The revealed text

The revealed text
The light of revelation at the Whitmer farm where Joseph and Oliver worked upstairs to finish translating the Book of Mormon

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Lesson 13: The Allegory of the Olive Trees

This lesson focuses on Jacob 5 and 6, the purpose being "To help class members better understand Zenos’s allegory of the olive trees and how it applies in our day."

It's interesting that the manual skips over Jacob 7 completely.

For this lesson supplement, I'm just going to post the sections from Moroni's America on Jacob 5 and Jacob 7.

Jacob 5

Jacob chapter 5 relates the allegory Zenos made about Israel and the Gentiles. The allegory demonstrates the scattering of Israel, the apostasy, and the gathering of Israel. No specific locations are mentioned, although the natural branches are hidden in the “nethermost part of the vineyard.”[i]
One aspect of the allegory that is often overlooked is that when a branch of one plant is grafted onto the trunk of another, the branch retains its DNA. For example, any particular variety of apples we eat today is genetically identical to that variety when it was first discovered.[ii]
This may have some bearing on the question of the DNA of Lehi and his descendants; i.e., maybe the parable suggests their DNA is not lost after all.
It is well known that the Hopewell Indians of the Midwestern United States, who lived in Book of Mormon time frames, had a particular type of DNA called Haplotype X2. This is Middle-Eastern DNA and is found among Native American Indian tribes from the Great Lakes region even today.[iii] By contrast, most indigenous people of the Americas have DNA that is Asian in origin (which, in Book of Mormon terms, could be Jaredite).




[i] A diagram is here: http://bit.ly/Moroni53.
[ii] Michael Pollan, “The Call of the Wild Apple,” The New York Times, November 5, 1998, online at http://bit.ly/Moroni54. Of course, cloning plants by grafting is different from sexual reproduction, but the allegory of the olive tree is based on preservation of lineage.
[iii] A detailed discussion of the DNA issue is outside the scope of this book, but there is an essay on lds.org that addresses DNA. It is online here: http://bit.ly/Moroni55. In my view, the DNA link between the Middle-East and the Hopewell Indians deserves more study and analysis than this essay provides. This issue has been discussed at some length in the LDS literature, often with undue acrimony.  


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Jacob 7

This chapter contains Jacob’s confrontation with Sherem: “And now it came to pass after some years had passed away, there came a man among the people of Nephi, whose name was Sherem.” This verse has traditionally interpreted to mean Sherem came from somewhere else, but the text does not say that; it says he came among the people of Nephi.
In every other use of the phrase there came, the thing or person described arises from within the community. For example, before Lehi left Jerusalem, “there came many prophets” (1 Nephi 1:4). They didn’t come from somewhere else, any more than Lehi did. When Alma and Amulek were cast into prison, “there came many lawyers and judges and priests and teachers.” They didn’t come from somewhere else; they were part of the community.
In the context of Jacob 7, I think the phrase there came is equivalent to arose from. Thus, the passage means “there arose from among the people of Nephi a man whose name was Sherem.” This interpretation is corroborated by Sherem addressing Jacob as “Brother Jacob” and explains how Sherem knew the language and culture so well.
By contrast, Alma 30:6 says “there came a man into the land of Zarahemla,” clearly indicating the man came from outside.
The Book of Mormon Onomasticon, which offers derivations of the proper nouns used in the text, notes that “The observation has been made that the name SHEREM may not be Lehite.”[i] And yet, the text says Sherem “had a perfect knowledge of the language of the people.” I think this means Sherem was one of the non-Lehites who came over from the Old World, or one of their descendants.
Another important point in this chapter is that the Lamanites “sought by the power of their arms to destroy us continually” (verse 24). Jacob says the Nephites fortified against the Lamanites with their arms. It may be difficult to find archaeological evidence of wooden and earth fortification in this area of Tennessee from 500 B.C., but there may be evidence of ongoing, continual warfare. For example, farmers have found thousands of arrowheads in the areas, such as those found in Dade County, Georgia, and other locations that date to the Hopewell Woodland era. It seems unrealistic to expect to find more substantial evidence of this type of inter-tribal warfare from over two thousand years ago in the early period of Nephite history.
This brings up the larger question of expectations vs. reality in terms of archaeology. Archaeologists believe it was predominately a hunter-gatherer society that lived in the southeastern United States around 500 B.C.
Enos says the Lamanites

were led by their evil nature that they became wild, and ferocious, and a blood-thirsty people, full of idolatry and filthiness; feeding upon beasts of prey; dwelling in tents, and wandering about in the wilderness with a short skin girdle about their loins and their heads shaven; and their skill was in the bow, and in the cimeter, and the ax. And many of them did eat nothing save it was raw meat; and they were continually seeking to destroy us (Enos 1:20).

