Monday, March 29, 2021

God as creator and subtle Book of Mormon evidence

Why do I enjoy learning about and finding evidence for the authenticity of the Book of Mormon? I am honestly not sure. My testimony is not based on it, but having an academic interest, I suppose I just like to see the book stand its ground when being attacked by disbelievers. Sometimes, the more subtle evidence is the strongest, just because you would not expect the young farmhand to be thinking of all those details that require special in-depth knowledge.

One thing I just learned that might fall in the subtle evidence category, has to do with the ancient Hebrew word for 'create'. The word is bara (בָּרָא). Translating it into 'create' in English is fine, except for one detail: In Hebrew, only God can create. Humans can 'make' (asah) and 'form' (yatsar) but never 'create' (bara). This is not the case in English, where people can create art, confusion, a business, a good atmosphere, etc. But in Hebrew, creation is reserved for God only.

So what does that have to do with the Book of Mormon? It was not written in Hebrew anyway and we only have an English translation of the original text. Well, my studies have led me to believe that the Nephites had brought and preserved a lot of the Hebrew culture, thinking and even language (see this and this post). For this reason, I thought it might be interesting to see how the Book of Mormon uses the word, 'create'. This is what I found:
  • The word create/created/creating is used 42 times in the Book of Mormon.
  • Every single time this verb is used, God is the subject. Just like 'bara' in the Hebrew Bible, only God creates in the English Book of Mormon.
  • In the Book of Mormon, people make and form. Nephi makes a record (1 Nephi 1:1), wicked people make a great uproar (3 Nephi 1:7), Jaredites form a secret combination (Ether 8:18) and Nephites form laws (3 Nephi 6:4), but they never create anything
Perhaps this was just Joseph Smith's vocabulary and way of speaking? Definitely not! In the Joseph Smith History in the Pearl of Great Price (which is very short compared to the entire Book of Mormon), people create something three times. First a great stir in JSH 1:5, persecution in JSH 1:22 and "a spirit of the most bitter persecution and reviling" in verse 23.

I will obviously not include all 42 examples of creation in the Book of Mormon in this post, but just a small sample showing that the Book of Mormon makes it absolutely clear who is creating.
For it is I that taketh upon me the sins of the world; for it is I that hath created them; and it is I that granteth unto him that believeth unto the end a place at my right hand. (Mosiah 26:23)
But behold, I will show unto you a God of miracles, even the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob; and it is that same God who created the heavens and the earth, and all things that in them are. (Mormon 9:11)
Behold, I am Jesus Christ the Son of God. I created the heavens and the earth, and all things that in them are. (3 Nephi 9:15)

A major theme from the Book of Mormon summarized in D&C 29:42-44

I enjoy finding succinct summaries of major themes of the Book of Mormon in other books of scripture, especially the Doctrine & Covenants. Here is one example:

42 But, behold, I say unto you that I, the Lord God, gave unto Adam and unto his seed, that they should not die as to the temporal death, until I, the Lord God, should send forth angels to declare unto them repentance and redemption, through faith on the name of mine Only Begotten Son.

43 And thus did I, the Lord God, appoint unto man the days of his probation—that by his natural death he might be raised in immortality unto eternal life, even as many as would believe;

44 And they that believe not unto eternal damnation; for they cannot be redeemed from their spiritual fall, because they repent not; (D&C 29)

Angels declaring repentance show up all over the Book of Mormon, actually from its very first chapter to its very last. In some cases, the angels are heavenly messengers, which is how we commonly think of angels.  But the word simply means 'messenger' and the Book of Mormon shows us over and over again how humans can hearken to the word and become angels delivering the message of repentance. 

Deep doctrine taught plainly

The verses from D&C 29 above teach a very deep point of doctrine: The fall of Adam brought us into mortality and made inevitable a future day of judgment.  We are also taught that angels will be sent forth declaring repentance prior to that day of judgment. Everything that we experience between now and our day of judgment can/should be thought of as "today" --

23 Behold, now it is called today until the coming of the Son of Man, and verily it is a day of sacrifice, and a day for the tithing of my people; for he that is tithed shall not be burned at his coming.

24 For after today cometh the burning—this is speaking after the manner of the Lord—for verily I say, tomorrow all the proud and they that do wickedly shall be as stubble; and I will burn them up, for I am the Lord of Hosts; and I will not spare any that remain in Babylon.

25 Wherefore, if ye believe me, ye will labor while it is called today. (D&C 64)

Deeper doctrine taught a little less plainly 

Years of thinking and studying about the role angels play in mortality have led me to understand that it is God's intention to turn each of us into a ministering angel.  Participation in the everlasting covenant requires this. Many scriptures teach this point, but do so a little more subtly, as in verse 25 of section 64 above. I've posted many times about this (see here).  See also D&C 88:77-81.

The "labor" which is to be performed is mediated by God's word and God's messengers, also known as "Cherubims and a flaming sword" (see Genesis 3:24). In D&C 88:74-75 the work is defined in detail:

"[God's] work" defined:
"I give unto you ... a commandment that you:
  • assemble yourselves together, and 
  • organize yourselves, and 
  • prepare yourselves, and 
  • sanctify yourselves; yea, 
  • purify your hearts, and 
  • cleanse your hands and your feet before me, 
that I may:
  • make you clean; ...
  • testify unto your Father, and your God, and my God, that you are clean from the blood of this wicked generation; ...
  • fulfil this promise, this great and last promise, which I have made unto you, when I will.

