Justice, however, does not have a traditionally assigned gender. But if anything, it would probably be viewed as feminine. "Justice" comes from the latin, "iustitia". It is a feminine noun and the origin of the Lady Justice.

But in the Book of Mormon, justice is masculine
For behold, justice exerciseth all his demands (Alma 42:24)

So it is in Hebrew. There are several candidates, like din, tsedeq and meshar but they are all masculine.


In the very same verse I quoted about justice, we also find a gender reference to mercy.
and also mercy claimeth all which is her own (Alma 42:24)

I learned a lot by studying the possible Hebrew root of this passage. John W. Welch notes here that

The words mercy and justice in Hebrew have gender. Wisdom and mercy are represented by female concepts, whereas justice is often male.

The underlying Hebrew origin (even though Alma surely didn't speak the same kind of Hebrew that we find in the Old Testament) is likely racham, even though no Hebrew word directly translates to mercy. Racham is better translated into compassion, in which case it actually is a masculine noun. But it also means womb and is then a feminine noun connected to women and often childbirth. The two meanings might seem very unrelated, but the Hebrew idea is that this compassion comes from deep within and is perhaps best illustrated by the feelings of a mother for her child. This actually adds some meaning to "bowels of mercy" that we find several places in the Book of Mormon. It seems likely that this expression originates from the Hebrew "racham". In Alma 34:15, we read

to bring about the bowels of mercy, which overpowereth justice

This is Alma 42 language and the reason why I believe "mercy" in this chapter is somehow related to the Hebrew "racham".

In Hosea 1:6, Hosea's daughter was to be named Lo-Ruchamah, meaning no mercy/compassion. Later in Hosea, the name is changed to "ruchama" as the Lord symbolically turns his anger to mercy. Ruchama is still today a Jewish female name. So even though it technically can be a masculine noun, it is very much a feminine concept in ancient Hebrew.

This is just one of numerous examples of small details in the Book of Mormon that provide evidence of its ancient origins. If Joseph Smith had made it up, we could perhaps explain away one or two of these as lucky guesses and get away with it, but there are 6 nouns in this list. To compare with my native language, earth is feminine, ship is neutral and city is masculine. The rest are words that usually would not be preceded by an article and therefore a bit undefined in terms of gender, but if you were to use an article, they would all be masculine. This is quite different from the noun genders we see in the Book of Mormon that match better with Hebrew than Greek, Latin or other more modern languages assigning gender to nouns.


Amulon and the literacy of the Lamanites

 This passage stood out to me:

And now the name of the king of the Lamanites was Laman, being called after the name of his father; and therefore he was called king Laman. And he was king over a numerous people.

And he appointed teachers of the brethren of Amulon in every land which was possessed by his people; and thus the language of Nephi began to be taught among all the people of the Lamanites.

And they were a people friendly one with another; nevertheless they knew not God; neither did the brethren of Amulon teach them anything concerning the Lord their God, neither the law of Moses; nor did they teach them the words of Abinadi;

But they taught them that they should keep their record, and that they might write one to another.

And thus the Lamanites began to increase in riches, and began to trade one with another and wax great, and began to be a cunning and a wise people, as to the wisdom of the world, yea, a very cunning people, delighting in all manner of wickedness and plunder, except it were among their own brethren. (Mosiah 24)

This is interesting to me for a few reasons:

  1. The fact that "the language of Nephi" was not already had among the Lamanites is a really strong indicator that other languages were spoken among these peoples. 
  2. It seems one way Amulon "gain[ed] favor" in the eyes of the Lamanite king was by convincing him that literacy would lead to trade and wealth.  This is perhaps more obvious to us than it might have been to Joseph Smith.
  3. This is one of several passages in the Book of Mormon that predicts extensive trade networks. This prediction holds up very well over time, among many others.

Monday, September 21, 2020

Mormon's wordplay in 3 Nephi 10

I have an interest and fascination for Hebrew, but my knowledge level is very low. So I have to admit that it was with great satisfaction that I discovered a Hebrew wordplay all by myself for the second time ever, I think. (Here is another one). This only happened because I have previously studied and written about the Hebrew word, gaal, which means "to act as a kinsman" or "to redeem". See this post and this post.

