“For a Wise Purpose”
Enos, Jarom, Omni, Words of Mormon
LDS manual: here
To show how the Book of Mormon gets it wrong.
There’s a little problem with the Book of Mormon. Actually, kind of a big problem.
You’re the writer. You want to start bringing lots of characters into your narrative. Maybe have some crowd scenes, with masses of people. But you’re only a generation or two removed from the original group of thirty-or-so characters. That means any new characters will be related, and you can’t have everyone asking: Hey, aren’t you Jacob’s grandson? And you’re going to have a population bottleneck anyway; people don’t reproduce that fast. But writing five or six generations’ worth of characters takes a lot of effort for a lazy scammer with a criminal record (Joseph Smith), and you’re hitting writer’s block anyway, ever since someone stole your 116-page rough draft.
Solution: Time to fast-forward. Just skim the next two hundred years, and pick it up again when things get interesting.
Jarom 5 And now, behold, two hundred years had passed away, and the people of Nephi had waxed strong in the land….
There, that ought to do it.
So that’s what this reading is about. But don’t worry — there’s enough here for a full lesson.
Book of Mormon structure
Let’s talk for a bit about how the parts of the Book of Mormon interlock.
Up to now, the Book of Mormon has mostly concerned the story of Nephi. It’s a ripping read (at least at first) because this was the writer’s second go at it. The first draft was destroyed when Joseph Smith let Martin Harris (who was after all providing the money for this, the sucker) borrow it to show his wife, who presumably burned it. You never let your first draft get out of your hands without photocopying it!
But the second draft was a keeper. A good argument for rewriting.
Now a few of the story threads are combining. Smith (or whoever) wrote an earlier migration into his story — a group that came from the supposed Tower of Babel. The last character alive from that group was called Coriantumr, and his story comes later, in the Book of Ether. But check it out — he makes a special guest appearance here! It brings the two groups together. What a great device.
Omni 20 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.
21 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.
22 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.
So there are some very cool things happening in this reading.
“For a wise purpose”
Also something that’s kind of dumb. We also have a compiler character, Mormon, breaking in to tell us what he’s doing.
Words of Mormon 3 And now, I speak somewhat concerning that which I have written; for after I had made an abridgment from the plates of Nephi, down to the reign of this king Benjamin, of whom Amaleki spake, I searched among the records which had been delivered into my hands, and I found these plates, which contained this small account of the prophets, from Jacob down to the reign of this king Benjamin, and also many of the words of Nephi.
4 And the things which are upon these plates pleasing me, because of the prophecies of the coming of Christ; and my fathers knowing that many of them have been fulfilled; yea, and I also know that as many things as have been prophesied concerning us down to this day have been fulfilled, and as many as go beyond this day must surely come to pass —
5 Wherefore, I chose these things, to finish my record upon them, which remainder of my record I shall take from the plates of Nephi; and I cannot write the hundredth part of the things of my people.
6 But behold, I shall take these plates, which contain these prophesyings and revelations, and put them with the remainder of my record, for they are choice unto me; and I know they will be choice unto my brethren.
7 And I do this for a wise purpose; for thus it whispereth me, according to the workings of the Spirit of the Lord which is in me. And now, I do not know all things; but the Lord knoweth all things which are to come; wherefore, he worketh in me to do according to his will.
In other words, Mormon is writing Nephi’s bit again, but doesn’t know why. But we do — the 116-page first draft got stolen.
So… God was able to preserve the gold plates, but he was unable to prevent someone from taking the manuscript of Nephi’s story, once it got translated into English. And God couldn’t just have it be translated again. So instead of doing any of those things, he decided to — hundreds of years ahead of time — get Mormon to etch out Nephi’s story again, when space on the plates was at a premium.
I can think of about 11 better ways that God could have recovered from the lost-116-pages problem, just off the top of my head.
- Tell Smith who took the 116 pages, and where they put them. Then get them back.
- Give whoever took the manuscript a heart attack before they could take it, like Uzzah and the ark.
- Send an angel with a sword to prevent Smith from giving Harris the rough draft, just like the angel that told Smith to marry teenagers.
- Send the angel with the sword to whoever took the 116 pages, and threaten them if they don’t give them back.
- Cause whoever took the 116 pages to not want to take them, like how God changed Pharaoh’s heart.
- Turn whoever took the 116 pages into an ally by appearing to them personally and explaining why the pages are so important.
- Get Smith to translate the 116 pages again from the plates that he still had. Come on, God, don’t be such a wuss. You can outsmart those bad guys.
- Simply inspire Smith to write Nephi’s section again, without the plates.
- Have an angel deliver the pages to Smith.
