Monday, November 30, 2020

The Abrahamic and Mosaic covenants in the Book of Mormon -- Part 3

In part 1, I gave an introduction to this topic, largely based on Tyler Halverson's last FairMormon conference presentation. In part 2, I focused on the Abrahamic covenant and how it is referenced in the Book of Mormon. In this part, I want to focus on the Mosaic covenant and how it is referenced in the Book of Mormon.

I mentioned in part 1 that the Mosiac covenant is about the promises Abraham's seed, the Israelites, made to God. Moses received commandments. But didn't God promise something in return? Absolutely, but those promises were not new. They were only a repetition of those he already made to Abraham and his posterity.

In Exodus 2:24, the Israelites are suffering in Egyptian bondage, and complain.

And God heard their groaning, and God remembered his covenant with Abraham, with Isaac, and with Jacob.

The Exodus, the promised land and blessings promised to the Israelites were all part of the old covenant God had made with Abraham. I find it interesting that the Israelites had not made any promises at this time. They were freed from bondage in Egypt simply out of mercy. But entering into the promised land was conditioned on them making and keeping covenants. Simliarly, we are freed from physical and spiritual bondage through the atonement. This is a free gift. But to enter into the highest kingdom of glory (our promised land or "his rest") and receive the fullness of that gift, we must make and keep covenants.

On Mount Sinai, Moses received commandments and instructions for all of Israel to follow. This is the Mosaic covenant. In return, God would give them the blessings promised to Abraham, prosperity and a promised land. According to Halverson, the Book of Deuteronomy is basically a long summary of these covenant terms and blessings/curses. The short version is what I previously have labelled the Book of Mormon proverb. At the time, I had no idea about this context. Compare this with some statements in Deuteronomy.

All the commandments which I command thee this day shall ye observe to do, that ye may live, and multiply, and go in and possess the land which the Lord sware unto your fathers. (Deuteronomy 8:1)
In that I command thee this day to love the Lord thy God, to walk in his ways, and to keep his commandments and his statutes and his judgments, that thou mayest live and multiply: and the Lord thy God shall bless thee in the land whither thou goest to possess it. (Deuteronomy 30:16)

There are several other examples. We see the same in the Book of Mormon. Lehi's family was not in bondage in Jerusalem like the Israelites had been in Egypt. But they were in the middle of wickedness and were led out into the wilderness and to a promised land. With all those similarities, Nephi draws many parallels to the Exodus in his narrative and the Lord echoes the words of Moses to the group to indicate that the same covenant applies to them.

20 And inasmuch as ye shall keep my commandments, ye shall prosper, and shall be led to a land of promise; yea, even a land which I have prepared for you; yea, a land which is choice above all other lands.
21 And inasmuch as thy brethren shall rebel against thee, they shall be cut off from the presence of the Lord. (1 Nephi 2)

This is repeated consistently throughout the Book of Mormon. I will not repeat the examples since many are given in the previous post that I referenced. Having no idea about the Mosaic covenant relation at the time, I noticed that the Book of Mormon proverb is only used before the coming of Christ. Now I understand why. As Halverson also mentions in his presentation, the Mosaic covenant was updated when "the second Moses", Christ, came to fulfill it. In the Book of Deuteronomy, Moses prophecies of this.

The Lord thy God will raise up unto thee a Prophet from the midst of thee, of thy brethren, like unto me; unto him ye shall hearken (Deuteronomy 18:15)

When Jesus came to the Nephites, he identified himself as this prophet

Behold, I am he of whom Moses spake, saying: A prophet shall the Lord your God raise up unto you of your brethren, like unto me (3 Nephi 20:23)

"The second Moses" came to update the Old Testament/covenant and the reference to the Mosaic covenant and Deuteronomy was not relevant anymore. That is why it disappears from the Book of Mormon.

Behold, I am he that gave the law, and I am he who covenanted with my people Israel; therefore, the law in me is fulfilled, for I have come to fulfil the law; therefore it hath an end. (3 Nephi 15:5)

This does not mean the end of a covenant altogether. As part of the restoration, the new and everlasting covenant is the fullness of the gospel and includes all ordinances and blessings necessary for our salvation. In the Book of Mormon we repeatedly read that God in the latter days ("on that day") will show that He has not forgotten his covenants. True to his word, He has caused the Book of Mormon to be found and translated and restored the priesthood and his church. Anyone who wishes to enter into a covenant with Him will be counted as part of the House of Israel and the promised blessings to Abraham and his posterity will apply, with our "promised land" being the celestial kingdom.

