Sunday, April 19, 2020

April 13-19 Mosiah 1-3

There are two major points to emphasize this week: the importance of authentic records and what the phrase "natural man" refers to.

The lesson discusses the importance of the scriptures (plates of brass). It poses the question, "How did the plates of brass and the plates of Nephi bless King Benjamin's people?

Prior to the April 2020 General Conference, President Nelson invited members of the Church to prepare "by reading afresh Joseph Smith’s account of the First Vision as recorded in the Pearl of Great Price."

Reading afresh original accounts.

The prophets always teach us to study the scriptures and the teachings of prophets. They reiterated that counsel numerous times during General Conference (by my count 27 times).

How many times did they counsel us to study the teachings of the scholars?  Zero.

Notice how King Benjamin also emphasized the importance of the original scriptures. No doubt they had their scholars who interpreted the scriptures, as we do today, but King Benjamin focused on the original records engraven on the plates of brass.

3 And he also taught them concerning the records which were engraven on the plates of brass, saying: My sons, I would that ye should remember that were it not for these plates, which contain these records and these commandments, we must have suffered in ignorance, even at this present time, not knowing the mysteries of God.
4 For it were not possible that our father, Lehi, could have remembered all these things, to have taught them to his children, except it were for the help of these plates; for he having been taught in the language of the Egyptians therefore he could read these engravings, and teach them to his children, that thereby they could teach them to their children, and so fulfilling the commandments of God, even down to this present time.
5 I say unto you, my sons, were it not for these things, which have been kept and preserved by the hand of God, that we might read and understand of his mysteries, and have his commandments always before our eyes, that even our fathers would have dwindled in unbelief, and we should have been like unto our brethren, the Lamanites, who know nothing concerning these things, or even do not believe them when they are taught them, because of the traditions of their fathers, which are not correct.
(Mosiah 1:3–5)

The "traditions of their fathers" were not correct because they did not have the original sources. Not reading the original sources is equivalent to not having them.

For example, if we read afresh the accounts of Moroni's visit and the translation of the Book of Mormon, the events are clear. It's only when we read instead the teachings of scholars that we get diverted into believing M2C, SITH, etc.

A good place to start is to examine what Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery taught about the events of the Restoration. You'll find these things in the Joseph Smith Papers. I've put many of them on this blog: http://www.lettervii.com/.

Just be careful if you read commentaries instead of the original teachings of the prophets.
_____

The Natural Man.

Mosiah 3:19 provides important evidence that Joseph Smith translated the Book of Mormon, as we'll see below.

19 For the natural man is an enemy to God, and has been from the fall of Adam, and will be, forever and ever, unless he yields to the enticings of the Holy Spirit, and putteth off the natural man and becometh a saint through the atonement of Christ the Lord, and becometh as a child, submissive, meek, humble, patient, full of love, willing to submit to all things which the Lord seeth fit to inflict upon him, even as a child doth submit to his father.
(Mosiah 3:19)

This is one of the most often quoted scriptures in General Conference. If you look at https://scriptures.byu.edu/#::c0d403 you can see it has been cited 139 times in General Conference. (It has also been paraphrased numerous times.)

By comparison, Moroni 10:4 has been cited 78 times (10:4-5 has been cited 68 times).

Many talks, articles and even books have discussed various ideas about the meaning of the phrase "natural man." The Book of Mormon doesn't really explain what the term means. We can infer that the "natural man" does the opposite of what verse 19 describes, but how and why is the natural man an "enemy to God" instead of merely oblivious to God?

We can start by looking at other scriptural passages.

The phrase appears only once in the Bible, but three times in the Book of Mormon and once each in the D&C and PofGP.

14 But the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned.
(1 Corinthians 2:14)

There is nothing in 1 Corinthians to suggest that the "natural man" is an "enemy to God." The only enemy mentioned in 1 Corinthians is death: The last enemy that shall be destroyed is death.
(1 Corinthians 15:26)

The phrase "enemy to God" appear 4 times in the Book of Mormon (all in Mosiah) but nowhere else. You can read these and see the phrase refers to people who do not repent, who are in rebellion against God, and the devil himself, but nowhere does the text explain Mosiah 3:19. That's why so many interpretations have been offered over the years.

The phrase "enemy of God" appears once in the Bible (James 4:4) and once in the Book of Mormon (Mosiah 27:9, where it refers to the adversary, not a person). James 4:4 says nothing about the "natural man" but instead refers to friendship of the world.

Ye adulterers and adulteresses, know ye not that the friendship of the world is enmity with God? whosoever therefore will be a friend of the world is the enemy of God.
(James 4:4)

There is a description of the "natural man" here:
https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/study/scriptures/gs/natural-man?lang=eng

These are all good references, but King Benjamin used the term as if his listeners already knew what it meant. He did not explain it. Instead, he explained what was required to shed the natural man.

In a sense, the term "natural man" is similar to the term "law of Moses." In both cases, readers are expected to know what the terms mean, not because they are explained in the text of the Book of Mormon, but because readers should be familiar with other background sources.

For the "law of Moses" the background source is obvious: The Bible, especially the Old Testament.

But what is the background source for "natural man" as King Benjamin used the term?
_____

By now you're wondering, what does this have to do with the translation?

