Link: “On Doubting Nephi’s Break Between 1 and 2 Nephi”

One significant thing I cover in my thesis (now submitted, and hopefully en route to my viva) is that quite a few scholars get the tone of the Book of Mormon wrong: there’s a tendency in some quarters to treat it as if it is engaging in some gentle academic discussion, which understates the ultimate authority it claims and the forcefulness with which it states its demands for its readers to change their lives and repent.

One facet of this is touched upon by this interesting article by Noel B. Reynolds, which has just been posted on The Interpreter. Reynolds is responding, amongst other things, to certain claims made by Joseph Spencer in his An Other Testament: On typology (a work, I confess, I’m not a fan of), particularly the division Spencer suggests in Nephi’s writings. One compelling point Reynolds raises in his article is proposed claims result in the characterisation of Nephi as an esoteric writer, something which fits uneasily with Nephi’s own explicit enthusiasm for ‘plainness’.

The article is available via On Doubting Nephi’s Break Between 1 and 2 Nephi: A Critique of Joseph Spencer’s An Other Testament: On typology | The Interpreter Foundation

Here we go again

Once again in my life, I find myself looking for work, and I’m not entirely sure in which direction to look. I once again face the issue of being “over-qualified”, while still trying to work out what I am actually qualified to do. I find I still don’t have a “passion for customer service” or any deep affinity with or desire to work in the likes of the recruitment industry (and as before, I’m not prepared to lie about such things).

Obviously I’m seeking to be flexible, and part of me would be happy with any paid employment that I could be confident I could perform reasonably well in. But I also find myself at present longing for something else. I want, at least at present, to leave academia behind. I want to leave theory behind, and any other writing or research which is unattached from reality. I want to get out of my own head (and anyone else’s). I want to actually do or build something real. At the same time, so many jobs out there don’t seem to actually accomplish all that much, whether that be basic retail work or the various graduate jobs at the big accountancy firms. What vital societal functions, however small, do they accomplish? What do they actually build?

I feel – and perhaps I’m romanticising it all too much – that I really miss the existence of a frontier. An opportunity to find and build something new, for whoever was willing to take the risks, pay the price and work hard. Sure, living conditions were undoubtedly pretty horrible, and the work involved likely tedious and hard (I have no illusions that, say, planting a new farmstead was either easy or especially thrilling – most work throughout human history hasn’t been). What might be accomplished might be quite small in the great scheme of things: a settlement, a village, a farm or even just a house. But it was building something real and new that hadn’t been there before, something that actually exists. While I will take whatever work I can get, part of me is filled with a restlessness desire to push back some frontier and build something new, but I cannot see where any frontier is. I don’t want to add to the pile of useless sales executives or whatever that western society is already full of. I want to explore the unknown, I want to plan cities out of nothing, I want to build mag-lev lines across Greenland, I want to build a great state out of a small city. These are perhaps foolish desires. But it’d be nice to find some work, however small and tedious, that would allow me to find something new, or build something that is real, or which makes some real contribution – however small – to the world around me.

 

Jacob 5

Everything I said about Jacob 4, in terms of being able to mention all sorts of things, applies even more to Jacob 5. Most of chapter four of my thesis is a detailed examination of Jacob 5, and I can confidently say after that exercise that there’s a lot to examine. I’ve also happened to post about Jacob 5 before in part, in commenting on an article that I felt was inadequate in its approach to the allegory. So there’s a lot that could be said, and a lot that I have said elsewhere.

What struck me reading through it this time though was the very first few verses (Jacob 5:1-3):

Behold, my brethren, do ye not remember to have read the words of the prophet Zenos, which he spake unto the house of Israel, saying:

Hearken, O ye house of Israel, and hear the words of me, a prophet of the Lord.

For behold, thus saith the Lord, I will liken thee, O house of Israel, like unto a tame olive tree, which a man took and nourished in his vineyard; and it grew, and waxed old, and began to decay.

Aside from the incongruity of a olive tree in a vineyard (something I do happen to discuss in the thesis), this opening reminded of thoughts I had when I was first writing the chapter, and unravelling the vast number of ways in which Jacob 5 connects to biblical passages that use olive tree imagery. It’s one of those things where the more you dig down, the more complex the issue actually gets. Scholarship tends to be very focused on the issue of where such ideas came from, and Jacob 5 has attracted similar commentary. But who first used the Olive Tree to symbolise Israel? The deeper one digs the more it seems like a chicken and egg scenario where it’s not quite clear what influenced what (assuming direct contact at all). And of course, Zenos does not attribute this image to himself but directly to the Lord.

It’s while I was thinking of this chicken and egg issue that my mind turned to a couple of other scriptural passages:

Behold, my soul delighteth in proving unto my people the truth of the coming of Christ; for, for this end hath the law of Moses been given; and all things which have been given of God from the beginning of the world, unto man, are the typifying of him.

