False Finality in Mormon 3

After the Nephites take ungodly oaths in chapter 3 of Mormon, Mormon says that he “did utterly refuse from this time forth to be a commander and a leader of this people” (verse 11). Yet, we find him in chapter 5 repenting of that oath and leading the Nephites into battle again. If this book was written at the same time, why wouldn’t Mormon say that he refused to lead the people “for several years” or something like that rather than making an absolute statement only to contradict it a bit later? The text of the book indicates that it was written after all these events were in the past (6.6), “therefore I made this record out of the plates of Nephi…”, which happens at the end of Mormon’s life.

The reversal of Mormon’s position instead is consistent with someone who is inventing the story as he goes along, not knowing the future events from the “present” events.

Mormon – Gnostic Connections

It’s hard not to see Mormon undertones in the description of Gnosticism in Pelikan’s “The Emergence of the Catholic Tradition.” First is the belief in preexistence:

Implicit in many Gnostic statements about the cosmological descent of man was a doctrine of the preexistence of man or of his soul; thus according to the Sethian-Ophites, “Adam and Eve previously had bodies that were light, clear, and, as it were, spiritual, as they were at their creation; but when they came into this world, these changed into bodies more opaque, gross and sluggish.”

Second is the idea of having to use passwords to ascend through the spheres of the cosmos and back to the highest heaven.

As the Ophites ascended, they spoke the appropriate passwords at each stage, including this one: “And thou, Ialdabaoth, first and seventh, born to have power with boldness, being ruling Word of a pure mind, a perfect work for Son and Father, I bear a symbol marked with a picture of life, and, having opened to the world the gate which thou didst close for thine eternity, I pass by thy power free again. May grace be with me. Father, let it be with me.”

These ideas are very old and Smith was repackaging them for a new context. Incidentally, there are many Islamic ideas about Christ on the Cross in Gnosticism.

In the Borders

The Book of Mormon frequently uses the phrase “in the borders.” For example:

And it came to pass that I did cause my people that they should gather themselves together at the land Desolation, to a city which was in the borders…

Mormon 3:5

This phrase also appears frequently in the King James Version of the Bible. For example:

 And to the kings that were on the north of the mountains, and of the plains south of Chinneroth, and in the valley, and in the borders of Dor on the west,

Joshua 11.2

It is not a stretch to imagine someone appropriating this term from a frequent reading of the KJV.

Mormons as Evangelical Dopplegangers

I’ve thought for some time that the LDS church is something of a mirror image of the evangelical movement. This video convinces me even more:

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Aup9M5HZawI]

If evangelicals think that tearful testimonies about the love of God are monopolized by them, they had better think again. I think the Mormons have it pretty down pat now.

What Happened to the Gold Plates?

I knew that Mormon accounts of the plates used to translate the Book of Mormon say that the angel Moroni took the plates back at some point, but I had a hard time finding the source texts for how or when this might have happened. So far, I have three sources:

[1] Biographical Sketches of Joseph Smith the Prophet and His Progenitors for Many Generations by Lucy Smith, Lamoni, Iowa, Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, p. 167-168. Lucy Smith writes:

In a few days we were followed by Joseph, Oliver and the Whitmers, who came to make us a visit, and make some arrangements about getting the book printed. Soon after they came, all the male part of the company, with my husband, Samuel, and Hyrum, retired to a place where the family were in the habit of offering up their secret devotions to God. They went to this place, because it had been revealed to Joseph that the plates would be carried thither by one of the ancient Nephites….(here follows the testimony of the eight witnesses)
After these witnesses returned to the house, the angel again made his appearance to Joseph, at which time Joseph delivered up the plates into the angel’s hands.

I find it strange that the Nephite carried the plates. Did Smith not have them and was he not able to carry them?

[2] Joseph Smith, History of the Church, 1.60 – Smith writes:

But by the wisdom of God, they remained safe in my hands, until I had accomplished by them what was required at my hand. When, according to arrangements, the messenger called for them, I delivered them up to him; and he has them in his charge until this day, being the second day of May, one thousand eight hundred and thirty-eight.

[3] Journal of Discourses, Vol.19, p.40, Brigham Young, June 17,  1877. Young’s relates an account from Oliver Cowdery that seems incredibly fantastic and unbelievable.

I lived right in the country where the plates were found from which  the Book of Mormon was translated, and I know a great many things  pertaining to that country.  I believe I will take the liberty to tell  you of another circumstance that will be as marvelous as anything can  be.  This is an incident in the life of Oliver Cowdery, but he did not  take the liberty of telling such things in meeting as I take.  I tell  these things to you, and I have a motive for doing so.  I want to  carry them to the ears of my brethren and sisters, and to the children  also, that they may grow to an understanding of some things that seem  to be entirely hidden from the human family.  Oliver Cowdery went with  the Prophet Joseph when he deposited these plates.  Joseph did not translate all of the plates; there was a portion of them sealed, which  you can learn from the Book of Doctrine and Covenants. When Joseph  got the plates, the angel instructed him to carry them back to the  hill Cumorah, which he did.  Oliver says that when Joseph and Oliver  went there, the hill opened, and they walked into a cave, in which  there was a large and spacious room. He says he did not think, at the  time, whether they had the light of the sun or artificial light; but  that it was just as light as day. They laid the plates on a table; it  was a large table that stood in the room.  Under this table there was  a pile of plates as much as two feet high, and there were altogether  in this room more plates than probably many wagon loads; they were  piled up in the corners and along the walls.  The first time they went  there the sword of Laban hung upon the wall; but when they went again  it had been taken down and laid upon the table across the gold plates;  it was unsheathed, and on it was written these words:  “This sword  will never be sheathed again until the kingdoms of this world become  the kingdom of our God and his Christ.”