I'm one of those who still believe that Joseph Smith translated the engravings on the plates with the Urim and Thummim. Maybe it's a generational thing. Young people today are taught by scholars (and Church magazines) instead that Joseph didn't really translate the plates. Instead, he merely read words that appeared on a stone in the hat (SITH). 

For me, there is strong evidence that Joseph translated the plates because the entire text is written in Joseph's own language; i.e., words, phrases and concepts that were readily available to Joseph as he grew up in Vermont and New York.

Next to the King James Version of the Bible, I think the biggest influence on Joseph Smith was Jonathan Edwards, a famous preacher who lived in the 1700s. An eight-volume collection of Edwards' sermons was on sale in the Palmyra printing shop that Joseph visited weekly to get the newspaper for his father.

In that collection was a sermon by Edwards titled, "Men naturally God's Enemies." It is a detailed explanation of how and why natural men are the enemies of God. The sermon states the doctrine this way: Natural Men are God's Enemies.

You can read the entire sermon here:


The sermon mentions "natural man" 13 times and "natural men" 52 times. It mentions "enemy to God" 11 times and "enemies to God" 32 times. 

At several points, Edwards poses a series of pointed questions comparable to Alma 5.

He uses the phrase "Come to Christ" 5 times. This phrase is not found in the Bible; nor is the phrase "Come unto Christ." But the Book of Mormon uses the phrase "Come unto Christ" 4 times.

Edwards wrote passages such as this:

If you pretend that you do not feel enmity against God, and yet act as an enemy, you may certainly conclude, that it is not because you are no enemy, but because you do not know your own heart. Actions are the best interpreters of the disposition: They show, better than any thing else, what the heart is. It must be because you do not observe your own behavior, that you question whether you are an enemy to God.

If you want to gain some important insights into what Mosiah 3:19 means, read Jonathan Edwards' sermon carefully.

Sunday, March 29, 2020

March 23-29 Enos-Words of Mormon

Enos and Words of Mormon, although short, are most important in terms of understanding the geography and history of the Nephites, as well as the two sets of plates and the translation.

For a detailed discussion of the history and geography issues, see my book Moroni's America.

Here is a link to the diagram for the two sets of plates:

http://www.lettervii.com/p/the-two-sets-of-plates-schematic.html

What follows is Chapter 11 from my book, Whatever Happened to the Golden Plates? This chapter focuses on the Words of Mormon.
_____

Chapter 11 
Mormon “put them with”
copyright 2016 Jonathan Neville

In Chapter 9a, I discussed why there was no physical place in the abridgement for Mormon to put the original plates of Nephi.

Nevertheless, people have long assumed that Mormon somehow attached the small plates of Nephi to his own abridgment; i.e., that he put the three ring binders through his abridgement as well as the small plates. That is the premise for the tradition that Joseph translated only one set of plates.
While this is not an unreasonable interpretation of Words of Mormon, a closer look supports a different view.

The Words of Mormon through verse 11 make sense as a sort of title page for the small plates of Nephi. (Note that ancient people put the Title Page at the end. Joseph explained that the title page was found on the last leaf of the collection of plates.) I propose that Mormon found the small plates, added his commentary, and kept them close by where he could refer to them as he edited the large plates. He did not attach them to his abridgment.


In Words of Mormon 1:1-7, Mormon describes his discovery and inclusion of Nephi’s plates. The text is in bold below, and I’ve added my interlinear notes in brackets. I realize this is a lot of detail, but it’s important to go through it step-by-step.

Words of Mormon 1:1
1 And now I, Mormon, being about to deliver up the record which I have been making into the hands of my son Moroni,

[Traditionally, this passage has been interpreted to mean Mormon was finished with his abridgment at this point, but I think that’s an error. Mormon tells us he is still making the record; “have been making” is continuous, vs. “have made” which would mean the record was completed. This suggests that Mormon was giving his abridgment to his son in stages, as he completed major portions; i.e., the abridgment he has been making up to this point, which was the Book of Lehi. This makes practical sense for several reasons. Maybe Moroni was proofreading it. Maybe Mormon wanted his son to learn the history and ask questions. Maybe Mormon was concerned that he might not be able to finish the entire abridgment, or he gave the plates to Moroni for safekeeping. Regardless of the reason, we see in Mormon 6:6 that even after he finished his own book after abridging the entire Nephite history, he was giving Moroni only “these few plates,” suggesting that Moroni already had most of the records. Although the binding method is never mentioned in the text, we know from Joseph Smith and the witnesses that the plates were ultimately bound with three rings. We have no indication that Mormon ever bound the plates. Moroni added his own plates, along with his abridgment of the plates of Ether and the sealed portion. While we can infer Mormon bound his abridgment with the three rings, the text never tells us that. However, Moroni definitely added material to his father’s abridgment. It could be Moroni who created the rings and compiled the final set of plates.]

(1 continued) behold I have witnessed almost all the destruction of my people, the Nephites.

[Mormon has witnessed “almost all” the destruction; i.e., they are not yet completely destroyed. As we see in the next verse, he’s nowhere near Cumorah at this point. Also, note that to make his record, Mormon had to get the large plates from Ammaron’s repository in Jashon (Mormon 2:17), presumably when he was 24 years old, as instructed (Mormon 1:3).]

