Ponder upon…

I perceive that ye are weak, that ye cannot understand all my words which I am commanded of the Father to speak unto you at this time.

Therefore, go ye unto your homes, and ponder upon the things which I have said, and ask of the Father, in my name, that ye may understand, and prepare your minds for the morrow, and I come unto you again.

(3 Nephi 18:2-3)

I’ve been thinking of this passage lately, in connection with the first vision & so on we’ve been directed to think about for conference.

Here it’s interesting that the Nephites – after hearing the Saviour personally – had to go home, ponder and pray, not just so they would be prepared for his words the following day, but so they could gain a greater understanding of what he’d already taught them.

Similarly, it’s quite clear to me that Joseph Smith’s understanding of what he had been taught in the first vision, and his grasp of its significance, expanded in the light of later perspective. His earliest accounts focused on what it meant for him as an individual, such as the personal forgiveness of his sins (there’s a trace of this in D&C 20:5). His comprehension, and what he learned from that initial experience, expanded with time, after many more revelations, trials, and the experiences he had.

This is a pattern that can be seen elsewhere too: Paul’s vision on the road to Damascus, Peter’s vision of the clean and unclean, and the above-mentioned Nephites. Even an experience like hearing the Saviour face to face, as powerful a teaching experience as that surely was, required later reflection, pondering, prayer and surely more revelation to unfold into a full (or fuller) understanding of what that initial experience could teach them. And perhaps there’s a general principle here for us, as we think upon the first vision and prepare for General conference.

Deuteronomy again…

The interpreter has published yet another article which bases its arguments on the supposed Deuteronomists and their supposed apostasies. In one respect I give this paper credit: it acknowledges that the very scholarly opinion that argues for the existence of said Deuteronomists also depicts them as the authors of that book (as that opinion has to, as the portrayed content of the Deueronomists views is entirely reconstructed from their supposed works). Unfortunately the author seems to embrace that to the very extent that I’ve previously warned of, speaking of the “Deuteronomists’ mists of monist darkness”, as this being “the Greater Apostasy that served as the essential foundation for the later Great Apostasy”, that the rejection of Christ “would have pleased Josiah” (any comments on how strongly I word this should note the severity of the judgment this paper flings at those safely dead), and in a reply to a comment characterises the book of Deuteronomy as inaugurating a tradition that will reject Christ, and which provided the basis for Laman, Lemuel and Sherem to oppose and seek to kill the prophets.

One would hardly believe, from this argument, that Deuteronomy was the biblical book Jesus quoted more than any other than the Psalms (including in a rebuttal against the devil himself (Deuteronomy 6:13, 16, 8:3 in Matthew 4:4, 7, 10 & Luke 4:4, 8, 12). Nor that Nephi would quote Deuteronomy as scripture.

I object strongly to these arguments, as I’ve done before. I object to what appears to be significant mischaracterisation and distortion of the teachings of Deuteronomy and the Deuteronomistic history. I object what appears to be extremely esoteric and unfounded readings of Lehi, Nephi and Jacob, particularly when they make the rather astounding claim that such esoteric readings are restoring “plainness” in contrast to those “looking beyond the mark” (I would suggest this is in danger of being opposite the truth). I object to the characterisation of those who engaged in idolatrous worship as somehow defending the “plainness” of gospel, as in footnote 42, which approvingly cites Margaret Barker who quotes Jeremiah 44:15-19 as an example of those who claim that not worshipping the “queen of heaven” lead to the fall of Jerusalem. The author (and Christensen, who made the same argument) fails to note that these people are rebuked by no less than Jeremiah “because of the evil of your doings, and because of the abominations which ye have committed”, namely their idolatry (see vv. 3, 5, 8, 23 and 25, including specifically for burning incense and making offerings “to the queen of heaven”); to follow the author’s argument, Jeremiah is now taking the “greater apostasy”‘s part (and since Lehi and Nephi accept Jeremiah as a prophet, this perspective collapses under its own contradictions).

