Wednesday, November 15, 2017

The Strength of the Book of Mormon – Part I

In An Approach to the Book of Mormon Melchizedek Priesthood manual (revised in 1964), Hugh Nibley stated: “These lessons are dedicated to the proposition that no one can know too much about the Book of Mormon” (“Introduction to an Unknown Book”). As vital and timely as these lessons were in that era, it might be said today that the “basic theme of the wise commentaries of Mormon and Moroni, the problem of survival, has suddenly become an issue of the day.” Certainly, the more we understand in the scriptural record, the more clearly we see the events that unfold around us currently.
Throughout, the Book of Mormon speaks zealously of pending disasters, though not the final destruction of the earth, but about the many man-caused destructions of both the Jaredites and Nephites, both of which suggest a close tie-in to today’s world events. In the nineteenth century, most people laughed at such dire consequences of mankind, but nobody is laughing as such depictions today.
    Take the "end of the world" psychology of the Jaredites in their last desperate years--what some call their “fallout-shelter psychology”: “Wherefore every man did cleave unto that which was his own, with his hands, and would not borrow neither would he lend; and every man kept the hilt of his sword in his right hand, in the defense of his property and his own life and of his wives and children” (Ether 14:2). It was a terrifying image in the 1830s and later, and no one at the time would have considered we would come to understand its meaning as we do today.  After all, no other work states in such an open, honest and direct manner about the very fundamental issues of our day that is caused by the misuse of power and the attempt to acquire it.
Not until the bombing and destruction of the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki by atomic weapons in August of 1945, the proliferation of nuclear weapons during the ensuring Cold War of the 20th Century, and the crazed appeal of fallout shelters that followed, has such mentality been so widespread. One would have had to go long and far during the widening spread of the Book of Mormon to find another work even remotely suggestive of a comparable passionate commentary on such an irreversible point of no return. Such vices of national destruction that overtook the Nephites  actually are threatening our own age with the same fate.
    Such vices as the passion and struggle for wealth, power and success which, we are now being warned, have become something like a national obsession with a people who are displaying the twin Nephite weaknesses of attributing their own success to their own superiority—as Korihor preached to the Nephites who ridiculed prophecy, calling it “foolish traditions,” and “the effect of a frenzied mind because of the traditions of their fathers“ and that there “could be no atonement made for the sins of men, but every man fared in this life according to the management of the creature; therefore every man prospered according to his genius, and that every man conquered according to his strength; and whatsoever a man did was no crime” (Alma 30:16-17). He also told the Nephites that “their setbacks and defeats to the evil machinations of other people” were due simply to a people “who had a different way of thinking.” After all, the Lamanites were wicked.
    It was Dr. Karl Jaspers, the German-Swiss psychiatrist and philosopher, who had a strong influence on modern theology, psychiatry, and philosophy, who wrote influentially about the period surrounding 600 B.C., calling it Achsenzeit, “the Axial Period,” which was that “period when, roughly at the same time around most of the inhabited world, the great intellectual, philosophical, and religious systems that came to shape subsequent human society and culture emerged.”
    Jaspers also proclaimed: “In this age were born the fundamental categories within which we still think today, and the beginnings of the world religions, by which human beings still live, were created. The step into universality was taken in every sense” (Karl Jaspers, The Origin and Goal of History, Yale University Press, New Haven, 1953).
    As Cyrus Herzl Gordon, scholar of Near Eastern cultures and ancient languages, a fellow of American Schools of Oriental Research, and leading expert on ancient languages, pointed out (regarding this age surrounding Lehi): “was the most perfectly calculated moment and the Eastern Mediterranean the most suitable point of departure for the launching of a new offshoot civilization in far places. It was that same age also which saw, as we have since discovered, the definitive split between those “Sophic” and “Mantic” ways of thinking,” that is changing from oral to written tradition.
    As Hugh Nibley adds of these two ways of thinking, they are “so vividly set forth in the Book of Mormon accounts of the vast controversies stirred up by such ambitious intellectuals as Nehor and Zoram. The Book of Mormon even tells us how these conflicting schools of thought were transplanted from their Near Eastern home as part of Lehi’s family baggage and a source of perpetual trouble in his afflicted household.”
    Nibley also added, “Even if one does not choose to go with Professor Gordon all the way, few will dispute the common elements of Near Eastern civilization which made Lehi “a representative man” of 600 B.C.”
    In fact, it might be added that “in this age were born the fundamental categories within which we still think today, and the beginnings of the world religions, by which human beings still live, were created. The step into universality was taken in every sense.”
    It was Nibley who first used the phrase “churches of anticipation” with regards to Alma and other back in the 1950s. This is seen and understood through Alma’s preaching with a strong sense of anticipation. He is always telling his audience to look forward to Christ (Alma 4:14; 5:15; 7:6; 13:2,16; 25:15; 32:40-41). Obviously, Alma had a strong sense of anticipation regarding the gospel he taught.
    As Bruce Webster wrote: "there was, of course, a curious religious transition that occurred among the Nephites about a century before the birth of Christ. Up until then, the Nephites appear to have been following the law of Moses, in spite of a clear and unprecedented Christology introduced by Lehi, Nephi and Jacob in the 5th century B.C. and re-emphasized by King Benjamin around 124 B.C. just before turning leadership over to his son Mosiah. And even though Nephi clearly indicated the need for baptism in following the Savior’s (future) example, there is no record of baptism being practiced for roughly half a millennium afterwards. Instead, the Nephite civilization during that time appears to be a continual kingship with prophets calling the people to repentance. Yet, when Nephi was still alive, he stated “he commandeth all men that they must repent, and be baptized in his name, having perfect faith in the Holy One of Israel, or they cannot be saved in the kingdom of God” (2 Nephi 9:23).
    Thus, we might conclude that baptism was had among the Nephites, though no mention of it is given before Alma baptized in the waters of Sidon (Alma 4:4). Certainly the Nephites knew that baptism was a requirement, for they had Nephi’s words and his condemnation of those who failed to be baptized when he added, “And if they will not repent and believe in his name, and be baptized in his name, and endure to the end, they must be damned; for the Lord God, the Holy One of Israel, has spoken it” (2 Nephi 9:24). On the other hand, perhaps as a result of Zeniff who took numerous Nephites back to the city of Nephi from Zarahemla, and not feeling he had the power to baptize, or perhaps because of king Noah removing the legitimate priests and replacing them with his evil followers, the right and authority to baptize was lost among the Nephites, or at least those in the city of Nephi, for we learn in Mosiah that “Limhi and many of his people were desirous to be baptized; but there was none in the land that had authority from God” (Mosiah 21:33), and even Ammon, who came from Zarahemla, “declined to do so considering himself an unworthy servant.”
(See the next post, “The Strength of the Book of Mormon – Part II, for more information regarding the accuracy of the scriptural record and its direct ties to its Hebrew origins)

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for sharing, nice post!

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