Friday, June 12, 2009

The Book of Mormon 5/18

The first thing that jumped out at me last August when I began to read the BOM was that the characters, who were supposedly Jews, did not have a Jewish worldview.

According to the BOM, there's a fellow named Lehi who took his family and left Jerusalem in the first year of Zedekiah and left for America. That was eleven years before the third exile and the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem, which means Lehi left Jerusalem in 598 BCE. They wandered in the wilderness for eight years, and then built a boat and sailed for America.

"Us" vs. "Them"

In the beginning of the story, while Lehi is prophesying the destruction of Jerusalem, Nephi (the son of Lehi, and the author of 1 Nephi) keeps referring to "the Jews" as "they." In 2 Nephi 29:13, the author distinguishes between the Nephites, the Jews, and the lost tribes of Israel.

After Jesus ascended in the book of Acts, he appeared in America where he chose 12 more disciples. That's the background of this prophecy:
Yea, behold, I write unto all the ends of the earth; yea, unto you, twelve tribes of Israel, who shall be judged according to your works by the twelve whom Jesus chose to be his disciples in the land of Jerusalem. And I write also unto the remnant of this people, who shall also be judged by the twelve whom Jesus chose in this land; and they shall be judged by the other twelve whom Jesus chose in the land of Jerusalem. (Mormon 3:18-19)
Notice how "the remnant of this people" are distinguished from the twelve tribes of Israel.

The promised land

Part of the worldview of Judaism included the promises God gave Abraham that his children would possess the land, and the story of how God delivered the people of Israel from Egypt and brought them into the promised land. It was a land they were promised forever. This worldview affected how they interpreted later historical events. First, the Assyrians scattered the northern kingdom of Israel in 722 BCE, leaving only the kingdom of Judah in the south. Few of them ever returned. Then the Babylonians exiled the Jews in three stages culminating in the destruction of the temple and the final exile in 587 BCE. Since that time, the prophets predicted there would be a return from exile that would even include the reunion of Judah and Israel. The whole house of Israel would be able to return from exile and reestablish their national sovereignty. This worldview is what drove the Jews to despair the whole time they were in vassalage to other nations, and it explains why they fought so hard in the Maccabean revolt and the two revolts against Rome to reestablish their national sovereignty.

In the BOM, it talks about the people of Lehi being rescued from Jerusalem in much the same way the Bible talks about the Hebrews being rescued from Egypt. And it talks about wandering in the wilderness for eight years in the same way the Hebrews wandered in the wilderness for forty years. And it talks about the people of Lehi crossing the Atlantic ocean to enter the promised land, which is America, in the same way the Bible talks about the Hebrews crossing the Jordan to enter the promised land, which is Palestine.
Yea, and the Lord said also that: After ye have arrived in the promised land, ye shall know that I, the Lord, am God; and that I, the Lord, did deliver you from destruction; yea, that I did bring you out of the land of Jerusalem. (Nephi 17:14)
While the themes are certainly similar, something is terribly awry.

If the people in the BOM were really Jews, surely they would've thought they were being exiled from the promised land. And they would've thought God would eventually return them to the land of Israel. But instead, it says:
Wherefore, I, Lehi, have obtained a promise, that inasmuch as those whom the Lord God shall bring out of the land of Jerusalem shall keep his commandments, they shall prosper upon the face of this land [America]; and they shall be kept from all other nations, that they may possess this land unto themselves. And if it so be that they shall keep his commandments they shall be blessed upon the face of this land, and there shall be none to molest them, nor to take away the land of their inheritance; and they shall dwell safely forever. (2 Nephi 1:9)
Somebody with a Jewish worldview would've interpreted such a statements as a promise to be banished from the real promised land (i.e. the land promised to Abraham's seed) forever, and ironically, to be banished from the real promised land because of their faithfulness to God's commandments! A real Jew would've seen these supposed promises to Lehi to actually be broken promises since God had promised the land of Israel to Abraham's seed forever, and to always return the people of Israel to that land in fulfillment of his promises and in answer to their obedience.

When Jesus visits America, he tells the people that with the help of the Gentiles, they will build a New Jerusalem in America, and all those who had been scattered by the Gentiles will be gathered into the New Jerusalem (3 Nephi 21:32-24). There is also a New Jerusalem that will come down out of heaven in America (Ether 13:3). The old Jerusalem will also be rebuilt as a holy city, but "it could not be a new Jerusalem for it had been in a time of old" (Ether 13:5). So Israel would be forever split in two.