Moreover, I object to the way this argument keeps building upon the assumptions made in prior papers and treating said assumptions as proved fact, while flat out ignoring any critiques; what in fact provoked me to try to comment on the piece was the statement that “That the Deuteronomist reform is the Greater Apostasy is an overdetermined fact”, when the very existence of the Deuteronomists is conjectural, let alone the misreading that places them in charge in post-Josiah Jerusalem. I objected to Rappleye’s earlier argument because he took claims by Christensen as absolute: this people now it turn take’s Rappleye’s claims as similarly proven fact. I’ve written a number of posts making critiques of both Christensen and Rappleye’s arguments, but these papers never at any time pause to respond to these issues, or even suggest that they’ve read any counterarguments (I’m a fairly obscure figure, but I’m not the only one to criticise this approach). I’ve even responded to the woeful reading of Jeremiah 44 multiple times, and yet it keeps being raised as evidence in a way that suggests not only have they not read any critique against their use , but they haven’t read the rest of Jeremiah 44 either. Lest you think I’m being harsh, think of the number of figures the Bible depicts as being inspired that these arguments insist are apostate, prophet-murdering, Christ deniers.

Furthermore, it seems quite apparent that at least some of the motivation behind these arguments on the part of some is an effort to justify worship of “Mother in Heaven”. Hence the author’s claim that:

Even “Latter-day Saints are still too reliant upon the assumptions, the implications, and especially the language that generations of well- intentioned but misguided theologians and Reformers alike introduced into the domain of religious thought.”93 It thus remains an open question whether members of the restored Church of Jesus Christ are culturally prepared to fully emerge from the mists of darkness, ignore the inevitable mocking that would ensue from various great and spacious buildings, and more openly and consistently speak of their Mother in Heaven as Lehi and Nephi seem to have done.

Set aside the fact that Lehi and Nephi do not “openly and consistently speak” of any Mother in Heaven, though they can hardly have done so when any mention can only “revealed” when decoded via the sort of esoteric readings engaged in here. More is the fact that the arguments are raised to push a change in worship, a practice those arguing for appear themselves to align with those Jeremiah and other prophets condemned as idolaters, and indeed what appears to be in contravention not only of ancient, but also modern scripture:

And [God] gave unto them commandments that they should love and serve him, the only living and true God, and that he should be the only being whom they should worship.

(Doctrine & Covenants 20:19).

Do “the mists of darkness” permeate the Doctrine and Covenants now too? And who does the author depict as the “great and spacious buildings” that would object, when the world at large would applaud such a move? I imagine those in favour of these arguments would object to any denigration of their faithfulness, yet they impugn ancient inspired figures, describe a book that Jesus himself used as scripture as part of the satanically inspired mists of darkness (and thus logically should be rejected!), and implicitly suggest that those who oppose their argument are aligned with the “great and spacious building” that is “the pride of the world”, all in an attempt to push a change to worship that they favour.

In all in all it is rather dispiriting that this approach seems so favoured by the journal that aims to be faithful and to defend Church teachings. They rightly push back against those who criticise and try to de-canonise the Book of Mormon in an attempt to change the teachings of the Church, but this approach does the same thing to other parts of scripture, and does so with assumption piled on assumption and esoteric readings that go far beyond the “plainness” it purports to support. It’s not even coherent: any attempt to throw Deuteronomy under the bus is liable to take the Book of Mormon with it.

For reference’s sake, these are my previous criticisms of the modern day anti-Deuteronomists.

“Defending Deuteronomy” – My criticism of an article by Kevin Christensen

“Revisiting Deuteronomy #1” – Part 1 of my critique of Rappleye’s article, focusing particularly on uncritical use of secondary sources.

“Revisiting Deuteronomy #2: Laman and Lemuel as supposed Deuteronomists” – Part 2, criticising the argument that Laman and Lemuel were Deuteronomists.

“Revisiting Deuteronomy #3: Deuteronomy in 1-2 Nephi” – Part 3, addressing the use of Deuteronomy by Lehi and Nephi.

I attempted to comment on the article itself (well, in response to one of the author’s replies), but it may have been eaten by the Interpreter’s auto-moderation (Edit: it did get through), so I reproduce it here, though it does overlap with some of what I have said above:

Comment:

That the Deuteronomist reform is the Greater Apostasy is an overdetermined fact.

