And ... I saw among the nations of the Gentiles the formation of a great church.It is easy to read this as a description and condemnation of the Roman Catholic Church, the sort of attack that was common among 19th-century Protestants. It doesn't help that Elder Bruce R. McConkie explicitly identified the great and abominable church with the Catholic Church in the first edition of Mormon Doctrine in 1958, although that language was removed from later editions. However, it is very clear from 1 Nephi 14:10 that the great and abominable church referred to in chapter 13 cannot be identified with any particular Christian church or denomination:
And the angel said unto me: Behold the formation of a church which is most abominable above all other churches, which slayeth the saints of God, yea, and tortureth them and bindeth them down, and yoketh them with a yoke of iron, and bringeth them down into captivity.
And ... I beheld this great and abominable church; and I saw the devil that he was the founder of it.
Behold there are save two churches only; the one is the church of the Lamb of God, and the other is the church of the devil; wherefore, whoso belongeth not to the church of the Lamb of God belongeth to that great church, which is the mother of abominations; and she is the whore of all the earth.Clearly, the text is not singling out the Catholic Church or any other denomination as "the great and abominable church." It's not even clear the "great and abominable church" is a church: the FAIR wiki asserts that modern LDS leaders identify the great and abominable church as "any organization the leads people away from the Church of Jesus Christ." Robert L. Millet explains, "The great and abominable church, or church of the devil, is any organization — religious, philosophical, social, economic, or political — that persecutes the Saints of God, revels in riches and immorality, tampers with holy scripture and its meaning, and in general fights against Zion and the establishment of the kingdom of God." The Encyclopedia of Mormonism article "Great and Abominable Church" is also helpful for clarifying the present LDS view.
And I looked and beheld a man among the Gentiles, who was separated from the seed of my brethren by the many waters; and I beheld the Spirit of God, that it came down and wrought upon the man; and he went forth upon the many waters, even unto the seed of my brethren, who were in the promised land.From the perspective of Nephi writing in the 6th century BC, this is apocalyptic prophecy. From the perspective of the first readers of the Book of Mormon, this is historical commentary. The text suggests New World settlers escaped "captivity," which is a little confusing as England offered more political and religious liberty than just about any other country in the world at that time. The contrast is even more glaring for Africans who were forcibly resettled to the New World: they left freedom behind and entered permanent captivity in America.
And ... I beheld the Spirit of God, that it wrought upon other Gentiles; and they went forth out of captivity, upon the many waters.
[The Gentiles] have taken away from the gospel of the Lamb many parts which are plain and most precious; and also many covenants of the Lord have they taken away.
And all this have they done that they might pervert the right ways of the Lord, that they might blind the eyes and harden the hearts of the children of men.
Wherefore, thou seest that after the book hath gone forth through the hands of the great and abominable church, that there are many plain and precious things taken away from the book, which is the book of the Lamb of God.
For, behold, saith the Lamb: I will manifest myself unto thy seed, that they shall write many things which I shall minister unto them, which shall be plain and precious; and after thy seed shall be destroyed, and dwindle in unbelief, and also the seed of thy brethren, behold, these things shall be hid up, to come forth unto the Gentiles, by the gift and power of the Lamb.This verse brings the apocalyptic prophecy (or historical commentary) right up to the summer of 1829, when Oliver Cowdery was transcribing the text of the Book of Mormon (the "things" written and "hid up" by Nephi's seed) as it fell from the lips of Joseph Smith (who was divining the translation of the ancient record by "the gift and power" of God).
Written and sealed up, and hid up unto the Lord, that they might not be destroyed — To come forth by the gift and power of God unto the interpretation thereof — Sealed by the hand of Moroni, and hid up unto the Lord, to come forth in due time by way of the Gentile — The interpretation thereof by the gift of God.Similar phrasing appears in the following:
And the angel spake unto me, saying: These last records, which thou hast seen among the Gentiles, shall establish the truth of the first, which are of the twelve apostles of the Lamb, and shall make known the plain and precious things which have been taken away from them; and shall make known to all kindreds, tongues, and people, that the Lamb of God is the Son of the Eternal Father, and the Savior of the world; and that all men must come unto him, or they cannot be saved.This verse is a good summary of the text's own statement of purpose for the Book of Mormon:
"Great and abominable church," FAIR Wiki, http://fairmormon.org/Book_of_Mormon/Great_and_abominable_church, accessed January 4, 2012.
