Feast upon the Word Blog

A blog focused on LDS scriptures and teaching

Book of Mormon Lesson #2

Posted by cherylem on January 12, 2008

Here are my notes for our Book of Mormon lesson tomorrow. I’m including a word document link at the bottom for those who would like to see this formatted in word.

Historical fact: The Book of Mormon was basically translated in the time period from April 7, 1829 to June 30, 1829, or less than three months.

Joseph Smith saw the sword of Laban (see 1Nephi 4:9, D&C 17:1)

Historical notes:Lehi left Jerusalem with his family about 600 B.C. Prophets contemporary with this time were Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah, Jeremiah

Nephi actually wrote this record 30 years later, about 588 – 570 B.C.2 Nephi 5:28 – 34
• Nephi had been keeping records on the large plates for 30 years
• God tells him to write on the “small plates” during a period of contention. Lehi dies. Argument about who is supposed to be king. The Lamanites separate from the Nephites and this long rivalry begins.
• Nephi recounts what had happened with Lehi, and how he Nephi had taken the prophetic mantle from his father Lehi. He is describing a dynastic shift from Lehi to himself.

The Book of Mormon opens with a formulaic colophon: 1 Nephi 1:1-3(opening inscription, giving author, date, etc.)

Call of the prophet Lehi

Look for major themes:
• What does it mean to be a prophet? How is a prophet defined?
• Comparison with the Exodus
• Mysteries of God

What does it mean to be a prophet?
Read Numbers 12:6-8 (p. 212)
1 Nephi 1:61
Nephi 2:1
Comparison with the Exodus
Numbers 12 reflects a challenge to the authority of Moses. When the small plates are begun:
• Laman and Lemuel are challenging Lehi and Nephi
• Core at the beginning of the BOM as to what it means to be a prophet – God appears in a vision and speaks in a dream
• Every time from hear on out that we see a man claiming to have a vision or God speak to him in a dream he is qualifying himself to be a prophet and speak in the prophetic line
• Nephi is drawing on an unquestioned theological text creating a proof text.

Pillar of fire? Exodus 3:2 (2-8) (p. 81)
Also see: Psalm 104:4, Heb. 1:7, JSH 16, 30; D&C 29:12; Ex. 19:18
Fire = glory of God

If Lehi is Moses, then Nephi is intentionally setting a comparison between the Exodus and Lehi’s family departure – this is going to be repeated again and again.

Lehi as prophet:1:8-13
saw God, numerous angels, one descending, twelve
gave him a book to read
Habakkuk 2:2, Ezekiel 2:9-10; Rev. 10:2, 9-10

Prophets and Councils
1 Kings 22:19-2 Micaiah
Jeremiah 23:18 true prophets stand in God’s council and hear his word
Isaiah 6:1-3
Ezekiel 1:1, 2:1-3, 7-10; 3:1-12; 9:2-3

Councils to the prophets, revealing the mysteries of God
Read: Amos 3:7
1 Nephi 1:1, 2:16

Response to Lehi by people in Jerusalem (and by some of his own family)
1:18-20 mocked, rejected, sought his life
Read 2 Chronicles 36:15-16 (p. 633)

Review of the historical background: Egypt vs. Babylon
Josiah 640-609 killed at Carchemish fighting Egyptians, last king of independent Judah
Jehoahaz – Johoiakim vassal of Egypt
605 Carchemish Nebuchadnezzar defeats Egypt at Carchemish
Jehoiakim vassal of Babylon -> rebelled, died
Jehoiachin king for 3 moths, deposed by Babylon -> Zedekiah, son of Josiah
Zedekiah King 598-587
Eventually rebelled against Babylon
Followed wishes of his nobles and popular opinion against advice
Of Jeremiah and probably Lehi
Jerusalem destroyed and temple destroyed

Departure into the Wilderness2:2-5 tents and provisions -> camels
near borders of Red Sea + 3 days -> Camp MAP
Classic Arab Poetry to Laman and Lemuel
2:9 Fountain of Red Sea
run to fountain of all righteousness

2:10 firm and steadfast like a valley
for Arabs, the valley, not the mountain is the symbol of refuge or permanence (barren mountains in Arabian desert; riverbeds -> water, vegetation, life)