I don’t know if it’s possible to object to this statement any more strongly. Previous papers along these lines appear to rest upon a whole set of assumptions, which in turn seem to rest on what I regard as rather fallacious interpretations of the so-called Deuteronomists and Josiah’s reforms. Later papers then seem to take these assumptions as proven. There’s seems to have been little attempt to engage or even argue against criticisms of this theory, for all of its significant implications.

Lehi, Nephi, and Jacob all condemn the views of the Jews then living in Jerusalem. The city is on the verge of total destruction, a pretty good sign that it has taken a wrong turn with Josiah’s reform.

Except that, according to both Kings, Chronicles and Jeremiah (and Ezekiel), the reforms of Josiah didn’t stick. Indeed, a great error of the people following was their worship of idols, including Asherah (for instance, Jeremiah 17:2). This is just an exhibit of the problem: this approach seems to gloss over the entire Josiah/post-Josiah situation, and assume the whole era is an exhibit of the reforms, when the texts read quite differently.

Each man is given a book, Josiah receiving from Shaphan the scribe a book many scholars think was written by Hilkiah the High Priest, a book that centralizes power in the hands of king and high priest, a book that comes from man and that will be interpreted by scribes in the rabbinic religion that this reform inaugurates, a religious tradition that will reject Christ, God with God, when he comes to them 600 years later.

“[M]any scholars” also think that book is Deuteronomy, a book that Nephi will explicitly quote (and indeed, quote a Messianic prophecy from). In fairness to you, it appears you appreciate this.

Was Deuteronomy canonized incorrectly? Deuteronomy contains much truth. Hilkiah is probably not its only author if its author at all… We believe the Bible to be the word of God as far as it is translated/transmitted correctly. Deuteronomy like other parts of the Bible would seem to contain a mixture of much true and some false doctrine.

On one hand I commend the embrace of the implications of this argument (Christensen and Rappleye appear to have resisted this, at least in part because they did not realise that the “Deuteronomists” were conceived as the very authors of the work). On the other, this illustrates precisely the outcome that I said would be the conclusion of this approach.

Yet Nephi accepts the book of Deuteronomy as authoritative scripture. He quotes from it, he describes the plates of brass as containing the *five* books of Moses, and furthermore the vision he describes of the loss of plain and precious things from the Bible in 1 Nephi 13 does not fit what is proposed here: Nephi is told that “many plain and precious things [are] taken away from the book” (1 Nephi 13:28) – not that false teachings would be substituted in – and that these writings “go forth from the Jews in purity unto the Gentiles, according to the truth which is in God” (1 Nephi 13:25): that is this process post-dates Nephi and the transmission of these writings (which include both OT and NT material) to the Gentiles.

But in chapter 13, it also provides mandates Laman, Lemuel, and Sherem—Deuteronomists all–follow as they oppose and seek to kill the prophets who preach the Gospel of Christ.

This is precisely issue I’m talking about: previous arguments become assumptions and then become “overdetermined fact[s]”. Rappleye argued that Laman and Lemuel were Deuteronomists, as you indicate in your main article, to which you clearly agree. But here it’s quite clear you regard it as almost incontrovertible. Yet Rappleye hardly proved his case (I argue against it in the 2nd part of a 3 part blog article here [the links above] ).

I expressed myself in quite strong terms here (although I believe still civilly), but I believe these are serious issues with huge implications. This article refers to “the Deuteronomists’ mists of monist darkness”, implicitly characterising the teachings of the book – a book that *the Saviour* quoted often as scripture – as part of the “temptations of the devil” said mists are interpreted as in 1 Nephi 12:17. Such an argument is already using severe terms for someone. Moreover, it seems to garb its argument as a restoration of “plainness”, when it is reading Lehi, Nephi and Jacob in a frankly esoteric way.

Edit & follow-up comment:

To his credit, the author of the article (Val Larsen) responded in the comments section of the above article; I invite anyone interested to read and consider his reply.