2 And it is many hundred years

[“Many hundred years” is really only about 400 years.]

(2 continued) after the coming of Christ that I deliver these records into the hands of my son; and it supposeth me that he will witness the entire destruction of my people.

[Mormon supposes Moroni will witness the entire destruction of his people, but it’s not a sure thing. This destruction is still in the future at Cumorah. He is giving as much of the record as he has completed to Moroni at some location far from Cumorah, perhaps years ahead of the final battle.]

(2 continued) But may God grant that he may survive them,

[Mormon hopes Moroni will survive the final destruction of his people.]

(2 continued) that he may write somewhat concerning them, and somewhat concerning Christ,

[Mormon doesn’t write directly to Moroni, but he writes about Moroni in the third person. This musing on Mormon’s part suggests he is not giving the plates containing the Words of Mormon to Moroni. I infer from this that Mormon doesn’t think Moroni will even see these comments. He is sealing the small plates with a prayer. He also hopes Moroni will write about his people and about Christ, but says nothing about Moroni adding to his, Mormon’s, record.]

(2 continued) that perhaps some day it may profit them.

[If Moroni survives the destruction of Mormon’s people, how would Moroni’s writings profit those people? Perhaps Mormon hopes some of his people will survive along with Moroni.]

3 And now, I speak somewhat concerning that which I have written; for after I had made an abridgment from the plates of Nephi, down to the reign of this king Benjamin, of whom Amaleki spake,

[Mormon abridged the plates of Nephi down to the reign of King Benjamin. This abridgment is the Book of Lehi that Joseph dictated to Martin Harris in the spring of 1828. Harris lost the manuscript and Joseph did not resume the translation in earnest until April 1829 when Oliver Cowdery came to Harmony. Of course, the Lord told Joseph not to retranslate the Book of Lehi. At this time—when he gives the the record he “has been making” to Moroni, he has only completed his abridgment called the Book of Lehi. He has a long way to go.]

(3 continued) I searched

[Something prompted him to search for the “small plates.” Pres. Packer suggested it was reading Benjamin’s description to his sons that led Mormon to return to Jashon to find these small plates. This means Mormon was already abridging the records when his armies went to Jashon; i.e., he got the records when he was 24 years old, and returned to Jashon as military leader when he was 34.]

(3 continued) among the records which had been delivered into my hands,

[Presumably these are the records Ammaron gave him charge over, as described in Mormon 1:3-4 and 4:23. This is a substantial collection of records as Brigham Young and others described. See Chapter 13 about the Repository.]

(3 continued) and I found these plates, which contained this small account of the prophets, from Jacob down to the reign of this king Benjamin, and also many of the words of Nephi.

[This “small account” is what we have today as 1 Nephi through Omni. They are usually called the “Small Plates of Nephi” because of this passage and 1 Nephi 9:2-4. In the context of the Book of Mormon, I think of them as the original plates of Nephi—the Fayette plates—as opposed to the large plates of Nephi that Mormon abridged.]

4 And the things which are upon these plates pleasing me,

[The next section is a parenthetical explanation of why the contents of the small plates pleased Mormon]

(4 continued) because of the prophecies of the coming of Christ; and my fathers knowing that many of them have been fulfilled; yea, and I also know that as many things as have been prophesied concerning us down to this day have been fulfilled, and as many as go beyond this day must surely come to pass—

[From his vantage point in the future, Mormon has seen the fulfillment of Nephi’s prophecies, and he knows they will continue to be fulfilled in the future. Imagine Mormon reading about the European discovery of America, the war of Independence, the founding of the Constitution, etc.]

5 Wherefore, I choose these things,

[i.e., the things which are upon the small (or original) plates of Nephi. He’s referring to the contents, not the physical plates, which is why he used the term things in both passages. Verses 4 and 5 both start by referring to things, plural. Note that Royal Skousen says chose here should be choose, present tense, as it probably was on the original manuscript. I agree, so I wrote it this way here. It’s an important distinction because it puts the choice in the present tense; i.e., Mormon is choosing these things to emphasize as he finishes the rest of his abridgment, which he will do in the future.]

(5 continued) to finish my record upon them,

[Mormon is not literally writing his record on the small plates—Amaleki explained those plates were full (Omni 1:30)—but he is finishing his record upon the prophecies recorded on the small plates. It’s another way of saying that Nephi’s prophecies are the basis for the rest of his abridgement. Mormon chooses these things—these prophecies—to finish his record upon the prophecies, which will guide his editorial decisions for the remainder of his abridgement as he shows the fulfillment of the prophecies on the small plates.]

(5 continued) which remainder of my record I shall take from the plates of Nephi;

[Mormon uses the future tense to explain he has yet to complete the rest of the abridgment. Ammaron told Mormon to take the plates of Nephi and engrave on those plates the things he has observed during his life (Mormon 1:4). That means Mormon recorded history as it happened. Later, Mormon began the abridgment of the large plates. By the time he wrote Words of Mormon, he had only completed the abridgment through the reign of King Benjamin. We call these historical records the Large Plates of Nephi to distinguish them from the small plates (which I call the Fayette plates). None of the large plates were translated by Joseph Smith.]