Murmurings of Laman and Lemuel
2:11 Did they not have good reason to murmur?
2:12 Murmured because they knew not the dealings of God vs. Nephi (and Sam)
2:15 dwelt in a tent = adopted the nomadic life style
After 2:15 Nephi begins his ascendancy
2:16 Mysteries of God, spirit softened heart
2:19-20 Sought me diligently with lowliness of heart
2:20 Again, the EXODUS
2:21 Rebel against God’s will given by his prophets -> cut off

Return for the plates: chapter 3
About 180 miles; 10-14 days
Laban: distant relative of Lehi
Probable military governor 3:31, 4:1
Member of council of elders, keeper of records

Reasons to get plates
3:19-20 1) preserve the language
2) preserve the words of the prophets

3:27 hid in the cavity of a rock
3:28-31 Laman and Lemuel murmur -> see angel -> murmur (Luke 16:31)

First overt comparison to Exodus: chapter
to get plates
1st: simply asked
2nd: try to buy with gold/silver/precious things
3rd: v. 5-6 Led by spirit not knowing beforehand

Killing of Laban: v. 9-20
Parallel to Goliath (after David killed Goliath, a shift in dynasty occurred).
Constrained by the spirit three times
v. 13 reasons given by the Spirit
v. 14-15 rationalizing by Nephi – had to do his own thinking

Oath to Zoram: v. 30-34, 35-36
Sacredness of an oath among Bedoin

Sariah murmurs: Chapter 5
v. 2 thought her children lost; complained because Lehi was “visionary.”
v. 5 Lehi’s faithv.
8 Knows that God really spoke to Lehi only after sons return (vs. Nephi who knewsooner)

Brass Plates
v. 5 Books of Moses, Record of Jews, Prophets down to Jeremiah, Genealogy(Nephi can make comparisons to the Exodus because they have the brass plates)
v. 21 brass plates desirable and of great worth -> preserve the commandments of God

The plates (Brant Gardner: http://frontpage2000.nmia.com/~nahualli/commentary.htm)
• Establish Nephi as leader of the family, over his brothers
• Provide model for the plates of Nephi (metal, reformed Egyptian)
• Theology of the plates forms the theology of the Nephite religion
• Provide a tie to their history and culture

Purpose of the records of Nephi: Chapter 6 (and 9)
v. 3-5 Purpose of the records
How does one come unto the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob and be saved?
1 Nephi 1:14
Also read 1 Nephi: 9:3-6.

Return to get Ishmael and his family: Chapter 7
Laman and Lemuel rebel + two daughters and two sons of Ishamel
Wanted to return to Jerusalem
Nephi tied up -> cords loosed (v. 18)
One daughter, one son, mother intervene (v. 19)
v. 13-14: Jerusalem will be destroyed
Spirit of the Lord ceased soon to strive with them

1 Nephi 7:16 (read Genesis 37:20, 23-24, p. 57, Joseph and his brothers)

Applications to our own lives
We all are asked to journey into the wilderness.
Guaranteed to be miserable at times
Most of us murmur
STOP murmuring

1. Hearts must be softened by the spirit
2. Must have God’s perspective, an eternal perspective to understand
How can we seek God and his mysteries diligently?

Further applications:
1 Nephi 1:5 Lehi prays for who?
1 Nephi 1:12 Application to us?
1 Nephi 1:18 When does Lehi prophesy (after the vision) Read D&C 11:21-22, p. 23

Here is the word document:
BOM #2 McGuire

39 Responses to “Book of Mormon Lesson #2”

  1. cherylem said

    Again, I see a couple of typos. Darn it. But the formatting continues to present problems, so I’m not going to fix them for fear of having to reformat the whole thing.

  2. brianj said

    Cheryl: thanks for posting this. I’ve been thinking about Laban as I study this year and I wondered about your thoughts. You write:

    “Laban: distant relative of Lehi
    Probable military governor 3:31, 4:1
    Member of council of elders, keeper of records”

    I appreciate your ambiguity, since we really don’t know who he was. Was he a Jerusalem VIP or sort of a lower official? I know Laman talks about “Laban’s fifty,” which puts Laban in a military role, but it’s really not clear how high up he really was. How likely would it have been for a non-Judahite to be the highest ranking military man in Jerusalem?

    How distant a relation was he to Lehi? Here’s one interesting scenario: Lehi didn’t seem to have a complete genealogy until he read it on the Brass Plates. But Laban had the plates all along (and they were apparently kept up-to-date). So let’s just say that Laban knew who Lehi was and knew Lehi’s relationship to Laban, but Lehi was completely unaware. Let’s also say that Lehi would have some claim to Laban’s position or property—like some kind of “rightful heir.” That would give Laban enormous incentive to keep the plates out of Lehi’s hands. Wild speculation, I know, but it’s fun!