As I see it, there are in a sense several further issues:

1) Any data that contradicts the anti-Deuteronomistic perspective – such as accounts of Manasseh’s idolatries and those of Josiah’s successors, or the condemnation Jeremiah issued of worship of the “Queen of Heaven” (and the other idols associated with her, it shouldn’t be forgotten), or for that matter when Isaiah condemns earlier idol worship amongst the Israelites, and so on – tends to be explained as the results of the Deuteronomists tampering with scripture, altering things to justify their position. The author takes that approach in his reply. The problem with this approach is that it essentially “rigs” the argument in advance: any evidence in the Old Testament against their argument gets dismissed as tampering, anything that might be read as supportive gets accepted. The criteria for what has and what has not been tampered with becomes the degree to which a given passage suits the preexisting idea, allowing proponents to pick and choose evidence, and deny possible criteria for falsification. There’s obvious problems with this approach, not least the which is that it risks being incoherent: the argument that said “Deuteronomists” even existed rests, after all, on a reading of the very same documents.

2) Said “tampering” also relies upon generalities, especially since there is, it appears to me, still a desire to have one’s cake and eat it, to not completely ditch Deuteronomy, the DH, Jeremiah and the rest of the Old Testament. As long as it’s kept to vague generalities, such a position may be plausible. It seems less so when one becomes specific: just considering Jeremiah 44 alone, for instance, what must be taken out in order to make it read as an endorsement of “Queen of Heaven” worship. Most of the chapter must apparently be culled or dismissed as spurious, but then what does the remainder even say: those trying to justify themselves to Jeremiah are left speaking in a vacuum.

3) There’s little sense here that the Old Testament can even serve as a “standard work” here, when large parts are to be freely dismissed when they contradict a preexisting idea. It shouldn’t be forgotten that the Book of Mormon not only claims to be true itself, but depicts one of its key aims as supporting the truth of the biblical writings (see 1 Nephi 13:40, Mormon 7:9, and compare with the similar statement in the Doctrine and Covenants in D&C 20:11). Furthermore, this issue gets to the heart of how we define scripture. Scripture can’t simply be writings we think are partly, or even mostly, or even completely true (this is not an argument about inerrancy): there’s plenty of writings I consider to be true but not scripture. I’ve written about this topic before, and to summarise from that post and particularly how the Book of Mormon describes scripture, scriptural status describes something about the innate qualities of the work, including that it is true, but also that it is objectively inspired (i.e. not just inspirational or true, but the result in some way of communication from God), and I’d add authoritative (i.e. that it is not just private revelation, but intended to be binding upon its audience). There is little sense, in the anti-Deuteronomistic arguments, of how this status could be regarded as being true of much of the Old Testament (especially since – and it should not be forgotten – that the biblical scholars who proposed the existence of the Deuteronomists did so to propose the authors of Deuteronomy).

4) One issue that seems to slip through the net is the depiction of the ideology of the Deuteronomists (and implicitly that of Deuteronomy & the Deuteronomistic history, since said ideology is a reconstruction from those writings). I recognise that Larsen and Rappleye rely to a fair degree of the depiction that Christensen derives from Barker. But I do not think Christensen or Barker’s depictions are accurate or fair. I also think there are problems with Barker’s research: her depiction relies upon writings that post-date the period by centuries, in some cases by over a millennium. For that matter, it’s also worth pointing out that the religious situation before Josiah’s reforms was not static or stable. Indeed, the OT depiction is that of cycles of idolatry and apostasy, the sort of depiction that should be familiar to readers of the Book of Mormon.

5) Again to his credit, Val Larsen admits that he takes another guiding principle as normative, namely what he terms “Joseph’s mature theology”, especially as it pertains to the idea of a heavenly mother. But there’s problems with such an approach: the content of Joseph Smith’s “mature theology” is debated, constructed and reconstructed as it is from sometimes differing accounts of sermons, private addresses and so on (not all of which are consistent). The extent to which these should be given priority over actual revelation and scripture is questionable, particularly when it’s not always clear what was meant (it’s certainly not the Church’s approach to doctrine today). Much is inferred from other teachings, or based on second-hand sources from followers. This is particularly true when it comes to the matter of a “heavenly mother”, where there’s little direct record of Joseph teaching explicitly about the subject, and even the second-hand mentions are little more than brief references. This certainly suggests it wasn’t the overarching priority of the restoration. Furthermore, this “mature theology” is also tied up with the issue of polygamy, with at least some of Joseph’s followers (such as Parley P. Pratt) taking this idea of “heavenly mother” in directions that modern advocates presumably do not want to follow.

