Thursday, December 30, 2021

The everlasting covenant and gospel dispensations -- Part 6 (Jesus Christ)

The previous parts of this series are found here:

This post will focus on the gospel dispensation of Jesus Christ himself. There is plenty of material to take from since the scriptures testify of him. Some of that describes Christ as a restorer of the everlasting covenant. It is interesting to note that from Enoch and on, there is an increasing amount of available information on the gospel dispensations. We know next to nothing about Enoch from the Bible but the Pearl of Great Price gives us a chapter and a half. We have several chapters in Genesis about Noah. We have even more chapters about Abraham in Genesis plus the Book of Abraham in the Pearl of Great Price. We have entire books about Moses (Exodus-Deuteronomy). The same can be said about Jesus. In addition to the four gospels, we have the account of his visit among the Nephites in 3 Nephi, but numerous prophecies and sermons in addition. From Joseph Smith we have almost the entire Doctrine and Covenants plus much more detailed accounts of his life than any of the other heads of previous dispensations.

But back to Jesus Christ. The peculiar thing about this dispensation is that he, as the God of the Old Testament, established the everlasting covenant in the first place. He covenanted with Adam, Enoch, Noah, Abraham and Moses. He is "the Father of heaven and earth, the Creator of all things from the beginning" (Mosiah 3:8). The author of the everlasting covenant came to earth himself to restore it. He who created all things longs to re-unite all creation and paid the price of it with his own blood.

In the previous post we discussed the dispensation of Moses. How the Lord wanted to give them the fullness and they could only handle a part. But Moses prophesied:

The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among your own brothers (Deuteronomy 18:15)

Christ identified himself as that prophet when he visited the Nephites.

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)

More on this in a previous post about Moses and Christ, explained beautifully by Abinadi. There is a Jewish tradition of the Messiah as the second Moses and there are numerous parallels in addition to the simple fact that Jesus identified as the prophet that Moses told about and said he had come to fulfill the Law of Moses. For instance:

  • Jesus was born without shelter and laid in a manger. Moses was also born without shelter and laid in a basket, interestingly called an ark.
  • Pharaoh and Herod both order all male infants killed and thereby threaten the lives of Moses and Jesus
  • Jesus and Moses both spent their childhood in Egypt
  • Both Jesus and Moses fasted 40 days in the wilderness
These historical events establish a parallel such that we can find meaning in the following:
  • Moses led Israel out of physical bondage. Jesus leads out out of spiritual bondage
  • The people that Moses led were fed manna from heaven. Jesus referred to this event as he identified as the bread of life
  • Moses smote the rock so the water gushed out. Jesus is the rock who offers the water of life
  • The 10 commandments were given through Moses. Jesus discussed and re-interpreted these in the Sermon of the Mount
  • Moses erected a tabernacle to house God. Jesus came down in an earthly tabernacle to house his spirit
  • Moses initiated the passover lamb. Jesus is the Lamb of God offering himself as a sacrifice.
  • Moses led the people to the promised land. Jesus leads us to the promised land of the celestial kingdom
Jesus came as the second Moses to fulfill the law. The law came with a covenant. The old covenant/testament was replaced by a new. The animal sacrifice pointing forward to Christ's sacrifice was replaced by the sacrament held in remembrance of Christ's sacrifice.

27 And he took the cup, and gave thanks, and gave it to them, saying, Drink ye all of it;

28 For this is my blood of the new testament, which is shed for many for the remission of sins. (Matthew 26)

Both the sermon of Abinadi and the Letter to the Hebrews explain that salvation could not come by the Law of Moses alone but only through the atoning sacrifice of Jesus Christ. The Law of Moses was administered with the Aaronic Priesthood, also called the lesser or preparatory priesthood. The gospel of Christ and the everlasting covenant are administered with the Melchizedek Priesthood.

11 If therefore perfection were by the Levitical priesthood, (for under it the people received the law,) what further need was there that another priest should rise after the order of Melchisedec, and not be called after the order of Aaron?

12 For the priesthood being changed, there is made of necessity a change also of the law. (Hebrews 7)

But now hath he obtained a more excellent ministry, by how much also he is the mediator of a better covenant, which was established upon better promises.

