Monday, August 3, 2015

350 Years of Nephite Development – Part I

I was in a discussion not long ago regarding what some theorists considered a lack of Nephite construction during the first 350 years they spent in the Land of Nephi, after building the city of Nephi. This idea first began, as far as I know, with Thomas Stuart Ferguson and Milton R. Hunter in their book, Ancient America And the Book of Mormon (1950). On p158-9, they wrote, “Manpower was so limited during the first 400 years, according to the data contained in the Book of Mormon, that no great building program was possible.” 
They went on to write, “Some of the skills and some of the knowledge of the original company may have been lost because of not having been put to use by succeeding generations. Such losses may have occurred both during the period of Nephite history covered in the Book of Mormon (600 B.C. to 421 A.D.) and the period between the close of the Book of Mormon history and the coming of the Europeans in the sixteenth century.”
    Two questions always come to my mind when this type of information is discussed. First, what makes someone think that, and second, how would anyone know that?
    Of course, the answers are evident in their writing, when they went on to say: “Actually the parallels far outnumber the differences, even at the present date when archaeological work in the Tehuantepec region in Middle America is still in its infancy. Middle America—that is, Mesoamerica. That is, because Hunter and Ferguson are Mesoamericanists, they evaluate what is written in the scriptural record against a Mesoamerican background.
    As is, and will forever be, the case, when the wrong place setting for the Book of Mormon is brought into the picture, the scriptural record has to be changed or altered in order to meet the criteria of the place and not the scriptural writing.
    Two things are involved here. Nephi, evidently a master builder, or at least one who learned the trades at the tutelage of the Lord, and “not after the manner of men” (1 Nephi 18:2), was ”showed many great things” as he set about to build the ship “according to the word of the Lord,” that would take the Lehi party across the great deep. This ship “was of curious workmanship, and the Lord did show him from time to time after what manner he should work the timbers of the ship” (1 Nephi 18:1), obviously Nephi knew more than other men about building.
    After he moved the righteous contingency of the party to the area they called Nephi, he “did teach his people how to build buildings, and to work in all manner of wood and of iron, and of copper, and of brass, and of steel, and of gold, and of silver, and of precious ores, which were in great abundance” (2 Nephi 5:15). He also built a temple like unto Solomon’s, and “the workmanship thereof was exceedingly fine” (2 Nephi 5:16).
    At this point in the history of the fledgling Nephite nation, after building a ship beyond anything man could have built, and after duplicating Solomon’s temple with the native materials in the Land of Nephi, with these same available workers, Hunter and Ferguson claim “that no great building program was possible.”
Solomon’s First Temple. A magnificent edifice that drew attention from around the surrounding world
    After describing two very extensive building programs (the ship and Solomon’s temple), these theorists turn around and say they could not do any more. Why?
    Because nothing more existed in their model in Mesoamerica.
    Thus, they claim that “Manpower was so limited during the first 400 years, according to the data contained in the Book of Mormon,” that no such great building program was possible.” What they should have written is “Because no additional building program is evidenced in Mesoamerica, Nephi and his people must have lost their number of workers and the knowledge of how to build after that.” That was certainly their meaning (Also, 400 years is actually closer to 350 years: settling in Nephi about 575 B.C. and Mosiah leaving for Zarahemla about 225 B.C., equals about 350 years).
    However, why would skills be lost in the next few generations? Nephi tells us “that I, Nephi, did cause my people to be industrious, and to labor with their hands” (2 Nephi 5:17). After all, Nephi became their ruler and their teacher, in fact, the people wanted him to be their king, which he refused the title (2 Nephi 5:18).
    In addition, why would these theorists think that “Some of the skills and some of the knowledge of the original company may have been lost because of not having been put to use by succeeding generations”? Why would their building skill not have been put to use?
    We are told that Nephi “did take the sword of Laban, and after the manner of it did make many swords, lest by any means the people who were now called Lamanites should come upon us and destroy us” (2 Nephi 5:14). In fact, so concerned was Nephi about this likelihood that he wrote: “for I knew their hatred towards me and my children and those who were called my people” was so great that such defenses would be necessary—so necessary, he lists having done this before building anything else and before teaching his people to build anything else.
    Between 420 and 399 B.C., Jarom, Jacob’s grandson, gives us three very important clues to suggest a very different circumstance in the Land of Promise than what Hunter and Ferguson claim.
1. God was exceeding merciful unto the Nephite and there were many among them who have many revelations, for they were not all stiffnecked (Jarom 1:3-4);
2. Two hundred years after Lehi left Jerusalem, the Nephites had waxed strong in the land, they observed and kept the law of Moses, and they were scattered on much of the face of the land (Jarom 1:5-6);
3. The Nephite kings and leaders were mighty men in the faith of the Lord and taught the people the ways of the Lord.
    This hardly sounds like a people who had lost direction from the Lord and who had lost the skills of their previous generations, dating back about 150 years to Nephi. In addition, the next statement also flies in the face of the lack of building Hunter and Ferguson claim:
    “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” (Jarom 1:8).
Jacob preaching in the temple to the Nephites who were gathered for a two-day conference
    This somewhat “golden age” of the Nephites evidently continued from the time Nephi settled in the land they called after him, built the temple of Solomon, built the city of Nephi, built the city of Shilom and the city of Shemlon, which were both standing in the time of Mosiah, and perhaps other cities as the Nephites spread across the face of the land, down until the time of Jarom gave the records to his son Omni in 361 B.C. (Jarom 1:13-15).
    It can also be suggested that this period of expansion and growth continued for quite some time, for at least the three major cities of Nephi, Shilom and Shemlon existed when Zeniff returned to the Land of Nephi around 200 B.C. to reclaim the Land of their Inheritance, for it was around this time, even as late as 130 B.C., that Amaleki speaks of his brother having joined Zeniff in returning to the Land of Nephi (Omni 1:30).
(See the next post, “350 Years of Nephite Development – Part II,” for more on the discrepancy of Hunter and Ferguson claiming the Nephites were not involved in much building and expansion during the period between Nephi’s arrival in the Land of Nephi and Mosiah leaving that land to discover Zarahemla—a period of about 350 years)

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