Such people leave behind relatively little archaeological evidence. The abundance of arrowheads in the area, however, is evidence of conflict. Bones of fallen warriors would long ago have been eaten or decomposed.
By contrast, the Nephites, according to Enos,

did till the land, and raise all manner of grain, and of fruit, and flocks of herds, and flocks of all manner of cattle of every kind, and goats, and wild goats, and also many horses (Enos 1:21).

Should we expect to find evidence of ancient farms?
The earliest evidence of agriculture has been found in dry areas of the Fertile Crescent.[ii] In Tennessee, archaeologists identify the Woodland Period (300 B.C. to A.D. 900) as the beginning of agricultural practices. Enos reports that the people raised all manner of grain and fruit. The archaeological record from this period includes remnants of

hickory nuts, walnuts, butternuts, acorns, hazelnuts, beechnuts, chestnuts, grapes, persimmons, raspberries, blackberries, strawberries, blueberries, and honey locust pods….Practicing a more sedentary life and building more permanent dwellings than their forebears, Woodland peoples also demonstrated a preference for living near river flood plains….Agricultural practices began to emerge during these centuries. The Native Americans used both native and tropical plants. Seeds were cultivated from sunflowers, sumpweeds, and chenopodiums and taken from pigweeds, knotweeds, giant ragweeds, and maygrass.”[iii]

Again, archaeological evidence is not proof of the Nephite civilization, but it is consistent with what the record says. Jacob summarizes his life experience this way:

the time passed away with us, and also our lives passed away like as it were unto us a dream, we being a lonesome and a solemn people, wanderers, cast out from Jerusalem, born in tribulation, in a wilderness, and hated of our brethren, which caused wars and contentions; wherefore, we did mourn out our days (Jacob 7:26).

This passage is consistent with a landing among a sparsely populated wilderness of hunter/gatherers who picked sides and joined with either the Nephites or the Lamanites. The ongoing conflict is between “our brethren” and not a vast pre-existing indigenous civilization.



[i] See entry for Sherem here: http://bit.ly/Moroni56.
[ii] Tia Ghose, “Evidence of Ancient Farming in Iran Discovered,” Live Science, http://bit.ly/Moroni57.
[iii] Carroll Van West, “Woodland Period,” The Tennessee Encyclopedia of History and Culture, http://bit.ly/Moroni58.

Lesson 12: Seek Ye for the Kingdom of God

This lesson covers Jacob 1-4. The Purpose: To help class members feel a greater desire to magnify their callings, be chaste, and invite others to come unto Christ. As always, the lesson manual does a great job exploring the doctrinal aspects of these verses, so I won't address that here. Instead, I look at historical and biographical context.

A good short biography of Jacob is available at the Encyclopedia of Mormonism here.

Jacob starts out by explaining that 55 years "had passed away from the time that Lehi left Jerusalem." Jacob was born in the wilderness, so he never saw Jerusalem. We don't know when Nephi was born, but we can estimate he was around 15 when Lehi left Jerusalem, making him about 70 years old when he gave the plates to Jacob. Jacob was born a few years after they left Jerusalem, say 5 years. That would make Jacob 50 years old when he started this record.

Like all but one book in the Book of Mormon, the book of Jacob is named after the main character--the person whose book it is. (The exception is Mosiah, which starts with King Benjamin as the main character. What we know as Mosiah chapter 1 was originally chapter 3, but Martin Harris lost the first two chapters as part of the lost manuscript. We know from Omni that King Benjamin's father, Mosiah, was an especially important figure because he led his people to find the land of Zarahemla, so probably the first two chapters of Mosiah that were lost discussed that King Mosiah. See Omni 1:23.)
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Jacob makes two fascinating points in Jacob 1. First, he says Nephi "anointed a man to be a king and a rule over his people." Jacob doesn't even identify the man. I infer this means the king was not a descendant of Nephi and probably not even a descendant of Lehi.

Some commentators think the new king--"Second Nephi"--was Sam, or Sam's son. E.g., see here. Others think Second Nephi was probably one of Nephi's sons. See here.

These assumptions seem premised on two things: the pattern in the Bible (kings naming sons as successors), and the assumption that Nephi's people consisted of Lehi's family, plus Zoram. As I've explained before, I think when Lehi's family landed in Florida, they encountered indigenous hunter/gatherer people whom they taught and converted. Some of the indigenous people joined with Laman, while others went with Nephi to settle the land of Nephi (in Tennessee). For whatever reason, Nephi named one of these people as his successor. Perhaps he wanted to help unite the people, or maybe one of his daughters married one of the indigenous men. (BTW, I also think the indigenous people they encountered were descendants of Jaredites, but we'll discuss that when we get to Ether later this year.)

