Thursday, April 24, 2014

New Issue of the Journal of Book of Mormon Studies

The latest issue of the Journal of Book of Mormon and Other Restoration Scripture 22/2 has just been published by the Laura F. Willes Center for Book of Mormon Studies at Brigham Young University.  This issue it also marks the retirement of my colleague and friend Paul Hoskisson as editor of that journal. He will also be retiring from BYU this summer. His treasured association and abilities will be sorely missed. Interested readers will want to avail themselves of a hard copy of the journal or a PDF version. The work of the editors and artists on this issue is exceptional. It is (aside from the contribution of a fellow named Roper)  representative of some of the best scholarship on the Book of Mormon and the Book of Abraham. Students of Latter-day Saint Scripture will want to continue to take advantage of these and previous work published in this journal over the last two decades. The articles for this issue include the following:

Mark Alan Wright, "The Cultural Tapestry of Mesoamerica."

Quinten Barney, "Sobek: The Idolatrous God of Pharaoh Amenemhet III."

Stephen O. Smoot, "Council, Chaos, and Creation in the Book of Abraham."

Steven L. Olsen, "Memory and Identity in the Book of Mormon."

John Hilton III, "Jacob's Textual Legacy."

Kerry M. Muhlestein and Alexander L. Baugh, "Preserving the Joseph Smith Papyri Fragments: What can we learn from the paper on which they were mounted?"

Matthew Roper, Paul J. Fields and Atul Nepal, "Joseph Smith, the Times and Seasons and Central American Ruins."

Robert F. Smith, "Evaluating the Sources of 2 Nephi 1:13-15: Shakespeare and the Book of Mormon."

John Gee, "Has Olishem Been Discovered?"

And there are some additional things as well.

Animals in the Book of Mormon

Interpreter's Blog recently posted an article I co-authored with Professor Wade Miller, Animals in the Book of Mormon: Challenges and Perspectives which provides some of our thinking on the question.

Monday, March 10, 2014

Israelite Festivals in the Book of Mormon: Pentecost

[From  “Did Abinadi Appear in the City of Nephi on Pentecost?” in John W. Welch, Legal Cases of the Book of Mormon, 2008, 188-93].

An important part of the law of Moses, and one that ties in closely with Abinadi's quotation of the Ten Commandments, required the observance of certain holy days each year (e.g., Exodus 23:14–19). Fifty days after Passover on the ancient Israelite calendar was the festival of Pentecost, or Shavuot (Weeks), which commemorated Moses's receiving the Ten Commandments at Sinai. For several reasons, it appears that Abinadi entered the city of Nephi around the time of Pentecost. Not only does he quote the Ten Commandments to Noah and his priests, but he also draws on many religious themes that were distinctively associated with the Pentecost season in ancient Israel. Understanding this likely festival background to Abinadi's words adds yet another dimension to the legal backgrounds of the trial of Abinadi, as the following excursus briefly explains.

Shavuot marked the concluding phase of Passover. It was also an agricultural holiday sometimes called the Day of the Firstfruits (Numbers 28:26). It was a pilgrimage festival, with a "holy convocation" (Leviticus 23:21) rejoicing in the bounty of the spring, especially the new wheat (Deuteronomy 16:9–12; 26:5–11). Just as Passover marked a time of poverty and bondage for Israel, Pentecost exulted in a time of bounty, with offerings of leavened bread baked from the new crop of wheat (Leviticus 23:17) and of the choicest firstfruits. At this same time of the year, Moses received the Ten Commandments on Mount Sinai (Exodus 19:1). Thus, in antiquity, Pentecost probably also celebrated God's giving of the law to Moses. The connection between Pentecost and the giving of the law is well documented from the time of the Talmud, but exactly when this connection was first established in ancient Israelite practice is a matter of historical debate. Moshe Weinfeld, however, argues convincingly that this connection was made very early in Israelite history, as evidenced by Psalms 50 and 81, which he concludes were the words of hymns sung at Pentecost.