Remembering that these two words, kin and redeemer, are the same in Hebrew, see if you can identify the wordplay in 3 Nephi 10:8-10

And now it came to pass that after the people had heard these words, behold, they began to weep and howl again because of the loss of their kindred and friends.

And it came to pass that thus did the three days pass away. And it was in the morning, and the darkness dispersed from off the face of the land, and the earth did cease to tremble, and the rocks did cease to rend, and the dreadful groanings did cease, and all the tumultuous noises did pass away.

10 And the earth did cleave together again, that it stood; and the mourning, and the weeping, and the wailing of the people who were spared alive did cease; and their mourning was turned into joy, and their lamentations into the praise and thanksgiving unto the Lord Jesus Christ, their Redeemer.

I'm making it very easy for the reader, marking the two words in this passage. The way Mormon is using this wordplay is very clever and helps me to see this passage in a new light. Notice in verse 8 how the people weep and howl because of the loss of their kindred. (I also notice that "friends" is added, which is a covenant term that I wrote about in another post).

Then verse 9 marks a shift: Darkness turns into light, noises turn into silence, weeping turns into joy. It culminates in lamentation turning into thanksgiving unto "their Redeemer". The weeping over their lost kindred is replaced with thanksgiving unto their Redeemer. In other words, they lost their kindred but they had their kinsman, Jesus Christ, who could offer them redemption from death and sin.

There is a beautiful message from Mormon in all this. It is always sad whenever we lose our earthly kin. But we can find comfort in the fact that we will always have a kinsman-redeemer who will never fail us. His redeeming power extends beyond the temporal redemption that a kinsman originally was responsible for. 

Wordplay in the Book of Mormon

This post will list the compelling examples of wordplay from the Book of Mormon. This is a topic of great interest to me. I believe it offers very strong evidence that the author of the Book of Mormon was well-versed in ancient languages and scribal traditions. 

I'll briefly summarize each item on the list, but I encourage you to click the links to get more details.

Wordplay related to proper names:

  • Gideon -- Mosiah 19:4 introduces Gideon in a way that matches the meaning of his name ("hewer, feller, he that cuts down") rather perfectly.
  • Zeezrom -- Right after telling us "the object of these lawyers was to get gain," Mormon interrupts his narrative to tell us about Nephite money.  What appears to be a random aside is actually a vital detail in order to understand the wordplay on the name "Zeezrom."
  • Onidah/Rameumptom -- Onidah is the name of the hill where Alma teaches about experimenting on the word.  Its name involves wordplay on Alma's prayer with his brethren right before embarking on this part of his ministry. There are numerous intentional parallels between how the people on the Hill Onidah are described and how the prideful Zoramites are described.
  • Joseph/'yasap' -- This example is really profound and might be my favorite.  Lehi makes a very serious point about the significance of the name "Joseph" when speaking to his son with that name, including how it will relate to the latter-day restoration.  It turns out the root of the name Joseph is used in 1 Nephi 22:8,11 and Isaiah 29:14 in reference to the latter-day work the Lord "will proceed to" do.
  • Noah -- Mormon describes the wicked King Noah's laziness in a way that highlights the meaning of his name.
  • Mormon -- The trilateral root in the name Mormon (MRM) make reference to a "head source" of "water," similar to what is described both in Mosiah 18 where Alma is preparing a group of believers for baptism and in Lehi's dream and Genesis (the fountain of pure water associated with the tree of life). Several other proposed meanings for this name have also been postulated.
  • Nephi -- a play on Egyptian nfr (fair, good) and possibly Hebrew "nephil" (giant). See 1 Nephi 1:1-2; 2:16.
  • Benjamin -- "Son of the right hand"
  • Jared -- "go down"
  • Alma -- A recently attested authentic Hebrew name meaning "young man" (See Mosiah 17:2)
  • Nahom -- "to mourn"
  • Jershon -- From the Hebrew 'yarshon' meaning "place of inheritance"
  • Enos -- means "man" in Hebrew. The very first verse in the Book of Enos plays on this.
  • Abish -- "my father was a man" in Hebrew. Strange name but fits well with the little information we get about her.
  • Aminidab -- "My kinsmen are willing." (see Helaman 5:39,41).
  • Ephraim -- "Thou art the fruit of my loins." (See 2 Nephi 3)
  • Cain -- "get gain." (See Helaman 6:17, 27 and Ether 8:16, 22-23; compare Genesis 4:1 and Moses 5:31)

There are others which are more speculative but just as fascinating: 

  • Ishmael and "hearken" 
  • Ammon and "faithful" (see Alma 18:10)
  • Laman and "unfaithful"
  • Mosiah -- A possible example of similar sounding words in Hebrew.
  • Hermounts -- Similar to the name of an Egyptian god of wild things. See Alma 2:37.