    Are you certain that Laban was a member of the council? I know that he met with them the night he was killed, but does that necessarily mean he was part of the council? Just how big was this council, anyway? Was it the Sanhedrin, or something else? Did Laban keep a lot of records—like the town clerk—or just the Brass Plates?

  3. cherylem said

    I don’t know the answers to any of these questions, of course. In class I’m going to be even more ambiguous and just say that these are some thoughts about Laban, but we really don’t know much. In my outline there should be question marks about those entries about Laban.

    However, I just asked my son Ben to write up a more serious answer. Hopefully he’ll post something. Probably tomorrow. Or maybe someone else has something to say.

    Ben did say that a typical garrison had 50 soldiers. Which answers none of your questions.

  4. Joe Spencer said

    The Lachish letters show us that a “fifty” was a standard garrison over which a commander was assigned in the city (Nibley discusses this in a few different places).

    But BRIAN! These are great leads for thinking further about Laban. I was also struck reading through these chapters again the other day with my daughter that Lehi seems not to have known he was a Josephite… what would that imply about Lehi’s background (and what might it imply about the relatively recent suggestion that Lehi’s “land of inheritance” would have been inherited land somewhere up north in the land of Manasseh)? There is certainly a great deal more to think about here. I’ve been especially interested, reading through these chapters lately, in the sharp differences between the Old Testament as we understand it (shaped—note that I do not say written—in the Judaic exile and its aftermath) and the brass plates (necessarily pre-exilic and presumably Northern in orientation). There is a great deal to think about there, perhaps with an eye to Margaret Barker, but perhaps more importantly with an eye to the political situation of the exile (rather than of Josiah’s reform).

    Thinking, thinking, thinking…

  5. Cheryle, thanks for your notes. I especially appreciate your noting of the colophon at the beginning of Nephi. The literary testimony of the BofM is something I’m focusing on in my own study this year and is so enriching to my testimony and intellect.

    You probably already know & simply didn’t include this in your notes due to space, that “one” thesis of the BofM is found in 1 Ne. 1:20 which is underscored at the heart (center point) of the BofM found in Alma 36:2-3. This chapter is chiastic, as is so much more, with the center of the chiasmus at 17&18. I really think this these underscores the Exodus motif that is so personally relevant. FWTW. :)

  6. cherylem said

    Ponderpaths #5,
    Thanks for the comments. Keep them coming!! Are your notes up on your website? Can you provide the link? I will probably use the 1:20 link to Alma 36:2-3.

    I don’t think I’m going to mention chaismus today except maybe in passing.

    I really struggled with what to present in the 45 minute lesson. (Even now there is too much) There are some people in my class relatively new to the BOM; others participate in a weekly study class. How to meet the needs and interests of all? By the Spirit, of course, but lots of study/thought is demanded, I think.

    Brian and Joe,
    Very interesting thoughts. Since the plates gave the Nephites/Lehites their theological base, I think the questions/comments especially relevant.

    One of the things that I’m struck with regarding the BOM study this year, following on the NT study, is that the BOM continues to stand by itself. Questions such as Brian’s seem unanswerable to me, relevant though they are. NT study includes ongoing discovery of new documents and a history of centuries of commentary.

    In my lessons, I’m going to try to keep things simple, but this is also a matter of redaction by the teacher – what will I include? And ultimately the BOM is not simple.

    I’m trying to develop a framework: some literary information, overview of what’s happening, importance of OT especially as it relates to the BOM plus the BOM’s interrelatedness with all scripture, where are we on which plates? etc., and then the all important personal application – why is this important to us? It’s been a number of years since I’ve taught the BOM and I’m actually feeling somewhat inadequate to this task.

    Also, the last time I taught Isaiah in the BOM I used a different modern translation (probably NIV) in side/by/side study. Will probably do the same this time around . ..

    Please keep any and all comments coming on this and future lessons.

  7. Joe Spencer said

    The connection between 1 Nephi 1 and Alma 36 is very, very profound and deserves extended attention… and I hope I’ve given it that in my book! The connection is the cornerstone of my project. It is important to see that Alma quotes 1 Nephi 1:8 in Alma 36:22, word for word and at some length. 1 Nephi 2:21-24 is quoted or summarized twice in Alma 36. And the whole structure of Lehi’s second vision is the outline of the Alma 36 experience. I write some 80 pages on this in my book, and then I use it as an excuse to write another 150 pages on Nephi’s double record as a whole, with most of the emphasis falling on how Nephi fleshes out the 1 Nephi 2:21-24 business.