In this scenario, it makes sense that Jacob would identify Second Nephi as simply "a man." And it also makes sense that Nephi would entrust the plates to his brother to keep them in the family line.

Another consideration is Jacob's criticism of the new king in verse 15. It's possible Jacob did not identify the king because he disapproved of him; i.e., he would not want to blame one of his nephews for the wicked practices that arose under the reign of the second king. However, Jacob seems to distance himself (and his brother Joseph) from the new king, essentially ignoring him and speaking directly to the people.
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The second fascinating point is in verse 13:

13 Now the people which were not Lamanites were Nephites; nevertheless, they were called Nephites, Jacobites, Josephites, Zoramites, Lamanites, Lemuelites, and Ishmaelites.

 14 But I, Jacob, shall not hereafter distinguish them by these names, but I shall call them Lamanites that seek to destroy the people of Nephi, and those who are friendly to Nephi I shall call Nephites, or the people of Nephi, according to the reigns of the kings.

This reinforces the idea that indigenous hunter/gatherers were aligning themselves to the family groups who came with Lehi. It's possible these tribes merely reflect the descendants of the men after whom they are named, but that seems unlikely given the description of wars among the people. Plus, Jacob doesn't use genetics to distinguish the groups. Lamanites are those "that seek to destroy the people of Nephi," while Nephites are "those who are friendly to Nephi." That description is exactly what we would expect if people are aligning themselves based on ideology or preference instead of genetics.

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One last point. Jacob accuses the people of searching "for gold and for silver and for all manner of precious ores." This is another indication of a North American setting.

From Moroni's AmericaJacob doesn’t offer much in the way of geographical information, but he does demonstrate familiarity with the Lamanites in Jacob 3:5-9. (In fact, he seems to be denouncing the Nephites’ animosity toward the Lamanites, including racism and cultural denigration, as much as the other sins he accuses the Nephites of committing.)[i] This familiarity suggests the two groups were in close contact. Despite their differences, the Nephites and Lamanites were surely trading with each other.


[i] Some commentators have made a correlation between Jacob’s denunciation in chapters 2 and 3 of the love of riches, pride and unchastity with Mesoamerican civilizations that had similar problems. See, e.g., Gardner, Traditions of the Fathers, pp. 197-201. I find that correlation illusory because the sins Jacob denounces are common to most, if not all, human societies—including ours in the present day. It’s their universal application that makes them relevant. In fact, Brother Gardner writes, “Mesoamericans did not esteem these metals [gold and silver] as highly as did the Old World. For Mesoamericans, the highest value appears to have been placed on jade.” The Book of Mormon never mentions jade, but it does often describe the value of gold and silver—further evidence that Nephite culture was not Mayan.

Thursday, March 17, 2016

Lesson 11: Press Forward with a Steadfastness in Christ

This lesson covers 2 Nephi 31-33Additional reading: Moroni 7:13–17Doctrine and Covenants 20:37, 71–74.

From a doctrinal perspective, these chapters are among the most important in the text, as the lesson manual explains very well. Nephi explains how anyone can come to know the truth about the doctrine of Christ, and what leads to eternal life: 

"Wherefore, ye must press forward with a steadfastness in Christ, having a perfect brightness of hope, and a love of God and of all men. Wherefore, if ye shall press forward, feasting upon the word of Christ, and endure to the end, behold, thus saith the Father: Ye shall have eternal life."

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These chapters don't directly contain any information relating to historicity; instead, they tell us how to find answers to our questions and how to discern truth. Nephi write, "For my soul delighteth in plainness; for after this manner doth the Lord God work among the children of men. For the Lord God giveth light unto the understanding; for he speaketh unto men according to their language, unto their understanding."

Here are some plain statements that I think are relevant to issues of Book of Mormon historicity:

1. Joseph Smith, the Wentworth letter: "The principal nation of the second race fell in battle towards the close of the fourth century. The remnant are the Indians that now inhabit this country."

You can find this clear, plain statement on lds.org here. You won't find it in the chapter on the Wentworth Letter in the lesson manual Teachings of the Presidents of the Church: Joseph Smith (here) because Mesoamerican scholars managed to get it deleted from the manual.

Joseph began the letter with this request: "As Mr. Bastow has taken the proper steps to obtain correct information, all that I shall ask at his hands is that he publish the account entire, ungarnished, and without misrepresentation." It turns out, Joseph didn't need to worry about Mr. Bastow. He needed to worry about the Curriculum Committee who deleted key passages from the lesson manual.