(5 continued) and I cannot write the hundredth part of the things of my people.

[Mormon emphasizes how selective he has to be, which is why he found the small plates so helpful in the editorial process.]

6 But behold, I shall take these plates, which contain these prophesyings and revelations,

[This description clarifies that he’s referring to the small plates, meaning the original plates of Nephi, which were not part of the plates Ammaron told him to take.]

(6 continued) and put them with the remainder of my record,

[Mormon put the small plates with the remainder of his record so he could refer to them as he continued his abridgment. A key question is the meaning of the phrase “put them with” in this context. Does it mean Mormon attached the small plates to his abridgement as many people assume? Did he punch holes in them and open the rings and add them? Nowhere does he state or imply that. As explained under verse 10 below, he simply put the small plates with his abridgement; i.e., he had them nearby.]

(6 continued) for they are choice unto me; and I know they will be choice unto my brethren.

[Mormon knows they will be choice unto his brethren, suggesting there are still some of his contemporaries for whom he has hope. He’s keeping the plates with him as he’s traveling around. Maybe he used them in his sermon (Moroni 7).

 7 And I do this for a wise purpose; for thus it whispereth me, according to the workings of the Spirit of the Lord which is in me. And now, I do not know all things; but the Lord knoweth all things which are to come; wherefore, he worketh in me to do according to his will.

[This passage is often assumed to foreshadow the loss of the 116 pages, but in the context of what he had just written, it makes more sense that Mormon is referring to the inspiration he felt to (i) search for the small plates and (ii) use them to guide the rest of his abridgment; i.e., to write upon (about) the prophecies. The Spirit was telling Mormon to use the small plates to guide the rest of his abridgment. That these plates provided a replacement for the 116 pages is fortunate, and no doubt part of the plan, but there could have been many duplicate records in case some other part of Joseph’s translation was lost. Perhaps Mormon also set aside the records of Limhi, for example. If Martin had not lost the 116 pages, we would never have known about these small plates.]

8 And my prayer to God is concerning my brethren, that they may once again come to the knowledge of God, yea, the redemption of Christ; that they may once again be a delightsome people.         

[He’s still praying for his contemporaries (he referred to them as my brethren many times in the sermon in Moroni 7). He supposes Moroni will see the entire destruction, but he still has hope for them and prays they can be delightsome again.]

9 And now I, Mormon, proceed to finish out my record, which I take from the plates of Nephi; and I make it according to the knowledge and the understanding which God has given me.       

[Now he’s going to finish out his record. Presumably he’s still “about to give” Moroni the portion of his abridgment he has completed up to this point. He wrote this note as a sort of title page or explanatory page for the small plates, showing why he kept them out of the repository while he works on his abridgment. It is possible he made similar annotations on other records that he used directly, such as Alma’s discourses. These would still be in the repository of Nephite records, just as the small plates were until a messenger retrieved them to take to Fayette.]

10 Wherefore, it came to pass that after Amaleki had delivered up these plates into the hands of king Benjamin, he took them and put them with the other plates, which contained records which had been handed down by the kings, from generation to generation until the days of king Benjamin.   

[Here’s where we understand the meaning of the phrase “put them with” the other plates. Benjamin put the small plates with the large plates, but that does not mean he attached them. After all, Mormon had the large plates, but he still had to search for the small plates. They were not attached to the large plates. In plain English, the phrase put them with does not mean to attach them. It means to put them in proximity, next to, or together. It’s the same meaning we find in Ezekiel 37:19. No connotation of the Hebrew means to attach; instead, it means to place nearby, next to, on top of, adjacent to, etc. See Appendix 4 for more detailed analysis.]

11 And they were handed down from king Benjamin, from generation to generation until they have fallen into my hands. And I, Mormon, pray to God that they may be preserved from this time henceforth. And I know that they will be preserved; for there are great things written upon them, out of which my people and their brethren shall be judged at the great and last day, according to the word of God which is written.

[Verse 11 is Mormon’s “title page” for the small plates. The plates haven’t really “fallen into” Mormon’s hands; he had to search for them. But now he prays that they will be preserved from this time henceforth; in fact, he knows they will be preserved. This is another indication he did not give them to Moroni. He prays that Moroni will survive his people, but he doesn’t know that, not in the same way he knows the small plates will be preserved. That’s because he’s giving his abridgment to Moroni, but he’s keeping the small plates in the repository, which he knows will be safe.

This is another indication that Mormon was using the small plates going forward to preach repentance; if he was just giving them to Moroni for the future, his people could not then be judged out of them. Mormon likely wrote Words of Mormon during the time when the Lord commanded him to preach to the people again (Mormon 3:2). Maybe it was during this period when he gave the Moroni 7 sermon.

As I mentioned, Mormon may have annotated many of the other records in the repository. The small plates duplicated the lost 116 pages, or close enough, even though they didn’t replace the first two chapters of Mosiah. Our loss. But the Lord may have led Mormon to keep out several specific records, such as the sermons of Alma and Limhi’s records, in case other parts of the abridgment—the original Book of Mormon, as Joseph put it—were lost.]
 