    About Isaiah: I think it is helpful to use another translation in teaching Isaiah. In teaching it in my early morning seminary class this year (OT year), I’ve decided, in the end, however, not to use an alternate translation (except where I retranslate the Hebrew!), primarily so that the students become familiar with the KJV wording that is so important in the Book of Mormon and D&C quotations of Isaiah. For anyone dreading that Isaiah stretch coming up, you might find my Isaiah lessons to be of some help (see link below). We are only halfway through Isaiah 10 (after a month and a half in Isaiah), but the introductory lessons are probably quite helpful for someone trying to get an overview of the Isaiah chapters, and one can of course consult particular lectures on particular passages that prove difficult.


  8. JWL said

    Re: Laban and Lehi’s Josephite ancestry.

    Teaching OT I stumbled across 2 Chronciles 30:10-11 which recounts how most of the northern kingdom scoffed at King Hezekiah’s invitation to come worship at the refurbished temple at Jerusalem but some small groups from Manasseh (plus Asher and Zebulon) repented and joined the restored legal worship at Jerusalem. This is over a centry before Lehi. Has anyone ever speculated that Lehi’s ancestors were among these righteous members of the tribe of Manasseh who went to Jerusalem to worship at the temple and then, in view of the apostate conditions back home, stayed (the OT does not explicitly say that they stayed, but it seems a not unreasonable supposition). Several generations later, after integrating with the society of the southern kingdom, it is understandable that some descendants might not have paid too much attention to the family stories, especially if they were actively integrating themselves into Judaic and Egyptian societies for business reasons, as Lehi is thought to have done before his prophetic call. However, the family’s senior lines would keep geneaologies, and Lehi would know who the senior family members were even if he didn’t know much about the family history. In this scenario Laban was the heir of the senior line (eldest son of the eldest son, etc.) of one of these families from Manasseh who had emigrated to the southern kingdom over a century earlier, and Lehi was a distant but known (albeit uninformed) member of a cadet line. Also, note that when Laban recieves Laman on his first visit, no mention is made of a need for an introduction or of Laban resisting meeting Laman. To me this suggests that Laban knew that Lehi was a family member and at least initially saw it as a part of the obligations of his family position to receive the eldest son of one of the adult men of the family (at least until he found out the reason for the visit).

    Re: teaching Isaiah

    When President Hinckley challenged the Church to read the BoM I ttok the opportunity to read a facsimile of the original edition (which is not versified and has far fewer chapter divisions). I was astonished at how seamlessly Nephi flowed into the Isaiah quotations when the change was not signaled by chapter and verse divisions. I intend to introduce the Isaiah material by having someone read from the original edition with everyone else having their books closed and see if they can guess where Nephi ends and Isaiah begins. I don’t know if it will work as a teaching technique, but if it does we can then discuss Isaiah from the persepctive of what Nephi was trying to impart through these extensive quotations, which I hope will be enlightening to the class.

  9. NathanG said

    Interesting thoughts on Laban and Laman. I have find it striking that we are told Laman asked Laban for the plates and he was chased off with the accusation of being a robber and with his life in peril. I wonder how Laban’s response might fit as we try to build a possible scenario of who Laban was and how Lehi’s family relates to him. Could Laban have recognized Laman as a family member, but didn’t connect him to Lehi, whom he already didn’t like because of Lehi’s preaching? When he asked for the plates, Laban made the connection and felt the son was the same as the father and deserved to die.
    It’s all speculation of course, but it’s interesting to think about.

  10. Joe Spencer said

    JWL, interesting possibility. I’d have to reread the passages from 2 Chronicles, but for now I think there is much merit in looking at the mass evacuation of refugees during the collapse of the Northern Kingdom. Refugee status might explain the apparent reticence of Lehi’s great-grandparents to wear their ancestry on their sleeve. But more importantly, such a situation would likely explain the heavy emphasis on Isaiah to be found in the brass plates and subsequently the Nephites: the brass plates, as a Northern Kingdom document, would have centered itself on the teaching of Isaiah for a number of reasons. Again, there is much, much more to study about all of this.