- Have the 116 pages magically appear on Smith’s desk. (“In his hat” says redditor shipl14. Impressive snark there!)
- Tell the post-mortal Nephi to go down and tell his story to Smith, Q-and-A style. An intimate interview with Nephi! Who wouldn’t go for that?
And that’s just off the top of my head! Throughout the church’s history, there have been so many ways that God could have not made Joseph Smith look like a total bullshitter, and he just didn’t do any of them. Instead, God decided to use a Rube God-berg solution — one that looks exactly like humans who don’t know what they’re doing.
Main ideas for this lesson
Enos was spending some time alone. He was used to doing this, as he got teased a lot about his name. Eeeeenos.
Enos 2 And I will tell you of the wrestle which I had before God, before I received a remission of my sins.
3 Behold, I went to hunt beasts in the forests; and the words which I had often heard my father speak concerning eternal life, and the joy of the saints, sunk deep into my heart.
4 And my soul hungered; and I kneeled down before my Maker, and I cried unto him in mighty prayer and supplication for mine own soul; and all the day long did I cry unto him; yea, and when the night came I did still raise my voice high that it reached the heavens.
5 And there came a voice unto me, saying: Enos, thy sins are forgiven thee, and thou shalt be blessed.
6 And I, Enos, knew that God could not lie; wherefore, my guilt was swept away.
I tried this once as a young bloke. I suppose I was impressed by the story. I prayed for as long as I could, but nothing happened. Either I stopped too soon, or God’s imaginary. Maybe a bit of both.
Here’s Enos’s description of the Lamanites.
Enos 20 And I bear record that the people of Nephi did seek diligently to restore the Lamanites unto the true faith in God. But our labors were vain; their hatred was fixed, and they were led by their evil nature that they became wild, and ferocious, and a bloodthirsty 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.
But cimeters and axes? Did they exist in the Americas during this time?
According to the Oxford Handbook of Mesoamerican Archaeology, no. Metal working wouldn’t happen until the Late Classical Period (600–900 AD), and cimeters and axes wouldn’t be a part of it.
See page 123 for more.
Who is a Lamanite?
Jarom writes that the Book of Mormon was written “for the intent of the benefit of our brethren the Lamanites”.
Jarom 2 And as these plates are small, and as these things are written for the intent of the benefit of our brethren the Lamanites, wherefore, it must needs be that I write a little; but I shall not write the things of my prophesying, nor of my revelations. For what could I write more than my fathers have written? For have not they revealed the plan of salvation? I say unto you, Yea; and this sufficeth me.
So who’s a Lamanite?
According to Joseph Smith and all the early brethren, the Lamanites were Native Americans. When they were called to teach the gospel to the Lamanites, where did they go? Straight to the Native Americans. There was no thought of going anywhere else.
This view persisted into the 1970s and 80s. Here’s an article in the Ensign, written by my own uncle, Dallas Burnett! Small world.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is unique in its theological and philosophical understanding of the peoples in the Americas known as Indians and of the inhabitants of the Pacific islands. These people are a remnant of the House of Jacob and descendants of Lehi, an Israelite who left Jerusalem and came to the Americas around 600 B.C. Found in the Book of Mormon, a record of revelations received by these ancient peoples, are great promises for the Lamanites.
These prophetic promises prompted Joseph Smith, who translated and published the Book of Mormon in 1830, to carry the gospel to the Lamanites in the very early days of the Church’s existence. And from that day until this the gospel has been preached to those who are identified as Lamanites.
And Spencer Kimball, then President of the Quorum of the Twelve, said the same.
With pride I tell those who come to my office that a Lamanite is a descendant of one Lehi who left Jerusalem six hundred years before Christ and with his family crossed the mighty deep and landed in America. And Lehi and his family became the ancestors of all of the Indian and Mestizo tribes in North and South and Central America and in the islands of the sea, for in the middle of their history there were those who left America in ships of their making and went to the islands of the sea.
Not until the revelations of Joseph Smith, bringing forth the Book of Mormon, did any one know of these migrants. It was not known before, but now the question is fully answered. Now the Lamanites number about sixty million; they are in all of the states of America from Tierra del Fuego all the way up to Point Barrows, and they are in nearly all the islands of the sea from Hawaii south to southern New Zealand. The Church is deeply interested in all Lamanites because of these revelations and because of this great Book of Mormon, their history that was written on plates of gold and deposited in the hill.
Find more sources here:
But research into DNA has falsified that claim. Native Americans are not Hebrews; they’re Asians.
There’s a lot of information (and disinformation) on this, but as a starting point, check out the blog of Simon Southerton, a biologist and former bishop.
