Me, the Blog, and Book of Mormon Gospel Doctrine Lesson 1: Changes!

Me, the Blog, and Book of Mormon Gospel Doctrine Lesson 1: Changes! January 2, 2016

In the coming year, I plan to put up a Gospel Doctrine post each week as I have in the past. Well, kind of. Out of necessity, they’re going to be shorter and more focused, perhaps with longer biography and links. The blog will also be broadening somewhat, beyond the Gospel Doctrine lessons, in the sense that posts I might have written elsewhere will be posted here.

I’ll be cutting my online time drastically to focus on reading, writing, and working on a PhD at Claremont in History of Religion and Christianity in America, with a side helping of Mormon Studies. I’m still working on the funding situation, but quite excited. While the field is completely different from my previous field, my area of focus within that new field will be a continuation of sorts. I’ll be applying my work on Genesis in the ancient world to understanding the conflict between scripture/religious authority and evolution/scientific authority, in the LDS Church from 1880 onwards. (I’ve already begun reading and writing generally on that topic, such as my article on Ben Carson, Seventh-day Adventists, and young earth creationism.) Though this may change or need further narrowing, I intend to write my dissertation on the history in the LDS Church of conflicting authority and epistemology, evolution vs. scripture (and interpretation), and publish it as a sequel of sorts to my Genesis book.

While I had aimed to complete a draft of my book by Christmas, I was unsuccessful. This is not necessarily bad. The draft has grown and matured in some ways as I work through it. My goal now is to finish up the draft by mid-summer. One of my first classes at Claremont will be Mesopotamian Religion, which pertains directly to my book, given the importance of Enuma Eliš (the so-called Babylonian Creation Epic) for interpreting Genesis 1. The other two classes will help refine and professionalize my writing.

Reading for this lesson. 

I’ll repeat and expand on my comment to Kevin’s post, which you should read.

Martin Harris literally bet the farm ($3000) on the publication of the Book of Mormon, and technically lost. I’ve sometimes led up to this story in class with several stories about Martin testing Joseph.

  • the seerstone-testing story, (here in The Ensign, for one). Martin switched rocks on Joseph when he wasn’t looking.
  • the Charles Anthon story. Again, Martin tests Joseph.
  • 116 pages story, also involving Martin Harris.

Martin Harris tested Joseph Smith, and he passed every time, which is why Martin was literally willing to bet the farm. Even though he lost it, and was disaffected from Joseph Smith and the LDS Church for roughly 50 years, he testified consistently and constantly of the Book of Mormon, to his death.

Some Things about the Book of Mormon You Might Not Know 

Below are some points of interest, potential to talk about in lesson 1 or thoughts for later on.

    1. Nephi’s “goodly” parents comment probably indicates socio-economic standing, not moral goodness.
      • This is a long-standing argument among a few bloggers, including me. In the first few verses, Nephi explains that, because his parents were “goodly,” he was taught not just to read (very unusual in the ancient world) but to write (even more unusual), and moreover, to write in two scripts or languages (depending on how we understand the “Egypt” reference). That degree of learning is much more dependent upon Lehi’s financial status than his goodness. Context thus favors the interpretation of “well-off.” The (weaker, in my view) counter-argument comes from dictionaries, which don’t list something like “well-off” as a meaning, so it would be fairly idiomatic usage there in 1Ne 1:1.
    2. Nephi wrote the small plates 30 years after the events they depict, largely with religious/political purposes in mind. I’ll be expanding on this greatly in Lesson 2.
    3. The small plates (1 Nephi-Omni) were translated last. Maybe.
    4. The Book of Mormon doesn’t depict a capitalist democratic society.
      • See (loosely) Richard Bushman, here.
    5. The Book of Mormon doesn’t depict a church structured like ours today.
    6. Joseph Smith never preached a sermon based on a Book of Mormon text.
      • Or at least, we have no records of Joseph Smith preaching a sermon based on the Book of Mormon. Most early saints took it as a sign of Joseph Smith’s prophethood, that the heavens were open, and as confirmation of the Bible, not as something that needed independent study and reading. This is probably what leads to D&C passages like this, telling the early Saints to start paying more attention to it.
    7. The first two chapters of Mosiah are missing.
      • Mosiah 1-2 (original numbering) disappeared as part of the 116 pages JS gave to Martin Harris. We know this because in the Printer’s Manuscript (the hand copy made to give to EB Grandin to print from), our current Mosiah chapter 1 is labeled Mosiah chapter 3. See Uncovering the Original Text of the Book of Mormon, 20-21, or the critical-text work of Royal Skousen.
    8. It’s not much of a prophesy for Lehi to speak of the Babylonian captivity. (1 Nephi 1:13 and 10:3)
      • I’m not suggesting that Lehi wasn’t a prophet, just that this one was no-brainer. The Babylonians had been in control of Jerusalem since 605. There were several episodes between 605 and 587/88 of hauling Jews off to Babylon. While politically and religiously “incorrect” to say that Babylon was going destroy the city (remember Laman and Lemuel’s disbelief on this point, shared with many Israelites), it was not much of a leap to see that was the way the wind was blowing. Lots of this covered in Glimpses of Lehi’s Jerusalem (Amazon link. Maxwell Institute link.)
    9. Jesus appeared to the Nephites almost a year after the three days of darkness, not immediately.
      • The two primary texts are 3 Nephi 8:5 (which states that the destruction took place in year 34, month 1 day 1) and 3 Nephi 10:18 (which states that in the *end* of the 34th year, Jesus showed himself to them.) See Kent Brown and John A. Tvedtnes. “When did Christ appear to the Nephites?” (FARMS paper, don’t know if it’s still available) and Kent Brown, “When did Jesus Visit the Americas?” in From Jerusalem to Zarahemla, 146-156.
    10. Book of Mormon prophets probably drank wine and didn’t know about three degrees of glory and similar doctrines many today consider central to Mormonism.
      • Many critics from a different religious worldview are surprised not to find much “mormonism” in the Book of Mormon, and it’s true. You don’t go to the Book of Mormon to find explicit teachings of not drinking alcohol or coffee (that’s D&C), the premortal existence (that’s mostly Abraham, though implied in Alma 13), eternal marriage (D&C again), or becoming like God (that’s actually the Bible, ironically enough (see here and here), AND D&C. Although, see 3 Nephi 28:10). This is from reading the text, and the principles of line-upon-line; the implication of line-upon-line is that what is known today wasn’t necessarily known or practiced in the past.

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