    Interesting that you studied the 1830 edition when President Hinckley made his “challenge”: my wife and I did the same, reading it out loud. And we found much the same thing (and not only with Isaiah!). I’ll be interested to hear how that goes in your class when you get to the Isaiah materials.

  11. cherylem said

    I did listen to your Christmas fireside podcast and hope to listen to some of your Isaiah lessons . . .

  12. cherylem said

    Regarding Laban,
    A couple of interesting things from yesterday, even though I actually steered clear of Laban in my presentation – I didn’t want to teach this without getting into some of the issues, and I didn’t want to get into the issues and derail my lesson. But at the end of the lesson one of my class members said that he thought of Laban as a kind of Christ figure – one dying so the whole nation wouldn’t perish. And then Nephi dresses himself in Laban’s clothes, like we’re supposed to be clothed in Christ’s clothing/blood/armor, etc. So Laban was a kind of savior figure, according to my class member. Very interesting observation.

    Then my son in Wisconsin called me and told me his GD teacher wrote RENE GIRARD on the blackboard and talked about the lesson in Girardian terms . . . and how his teacher had been introduced to Girard here at FUTW.

  13. Joe Spencer said

    Interesting…. Very interesting….

    Now that I’m into the textual interpretation parts of The Scapegoat, I’ll confess that Girard is selling me more and more….

  14. Ben McGuire said

    Just a couple of things –

    First, the Lachish letters lead me to believe that Zoram was not a household servant, but was probably one of the 50 – and most likely a conscript (and not, so to speak, a professional soldier).

    Second, the three day journey into the wilderness comes right out of earlier traditions in the Mosaic Law – and is first dealt with when Moses asks Pharoah for permission to take the Israelites three days into the wilderness to offer up burnt offerings. The three days represents a cultic tradition, and is a VERY strong statement of rejection (by Lehi) of the validity of the temple cult in Jerusalem. Along these lines, I believe that Lehi was (at least in part) rejecting the ongoing reformation of the Jewish cult in the time period leading up to the captivity (and by extension, the Deuteronomist revisionism – which may well form the basis for Nephi’s suspicion of the text). At any rate, the three day trip is an explicit comparison to the Exodus.

    Probably not much can be said of all the other questions – except the issue of why Laban would be a commander in Jerusalem. I think it would not be unreasonable. While we tend to assume that Jerusalem would have largely been populated by members of Judah and Benjamin (the two not lost tribes) with a scattering of Levi, the real expectation is that when the Northern Kingdom was demolished, probably there was a wave of refugees into Judah fleeing the Assyrian wrath (which was something else). Perhaps the military would have been a viable way to go for those without family holdings, land or other form of immediate support.

    Other options could include the fact that when Israel/Judah was being managed by one of the super powers, they regularly had to provide their masters with corvee labor – men who most often were conscripted into the armies of these larger empire building nations. Should Zoram have gotten his military experience under a setting like this (and of course had he gone with the Egyptians during the earlier period of Egyptian vassalship, he might have been able to have read the Egyptian on the Brass Plates just as Lehi could.) At any rate there is lots of room for speculation.

  15. brianj said

    Ben – very interesting about the 3 days journey. What is it about the Lachish letters that makes you think anything about Zoram—I don’t see how he fits into them. I think your explanation of Laban seems reasonable: that as refugees, his ancestors would perhaps of necessity gone into the military. I still wonder how much mixing there was between tribes before the Assyrian invasion: was it like in the US, where generations generally stay close to home even though they are totally free to move about the country, or was a Danite strictly forbidden from ever owning land in Reuben?

    “…read the Egyptian on the Brass Plates….” I feel like I totally missed something. Where does it say that the Brass Plates were written in Egyptian? I had always assumed Hebrew.

  16. mistaben said

    Last night I was considering how Nephi could just walk into and out of Jerusalem at night. He states (1 Ne 1:4) that this all started at the commencement of the first year of Zedekiah’s reign, meaning that the Babylonians had just barely left Jerusalem with all the mighty men, treasure, etc. (cf. 2 Kings 24). I would be quite surprised if just anyone could come and go through the gates on a typical night.

    What if it were a feast time?

    Consider Lehi’s statement that the Savior was to be born 600 years after he (Lehi) left Jerusalem (1 Ne 10:4, see also 1 Ne 19:8; 2 Ne 25:19). If we exactly 600 years back from Christ’s birth, wouldn’t that put Lehi’s departure right in the middle of Passover? At Passover I could imagine the gates being open all the time for the large crowds (even if they’re small compared to the crowds to come under more relaxed Roman rule).