Testimony of the Prophet Joseph Smith

As I mentioned when discussing the introduction, today’s section (“The Testimony of the Prophet Joseph Smith”) isn’t originally part of the Book of Mormon either, being an edited extract from Joseph Smith-History in the Pearl of Great Price, which was added in later editions (presumably for additional context). I bring this up as when reading through this today, one of the principal things to come to mind actually happens to be one of the things that was edited out:

The first paragraph as given in Testimony is as follows:

“On the evening of the … twenty-first of September [1823] … I betook myself to prayer and supplication to Almighty God. …

While here is Joseph Smith-History 1:29, which these lines were taken from (with the bits edited out in bold):

In consequence of these things, I often felt condemned for my weakness and imperfections; when, on the evening of the above-mentioned twenty-first of September, after I had retired to my bed for the night, I betook myself to prayer and supplication to Almighty God for forgiveness of all my sins and follies, and also for a manifestation to me, that I might know of my state and standing before him; for I had full confidence in obtaining a divine manifestation, as I previously had one.

I don’t think there’s any great significance in the editing decisions themselves. After all, it’s hardly like JS-H was being hidden, especially since readers are being referred to there “for a more complete account”. Whoever edited the passage was clearly trying to abbreviate a significantly longer passage so that it would fit, and so removed things that could either be regarded as not strictly necessary (“above-mentioned”, retiring to bed etc), or which were part of the back drop of the wider JS-H text (the reference to the first vision Joseph Smith had already experienced, and his praying for forgiveness for his sins which he speaks about in JS-H 1:28). However, while reading today I couldn’t help but think of his motivations for praying as he did that night.

Something similar happened with the first vision too. Joseph Smith appears to have had several motivations for praying as he did then: as recorded in JS-H, there was his confusion over the Churches, and then as several other of his accounts record (and which is alluded to in D&C 20:5) there was again a concern for personal forgiveness of sins. Of course, much as with Moroni’s visit, the first vision ended up being about so much more. In both cases, the spiritual experience that Joseph received addressed so much more than what he was asking about.

I wonder about this. I wonder if sometimes we have a tendency to reduce our model of spiritual experiences down to transactional events. That is, even if we are careful to avoid thinking of God as some sort of Santa Claus (that is, we avoid the tendency for our prayers to devolve into simply asking for things we want), we can still approach spiritual experiences in which we produce the question, we meet certain conditions for an answer, and then God provides the answer as if he were a spiritual cash machine and the initiative is entirely on our part. I wonder if we sometimes forget that God himself has agency, more so than we do, and he has his own plan (indeed a crucial part of faith is accepting his own plan over ours). As part of that, we may have questions, but he may well provide answers to questions we haven’t asked. The two experiences Joseph had here are examples of this, and I think there are other scriptural examples too of revelation not being doled out according to certain preconditions, but at divine initiative (Moses and the burning bush, the angelic visitations to Zacharias and Mary, Saul & the road to Damascus and I think many more). I think also of my own experiences, and indeed of the most powerful were those that did not simply address the questions I had, but went far beyond it and addressed questions I didn’t have.

Of course, perhaps the very fact that Joseph was on both occasions seeking divine guidance in faith, even if about personal matters, meant that he was ready to also receive divine guidance about bigger matters too, which takes me onto the other thing that came to mind while reading (and which wasn’t edited out), namely the matter of motivation:

But what was my surprise when again I beheld the same messenger at my bedside, and heard him rehearse or repeat over again to me the same things as before; and added a caution to me, telling me that Satan would try to tempt me (in consequence of the indigent circumstances of my father’s family), to get the plates for the purpose of getting rich. This he forbade me, saying that I must have no other object in view in getting the plates but to glorify God, and must not be influenced by any other motive than that of building his kingdom; otherwise I could not get them.