Wordplay not related to names:

  • Obscurity and dust -- Lehi tells his sons to "come forth out of obscurity, and arise from the dust." Jeff Lindsay argues in this paper that the likely Hebrew roots here are similar, adding a poetic element to his words in the original language: “obscurity” = "ʾophel / ʾâphêl" and “dust” = "ʿaphar."
  • The Ironic Fate of Moronihah -- Mormon goes out of his way to point out irony in the fate of the wicked people of the city of Moronihah relative to the fulfillment of a prophecy given by Nephi. They reject the opportunity to be carried up to "Mount Zion" and instead "the earth was carried up" upon them and "in the place of the city there became a great mountain." (3 Nephi 8:10)
  • The iron rod is the word of God -- the Egyptian word mdw means both "staff, rod" and "speech, word" according to scholar Matthew Bowen. Thus, in the tradition that heavily influenced Lehi, there is a word that encompasses one of the figurative elements of his dream and its interpretation.
  • Rod/Ruler -- In 1 Nephi 3, the angel rebukes Laman and Lemuel with a little bit of wordplay.
  • Joy/Boast -- Aaron rebukes his brother and Ammon responds with a very clever poetic response, building off of the two key words of Aaron's rebuke.
  • "Cast out/give place" -- Alma uses the contrasting Hebrew roots in clever and interesting ways as he talks about hearts and the word of God in his well-known sermon on the Hill Onidah (see above for the broader context).

There are many more examples. Although this is speculative, since we don't have the original text to study. Even so, if a passage makes more sense in Hebrew than it does in English, or if repetition in a passage makes more sense when Hebrew cognates are considered, we can learn something about the nature of this text.  

Is it reasonable to conclude that the Book of Mormon is the work of a poorly educated farmhand in upstate New York?  

Is it reasonable to dismiss all of these examples as mere coincidence? 

Is it reasonable to assume Joseph Smith would be well-versed enough to work dozens of subtle examples of Hebrew wordplay into his book and then never mention any of them to anyone?

Thursday, September 17, 2020

Chiastic structures in 3 Nephi 5

In 3 Nephi 5, Mormon, who has abridged the records on the large plates of Nephi thus far, introduces himself properly for the first time. Doing so, he seems to get in a rather poetic mood. The poetic parallelism in verse 21 sounds like something taken straight from Isaiah

Surely he hath blessed the house of Jacob, and hath been merciful unto the seed of Joseph.

But as I read on, I found this to be the opening part of a chiasmus

A. Surely he hath blessed the house of Jacob

   B. and hath been merciful unto the seed of Joseph

      C. And insomuch as the children of Lehi have kept his commandments he hath blessed them and prospered them according to his word.

   B'. Yea, and surely shall he again bring a remnant of the seed of Joseph to the knowledge of the Lord their God.

A'. And as surely as the Lord liveth, will he gather in from the four quarters of the earth all the remnant of the seed of Jacob

The chiasmus builds up with the forefathers of the Nephites and is centered on the "children of Lehi". Mormon has just mentioned that he is a "pure descendant of Lehi". He is among the people at the center of the chiasmus and probably understands the importance of the work he is doing with preserving and writing on the plates. He knows that some day, the future "children of Lehi" will receive the knowledge of the Lord's covenants that will link them to their forefathers, Jacob and Joseph.
Notice also how A and B talk about the past of Jacob and Joseph, while their counterparts, A' and B', prophesy of their future.
Another interesting note: The center of the chiasmus is another quote from King Benjamin. Compare with Mosiah 2:22
if ye do keep his commandments he doth bless you and prosper you

There were probably many sermons that did not make it to the abridged version. Since Mormon included King Benjamin's entire talk, it must mean that it was regarded as pivotal in the Nephite heritage or that Mormon personally loved the talk, or both. So a reference by him makes sense. 