Scientists studying Native American populations see no cultural or genetic connection between Old and New World populations. There is a broad consensus view among archaeologists, geologists and biologists, based on more than a century of excavating thousands of archaeological sites, that the New World was first populated at least fifteen thousand years ago, and possibly as early as twenty thousand years ago, by migrants from Asia. These people entered the Americas via a wide expanse of land—called Beringia—which connected northeastern Asia with northwestern North America during ice ages when sea levels were lower. These small groups of migrants soon exploited the richness of the “new world,” and their populations grew quickly and expanded across the North and South American continents over a few thousand years. There is widespread agreement among archaeologists that there is no evidence that the cultural developments unveiled in the archaeological record in the New World were in any way inspired by visitors or migrants from Africa, Europe, or Asia.
Simon’s interviews on Mormon Stories is worth a listen, as well.
So this is a problem. If you’re looking for an honest-to-goodness Lamanite — a descendent of Laman or Lemuel — there’s literally no one you can point to. Yet the Book of Mormon was meant to benefit the Lamanites. Suddenly it’s a book without its primary intended audience. So who was this all for again?
Apologists like Mike Ash argue that the term ‘Lamanite’ is actually a cultural term, and not necessarily a genetic one.
As discussed in an article earlier this year, the term “Lamanite” has at least three ways in which it can be understood: by genetics, by culture or through genealogy. My earlier articles on DNA and the Book of Mormon demonstrated that not all of one’s descendants will end up with the DNA genetic markers of one’s ancestors. So while the Native Americans of Joseph Smith’s local vicinity may be genetically descended from the Lehites, there is currently no way to demonstrate this link or the lack thereof.
My response: Thank goodness God sent us Mike Ash to sort Joseph Smith out. Funny how Smith got it so wrong, only being a prophet.
Geneticists have rejected Ash’s explanation.
Was there steel in the ancient Americas? The Book of Mormon says so.
Jarom 8 And we multiplied exceedingly, and spread upon the face of the land, and became exceedingly rich in gold, and in silver, and in precious things, and in fine workmanship of wood, in buildings, and in machinery, and also in iron and copper, and brass and steel, making all manner of tools of every kind to till the ground, and weapons of war — yea, the sharp pointed arrow, and the quiver, and the dart, and the javelin, and all preparations for war.
But, as before, there’s no evidence of metallurgy during this period.
I got curious as to how you could make your own steel at home, and I found this page:
It looks pretty cool! Or hot, actually. It uses modern tools, and I’m not sure how it would work if you tried to substitute that kinds of tools you’d have around 300 BCE. And I’m no archaeologist, but I’m pretty sure that this would leave a small mountain of archaeological artifacts. Naturally, no such steel smelting site has been found.
Does language degenerate?
In the book of Omni, we find the earlier group of Hebrews. Notice what it says about language.
Omni 15 Behold, it came to pass that Mosiah discovered that the people of Zarahemla came out from Jerusalem at the time that Zedekiah, king of Judah, was carried away captive into Babylon.
16 And they journeyed in the wilderness, and were brought by the hand of the Lord across the great waters, into the land where Mosiah discovered them; and they had dwelt there from that time forth.
17 And at the time that Mosiah discovered them, they had become exceedingly numerous. Nevertheless, they had had many wars and serious contentions, and had fallen by the sword from time to time; and their language had become corrupted; and they had brought no records with them; and they denied the being of their Creator; and Mosiah, nor the people of Mosiah, could understand them.
From the LDS manual:
Explain that the second half of the book of Omni, written by Amaleki, illustrates the importance of preserving the records by showing what happened to a people that had not preserved its records.
• Why were the people of Zarahemla (the Mulekites) so happy to see Mosiah and his followers? (See Omni 1:14.) What consequences did Amaleki imply had come to the Mulekites because they did not bring any records with them when they left Jerusalem? (See Omni 1:17. Their language had degenerated and they had lost the knowledge of Jesus Christ and His teachings.) How might we be affected if we did not have the scriptures? (See Mosiah 1:3–5.) How are we affected when we have the scriptures but do not study them?
So let’s look at the implications.
- The people didn’t have written records.
- As a result, their language “degenerated”.
As a linguist, I see a problem here. What does it mean for a language to “degenerate”? People sometimes talk about a language becoming “corrupted” or “bastardised”, but this is not a linguistically sound judgment. Languages change, but this process is neither good nor bad.
Also, even if they’d had written records, that wouldn’t stop language from changing. English has changed over a thousand years, despite having written records. What happens is that language changes, and then we change our writing system. Consider also Latin, and how it evolved into the Romance languages, despite their writing system. Language change is not something that can be halted, and in the very long term, everything is on the table.
This is another area where the Book of Mormon gets it wrong. Any being that would qualify as a god would have known this.