Consider how neatly Alma ties all this together in Alma 36:1-3

My son, give ear to my words; for I swear unto you, that inasmuch as ye shall keep the commandments of God ye shall prosper in the land.
I would that ye should do as I have done, in remembering the captivity of our fathers; for they were in bondage, and none could deliver them except it was the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob; and he surely did deliver them in their afflictions.
And now, O my son Helaman, behold, thou art in thy youth, and therefore, I beseech of thee that thou wilt hear my words and learn of me; for I do know that whosoever shall put their trust in God shall be supported in their trials, and their troubles, and their afflictions, and shall be lifted up at the last day.

Verse 1 consists of the Book of Mormon proverb, the reference to the Mosaic covenant. As discussed, "keep the commandments" was the condition for the Israelites and "prosper in the land" was the repetition of the blessing originally given to Abraham. To fulfill His promise, God first delivered the Israelites from captivity. I don't know if Alma in verse 2 refers to the captivity of the Israelites in Egypt or the captivity of Alma's father and/or the people of Limhi among the Lamanites. Perhaps both. But he definitely refers to the Abrahamic covenant ("the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob"). This is the God that delivers His people.

Not only that. In verse 3, Alma seems to make a case for physical bondage and delivery only giving a pattern that can be applied on a spiritual level. Since the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob has kept his promises and always will, we can "put [our] trust in [Him]" and He can also deliver us from our spiritual captivity and afflictions and be "lifted up" at the last day to our personal promised land.  

Sunday, November 29, 2020

Achaz (אָחַז): to grasp, take hold, take possession -- part 1

One way I use to discover meanings and make new connections in the scriptures involves studying Hebrew root words and thinking about how their various meanings relate to Book of Mormon passages. I've come to learn that the Book of Mormon makes more sense in many cases when studied through the lens of the ancient Semitic worldview.

My most recent topic of study is the Hebrew root 'achaz' meaning 'to grasp, take hold, or take possession.'

We encounter this root in many different contexts throughout the Old Testament ('achaz' appears in some form 68 times).  Here is a sampling (the words translated from 'achaz' are in bold italics):

13 And Abraham lifted up his eyes, and looked, and behold behind him a ram caught in a thicket by his horns: and Abraham went and took the ram, and offered him up for a burnt offering in the stead of his son. (Genesis 22)

26 And after that came his brother out, and his hand took hold on Esau’s heel; and his name was called Jacob: and Isaac was threescore years old when she bare them. (Genesis 25)

27 ¶ And Israel dwelt in the land of Egypt, in the country of Goshen; and they had possessions therein, and grew, and multiplied exceedingly. (Genesis 47)

And the Lord said unto him, What is that in thine hand? And he said, A rod. And he said, Cast it on the ground. And he cast it on the ground, and it became a serpent; and Moses fled from before it. And the Lord said unto Moses, Put forth thine hand, and take it by the tail. And he put forth his hand, and caught it, and it became a rod in his hand: That they may believe that the Lord God of their fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, hath appeared unto thee. (Exodus 4)

The righteous also shall hold on his way, and he that hath clean hands shall be stronger and stronger. (Job 17)

11 My foot hath held his steps, his way have I kept, and not declined. (Job 23)

22 So foolish was I, and ignorant: I was as a beast before thee. 23 Nevertheless I am continually with thee: thou hast holden me by my right hand. 24 Thou shalt guide me with thy counsel, and afterward receive me to glory. (Psalm 73)

10 Even there shall thy hand lead me, and thy right hand shall hold me. (Psalm 139)

And they shall be afraid: pangs and sorrows shall take hold of them; they shall be in pain as a woman that travaileth: (Isaiah 13)

14 The sinners in Zion are afraid; fearfulness hath surprised the hypocrites. Who among us shall dwell with the devouring fire? who among us shall dwell with everlasting burnings? (Isaiah 33)

I'm especially intrigued by several examples on this list.  The account in Exodus 4 where Moses is commanded to take the serpent by the tail and it become a rod in his hand is noteworthy.  It is also very intriguing that Jacob was born while holding his brother's heel. More to come on these grand topics in future posts.