The law of Moses

There is no veneration of the Mosaic law among the people of the BOM like you see in the Bible. While they spent eight years in the wilderness near the Red Sea, there's no indication that anybody even thought about whether they should go to Jerusalem for any of the pilgrimage festivals, there's no indication that they kept any of the Jewish holidays, and the Sabbath is rarely mentioned. It does say a few times that the people of Nephi kept the law of Moses, but instead of expressing a love for the law like you see in the Old Testament, the BOM talks about the law as if it was just a temporary inconvenience that would be done away with once Christ arrived. For example, several hundred years before Christ, Nephi wrote:
And, notwithstanding we believe in Christ, we keep the law of Moses, and look forward with steadfastness unto Christ, until the law shall be fulfilled. For, for this end was the law given; wherefore the law hath become dead unto us, and we are made alive in Christ because of our faith; yet we keep the law because of the commandments...Wherefore, we speak concerning the law that our children may know the deadness of the law; and they by knowing the deadness of the law, may look forward unto that life which is in Christ, and know for what end the law was given. And after the law is fulfilled in Christ that they need not harden their hearts against him when the law ought to be done away. (2 Nephi 25:24-27)

The temple

In Judaism, there has only ever been one temple or tabernacle at a time. It represented God's dwelling place and his presence among Israel. Priests offered sacrifices on behalf of the people. Jews traveled to Jerusalem on special occasions to offer those sacrifices. The building of the temple was a big deal. David had wanted to do it, but God wouldn't let him. Instead, God said that Solomon would build the temple. Jews in the diaspora never built new temples; they built synagogues.

In the BOM, it says that Nephi built a temple "after the manner of the temple of Solomon" (2 Nephi 5:16). The building of Nephi's temple takes all of one verse to narrate. There's no discussion about God telling Nephi to build the temple or Nephi feeling the need to ask God for such a privilege. There's no discussion of how the temple was dedicated or of its function. But what seems even more odd is that there was no legitimate priesthood to officiate in the temple. In the Bible, there are very strict rules about who can enter the Holy of holies, who can offer sacrifices, the garments they have to wear, etc. The priests were among the sons of Aaron and the tribe of Levi. Lehi's people were from the tribe of Joseph and had no priesthood authority.

According to the footnote in my copy of the BOM, all of this happened between 588 and 570 BCE. The temple in Jerusalem was destroyed in 587 BCE, so perhaps there were not two temples at the same time. But eventually, the temple in Jerusalem was rebuilt, so surely there were two temples at one time. There's no indication in the BOM that this would've been a problem. But for somebody with a Jewish worldview, surely something would've seemed awry.

The Messiah

[There is more on the subject in the comment section of Response to a Jew with a View. Some of my comments here were cut and paste from what I wrote there.]

The BOM talks quite a bit more about Jesus Christ than the Old Testament does, and it is quite a bit more explicit than the Old Testament is. In fact, the parts of the BOM that were supposedly written before Jesus arrived seemed to have a fully developed New Testament theology.

But I don't get the impression that the author(s) of the BOM understood what a Jewish messiah was. (I wish I had taken better notes on this subject when I read the BOM so I could demonstrate the point, but I remember that was the impression I had when I read it.) The eschatological messiah in Judaism is a fulfillment of a promise God made concerning the throne of David.
Your [David’s] house and your kingdom shall be made sure forever before me; your throne shall be established forever. (2 Samuel 7:16)

But King Solomon shall be blessed, and the throne of David shall be established before the LORD forever. (1 Kings 2:45)
David’s dynasty came to an end as a result of the Babylonian exile, but the prophets said God would fulfill his promise by raising up a descendant of David who would reestablish his throne and rule forever.
There will be no end to the increase of His government or of peace, on the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish it and to uphold it with justice and righteousness from then on and forevermore. The zeal of the LORD of hosts will accomplish this. (Isaiah 9:7)

They will live on the land that I gave to Jacob My servant, in which your fathers lived; and they will live on it, they, and their sons and their sons' sons, forever; and David My servant will be their prince forever. (Ezekiel 37:25)
In 1 Kings 2:4 and 8:25, it says that David “shall not lack a man to sit on the throne of Israel,” as long as his sons are obedient. The messianic prophecy in Jeremiah 33:14-22 is explained as a fulfillment of that promise.