Robert L. Millet, "Great and Abominable Church," in LDS Beliefs: A Doctrinal Reference, Deseret Book, 2011.
Dennis A. Wright, "Great and Abominable Church," in Encyclopedia of Mormonism, Macmillan Pub. Co.: 1992.
January 04, 2012 | Permalink
[T]he angel said unto me: Look, and behold thy seed, and also the seed of thy brethren. And I looked and beheld the land of promise; and I beheld multitudes of people, yea, even as it were in number as many as the sand of the sea.Some promised land. Nibley [p. 190] sees chapters 10, 12, and 13 as together giving an expanding view of the history of the Jews: "[C]hapter ten of 1 Nephi deals with the Jews. ... Chapter twelve deals with the New World version — Israel in the New World, the Book of Mormon people. Chapter thirteen deals with the Gentiles and the whole world; it takes the world view."
And ... I beheld multitudes gathered together to battle, one against the other; and I beheld wars, and rumors of wars, and great slaughters with the sword among my people.
And I saw the heavens open, and the Lamb of God descending out of heaven; and he came down and showed himself unto them.This is a brief preview of Christ's visit to the Americas, the account of which covers several chapters in the book of Third Nephi. The twelve ordained Nephites are never referred to as apostles; instead, they are called "twelve disciples" (v. 8) and "twelve ministers" (v. 9,10).
And I also saw and bear record that the Holy Ghost fell upon twelve others; and they were ordained of God, and chosen.
I beheld and saw that the seed of my brethren did contend against my seed, according to the word of the angel; and because of the pride of my seed, and the temptations of the devil, I beheld that the seed of my brethren did overpower the people of my seed.Verse 19 states a theme that will reappear over and over throughout the Book of Mormon narrative: that pride hardens the hearts of the people, whose society then becomes vulnerable to military assault from without and social collapse from within. A critic might respond that in any age or period there will be some individuals who are proud and some who are humble, plus many who are an odd mixture of both pride and humility. Yet we don't hesitate to talk about the spirit of an age (such as the Renaissance or the Enlightenment) or characterize recent decades by simple themes: the Roaring Twenties, the Countercultural Sixties, the Greed of the Eighties.
And I saw them gathered together in multitudes; and I saw wars and rumors of wars among them; and in wars and rumors of wars I saw many generations pass away.This is the dark side of the Book of Mormon view of the Indians of North and South America, some or all of which are held to be the degenerate descendants of a mixture of the Nephites and Lamanites: they are "a dark, and loathsome, and a filthy people, full of idleness and all manner of abominations."
And the angel said unto me: Behold these shall dwindle in unbelief.
And ... I beheld, after they had dwindled in unbelief they became a dark, and loathsome, and a filthy people, full of idleness and all manner of abominations.
And then shall the remnant of our seed know concerning us, how that we came out from Jerusalem, and that they are descendants of the Jews.See also D&C 49:24: "But before the great day of the Lord shall come, Jacob shall flourish in the wilderness, and the Lamanites shall blossom as the rose."
And the gospel of Jesus Christ shall be declared among them; wherefore, they shall be restored unto the knowledge of their fathers, and also to the knowledge of Jesus Christ, which was had among their fathers.
And then shall they rejoice; for they shall know that it is a blessing unto them from the hand of God; and their scales of darkness shall begin to fall from their eyes; and many generations shall not pass away among them, save they shall be a pure and a delightsome people.
Hugh W. Nibley, Teachings of the Book of Mormon, Part 1 (FARMS, 1993).
