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

Saturday, April 23, 2016

Lesson 15: Eternally Indebted to Your Heavenly Father

This lesson covers Mosiah 1-3. There is a lot of material in here relevant to historicity and geography, but I'm only going to mention two things.

First, again from Moroni's America, "King Benjamin taught his sons the importance of language, but apparently the writing system was difficult. Lehi could read the engravings on the brass plates because he “had been taught in the language of the Egyptians” (verse 4), and yet the plates contained the Hebrew Torah. One needed to understand the “learning” of the Jews and the “language” of the Egyptians (1 Nephi 1:2). Brother Sorenson explains this:

"King Benjamin wanted his three sons to become ‘men of understanding,’ so he ‘caused that they should be taught in all the language of his fathers, . . . that they might know concerning the prophecies which had been spoken by the mouths of their fathers.’ (Mosiah 1:2). The expression “in all the language” can only mean that different degrees of mastery were possible. He wanted the princes to master the system to the maximum degree, not to have just a superficial knowledge... The substantial time investment required to attain mastery of the texts explains the later observation that “some were ignorant because of their poverty, and others did receive great learning because of their riches” (3 Nephi 6:12). Unlike Benjamin’s princes, the Nephite poor could not afford the years of study, nor the mentors, needed to master full literacy." [i]

Without a written language, “even our fathers would have dwindled in unbelief, and we should have been like unto our brethren, the Lamanites, who know nothing concerning these things or even do not believe them when they are taught them because of the traditions of their fathers, which are not correct” (verse 5).

Benjamin’s declaration indicates that the Lamanites, like the Mulekites before Mosiah taught them, did not have a written language. This is consistent with the experience in North America, where there is little evidence of written language, and inconsistent with Mesoamerica, where there is abundant evidence of written language.
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The second thing King Benjamin taught is very relevant to questions of historicity and evidence. Look at verse 6:

 O my sons, I would that ye should remember that these sayings are true, and also that these records are true. And behold, also the plates of Nephi, which contain the records and the sayings of our fathers from the time they left Jerusalem until now, and they are true; and we can know of their surety because we have them before our eyes.

The last clause was no doubt important for Joseph Smith; he had the plates sitting on the table, under a cloth. He didn't translate directly from the plates, but their presence gave him and Oliver the assurance--the surety--that the words they were recording were true.

Likewise, in our day, we have the physical evidence of the Book of Mormon civilization before our eyes, helping us know of the surety of the words in the text.


[i] John L. Sorenson, Mormon’s Codex, p. 216-218.

Lesson 14: For a Wise Purpose

This lesson covers Enos, Jarom, Omni, and Words of Mormon. These four short books are important for many reasons, but I'm going to focus just on what Omni tells us about the geography issues.

First, we learn that King Mosiah led his people from the land of Nephi to the land of Zarahemla to avoid the approaching Lamanites. In Omni 1:12, Mosiah was "warned of the Lord that he should flee out of the land of Nephi." In verse 13, "they were led by the power of his arm through the wilderness until they came down into the land which is called the land of Zarahemla."

By now, I hope everyone can envision this as leaving the Chattanooga area for Illinois, like this map shows:

Mosiah (blue arrows) leaving Nephi for Zarahemla to avoid Lamanites (black arrows)


Although the text doesn't specify that they went to the city of Zarahemla, we assume they eventually did. Reciting from memory because his people had no written language, Zarahemla related the history of his people, going back to the time of Zedekiah, king of Judah. They (we call them the Mulekites) crossed "the great waters into the land where Mosiah discovered them and they had dwelt there from that time forth."

This fits nicely with D&C 125 because an ocean-going vessel can travel all the way up the Mississippi until it reaches the Des Moines rapids, just south of Nauvoo. The Mulekites would have had to stop there, and it's such a favorable location, they would have no reason to migrate elsewhere (although they expanded beyond the city of Zarahemla throughout what was known as the "land of Zarahemla").

Mulekites cross Atlantic, sail up Mississippi, settle in Zarahemla across from Nauvoo
Corps of Engineers graphic of Mississippi River bed,
showing the Des Moines rapids as the first impassable part heading north



The next cool thing is Coriantumr's encounter with the people of Zarahemla. To understand this, we need to go to Ether a little.

The next section is taken from Moroni's America:

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Omni 1:20-22

And it came to pass in the days of Mosiah there was a large stone brought unto him with engravings on it and he did interpret the engravings by the gift and power of God. And they gave an account of one Coriantumr and the slain of his people. And Coriantumr was discovered by the people of Zarahemla; and he dwelt with them for the space of nine moons. It also spake a few words concerning his fathers. And his first parents came out from the tower at the time the Lord confounded the language of the people and the severity of the Lord fell upon them according to his judgments which are just and their bones lay scattered in the land northward.