12 And now, concerning this king Benjamin—he had somewhat of contentions among his own people.
       
[Transition or bridge to the Book of Mosiah, as explained in the next section, probably dictated by Joseph Smith based on what he knew from the Book of Lehi.]

13 And it came to pass also that the armies of the Lamanites came down out of the land of Nephi, to battle against his people. But behold, king Benjamin gathered together his armies, and he did stand against them; and he did fight with the strength of his own arm, with the sword of Laban.     

[The first verse of page 117, the material Joseph retained when Harris took the 116 pages. See D&C 10:41. This flows directly into what is now Mosiah chapter 1.]


If, as I propose here, Mormon was thinking of his contemporary brethren, then why did he proceed to finish out his record with the summary of king Benjamin’s activities?
The most likely reason is that he didn’t.
For many years, scholars have tried to make sense of the idea that Mormon would have written a transition from his own Words of Mormon, written around 400 A.D., to the current Book of Mosiah. The proposed solutions seemed contorted.
Now that we have the printer’s manuscript to examine, we can see that our Mosiah Chapter 1 was almost certainly Chapter 3 in the original translation, meaning most of the first two chapters were on the lost 116 pages and we can make educated guesses about what was on page 117.
The bottom line: Words of Mormon originally ended with the current verse 11. Verse 12 was probably a transition provided by Joseph (who knew what was on the lost manuscript), and verses 13-18 were originally part of the Book of Mosiah.
In other words, the lost 116 pages included the first two chapters of the original Book of Mosiah. Page 117, which Joseph retained, began with our current verse 13.
An article in BYU Studies makes this case in some detail.[1] It’s an excellent article that I recommend because it includes Royal Skousen’s discussion of the gatherings used for the original manuscript.
The article follows the traditional order of translation, as I discussed in Chapter 9a. I won’t get into the detail—you should read the article—but resolving the question about the transition between the Words of Mormon and the Book of Mosiah helps support the idea that the small plates were a separate record.
Regardless of the reason for the short gathering, it appears that there was at least some translated material Harris did not take with him.

D&C 10:41 shows that Joseph had translated more than the 116 pages he gave to Martin Harris: “You shall translate the engravings which are on the [small] plates of Nephi, down even till you come to the reign of king Ben­jamin, or until you come to that which you have translated, which you have retained” (emphasis added). What he had retained was the end of Mosiah chapter 2 (which is now Words of Mormon verses 12–18) and perhaps more. Why did he retain it? Probably because it was written in the next gathering of manuscript pages, which, at the time, was only partially filled.[2]

This analysis leaves open the question of why they started another gathering instead of adding a sixth sheet to the fifth gathering, but we’ll probably never know why—unless the manuscript is recovered some day. And it may have been an earlier gathering that was short one sheet.
According to this theory, the sixth gathering (designated by Skousen as A6) would have included some of the material from the first part of Mosiah.
I agree with the reasoning as far as it goes, but because the authors assume the small plates were attached somehow to the abridged plates, the case isn’t as strong as it would otherwise be.
Look at how the narrative flows:

9 And now I, Mormon, proceed to finish out my record, which I take from the plates of Nephi; and I make it according to the knowledge and the understanding which God has given me.
10 Wherefore, it came to pass that after Amaleki had delivered up these plates into the hands of king Benjamin, he took them and put them with the other plates, which contained records which had been handed down by the kings, from generation to generation until the days of king Benjamin.
11 And they were handed down from king Benjamin, from generation to generation until they have fallen into my hands. And I, Mormon, pray to God that they may be preserved from this time henceforth. And I know that they will be preserved; for there are great things written upon them, out of which my people and their brethren shall be judged at the great and last day, according to the word of God which is written.

If Mormon was sealing the small plates with what is effectively his title page, this is the natural ending place.
But instead of ending there, the text continues with a parenthetical bridge—verse 12—and then a historical narrative similar to the rest of Mormon’s account. It is completely different from the preceding 11 verses. Instead, it flows organically into Chapter 1 of Mosiah.

13 And it came to pass also that the armies of the Lamanites came down out of the land of Nephi, to battle against his people. But behold, king Benjamin gathered together his armies, and he did stand against them; and he did fight with the strength of his own arm, with the sword of Laban.
14 And in the strength of the Lord they did contend against their enemies, until they had slain many thousands of the Lamanites. And it came to pass that they did contend against the Lamanites until they had driven them out of all the lands of their inheritance.
15 And it came to pass that after there had been false Christs, and their mouths had been shut, and they punished according to their crimes;
16 And after there had been false prophets, and false preachers and teachers among the people, and all these having been punished according to their crimes; and after there having been much contention and many dissensions away unto the Lamanites, behold, it came to pass that king Benjamin, with the assistance of the holy prophets who were among his people—
17 For behold, king Benjamin was a holy man, and he did reign over his people in righteousness; and there were many holy men in the land, and they did speak the word of God with power and with authority; and they did use much sharpness because of the stiffneckedness of the people—
18 Wherefore, with the help of these, king Benjamin, by laboring with all the might of his body and the faculty of his whole soul, and also the prophets, did once more establish peace in the land.