For if that first covenant had been faultless, then should no place have been sought for the second.

For finding fault with them, he saith, Behold, the days come, saith the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah:

Not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day when I took them by the hand to lead them out of the land of Egypt; because they continued not in my covenant, and I regarded them not, saith the Lord.

10 For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, saith the Lord; I will put my laws into their mind, and write them in their hearts: and I will be to them a God, and they shall be to me a people: (Hebrews 8)

Since Christ's mission was to fulfill the Law of Moses, there are numerous parallels to that dispensation in particular. But the life and ministry of Christ also refers to the other gospel dispensations

  • Adam plucked the fruit from the tree. Jesus reversed the fall as the firstfruits of God hanged on the tree at the crucifixion. "For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive." (1 Corinthians 15:22)
  • Enoch established Zion that was taken up to heaven. When Jesus comes again from heaven, he will establish the millennial Zion and the two will meet.
  • Noah survived the baptism of the earth and sent forth a dove when the water receded. When Jesus was baptized and came out of the water, the Spirit descended on him in the form of a dove.
  • Abraham was willing to sacrifice his son. This is a "similitude of God and his Only Begotten Son" (Jacob 4:5)
As in previous dispensations, the everlasting covenant was brought to earth when Christ came. But where previous dispensations only had looked forward to the sacrifice that was required to effectuate it, Jesus, the creator, came to sacrifice himself for the creation.
Let the mountains shout for joy, and all ye valleys cry aloud; and all ye seas and dry lands tell the wonders of your Eternal King! And ye rivers, and brooks, and rills, flow down with gladness. Let the woods and all the trees of the field praise the Lord; and ye solid rocks weep for joy! And let the sun, moon, and the morning stars sing together, and let all the sons of God shout for joy! And let the eternal creations declare his name forever and ever! And again I say, how glorious is the voice we hear from heaven, proclaiming in our ears, glory, and salvation, and honor, and immortalityand eternal life; kingdoms, principalities, and powers! (D&C 128:23)

I think this verse is a fitting way to end the year on a positive note. We also wish our readers a Happy New Year! 

"Cutting" covenants in Alma 46

This post is a follow-up of Stisa's most recent post about the ancient understanding of how covenants are made. (To summarize, covenants are 'cut' and those who break them are 'cut off.')  It is always interesting to me to learn how ancient people thought about covenants and the stark imagery and symbols associates with keeping their covenants. Often, I am also surprised to see examples of this in the Book of Mormon. (I probably shouldn't be at this point, now that I've found dozens of examples, but that's another story.)

In this post, I'd like to demonstrate how an understanding of the ancient practice of "cutting covenants" can help us find more meaning in of the Book of Mormon.  This reality should reaffirm our assertion that the Book of Mormon was authored by ancient writers who understood covenants according to the ancient Hebrew tradition.

Alma 46 will be our text.  First, we'll discuss the more obvious symbolism, then I'd like to take it a little bit deeper and see if we can take this all the way back to Adam, Eve, and Jesus Christ.

The Symbol of the 'Rent' Garment

We know certain aspects of the storyline of Alma 46 very well. A wicked Nephite dissenter conspires to overthrow the covenant people. A righteous man named Moroni (the "Captain") rallies an army to defend the liberty of the people.  But other parts of the story aren't as familiar. What did he write this covenant on?

12 And it came to pass that he rent his coat; and he took a piece thereof, and wrote upon it—In memory of our God, our religion, and freedom, and our peace, our wives, and our children—and he fastened it upon the end of a pole. (Alma 46)

The covenant is written on Moroni's torn coat.  This detail is repeated in verse 13 and verse 19.  Then, as the people come forth covenant to defend their freedoms, they rend their garments:

21 And it came to pass that when Moroni had proclaimed these words, behold, the people came running together with their armor girded about their loins, rending their garments in token, or as a covenant, that they would not forsake the Lord their God; or, in other words, if they should transgress the commandments of God, or fall into transgression, and be ashamed to take upon them the name of Christ, the Lord should rend them even as they had rent their garments.

