Wednesday, May 13, 2020

The Nephite Family Life

The family was a major concern in the laws of Near Eastern societies. Many well-established norms regarding family life prevailed in these civilizations, standardizing the treatment of problem situations which naturally arise in and around the family, marriage, children and inheritance. Several collections of ancient laws, such as the Code of Hammurabi, the Middle Assyrian Laws, the Hittite Laws, and the Cretan Laws of Gortyn expressly addressed such issues as the status of women and children, dowry rights, the formalities of marriage, the mechanics of adoption and inheritance, and the resolution of disputes and difficulties arising out of abortion, divorce, and widowhood, to mention only a few.
The rules regarding family law manifested in these ancient law codes were remarkably consistent and stable. Indeed, it is not uncommon to find that laws and customs dealing with family affairs remained static for hundreds of years, and that a considerable degree of similarity existed throughout all known bodies of family law in that area.
    The situation in neighboring Israel was apparently not significantly different. Many sections in the Pentateuch address and regulate legal issues, such as the rights and duties of parents and children, husbands and wives. These biblical and Jewish law provisions have been the subject of dozens of books and articles written by legal historians.
Although women, children, and family laws are mentioned far less frequently in the Book of Mormon than in the Bible, family matters had to have been a concern in Nephite law and society as well. The Nephites married and were given in marriage; they had wives and children to divide their property among when they died; they had need to organize and protect their family relationships. Therefore, we can assume that family law was a part of the Nephite world.
    How then might they have answered questions about family law matters when they arose? Logically, there are three sources of law and custom. First, they probably would have followed the persistent and consistent customs and norms or common law which they knew from the world out of which they had come. Life went on for Lehi the husband and Sariah the wife, for Ishmael the father-in-law, and for the men who married Ishmael’s daughters, even out in the desert.
    Second, they would have followed the law of Moses. Lehi possessed the plates of brass containing the five books of Moses; he considered those books authoritative and essential to the life of his colony (1 Nephi 5:10–22). He loved and obeyed that law, which he considered sacred and binding. It is important to realize that the law of Moses did more than regulate the priestly ordinances or ritual aspects of ancient Israel. It embraced both religious and secular, cultic and civil law. For example, Jethro said to Moses, “Thou shalt teach them ordinances [hoqim] and laws [torot]” (Ex. 18:20), and accordingly Moses issued laws and judgments, and established rulers and judges—not only for their religious purification, but also for the government of his people.
Some of Moses’ “ordinances” are ordinances in the sense of city ordinances; others are ordinances in the sense of priesthood ordinances. His judgments (the mishpatim) and his commandments (usually the mitzvot), found largely in Exodus and Deuteronomy, establish what we could consider to be the criminal, civil, family and administrative laws, as well as the constitutional fabric of ancient Israelite society. For example, the law of Moses defined the rules of culpable and non-culpable homicide; it established principles of torts, commerce, and property law; laws regarding perjury in a judicial proceeding, as well as limitations on the executive powers of the king, are set forth in Deuteronomy.
    To the extent the law of Moses addressed family law matters, it is hard to imagine that Lehi would not have given those laws tremendous weight and great respect. This seems to be the clear meaning of 2 Nephi 5:10, affirming that the earliest Nephites kept “the judgments [mishpatim], and the statutes [hoqim?], and the commandments [mitzvot?] of the Lord in all things, according to the law of Moses.” Years later Alma 30:3 reaffirms that the Nephites were still strict in observing the commandments (mitzvot?) and the ordinances (hoqim?) of the law of Moses.
    Third, Lehi and his righteous posterity relied on inspiration and revelation in deciding how to interpret and apply the law. Moses used revelation, for example, in Numbers 36 to settle an inheritance dispute arising out of a ruling regarding the daughters of Zelophehad. Jehoshaphat instructed his judges to judge with the fear of the Lord and to judge for the Lord in all matters of the Lord, of the king, of all “controversies” and “what cause soever shall come to you” (2 Chr. 19:5–11).
Lehi quite probably did likewise. In resolving the problems of inheritance, or in trying to avert the disputes and controversies that existed among his sons, Lehi relied on inspiration and revelation to understand how to apply the law of Moses and to deal with his unique situation, as the following case studies illustrate.