(2 Nephi 11:4)

And behold, all things have their likeness, and all things are created and made to bear record of me, both things which are temporal, and things which are spiritual; things which are in the heavens above, and things which are on the earth, and things which are in the earth, and things which are under the earth, both above and beneath: all things bear record of me.

(Moses 6:63)

From these verses we learn that all things given by God typify Christ, and that all things are created – both spiritual and temporal – to bear record of God, Christ and the plan of salvation (see Moses 6:62). With these verses in mind, I wondered if this whole thing went even further? Perhaps it’s not an issue of ascribing who first used the olive tree to represent Israel to any one author, even God? With the above verses in mind, is it not possible that the Olive Tree was purposely created and permitted to have the traits that it has, precisely so that it might serve as such a symbol (for God would know of the destiny of Israel)? In other words, is it the symbol that came first, before the actual tree and even the world itself was created?

2020 Edit:

Ah, Jacob 5 my old friend. I’ve written and published extensively on Jacob 5 elsewhere, so for a more exhaustive look at the chapter, I’d refer you to chapter four of The Book of Mormon & its relationship with the Bible.

While reading over it the past couple of days, however, what stood out most in my mind was the perseverance the Lord of the vineyard (who symbolises variously the Father, or Christ; symbols in this allegory should not be taken as referring to one and only one thing) displays in his care for the trees of his vineyard. Facing the corruption of the initial tree he works diligently upon it, and when it becomes clear that main branches are continuing in their corruption, he implements the plan to remove the corrupt branches, plant the young and tender branches elsewhere, and to graft wild branches into the main tree.

When at a later stage – after lengthy labour on his part, and a period in which the main tree and the satellite trees have all borne good fruit – he finds all the trees have become corrupted, he expresses his lament, his frustration at their corruption despite all his labours evident:

And it came to pass that the Lord of the vineyard wept, and said unto the servant: What could I have done more for my vineyard?

Behold, I knew that all the fruit of the vineyard, save it were these, had become corrupted. And now these which have once brought forth good fruit have also become corrupted; and now all the trees of my vineyard are good for nothing save it be to be hewn down and cast into the fire.

And behold this last, whose branch hath withered away, I did plant in a good spot of ground; yea, even that which was choice unto me above all other parts of the land of my vineyard.

And thou beheldest that I also cut down that which cumbered this spot of ground, that I might plant this tree in the stead thereof.

And thou beheldest that a part thereof brought forth good fruit, and a part thereof brought forth wild fruit; and because I plucked not the branches thereof and cast them into the fire, behold, they have overcome the good branch that it hath withered away.

And now, behold, notwithstanding all the care which we have taken of my vineyard, the trees thereof have become corrupted, that they bring forth no good fruit; and these I had hoped to preserve, to have laid up fruit thereof against the season, unto mine own self. But, behold, they have become like unto the wild olive tree, and they are of no worth but to be hewn down and cast into the fire; and it grieveth me that I should lose them.

But what could I have done more in my vineyard? Have I slackened mine hand, that I have not nourished it? Nay, I have nourished it, and I have digged about it, and I have pruned it, and I have dunged it; and I have stretched forth mine hand almost all the day long, and the end draweth nigh. And it grieveth me that I should hew down all the trees of my vineyard, and cast them into the fire that they should be burned. Who is it that has corrupted my vineyard?

(Jacob 5:41-47)

Yet while he suggests there is now not much more to be done than to “hew down the trees of the vineyard and cast them into the fire” (v. 49), and it is the servant who urges him to spare the trees a little longer (v. 50), it is the Lord of the vineyard who introduces the plan of another lengthy programme of labour to save all the trees (vv. 51-69): returning the natural branches to the mother tree; grafting branches from the mother tree onto the satellite trees; pruning, dunging and digging about the trees; and plucking off and burning the branches with the most bitter fruit in a careful fashion so as to not overwhelm the remaining branches.

I’m sure the Lord would be justified in being most frustrated with us, individually and collectively, for how despite his aid, blessing and invitations we continue to go astray and do wrong. And yet, again and again, he is prepared to perform a lengthy work in us, in order that we might be spared and might bear good fruit.

Jacob 4

Jacob 4 is a chapter I’ve gone over a lot recently, as it plays a significant role in my thesis and revising chapter four (which covers Jacob 4-5) took some time. So I wasn’t quite sure what would catch my eye this time around, and there’s so much in this chapter I could talk about: Jacob’s foreknowledge of Christ, and how he explains this, the reason the Old Testament isn’t so clear on the topic (and it is not because of human tampering), the Book of Mormon’s approach to causality (namely that God is not bound by it), and the definition of truth. But there’s a couple of other things that caught my eye this time.

