The grinding of teeth – my encounter with the "Journey of Faith" DVDs

Several Criticisms

I found myself the temporary recipient of two DVDs recently, namely the “Journey of Faith” and the “Journey of Faith: The New World”, produced by BYU’s Maxwell Institute and others. Now I had seen the first one before while in Jerusalem, but since people seemed really keen for me to watch these, I thought I’d do so in the light of my own research, seeing as my PhD research centers on the Book of Mormon too, even if I’m really not looking at the whole origin thing.

However, while I vaguely remembered not being too impressed with the first DVD when first watched, I did not anticipate that a second viewing would cause me to feel that I had overrated it, finding myself with a significant number of what I described as ‘professional differences’ with the content of the first dvd. If the first caused me concern, the second nearly overwhelmed it with my concerns about both its the methodology and conclusions, to the extent that I simply could not watch it one sitting. Now I’m sure that many of those involved are decent men & women and capable in their fields, but I found myself with serious reservations about much of the content of these dvds, especially the second. In an effort to get these out of my head, and in case anyone is interested, I thought I’d note these down here, though I’m not attempting any formal academic approach since I have enough of that elsewhere. Some of these are, in my opion, quite serious, others may be more like nit-picking. If anyone, however, has any criticisms of my criticisms, feel free to point them out. And so to my critique of the first dvd:

DVD 1: The Journey of Faith

  1. Contrary to the DVDs assertion, there is no evidence within the Book of Mormon that Lehi and his party followed any trade routes. This is the start of my big methodological bug bear, which is the tendency to read into the book things external to it.
  2. A trading background for Lehi likewise finds little evidence in the text. I believe this is an argument taken from High Nibley that’s proven very influential. Yes, Lehi is wealthy, no there’s no real indication that he got that by travelling as a trader.
  3. A city of 25,000 people may be small to some moderns, but it doesn’t mean that everyone there would know each other. I grew up in a town about the same size, and noone there did or could. Speculation about Nephi knowing Daniel or Ezekiel before their captivity is purely fanciful.
  4. Rather more serious is the assertion by S. Kent Brown that Lehi sacrificing after travelling three days in the wilderness was in compliance with the Law of Moses’ regulation forbidding sacrifice unless three days away from the sanctuary. Problem – no such regulation actually exists. Based on his article here, he appears to draw this idea from an article by David Seely here. However, Seely’s argument for this law relies upon one particular scholar’s interpretation of the Temple scroll, which in itself is the work of the Dead Sea secretaries five hundred years after Nephi! It should also be noted that Seely is offering this as one out of three potential explanations for why it would be permissible for Lehi to offer sacrifice in the first place – in other words, not only as Brown promoted a possible DSS teaching into one of the Laws of Moses, but the argument is circular anyway.
  5. I’m pretty sure Sariah had bigger concerns than ‘integrating new daughters-in-law into her family’. This seems a projection back of modern concerns.
  6. The length of stay in the valley of Lemuel is unknown; in particular the assertion that the first period of the journey was swift enough that the first children are born after Nahom may be undermined by Nephi’s reference to ‘our families’ earlier at Shazer (1 Ne. 16:14).
  7. Certain ideas about the route – particular Brown’s ideas that they went via certain cities, have no evidence in the text. The implication of 1 Nephi 17:12, that the travellers did not make fire in the wilderness, seems to imply they avoided people, and while this is mentioned after they’ve reached bountiful, it simply refers to while they were ‘in the wilderness’, and does not appear to single out any part of the journey.
  8. Contrary to the dvd, Nephi did not bear ‘tribute’ to ‘these wonderful women’ (i.e the daughters of Ishmael) or especially praise them. I remember this bothering me the first time, if only because it seemed so saccharine, but the text says nothing of the sort either. Nephi talks of the blessings of the Lord in allowing them to live off raw meat and making the women strong that ‘they began to bear their journeyings without murmurings’. Now, I have no wish to condemn people’s reactions to horrible desert journeys – I’d moan too – but Nephi is certainly not giving any especial praise here, except to God.
  9. The dvd asserts that the last leg of the journey was especially hard, and that this formed a a special furnace of affliction of Lehi, Nephi, Jacob, Joseph et al. Now 1 Ne. 17:1 could imply the last leg was harder, but I feel to dispute that this was the defining character moment for these individuals- if it were so for Nephi, it would surely warrant more of a mention than one verse implying such. However, it’s especially unlikely to apply to Jacob and Joseph, considering both are noted as being very young & in need of nourishment by the time of the sea crossing (1 Ne. 18:19).
  10. There’s further assumptions or speculation about, for example, bedouin tents, camels and ship construction. None of these appear to have any particular evidence in the text.
  11. On the route taken by the party by sea, it should be noted that Arabs from the region sailed in both directs (east to India and south to Dar-as-salam, nor is there any textual indication that they stayed in sight of shore.
  12. Lastly, it’s striking that there is little to no mention of the Exodus paradigm that Nephi deliberately evokes in his account, both by direct reference (1 Ne. 4:2-3, 1 Ne. 17), language (‘murmuring’) and the pattern of events – defeat of an enemy, reception of the Law & revelatory experience, being guided and fed by God in the wilderness and crossing over water into the promised land. Even the three days into the wilderness thing finds precedent in the exodus, as Moses is commanded to ask that the Israelites be allowed to travel three days into the wilderness to offer sacrifice (Exodus 3:18).

None of the above is to say this dvd is all bad – as mentioned, I had far more serious difficulties with its sequel, which I’ll cover in a separate post. Some of what is discussed is accurate, although I’d heard it before – Nahom is a good piece of evidence, and I’d probably appreciate it more if I didn’t think such questions of geography and so on were the unimportant ones. But, should anyone choose to watch this (and I wouldn’t stop anyone), be prepared to sift.

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