    This leads to other thoughts: had Laban been to a seder with the elders and had a bit too much wine? Were Laban and Nephi alone in the street (as I’d always pictured it) or were they among thousands of pilgrims trying to sleep in the city streets? Could 1 Ne 4:7-8 mean that Nephi noticed a drunken man and actually watched him fall to the earth, which is why he “came to him?”

  17. Joe Spencer said

    Brian, read the first few verses of Mosiah 1.

  18. Cherylem,

    the thing about Laban that always strikes me is that the same excuse/scapegoat logic is used to kill Laban as it was Christ. To what extent is Laban a scapegoat? We are given the reasons/rationale of why he should be killed, not a good guy, took my treasure, etc.

    This is a foundational event of Nephite culture that even uses the sword as an emblem that is passed down from king to king. Are the later wars an outgrowth of this initial act.

    The same goes with the sibling rivalry. I wonder how it might have been resolved differently. Jacob seems to have found a way to overcome it in even offering Esau the blessing back

  19. cherylem said

    Joshua #18,
    these questions are profound.

    And yes, the whole of the Jacob/Esau story, including its beautiful and in some ways terrible resolution of the conflict, is very little understood. I say terrible because it ends with Jacob, as you say, offering it all back, quite fearfully, to Esau, and Esau saying there is enough for all. How many conflicts, from the most basic to the widest-scale, would be avoided by using THIS as a foundational text? How terrible that we have not understood this?

  20. brianj said

    Joe – thanks. As I suspected, I had missed the obvious. Now, can anyone tell me where it explicitly states that Nephi wrote 1-2 Nephi with his own hands? (just kidding!)

  21. Joe Spencer said

    Joshua (and Cheryl), I deal with this very question about Laban and the scaepgoat (via Eugene England’s paper on the subject) in chapter 3 of my book (hopefully soon to be published). I think there is a great deal more to think about here.

  22. Cherylem said

    Can you post the link to the Eugene England paper again?

    Where are you with your book? I’ve lost track. Is it complete?

  23. Robert C. said

    Cheryl, here is a link to England’s Dialogue article on Nephi slaying Laban (v. 22 no. 3, Fall 1989, pp. 32-51).

  24. Joe,

    don’t go to fast with the book otherwise I may have to change much of the one Im working on. Then again, go fast, Id love to read it.

    I think the Laban story is one we should really wrestle with.

  25. Joe Spencer said

    Cheryl (and, incidentally, Joshua),

    I finished the manuscript over the summer but did not submit it for publication with anyone until early in December. Now I’m waiting to hear back about whether the one company I submitted it to will publish it. Cross your fingers for me.

  26. Ben McGuire said

    brianj asks:

    “What is it about the Lachish letters that makes you think anything about Zoram—I don’t see how he fits into them.”

    In the Lachish letters, military subordinates consistently refer to themselves and are referred to as “servants”. If we want to read the text on a more literal level (the Book of Mormon text) it would explain the sending of Laban’s servants as a more significant threat and so on.

    “I still wonder how much mixing there was between tribes before the Assyrian invasion: was it like in the US, where generations generally stay close to home even though they are totally free to move about the country, or was a Danite strictly forbidden from ever owning land in Reuben?”

    Probably there was a fair amount of it – after all, Lehi does not know his own ancestry until he reads the text.

    As far as the Egyptian text goes, this is an unusual claim. But it does suggest that the Brass Plates were written in Egyptian and not in Hebrew. It also leads to speculation that the written language used by the Nephites for their sacred texts was not the same as their spoken language, was not universally taught (i.e. there isn’t a high level of literacy at least for that language) and we see interesting suggestions about this in the narratives about King Noah and Alma and Abinadi.

    mistaben writes:

    “Last night I was considering how Nephi could just walk into and out of Jerusalem at night. He states (1 Ne 1:4) that this all started at the commencement of the first year of Zedekiah’s reign, meaning that the Babylonians had just barely left Jerusalem with all the mighty men, treasure, etc. (cf. 2 Kings 24). I would be quite surprised if just anyone could come and go through the gates on a typical night.”