But there's no indication that the author(s) of the BOM understood why the messiah had to be from the line of David or that the messiah would be a king, which is striking when you consider how much more there is about the messiah in the BOM than there is in the Old Testament. And considering the fact that Lehi left Jerusalem while Zedekiah was still king, it is conspicuous that among all the discussion of the eschatological messiah in the BOM, there seems to be no question or even curiosity about what became of David's dynasty. Here are some of the BOM's messianic prophecies:
Yeah, even six hundred years from the time that my father left Jerusalem, a prophet would the Lord God raise up among the Jews--even a Messiah, or, in other words, a Savior of the world. (1 Nephi 10:4)
Apparently from this verse, the author thought "messiah" was just another way of saying "savior of the world." Granted, Christians do believe Jesus is the savior of the world, but that is not what "messiah" means.
Wherefore, as I said unto you, it must needs be expedient that Christ--for in the last night the angel spake unto me that this should be his name--should come among the Jews. (2 Nephi 10:3)
Here's, it's evident that the author thought "Christ" was just a name. There is another curious reference in this same chapter to the same effect. See if you notice anything odd about this next part:
For according to the words of the prophets, the Messiah cometh six hundred years from the time that my father left Jerusalem; and according to the words of the prophets, and also the word of the angel of God, his name shall be Jesus Christ, the Son of God. (2 Nephi 10:19)
The odd thing about this verse is that the author appears to think "messiah" is a title, whereas "Jesus Christ" is a proper name. It is strange that the translation of the BOM would make such a distinction between "messiah" and "christ," since both mean the same thing. "Messiah" is derived from the Hebrew word for "anointed one," and "christ" is derived from the Greek word for "anointed one." It makes you wonder what the original language of the BOM actually said and whether it made such a distinction. Of course this is just one thing that makes me doubt the BOM is a translation at all, but that is a topic for another blog entry.

For all these reasons, I seriously doubt that the author(s) of the BOM really were Jews. But it would not be surprising if this story was written by somebody in the 19th century who had a Christian upbringing.

Part 6


Paul said...

One of the ways that the early church argued against the Gnostic gospels is that they were discordant with the rest of the accepted material. This same argument applies to the BoM and LDS theology in general. It strikes me as such an ad hoc appendage to the biblical story. All the symbolism, promises, prophecy, and theological conherence is drained or bypassed by Mormon theology.

pascale said...

I thought you might be interested in learning about OUR Jewish traditions which embrace the real Christ. We are the Frankist Association of America. One of our members has a new book out:

These are our teachings passed on through generations. If you can't afford the book you can see the website of one of our teachers -


Beth El Jacob Frank

Paul said...

I've always thought that if the "real Christ" were something other than what has been passed down to us in Scripture and the writings of the Apostolic Fathers, then He must not have been God's man after all. What would it say about God to have to rely on strained evidence and conspiracy theories only to share the "real Christ" with the world after so many centuries?!

Sam said...

Pascale, I've never heard of the Frankist Association of American until now. Just from reading the reviews on Amazon of that book, it sounds like it's a new religion altogether.

Angela said...

I agree that folks like Nephi, Lehi, etc. don't seem that Jewish (although there is plenty of kvetching in 1 Ne).

One of the key points of the BOM (new theology, if you will) is to create an alternate worldview in which there is an explicit Christianity prior to Christ. There are several possible reasons for this distinct worldview:
1 - JS made it up
2 - Because BOM people began as a small off-shoot, their worldview was strongly influenced by a single person's view: Lehi's.
3 - the Jews' messianic views changed radically over time due to apostasy to the point that they didn't recognize Jesus when he came.

#1 is certainly possible. #2 could be a contributor if the people in the BOM actually existed. #3 is a commonly held view of all Christian religions. To incorporate the OT into Christian canon, it was necessary to dig through it and highlight everything that might possibly refer to Jesus and bolster his divinity. #3 is also the theory put forward by the BOM, that the Jews were in apostasy.

I tend to think that there were elements of both #1 and #2 in the BOM, that 'synagogues' are an actual anachronism because JS didn't know better. However, it's possible he was describing something he saw in vision (e.g. face in hat) in the only vernacular he know.

Sam said...

Angela, I think the reason most Jews rejected Jesus as the messiah is because (1) many others in the first century made similar claims, and Jesus likely didn't stand out much, and (2) Jesus didn't fulfill the major messianic prophecies during his lifetime.

But I don't know if it will work to say the Jews were in apostasy, and therefore had a misunderstanding of what the messiah was. The picture I have built of messianic expectation is built on scriptures the LDS Church takes to be the word of God. You'd have to jettison all of those scriptures to make #3 work.

Richard W 4Christ said...

Maybe this scripture will help us out a bit in understanding the Jews' ignorance and disbelief in Jesus as Messiah
(READ ROMANS 11:1-28).