There has been an amazing effort to twist the plain meaning of Joseph's statement by using sophistry to claim he was referring to Central America. Just read materials published by FARMS, FairMormon, BMAF, etc. 

2. The Lord called Oliver Cowdery to go on a mission in D&C 28:8 And now, behold, I say unto you that you shall go unto the Lamanites and preach my gospel unto them; and inasmuch as they receive thy teachings thou shalt cause my church to be established among them; and thou shalt have revelations, but write them not by way of commandment. 9 And now, behold, I say unto you that it is not revealed, and no man knoweth where the city Zion shall be built, but it shall be given hereafter. Behold, I say unto you that it shall be on the borders by the Lamanites.

3. The Lord called Peter Whitmer, Jr., to accompany Oliver in D&C 30:5 Behold, I say unto you, Peter, that you shall take your journey with your brother Oliver; for the time has come that it is expedient in me that you shall open your mouth to declare my gospel; therefore, fear not, but give heed unto the words and advice of your brother, which he shall give you. 6 And be you afflicted in all his afflictions, ever lifting up your heart unto me in prayer and faith, for his and your deliverance; for I have given unto him power to build up my church among the Lamanites;

4. The Lord then called Parley P. Pratt and Ziba Peterson to accompany Oliver and Peter in D&C 32:2 And that which I have appointed unto him is that he shall go with my servants, Oliver Cowdery and Peter Whitmer, Jun., into the wilderness among the Lamanites. 3 And Ziba Peterson also shall go with them; and I myself will go with them and be in their midst; and I am their advocate with the Father, and nothing shall prevail against them.

The revelations appear fairly "plain" to me, but Church scholars are hedging even on this. For example, the Joseph Smith Papers provide a Historical Introduction that casts these verses as a sort of quaint folk belief: 

"In September and October 1830, a series of revelations directed Oliver Cowdery, Peter Whitmer Jr., Parley P. Pratt, and Ziba Peterson to serve a mission “among the Lamanites”—understood by them to be the American Indians."

I absolutely love the Joseph Smith papers, but I can't make sense of that explanation. It was not the missionaries who designated the American Indians as Lamanites--it was the Lord, through revelation.

Where did these missionaries go? They went to Native American Indian tribes in New York, Ohio, and Missouri (tribes that had been forced from their homelands around the Great Lakes). How could the Lord have made it any more plain that Lehi's descendants lived in the northeastern and midwestern United States?

Oliver, Peter, Parley and Ziba signed a mutual covenant regarding their mission. The editors of the Joseph Smith papers were referring to this when they made the comment about what these missionaries "understood," but it is plain that their understanding came directly from the Lord, not from some sort of common tradition of unknown origin that Joseph Smith simply adopted. Yet that is what the Mesoamerican advocates want people to believe. In fact, this idea that Oliver Cowdery naively thought the American Indians were Lamanites is also evident in the display placard at the new Church History museum.

Here's the covenant:

Manchester, Oct. 17, 1830.
I, Oliver Cowdery, being commanded of the Lord God, to go forth unto the Lamanites, to proclaim glad tidings of great joy unto them, by presenting unto them the fulness of the Gospel, of the only begotten son of God; and also, to rear up a pillar as a witness where the Temple of God shall be built, in the glorious New-Jerusalem; and having certain brothers with me, who are called of God to assist me, whose names are Parley P. Pratt, Peter Whitmer Jr. and Ziba Peterson, do therefore most solemnly covenant before God, that I will walk humbly before him, and do this business, and this glorious work according as he shall direct me by the Holy Ghost; ever praying for mine and their prosperity, and deliverance from bonds, and from imprisonments, and whatsoever may befal us, with all patience and faith.— Amen.
OLIVER COWDERY.
We, the undersigned, being called and commanded of the Lord God, to accompany our Brother Oliver Cowdery, to go to the Lamanites, and to assist in the above mentioned glorious work and business. We do, therefore, most solemnly covenant before God, that we will assist him faithfully in this thing, by giving heed unto all his words and advice, which is, or shall be given him by the spirit of truth, ever praying with all prayer and supplication, for our and his prosperity, and our deliverance from bonds, and imprisonments, and whatsoever may come upon us, with all patience and faith.—Amen.
Signed in presence of
JOSEPH SMITH, Jun.
DAVID WHITMER,
P. P. PRATT,
ZIBA PETERSON,

PETER WHITMER Jr. 







