Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Passover in the Book of Mormon (Howlers # 25 )

As important as the passover was, and is, among all people of Jewish descent, the Book of Mormon (said to be a history of Jewish descendants) makes no mention of its people ever keeping the passover, nor even hints that its people knew anything about it.
                   Jack Free, Mormonism and Inspiration (1962), 125.

The following first appeared as a FARMS Update in August 1984 and was subsequently published in John W. Welch, ed., Reexploring the Book of Mormon (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1992), 196-98.

Passover, of course, commemorates the deliverance of the Israelites from Egypt by the power of God. As part of this celebration, fathers would gather their sons (as in Alma 35:16) in accordance with Exodus 10:2, which told the Jews "to tell in the ears of thy son, and of thy son's son, what things I have wrought in Egypt." Alma would have followed this rule since the Nephites "were strict in observing . . . the law of Moses" at this time (Alma 30:3).

According to traditions at least as early as the time of Christ and probably earlier (See Abraham P. Bloch, The Biblical and Historical Background of the Jewish Holy Days (New York: KTAV, 1978), 128-33), after gathering his family the father then instructed his sons and answered their questions. His words were not fixed but were "to fit the knowledge and understanding of the child" and were supposed "to spell out the sequence of sin, suffering, repentance, and redemption" (Ibid., 131-32). Each of Alma's admonitions to his sons, Helaman (Alma 36-37), Shiblon (Alma 38), and Corianton (Alma 39-42), does this precisely, each in its own way.

Moreover, three Passover questions are found in the Bible. Traditionally, each of these questions was asked in turn by the sons and was answered by the father. In time, each of these questions came to be associated with a different type of son.

First, "What is the meaning of the testimonies, and the statutes, and the judgments, which the Lord our God hath commanded you?" (Deuteronomy 6:20). This question was asked at Passover by a wise son. Helaman stands as the wise son: In talking to Helaman, Alma mentions "wisdom" at least eight times in Alma 37. Notice also how Alma explains the meaning of the laws and testimonies of God as he explains the meaning of the plates of Nephi (preserved for a "wise purpose"), the twenty-four gold plates, and the Liahona in Alma 37. The Jewish father was especially expected to explain the meaning of traditional things to "future generations" (Ibid., 153), and to use "allegorical interpretation." (Ibid., 157). Alma does exactly this. See Alma 37:19 ("future generations") and Alma 37:45 ("is there not a type in this thing?").

Second, "What mean ye by this service?" (Exodus 12:26). This question was asked by a wicked son. This son is depicted in the Jewish literature as one guilty of social crimes, who had excluded himself from the community, and believed in false doctrines. According to Jewish practice, he is to be told, in a manner that will "set his teeth on edge," that he will be punished for his own sins, and that, had he been in Egypt, he would not have been redeemed.(Ibid., 159-63). Such is unmistakably the thrust of Alma's words to Corianton—who had left the ministry (see Alma 39:3), caused social problems (see Alma 39:11), followed false doctrines (see Alma 41:9), and is taught by his father about nothing but redemption and one's personal suffering for sin (see Alma 41:3-4, 7).

Third, "What is this?" (Exodus 13:14), is an ambiguous question. Is it sarcastic or serious? Israelite tradition said that the uninformed son who asked this question needed to be taught the law and given preventative instruction to keep him well away from any risk of breaking the law (Ibid., 163-64). This, indeed, is what Alma tells Shiblon, as he teaches him to be diligent (see Alma 38:10) and gives him a high code of conduct (see Alma 38:11-14).

Many other Passover themes are detectable in Alma 35-42. Alma speaks of "crying out" (compare Deuteronomy 26:7; Alma 36:18) for deliverance from "affliction" (compare Deuteronomy 26:6; Alma 36:3, 27; especially the unleavened Passover "bread of affliction") and from bondage in Egypt (Alma 36:28), from the "night of darkness" (compare Alma 41:7; Exodus 12:30), and from bitter suffering (Alma 36:18, 21; related to the Passover "bitter herbs"in Exodus 12:8). The Paschal lamb may parallel some of Alma's references to Christ; and the hardness of Pharaoh's heart (see Exodus 11:10) may parallel Alma's reference to the hardness of his people's hearts (see Alma 35:15). Just as Alma's deliverance was preceded by three days and nights of darkness (see Alma 36:16), so was the first Passover (see Exodus 10:22).

Although still tentative, the proposition is already quite intriguing, if not compelling: Alma's messages to his three sons were spoken in conjunction with a Nephite observance of the feast of the Passover.

Friday, February 14, 2014

The Real Book of Mormon

Our pageants and our films too often in the past have been cardboard cutout kinds of things–almost scriptural Barbies and Kens. I want them to be flesh and blood human beings, the real Nephi, the real Alma, the real Mormon and Moroni, as far as we can construct the real–discover the real. This reality, to counter the fantasy–the sense of fantasy that so many of us have about the Book of Mormon as a mere story–requires that we know where events took place and, of course, when they took place. That means geography and history with a capital “H.”

John Sorenson, “The Book of Mormon in Ancient America,” (1994), 5.

Monday, February 10, 2014

"Ask With a Firmness Unshaken" (Mormon 9:28)

Moroni invites us all to repent and come unto Christ

Doubt not, but be believing, and begin as in times of old, and come unto the Lord with all your heart, and work out your own salvation with fear and trembling before him. Be wise in the days of your probation; strip yourselves of all uncleanliness; ask not that ye may consume it on your lusts, but ask with a firmness unshaken, that ye will yield to no temptation, but that ye will serve the true and living God (Mormon 9:27-28).