Reading that whole verse in Mosiah 2:22 clearly demonstrates another example of the Book of Mormon proverb. Quite fittingly, Mormon manages to put that into the center of the chiasm as well.

Since I already have downloaded a document showing poetic parallelisms in the whole Book of Mormon, I was curious to see if this one was included. Interestingly, it wasn't but the latter part was included as part of another chiasmus. That is, the A' from the chiasmus above is also the beginning of a new chiasmus that looks like this:

A And as surely as the Lord liveth,

   B will he gather in from the four quarters of the earth all the remnant of the seed of Jacob, who are scattered abroad upon all the face of the earth.

      C And as he hath covenanted with all the house of Jacob

         D even so shall the covenant wherewith he hath covenanted 

            E with the house of Jacob be fulfilled in his own due time, 

            E' unto the restoring all the house of Jacob unto the knowledge 

         D' of the covenant that he hath covenanted with them

      C' And then shall they know their Redeemer, who is Jesus Christ, the Son of God; 

   B' and then shall they be gathered in from the four quarters of the earth unto their own lands, from whence they have been dispersed

A' yea, as the Lord liveth so shall it be. Amen

C does not seem a great match until we realize that "they" in C' refers to the house of Jacob and "he" in C refers to Jesus Christ (see verse 20 in 3 Nephi 5). This makes C and C' a rather beautiful pair: Christ has covenanted with the house of Jacob and because of the covenant, one day the house of Jacob will know Christ, their Redeemer.

I am not sure if this overlapping chiastic structure even was a thing in ancient Hebrew poetry. Of course, you can never know for certain if a chiasmus was intentional or not, but I think both are pretty strong candidates. Maybe Mormon was just very clever?


"Mosiah" as "Messiah"

Recently, I've been studying changes in the Book of Mormon text over time. I came across an interesting detail. In the original dictation, Nephi says:

16 And the angel spake unto me, saying: Behold the fountain of filthy water which thy father saw, yea, even the river of which he spake; and the depths thereof are the depths of hell.

17 And the mists of darkness are the temptations of the devil, which blindeth the eyes and hardeneth the hearts of the children of men and leadeth them away into broad roads that they perish and are lost.

18 And the large and spacious building which thy father saw is vain imaginations and the pride of the children of men. And a great and a terrible gulf divideth them, yea, even the sword of the justice of the Eternal God and Jesus Christ, which is the Lamb of God, of whom the Holy Ghost beareth record from the beginning of the world until this time and from this time henceforth and forever. (1 Nephi 12, Skousen's Earliest Text -- p. 264 of this link)

There are a few interesting points to make about this passage:

  1. This highlights the value of studying the earliest manuscript.  I had previously presented a chart (here) with the frequency of four of the most common names for Jesus in the Book of Mormon. "Jesus Christ" showing up in 1 Nephi is certainly one additional outlier. 
  2. Similar to Jacob's account in 2 Nephi 10, the sacred name of the "Lamb of God" is given to Nephi by an angel (note verse 16 -- he's quoting the angel). There is something special about angels delivering this knowledge to prophets.  This is a topic I'll dedicate an entire post to in the near future.
  3. We can't overlook the obvious temple connections associated with verse 18. The "sword of the justice of the Eternal God and Jesus Christ, which is the Lamb of God" is also described as "a great and terrible gulf." Later, Nephi describes this "justice of God" as "[bright] like unto the brightness of a flaming fire." A flaming sword dividing mortal man from the tree of life. (See here for details on how "sword" in the original became "word" in the modern version.)
  4. Finally, we get to the point that became the title of this post. The printer's manuscript for verse 18 gives us a fascinating glance into the mind of Joseph Smith. Oliver Cowdery copied the entire manuscript to create the printer's manuscript. In 1837, Joseph reviewed it and made some changes for a new edition. In what is now verse 18, he crossed out "Jesus Christ which" and wrote in "Mosiah who" (see below from, I added the red and yellow highlighting).

Wait, Mosiah?

This raises a really interesting conundrum.  Why would Joseph change the name Jesus Christ to Mosiah?  It makes absolutely no sense to think Joseph Smith would confuse the Son of God with King Benjamin's son (or father). 