The cleansing of the hands and feet makes reference to joining in the work. Thus, it seems that an important component of the process of sanctification is our willingness to simultaneously enter into God's rest and labor in the vineyard. I love the symmetry there.  It seems Mormon did, too.  Notice this subtle description of Alma-2 near the end of his time among the Nephites:

1 And now it came to pass that the sons of Alma did go forth among the people, to declare the word unto them. And Alma, also, himself, could not rest, and he also went forth.
2 Now we shall say no more concerning their preaching, except that they preached the word, and the truth, according to the spirit of prophecy and revelation; and they preached after the holy order of God by which they were called. (Alma 43)

I love it.  Alma taught about the word, the "holy order of God" and entering into God's rest in his sermon found in Alma 12-13. This note from Mormon ties all of those concepts together and relates them to his specific actions. Having long since entered into God's rest, Alma, though he was old, could not watch his sons go off to preach the word among the people without joining them.

Saturday, March 27, 2021

King Benjamin and נָתַן (natan)

In my last post, I outlined how King Benjamin subtly makes repeated reference to the Garden of Eden narrative in the opening portion of his sermon through the various meanings of the Hebrew roots abad and shamar. He has done for the covenant people under his care what God instructed Adam and Eve to do for the Garden of Eden.

There is one more component of this.  In verses 11-13 and 30, Benjamin speaks of what God has allowed him to do and what he has in turn allowed for his people:

11: ...I have been chosen by this people, and consecrated by my father, and was suffered by the hand of the Lord that I should be a ruler and a king over this people...

12: ...I have been suffered to spend my days in your service...

13: Neither have I suffered that ye should be confined in dungeons, nor that ye should make slaves one of another, nor that ye should murder, or plunder, or steal, or commit adultery; nor even have I suffered that ye should commit any manner of wickedness...

30: ...the Lord God doth support me, and hath suffered me that I should speak unto you...

As best I can tell, this passive form of speaking makes reference to the Hebrew root natan, which is admittedly very common in the Old Testament (2011 occurrences), and has the following core meanings:

נָתַן (nātan), give, present, offer, allow, permit, surrender, deliver, set, put, place (NIDOTTE Vol. 3, p. 205)

One scholar attempts to summarize the meaning of this root:

נָתַן basically marks the act through which an object or matter is set in motion (NIDOTTE Vol. 3, p. 205)

Despite how common it is, I can't help but find myself fascinated by the number of instances in the OT where this root shows up in the context of creation and covenant. Here are a few examples, with the words in bold italics being translated from natan:

  • Genesis 1:17 - And God set them [the stars] in the firmament of the heaven to give light upon the earth,
  • Genesis 1:29 - And God said, Behold, I have given you every herb bearing seed, which is upon the face of all the earth, and every tree, in the which is the fruit of a tree yielding seed; to you it shall be for meat.
  • Genesis 3:6 - And when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was pleasant to the eyes, and a tree to be desired to make one wise, she took of the fruit thereof, and did eat, and gave also unto her husband with her; and he did eat.
  • Genesis 3:12 - And the man said, The woman whom thou gavest to be with me, she gave me of the tree, and I did eat.
  • Genesis 4:12 - When thou tillest the ground, it shall not henceforth yield unto thee her strength; a fugitive and a vagabond shalt thou be in the earth.
  • Genesis 9:2 - And the fear of you and the dread of you shall be upon every beast of the earth, and upon every fowl of the air, upon all that moveth upon the earth, and upon all the fishes of the sea; into your hand are they delivered.
  • Genesis 9:3 - Every moving thing that liveth shall be meat for you; even as the green herb have I given you all things.
  • Genesis 9:12-13 - And God said, This is the token of the covenant which I make between me and you and every living creature that is with you, for perpetual generations: I do set my bow in the cloud, and it shall be for a token of a covenant between me and the earth.
  • Genesis 12:7 - And the Lord appeared unto Abram, and said, Unto thy seed will I give this land: and there builded he an altar unto the Lord, who appeared unto him.
  • Genesis 17:2,5-6 - And I will make my covenant between me and thee, and will multiply thee exceedingly. ... Neither shall thy name any more be called Abram, but thy name shall be Abraham; for a father of many nations have I made thee. And I will make thee exceeding fruitful, and I will make nations of thee, and kings shall come out of thee.

These are but a few of the examples.  When Abraham pays tithes to Melchizedek, this root is used. Likewise when Isaac and Jacob take wives, this root shows up over and over again. When Pharaoh gives authority to Joseph, we see this root.

Of course this could be primarily due to how common this root is in general. I can't discount that possibility, but thinking about the concept has opened up a new layer of significance in King Benjamin's sermon.

A case study in righteous dominion

What we have in these opening remarks teach us a lesson about what righteous dominion ought to look like.  Benjamin is telling his people that God "suffered him" to be their king, to have dominion over them just as Adam was given, and that he can stand with a clean conscience before God when he must give account for his responsibilities. See Mosiah 2:15.

This is the essence of righteous dominion. God gives to us and asks us to give to each other in return, in essence to do for others what He has graciously done for us.

Let's look at service as an example. After Benjamin points out that he has served God by serving them, he teaches them to serve each other in order to serve God. See Mosiah 2:16-18. In verse 22 he teaches a similar principle about keeping the commandments. God keep His promises and lives according to the terms of the covenant, and expects His people to do likewise.

So the deeper principle here is that we should emulate God in every instance where we have some form of dominion over any portion of the creation.

Margaret Barker puts it this way:

‘God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness…’ (Gen.1.26). This is one of the most enigmatic lines in the Bible, and yet also one of the most important. It means that the human has to be like God in caring for the creation. One of Israel’s ancient law codes, the Holiness Code (Lev.19-26), set out a complete pattern for life based on the injunction: ‘You shall be holy, for I the LORD your God am holy’ (Lev.19.2). Jesus, when exhorting his followers to trust God, reminded them that the Creator cared for the lilies of the field and the birds of the air (Mt.6. 25-33; 10.29). This is how they thought of the Creator; not as a figure in the past who had completed the work and then left it; it was a picture of constant loving care. Adam, as the image of God, was expected to do this too. (source

God created us in His image and "set us in motion" (see above definition for natan) to "act for [our]selves and not to be acted upon" (2 Nephi 2:26). This comes with an expectation that our actions emulate those of our Creator.