In this setting, several arguments can be marshaled to support the idea that the trial of Abinadi took place on or around Pentecost. In general, timing would have been important to Abinadi. He had already been expelled once from the city (Mosiah 11:26–29). Reentry on or near a festival day would have given him a ready audience, as virtually all of Abinadi's words deal with themes that would have been especially pertinent at the time of Pentecost. The following points suggest possible thematic connections between the account of Abinadi and Pentecost:

      •   When a bounteous grain season was at hand, Abinadi cursed the crops: he prophesied that the Lord would send destructive hail and dry winds upon the people and that insects too would "pester their land . . . and devour their grain" (Mosiah 12:6).

      •   While Israel's deliverance from bondage was being celebrated, Abinadi called upon Exodus terminology to proclaim that bondage will return: "They shall be brought into bondage; and none shall deliver them" (Mosiah 11:23), "and I will cause that they shall have burdens lashed upon their backs" (12:2, 5; compare Exodus 1:11).

      •   At precisely the time when Noah's priests would have been hypocritically pledging allegiance to the Ten Commandments and celebrating the giving of the law, Abinadi rehearsed to them those very commandments (Mosiah 12:33–36; 13:12–24). On any other day, this might have seemed a strange defense for a man on trial for his life, but not on Pentecost.

      •   Indeed, the connection with Pentecost could hardly have been made more graphically than when Abinadi's "face shone with exceeding luster, even as Moses' did while in the mount of Sinai, while speaking with the Lord" (Mosiah 13:5; Exodus 34:29–30). This is an obvious reference to the time when Moses received the law, probably the main event celebrated on Shavuot.

      •   A number of connections between Abinadi and Exodus 19 further involve him with Pentecost. For example, cursing Noah to be like a garment in a hot furnace" recalls the fact that Mount Sinai became a furnace (Exodus 19:18) and that people whose garments were unclean were not "ready" for the coming of the Lord (vv. 10–15).

      •   The ancient festival appears to have been a three-day event (Exodus 19:11), which could explain why Abinadi's trial was postponed for three days" (Mosiah 17:6), as discussed above.

      •   At Sinai, the people had looked forward to an appearance of the Lord: on "the third day the Lord will come down in the sight of all the people" (Exodus 19:11). Abinadi's testimony was that the Lord would come down again (Mosiah 15:1), an idea that King Noah and his priests found to be blasphemous (perhaps because they thought Abinadi was implying that this earlier time when the Lord came down was not enough).

      •   In addition, intriguing parallels exist between Psalm 50 and Abinadi's piercing rebukes of the priests. If this psalm was known and used as a Pentecost hymn in Abinadi's world as Weinfeld avers it was in ancient Israel, several of its lines would have found a haunting echo in Abinadi's stinging prophetic words.

           --For example, Psalm 50:2 begins, "Out of Zion, the perfection of beauty, God hath shined." The irony would have been insufferable when "the Spirit of the Lord was upon [not Noah's colony but upon Abinadi], and his face shone with exceeding luster" (Mosiah 13:5).

           --Psalm 50:3 reads: "Our God shall come, and shall not keep silence." Abinadi boldly affirmed the same, "that God himself shall come down" (Mosiah 15:1; see 17:8).

           --In Psalm 50:4–7, God brings a metaphorical lawsuit to "judge his people" (v. 4; compare 82:1). Likewise, Abinadi's words take this very form, that of a prophetic lawsuit. The psalmist intones, "I will testify against thee" (50:7). Abinadi does precisely that.

           --Psalm 50:8–14 makes it clear that the Lord prefers thanksgiving and devotion rather than sacrifices. To the same effect, Abinadi requires the commandments of God to be "written in your hearts" (Mosiah 13:11). If God "were hungry," he had no need for man to give him bullocks or goats, for all the world is already his (Psalm 50:12); therefore the purpose of sacrifice must be something else. As Abinadi explains, the laws of sacrifice were given as spiritual "types of things to come" (Mosiah 13:31).

           --Psalm 50:15 promises that, "in the day of trouble" if the righteous will call upon him, he "will deliver" them. Abinadi makes it clear that if the wicked people of Noah call upon God, "[he] will not hear their prayers, neither will [he] deliver them" (Mosiah 11:25).