22 Now this was the covenant which they made, and they cast their garments at the feet of Moroni, saying: We covenant with our God, that we shall be destroyed, even as our brethren in the land northward, if we shall fall into transgression; yea, he may cast us at the feet of our enemies, even as we have cast our garments at thy feet to be trodden under foot, if we shall fall into transgression

The message seems to be: 'As it is with our garments, so let it be with us if we break our covenant.'

The highlighted phrase in verse 21 grabs my attention, too.  What does the garment have to do with taking upon them the name of Christ?' To answer that, let's take a look at the coat of skins given to Adam and Eve.

Christ's Sacrifice and the Garment

Now let's take this deeper and think about Adam and Eve and what they knew about sacrifice. The Book of Moses teaches us that God made "coats of skins" for Adam and Eve as they were expelled from the Garden of Eden (Moses 4:27). I've pondered where those skins came from and have come to the same conclusion others have drawn -- the coats of skins is intimately connected to the principle of sacrifice and is meant to point the mind to the ultimate sacrifice, the atoning sacrifice of the Lamb of God.

Only ten verses after God clothes Adam and Eve, we find Adam and Even being taught by an angel how to offer sacrifice to God:

And he gave unto them commandments, that they should worship the Lord their God, and should offer the firstlings of their flocks, for an offering unto the Lord. And Adam was obedient unto the commandments of the Lord. (Moses 5)

I can't think of a more powerful symbol of the protection offered by obedience to the covenant than wearing a coat of skins connected to the sacrifice of the firstling of their flocks. To fulfill the covenant that was 'cut' between Jehovah and His people, Jehovah came to earth and offered Himself as a sacrifice, which covers the sinner and is symbolized by a covering.  If we reject this covenant (and His power to save/exalt us) we will suffer spiritual death -- permanent separation from God. In other words, He was sacrificed so that we might not be cut off. It's a powerful message.

The Hebrew word for atonement is 'kaphar' which literally means 'to cover' (see Brown-Driver-Briggs definition #2 here). 

With this symbolism in mind, the connection between Christ's sacrifice and the coat of skins given to Adam and Eve seems quite obvious. It is also easy to see the connection between the coat of skins and the everlasting covenant.

So verse 21 makes perfect sense -- wearing the garment is a symbol of faith in Christ. This most likely  would have set the Nephites apart culturally from any other people in the area. I believe this helps explain a somewhat cryptic statement offered centuries later by the lone surviving Nephite:

Now I, Moroni, after having made an end of abridging the account of the people of Jared, I had supposed not to have written more, but I have not as yet perished; and I make not myself known to the Lamanites lest they should destroy me.

For behold, their wars are exceedingly fierce among themselves; and because of their hatred they put to death every Nephite that will not deny the Christ.

And I, Moroni, will not deny the Christ; wherefore, I wander whithersoever I can for the safety of mine own life. (Moroni 1)

While it is possible that Moroni is simply referring to an oral denial of the Christ, I think it makes more sense that his very clothing bore his witness of Christ.

Getting back to Alma 46

Interestingly, Jewish rabbis speculate that the coat given to Adam in the Garden of Eden made its way down through the generations to Jacob and was the same garment given to Joseph. I don't put a lot of weight on that as a historical fact, because I see the coat as a metaphor representing the knowledge of the Messiah, the but legend is nonetheless interesting.

As we get back to Alma 46, notice that Moroni ties the covenant of freedom back to Jacob and Joseph, from whom the Nephites directly descend, and the miraculous preservation of a portion of that famous coat:

23 Moroni said unto them: Behold, we are a remnant of the seed of Jacob; yea, we are a remnant of the seed of Joseph, whose coat was rent by his brethren into many pieces; yea, and now behold, let us remember to keep the commandments of God, or our garments shall be rent by our brethren, and we be cast into prison, or be sold, or be slain.

24 Yea, let us preserve our liberty as a remnant of Joseph; yea, let us remember the words of Jacob, before his death, for behold, he saw that a part of the remnant of the coat of Joseph was preserved and had not decayed. And he said—Even as this remnant of garment of my son hath been preserved, so shall a remnant of the seed of my son be preserved by the hand of God, and be taken unto himself, while the remainder of the seed of Joseph shall perish, even as the remnant of his garment. (Alma 46)

The preservation of a remnant of the coat symbolizes how the everlasting covenant brings about eternal life for the remnant of God's children who accept Christ and live according to His Gospel.