Our motivations appear to be of crucial concern to both the Lord and to the adversary. But while the adversary would seek to use our motivations to manipulate us into doing evil, the Lord wants us not only to do good, but for good motives too (Moroni 7:6). What we want and how badly we want it appears to have great power and influence on our course through life, the gospel and our eternal destiny (see Alma 29:4). In Joseph’s case, his desires in relation to the plates not only has to be right, but not clouded by any desires, in order for him to receive them at all. And I think that sometimes too that can be the case for us: there may be some kind of blessing, or responsibility, or something that God would have us obtain, but which we can only obtain if our desires and motivations are right before him.

Of course, changing or purifying said motivations may not always be straightforward!

Edit: I’d originally mistakenly attributed the adding of this excerpt of JS-H to the 1981 LDS edition (which added the “Introduction”), however upon checking, the 1920 edition has a very similar extract entitled “Origin of the Book of Mormon”. So while not original to the Book of Mormon, and I’d argue very much added for context, it was added earlier than 1981. The “Brief Explanation About the Book of Mormon” also seems to date from the 1920 edition, where an earlier version appears as “Brief Analysis of the Book of Mormon”.

The Mercy and Justice of God

I find God’s justice and mercy fascinating, not only because he perfectly embodies such qualities, but because we as human beings apparently have such a hard time reconciling them that we are apt to build a more selective image with only one of those qualities. Thus in the 17th century, it seems many were apt to forget God’s love and mercy in favour of his wrath and hatred of sin. Today we seem apt to commit the reverse error: we emphasise God’s love and mercy, but forget his justice and righteousness. In doing so, we not only build up a false image of God, but also diminish the quality of God we do remember. His justice and mercy are linked, for his justice is connected to his love and mercy for those we have sinned against. To paraphrase something I’ve said before, to be merciful without condition to predators is to be merciless to their victims. Hence God’s mercy is conditioned upon repentance. Likewise God’s desire for us to change and repent and follow him is based in his love and his desire for our exaltation: a love that never asks us to change or repent is one that would be content to leave us stuck in mediocrity, one that would ultimately be happy to sit back and watch us be damned.

A particular quote that I feel captures both God’s justice and his mercy was expressed by Joseph Smith. However, I often find it quoted with the second half missing, in keeping with the bias of our current era. So I thought it worth quoting in full:

Our heavenly Father is more liberal in His views, and boundless in His mercies and blessings, than we are ready to believe or receive; and at the same time more terrible to the workers of iniquity, more awful in the executions of His punishments, and more ready to detect in every false way, than we are apt to suppose Him to be.

– Joseph Smith, 18 April 1842

 

“The Visions of Joseph Smith”

I ran across the following devotional after being asked a question about the first vision and thought it was interesting enough to share. Several snippets:

Visions can take various forms. Personal visitations or appearances of deity, angels, or even Satan and his emissaries certainly come under the heading of visions. Visions can also include seeing vivid images where the veil is lifted from an individual’s mind in order to see and comprehend the things of God. Certain dreams could be considered visions, particularly when heavenly or spiritual messages are conveyed. Finally, certain revelations received through the Urim and Thummim mediums such as the Nephite interpreters and the seer stone may also be classified as visions.

While the visions received by Joseph Smith were also revelatory experiences, revelations were not always visionary. Hence, in researching Joseph Smith’s visions, I attempted to distinguish between visions and other kinds of inspiration or revelation. More often than not, when a vision was involved, the wording of the source material indicated that a vision–not a more general “revelation”–had been received. However, in some instances, the visual nature of the experience was not quite clear.

Three major points became apparent as I researched Joseph Smith’s visions. First, and perhaps most remarkable, is the sheer number of visions the Prophet received. The majority of these visions are not found in the standard works but pervade the Prophet’s own history and the records kept by contemporaries who were present when a vision was received or when Joseph Smith spoke about his sacred communications. As I began collecting the accounts of the visions, I realized that any attempt to total the number of visions would risk excluding some, since evidence of visions relies upon documentation, and some visions may have been purposely unrecorded. Of one vision Joseph remarked, “I could explain a hundred fold more that I ever have of the glories of the kingdoms manifested to me in the vision were I permitted, and were the people prepared to receive them.”

