Saturday, January 30, 2016

The Nature of the Record-Part I

An article by John L. Sorenson was sent to me recently regarding the so-called “new ideas” about the Book of Mormon that have surfaced in recent years. While I was asked an opinion, I thought it best to cover the topics one at a time since there are numerous areas here that one might feel are inconsistent with the scriptural record.
    First of all, it should be understood that Sorenson, like so many Mesoamericanists, continually tries to support his changing of the meaning of the scriptural record, from the directions to distances, and do so as if their changing the scriptural meaning is doing us a service, i.e., without them, we could not understand the scriptural record at all. Even Hugh Nibley took that approach many times in trying to convince members they did not understand the true meaning of the written word.
    Sorenson: “Another important new idea about the Book of Mormon is that it is not a history in the sense of the word often used today. Rather than being a narrative of what happened in a particular territory, it is like the Old Testament, primarily a family chronicle written by prophets under the Lord’s inspiration.”
Response: The Book of Mormon was never suggested to be a history. It was a second witness of Jesus Christ, the Bible being the first. For some reason, Sorenson and his type seem to think it was meant as a history and we are just now finding out it is not.
    Sorenson: “The Book of Mormon is thus similar in important respects to “lineage histories.” This class of document provides selected information about the origin of the group, why it was chosen by deity, crucial events affecting its fate, the charter on which its system of power was based, and its relationships with other groups.”
    Response: First of all,it is not a document, or a text, and was not written by scribes or recorders, each of these being words of description Sorenson chooses over “scripture,” “prophet,” etc. Secondly, it is not a “lineage history,” for we know nothing of Lehi’s lineage other than being of the tribe of Menasseh. We know not his father or any of his predecessors, nor do we know any of his grandchildren or descendants except on a very narrow line. We don’t even know the names of his daughters, daughters-in-law, nor anything about his youngest son, Joseph. The point is, this is not about Lehi and his family, but about God’s dealings with man as he led two families out of the land of Jerusalem to a far away Land of Promise.
    Sorenson: “A lineage typically uses this kind of historical account to define its own boundaries, reinforce its power, stabilize its social structure, and otherwise clarify to its own members who they are.”
Response: The Book of Ether (left) begins more as a lineage history, giving the complete genealogy of the last prophet, Ether, back to the first ancestor of the storyline, Jared, covering about 1500 years. All we really know about Lehi is that he was a prophet, called like others of his time to preach repentance to the inhabitants of Jerusalem and that he was chosen to lead a group to a new Land of Promise, and that the Western Hemisphere, or a certain part of it, was set aside as a land of inheritance for him and his seed. We know nothing of his earlier years, how he gained or earned his wealth, nor where his parents came from--only that he lived all his days at Jerusalem. In a very sketchy way, we follow his descendants over a thousand year period, with huge gaps and minimal information about the actual families involved.
    Sorenson: “Most historical documents, written or oral, of ancient civilizations and tribes are of this kind.”
    Response: I am and always have been an avid reader. Before the internet, I haunted libraries and have a personal library of thousands of books and stories, yet I have never seen or heard of a book like the Book of Mormon. In the early centuries of writing, the Greeks and Romans had such stories, as did the Norsemen, writing of great epics, yet few, if any, really paralleled such as the Book of Mormon.
    Sorenson: “They do not claim to tell comprehensively or systematically “what happened” throughout a territory.”
    Response: Actually, most historical novels spend more time on the “territory,” than does the Book of Mormon. This work has little concern about territory and not much more interest in lineage other than a connection between the writers. Its main storyline and interest is in how God deals with man and the righteous and how we seal our own fates by the choices we make.
    Sorenson: “Indeed, the lineage may not have had exclusive control over a land (as was the case with Abraham).”
Response: The thing Sorenson ignores or forgets is that there were no other people in the Land of Promise. There was no contact with other cultures and civilizations for the Jaredites or the Nephites. Consequently, there is no way to compare territory in the Book of Mormon with any other work like the Bible in that way. Abraham’s challenges, as those of ancient Israel, was with other cultures and people; the Nephite challenge was with the Lamanites. As the Lord told Nephi regarding the Lamanites: ”And the Lord God said unto me: They shall be a scourge unto thy seed, to stir them up in remembrance of me; and inasmuch as they will not remember me, and hearken unto my words, they shall scourge them even unto destruction” (2 Nephi 5:25).
    Sorenson: “Frequently they constituted only part of a social mosaic, side by side with similar groups, either within or outside the formal nations which most of us consider the proper subject of history.”
    Response: Herein lies the problem with well educated people. They think everytghing is the same. Europe had its development within the mosaic with several groups; however, the Land of Promise did not. “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” (Ether 13:2). And as the Lord told Lehi, “It is wisdom that this land should be kept as yet from the knowledge of other nations; for behold, many nations would overrun the land, that there would be no place for an inheritance” (2 Nephi 1:8), and as Lehi told his children, “if it so be that they shall keep his commandments they shall be blessed upon the face of this land, and there shall be none to molest them, nor to take away the land of their inheritance; and they shall dwell safely forever” (2 Nephi 1:9).
America was not Europe! It was the promised land with its own development and promises!
    Sorenson: The account of the patriarchal period in the Old Testament, for example, comes from the records of a certain lineage and thus contains primarily its key historical happenings and the great truths that its leaders received from God.”
    Response: The Old Testament is not the Book of Mormon and Israel in Palestine is not the same as the Nephites in the Land of Promise. The key to the Book of Mormon is not found in the Bible, but in the promises made to the Jaredites and Lehi, which tell a very different story.
(See the next post, “The Nature of the Record-Part II,” for more of this Sorenson article which shows why he and other Mesoamericanists so misunderstand the isolation of the Land of Promise and the absence of other nations and other cultures and other peoples there)

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