October 14, 2009 | Permalink
I spake unto him as a man speaketh; for I beheld that he was in the form of a man; yet nevertheless, I knew that it was the Spirit of the Lord; and he spake unto me as a man speaketh with another.This passage supports the LDS doctrine that the Holy Ghost is not some undefined Force but rather is a personnage of spirit with a localized and defined "spirit body" whose influence can nevertheless be felt universally.
I beheld a virgin, and she was exceedingly fair and white.It is hard to imagine a clearer affirmation of the Virgin Birth. Yet, for some reason Evangelicals are convinced that Mormons hold a different view. Here's from the Encyclopdia of Mormonism entry under "Virgin Birth": "Mary, mother of Jesus Christ, was a virgin at the time of Jesus' birth. Of Old Testament prophets, Isaiah alone foretold this circumstance (Isaiah 7:14), but Book of Mormon prophets also foresaw the virgin birth. ... Alma declared that Christ 'shall be born of Mary … a virgin … who shall … conceive by the power of the Holy Ghost and bring forth a son, yea, even the Son of God' (Alma 7:10)." Yes, scholars view this as a misreading of Isaiah 7:14, but that is a different question.
... [A]nd an angel came down and stood before me; and he said unto me: Nephi, what beholdest thou?
And I said unto him: A virgin, most beautiful and fair above all other virgins.
* * *
And he said unto me: Behold, the virgin whom thou seest is the mother of the Son of God, after the manner of the flesh.
And it came to pass that I beheld that she was carried away in the Spirit; and after she had been carried away in the Spirit for the space of a time the angel spake unto me, saying: Look!
And I looked and beheld the virgin again, bearing a child in her arms.
And I, Nephi, saw that he was lifted up upon the cross and slain for the sins of the world.Chapter 11 makes reference to several traditional Christian symbols and terms that function as symbols: the Virgin Birth (v. 20), the Lamb of God (v. 21), the Tree of Life (v. 25), the Holy Ghost in the form of a dove (v. 27), and now in verse 33 the Cross. Mormons avoid the traditional, symbolic use of the cross.
Eleanor Colton, "Virgin Birth," in Encyclopedia of Mormonism, Macmillan Pub. Co.: 1992.
Roger R. Keller, "Cross, in Encyclopedia of Mormonism, Macmillan Pub. Co.: 1992.
October 09, 2009 | Permalink
That after they [the Jews] should be destroyed, even that great city Jerusalem, and many be carried away captive into Babylon, according to the own due time of the Lord, they should return again, yea, even be brought back out of captivity; and after they should be brought back out of captivity they should possess again the land of their inheritance.This single verse summarizes the deportation of many Jews from Judea to Babylon in 597 and again in 587, the two generations that they remained in Babylon, and the return of some of these Jews to Palestine under the sponsorship of Cyrus of Persia starting in 538 BC. Several key prophetic books — Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Second and Third Isaiah — as well as the Ezra-Nehemiah narrative are rooted in the traumatic exile and subsequent triumphant return of the Jews of Judea.
And he spake also concerning a prophet who should come before the Messiah, to prepare the way of the Lord —Verse 8 appears to depend on Matthew 3:3 and John 1:26-27. Likewise, the two succeeding verses, noting that this prophet in the wilderness "should baptize in Bethabara" and that he "baptized the Lamb of God, who should take away the sins of the world," appear to depend on John 1:28-29.
Yea, even he should go forth and cry in the wilderness: Prepare ye the way of the Lord, and make his paths straight; for there standeth one among you whom ye know not; and he is mightier than I, whose shoe’s latchet I am not worthy to unloose.
Because the main Book of Mormon colony left Jerusalem approximately six hundred years before the beginning of the New Testament period, Book of Mormon writers did not have access to New Testament records. However, they had access to two important sources of doctrines paralleling some of the New Testament: the resurrected Christ and divine revelation. The resurrected Christ delivered to his hearers in the Americas a sermon essentially the same as the one he had delivered near the Sea of Galilee. ... Mormon's important teachings about baptism and about faith, hope, and charity parallel New Testament teachings, especially those of Paul in 1 Corinthians 13.The most helpful and detailed discussion of the question is found in Blake Ostler's 1987 article "The Book of Mormon as a Modern Expansion of an Ancient Source."
