25 April 2008

So far in the Book of Mormon

As I mentioned back in February, I've been reading the Book of Mormon. I'm at Alma 22 now, for those of you who can appreciate that, and still plodding along. So far, a couple of things have jumped out at me.

The parable of the trees in Jacob 5 seems to be loaded with more meaning than I can make out at this time. I'm hoping to get some more explanation when I get to Doctrine & Covenants. But it seems to presage the entire history of the people who emigrated from the land around Jerusalem to the Americas. Certainly the imagery is evocative, and an echo of it appears in Orson Scott Card's "Ender" Quartet of science-fiction novels.

One very striking thing in the Book of Mormon (may I abbreviate it as BOM?) is that people can initiate covenants with God. In the Bible, God initiates the covenants. The other is the clarity with which predictions about Jesus Christ are stated. He is called by name, and the Christian "salvation history" is clearly laid out, up to 600 years before the coming of Christ! In the Hebrew Bible ( or Old Testament - henceforth abbreviated OT) allusions to Christ are so vague that one must be a Christian to interpret them as such.

Then there is the ebb and flow of the Church among the immigrants to the Americas. First the Church (and it is a distinctly Christian Church, even though it is centuries yet before the birth of Christ) grows among the Nephites, and then as it starts to decline among them, it blossoms among the Lamanites. The Nephites and Lamanites are related peoples, having separated after their landing in the Americas. Among the tribes of Israel in the OT, the belief in the God of Abraham pulsates, growing and shrinking, but is does not seem to slosh between tribes. And it is straight Judaism, that looks forward to some kind of Redeemer who will restore Israel and even resurrect its inhabitants (at least in the Book of Job), but it is specifically Jewish rather than the Christianized Judaism of the Nephites and eventually the Lamanites before the coming of Christ.

I also note that the quotations from Isaiah in 2 Nephi are altered slightly so as to make their meaning more obvious. (Not only did I read them Blain, I compared them with the King James Version).

I note the ubiquity of conversion or "Born Again" experiences as compared to the OT. In the BOM these are typically occur after prayer and fasting, or being taught by one of the prophets.

And then there is the voice of our friendly editor, Mormon. In the OT the final collectors, editors, and redactors take care not to intrude in the text. In the BOM, it seems to me that Mormon (who appears to have collected writings on metal plates from several sources and in several languages, and then translated them into his own language) occasionally comments, especially in the Book of Alma.

I wasn't really looking for these differences, but for the differences in theological perspective between the LDS and the rest of us Christians. I'm still looking, and still reading.

6 comments:

Zelph said...

This is very good and I admire you for taking the time to actually read the Book of Mormon. I am LDS, but no longer believe in the authenticity of the Book of Mormon.

When I was on my mission, most people that spoke against the Book of Mormon had never read the thing, so it give you a lot more credibility than 99% of all the others.

You have laid out some very interesting observations and I just talked about the subject regarding the similarities between the King James Bible and the Book of Mormon.

I always thought the idea that people knew his name was Jesus Christ and they called themselves Christian was odd to me, but I just accepted it. Keep in mind that there are many "silly" things we just accept when it comes to any religion.

blainn said...

Good work. I have moments, so I can't do it now, but I would be happy to discuss the Parable of the Olive Tree at some point. It's a very powerful metaphor in explaining not only the Book of Mormon, but also Mormonism.

I'll be back.

Scooper said...

Zelph,
I'm not concerned with the authenticity of the Book of Mormon. I'm looking for insight into LDS theology. Theological reflections may be true or false, independently of the factual basis of the document containing them.

As to the name Jesus Christ. That would be Yehoshua, the Moshiach to get closer to the Hebrew and farther from the Greek. A Messiah (a Christos in Greek) is alluded to in the OT, but generally not named, except for one use of Immanuel, that is "God With Us," still more of a title than a name. Other titles are in Isaiah 9: Wonderful Counsellor, the Mighty God, the Everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace. Yehoshua (Joshua, Iesus in Greek, Jesus in English) is closer to "God, Help" and is not presaged as a name for the Messiah in the OT. That is one among many reasons why many Jews did not become Christians as well.


Blain,
Good to hear from you. I would enjoy your enlightening me regarding the Parable of the Trees. Self-study is convenient, but that one is gonna take some tutoring.

blainn said...

Okay. Got a little more time now. A good place to start is with the chapter header (this is the longest chapter in Mormon scripture, btw):

Jacob quotes Zenos relative to the allegory of the tame and wild olive trees—They are a likeness of Israel and the gentiles—The scattering and gathering of Israel are prefigured—Allusions are made to the Nephites and Lamanites and all the house of Israel—Gentiles shall be grafted into Israel—Eventually the vineyard shall be burned. Between 544 and 421 B.C. (those who want to follow along in another tab can get this here)

The tame olive tree represents Israel, which has produced great fruits in the past, but has now become corrupt and no longer produces good fruit. The master of the vineyard doesn't want to just cut it down and burn it. So he takes the branches of the tame tree and grafts them into the wild trees -- the scattering of Israel -- to see if he can keep them alive while he works on the trunk and roots of the tame tree. And, to keep them alive, he grafts in branches from the wild trees -- bringing gentiles into the covenant -- because there is strength to be found in the wild trees.

This becomes problematic, though, because the strength of the wild trees can lead the tame branches to produce wild fruit, and the wild branches to produce wild fruit as well, with the wildness representing (roughly) paganism and idolatry. There is much dunging and pruning and harrowing, with the branches that bring forward evil fruit cut off and thrown into the fire, and much despair that this experiment will fail.

In the end, all of the branches that bring forward good fruit are grafted back into the healthy trunk and roots. Some of the Gentiles and some of scattered Israel are brought back together into the body of Christ because they bring forward good fruits, and there is much rejoicing.

As to Zelph's problem with Nephites knowing the name of Jesus prior to his birth, I'd suggest remembering that the book was compiled by Mormon after the coming of Jesus. He shows up throughout the text, commenting here and tweaking there, and it's not beyond consideration that he might change the text to explicitly include the words translated to Jesus Christ and Christian in the place of whatever was there before. He wasn't compiling the text to satisfy the expectations of modern scholars anymore than Herodotus was when writing his histories.

That'll do for now. I'll probably be back with more.

The Underground Pewster said...

I tried this (reading the BOM) a while back but failed after a few days. I admire you for your perseverence.

gypsylee said...

The Mormons I met when I was baptized into the church, were very nice and hospitable. However,
I had a problem with the 2 extra books beyond the Bible-The Pearl of Great Price and The Book of Mormon (too many "and it came to passes")Both books might seem contrived when you've been raised part Baptist, part Disciples of Christ and part Methodist.

Eventually they really had a problem with me. They excommunicated me for living with my ex-husband before we had a chance to remarry. No hard feelings and no regrets on my part.