The sequence of events shows that Zarahemla had not mentioned Coriantumr or the Jaredites to Mosiah before the stone was brought forth. The parenthetical—“And Coriantumr was discovered by the people of Zarahemla; and he dwelt with them for the space of nine moons”—is ambiguous. The information could have been taken from the engravings, or perhaps the bringing of the stone prompted Zarahemla to tell Mosiah that his people had discovered Coriantumr. The text doesn’t say when Coriantumr lived. It could have been during Zarahemla’s lifetime or much earlier.[i]
Either way, there is no indication that the people of Zarahemla had themselves discovered any Jaredite remains. Everything Mosiah learned about the Jaredites at this point came from his translation of the engravings on the stone. This is important because it corroborates Amaleki’s statement that the Lord led the Mulekites to the land where they settled and they never left that land. If they went directly to Iowa, then they never visited the land where the Jaredites lived and were ultimately destroyed—i.e., Cumorah.

The printed text does not retain the capitalization found in the printer’s manuscript on the assumption that capitalization was random. The printer’s manuscript capitalizes the word “Northward” here, suggesting it may be a proper noun. Some instances in the printer’s manuscript capitalize northward, while others do not.

[NOTE: The account in Omni is straightforward, but some commentators have confused it with what happened when King Limhi sent a search party of 43 men who inadvertently discovered the Jaredites and their record in Mosiah 8:7-12. I will address that in the Mosiah chapter.]

What about Coriantumr? How did the people of Zarahemla discover him if they didn’t discover the land where the Jaredites were destroyed? And where did the stone come from?
Ether, the final Jaredite prophet, had told Coriantumr that if he didn’t repent, “he should only live to see the fulfilling of the prophecies which had been spoken concerning another people receiving the land for their inheritance and Coriantumr should receive a burial by them and every soul should be destroyed save it were Coriantumr.” Ether 13:21. Just a few verses previously, Ether had also prophesied about the New Jerusalem.

2 For behold, they [the Jaredites] rejected all the words of Ether; for he truly told them of all things, from the beginning of man; and that after the waters had receded from off the face of this land it became a choice land above all other lands, a chosen land of the Lord; wherefore the Lord would have that all men should serve him who dwell upon the face thereof;
3 And that it was the place of the New Jerusalem, which should come down out of heaven, and the holy sanctuary of the Lord.
4 Behold, Ether saw the days of Christ, and he spake concerning a New Jerusalem upon this land. (Ether 13:2-4)

As the sole survivor of the final battle, living all by himself in Cumorah (Ether having either died or declined to join him), Coriantumr surely would have remembered Ether’s prophecies. Ether correctly prophesied that Coriantumr would be the sole survivor; wouldn’t Coriantumr therefore believe that the New Jerusalem would come? Ether had referred to it coming to “this land” which was “a chosen land,” just as he told Coriantumr that “another people” would receive “the land for their inheritance.” Coriantumr could reasonably conclude that the site of the New Jerusalem would be where he would meet the new people who were to receive the land for their inheritance.
From D&C 84:1-5, we know the New Jerusalem will be “in the western boundaries of the State of Missouri.” How would Coriantumr get there from Cumorah?

One route would be to travel south on the Allegheny River to the Ohio River, then south and west to the Mississippi River on his way to the Missouri River, which leads directly to the New Jerusalem. Along the way, probably while on the Mississippi, he was apparently found by the people of Zarahemla, who took him in for nine months before he died.




As for the stone, I think Coriantumr carved it during those nine months he lived with the people of Zarahemla. There is no indication in Omni that Coriantumr communicated with the people. They would have had completely different languages. Unlike the situation with Mosiah, who at least shared a common Israelite ancestry and culture with the people of Zarahemla, nothing about Coriantumr’s Jaredite culture would be familiar. The people of Zarahemla did not keep records and apparently had no writing system, since Zarahemla recounted his genealogy by memory. Coriantumr, having seen another of Ether’s prophecies fulfilled—that he would see another people receive the land for their inheritance—would have wanted to leave a record of his people and his own life. Engraving a stone would probably be the only method available to do so. (Even if he knew Ether kept a record, Coriantumr would have no way of knowing what became of Ether’s plates.) Coriantumr knew the people of Zarahemla wouldn’t understand his engravings, but figured that eventually, someone would decipher it.

His hopes were realized when Mosiah arrived.


[i] Estimates for the final battle of the Jaredites range from 580 B.C. to 400 B.C. (Sorenson, An Ancient American Setting, p. 119) or as late as 200 B.C. (Gardner, Traditions of the Fathers, p. 391). This question is addressed in the Mosiah and Ether chapters.