Thomas Rogers who served as a mission President in Russia wrote of the conversion of a man he first approached on a street to whom he introduced the Book of Mormon. .

As we emerged from behind the building onto an unfamiliar street, we saw a tall, muscular man and his petite wife pushing a baby carriage in our direction. As missionaries, we’d been challenged to speak to someone within three minutes of leaving our apartments. On this morning, it was my turn to make the first contact, so I approached the large man with the respect and caution his immense size demanded.

He was surprisingly polite and agreed to listen to my message. . . . For the next few minutes, he listened intently as I introduced myself and told him a little bit about the Church. When I removed the Book of Mormon from my bag to show him, his eyes immediately widened and he ceased looking at me. For the rest of the conversation, his gaze was focused on that Book of Mormon. He agreed to meet with us the next day, and when I gave him the book, he cradled it gently in his hand as if it were a small child.

When we arrived the next day to teach Aleksandr the first discussion, he had already read fifteen chapters in the Book of Mormon. It took several minutes to answer all his questions before we could begin to teach him the discussion. Over the next month, I was amazed to see hm grow. He attended church every week and continued reading the Book of Mormon. I could see the sparkle of a testimony in his eyes.

Only one obstacle stood between Aleksandr and baptism. He loved to smoke. He told me later that after weeks of struggling with that habit, he finally approached the Lord in prayer. He told the Lord how grateful he was for the Church and the Book of Mormon. He expressed his burning desire to be baptized and then asked the Lord to help him quit smoking. As he opened his eyes, the immediately came to rest on a pack of cigarettes. He removed one of them and looked at it. Suddenly he realized that his physical craving to smoke had disappeared. The cigarette in his hand did not even appeal to him. In fact, it was repulsive. He tossed the whole pack over his balcony railing and walked back into his apartment. From that moment Aleksandr has never experienced the craving for a cigarette!

I baptized Aleksandr on August 6. The ordinance was performed in a lake not far from his home. As he came up out of the water, his face shone with light. My emotions grew tender as he immersed me in a giant bear hug. I felt like I’d been preparing for that moment for nineteen years.

(Thomas F. Rogers, A Call to Russia: Glimpses of Missionary Life. Provo: BYU Studies, 1999, 61).

Friday, February 7, 2014

Scholarly Authority

When we use a word like archaeology or archaeologist, most people automatically think, “Oh, these are authorities, they know what they are talking about”–not necessarily the case at all. They fail in many ways to be any more critical than you and I. They are trapped, in a way, with their opinions. They have their interpretations, which they learn from each other. There are many things which they refuse to acknowledge. As a matter of fact, in the realm of Bible studies, most of the archaeologists simply do not believe in the Bible as an inspired text. They see it as one historical document of considerable interest, but they do not take the religious sense of the Bible. Archaeologists can be wrong linguists can be wrong, historians can be wrong, all of those who study the ancient world can be wrong in detail. Nevertheless, they control a large body of information that potentially can shed light.

John Sorenson, “The Book of Mormon in Ancient America,” (1994), 7-8.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

A Mighty Change of Heart

I know another good man who was reared in a family without the blessings of the gospel. Through a series of unfortunate events in his early youth, he was introduced to homosexuality, and gradually he became a prisoner of this addictive behavior.

One day two young missionaries knocked on his door and asked if he would be interested in learning of the restored gospel of Jesus Christ. In his heart of hearts he wanted to be freed from his prison of uncleanliness, but feeling unable to change the direction his life had taken, he terminated the missionary discussions. Before leaving his apartment, the two elders left a copy of the Book of Mormon with him, and testified of its truthfulness.

My friend placed the book on his bookshelf and forgot about it for several years. He continued acting out his homosexual tendencies, assuming that such relationships would bring him happiness. But alas, with each passing year, his misery increased.

One day in the depths of despair, he scanned his bookshelf for something to read which might edify and uplift him and restore his self worth. His eye caught hold of the book with a dark blue cover, which the missionaries had given him several years before. He began to read. On the second page of this book, he read of Father Lehi’s vision in which he was given a book to read, and “as he read he was filled with the Spirit of the Lord” (1 Nephi 1:12). And as my good friend continued reading, he too was filled with the Spirit of the Lord.

He read King Benjamin’s benedictory challenge to undergo a might change of heart–not a little change, but a mighty change. He was given hope by the comforting conversion of Enos, Alma, Ammon, and Aaron. He was also inspired by the account of the Savior’s visit to the ancient Nephites. By the time he reached the final page of the Book of Mormon, he was prepared to accept Moroni’s loving invitation to “come unto Christ, and be perfected in him, and deny yourselves of all ungodliness” (Moroni 10:32).

My friend contacted the Church and was taught the gospel and was baptized. Within a relatively short time, he married a lovely young woman, and they are parents of several beautiful children. He and his wife are very dynamic and committed servants of the Lord, influencing many others for good.

Spencer J Condie, Conference Report, October 1993, 20.

Monday, February 3, 2014

The Book of Mormon in English

A revealed text in English is infinitely to be preferred to an original in a language that no one on earth could claim as his own. It frees the members and leaders of the Church as it frees the investigating world from the necessity of becoming philologists or, worse still, of having to rely on the judgment of philologists, as a prerequisite to understanding this great book. At he same time, it puts upon the modern world an obligation to study and learn, from which that world could easily plead immunity were the book in an ancient language or couched in the labored and pretentious idiom that learned men adopt when they try to decipher ancient texts.

Hugh Nibley, "New Approaches to Book of Mormon Study," The Prophetic Book of Mormon (1989), 97