Second, the Prophet was privileged to receive so many visions that is appears they became almost commonplace experiences for him. For example, in 1843 he said, “It is my meditation all the day, and more than my meat and drink, to know how I shall make the Saints of God comprehend the visions that roll like an overflowing surge before my mind.” Perhaps because his visionary experiences were so frequent, he often left out details or failed to record certain events altogether.

Finally, in a number of instances, others witnessed Joseph Smith’s visionary experiences or were present when the Prophet had visions, often seeing the manifestation with him. The recorded statements of these witnesses and co-participants give additional testimony and credibility to the reality of the Prophet’s seeric experiences.

The remainder can be found at the BYU Hawaii website at “The Visions of Joseph Smith” | Devotionals and Speeches

2 Nephi 3

A couple of items for this chapter:

And now I speak unto you, Joseph, my last-born. Thou wast born in the wilderness of mine afflictions; yea, in the days of my greatest sorrow did thy mother bear thee.

2 Nephi 3:1

I’m impressed by Lehi’s statement that Joseph was born during “the days of my greatest sorrow”. Because when was that? At which point in the journey? Is he referring to a specific episode, or the wilderness as a whole (he doesn’t say it to Jacob). It doesn’t say, and it may even refer to an incident that isn’t recorded. Lehi clearly considered that the lowest point in his life, and we don’t from the record even know what he was referring to. As painful as it undoubtedly was for him, the record the Lord has preserved for us doesn’t define Lehi by it. At the same time, how many other people do we come into contact with who are shaped by episodes we are entirely unaware of?

Because otherwise I’m in danger of talking about nothing but affliction, I quote this verse too:

Wherefore, the fruit of thy loins shall write; and the fruit of the loins of Judah shall write; and that which shall be written by the fruit of thy loins, and also that which shall be written by the fruit of the loins of Judah, shall grow together, unto the confounding of false doctrines and laying down of contentions, and establishing peace among the fruit of thy loins, and bringing them to the knowledge of their fathers in the latter days, and also to the knowledge of my covenants, saith the Lord.

2 Nephi 3:12

This verse could practically be a mission statement: of this blog, of anything that I might hope to achieve with my thesis, with other stuff (those missionaries I commit to read the Old Testament). Because I love the Book of Mormon. I also love the Bible. I firmly believe that both are the greatest possible aid (save the Spirit) to understanding the other, and one can only obtain their full benefits by reading both. It will only be as we – individuals, church members, whoever – read, believe and apply both together that we will secure the blessings promised here.

Finally:

And out of weakness he shall be made strong, in that day when my work shall commence among all my people, unto the restoring thee, O house of Israel, saith the Lord.

2 Nephi 3:13

This is a theme found throughout scripture (I’m thinking of Ether 12:23-27 and 2 Corinthians 12:7-9 in particular): that God can make use of weakness, will use us despite (and sometimes even because) of our weakness, and that His grace is sufficient for us. One can often despair because of one’s failings. God’s grace, however, is sufficient for all and “is made perfect in weakness”.

2020 Edit:

Moving from teaching Jacob about Christ and the choices we face, above all between good and evil, Lehi turns in this chapter to sharing a prophecy from Joseph in Egypt (of coat fame) with his own son Joseph. This appears to concern the restoration of Israel, particularly how a branch of Joseph’s own descendants, though “broken off”, will be remembered and restored (v. 5), via means of a seer who shall bring God’s word to them, bringing together the words written by both the descendants of Joseph and those of Judah (vv. 6-12). This seer, who will work “in that day when my work shall commence among all people, unto the restoring thee, O house of Israel” (v. 13), will also be named Joseph, as will his father (v. 15). Thus the best fit for this seer is Joseph Smith, while the writings of Joseph’s descendants he shall write shall be the Book of Mormon itself, which shall “cry from the dust”.