Victor L. Ludlow, "Bible," in Encyclopedia of Mormonism, Macmillan Pub. Co.: 1992.
Blake Ostler, "The Book of Mormon as a Modern Expansion of an Ancient Source," Dialogue 20, No. 1 (Spring 1987):66-123.
October 08, 2009 | Permalink
And now, as I have spoken concerning these plates, behold they are not the plates upon which I make a full account of the history of my people; for the plates upon which I make a full account of my people I have given the name of Nephi; wherefore, they are called the plates of Nephi, after mine own name; and these plates also are called the plates of Nephi.In chapter 6, Nephi distinguished between "these plates" upon which he is writing and "the record which has been kept by my father" (6:1). Here in chapter 9, Nephi for the first time distinguishes between two sets of plates he is keeping, both of which are confusingly termed "the plates of Nephi."
October 06, 2009 | Permalink
And it came to pass that while my father tarried in the wilderness he spake unto us, saying: Behold, I have dreamed a dream; or, in other words, I have seen a vision.Was it a dream or a vision? Dreams occurs while sleeping. Almost all people experience dreams, many of which are entirely natural events but some few of which are presented in the scriptures as divine messages. Visions, on the other hand, occur while the recipient is awake and conscious, often able to relate in real-time the images or events seen by them (with their spiritual eyes) but apparently not seen by bystanders or observers. Later references are no help: 1 Nephi 10:2 refers to it as a dream ("after my father had made an end of speaking the words of his dream"); 1 Nephi 10:17 refers to it as a vision ("concerning the things which he saw in a vision").
Part vision and part parable, Lehi's dream in 1 Nephi 8 is one of the most striking passages in the Book of Mormon. Visual representations of the symbols portrayed in Lehi's dream abound. There are actually three separate scenes or tableaus described in Lehi's account of the dream: (1) first Lehi was in a "dark and dreary wilderness" (8:4); then (2) after following a man in a white robe, Lehi found himself in a "dark and dreary waste" (8:7); finally, after many hours and a sincere prayer to the Lord (3) Lehi beheld "a large and spacious field" (8:9, 20).
The remainder of the vision all takes place within an extended scene in which all of the symbols are related to the large and spacious field and to each other. "Numberless concourses of people" (8:21) are in that field, many searching for the path to the tree, others feeling their way to the great and spacious building, some drowned in the depths of the spring at the head of the river, and yet others "wandering in strange roads" (8:32) and lost to Lehi's view. Yes, there are many paths that you can go by, but there's still time to change the road you're on.
|Large and spacious field||the world||8:9,20|
|Tree with white and desirable fruit||love of God; the Tree of Life||8:10-11; 11:21-22,25|
|River of water||the depths of hell||8:13; 12:16|
|Rod of iron||word of God||8:19; 11:25|
|Strait and narrow path||leads from the field to the tree||2 Nephi 31:17-20|
|Fountain (or spring, at the head of the river of water)||the depths of hell||8:14,20,32; 12:16|
|Mists of darkness||temptations of the devil||8:23; 12:17|
|Great and spacious building||vain imaginations and the pride of the children of men||8:26-27,31,33; 11:35-36; 12:18|
Nibley offers some fascinating historical commentary on some of the elements of Lehi's dream: the river of water, from springs that emerge from nowhere in Arabian deserts (p. 173); mists of darkness, mixtures of dust and fog from the sea (p. 176); tall, towering houses build in desert towns with no windows for the first twenty to thirty feet for security, then higher windows from which light would flow at night (p. 177), thus rendering the illusion of a building that stands "as it were in the air, high above the earth" (1 Nephi 8:26).