We don’t have the original manuscript for this part of the text, but we do have the printer’s manuscript. There, the Book of Mosiah originally began at the end of what is now Words of Mormon 1: 18, designated by a dash and the words Chapter III, followed by another dash, and then what we now know as Mosiah 1:1.
An unidentified person crossed out the last two numerals, making it Chapter 1. From this, scholars infer that the 116 pages included the first two chapters of Mosiah. These chapters presumably started with an account of King Mosiah, which is why the book is named that way.
On the printer’s manuscript, the phrase “the Book of Mosiah” is inserted above the line. The note in the Joseph Smith Papers says, “possibly inserted after the time of the original inscription.” However, it is in Oliver’s handwriting.
John Tvendtnes observed:

Joseph Smith may have chosen to place the title “Book of Mosiah” in its current place because Mosiah 1:1 is where he took up the story after turning over the 116 pages to Martin Harris. If this is true, then Words of Mormon 1:12-18 evidently represent part of the record already translated before the loss of the 116 pages. Joseph may have retained this part (cf. D&C 10:41) because it was on a page which had not yet been filled. The book of Mosiah, in this case, was probably named after the first Mosiah, whose history would have been part of the lost pages; otherwise, one might expect the book to be named after Benjamin. But this is by no means certain.[3]

Joseph was instructed to translate the plates of Nephi—what we now call the “small plates of Nephi”—“down even till you come to the reign of king Benjamin” (D&C 10:41). That seems to be what he did here.

I have done more detailed analysis of the phrase “put them with” by comparing it with the phrase in Ezekiel 37:15-19. Those interested in more detail can obtain access to my extra material by sending an email to lostzarahemla@gmail.com. Write “Put them with” in the subject line.



[1] Jack M. Lyon and Kent R. Minson, “When Pages Collide: Dissecting the Words of Mormon,” BYU Studies, 51:4 (2012), available online at https://byustudies.byu.edu/content/when-pages-collide-dissecting-words-mormon. A contrary view that suggests there was no page 117 retained by Joseph is Brant Gardner, “When Hypotheses Collide: Responding to Lyon and Minson’s ‘When Pages Collide,’” Interpreter: A Journal of Mormon Scripture 5 (2013): 105-119, online at http://www.mormoninterpreter.com/when-hypotheses-collide-responding-to-lyon-and-minsons-when-pages-collide/.
[2] Ibid.
[3] John A. Tvedtnes, “Book Review of Jerald and Sandra Tanner's Covering Up the Black Hole in the Book of Mormon,” in Review of Books on the Book of Mormon, Vol. 3 1991, pp. 201-203, online here: http://publications.mi.byu.edu/fullscreen/?pub=1426&index=19.







Sunday, March 22, 2020

March 16-22 Jacob 5-7

This lesson includes Jacob 5, the parable of the olive trees. The graphic in the lesson helps explain the parable. You should refer to it as you read the chapter.

Chapter 6 includes a verse that has become important in the discussion about whether Joseph Smith translated the plates with the Urim and Thummim or merely read words that appeared on a stone in the hat (SITH):

Jacob 6:13 Finally, I bid you farewell, until I shall meet you before the pleasing bar of God, which bar striketh the wicked with awful dread and fear. Amen.

Brother Royal Skousen thinks this should read "pleading bar" instead of "pleasing bar." He claims this is evidence that the text originated in Early Modern English, that Joseph Smith did not really translate the plates, that the words of the text appeared on the seer stone and Joseph merely read them to his scribes, etc.

It's an interesting theory but I disagree.

The first appearance of this phrase is actually in Moroni 10 (which Joseph translated in Harmony before he traveled to Fayette to translate the plates of Nephi, including the Book of Jacob).

Moroni 10:34 And now I bid unto all, farewell. I soon go to rest in the paradise of God, until my spirit and body shall again reunite, and I am brought forth triumphant through the air, to meet you before the pleasing bar of the great Jehovah, the Eternal Judge of both quick and dead. Amen.

The "bar" of judgment or of God is not mentioned in the Bible, but it is referred to 12 times in the Book of Mormon. In Joseph Smith's day, the concept was well known both in religious and secular society. Criminals were brought to the bar of justice to plead their cases, while ministers described the "bar of God" and the "bar of Judgment" as a warning to their listeners and readers.

Consequently, this phrase constitutes evidence that Joseph Smith actually did translate the Book of Mormon, using his own mental language bank that arose from the books he read, the people he listened to, and his general social environment.

Here's an example from commentary on Hervey's works: Therefore we say, that those in this Life, who have used well the Grace that is given them, and conformed to the Terms of the Gospel, God doth justify : That is, were he to call them to the Bar of Judgment and try them, he would acquit, or pronounce them not guilty.— 

A few examples from among many more:

 Thomas Spencer (4) p. 229. Let such remember the worth of souls—the guilt of becoming accessary to their ruin—and the solemn account all must render at the bar of God, who have taken upon themselves the responsibility of seeking, by every possible method, to promote their eternal interests. 
p. 234. “You, my dear young brother, must die, and stand at the bar of God.
p. 249. “assuring them, that very soon he should meet them at the bar of God, and that there he should be a swift witness against them.”
p. 300. “on the last Sabbath evening of his life, he addressed to the: “I shall soon meet you at the bar of God; I shall be there!”—O that they were wise, that they knew these things—that they would consider their latter end.”