It is interesting that in terms of restoring Israel, while translating and publishing the Book of Mormon is not the only activity attributed to Joseph Smith, it is depicted as being perhaps the most important. I’m interested is to why that is: does that refer to the role the Book of Mormon has already played (in terms of initiating the restoration of the gospel) and continues to play (in introducing people to that gospel), or does it also refer (as I suspect) to future events and future influence that we can scarce dream of at this time? As we’ll see in other chapters, the Book of Mormon is regarded as both as a sign that God is about to fulfil his covenant with the house of Israel, and is one of the major tools he will employ in restoring Israel, something which is certainly only begun as yet.

That this prophecy is found here, but not in the Bible as we have it is of little surprise to me: it should be recognised that the Bible and “the plates of brass” are really overlapping collections, and there is some material found in one but not the other. For instance, I think the fact that Micah is only quoted by the risen Christ suggests that that book was not on the brass plates (which might suggest other speculative possibilities), while the plates of brass did apparently contain the writings of the non-biblical prophets Zenos, Zenock and Neum. There are several reasons for why these collections would not be identical, but one significant reason would be there different origin: the Bible, while it includes writings from the northern kingdom of Israel, and contains narratives about them, is fundamentally a record from the southern kingdom of Judah, collected and collated by their hands. The plates of brass, by contrast, are a record that has been kept and preserved by descendants of Joseph (i.e. northerners, perhaps until as late as the Assyrian conquest of 721 BC) as an ancestral record, complete with genealogy (1 Nephi 5:14-16). While it obviously includes some southern prophets like Isaiah and apparently “many prophecies which have been spoken by the mouth of Jeremiah” (1 Nephi 5:13), it should be noted that both of these prophets operated in the period after the Assyrian conquest (Isaiah’s career began before it, but continued throughout the period and through the failed Assyrian conquest of Jerusalem, in which Isaiah played a pivotal role and prophesied of Jerusalam’s deliverance; perhaps it would be natural for those who may have fled from Assyria’s conquest of the north to be especially interested in such a figure).

Similarly, from 3 Nephi 10:16, we learn that Zenos and Zenock are actually ancestors of the Book of Mormon peoples (and presumably descendants of Joseph themselves). It thus seems natural that they would be included in the records preserved by such descendants (indeed, they may have been keepers of that record themselves, in which case their words in the brass plates could have been their actual writings, not simply a record of them!). And likewise, it would be little surprising that direct descendants of Joseph would seek to preserve Joseph’s own prophecies, and contain a fuller account of them than those records preserved by Judah, especially when – as in this case – they concern the destiny of those very same descendants.

There is one verse in this chapter that I find poses an interesting puzzle. After quoting Joseph in Egypt, Lehi addresses his son Joseph directly, and states in verses 23-24:

Wherefore, because of this covenant thou art blessed; for thy seed shall not be destroyed, for they shall hearken unto the words of the book.

And there shall rise up one mighty among them, who shall do much good, both in word and in deed, being an instrument in the hands of God, with exceeding faith, to work mighty wonders, and do that thing which is great in the sight of God, unto the bringing to pass much restoration unto the house of Israel, and unto the seed of thy brethren.

Now the uncontroversial part is that Lehi is stating – presumably by prophetic inspiration of his own – that some of Joseph’s (son of Lehi) own descendants will part of that remnant that Joseph (in Egypt – there’s a lot of Josephs in this chapter!) prophesied should be preserved, and receive the teachings of the Book of Mormon. The puzzling part comes with verse 24: “there shall rise up one mighty among them…”. Based on the preceding chapter, one might think this to be a description of Joseph (Smith), but while claimed to be a descendant of Joseph (in Egypt), he wasn’t a descendant of Joseph (son of Lehi – see what I mean!), unless he had some native American ancestry I’m unaware of. There are several possibilities I see here: a) “among them” could simply refer to working among Joseph’s (son of Lehi) descendants, with no imputation of common ancestry, and so can refer to Joseph (Smith) or b) this is a referring to another figure, who will be an actual descendant of Joseph (son of Lehi), who will also be involved in the work of restoring Israel.

Brian Hales on Joseph Smith and Plural Marriage (linked article)

I don’t have a great deal of questions or concerns about historical polygamy (either in the 19th century or in biblical times). But I’m aware that there are those who do, and for anyone who does one of the best resources is Brian Hales, who happens to have written an extremely informative article on the Interpreter site here.