Thursday, March 25, 2021

Achaz (אָחַז) and Dabaq (דָּבַק) - Lay hold on and cleave/cling to

In my last post about the use of the word, 'cleave' in the scriptures, I mentioned that I would save my comments on Moroni 7 for a separate post. I want to start out with a reference to Lord Wilmore's posts on the Hebrew word, achaz, meaning to grasp or take hold of. See here and here. As demonstrated in those posts, there is a broad range of uses of the term, but frequently there is a covenant context. The same is true for my last post that I linked about 'cleave'. These two words are somewhat related. We have 

  • Achaz (אָחַז): to grasp, take hold, take possession
  • Dabaq (דָּבַק): to cling, cleave, keep close

In Lehi's dream, we read

And it came to pass that I beheld others pressing forward, and they came forth and caught hold of the end of the rod of iron; and they did press forward through the mist of darkness, clinging to the rod of iron, even until they did come forth and partake of the fruit of the tree. (1 Nephi 8:24)

First you take hold (achaz) of the iron rod and then you cling to it (dabaq). 

I noticed this same pattern in Moroni 7. The chapter begins with Mormon explaining how to know good from evil. He then admonishes to lay hold on every good thing, repeatedly from verse 19. He also explains how. It is through faith in Christ and the ministry of angels. Then, in verse 28 he changes the phrasing.

For he hath answered the ends of the law, and he claimeth all those who have faith in him; and they who have faith in him will cleave unto every good thing; wherefore he advocateth the cause of the children of men; and he dwelleth eternally in the heavens. (Moroni 7:28)

He goes on to insist that miracles have not ceased and they bring to pass the covenants of the Father (verse 32). I wonder if "laying hold of" is describing a first step, exercising faith in Christ , whereas "cleave/cling to" is describing a second step, keeping covenants that bind us to him. 

If I understand correctly, when these Hebrew words are describing something literal and physical, a handclasp would be described by achaz and a hug or embrace would be described by dabaq. For instance in Ruth 1:14, Ruth "clave" (dabaq) to her mother-in-law, No'omi, when they were about to depart. In modern Hebrew, dabaq is actually the word for glue.

The examples I have shared from the Book of Mormon describe a pattern where you grab the word/Christ/covenants and then cleave. This takes you safely to the tree of life and enables you to become "sons of God" (Moroni 7:26, 48). I also get a vivid image of the Lord reaching out his hand, and when we take it (achaz), he pulls us towards Him to embrace us (dabaq). It turns out that this image is not far fetched. In this excellent Interpreter article, Matthew B. Brown comments on certain Old Testament passages, most notably from Psalms, with this imagery in the Holy of Holies in the temple. These texts indicate the presence of a ceremonial handclasp in temple worship whereby the Heavenly King admits the earthly king into his presence in the Holy of Holies.

For instance, Mitchell Dahood, retranslates Psalm 73:23-24 from Hebrew into English this way

take hold of (achaz) my right hand. Into your council lead me, and with glory take me to yourself

He proposes that the "council" in this case is God's heavenly council. Brown comments

Taken altogether, Psalms 41 and 73 point to the possibility that when the king of Israel was initiated into his office in the temple precincts, he passed through the veil of the Holy of Holies (see Exodus 26:33) and into God’s symbolic presence. Perhaps a proxy and a handclasp played a role in such a situation.

This was the pre-Christ temple practice. Considering the fact that Peter after the coming of Christ said that the members of His church was a royal priesthood, things are getting interesting. Brown's paper gives several other examples and I will not repeat all of those here, except this one from Psalm 63:8

My soul followeth hard after thee: thy right hand upholdeth me.

This verse is preceded by a description suggesting a temple setting. I find "followeth hard" an odd translation, but it is the Hebrew dabaq. Brown comments

Thus, a proposed right-hand clasp between God and the king in Psalm 63 is adjacent to imagery that suggests an embrace, and these, in turn, seem to be connected with the veil-concealed Holy of Holies.

Grasping and clinging to the word/Christ/covenants, admits us into God's presence where He can grasp and embrace us.

Tuesday, March 23, 2021


After reading the admonition to Emma Smith in D&C 25:13 to cleave unto the covenants that she had made, I decided to study how this term, 'cleave', is used in the scriptures. 

It first appears in Genesis 2:24

Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife: and they shall be one flesh.

The English term in this verse will of course depend on the translation. The Hebrew root is דָּבַק (dabaq), meaning to cling to, cleave or keep close. This same word is frequently used to describe the relationship between the Lord and his covenant people.

Ye shall walk after the Lord your God, and fear him, and keep his commandments, and obey his voice, and ye shall serve him, and cleave unto him. (Deuteronomy 13:4)

This is one of many admonitions to cleave to the Lord in the Old Testament, especially in the books of Deuteronomy and Joshua. The cleaving also goes both ways. The relationship between the Lord and his covenant people is sometimes using the marriage imagery. Just like the man shall cleave unto his wife, the Lord cleaves unto his bride, Israel, and asks her for the same in return. Let's have a look at some interesting uses of this word in the Book of Mormon.

Wherefore, my beloved brethren, I beseech of you in words of soberness that ye would repent, and come with full purpose of heart, and cleave unto God as he cleaveth unto you. And while his arm of mercy is extended towards you in the light of the day, harden not your hearts. (Jacob 6:5)

The term is usually found in a covenant setting in the Book of Mormon too. In Jacob 6, Jacob is commenting on the parable of Zenos and the fate of the House of Israel. The Master of the Vineyard is extending his arm of mercy towards the House of Israel and we should cleave unto him like a branch to a tree.