    In 605 BC, Nebuchadnezzar defeated the Egyptians at Carchemish and marched, virtually unopposed into Syrio-Palestine and made Judah a vassal state. The king in Jerusalem during this period was Jehoiakim, who paid tribute to the Babylonians in 603, 602, and 601 BC. In 600, he stopped paying tribute, and entered into an agreement with the Egyptians. When Nebuchadnezzar sent his army back to Jerusalem, he was met by Pharaoh Neco, who defeated Nebuchadnezzar. But, Nebuchadnezzar returned in 599 BC. On his way to Jerusalem however, he was met with a number of other groups – as the Old Testament tells us”

    And the LORD sent against him bands of the Chadees, and bands of the Syrians, and bands of the Moabites, and bands of the children of Ammon, …”

    The following year (598 BC), he again returned, marched on Jerusalem, and captured it. During this invasion, Jehoiakim had died (of natural causes) and had been succeeded by the young (18 years old) Jehoichin. Nebuchadnezzar deposed Jehoichin and replaced him with his uncle Mattaniah, who was renamed Zedekiah. Zedekiah’s reign stretches from 598 to 587 BC. Eventually, he renewed negotiations with Egypt, and that ultimately persuaded the Babylonians to just destroy the place. He makes this appeal to them after the Babylonians stop making regular appearances there (594 BC was their last visit). Unlike the earlier Assyrian empire, the Babylonian empire found they could not manage the Mediterranean states, and so the Babylonians implemented a veritable scorched earth policy to prevent Egypt from obtaining an avenue of attack against them involving these smaller states.

    The point of all of this is that I don’t consider Lehi’s statement that the Savior was to be born 600 years after he left Jerusalem to be accurate in the way that you do – I think it is more of an approximation. I also expect that there was a gap between when Lehi first has an experience (first year of the reign of Zedekiah – 598 BC) and when he actually leaves, and I think that his departure probably ocurs around 594-592 BC – a time of relative peace and stability in the region. Jeremiah doesn’t get thrown into prison for speaking against the political leadership and their plans to align with Egypt until after 594 BC. And this also suggests to me a date around 592. Lehi then would have left during the period when the rebellion against Babylon (and the alliance with Egypt) was just getting going. Discussion of some of this occurs in the Lachish letters.


  27. Joe Spencer said

    Though I’m not at all sure I want to commit myself to any of the implications of his view, John Sorenson promotes an interesting interpretation of the 600 years business. He points out that on the Babylonian calendar (of 360 days rather than 365 days), 600 years would have worked out much closer to the stretch from 597 to 4 BC (the latter year being the year of Jesus’ birth, according to a general consensus). The argument is interesting, but I think it is perhaps a mistake to assume that there is anything like precision implied in Lehi’s prophecy (especially given the relative inaccuracies in his anticipatory words: read 1 Nephi 10 quite carefully). Perhaps more important than anything else is the significance of the number 6 in Lehi’s “prediction.”

  28. brianj said

    Ben, thanks again for your thoughts. I see what you are saying about the Lachish letters, that they open up the possibility that Zoram was not a household servant but rather a soldier.

    mistaben, I think I’m with Ben on this one. I don’t, for starters, believe that it is clear at all that Jesus was born in April, let alone what year. Lehi’s prophecy and Joseph’s words in the D&C could so easily read like approximations. I also don’t know enough about Jerusalem’s gates to know whether the city was ever—at any time except active war—in any state of “lock-down.” Still, I think your thoughts are plausible: that this occurred around Passover, etc. If true, that would create some interesting religious dilemmas for Lehi and family.

  29. cherylem said

    I just remembered a question from last week. Why is Lehi given a BOOK? (Sorry if this has already been discussed!) God doesn’t need to write things in a book to remember them. Why are prophets sometimes given BOOKS with a commandment to read and/or eat them?

  30. Joe Spencer said

    Cheryl, it is precisely that question that I obsess over in my book. In a sense, that is the question I address in four hundred pages. So… I have a few thoughts, you might say.

  31. cherylem said

    Well, my obsessive friend in #30, can you give us a shortened version of your thoughts? Painful, I know. But try.

    And Ben and I had a conversation about this tonight. Maybe he’ll chime in too.

  32. cherylem said

    And so interesting that Joseph Smith begins with a BOOK.

  33. Robert C. said

    Cheryl, I won’t even pretend to try to do justice to Joe’s thoughts on this, but here are a couple other thoughts to add to your musing:

    D&C 128 seems to make a good case that the book of life is critical to salvation, central to the priesthood, and intimately related to Revelation (esp. note D&C 128:6 where Rev 20:12 is quoted).