Gospel Doctrine classes so far

In the last two weeks, we've attended Gospel Doctrine classes in Hawaii and Tennessee. In one class, the teacher brought up the Journey of Faith video; in the other, people discussed the Scriptures Legacy video. I'll use these experiences to comment on what is happening so far in 2016 Gospel Doctrine classes. People throughout the Church are interested in external evidence of the historicity of the Book of Mormon, including the basic question of geography. Fortunately, there are good answers. Unfortunately, there are some very bad answers continuing to be circulated.
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Journey of Faith describes Lehi's journey from Jerusalem to the land Bountiful on the Arabian peninsula. It's an excellent video and gave us some good ideas of places to visit on one of our trips to Israel. For example, we probably wouldn't have visited Timna, the ancient Egyptian copper mining area, if we hadn't watched Journey of Faith. When we were there, we met two other couples, one from Israel and the other relatives from the U.S. We explained we were from Utah and they recognized some of the parallels between Utah and Israel: a large salty sea (Dead Sea/Great Salt Lake) fed by a smaller fresh water lake (Sea of Galilee/Utah Lake). They hadn't known the river between the two was called the Jordan River in Utah as it is in Israel. They knew Utah was a desert like Israel, with irrigation from the mountains to make the land productive. But then, since we were in Timna, they pointed out what they thought was a distinction: "One thing you don't have in Utah is a large copper mine like we have here at Timna."

They hadn't heard of the Bingham (Kennecott) Copper Mine, visible from everywhere in Salt Lake Valley, which is the largest man-made excavation in the world and has been in production for over 100 years.

Back to the video. The web page describes it like this:

"The images of the Arabian desert captured in the film Journey of Faith make Alma's description all the more vivid. The film seeks to capture in word and image both the monumental challenges that Lehi and Sariah faced in the wilderness and the importance of this venture, which was celebrated and remembered by their descendants for a thousand years thereafter." 

Obviously, the reference to Alma should be Nephi. (The web page has several technical issues besides this typo.)

I recommend the first video titled Journey of Faith.

However, there is a major problem with other parts of the web page (and the Neal A. Maxwell Institute generally). There is a section titled "The Three and Eight Witnesses." It concludes, "The testimony of these eleven men, added to those of Joseph himself and those who helped him with the translation add strength to the authenticity of the Book of Mormon and the narrative that forms the basis for the Journey of Faith." However, the rest of the web page ignores and contradicts what two of the Three Witnesses said.

There is a section titled "The Book of Mormon: External Evidences Part II" that focuses on "The New World." It focuses on Mesoamerica!

Here's the justification given on the page: "Although several theories have been advanced as to the location of the Book of Mormon narrative, the most work has been done in Mesoamerica... Since Journey of Faith: The New World focuses on Mesoamerica, that will be the scope of this article."

There are so many logical and factual errors here I can't list them all, but this rationale is equivalent to saying "Although several variations of Christianity have developed over the years, including Mormonism, the most work has been done based on Christianity based on the Nicene Creed, so that will be the scope of this article." What possible relevance is "the most work" when the work is based on a flawed premise?

The entire Mesoamerican theory is based on the premise that Oliver Cowdery was a liar. 

Cowdery wrote that it was a fact that the final battles of the Jaredites and Nephites took place within the one-mile wide valley west of the Hill Cumorah in New York. (See Letter VII.) Joseph helped him write that, had his scribes copy Cowdery's letter into his own journal, and had Cowdery's account republished multiple times in Church publications while he was alive. Yet the Mesoamerican proponents insist Oliver Cowdery and Joseph Smith were merely speculating, repeating a false tradition, etc.

So if you're teaching Gospel Doctrine classes (or if you're attending classes), the only value of the video The New World is to see how deeply the false Mesoamerican ideas have infiltrated the Church. You owe it to yourself to get educated about these issues and learn all you can about the North American setting.
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Scriptures Legacy. This video was produced by the Church and is excellent. You can view or download it here. The description from the lds.org is a good summary: What if Moroni had met his demise before he could hide the sacred gold plates in the Hill Cumorah? And what if William Tyndale’s translations of the Holy Bible had been destroyed by King Henry VIII?

An account of Christ appearing to people in the Americas is recorded in 3 Nephi 11.

One of the most striking aspects of the video is its depiction of Christ visiting the Nephites in North America, as this image from the video shows.

Finally, we're not looking at pagan Mayan pyramids in Central America as if they were Nephite structures.

Maybe next we'll get a video supporting what Oliver Cowdery and Joseph Smith said about the Hill Cumorah in New York.

And then, maybe, eventually, the Maxwell Institute will stop promoting the Mesoamerican geography just because "the most work" has been done there.