If you are aware of other accounts of this event, please let me know.

Engraven on Brass

Anyone familiar with the story of the Book of Mormon will know the phrase, “plates of brass.” These plates are one of many sets of plates that we read of in the book. We encounter them early on, in I Nephi 3.3:

For behold, Laban hath the record of the Jews and also a genealogy of thy forefathers, and they are engraven upon plates of brass.

I came upon one possible inspiration for this idea last night as I read I Kings in the King James Version. In the section describing the building of Solomon’s Temple, I read:

And every base had four brazen wheels, and plates of brass…and also upon the mouth of it were gratings with their borders…For on the plates of the ledges thereof, and on the borders thereof, he graved cherubims, lions, and palm trees…
[I Kings 7]

Now the plates mentioned in Kings are of a very different nature than those in the BOM, but the phraseology is the same, and could easily be the kernel of an idea: the Jews worked in brass, brass would endure unlike scrolls and could preserve an ancient record. Also, the well-known interest of Masons in Hiram of Tyre and Joseph Smith’s interest in temples suggest that he would know this passage of Scripture with some familiarity.

Don’t go in the water!

Doctrine and Covenants Section 61 contains some bizarre stuff. Apparently Joseph Smith and his traveling companions had a rough trip on the Missouri River, so one of them saw a vision of “the destroyer riding in power upon the face of the waters.” This caused Smith to issue another revelation which includes this:

Behold, I, the Lord, in the beginning blessed the waters; but in the last days, by the mouth of my servant John, I cursed the waters. Wherefore, the days will come that no flesh shall be safe upon the waters.

This is apparently why Mormon missionaries are not allowed to swim on their missions (no joke). Some interpreters of this passage say that the revelation only refers to the specific waters of the Missouri River, and some of the language does tend toward that view, but the verses quoted above seem to refer to all waters on the earth. The reference to John seems to refer to Revelation, perhaps something like:

and the third part of the waters became wormwood; and many men died of the waters, because they were made bitter.

Either way, this promise of “no flesh” being safe upon the waters seems like a false prophecy. Next comes a threat to Cincinnati:

And again, verily I say unto you, my servants, Sidney Rigdon, Joseph Smith, Jun., and Oliver Cowdery, shall not open their mouths in the congregations of the wicked until they arrive at Cincinnati; And in that place they shall lift up their voices unto God against that people, yea, unto him whose anger is kindled against their wickedness, a people who are well-nigh ripened for destruction.

One would think that if Cincinnati was ripened for destruction in 1831 the time would be up by now, but apparently not.

The Congregations of the Wicked

As previously noted, the attitude of modern Latter Day Saints towards the world is one of near universalism. It is hard to square these beliefs with many statements in LDS Scripture. Today I was reading Doctrine and Covenants, Section 60. In it, God (via Joseph Smith) three times refers to churches that LDS missionaries were to evangelize as “congregations of the wicked.”

This kind of black and white, Abominable Church vs. Pure Church rhetoric is common in the founding documents of Mormonism, but you don’t hear it much from the General Authorities these days. They merely refer to ‘the Apostasy’ which is a catch-all phrase. They generally want to portray modern Protestants and Catholics as well-meaning but mislead. Their attitude is, “we don’t want to take anything you have away, just to come alongside and show you what you are missing in the Fullness of the Gospel.” How this works with our churches being congregations of the wicked is beyond me.

The LDS Church in the Book of Mormon

One of my Christmas presents was the book American Apocrypha, Essays on the Book of Mormon edited by Dan Vogel and Brent Lee Metcalfe. Much of the book is fascinating reading and I am thoroughly enjoying it. In the essay, Historical Criticism and the Book of Mormon: A Personal Encounter by Edwin Firmage, Jr. there is an assertion that I had not heard before. Firmage writes:

The key to this case is the fact that nowhere in the Book of Mormon’s many detailed prophecies of the last days is anything ever said about the establishment of a new church. The nature of God’s work subsequent to the appearance of the Book of Mormon is very vague, particularly so after the detailed prophecies pertaining to Smith’s involvement in the translation.

It appears that the detailed instructions towards the end of the BoM regarding eucharist and baptism may have been intended as a manual to reform ALL churches, not to establish a brand new church! Firmage discusses infant baptism and says in part:

The matter of infant baptism…is broached for the first and only time in Moroni 8:4ff…This is puzzling since the Nephites have been practicing baptism at least since Alma the Elder’s time (Mos. 18:10ff). How is it that only at the end of the history does the question arise?…Moroni 8 implies that the issue is new: Mormon and Moroni are initially at a loss for a response. Even with his thorough knowledge of Nephite history, Mormon has to go to God himself for an answer (v.7). Mormon’s justification (v.8) is a pastiche of New Testament sentiments taken out of context in a manner not uncharacteristic of the rest of the Book of Mormon.

Both the absence of these issues – the absence of the LDS church from the BoM and infant baptism not becoming an issue until hundreds of years after Nephites had been baptizing – are startling and obvious problems when one performs a close reading of the text. They knock even more holes into the edifice of those who want to maintain that the Book of Mormon is an ancient text.