Hopefully this set of examples helps you see the broad range of uses 'achaz' has in the Old Testament.  I created the following list to help me in my search for related terms in the Book of Mormon:

  • grasp
  • take hold
  • possess/take possession
  • hold
  • seize
I'm sure I'll find additional terms that fit this same pattern as I search. In part 2, we'll look at the passages I find in the Book of Mormon, and focus on patterns related to the duality of covenant-keeping or covenant rebellion.  In other words, we must hold fast to the word of God lest the devil grasp us with his awful chains.

Thursday, November 26, 2020

The Abrahamic and Mosaic covenants in the Book of Mormon -- Part 2

The first part was an introduction to the topic. In this part I will focus on the Abrahamic covenant and how it is used in the Book of Mormon. As explained in part 1, the term "the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob" is used to specifically refer to this covenant and the God who gave these promises to Abraham and his posterity.

It is interesting to see how this evolves. In Genesis 17:1, God says to Abraham
am the Almighty God

In Genesis 26:24, God says to Isaac: 

I am the God of Abraham

In Genesis 28:13, God says to Jacob
am the Lord God of Abraham thy father, and the God of Isaac

In Exodus 3:6, God says to Moses

am the God of thy father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob

From then on we see "the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob" repeated numerous times. Moses lived hundreds of years after Abraham. But this is where God started to fulfill his promises.

the children of Israel were fruitful, and increased abundantly, and multiplied, and waxed exceeding mighty (Exodus 1:7)
Numerous offspring was one of those promises. But a promised land was another and the exodus out of Egypt was the way there. The preface of the exodus is that the Israelites were in bondage and "God remembered his covenant with Abraham, with Isaac, and with Jacob" (Exodus 2:24). So this expression, "God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob" is associated with delivery from bondage, as we shall see later, and the promised blessings to Abraham and his seed. What were those blessings? In Genesis 12:2-3, we read
And I will make of thee a great nation, and I will bless thee, and make thy name great; and thou shalt be a blessing:
And I will bless them that bless thee, and curse him that curseth thee: and in thee shall all families of the earth be blessed.

In Genesis 15 he is also promised a land for his posterity. But I want to focus on the bold part for a while. When Jesus appears to the Nephites, this is the part he focuses on. He tells them

ye are of the covenant which the Father made with your fathers, saying unto Abraham: And in thy seed shall all the kindreds of the earth be blessed. (3 Nephi 20:25)

The Book of Abraham expands on this a bit

in thy seed after thee (that is to say, the literal seed, or the seed of the body) shall all the families of the earth be blessed, even with the blessings of the Gospel, which are the blessings of salvation, even of life eternal. (Abraham 2:11)

It explains that "blessed" is ultimately exaltation or receiving eternal life.

I searched the Book of Mormon to find all verses with "Abraham", "Isaac" and "Jacob" in them and found 12. I like how Nephi is using it in 1 Nephi 6:4

For the fulness of mine intent is that I may persuade men to come unto the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, and be saved.

Read in this covenant context, Nephi is inviting us to the God that has given promises to Nephi's people, who are of Abraham's seed and the "remnant" who will read this in the future and who are also of Abraham's seed. This God will always keep his promises and is therefore the source of our salvation. I also like how this is not only Nephi's intent but the fulness of his intent.