Another use of the terms shows up in Moroni 7. Lord Wilmore and I have both previously written about "every good thing" in this chapter and connected it to covenants, the atonement and ministering of angels. (See for instance here and here). Repeatedly, Mormon asks us to "lay hold upon every good thing". But in verse 28 he shifts the phrasing a little bit

For he hath answered the ends of the law, and he claimeth all those who have faith in him; and they who have faith in him will cleave unto every good thing; wherefore he advocateth the cause of the children of men; and he dwelleth eternally in the heavens.

There is a lot to unpack here so I think I will save my comments on this for a later post.

3 Nephi 10:9-10 is another interesting one:

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. 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 removed the verse numbering and split it up a bit differently on purpose. Keep in mind that the original Book of Mormon text did not have verses. The first paragraph describes a transition of the earth. Darkness, trembling, rending, groanings and tumultuous noises cease. It culminates in the earth cleaving together again.

The second paragraph describes a transition of the people. Weeping, wailing, mourning and lamentation turns into joy, praise and thanksgiving. There is a resonance between the earth and the people. Lord Wilmore has previously posted about another aspect of this resonance in conjunction with the destruction before Christ's visit to the Nephites. 

The transition happens when the earth cleaves together. Mormon uses the same word (at least the English translation does) that is typically used to describe a bond between people or between man and God in a covenant relation. I know I have quoted this paper many times before, but it is also highly relevant in this context.

The Bible is full of words that describe the creation as a web of life, the role of human beings in guarding and preserving it, and why things went wrong...These bonds of creation formed the great covenant - the word means binding together - and as long as the bonds of the covenant remained in place, people could live in peace and prosperity. The bonds were called the covenant of peace, or the covenant of life and peace (Numbers 25.12; Malachi 2.5). ...The Servants of the LORD had to maintain the covenant of peace. When it was threatened or damaged, they had to do whatever was necessary to restore it. And here we come to the word that forms the title of this talk; righteousness, tsedaqah. Righteousness describes both the action needed to restore the broken covenant, and also the result of that action. Righteous people had been restored to their intended place in the creation, and they then had to work to restore other parts of the covenant system. Righteousness meant the activity of making righteous, protecting and maintaining the covenant.

The events in 3 Nephi 8-10, make much sense with this backdrop. Prior to these chapters, there is much wickedness. The earth responds with huge natural disasters and is certainly not at rest. The wicked are destroyed and the earth eventually restored to a peaceful state, cleaving together. As a parallel event, the people who remain turn from a state of unrest and sorrow to joy. After Mormon has described these parallel events, he goes on to say:

And it was the more righteous part of the people who were saved (3 Nephi 10:12)

Just like the earth cleaved together, righteous people will cleave to their God and maintain the bonds of creation. This was the way to restore the harmony and prepare for his coming to the Nephites in the next chapter. Similarly, we need to be righteous and cleave to our covenants and our God to prepare for His second coming.

Monday, March 22, 2021

King Benjamin, עָבַד (ʿābad), and שָׁמַר (šāmar)

Occasionally I see interesting things in the Book of Mormon which make me wish I had advanced degrees in ancient languages so I could do a more rigorous investigation.

I posted last year about how Ammon's joyful boasting in God's strength seems to play on Hebrew roots, as outlined in this Interpreter paper.

It seems something similar is afoot in King Benjamin's sermon.

Stisa has already pointed out how King Benjamin's sermon seems to contain allusions to the creation, based on this paper. Stisa notes that the likely Hebrew equivalent of the word "serve" is abad, which can also mean to tend or dress, as Adam and Eve were commanded in the Garden of Eden in Genesis 2:15.

That verse contains two commandments -- they were to abad and shamar the garden.  I've written about shamar before, here and here. I'll give an overview from NIDOTTE on each root below. After each one, I'll give examples of how King Benjamin seems to be playing around with these roots on purpose in the opening part of his farewell sermon. It's as if he's sending a message to his people about how he has tried to fulfill his duty  to abad and shamar the righteous branch of Israel he was given charge over.

In his opening remarks, he says:

11 But I am like as yourselves, subject to all manner of infirmities in body and mind; yet I have been chosen by this people, and consecrated by my father, and was suffered by the hand of the Lord that I should be a ruler and a king over this people; and have been kept and preserved by his matchless power, to serve you with all the might, mind and strength which the Lord hath granted unto me.

Notice three elements colored above in this verse, each one attributed to God. Each of these The rest of this post will outline the significance and additional references to abad and shamar.  A follow-up post will outline the significance of the phrase in purple, which as best I can tell relates to the Hebrew root "nathan" (נָתַן): to give, put, set (source).


עָבַד (ʿābad), q. work, perform, serve, worship, carry out, honor; ni. to be tilled, worked; pu. to be worked; hi. enslave, make work, make serve; ho. be caused/influenced to serve, be led to worship (#6268); מַעֲבָד (maʿabād), nom. deed(s), act(s) (#5042); עֶבֶד (ʿebed I), nom. slave, servant, subordinate (#6269); עֲבָד (ʿabād), work, labor (#6271); עֲבֹדָה (ʿabōdâ), nom. service, work, labor; worship (#6275); עֲבֻדָּה (ʿabuddâ), nom. servants, workforce (#6276); עַבְדֻת (ʿabdut), nom. servitude, bondage (#6285)(Source: NIDOTTE Vol. 3, p. 304)

serve (Genesis 15:14; Genesis 25:23; Genesis 27:29) - 

  • "that I might serve you" (2:14)
  • "I had spent my days in your service" (2:16)
  • "when ye are in the service of your fellow beings ye are only in the service of your God" (2:17)
  • "if I, whom ye call your king, do labor to serve you, then ought not ye to labor to serve one another?" (2:18)
  • "if ye should serve him with all your whole souls yet ye would be unprofitable servants." (2:21)

work/labor (Exodus 1:13; Exodus 5:18) - 

  • "And even I, myself, have labored with mine own hands" (2:14)
  • "if I, whom ye call your king, do labor to serve you, then ought not ye to labor to serve one another?" (2:18)

enslave/subordinate/come into bondage (Genesis 49:15; Exodus 6:5) - 

  • "if ye should serve him with all your whole souls yet ye would be unprofitable servants." (2:21)
  • ? - "he hath created you, and granted unto you your lives, for which ye are indebted unto him." (2:23)
  • ? - "And ye are still indebted unto him, and are, and will be, forever and ever;" (2:24)