That final example reminds us of Jacob's admonition in the verse immediately preceding the "pleasing bar of God" comment:

Jacob 6:12 O be wise; what can I say more?

As for "pleasing," the modifier is used more frequently in the Book of Mormon than in other scriptures.







In the Book of Mormon, Jacob uses it 6 times, which is as much as all other Book of Mormon authors combined. We should not be surprised that Jacob would use the word to modify "bar of God" especially when he was emphasizing how intolerable the situation would be for the wicked.
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Chapter 7 discusses Sherem, an important warning for many reasons. Consider Sherem's background, credentials, and techniques when you are faced with a decision of whether to follow the teachings of the prophets or the teachings of intellectuals, whether inside or outside of the Church.

Jacob 7:4 And he was learned, that he had a perfect knowledge of the language of the people; wherefore, he could use much flattery, and much power of speech...





Sunday, March 15, 2020

March 9-15 Jacob 1-4

In addition to the excellent materials in the lesson manual, these chapters contain some teachings that are especially pertinent to our day.

In recent years, certain LDS scholars have "interpreted" the text of the Book of Mormon to be a mysterious transmission of a text that originated in the 1500s (the "Early Modern English" theory, or EME). They claim Joseph did not translate the plates, but merely read words that appeared on a seer stone he put into a hat, which acted as a sort of supernatural teleprompter. 

Certain scholars claim Joseph didn't even use the plates; instead, the plates stayed under a cloth during the translation.

Compare that with what Jacob said about the importance of the plates:

1 Now behold, it came to pass that I, Jacob, having ministered much unto my people in word, (and I cannot write but a little of my words, because of the difficulty of engraving our words upon plates) and we know that the things which we write upon plates must remain;
2 But whatsoever things we write upon anything save it be upon plates must perish and vanish away; but we can write a few words upon plates, which will give our children, and also our beloved brethren, a small degree of knowledge concerning us, or concerning their fathers—
3 Now in this thing we do rejoice; and we labor diligently to engraven these words upon plates, hoping that our beloved brethren and our children will receive them with thankful hearts, and look upon them that they may learn with joy and not with sorrow, neither with contempt, concerning their first parents.

(Jacob 4:1–3)

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This week's lesson begins with this statement: "The Nephites considered Nephi their “great protector” (Jacob 1:10)."

The term "protector" is a non-biblical Book of Mormon term unique to Jacob, who used it twice, once in Jacob and once in 2 Nephi 6, here: 

1 The words of Jacob, the brother of Nephi, which he spake unto the people of Nephi:
2 Behold, my beloved brethren, I, Jacob, having been called of God, and ordained after the manner of his holy order, and having been consecrated by my brother Nephi, unto whom ye look as a king or a protector, and on whom ye depend for safety, behold ye know that I have spoken unto you exceedingly many things.

Jonathan Edwards used the term over 30 times, including the phrase "great protector" twice. In Prophecies of the Messiah, Edwards wrote:

What other great person that was to arise in Israel in after ages, could there be more worthy of such a name, than that great king so often spoken of in other prophecies as the greatest king of Israel, their greatest deliverer and redeemer, captain and protector , the grand instrument of their good and minister of divine blessings to them, spoken of all along and revealed by God as the grand promise to that people from the first calling of Abraham to that time; that is called God's elect, in whom his soul delights, Is. 42:1

When read with this context, Joseph's translation of Jacob's writings invokes a Messianic comparison. 

Jacob also explained that because Nephi was a "great protector," the people wanted to "retain in remembrance" his name. This is another non-biblical phrase also used by Jonathan Edwards.

10 The people having loved Nephi exceedingly, he having been a great protector for them, having wielded the sword of Laban in their defence, and having labored in all his days for their welfare—
11 Wherefore, the people were desirous to retain in remembrance his name. 

(Jacob 1:10–11)

In the Life of David Brainerd, Edwards wrote, "May God in infinite mercy grant that we may ever retain a proper remembrance of these things, and make a due improvement of the advantages we have had in these respects!"

Understanding that Joseph Smith translated the plates, using vocabulary and concepts familiar to him through reading the works of Jonathan Edwards and others, helps us better understand the text.




Saturday, February 15, 2020

Delays in posting

Many have noticed I didn't post comments on the last two lessons. This is not because I don't have comments--there are a lot of fascinating elements in those lessons--but because I've been too busy traveling.

I'll catch up in the next week or so.

Think of this as a feature, not a bug. Once I post the comments, you can go back and see how much different the lesson looks.

:)

Friday, January 31, 2020

Jan 27-Feb 2 1 Nephi 16-22

One detail in this lesson is the explanation that Nephi, at least, understood directions:

1 Nephi 16:13 And it came to pass that we traveled for the space of four days, nearly a south-southeast direction, and we did pitch our tents again; and we did call the name of the place aShazer.

This suggests that when he reached the promised land in the new world, Nephi would have known basic cardinal directions and taught them to his people.

