Thursday, November 16, 2017

The Strength of the Book of Mormon – Part II

Continuing from the previous post, regarding the accuracy of the scriptural record and its direct ties to its Hebrew origins. Much has been written disparagingly of the LDS Church and its Book of Mormon, but as the years pass, more and more information comes forward and is discovered to verify the accuracy and authenticity of the scriptural record. In fact, the finding of more and more typically “Christian” institutions among pre-Christian Jews who had fled from Jerusalem because of their faith in the Messiah and their disapproval of the wickedness of that city answers what have been in the past the most powerful arguments against the Book of Mormon.
    Since Hugh Nibley’s lesson manual first appeared, there have been hundreds of books and articles written in the pursuit of examining the nature of that “strange Church in the Wilderness” or “Church of Anticipation” that was first brought to light by the Dead Sea Scrolls.
The community to which the Dead Sea Scrolls apparently belonged occupied Qumran around 130 B.C. to 70 A.D., and possibly lived also in other places in the region. The site of Qumran, now a series of ruins, located on the northwestern shore of the Dead Sea along the west bank, sitting on a dry plateau about one mile from the shore, near the kibbutz (collective community) of Kalya (from Latin for Kalium, a potassium chemical found in abundance in the region). Qumran was originally constructed during the reign of John Hyrcanus (134-104 B.C.) until destroyed by the Romans around 68 B.C. Nearby were caves in the sheer desert cliffs and beneath, in the marlstone terrace. The site of Qumran ruins (Khirbet Qumran) had been occupied at various times in antiquity. At a low level were found the remains of walls and pottery from of the 8th and 7th centuries B.C. A deep circular cistern also belonging to this period existed which, centuries later, was incorporated in an elaborate system of aqueducts and reservoirs, and likely was the site known as the Biblical "Ir ha-Melah"—City of Salt.
    The name "Dead Sea Sect" was given to the people because the main knowledge of the sect derives from these manuscripts, and were an extremist offshoot of the Jewish apocalyptic movement, whose basic doctrine was the expectation of the soon end of days. According to them, when that time comes, the wicked would be destroyed, and Israel freed from the yoke of the nations. Before this, God would raise for Himself a community of elect who were destined to be saved from the divine visitation, and who were the nucleus of the society of the future.
    The Dead Sea Sect carried these views to extremes specific to itself. They believed that God had decreed not only the end but also the division of mankind into two antagonistic camps called "the sons of light and the sons of darkness," lead by superhuman "prince of light" and "angel of darkness" respectively. Reference is also made to "the spirit of truth" and "the spirit of perverseness" which are given to mankind. Of these, each person receives his portion, in accordance with which he is either righteous or wicked. Between these two categories God has set "eternal enmity" which would cease only in the end of days, with the destruction of the spirit of perversion and the purification of the righteous from its influence. Then "the sons of the spirit of truth" would receive their reward.
    It is not difficult to see in this group the same type of fervor that has marked other groups who separated from the main body of Israel and moved or fled to a distant area from the main community in Jerusalem. A fact that Hugh Nibley has used to show the likelihood of Lehi’s separation and his fleeing into the wilderness to establish a very distant Land of Promise of his own.
    As for the Qumran Scrolls, it is also understood today that those Scrolls were not hidden in haste anticipating some emergency, but were “deliberately laid away, at a time when the authors knew that their society was on the verge of extinction, carefully buried in ‘a solemn communal interment’ to come forth in a later dispensation.” It was Nibley who had suggested this in his manual and mentioned a writing known as the “Assumption of Moses” as evidence, and among the Scrolls a fragment of this very writing was found (Matthew Black, The Scrolls and Christian Origins, Scribner, New York, 1961, pp11—12).
    It is now generally accepted, moreover, that the organization and ordinances of the Church in the Wilderness not only resemble those of the later Christian Church very closely, but that there is a definite connection between them.

Left: One of the caves of Qumran where the Dead Sea Scrolls were found; Right: Cave #4, where 90% of the scrolls were found 

Scholars today understand that Qumran represented a movement by refugees that mirrored such ancient movements dating back to the time of Lehi. In fact, Lehi’s behavior to take his family into the wilderness is nothing more than following the path that had been well established by the tradition of the time (John M. Allegro, The Treasure of the Copper Scroll, Doubleday, Garden City, 1960, p62).
In the same year in which the Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered, an equally valuable find was made in Egypt—that of the early Christian library of Nag Hammadi—codices that had lain buried in a large jar and forgotten under a cliff of the Jabal al-Tarif in rural Egypt until two Bedouin shepherds found them in 1945, close to the upper Egyptian town of Nag Hammadi. This library was a collection of thirteen ancient books (called "codices") containing over fifty texts, and was discovered in upper Egypt in 1945. This immensely important discovery includes a large number of primary "Gnostic Gospels," that is, texts once thought to have been entirely destroyed during the early Christian struggle to define "orthodoxy, including scriptures such as the Gospel of Thomas, the Gospel of Philip, and the Gospel of Truth. The discovery and translation of the Nag Hammadi library, initially completed in the 1970's, has provided impetus to a major re-evaluation of early sectarian Christian history and the nature of Gnosticism, i.e., the prominent movement of the 2nd-century Christian Church, partly of pre-Christian origin.
    The publication of the Hammadi library (also known as the Chenoboskion Manuscripts, referring to the early center of Christianity in the Thebaid, Roman Egypt (see above map), a site frequented by Desert Fathers [and mothers]—hermits, ascetics, and monks who lived in the Scetes desert and monasteries of Egypt—from the 3rd century) translations were originally slow, and the first texts became available only since the appearance of Nibley’s manual. What became readily understandable was the teachings of the Lord to his disciples after the resurrection.
    While Nibley’s manual paid little attention to 3rd and 4th Nephi, these two books in view of the discoveries, should now perhaps be considered some of the most significant parts of the scriptural record, by comparison and in alignment with the Nag Hammadi discoveries. In fact, Nibley considered the “patternism” of these scholars’ works on the library translations fully supportive of his own patterns of the Near Eastern mindset. Patternism is a method of comparing the teachings of the religions of the Ancient Near East whereby the similarities between these religions are assumed to constitute an overarching pattern—thus showing that through these patterns the religions of the ancient near east are related.
    As Nibley stated: “A year after the manual appeared, those Cambridge scholars who first brought “patternism” to light issued an important volume summarizing the work of the past two decades and bringing their conclusions up to date” which literally supports Nibley’s stand on the subject.

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