Saturday, June 7, 2014

There Shall be no Kings Upon the Land

One of the areas we need to be careful about in reading the scriptural record or other statements about the Land of Promise is in understanding what is being said and why. Sometimes people hold a strict interpretation when it is obviously not stated as such, and other times too loose an interpretation when no leeway is intended. 
As an example, “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” (1 Nephi 13:12).
    In this passage, a specific man is suggested, not just “a man,” for the “the spirit wrought upon the man.”
    Thus, we can look to learning who that man was that Nephi saw.
    In another example, “And this land shall be a land of liberty unto the Gentiles, and there shall be no kings upon the land, who shall raise up unto the Gentiles” (2 Nephi 10:11).
    In this case, the looser interpretation is in the term “no king,” and the stricter interpretation is in the word “upon.”
    Another example is Moroni’s words to Joseph Smith: “"When I first looked upon him I was afraid, but the fear soon left me. He called me by name, and said unto me that he was a messenger sent from the presence of God to me, and that his name was Moroni. That God has a work for me to do... He said there was a book deposited written upon gold plates, giving an account of the former inhabitants of this continent, and the source from whence they sprang."
    In this case, people interpret the term “this continent,” by today’s standards, i.e., North America; however, as has been stated here many times, in the day of Joseph Smith and as late as World War II, the term continent referred to the single American Continent—there were not two continents (North America Continent or South America Continent).
    This is being brought up because we have received numerous inquiries regarding the passage about “no kings” and its meaning. As an example, one reader wrote in recently and stated: “The Book of Mormon states several times that the land which they were led to, was the Promised Land, or a Choice Land. According to the Book of Mormon, the Promised Land shall be a Land of Liberty, with no kings upon the land, and be discovered by a Gentile whom the Spirit of God wrought, to cross ‘many waters’ in order to find. Now, the Gentile who discovered the Americas is generally thought to be Christopher Columbus. In the 1879 Book of Mormon, Orson Pratt added the footnote to 1 Nephi 13:12 which named this gentile as Christopher Columbus. How then do you feel these references are not about the United States as the Land of Promise?”
Columbus landing on Watling Island in the Bahamas, which he claimed for Spain
    Many members and people seem to think that Columbus discovered the area now known as the United States. He did not—he explored areas that are now the Bahamas, Cuba and Haiti, as well as setting foot on Central America and South America on the Paria Peninsula in present-day Venezuela. On the other hand, North America was first discovered by Leif Erickson in the 11th century, and both John and Sebastian Cabot discovered New Foundland (Canada) in 1497, but neither entered what is today U.S. territory. The first person to sail to what is now the U.S. was the Spanish explorer Juan Ponce de'Leon, who was with Columbus on his second expedition in 1493, settled on Hispaniola (Dominican Republic), later discovered Puerto Rico (1506), and in 1513, discovered Florida—the first man to actually discover and set foot on what is now the area of the United States. He explored what is now southeast Georgia and Florida, and in 1521 tried to set up a farming colony of 200 people in Florida, though the Calusa Indians attacked them and the colonists fled to Cuba where de Leon died of his wounds.
    Does that make the scripture wrong? No. Not to those who understand that the vision Nephi was given related to what we now call North and South America—or the Western Hemisphere--this continent.
    As for a land of liberty, since the early part of the 19th century, all of North and South America and almost all of the islands in proximity to it, would be considered lands of liberty, though there are sharp differences in degrees of economic freedom. Liberty, of course, is “the state of being free within society from oppressive restrictions imposed by authority on one's way of life, behavior, or political views.” It is the state where a person can enjoy the freedom to pursue their own interests, and to control their own actions; where one can believe as they choose, and act upon those beliefs without infringing upon another’s beliefs and freedoms. Certainly, in this era, such as been achieved throughout almost all of the Americas—it is the economic successes and failures of various countries within the Western Hemisphere that separates one country from another.
    Now, as for kings, the scripture reads: “There shall be no kings upon the land” (2 Nephi 10:11, emphasis mine). There has never been a reigning king upon the lands of North and South America—over them, but not upon them, unless you count native Americans, such as the Four Mohawk Kings, who were three chiefs of the Iroquois Confederacy and a Mahican of the Algonquian peoples in the early 18th century.
The Four Kings. LtoR: Etow Oh Koam (Mohican), Sa Ga Yeath Qua Pieth Tow (King of Maguas), Ho Nee Yeath Taw No Row (King Canajoharie and Tee Yee Ho Ga Row (King Hendrick), who visited Queen Anne in England in 1710
    One might also make an exception for Hawaii, who was ruled over by Queen Liliuokalani, who was upon the land. But it is doubtful that one would count James Jesse Strang, who reigned as the crowned king of an ecclesiastical monarchy upon Beaver Islands in Michigan over 12,000 people.
    On the other hand, King George III was king over what is now the United States; Canada has always had a king/queen, thought it actually rules itself; Spain ruled much of South America. In fact, even today there are thirteen monarchies in the Americas, i.e., self-governing states and territories in North and South America where supreme power resides with an individual, who is recognized as the head of state. Each is a constitutional monarch, where the sovereign inherits his or her office, usually keeps it until death or abdication, and is bound by laws and customs in the exercise of their powers.
    Ten of these monarchies are independent states, and equally share Queen Elizabeth II, who resides in the United Kingdom, as their respective sovereign, making them part of a global grouping known as the Commonwealth of realms: Antigua and Barbuda, The Bahamas, Barbados, Belize,Canada,Grenada, Jamaica, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Saint Lucia, and Saint Vincent and the Grenadines.
    The remaining three are dependencies of European monarchies. As such, none of the monarchies in the Americas has a resident monarch.
Left: King Willem-Alexander of the Netherlands; Center: Governor Colin Richards; Right: Queen Margrethe II of Denmark
    Aruba, Curacao and Saint Maarten are constituent countries of the Kingdom of the Netherlands, and thus have King Willem-Alexander as their sovereign, as well as the remaining islands forming the Caribbean Netherlands. In addition, there is Greenland as a constituent country under the monarchy of Denmark, with Queen Margrethe II as the reigning sovereign. And lastly, the Falklands Islands off the coast of Argentina, under the control of Great Britain, whose monarchy is represented by Colin Roberts, the Governor of the Falklands Islands, and the Commissioner for South Georgia and the Souht Sandwich Islands.
    Again, the question is, does this make the scripture wrong? No. Not when we understand that the comment is directed to the general overall understanding that this Western Hemisphere, i.e., North and South America, were to be kept free of the type of kings and dictators that ruled the Old World from the beginning. Unlike that world, where people were born into a station from which they could generally never escape; they were also subject to sovereign whose whim could dictate, change and even end their lives. This type of living eventually was eliminated in most of the Western Hemisphere, where countries are, by comparison, far more free  than those of the Old World.
    The point is, the scriptural record of the Book of Mormon is never wrong—people’s misinterpretations and misunderstandings may make it seem so. It is imperative that we read the scriptural record in the way intended, understanding what words mean and especially what they meant in the time of Joseph Smith whose translation we read.

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