    The Law of Moses permeates the Book of Mormon, allowing us today to see, through the legal cases at how Nephites integrated ancient Israelite laws into their society.
    It should also be noted that the Law of Moses was not static over the centuries. Figuring out what the Law of Moses was at the time Lehi and his family left Jerusalem can be difficult, but the more we learn about the Law of Moses at that time, 600 BC, the more we will understand Lehi and Nephi and the branch of Israelite law that they brought with them.
    The Book of Mormon tells us that the Nephites had "the five books of Moses—Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy—within the Brass Plates which Nephi and his brothers secured from Laban’s treasury in their first trip back to Jerusalem.
    Some scholars believe that any law originally given by Moses may have been edited, amended, modified, supplemented, or transformed as the needs of society changed. We know, of course, from the Book of Moses in the Pearl of Great Price that some of the creation and events had been changed over time. Most changes were not extensive, but as it turns out, the arguments of scholars about when and how the five books were assembled are moot for the Book of Mormon.
    It is claimed that most of the Hebrew text of the core legal codes was probably in place by the years 620-610 BC, when the plates of brass seem to have been fashioned. It seems likely that the basic texts that would have been familiar to Lehi are adequately represented by today's biblical versions.
   The Nephites held the Law of Moses in high regard, however that doesn't mean that every provision in the law as practiced in Jerusalem would be followed by the Nephites in their new promised land. One example of this is that the portions of the "Priestly Code" dealing with the priesthood of Aaron and Levi would not have been followed since there were no Levites with Lehi's family.
Another probability is in Deuteronomy, which was rediscovered or created during Lehi's lifetime. It heavily influenced Nephite law, but that doesn't necessarily mean Lehi agreed with the full agenda of the "Deuteronomic reformers" of his day.
    Provisions in the Law of Moses for specific "cities of refuge" in the land of Israel would be another requirement that had to be changed or ignored. The biggest Nephite changes to the law were "administrative changes”—revisions in how the law was implemented. The best example is how Mosiah changed the government from kingship to judgeship. But the underlying law only changed moderately over time.
    It should also be considered that the ancient Law of Moses was more than a series of "thou shalt nots," since ancient law was much broader than our modern conceptions of it. As an example, modern law is often looked at as "specific commands" with specific consequences. It is limited.
    Nephite law included laws, statues, ordinances, customs, commands and teachings. It was simply "the way to live,” that is, the correct way to live.
    The Nephites saw themselves as following in the tradition of ancient Israel—including a greater knowledge of the coming of the Messiah. This blending of elements from both the old and new covenants is
    One of the most distinctive characteristics of the Book of Mormon is that it followed the Law of Moses in a way similar to Jesus when he was on the earth. While we do not know how Jesus observed every provision, we do know that he disagreed with how some people interpreted the law. Certainly, the Nephites were no more or less committed to the traditions of Israel than what Jesus had taught.
When struggling over the command to kill Laban and obtain the brass plates, Nephi stated that people “could not keep the commandments of the Lord according to the law of Moses, save they should have the law” (1 Nephi 4:15). Later, after the people took upon them to call themselves the people of Nephi, he said, “And we did observe to keep the judgments, and the statutes, and the commandments of the Lord in all things according to the law of Moses” (2 Nephi 5:10).
    During the time leading up to the visit of Christ to the Nepihites, it was written: “And there were no contentions, save it were a few that began to preach, endeavoring to prove by the scriptures that it was no more expedient to observe the law of Moses. Now in this thing they did err, having not understood the scriptures. But it came to pass that they soon became converted, and were convinced of the error which they were in, for it was made known unto them that the law was not yet fulfilled, and that it must be fulfilled in every whit; yea, the word came unto them that it must be fulfilled; yea, that one jot or tittle should not pass away till it should all be fulfilled; therefore in this same year were they brought to a knowledge of their error and did confess their faults” (3 Nephi 1:24-25).
    The Law of Moses was strictly enforced among the Nephites until the Lord stated: “as many as have received me, to them have I given to become the sons of God; and even so will I to as many as shall believe on my name, for behold, by me redemption cometh, and in me is the law of Moses fulfilled” (3 Nephi 9:17).

No comments:

Post a Comment