Lehi's dream bears some resemblance to Joseph Smith Sr.'s dream of 1811, recounted by Lucy Mack Smith in 1845. The text of Lucy's account is available at an old post of mine, Three Visions of the Tree. Some suspect that Lucy's 1845 account of Joseph Smith Sr.'s dream was influenced by the text of 1 Nephi 8 rather than the other way around.
Hugh W. Nibley, Teachings of the Book of Mormon, Part 1 (FARMS, 1993).
October 05, 2009 | Permalink
[I]t was not meet for him, Lehi, that he should take his family into the wilderness alone; but that his sons should take daughters to wife, that they might raise up seed unto the Lord in the land of promise.Thus did Ishmael and his unnamed wife and five daughters (7:6) become the joint progenitors of the early Book of Mormon peoples. The phrase "raise up seed unto the Lord" echoes the polygamy escape clause recorded at Jacob 2:31: "For if I will, saith the Lord of Hosts, raise up seed unto me, I will command my people; otherwise they shall hearken unto these things."
October 04, 2009 | Permalink
And now I, Nephi, do not give the genealogy of my fathers in this part of my record; neither at any time shall I give it after upon these plates which I am writing; for it is given in the record which has been kept by my father; wherefore, I do not write it in this work.At several points in 1 Nephi, explicit discussion of plates upon which the written record is etched or engraved is presented. Here at 6:1, Nephi refers to "these plates," making no distinction between two different sets of plates that he was working with. This distinction (between what present-day Mormons call the Small Plates of Nephi and the Large Plates of Nephi) is made later in chapters 9 and 19. Back at 1:17, Nephi notes that these are "plates which I have made with mine own hands." Also at 1:17, Nephi announces that what he is first writing is "an abridgement of the record of my father," suggesting a third set of plates from which he is drawing some of his material. We might refer to this record kept by Nephi's father Lehi as "the Plates of Lehi" (although it is not explicitly stated that Lehi's record was kept on plates).
[T]he fulness of mine intent is that I may persuade men to come unto the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, and be saved.This resembles the declaration made in the Title Page to the Book of Mormon (said to have been part of the ancient record, not a modern addition) that the book is to convince "the Jew and Gentile that JESUS is the CHRIST, the ETERNAL GOD, manifesting himself unto all nations."
October 02, 2009 | Permalink
Behold thou hast led us forth from the land of our inheritance, and my sons are no more, and we perish in the wilderness.This is presented as direct dialogue from Sariah. Sounds an awful lot like the complaints of Laman and Lemuel (see 2:11). But Sariah came around in 2:8 ("Now I know of a surety that the Lord hath commanded my husband to flee into the wilderness," etc.), whereas Laman and Lemuel never did.
I know that I am a visionary man; for if I had not seen the things of God in a vision I should not have known the goodness of God, but had tarried at Jerusalem, and had perished with my brethren.
But behold, I have obtained a land of promise ...
And it came to pass that they did rejoice exceedingly, and did offer sacrifice and burnt offerings unto the Lord; and they gave thanks unto the God of Israel.This would seem to mark Lehi as a religious rebel and heretic -- burnt offerings and the offering of sacrifices were centralized at the Jerusalem temple and prohibited anywhere else, especially after the reforms of Josiah in the last third of the seventh century.
And he beheld that they did contain the five books of Moses, which gave an account of the creation of the world, and also of Adam and Eve, who were our first parents;This passage raises some very interesting issues. First, the term "the five books of Moses" is an anachronism. A Jew like Lehi would call it "torah," not "the five books of Moses." [But see 1 Nephi 4:16: "And I also knew that the law was engraven upon the plates of brass."] And these writings, to the extent they existed at this time, were on scrolls, not books (which didn't come into general use until the first century). Second, modern scholarship has esablished that torah as a collection of five authoritative scrolls didn't really take shape until it was assembled as a post-exilic body of writings. Ezra is traditionally viewed as the prophet/scribe who was instrumental in that effort, and Ezra worked a hundred years after Zedekiah reigned in Jerusalem.