Firstly (and I’m quoting these as they appear in the 1830 edition, because in some cases the different punctuation and paragraphing helps bring things out):

Now behold, it came to pass, that I, Jacob, having ministered much unto my people, in word, (and I cannot write but a little of my words, because of the difficulty of engraving our words upon plates,) and we know that the things which we write upon plates, must remain; but whatsoever things we write upon any thing save it be upon plates, must perish and vanish away; but we can write a few words upon plates, which will give our children, and also our beloved brethen, a small degree of knowledge concerning us, or concerning their fathers.

I was struck when reading this by the emphasis placed on the impermanence and perishability of records that were not recorded upon the plates. I think it’s a human tendency to imagine a lot of the things around us as permanent institutions. But most human acts, governments and cultures are so impermanent that they will not only one day fail, but will for the most part be so forgotten no one will know that they’ve been forgotten. Anything that is not rooted in something eternal will fade away and perish, and yet we put so much emphasis on those things. Likewise, it took considerable effort (part of which Jacob refers to above) as well as divine aid to preserve the words of the Book of Mormon for later millennia, yet at the time it must have seemed to some that such efforts were unnecessary. Jacob, however, was blessed with a far longer perspective.

The second bit which caught my eye is definitely partly the result of how it is formatted. I think in previously reading Jacob 4, the potential implications of the passages around it have caused me to read over verse 11 more lightly. In the 1830 edition, however, verse 11 comes at the end of a paragraph, and moreover is a continuation of a sentence from verse 10, so it is clearer to see how it is a continuation of the thought expressed there:

Wherefore, brethren, seek not to counsel the Lord, but to take counsel from his hand. For behold, ye yourselves know, that he counseleth in wisdom, and in justice, and in great mercy, over all his works; wherefore, beloved brethren, be reconciled unto him, through the atonement of Christ, his only begotten Son, that ye may obtain a resurrection, according to the power of the resurrection which is in Christ, and be presented as the first fruits of Christ, unto God, having faith, and obtained a good hope of glory in him, before he manifesteth himself in the flesh.

Personally, I found it a little easier to see this time how knowing that God counsels in wisdom, justice and mercy can encourage us to seek to be reconciled to him through the power of Christ (and how it did for them, even before he appeared in the flesh). Likewise, it’s interesting (and perhaps emphasises elements of his redeeming power that we are prone to miss) to see this described as “the power of the resurrection which is in Christ”. By having faith in Him and seeking reconciliation through Him, we may obtain a hope that we too may be resurrected by this power of His and presented to God in the first resurrection.

2020 edit:

It’s funny for me when I go over these chapters that I’ve made posts on before to note what I spot relative to what I’d already written. Sometimes there’s things that are apparently wholly new to me, and at other times I’ll have a couple of verses in mind that really stood out as I was reading them, and they’ll turn out – like today – to be the two verses that had really stood out to me 4 years beforehand.

This is also a chapter I’ve expended a lot of ink on elsewhere (i.e. chapter four of The Book of Mormon & its relationship with the Bible). There I particularly look at the “stone” texts in verses 15-17 and their connection with what follows (the question of the gathering of Israel, which the allegory in Jacob 5 addresses). I also look at the question of the Nephites knowledge about Christ, in which verses 12-14 are of particular interest.

While I do quote it above, I was quite struck again by verse 10’s “seek not to counsel the Lord, but to take counsel from his hand”. How often do we want something, ask for something, when God knows that’s not actually good for us or has something better in store? While he has commanded us to ask for the things we need we must always be alert, I guess, to what his will actually is, and to not insist on our own way but humbly seek to do whatever he’d have us do.

Verse 6 is always somewhat striking:

Wherefore, we search the prophets, and we have many revelations and the spirit of prophecy; and having all these witnesses we obtain a hope, and our faith becometh unshaken, insomuch that we truly can command in the name of Jesus and the very trees obey us, or the mountains, or the waves of the sea.

… that’s quite a bit of faith. Jacob – true to form – is quick to then speak of their “weakness” and speak of such miracles as an example of God’s grace and “great condescensions” (v. 7).

As mentioned, I’ve spent some time writing about verse 12 elsewhere, but I think it and verse 13 are profound:

And now, beloved, marvel not that I tell you these things; for why not speak of the atonement of Christ, and attain to a perfect knowledge of him, as to attain to the knowledge of a resurrection and the world to come?

Behold, my brethren, he that prophesieth, let him prophesy to the understanding of men; for the Spirit speaketh the truth and lieth not. Wherefore, it speaketh of things as they really are, and of things as they really will be; wherefore, these things are manifested unto us plainly, for the salvation of our souls. But behold, we are not witnesses alone in these things; for God also spake them unto prophets of old.