Reading all these 12 mentions of "Abraham, Isaac and Jacob" in the Book of Mormon, reveals a trend. They are usually in one of two categories:

  • Delivery from captivity (with reference to Exodus 3:6 quoted above)

  • Exaltation (with reference to Abraham 2:11 quoted above)

When delivery is the topic, there is sometimes reference to the exodus of their forefathers and sometimes reference to their own captivity. Here is Nephi reminding his brothers of their forefathers:
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 17:40)

Here is Mormon wanting to demonstrate to the reader that the same God and covenants applied to them (in this case Alma the Elder): 

For behold, I will show unto you that they were brought into bondage, and none could deliver them but the Lord their God, yea, even the God of Abraham and Isaac and of Jacob. (Mosiah 23:23)

When salvation or exaltation is the topic, this expression is typically coupled with the concept of sitting down in the kingdom of heaven. One example
And may the Lord bless you, and keep your garments spotless, that ye may at last be brought to sit down with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and the holy prophets who have been ever since the world began, having your garments spotless even as their garments are spotless, in the kingdom of heaven to go no more out. (Alma 7:25)
As explained before, the covenant is about "blessing" the posterity of Abraham, which ultimately means eternal life. "sit down" is the enthronement that is an important part of ancient temple theology. In the holy of holies there was a throne symbolizing exaltation. This was the throne of God the Father (see e.g. 1 Nephi 1:8), but we read about Jesus Christ sitting down at his right hand (Moroni 7:27) and then preparing a place for us to "sit[...] down" (Ether 12:37).

I know I have quoted a lot of scriptures in this post, but I want to quote one more because it links the two concepts of delivery from bondage and salvation.
And the God of our fathers, who were led out of Egypt, out of bondage, and also were preserved in the wilderness by him, yea, the God of Abraham, and of Isaac, and the God of Jacobyieldeth himself, according to the words of the angel, as a man, into the hands of wicked men, to be lifted up, according to the words of Zenock, and to be crucified, according to the words of Neum, and to be buried in a sepulchre, according to the words of Zenos... (1 Nephi 19:10)

The God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, who delivered the Israelites out of Egypt is the same God who delivers us from spiritual bondage through his sacrifice; a sacrifice that was foreshadowed by Abraham and his son, Isaac. Just as he kept his covenant and delivered Abraham's seed out of captivity and into the promised land, he can lead us to our eternal destination where we can "sit down" with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.

In part 3 we will have a closer look at the Mosaic covenant and how it is referenced in the Book of Mormon.

Wednesday, November 25, 2020

The word and the mountain

Regular readers of this blog know that I believe a version of the Book of Moses was contained on the Brass Plates, and that Nephite record-keepers were therefore very familiar with the themes contained in the Book of Moses.  This is the best explanation for the many thematic and literary connections between the two.  See this three-part series by Jeff Lindsay published in the Interpreter for an overview -- part 1 -- part 2 -- part 3. In addition to establishing the connection between both texts, scholars have also demonstrated a one way textual dependence. In other words, there is strong evidence that the Book of Mormon authors quoted and paraphrased the Book of Moses, and never the other way around. 

When I read the Book of Mormon, I like to keep Book of Moses themes in mind. This often leads to wonderful new insights. 

For example, I believe I've found a thematic source for Alma's striking description of the fate of the wicked at the day of judgment. 

I recently posted about a similarity between the description of Enoch and Alma/Amulek in the context of lions (and how that relates to the power of a covenant people) in this post.

In today's post, I'll point out another not-so-coincidental similarity between Enoch in the Book of Moses and Alma's warning to the people of Ammonihah.

Here are Alma's words:

13 Then if our hearts have been hardened, yea, if we have hardened our hearts against the word, insomuch that it has not been found in us, then will our state be awful, for then we shall be condemned.

14 For our words will condemn us, yea, all our works will condemn us; we shall not be found spotless; and our thoughts will also condemn us; and in this awful state we shall not dare to look up to our God; and we would fain be glad if we could command the rocks and the mountains to fall upon us to hide us from his presence.

15 But this cannot be; we must come forth and stand before him in his glory, and in his power, and in his might, majesty, and dominion, and acknowledge to our everlasting shame that all his judgments are just; that he is just in all his works, and that he is merciful unto the children of men, and that he has all power to save every man that believeth on his name and bringeth forth fruit meet for repentance. (Alma 12)

In the Book of Moses, Enoch is described using similar elements in a contrasting manner:

13 And so great was the faith of Enoch that he led the people of God, and their enemies came to battle against them; and he spake the word of the Lord, and the earth trembled, and the mountains fled, even according to his command; and the rivers of water were turned out of their course; and the roar of the lions was heard out of the wilderness; and all nations feared greatly, so powerful was the word of Enoch, and so great was the power of the language which God had given him. (Moses 7)

In Alma's words, we find a warning that if we harden our hearts and reject the word, at the day of judgment we'll wish "we could command the rocks and the mountains to fall upon us to hide us from [God's] presence."  In the description of Enoch and his people, we have a description of the covenant people of God, who possessed words and language so powerful they caused the earth to tremble and the mountains to flee according to their command.