Monday, December 27, 2021

Karath (כָּרַת): to cut

The following has been mentioned on this blog before but is repeated because it is important for the context of this post. Strange as it sounds, in Hebrew you don't make a covenant, you cut a covenant. (It is still translated into "make" in English to make sense to us). 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 through a modern lens a bit grotesque, signature.

As far as I know, nobody was ever cut in half when breaking a covenant, so you would think of this as merely symbolic. But I just realized that this has everything to do with the common scriptural expression, "cut off", that I wrote about here a while back. Frequently, I see a topic that I have studied before in a new light as I learn more. This is one of those. As explained in the linked post, you are usually cut off from the people in the Old Testament and cut off from the Lord's presence in the Book of Mormon. But the consequence is really the same. Being cut off from the people, the covenant people of Israel, implies being cut off from the Lord's presence, because he dwelled in their midst where the tabernacle/temple stood containing the ark of the covenant.

The Hebrew word for cut is karath (כָּרַת). When you make a covenant or are cut off from the people in the English translation of the Old Testament, the Hebrew word is the same, karath in both cases. So we have in fact many examples of people being cut (off) as a consequence of breaking the covenant they cut. For instance, in Genesis 15, the Lord makes/cuts a covenant with Abraham and promises him numerous offspring and a promised land. In Genesis 17, circumcision is introduced as a token of the covenant.

And the uncircumcised man child whose flesh of his foreskin is not circumcised, that soul shall be cut off [Hebr. karath] from his people; he hath broken my covenant. (Genesis 17:14)

The Mosaic covenant describes the same consequence. From Exodus to Deuteronomy there are all kinds of laws that come with a warning that those who break them will be cut off from the people, whether it is breaking the sabbath, touching unclean things, eating blood, eating sacrificial meat reserved for the priests, not keeping the passover, etc. In each case, being cut off is the consequence of breaking the covenant they have cut.

In the Book of Mormon, "cut off" is part of the standard phrase that I have called the Book of Mormon proverb.

Inasmuch as ye shall keep my commandments ye shall prosper in the land; and inasmuch as ye will not keep my commandments ye shall be cut off from my presence. (2 Nephi 4:4)

This post explains that this is a metalepsis of the Mosaic covenant as outlined in Deuteronomy in particular. The Nephites have the same covenant terms and consequences as their fathers.

It is interesting to note how this applies both on a personal and collective level. Individuals who broke the covenant were cut off from the people. But when the people of Israel by and large had fallen into apostasy, their kingdom was cut in half and split into a northern and southern kingdom. After that, they were cut off from the promised land and the temple (and thereby cut off from the Lord's presence) as prophesied by King Solomon

But if ye shall at all turn from following me, ye or your children, and will not keep my commandments and my statutes which I have set before you, but go and serve other gods, and worship them:

Then will I cut off Israel out of the land which I have given them; and this house, which I have hallowed for my name, will I cast out of my sight; and Israel shall be a proverb and a byword among all people (1 Kings 9)

Ezekiel also talks about a sword going through the land cutting off Israel

Or if I bring a sword upon that land, and say, Sword, go through the land; so that I cut off man and beast from it (Ezekiel 14:17)

This all made me think of Nephi's vision. He sees, like his father saw, a gulf separating the righteous from the wicked, or the tree of life from the great and spacious building.

And the large and spacious building, which thy father saw, is vain imaginations and the pride of the children of men. And a great and a terrible gulf divideth them; yea, even the word of the justice of the Eternal God, and the Messiah who is the Lamb of God, of whom the Holy Ghost beareth record, from the beginning of the world until this time, and from this time henceforth and forever. (1 Nephi 12:18)

Royal Skousen has postulated, quite convincingly in my opinion, that the "word" in this verse should have been "sword". This was simply a typo by Oliver Cowdery when copying from the original manuscript to the printer's manuscript. Nephi explains to his brothers:

28 And I said unto them that it was an awful gulf, which separated the wicked from the tree of life, and also from the saints of God.

29 And I said unto them that it was a representation of that awful hell, which the angel said unto me was prepared for the wicked.