Skousen offers this explanation: 

Joseph Smith apparently pronounced Mosiah with the /s/, along with a reduced schwa vowel /ə/ for the first vowel; thus for him Mosiah and Messiah were homophonous (both pronounced /məsai.ə/). (Source: p. 265 at this link)

This is doubly odd since Joseph would have read the correct spelling of "Messiah" 9 times in the 4-5 preceding pages of the manuscript.  (Messiah appears 5 times on page 14 -- highlighted below -- and 3 times on page 15.) 

Whatever the case, Joseph's correction ended up in the 1837 edition and has stayed in place ever since. Here is the passage in the first edition (source):

Here is the change from the 1837 edition (source):

A note about how names were spelled

It seems abundantly clear from this that Joseph didn't have an advanced grasp on written English, even 8 years after the translation of the Book of Mormon. (In his defense, his handwriting shows serious signs of improvement since 1832.) And yet there are many obscure and complicated names which are consistently spelled correctly in the manuscript, such as Gidgiddoni, an authentic, obscure Neo-Assyrian name:

Here is Emma's recollection about her time as a scribe for her husband:

When my husband was translating the Book of Mormon, I wrote a part of it, as he dictated each sentence, word for word, and when he came to proper names he could not pronounce, or long words, he spelled them out, and while I was writing them, if I made a mistake in spelling, he would stop me and correct my spelling, although it was impossible for him to see how I was writing them down at the time. (Emma Smith, Edmund C. Briggs interview, 1856)


This suggests to me that Joseph, while acting as seer, was assisted in his ability to spell unusual names far beyond his natural ability. It also seems if Joseph secretly worked from notes or an early draft he had created prior to 1828-1829, he went to great lengths to conceal any natural spelling skills he would have acquired in the process.

Monday, September 14, 2020

The tree of life and the living waters -- Part 2

Part 1 is found here. The background for these two post is learning that the possible Hebrew origins of the name, Mormon, is the fountain of living water. The Hebrew equivalent of the letters, 'm' and 'r' have the symbolic meaning 'water' and 'head/source', respectively. Judaism connects the Torah to the tree of life. So we have the word of God, the Bible and the Book of Mormon, connected to the tree of life and the living waters. This image helped me connect the dots of a few previous posts and make sense of some things I didn't understand before. All that is written in part 1.

Another realization is the strength of the connection between the Bible and the Book of Mormon. My mental image after this realization looks something like this:

I created links for that image but it didn't work when I copied over. The point is that these connections have more or less been addressed individually in previous blog posts. I am just seeing the bigger picture here. Here are the links:

Gathering of Israel (physical)

Restoration of the gospel (spiritual gathering of Israel)


Gathering of scriptures

Gathering of all things in Christ

Eternal life

Being filled

There are probably multiple previous posts that could have been linked to each item. The pattern we see is also one I mention in one of the linked posts: Our Heavenly Father created a world of dualism for us to learn and grow. Part of that journey is to ultimately gather into one. The Hebrew word for father, "aba", displays this pattern. Since Hebrew letters also are used as number, we get 1-2-1. We start in unity in the pre-mortal existence, enter into this dualistic/multi-faceted world (notice all the heaven-earth, light-darkness, day-night, water-land, etc. in the creation account), but with the purpose to gather and become united with out Father once again.

The Bible and the Book of Mormon stand as pillars representing this gathering into one. They themselves shall be gathered into "one in thine hand" (Ezekiel 37:17). They are the word of God, leading us to the tree of life and living waters. In a sense, they are the tree of life and living waters, because the word is the Son, the ultimate expression of the Father's love for us. 

Eating and drinking symbolism, like the tree of life and fountain of living waters fit this gathering pattern. When we eat or drink, we take something external and put it inside of us, making it part of us. There is a 2-1 transition. Partaking of the tree of life and living waters marks the ultimate 2-1 transition. We become united with God, as we were meant to be, never to be separated again.

But whosoever drinketh of the water that I shall give him shall never thirst; but the water that I shall give him shall be in him a well of water springing up into everlasting life. (John 4:14)

ye shall feast upon this fruit even until ye are filled, that ye hunger not, neither shall ye thirst. (Alma 32:42)
He that eateth this bread eateth of my body to his soul; and he that drinketh of this wine drinketh of my blood to his soul; and his soul shall never hunger nor thirst, but shall be filled. (3 Nephi 20:8)


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