Is it possible Alma had access to this description of Enoch and intentionally played off of the concept of the word and the mountain? I believe so. 

Later in the same Enoch account in the Book of Moses, Christ declares Himself to be the very "Rock of Heaven" we must "[climb] up" in order to "never fall."

53 And the Lord said: Blessed is he through whose seed Messiah shall come; for he saith—I am Messiah, the King of Zion, the Rock of Heaven, which is broad as eternity; whoso cometh in at the gate and climbeth up by me shall never fall; wherefore, blessed are they of whom I have spoken, for they shall come forth with songs of everlasting joy. (Moses 7)

Monday, November 23, 2020

The Abrahamic and Mosaic covenants in the Book of Mormon -- Part 1

Unfortunately not available to those who have not paid for the last FairMormon conference, but I found Taylor Halverson's presentation very interesting and will spend some posts on the topic he discussed - the covenant path in the Bible and in the Book of Mormon. For those who have not seen the presentation and don't have the possibility to see it, I will try to start out by briefly recapping his main points.

  • Both the Bible and the Book of Mormon are covenant texts
    • The word "testament" originate from the word, "covenant". The Bible is basically a documentation of the old covenant and the new covenant
    • The Book of Mormon title page explains that it is written so "that they may know the covenants of the Lord"
  • The two most important Old Testament covenants are:
    • The Abrahamic covenant: This is all about God making promises to Abraham and his seed
    • The Mosaic covenant: This is all about Abraham's seed making promises to God
  • Lots of terms and expressions in the scriptures are covenant terms, often unrecognized by the modern reader (One of the examples Halverson mentioned is "keep" that Lord Wilmore just posted about)
I just have to elaborate on Halverson's point about the Abrahamic covenant because I found it fascinating. In Old Testament tradition, a covenant agreement was formally made by cutting animals in half and walking between the carcasses. It symbolized "what happened to these animals will happen to me if I break this treaty". In a time when literacy was rare, this act was the (dramatic and a through a modern lens a bit grotesque) signature. This article elaborates on it.

But the Abrahamic covenant is a special case. In Genesis 15, we read that Abraham chopped up the animals but instead of walking between them he fell asleep. Later, there was a fire passing between them instead. We have previously written about fire signifying God's presence on this blog. It was actually God signing the treaty saying that he should be cut in half if he didn't keep the covenant! This cannot happen of course, so Abraham had a sure promise that God would fulfill his covenant. God makes a lot of promises to Abraham and we learn that they apply to all those who are of his seed.

Abraham's seed were in bondage in Egypt but as part of the Abrahamic covenant, they were delivered and granted a promised land and other blessings. But to become his people and Abraham's seed in more than a biological sense, they would have to enter into and keep the Mosaic covenant given in the Exodus. The event is described in Exodus chapter 20, but it is basically the whole Book of Deuteronomy that lays out the terms.

I mentioned that the Mosaic covenant is all about the promises the people make to God or their obligations to Him. Obviously God promises something in return, but that is basically just a reiteration of what he had already promised to Abraham and his seed: Prosperity and a promised land. God's obligations are the old Abrahamic covenant that still stands and that he has not forgotten. If Israel keep the commandments that Moses received on Sinai, they will receive those promises.

In the New Testament (Matthew 5 in particular), the second Moses, Jesus Christ, updates the covenant terms. Both our obligations and God's promises become more spiritual in nature ("higher law"). We note how Jesus in Matthew 5 starts out with a reference to the law ("ye have heard that it was said by them of old time") and updates it to involve thoughts and intentions, not just actions. Similarly, the original promises of prosperity eventually relate more to things like spiritual gifts than herds and a large household. The promised land relates more to Zion and the celestial kingdom rather than a designated location on earth.