30 And I said unto them that our father also saw that the justice of God did also divide the wicked from the righteous; and the brightness thereof was like unto the brightness of a flaming fire, which ascendeth up unto God forever and ever, and hath no end. (1 Nephi 15)

This gulf, representing a division or separation, is caused by the "sword of the justice of the Eternal God" with "brightness of a flaming fire". I believe that this wording would create certain vivid images in the mind of an ancient Israelite. One is the flaming sword with the cherubim guarding the way to the tree of life, that Lord Wilmore discussed here, and Adam and Eve who were "cut off from the tree of life" (Alma 42:6). Another is the sword that cuts the animals in half whenever a covenant is made, symbolizing the consequences of breaking the covenant. The divine sword that cut Israel also ultimately creates the gulf by cutting off the wicked from the tree of life. So there is a covenant setting to Lehi's dream as well. This is not far fetched at all. After Nephi's vision, his brothers quarrel over the words of their father. Nephi, who had just seen what his father saw, explains

18 Wherefore, our father hath not spoken of our seed alone, but also of all the house of Israel, pointing to the covenant which should be fulfilled in the latter days; which covenant the Lord made to our father Abraham, saying: In thy seed shall all the kindreds of the earth be blessed.

19 And it came to pass that I, Nephi, spake much unto them concerning these things; yea, I spake unto them concerning the restoration of the Jews in the latter days. (1 Nephi 15)

This is just before he goes on to tell about the gulf a few verses later. The restoration of the Jews in the latter days results in a modern Israel of which we are part. Only those who keep their covenants will not be cut off from the tree of life. 

"Formless," "functionless" and "dark" -- the connection between the pre-creation state, covenant rebellion, and the desert

Mortality is a place of co-existing contrasts held in tension by the agency of man. This is not a coincidence, it is by design:

24 And there stood one among them that was like unto God, and he said unto those who were with him: We will go down, for there is space there, and we will take of these materials, and we will make an earth whereon these may dwell;

25 And we will prove them herewith, to see if they will do all things whatsoever the Lord their God shall command them;

26 And they who keep their first estate shall be added upon; and they who keep not their first estate shall not have glory in the same kingdom with those who keep their first estate; and they who keep their second estate shall have glory added upon their heads for ever and ever. (Abraham 3)

The physical creation had a purpose in place before it was created -- it was designed to be a place where order could be brought out of chaos. In this post, I'll demonstrate how taking the time to understand the original context of Genesis 1 can help us appreciate the intimate connection between creation and covenant.

As we've pointed out in various contexts in many posts, certain words have meanings that are so deeply embedded in our culture that their meaning goes without being said.  This fact can be problematic to our understanding of the scriptures -- particularly the Old Testament -- because its cultural context is vastly different from our own. 

For example, from our modern worldview, the word 'creation' tends to center on material existence. A thing does not exist prior to its creation.

MODERN -- Creation: to bring into existence

Anciently, this was not the case.  To create meant to order and give meaning and purpose to a thing.

ANCIENT -- Creation: to give purpose and meaning to the existence of a thing.

The distinction between these two meanings is fundamental to understanding the purpose of the creation. In this post, we'll look at three Hebrew words (tohu, bohu, and chosek) used to describe the 'pre-creation state' and how they connect back to covenant-making, covenant rebellion, and symbols such as the desert.

tohu: (תֹּהוּ)


In Hebrew, "formless" (tohu) ... designates a situation in which positive values such as purpose and worth are lacking. As a result, it is more appropriate to translate "without function" rather than "without form," the idea being similar to the Egyptian "nonexistent." (NRSV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible, footnote to Genesis 1:2)

Other translations of this word in the Old Testament include:

  • desolation
  • confusion
  • empty place
  • without form
  • nothing
  • (thing of) nought
  • vain
  • vanity
  • waste
  • wilderness.