שָׁמַר (šāmar), q. watch, guard; ni. watch one’s self, be careful; pi. revere; hitp. be on one’s guard, be careful (#9068); עַשְׁמוּרָה / עַשְׁמֹרֶת (אַשְׁמוּרָה / עַשְׁמֹרֶת), nightwatch (#874); מִשְׁמָהר (mišmār I), prison, guard (#5464); מִשְׁמֶרֶת (mišmeret), a guarding, responsibility (#5466); שָׁמְרָה (šomrâ), guard, watch (#9072); שִׁמֻּרִים (šimmurîm), nightwatch, vigil (#9081). (Source: NIDOTTE Vol. 4, p. 182)

"Keep" - 

  • This post outlines how King Benjamin teaches his sons in Mosiah 1 about the importance of keeping the commandments as found in the scriptures, which have been "kept and preserved" by the hand of God (see Mosiah 1:5). 
  • In Mosiah 2:31, Benjamin instructs his people to keep the commandments of his son Mosiah. He also instructs them to "keep the commandments of God" several times (see Mosiah 2:4, 13, 22 (x3), 41).

"Beware" - 

  • In verse 32 the people are warned to beware of contention.

"Kept and preserved" - 

  • According to the terms of the covenant as outlined in the scriptures (which have been "kept and preserved" according to his words to his sons), King Benjamin opens his sermon by declaring to them that he has been "kept and preserved" by God's "matchless power" in order to serve (abad) his people "with all the might, mind and strength which the Lord hath granted unto [him]." 
  • The people are reminded three times in chapter 2 that they have been "kept and preserved" by the Lord (see verses 11, 20, and 36).
  • In verse 31 he promises them the same blessings they enjoyed under his father's reign and his reign if they continue to faithfully follow his son: "I would that ye should do as ye have hitherto done. As ye have kept my commandments, and also the commandments of my father, and have prospered, and have been kept from falling into the hands of your enemies, even so if ye shall keep the commandments of my son, or the commandments of God which shall be delivered unto you by him, ye shall prosper in the land, and your enemies shall have no power over you."


To summarize what I learned from this study, I'll put some main points in a numbered list below:
  1. Benjamin has faithfully discharged his divinely-appointed duties to his people. He wishes to "answer a clear conscience before God" (Mosiah 2:15).
  2. He frames his duties using using the same terms given to Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. He was tasked with serving and preserving his people.
  3. In fulfilling his role as righteous king, Benjamin acts as an intermediary between God and the people. He serves the people and thereby serves God.  The blessings and responsibilities flow in both directions.
  4. He has been "kept and preserved" in order to watch over his people, so that they keep the commandments found in the scriptures (which have been "kept and preserved") so that they may be "kept and preserved" as a covenant people.

Friday, March 19, 2021

The covenant context of Mosiah 25

I have learned that covenants permeate all scriptures, more than we tend to think, because a lot of the covenant language is not obvious to us. Some is hidden in symbolism, some is lost in translation both in terms of language and culture. This post introduces key terms associated with the Abrahamic and Mosaic covenants. Another term that is often related to the Abrahamic covenant is "blessed". For an Israelite, being Abraham's seed meant everything because of the promises he received.

And I will bless them that bless thee, and curse them that curse thee; and in thee (that is, in thy Priesthood) and in thy seed (that is, thy Priesthood), for I give unto thee a promise that this right shall continue in thee, and 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)

"They were blessed"

We think of the term, blessed, as something nice happening to us. That can be a general meaning in the scriptures too, but it is often written as an allusion to the Abrahamic covenant. One such example is in Mosiah 25. The people of Limhi had escaped Lamanite bondage and joined the people in Zarahemla. While in the Land of Nephi, they wanted to be baptized but there was no one worthy and with authority among them, so they had to postpone it. In Zarahemla, Alma the high priest had the Priesthood, and they were finally able to be baptized. Then he went on to ordain priests and teachers proclaiming "repentance and faith" (Mosiah 25:22). Mormon's final comment in this chapter reads

24 And they were called the people of God. And the Lord did pour out his Spirit upon them, and they were blessed, and prospered in the land.

In this context, "they were blessed" is an obvious reference to the Abrahamic covenant. What about the red colored text? These are allusions to the Mosaic covenant. I think that the Nephites placed particular emphasis on these two covenants for the following reasons:

  1. They were "wanderers, cast out from Jerusalem" (Jacob 7:26). It was really important to them to emphasize that through their lineage to Joseph, they were Abraham's descendants, even though they were not with the main body of the Israelites any longer. The blessings promised to Abraham applied to them.
  2. Their exodus from Jerusalem to a promised land was a similar journey to that of their forefathers. The same conditions and promises given to their forefathers were given to them. This is summed up in "the Book of Mormon proverb" that is repeated consistently in  the Book of Mormon.

"They were called the people of God"

This statement is related to the Mosaic covenant. For example:

Now therefore, if ye will obey my voice indeed, and keep my covenant, then ye shall be a peculiar treasure unto me above all people: for all the earth is mine:

And ye shall be unto me a kingdom of priests, and an holy nation. These are the words which thou shalt speak unto the children of Israel. (Exodus 19)

For thou art an holy people unto the Lord thy God: the Lord thy God hath chosen thee to be a special people unto himself, above all people that are upon the face of the earth. (Deuteronomy 7:6)

Again, I think the Nephites want to emphasize that they were not merely outcasts. They remembered what had happened to their forefathers and insisted that the covenant terms still applied to them. As long as they were faithful, they could rightly call themselves God's chosen people.