Now to an important point that Halverson made that I will look more into in upcoming posts.
  • "The God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob" is code for the Abrahamic covenant. Whenever this expression is used, the author talks specifically about the God who promised certain blessings to Abraham and his seed
  • The Book of Deuteronomy lays out the Mosaic covenant. It can be summarized as "keep the commandments and you will prosper in the land". Sounds familiar, perhaps? When this term is used in the Book of Mormon, it is a reference to the Mosaic covenant.
In the next post I will have a closer look at "the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob" in the Book of Mormon.

Sunday, November 22, 2020

Lions, covenants, Enoch, and Alma

I noticed a really interesting Hebrew connection between lions and covenants. 

I was studying the use of the word lion in the Book of Moses and the Book of Mormon, and when I looked up the Old Testament words for lion, I noticed that one of them is closely related to the word for covenant!

Biblehub lists the following root (Strong's 3715):

kephir: young lion (כְּפִיר) 

Under the exhaustive concordance for this root, we find:

see HEBREW kaphar

The listing for kaphar includes two main definitions: "to cover" and "to make atonement for." As discussed in this post, the ancient Semitic concept of atonement has less to do with "paying a debt" and much more to do with covering, protecting, drawing close.  It is perfectly articulated in Nephi's exclamation: "O Lord, wilt thou encircle me around in the robe of thy righteousness!" (2 Nephi 4:33)

The connection between lions and covenants has far reaching implications I am just beginning to understand.  One reference I studied suggested that the mane of the lion that covers its head may explain how its name is connected to the word for covering.  Perhaps so, but the scriptures seems to connect the lion with the power of covenants.

This is a study-topic-in-progress for me, but I'll offer what I think is a very clear example of how this enhances our understanding by comparing two passages which have been on my mind quite a bit lately.

Notice this description of Enoch and the people of God:

13 And so great was the faith of Enoch that he led the people of God, and their enemies came to battle against them; and he spake the word of the Lord, and the earth trembled, and the mountains fled, even according to his command; and the rivers of water were turned out of their course; and the roar of the lions was heard out of the wilderness; and all nations feared greatly, so powerful was the word of Enoch, and so great was the power of the language which God had given him.

14 There also came up a land out of the depth of the sea, and so great was the fear of the enemies of the people of God, that they fled and stood afar off and went upon the land which came up out of the depth of the sea. (Moses 7)

The people of God have been given tremendous power in the form of "the word" and "the language which God had given them." I believe this is a clear reference to temple covenants.

Compare this to the description of Alma and Amulek at Ammonihah. There is so much going on symbolically in this passage. In order to organize and highlight all the various symbols, I'll number the main sequence of events in the storyline, summarized below in a list and then labelled in the actual text of the passage (Alma 14:24-29) below that. The color coding of the passage corresponds to matching symbols in the Enoch passage above.

Sequence of events in Alma 14:24-29

  1. The wicked leaders taunt Alma and Amulek to use "the power of God" to "deliver [themselves]" from their captivity. 
  2. Alma, filled with the power of God, stands and 
  3. calls out for deliverance in the name of Christ. 
  4. Immediately the cords are broken, 
  5. the people begin to flee, 
  6. fear of destruction fills them, and 
  7. they fall to the earth, 
  8. unable to escape the prison.
  9. The earth shakes mightily
  10. and they are covered (and killed) by the tumbling ruins of the prison.  
  11. Alma and Amulek come forth unharmed. 
  12. "[F]or the Lord had granted them power, according to their faith which was in Christ."
  13. Hearing the noise, multitudes come running to see what happened, 
  14. only to find Alma and Amulek freed, 
  15. which causes them to be struck with great fear and 
  16. flee from their presence "as a goat fleeth with her young from two lions."

Alma 14:24-29 (Numbered according to the sequence of events immediately above and color-coded with themes from Moses 7 quoted above that)

And the chief judge stood before them, and smote them again, and said unto them: 

(1) If ye have the power of God deliver yourselves from these bands, and then we will believe that the Lord will destroy this people according to your words

And it came to pass that they all went forth and smote them, saying the same words, even until the last; and when the last had spoken unto them 

(2) the power of God was upon Alma and Amulek, and they rose and stood upon their feet. 