At the end of this post, we'll see how these concepts are connected with covenants.  As covenant people begin to embrace vanity and pride, they become confused as to their true purpose and begin to weaken and become a spiritual wilderness.

bohu: (בֹּהוּ)

This word only appears three times in the Old Testament, each time in connection with 'tohu' and each time in a similar context as 'tohu'.  Given this and the similarity in sound and meaning, some scholars believe the combination of these two words is meant to give special emphasis. In Genesis 1:2, the emphasis is on the lack of form/function before God speaks/creates.  In Jeremiah 4:23, the wickedness of the people is compared to the pre-creation state. (This post discusses that in more detail.) Isaiah 34:11 uses both terms "juxtapose[d] in the judgment against Edom to describe the total depopulation and destruction of the land so it is a waste fit only for desert animals." (NIDOTTE, Vol. 1, p. 606)

chosek: (חשֶׁךְ

This Hebrew word for 'darkness' is the third descriptor of the pre-creation state. Interestingly, it is also the description of the state of the world at the time of the coming forth of the Book of Mormon in Isaiah 29:18 --

18 ¶ And in that day shall the deaf hear the words of the book, and the eyes of the blind shall see out of obscurity, and out of darkness.

19 The meek also shall increase their joy in the Lord, and the poor among men shall rejoice in the Holy One of Israel.

20 For the terrible one is brought to nought, and the scorner is consumed, and all that watch for iniquity are cut off:

21 That make a man an offender for a word, and lay a snare for him that reproveth in the gate, and turn aside the just for a thing of nought. (Isaiah 29)

This is one example of 'tohu' and 'chosek' showing up in a passage together. It is interesting to me that this prophecy of the Book of Mormon, spoken of heavily by Nephi, includes a comment about how the 'terrible one' will be brought to nought as 'the poor among men ... rejoice in the Holy One of Israel' and the wicked are cut off.  There's more to say about this passage but that will wait for a future post.

Likening the state of wickedness to the pre-creation state (or the wilderness)

Tohu can mean desert or waste.  That is the interesting detail that caught my attention and led to the study that produced this post.  Recall how Lehi describes the initial setting in his dream:

But behold, Laman and Lemuel, I fear exceedingly because of you; for behold, methought I saw in my dream, a dark and dreary wilderness.

And it came to pass that I saw a man, and he was dressed in a white robe; and he came and stood before me.

And it came to pass that he spake unto me, and bade me follow him.

And it came to pass that as I followed him I beheld myself that I was in a dark and dreary waste.

And after I had traveled for the space of many hours in darkness... (1 Nephi 8)

In a subtle yet undeniable way, Lehi is telling us that he found himself in a pre-creation state of chaos, until the "exceeding whiteness" of the fruit of the tree of life gave him a purpose.  Emulating the creation, Lehi turns and speaks "in a loud voice" to his family members and beckons them to come and partake. Some of them hearken, but this act of speaking also creates a division the obedient and the rebellious.

If we look at other example uses of 'tohu' and 'chosek' (or their English equivalents in the case of the Book of Mormon) in proximity to one another, we see a pattern. The best example might be Job 12, in which Job connects creation imagery with righteousness. He declares that "the souls of every living thing and breath of all mankind" is in God's hand (verse 10).  "Speak to the earth, and it shall teach thee: and the fishes of the sea shall declare unto thee" (verse 8). This beautiful and poetic chapter ends with an example of 'tohu' and 'chosek' used together.

22 He discovereth deep things out of darkness, and bringeth out to light the shadow of death.

23 He increaseth the nations, and destroyeth them: he enlargeth the nations, and straiteneth them again.

24 He taketh away the heart of the chief of the people of the earth, and causeth them to wander in a wilderness where there is no way.

25 They grope in the dark without light, and he maketh them to stagger like a drunken man. (Job 12)


The wickedness of a once-righteous covenant people can be likened to the formless, functionless and dark state of the pre-creation. Creation, like covenants, bestow purpose and light. The prophets have seen the heavenly glory that awaits all those who will hearken. This is why the wickedness of God's children brings them sorrow:

10 And when these things have passed away a speedy destruction cometh unto my people; for, notwithstanding the pains of my soul, I have seen it; wherefore, I know that it shall come to pass; and they sell themselves for naught; for, for the reward of their pride and their foolishness they shall reap destruction; for because they yield unto the devil and choose works of darkness rather than light, therefore they must go down to hell.

11 For the Spirit of the Lord will not always strive with man. And when the Spirit ceaseth to strive with man then cometh speedy destruction, and this grieveth my soul. (2 Nephi 26)

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