"[They] prospered in the land"

Having already linked to "the Book of Mormon proverb", this one should be obvious. "If you keep my commandments you shall prosper in the land" is the abbreviated code for the Mosaic covenant. The earlier part of the chapter, explains how they kept the commandments: They were baptized, organized the church and preached repentance and faith. The promise that they would prosper in the land was therefore fulfilled. 

We even read that Alma established seven churches. Among ancient Israelites, numbers had more meaning than just their numerical value. In Judaism, seven is one of the most important numbers, representing creation, perfection, good fortune, and blessing. Talking about how they were blessed, the mention of seven churches was perhaps intentional to underscore this point.

Wednesday, March 17, 2021

A note about Hebrew, translation as an act of textual violence, and the Book of Mormon

A few years ago, I began following a prompting to learn how to understand scripture in God's context rather than my own.  At the time this felt unimportant to me -- I suspected it would contribute little to my understanding of the scriptures, but I plodded ahead nonetheless.

Today I can testify of the importance of striving to understand the original context of holy writ. It isn't enough to simply read the words and use the modern English conception to derive meaning from the verse. Doing only this might cause us to completely miss very important subtext. Genesis 1 gives us multiple important examples, such as the fact that Adam's name means "from the ground." Another example would be poetic features intended to relay layers of meaning in very few words. The second half of Isaiah 5:7 is a perfect example of this (as Stisa has previously discussed here):

he expected justice ('mishpat'),
    but saw bloodshed ('mispakh');
righteousness ('tsedaqah'),
    but heard a cry ('tseaqah')! (NRSV)

Many elements are happening all at once in this poetic verse about Israel's covenant rebellion. Taking the verse from Hebrew to English forces the translator to make a choice between preserving the ringing sounds of the poetry or the strict meaning of the words. The example above preserves the meaning of the words.  Notice how another translation reads:

“And [God] hoped for justice

But behold, injustice

For equity

But behold, iniquity!” (NJPS)

In this case, the ringing sound of the words is preserved at the expense of the meaning of the original Hebrew.  In English, one can't have both a precise rendering of the meaning and a preservation of the ringing poetry.

Translation as as act of violence

The need to transform . . . the ancient languages of the Bible (Aramaic, Hebrew, Greek) into a modern language, thereby modernizing the language, thought, and culture of the Bible by means of such translation does unimaginable violence to the text. It wrenches the text from its home in the ancient cultures and languages, deports that text and exiles it in foreign languages and cultures. The cultural transformations required to make the translation work in its new language and culture often involve serious violations of the text. Radical changes between cultures are not easily accommodated by translation techniques and each cultural translation shifts the text further away from its roots in ancient culture. (Robert P. Carroll, “Cultural Encroachment and Bible Translation: Observations on Elements of Violence, Race and Class in the Production of Bibles in Translation,” Semeia 76 (1996): 39–53, here 39–40.)

Any time we attempt to study scriptures in a language other than its original language we run a risk of grossly misinterpreting what was meant by the author.

How this relates to studying the Book of Mormon

The original language of the Book of Mormon is neither English nor Hebrew. It is clear that the writers knew Hebrew, evidenced by numerous examples of Hebrew wordplay, metanyms, and literary devices common to ancient Hebrew. So why do Stisa and I spend so much time trying to understand Hebrew if this is not the original language of the Book of Mormon? 

The best answer to this is that by a deeper understanding of Hebrew very often leads to a deeper/better understanding of the the Book of Mormon.  Identifying patterns such as the Isaiah example above reveals hidden layer of meaning within the English text.

Let's look at 3 Nephi 9:11 in light of Isaiah 5:7 --

11 And because they did cast them all out, that there were none righteous among them, I did send down fire and destroy them, that their wickedness and abominations might be hid from before my face, that the blood of the prophets and the saints whom I sent among them might not cry unto me from the ground against them. (3 Nephi 9)

God expected righteousness from His covenant people but found none righteous among them. He found their blood crying to Him from the ground (ha'adamah) against the people. He goes on to introduce Himself to those who were spared four verses later:

15 Behold, I am Jesus Christ the Son of God. I created the heavens and the earth, and all things that in them are. I was with the Father from the beginning. I am in the Father, and the Father in me; and in me hath the Father glorified his name.

Do you see the deeper message here?  The creator has come to visit His people. Mormon describes the visitation (and preceding destruction) in a way that highlights Isaiah's words (which we know Mormon had as they are contained on the small plates). These sons of Adam had forgotten the purpose of the creation, ignored messages from the prophets, and instead spilled their blood onto the ground from which they had come.

If this were an isolated example, or if they were few and far between, I'd probably be able to dismiss the concept as mere coincidence. Instead, I find them almost every time I study the scriptures. Here is a link just to wordplay in names found in the Book of Mormon.

The Book of Mormon was very carefully written by people familiar with ancient Hebrew.  As we take the time to understand this deeper context, our understanding of the scriptures will expand in a very satisfying way.

I've learned that for me, part of "studying it out in my mind" is now:
  1. unlearning the typical modern meaning of a word
  2. learning the scriptural context for that word
  3. getting a deeper understanding of the passage itself
  4. seeing how clearly it connects to other passages
The Holy Ghost teaches me along the way at each step, and the more I succeed in this process the easier it has become to trust this will continue to happen for the rest of my life.

Tuesday, March 16, 2021

Satan = Enemy, adversary, accuser

In the Old Testament, "Satan" generally has a different meaning from what we are used to. It is actually a transliteration from a Hebrew word meaning enemy, adversary or accuser. Although Old Testament names usually have a specific meaning, satan is not used as a personal name, but rather a generic label for an enemy. In other words, the Old Testament does not use "Satan" with capital 'S' to describe a specific being that "rebelled against [God]" and was "cast down" (Moses 4:3). Frequently it is used to describe humans. In Numbers 22:22, 32, even God's angel is a "satan" functioning as a threatening enemy to a pagan magician trying to harm Israel. Only occasionally it is used to describe heavenly beings and few details are given.