(3) And Alma cried, saying: How long shall we suffer these great afflictions, O Lord? O Lord, give us strength according to our faith which is in Christ, even unto deliverance

(4) And they broke the cords with which they were bound

(5) and when the people saw this, they began to flee

(6) for the fear of destruction had come upon them

And it came to pass that so great was their fear that 

(7) they fell to the earth

(8) and did not obtain the outer door of the prison

(9) and the earth shook mightily

(10) and the walls of the prison were rent in twain, so that they fell to the earth; and the chief judge, and the lawyers, and priests, and teachers, who smote upon Alma and Amulek, were slain by the fall thereof. 

(11) And Alma and Amulek came forth out of the prison, and they were not hurt

(12) for the Lord had granted unto them power, according to their faith which was in Christ. 

And they straightway came forth out of the prison; and they were loosed from their bands; and the prison had fallen to the earth, and every soul within the walls thereof, save it were Alma and Amulek, was slain; and they straightway came forth into the city. 

(13) Now the people having heard a great noise came running together by multitudes to know the cause of it

(14) and when they saw Alma and Amulek coming forth out of the prison

and the walls thereof had fallen to the earth

(15) they were struck with great fear

(16) and fled from the presence of Alma and Amulek even as a goat fleeth with her young from two lions

and thus they did flee from the presence of Alma and Amulek. (Alma 14)

Stisa has already pointed out the irony embedded in the fate of the leaders in Ammonihah. Mormon adds an additional layer of depth in the narrative by adding in elements of Enoch into the story.  It's a great illustration of the intricacy and complexity of the Book of Mormon text.

Mormon also contrasts the faith of the people of God with the fear of the enemies of God in this passage.  This is a consistent theme through his writings.  I've previously pointed out Mormon's intentional contrasting of faith and good/holy works of righteousness with fear and secret works of darkness. These are major themes which are sometimes overtly stated and other times very subtly emphasized.

The symbolic significance of lions

Of course this is not an exhaustive list of examples of the word "lion" showing up in the scriptures.  Many other examples can be found, and other Hebrew roots can be translated into the word lion.  What I find significant is that both Enoch's "people of God" and Alma and Amulek are very deliberately shown to be powerful -- more powerful than the elements of the creation itself -- in passages where their strength is also compared to lions.  The fact that the covenant is mediated by Christ and their power is specifically attributed to their faith in Christ is certainly no coincidence.

There are several related examples in the Old Testament which seem to hover around these same themes but are less clear.  Additionally, there are ten other instances of "lion" being used in the Book of Mormon in a variety of contexts. I am studying them and learning more about how scholars interpret these passages, As I find relevant concepts, I'll share them in future posts. I'd like to close this post with the only example of "lion" I could find in the Doctrine and Covenants, which beautifully captures the overarching sentiment I'm outlining here:

4 And although their influence shall cast thee into trouble, and into bars and walls, thou shalt be had in honor; and but for a small moment and thy voice shall be more terrible in the midst of thine enemies than the fierce lion, because of thy righteousness; and thy God shall stand by thee forever and ever. (D&C 122)


Thursday, November 19, 2020

Paths of righteousness and wisdom

Having just finished Margaret Barker's "Temple Theology", I am still in ancient temple mode. One of the characteristics of this older first temple tradition (pre-deuteronomic reform) was the belief in a female deity called "wisdom". This seems to have been a tradition that Lehi and his family took with them to the promised land. We have touched upon it on this blog before, see here. Mosiah 8:20 is also a good example

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!

Another backdrop for this post is the concept of walking on a path, which has also been posted about a lot before and has rarely to do with moving one's feet and usually something to do with entering into and keeping covenants. The ancient temple (and I would even argue the modern temple) respresents this path from a scattered state in the wilderness through covenants and a gradual ascent to the holy of holies in unity. 

With this in mind, I want to discuss the mention of paths in the Book of Mormon. Often, these paths are described as "his paths" and they are strait or made straight. On a few occasions, these paths are the paths of a virtue. In those cases they are either the paths of righteousness or wisdom

Paths of righteousness (tsedeq)

The Hebrew word, tsedeq, is typically translated into 'righteousness' and is a masculine word (all Hebrew words have one of two genders). It is closely associated with God. He epitomizes or personifies righteousness. For instance, we can read in Jeremiah 23:6

In his days Judah shall be saved, and Israel shall dwell safely: and this is his name whereby he shall be called, THE LORD OUR RIGHTEOUSNESS.