Verse 12 really underlines what God can reveal to us: for these people, it was hundreds of years before the coming of Christ, but God – whose knowledge and power is not circumscribed by the limitations of time – is perfectly capable of knowing and revealing about things many years hence, as he is about things beyond even the end of the world itself. We should not limit in our minds what God is capable of communicating to us, nor what his warnings or his promises can address.

Verse 13 follows on addressing the truthfulness of prophecy – “for the Spirit speaketh the truth and lieth not” – and then gives a beautifully simple definition of what that truth can encompass: “wherefore, it speaketh of things as they really are, and of things as they really will be”. Compared to a lot of the academic wrangling over the subject (and of course increasingly it’s fashionable to deny the existence of objective truth), this statement comes as something clear and refreshing. Truth is things as they really are (no matter what we might think them to be) and as they really will be.

A Bible! A Bible! We have got a 76 Bible[s]

Sometimes I get a trifle confused at things that I really shouldn’t. The other day I got a little confused because someone left their scriptures at home beside their bed where they had last been reading them. I was a trifle baffled for a micro-second, before I remembered that most people did not have sets of scriptures for studying with, and a separate set for taking to church. And yet more sets for when working on the thesis. And more sets for when I happened to be working away from home on the thesis. And yet more sets, because that old Bible looked really lonely in the charity shop, and needed a new home…

I’ll begin again. I’m David Richards, and I have a problem…

However, while it is true that I have an inordinate number of books of scripture, and not always for the most rational of reasons, sometimes a different set can offer a genuine benefit. So I’ve used differently Bible translations from time to time. Sometimes, however, even just a different format can offer distinctive benefits. Sometimes people aren’t always aware of these, so I thought I’d share what I’m currently using for my own personal reading (I tend to change them from time to time):

IMG_20170410_160206512

For the Book of Mormon, I’m using a 1830 replica published by Herald Publishing House (the Community of Christ – formerly RLDS – publishing house). I think I ordered it some years ago, I’m pretty sure directly and it was very inexpensive, particularly since it was coming across the Atlantic. As a replica, it also reproduces some faded script and wonky pages that may have been part of the original too. However, there’s a couple of reasons that make it worth reading over a more recent edition. One is paragraphs!

IMG_20170410_160236575

Ta da!

This makes a huge difference in reading, much more than people may expect. The 1830 edition isn’t perfect in this regards: the paragraphing was largely done by the typesetter (the original manuscript was largely without paragraphing or punctuation), and sometimes those paragraphs can extend for several pages. But it still often reads better than “spreadsheet” format. It is my dream that one day the official LDS edition will also revert to paragraphs (for those looking at a modern edition that does, Grant Hardy’s Reader’s Edition of the Book of Mormon puts the 1920 LDS edition into paragraphs, while Royal Skousen’s Earliest Text employs sense-lines).

The other significant difference is that it does not have the chapter and verse system imposed by the 1879 edition. Considering how we moderns tend to use chapters and verses to break our reading up, this means we sometimes treat the same speech, for example, as several separate disconnected parts, and miss the overarching theme. It’s as if we only listened to conference talks in 5 minute segments, and insisted on leaving 24 hours between listening. The 1830 edition has chapters which appear to stem from the original manuscript, but they are longer, and in some cases divide the text in different places. Again, that can all make a bigger difference when reading than many might suppose.

The New Cambridge Paragraph Bible (in this case the personal size, which is quite affordable via Amazon, although in my case it was a much appreciated gift) is a version of the King James Version. It has modern spelling and punctuation, but most importantly (as the name suggests) it is also paragraphed!

IMG_20170410_160423867

Ta da harder?

One again, paragraphs make a big difference. While the KJV can be difficult for many people (and there are some books where it legitimately is), at least part of the difficulty is often the formatting. So far reading the NCPB is much easier on the eyes, which allows more attention to be devoted to the word itself rather than wrangling with how they are arranged. I recommend it.

New “Reading through the Book of Mormon” page

Last year I began a series of posts in which I wrote whatever had caught my eye or my attention in my personal reading for each chapter of Book of Mormon. The pressures of trying to finish my thesis, however, meant that series became disconnected from my personal reading, and then got interrupted completely. However, I’ve now finished writing my nemesis and hope to submit shortly, so I thought it worthwhile to revive this series. In preparation for that, I’ve made a new page indexing all the previous posts (I got up to Jacob 3, and then had one post for Alma 29), and will add links to the new posts as I do them. I haven’t quite yet decided in what order I’m going to do them in yet, and I’m leaning towards doing it in a decidedly non-chronological order. Eventually, however, there will be posts for every chapter, before doing something like moving to the other standard works.