Many Bible scholars would claim that our modern understanding of Satan developed after Old Testament times. However, the Book of Moses in the Pearl of Great Price makes it clear that Adam, Enoch and Moses had an understanding similar to ours so this might also be a case of "plain and precious things" being lost. In that regard, Moses 4:1 is particularly interesting.

And I, the Lord God, spake unto Moses, saying: That Satan, whom thou hast commanded in the name of mine Only Begotten, is the same which was from the beginning, and he came before me, saying—Behold, here am I, send me, I will be thy son, and I will redeem all mankind, that one soul shall not be lost, and surely I will do it; wherefore give me thine honor.

Even though Satan in this verse is naturally spelled with capital 'S' in English, the wording suggests an underlying Hebrew understanding. The verse is referring to Moses 1, where Moses is confronted by Satan and his first reaction is asking him "who art thou?" (Moses 1:13). In Hebrew, Moses would have been confronted by "enemy". Then, after commanding him to leave in the name of the Only Begotten, he talked with God again who gave him the creation account and then explained who "that satan" (enemy) really was. Moses 4 goes on to explain that it was the same being that was in the grand council in the beginning, who sought the Father's glory, who was cast down, became the father of all lies and beguiled Adam and Eve in the garden. It would seem at that moment, at least for Moses, that "that satan" became Satan with capital 'S'. This whole explanation in the beginning of Moses 4 is found in the Pearl of Great price but missing in the Old Testament. 

As I have written before, I would not be surprised if the Nephites had an extended version of Genesis similar to the Book of Moses on the Brass Plates. For instance, in 2 Nephi 2:16-17, Lehi refers to something that he has read that looks very similar to Moses 4:1-6

17 And I, Lehi, according to the things which I have read, must needs suppose that an angel of God, according to that which is written, had fallen from heaven; wherefore, he became a devil, having sought that which was evil before God.

18 And because he had fallen from heaven, and had become miserable forever, he sought also the misery of all mankind. Wherefore, he said unto Eve, yea, even that old serpent, who is the devil, who is the father of all lies, wherefore he said: Partake of the forbidden fruit, and ye shall not die, but ye shall be as God, knowing good and evil.

It is clear from the Book of Mormon that the Nephites generally had this understanding. But the ancient Hebrew meaning of "satan" also shines through. For instance, one Hebrew meaning of the word is the accuser in a court setting. We see this setting in the first couple of chapters in the Book of Job and Zechariah 3:1-2, for example. The word, "adversary" is sometimes used in the Book of Mormon. According to the Webster 1828 dictionary, this can be "an opponent or antagonist, as in a suit at law". 

And thou seest that we know that thy plan was a very subtle plan, as to the subtlety of the devil, for to lie and to deceive this people that thou mightest set them against us, to revile us and to cast us out— 
Now this was a plan of thine adversary, and he hath exercised his power in thee. (Alma 12)

Ironically, Alma is saying this to Zeezrom, who was a lawyer. The devil exercised his power in Zeezrom and used him as a tool in this court-like setting in Ammonihah to achieve his purposes and accuse Alma and Amulek. But in reality, as Alma points out, he was also Zeezrom's adversary. 

This role of the devil and meaning of satan is contrasted by Christ who is our advocate or intercessor (see e.g. 2 Nephi 2:9, Mosiah 15:8). These opposites are also illustrated when the Book of Mormon describes Christ as the fountain of all righteousness

Behold, I will show unto the Gentiles their weakness, and I will show unto them that faith, hope and charity bringeth unto me—the fountain of all righteousness. (Ether 12:28)

...and the devil as the enemy (Hebr. satan) of all righteousness.

And now, my beloved son, notwithstanding their hardness, let us labor diligently; for if we should cease to labor, we should be brought under condemnation; for we have a labor to perform whilst in this tabernacle of clay, that we may conquer the enemy of all righteousness, and rest our souls in the kingdom of God. (Moroni 9:6)

Sunday, March 14, 2021

"It came to pass"

I'm taking a short break from posting the concluding parts of my Noah series (part one here) while I study some complex topics in more depth.  In the mean time, I have a few interesting details to highlight.

I've long believed the Book of Mormon text is extremely intricate. Its complexity has a purpose. On this blog we've written much about internal consistency and other elements of this complexity. Psalms language is another topic of interest related to complexity.

In this post I'd like to focus on the phrase "it came to pass" and how its distribution in the text is yet another evidence of the intricacy of the Book of Mormon. The impetus for this post came from a comment made by Brian D. Stubbs in his book "Changes in Languages from Nephi to Now." He notes that writers of the Book of Mormon only use "it came to pass" when speaking of past events. This claim surprised me a little bit, since off the top of my head I would have guessed that pretty much every single chapter in the Book of Mormon contains "it came to pass" at least a few times.

I never take claims like this at face value even when I have full trust in the rigor, integrity, and sincerity of the author.  I know that digging into the text to see for myself always yields interesting discoveries.

So I made a chart plotting instances of "it came to pass" by original chapter breaks. (One caveat is that this study was done using the current edition, not the earliest text, though I am building a tool to allow me to search older versions and may revisit this analysis once those tools are completed.)