So in one sense, when we are asked to walk in the paths of righteousness, we are asked to walk in his paths. Like in Psalm 23:3

He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.

The path of righteousness is also found in the Book of Mormon

And it came to pass that they did humble themselves before the Lord; insomuch that I had joy and great hopes of them, that they would walk in the paths of righteousness. (1 Nephi 16:5)
For I perceive that ye are in the paths of righteousness; I perceive that ye are in the path which leads to the kingdom of God; yea, I perceive that ye are making his paths straight. (Alma 7:19)

From Alma's statement we can infer that the paths of righteousness are the path of God (His paths) and also the path that leads to God.

Wisdom's paths (chokmah)

The Hebrew word for wisdom is 'chokmah' and is a feminine noun. Much of the wisdom tradition is shown in the Book of Proverbs, although I suspect that it was more prevalent in other parts of the Old Testament writings too before it went "through the hands of the great and abominable church". Proverbs 8 is all about this. But we will consider an example from Proverbs 4, where there is also talk of paths.
Wisdom is the principal thing; therefore get wisdom: and with all thy getting get understanding.
Exalt her, and she shall promote thee: she shall bring thee to honour, when thou dost embrace her.
She shall give to thine head an ornament of grace: a crown of glory shall she deliver to thee.
10 Hear, O my son, and receive my sayings; and the years of thy life shall be many.
11 I have taught thee in the way of wisdom; I have led thee in right paths.

Even though wisdom referred to as a female in these verses, one may argue that wisdom is introduced as a "thing" in verse 7, which is not in line with the image of a female deity. But looking into this further, it gets interesting. There is no Hebrew word equivalent of the English "thing" in this verse. It is just part of the translation of the Hebrew, "reshith", to make the text work in English. Interestingly, this also happens to be the very first word of the Bible or Torah. "In the beginning (reshith) God created the heavens and the earth". It's the Hebrew word for beginning, chief, first. I'm no Hebrew expert but can easily imagine that Proverbs 4:7 could as well be translated as "in the beginning was wisdom". This is also consistent with Proverbs 8:23-30, where Wisdom speaks and explains that she was there at the creation.

Compare that with the words of Gerald Schroeder, Israeli physicist and orthodox Jew, discussing Genesis 1:1

The opening word, usually translated as ‘in the beginning,’ is Be’reasheet. Be’reasheet can mean ‘in the beginning of,’ but not ‘in the beginning.’ The difficulty with the preposition ‘of’ is that its object is absent from the sentence; thus the King James translation merely drops it. But the 2100-year-old Jerusalem translation of Genesis into Aramaic takes a different approach, realizing that Be’reasheet is a compound word: the prefix Be’, ‘with,’ and reasheet, a ‘first wisdom.’ The Aramaic translation is thus ‘With wisdom God created the heavens and the earth.’ 

This wisdom that was with God in the beginning at the creation has her "way", the "way of wisdom" as we read in Proverbs 4:11. Again, this is something we find in the Book of Mormon too.

ye do withdraw yourselves from the Spirit of the Lord, that it may have no place in you to guide you in wisdom’s paths that ye may be blessed, prospered, and preserved (Mosiah 2:36)
Yea, how quick to be lifted up in pride; yea, how quick to boast, and do all manner of that which is iniquity; and how slow are they to remember the Lord their God, and to give ear unto his counsels, yea, how slow to walk in wisdom’s paths! (Helaman 12:5)


When paths in the Book of Mormon are coupled with a virtue, it is either righteousness or wisdom. Based on the evidence presented in this post, they can be interpreted as the masculine and feminine part of God(head). Our heavenly parents are inviting us back to their presence. To get there we must walk on their path.

As mentioned in another recent post, the ancient temple was patterned after the six days of creation. Walking "the path" in the temple was a progression through the days of creation backwards until one reached the light created on the first day in the holy of holies in unity with "righteousness" and "wisdom", our heavenly parents. 

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