           --Psalm 50:16–21 shows that Pentecost also became a day of stern admonition. People were chastised who rejected instruction and collaborated with lawbreakers: "What hast thou to do to declare my statutes, . . . seeing thou hatest instruction? . . . When thou sawest a thief, then thou consentedst with him, and hast been partaker with adulterers" (vv. 16–18). Transgressors were reprimanded publicly: "But I will reprove thee, and set them in order before thine eyes" (v. 21). Surely Abinadi reproved and then set the teachings of the Lord in perfect order openly, before the very eyes of Noah and his priests.

           --A warning like Abinadi's must have been especially potent on a day when the people were venerating the law. Psalm 50:16 asks what a person must do in order to teach the law, "to declare my statutes." The implicit answer is that one must keep the law. This is exactly Abinadi's point: "And again he said unto them: If ye teach the law of Moses, why do ye not keep it?" (Mosiah 12:29). Both Psalm 50 and Abinadi particularly condemn those who wrongfully become rich and those who commit whoredoms (Psalm 50:18; Mosiah 12:29).

           --Otherwise, God will "tear you in pieces, and there be none to deliver" (Psalm 50:22). This compares with Abinadi's words, "and the vultures of the air, and the dogs, yea, and the wild beasts, shall devour their flesh" (Mosiah 12:2), and "none shall deliver them" (11:23).

           --Moreover, Psalm 50 ends with the assurance "to him that ordereth his conversation aright will I shew the salvation of God" (v. 23). Showing the "salvation" of God (Mosiah 12:21, 24, 31, 32; 13:27, 28; 15:14, 18, 24, 27, 28, 31) was exactly what Abinadi explicitly and comprehensively did. His closing statement even began with the headline "The time shall come when all shall see the salvation of the Lord" (16:1).

      •   Psalm 82, the other Pentecost psalm identified by Weinfeld, sings of the time when that salvation will be seen. Recognizing that "ye are gods, and all of you are children of the most High" (v. 6), the psalmist still reminds Israel that all people must "die like men" (v. 7). Nevertheless, all the earth will yet be judged (v. 8). Abinadi also expounds on the theme of "who shall be his seed?" (Mosiah 15:10)— namely, "all those who have hearkened unto [the prophets'] words, and believed that the Lord would redeem his people, and have looked forward to that day for a remission of their sins" (v. 11). He then speaks soberly about death and dying (vv. 19–20) and being raised to stand before God to be judged (15:21–16:12).

Taken together, these details all point to one conclusion: No other day on the ancient Israelite calendar fits the message, words, and experience of the prophet Abinadi more precisely or more appropriately than does the ancient Israelite festival of Pentecost. It is thus ironic that, at the very time when Noah and his people would have been celebrating the law, the most unfortunate judicial result in Nephite history should have taken place.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Interview with John L. Sorenson

John Sorenson, author of the recent book Mormon's Codex: An Ancient American Book and many articles and books on the Book of Mormon recently participated in and Q & A with the Neal A. Maxwell Institute for Religious Scholarship. This three part interview can be found on the Maxwell Institute blog here

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

Lamanite Alliances in the Book of Alma

Ryan Tanner guest posting at  Warfare and the Book of Mormon has some thoughtful insights into the political background of Alma 47 that is worth reading

Lamanite Alliances, Spheres of Influence, and Historical Complexity, Part I


Lamanite Alliances, Spheres of Influence, and Historical Complexity, Part II

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Passover in the Book of Mormon (Howlers # 25 )

As important as the passover was, and is, among all people of Jewish descent, the Book of Mormon (said to be a history of Jewish descendants) makes no mention of its people ever keeping the passover, nor even hints that its people knew anything about it.
                   Jack Free, Mormonism and Inspiration (1962), 125.

The following first appeared as a FARMS Update in August 1984 and was subsequently published in John W. Welch, ed., Reexploring the Book of Mormon (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1992), 196-98.

Passover, of course, commemorates the deliverance of the Israelites from Egypt by the power of God. As part of this celebration, fathers would gather their sons (as in Alma 35:16) in accordance with Exodus 10:2, which told the Jews "to tell in the ears of thy son, and of thy son's son, what things I have wrought in Egypt." Alma would have followed this rule since the Nephites "were strict in observing . . . the law of Moses" at this time (Alma 30:3).