And also a record of the Jews from the beginning, even down to the commencement of the reign of Zedekiah, king of Judah;
And also the prophecies of the holy prophets, from the beginning, even down to the commencement of the reign of Zedekiah; and also many prophecies which have been spoken by the mouth of Jeremiah.
Wherefore, he said that these plates of brass should never perish; neither should they be dimmed any more by time.This is a remarkable passage. It implies that up until this time the brass plates were just natural metal objects with writing, albeit holy writing, apparently subject to change and decay, but that henceforth they would be supernatural objects and would "never perish." There is no hint of what ordinance, event, or process might have produced this change. There's a strange similarity here with the Evangelical view of the Bible as inerrant, which attributes a supernatural status to the words themselves. Here, the supernatural status is attributed to the medium on which the words were written.
And we had obtained the records which the Lord had commanded us, and searched them and found that they were desirable; yea, even of great worth unto us, insomuch that we could preserve the commandments of the Lord unto our children.Subject to the caveat discussed above under verses 11-13 that the brass plates were an early and much truncated form of the Hebrew Bible compared with out present text, this verse is a ringing affirmation of the Old Testament as "desirable" and "of great worth." So stop complaining about how long Isaiah is (66 chapters) and how obscure some parts of the Pentateuch are. It is desirable and of great worth. Just buy a good reference or two to help you through the tough stuff. And while you are book shopping, buy a version of the Old Testament that puts prose passages in paragraphs and poetry in verse!
January 17, 2008 | Permalink
Now behold ye know that this is true; and ye also know that an angel hath spoken unto you; wherefore can ye doubt? Let us go up; the Lord is able to deliver us, even as our fathers, and to destroy Laban, even as the Egyptians.Nephi gives two reasons his brethren should not doubt that the Lord can deliver the desired record into their hands despite Laban's opposition: (1) They just know it; and (2) an angel told them so. The first reason reflects in an odd way the prevalent Mormon view that people just know that the Church is true. The second reason reflects the unusual status of Laman and Lemuel in the narrative, doubtful and rebellious men who nevertheless have conversed with angels.
On the general topic of doubt, compare Alma 56:47-48 (the stripling warriors "had been taught by their mothers, that if they did not doubt, God would deliver them"); 3 Nephi 8:4 ("And there began to be great doubtings and disputations among the people, notwithstanding so many signs had been given"); Mormon 9:21("Behold, I say unto you that whoso believeth in Christ, doubting nothing, whatsoever he shall ask the Father in the name of Christ it shall be granted him"); and Ether 3:19 ("and he had faith no longer, for he knew, nothing doubting").
I was led by the Spirit, not knowing beforehand the things which I should do.He didn't have a plan, just faith and courage. This was Nephi's defining moment, when, alone, he "crept into the city and went forth towards the house of Laban" (4:5).
Therefore I did obey the voice of the Spirit, and took Laban by the hair of the head, and I smote off his head with his own sword.With his own sword, no less. This graphic event, which looks like the murder of a supine and defenseless man, troubles many readers of the Book of Mormon, but this sort of thing is very much in the spirit of the Old Testament. Consider the David and Goliath encounter: "David ran, and stood upon the Philistine, and took his sword, and drew it out of the sheath thereof, and slew him, and cut off his head therewith" (1 Sam. 17:51). That's not some thuggish Israelite soldier or the pitiless Joab at work; that's David, who became the hero king of Israel.
Even more graphic is Samuel's execution of Agag, a foreign king captured in battle but spared by Saul, against Samuel's explicit directive otherwise: "Then said Samuel, Bring ye hither to me Agag the king of the Amalekites. And Agag came unto him delicately. And Agag said, Surely the bitterness of death is past. And Samuel said, As thy sword hath made women childless, so shall thy mother be childless among women. And Samuel hewed Agag in pieces before the LORD in Gilgal" (1 Sam. 15:32-33). That's Samuel, one of the greatest of Israel's prophets. Prophets were made of pretty stern stuff back then. So was Nephi, it seems.
January 11, 2008 | Permalink