A few surprising things stood out to me as a result of this analysis:

  1. Sermons do not contain "it came to pass." As in, zero total instances in the words of King Benjamin, Abinadi, King Mosiah, Samuel the Lamanite, Jesus, etc., even when those sermons span many verses and chapters. 
  2. Alma never uses it in his sermons, but does use it when recounting his missionary efforts and when recounting his conversion experiences to two sons.
  3. Zenos uses it many times in his allegory, but Jacob does not use it when speaking about the allegory.
  4. Mormon only uses the phrase when he is recounting events from the past. Notable breaks from the narrative which are written by Mormon do not contain the phrase. (See notes below on 3 Nephi 5, Helaman 12, Mormon 7, for example.)
  5. When Nephi is recounting events from the past, he uses this phrase very often.  Once he catches up to the present in 2 Nephi 5, he does not use it again.
  6. This is also true for Moroni, who uses it liberally in the Jaredite history (though not at all in his prophetic breaks from the narrative, such as in Ether 4-5), and not a single time in his own book which does not recount the past (aside from the second epistle from his father in Mormon 9 -- see the next item below). 
  7. Interestingly, when Mormon recounts past events in an epistle to his son (found in Moroni 9), he does not use the phrase a single time.  It seems he reserved it for times when he was formally abridging the history of his people.
  8. In the Book of Alma alone, I count a little over 400 instances of "it came to pass." Though Mormon's words only make up half of the total text of this book, he is responsible for ~86% of the instances. The others come from Helaman's epistle (which is quoted directly), a quote from an epistle from Gid quoted within Helaman's epistle, and direct quotes from the records of Alma-2 and Amulek found in Alma 9-14 and Alma 36-38.

Therefore, what?

This analysis certainly doesn't prove anything beyond what I stated above: the Book of Mormon text was carefully prepared. Its complexity is an indication that a lot of time and effort that went into preparing it, and that the author drew from a variety of sources written by many different individuals. One need not conclude that this proves historicity. 

Raw notes from my search

Below is the raw table of my notes. (I believe the "speaker" column is accurate, but it gets a little complicated in some parts of Alma when trying to decide who is speaking, so I'm definitely open to correction if I got something incorrect.)

BookCur. Ch.#NotesSpeaker(s)
1 Nephi1-548Nephi
1 Nephi6-933Lehi x 13 in ch 8:5-24Nephi (20), Lehi (13)
1 Nephi10-1444Nephi
1 Nephi158Nephi
1 Nephi16-19:2163Nephi
1 Nephi19:22-213Isaiah uses it once in 20:4Nephi (2), Isaiah (1)
1 Nephi221Nephi
2 Nephi1-21Nephi uses it once while recounting that Lehi spoke to his sons before he diedNephi
2 Nephi30
2 Nephi45Nephi uses it in recounting which words were directed at which people, then what happened after thatNephi
2 Nephi59Nephi
2 Nephi6-80
2 Nephi90
2 Nephi100
2 Nephi11-150
2 Nephi16-221Isaiah uses it once in 17:1Isaiah
2 Nephi23-240
2 Nephi25-270
2 Nephi28-300
2 Nephi310
2 Nephi320
2 Nephi330
Jacob4-531Once in 4:1 then not again in Jacob's sermon in ch 4Jacob (1), Zenos (30)
Jacob60None in Jacob's comments on the allegory
Omni113Omni, Amaron, Abinadom, AmalekiOmni (2), Amaron (2), Abinadom (1), Amaleki (8)
W of M15Mormon
none in King Benjamin's words to his people (from Mosiah 2:9-3:27 and 4:4-30) but there are instances in 2:8, 4:1, 4:3, and 5:1. "it shall come to pass" is found in 5:9 and 5:10 in KB words.
Mosiah11-13:2416none in Abinadi's wordsMormon
Mosiah13:25-161none in Abinadi's wordsMormon
Mosiah28:20-29:478none in King Mosiah's words from 39:5-32 nor Mormon's summary of the rest of his words n vv. 33-36Mormon
Alma51None in Alma's sermon, just one instance in Mormon's introduction to it.Mormon
Alma94ch 9-14 are the words of Alma, he uses "it came to pass" a few times in recounting event in AmmonihahAlma-2
Alma12-13:91None in Alma's sermonAlma-2
Alma13:10-151813 of these are from Alma/Amulek's record, 5 from Mormon's record in ch. 15Alma-2, Amulek, Mormon
Alma36-372Alma says it twice while telling Helaman about his conversion (36:10,17, then never again in the rest of his words to HelamanAlma-2
Alma381Alma uses it once while telling Shiblon about his conversionAlma-2
Alma56-584956:1 is Mormon, the rest in this section are from Helaman's epistle (except for four from Gid's epistle in Helaman 57:30-33)Helaman, Gid, Mormon
Alma59-606None in Moroni's angry epistleMormon
Alma611None in Pahroan's epistleMormon
Helaman11-1215All in ch. 11, none in ch. 12, which are Mormon's words about the unsteady hearts of menMormon
Helaman13-167none in StL's words, only found in Mormon's narrative about Samuel's actionsMormon
3 Nephi1-223Mormon
3 Nephi3-517None in Mormon's words about himself (when he breaks from the narrative in 5:10-26)Mormon
3 Nephi6-711Mormon
3 Nephi8-1012Mormon
3 Nephi11-13:2410None in Jesus' wordsMormon
3 Nephi13:35-142None in Jesus' wordsMormon
3 Nephi15-163None in Jesus' wordsMormon
3 Nephi17-1815Mormon
3 Nephi19-21:2117Mormon
3 Nephi21:22-23:134Mormon
3 Nephi23:14-26:54Mormon
3 Nephi26:6-27:227Mormon
3 Nephi27:23-295None in ch. 29 which is a warning/prophecy for the GentilesMormon
3 Nephi300None in ch. 30 which is a call to repentance for the GentilesMormon
4 Nephi120Mormon
Mormon6-79All in ch. 6, none in ch. 7 which are Mormon's final words to any remnant of his people's destructionMormon
Mormon8-91Only 1 instance in 8:2 when Moroni recounts the destruction of the rest of his peopleMoroni
Ether1-419None in ch 4 when Moroni breaks from the Jaredite historyMoroni
Ether50None -- Moroni's words about witnesses
Moroni90An epistle to Moroni from Mormon in which he recounts past events (battles and such) but does not use the phrase a single time.

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