    In Joe’s seminary lessons he has also talked about this a fair bit. For example, inspired largely by von Rad’s work on Isaiah (I think), Joe’s whole approach to Isaiah revolves critically around the notion of writing—that Isaiah the first prophet to write his words down so that they would stand as a testimony that God is faithful to his word (and it’s in this sense, very roughly, that it’s important that testimony (and law) is (are) bound up and sealed (cf. Isa 8:16; 2 Ne 1816; D&C 88:84; D&C 109:46).

    Also, I think Joe talks quite a bit about the significance of Joseph Smith and Lehi both being given a book in his “Mid-Genesis Interludes” which he gave to his seminary class back in November—see here.

    Anyway, I welcome more discussion and thought on this very interesting question!

  34. Ben McGuire said

    The idea of a book fascinates me in this passage. Reading is an act of interpretation. So for Lehi to read the book means that he is interpreting it (and that should any number of other people read the book, it isn’t likely that they would agree completely in interpretation). There isn’t any pretense here that there is some kind of perfect communication going on, or that there isn’t interpretation going on. (I find it hard to discuss this sometimes since I would much rather talk of it in different ways). But, perhaps it represents a first step in the process of learning and knowing God – we find him first represented by symbols, and only as we come to recognize the inadequacies of those symbols can we move on to look for God outside of them instead of through them.

    The Book of Mormon has for a long time fascinated me with this commentary it gives on texts. It challenges them, it rejects the author as a source of meaning, it confronts the issue of interpretation on the part of the reader, and so on. It some times seems to me to be quite out of place – not just as a book of ancient scripture but even as a piece written in the early 19th century america. It is almost a text that is itself pre-occupied with the written text …

  35. cherylem said

    Here’s the Wikipedia discussion regarding eating/reading the book. It doesn’t sound at all like what Joe and Ben are talking about, in its specifics:


    “The way, however, had in an especial degree been prepared for the apocalyptic type of thought and literature by Ezekiel, for with him the word of God had become identical with a written book (ii. 9-iii. 3) by the eating of which he learned the will of God, just as earlier writing conceived that the eating of the Tree of Knowledge in the Garden of Eden imparted spiritual understanding and self-consciousness. When the divine word is thus conceived as a written message, the sole office of the prophet is to communicate what has been written. Thus the human element is reduced, and the conception of prophecy becomes stenographic. And as the personal element disappears in the conception of the prophetic calling, so it tends to disappear in the prophetic view of history, and the future comes to be conceived not as the organic result of the present under the divine guidance, but as mechanically determined from the beginning in the counsels of God, and arranged under artificial categories of time. This is essentially the apocalyptic conception of history, and Ezekiel may be justly represented as in certain essential aspects its founder in Israel[1].”

  36. Joe Spencer said

    Ben writes: “It is almost a text that is itself pre-occupied with the written text…”

    Amen. I’d like to let that summarize my book for now (meaning that I’ve tried here for the past twenty minutes to summarize my arguments but without being able to be satisfied with anything I’ve written!). If anyone is interested in reading my manuscript, I would be, generally, pleased to e-mail a copy out (though with the usual restrictions about passing it along, etc., since it is right now under review for publication). The entire manuscript is just shy of 400 pages, but the material on this book-reading business is primarily contained within the first 80 pages.

  37. Robert C. said

    Cheryl and Ben, thanks for these thoughts, they led to me to some really fascinating stuff that is new to me. In Aune’s commentary on Revelation 10:9-10, he references the apocryphal story of Joseph and Aseneth where there is also mention of eating a book that is sweet as honey (see chapter 16).

    Aune also cites Bauer’s Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature as arguing that “for gentile Christians in Asia Minor, the phrase estiein biblia would suggest dream books in which the phrase was interpreted as an early death” (p. 573 of Aune; p. xxv of Bauer). I’m guessing, Ben, that you’re getting the idea of interpretation from this link to dreams? Regardless, I’d be very interested if you have any sources handy regarding this notion of eating a book as interpretation (Aune doesn’t seem to mention this idea, but I’m hoping to check some other commentaries later…).

  38. in egypt they would actually dissolve a scroll/papyrus into a liquid and drink it, the word for “know” has is related to this papyrus drinking. The verb rh, for to know has the papyrus and a mouth as part of its glyphs

  39. Robert C. said

    Joshua #38, very interesting—do you happen to have any references handy that you could cite on this, or even potential sources you think you might’ve gotten this from?

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