According to traditions at least as early as the time of Christ and probably earlier (See Abraham P. Bloch, The Biblical and Historical Background of the Jewish Holy Days (New York: KTAV, 1978), 128-33), after gathering his family the father then instructed his sons and answered their questions. His words were not fixed but were "to fit the knowledge and understanding of the child" and were supposed "to spell out the sequence of sin, suffering, repentance, and redemption" (Ibid., 131-32). Each of Alma's admonitions to his sons, Helaman (Alma 36-37), Shiblon (Alma 38), and Corianton (Alma 39-42), does this precisely, each in its own way.

Moreover, three Passover questions are found in the Bible. Traditionally, each of these questions was asked in turn by the sons and was answered by the father. In time, each of these questions came to be associated with a different type of son.

First, "What is the meaning of the testimonies, and the statutes, and the judgments, which the Lord our God hath commanded you?" (Deuteronomy 6:20). This question was asked at Passover by a wise son. Helaman stands as the wise son: In talking to Helaman, Alma mentions "wisdom" at least eight times in Alma 37. Notice also how Alma explains the meaning of the laws and testimonies of God as he explains the meaning of the plates of Nephi (preserved for a "wise purpose"), the twenty-four gold plates, and the Liahona in Alma 37. The Jewish father was especially expected to explain the meaning of traditional things to "future generations" (Ibid., 153), and to use "allegorical interpretation." (Ibid., 157). Alma does exactly this. See Alma 37:19 ("future generations") and Alma 37:45 ("is there not a type in this thing?").

Second, "What mean ye by this service?" (Exodus 12:26). This question was asked by a wicked son. This son is depicted in the Jewish literature as one guilty of social crimes, who had excluded himself from the community, and believed in false doctrines. According to Jewish practice, he is to be told, in a manner that will "set his teeth on edge," that he will be punished for his own sins, and that, had he been in Egypt, he would not have been redeemed.(Ibid., 159-63). Such is unmistakably the thrust of Alma's words to Corianton—who had left the ministry (see Alma 39:3), caused social problems (see Alma 39:11), followed false doctrines (see Alma 41:9), and is taught by his father about nothing but redemption and one's personal suffering for sin (see Alma 41:3-4, 7).

Third, "What is this?" (Exodus 13:14), is an ambiguous question. Is it sarcastic or serious? Israelite tradition said that the uninformed son who asked this question needed to be taught the law and given preventative instruction to keep him well away from any risk of breaking the law (Ibid., 163-64). This, indeed, is what Alma tells Shiblon, as he teaches him to be diligent (see Alma 38:10) and gives him a high code of conduct (see Alma 38:11-14).

Many other Passover themes are detectable in Alma 35-42. Alma speaks of "crying out" (compare Deuteronomy 26:7; Alma 36:18) for deliverance from "affliction" (compare Deuteronomy 26:6; Alma 36:3, 27; especially the unleavened Passover "bread of affliction") and from bondage in Egypt (Alma 36:28), from the "night of darkness" (compare Alma 41:7; Exodus 12:30), and from bitter suffering (Alma 36:18, 21; related to the Passover "bitter herbs"in Exodus 12:8). The Paschal lamb may parallel some of Alma's references to Christ; and the hardness of Pharaoh's heart (see Exodus 11:10) may parallel Alma's reference to the hardness of his people's hearts (see Alma 35:15). Just as Alma's deliverance was preceded by three days and nights of darkness (see Alma 36:16), so was the first Passover (see Exodus 10:22).

Although still tentative, the proposition is already quite intriguing, if not compelling: Alma's messages to his three sons were spoken in conjunction with a Nephite observance of the feast of the Passover.

Friday, February 14, 2014

The Real Book of Mormon

Our pageants and our films too often in the past have been cardboard cutout kinds of things–almost scriptural Barbies and Kens. I want them to be flesh and blood human beings, the real Nephi, the real Alma, the real Mormon and Moroni, as far as we can construct the real–discover the real. This reality, to counter the fantasy–the sense of fantasy that so many of us have about the Book of Mormon as a mere story–requires that we know where events took place and, of course, when they took place. That means geography and history with a capital “H.”

John Sorenson, “The Book of Mormon in Ancient America,” (1994), 5.