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Chapter 18 contains some specific information about the voyage across the sea to the promised land. Here are a couple of posts I made a while ago that explain why I think Lehi crossed the Atlantic ocean. I discussed all of this in more detail in the book Moroni's America.

The land shadowing with wings

I've mentioned before that I think Nephi read Isaiah 18:1 and that's how he knew which direction he had to sail from the Arabian peninsula; i.e., "beyond the rivers of Ethiopia" according to the King James version, or "beyond the waters of Africa" as an alternate translation.

He knew he had to sail west, around Africa, and cross the Atlantic to America. It's pretty obvious for other reasons, as well, which I've discussed before.

Of course, such a crossing destroys the non-New York Cumorah theories (Mesoamerica, Panama, Chile, Baja, etc.), so proponents of those theories take the position that Nephi didn't know about Isaiah 18:1 or didn't refer to it as part of the process of sailing to the new world.
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I've also shown it was Benjamin Winchester who first came up with the idea that "the land shadowing with wings" refers to North and South America. He shared his interpretation with Hyrum Smith and published it in his Gospel Reflector. He followed up with additional analysis in his History of the Priesthood. Eventually it became mainstream.

Henry Caswall visited Nauvoo in 1842 and wrote a book about the experience titled The City of the Mormon, or Three days at Nauvoo. In his book, on page 25, he describes an encounter with a Church leader, presumably John Taylor. He records this conversation:

"...my host asked me to give my opinion of Nauvoo. I told him that it was certainly a remarkable place, and in a beautiful situation ; but that I considered it the offspring of a most astonishing and unaccountable delusion. He said that he admired my candour [sic], and was not surprised at my
unbelief, seeing that I was a stranger to the people and to the evidences of their faith. He then proceeded to inform me respecting these evidences. He assured me, in the first place, that America had been mentioned by the prophet Isaiah. I begged for the chapter and verse. He pointed to the sentence, — "Woe to the land shadowing with wings." Now to what land could this refer, but to North and South America, which stretched across the world with two great wings, like those of an eagle?

"Stop," I said; "does not the prophet describe the situation of the land? Observe that he says, ' it is beyond the rivers of Ethiopia.' "

"Well," said my host, " that may be true ; but is not America beyond Ethiopia?"

"Have you a map ?" I said.

"Yes," he replied, " here is my little girl's school atlas."

"Now tell me," I said, " where Isaiah wrote his book."

"In Palestine," he answered.

"Very well," I replied; " now tell me in what direction from Palestine is Ethiopia ?"

"South, by the map," was the reply.

"In what direction from Palestine is America ?"

"West," he answered.

"Now do you think that Isaiah, as a man of common sense, to say nothing of his prophetical character, would have described a country in the west, as lying beyond another which is due south ?"

He was silent for a moment, and then confessed that he had never thought of studying the Bible by the map; " but probably this map was wrong."
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Because he was a strong opponent of Mormonism, Caswall may have exaggerated about many of his observations, including this one. But I suspect he reported the conversation fairly accurately in terms of the content because this interpretation of Isaiah 18:1 became so commonplace once Winchester started it.

Today, we have a better sense of what Isaiah was referring to: i.e., the promised land of North America. (You have to read all of Isaiah 18 to see why.)

Anciently, Ethiopia was considered the land south of Egypt. From the perspective of a Jew living in Israel, Caswall's criticism would make sense; i.e., America is not beyond Ethiopia, which would be south, but it is west, beyond the Mediterranean ocean.

However, from the perspective of Nephi, who was staying along the southern coast of the Arabian peninsula with the family of his father Lehi, Isaiah's directions made sense. Nephi knew from Isaiah 18:1 that he'd have to sail around Africa before reaching the promised land.

There's nothing wrong with the map. But there is something wrong with the traditional interpretation that Benjamin Winchester left us.

We ought to embrace Isaiah 18:1 and how it helps us understand how Nephi would have known which way to sail.
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Our LDS scholars and educators who promote the two-Cumorahs/Mesoamerican theory will never accept the idea of Lehi crossing the Atlantic, but the rest of us should.

Isaiah on Lehi's route to America

I'm cross-posting this from my Gospel Doctrine blog because of the different readership. Hopefully this can be one more step toward reaching a consensus.

Lesson 5 addressed the question of which way Lehi sailed when he left the Arabian peninsula.
Lehi had to sail southwest or southeast

As a reminder, here is the graphic from that lesson.

In my analysis, I discussed what Nephi wrote about the voyage, including their preparations. I proposed that Lehi sailed west, down the coast of Africa, and across the Atlantic to North America. I also discussed the voyage of the Phoenicia as a modern-day example of Lehi's voyage would have taken place, using actual ocean current, prevailing winds, and even 600 BC technology.



Apart from what Nephi wrote, there is another reason to conclude that Lehi's group sailed west instead of east.

Isaiah prophesied that he would.
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Isaiah 18:1 refers to "the land shadowing with wings, which is beyond the rivers of Ethiopia." Victor L. Ludlow, in his book Isaiah: Prophet, Seer, and Poet, notes that modern prophets and apostles have identified this verse as describing America. I'll get into the detail of that below, but first, why would Isaiah describe America as "beyond the rivers of Ethiopia?"

Anciently, Ethiopia (also called Cush) was the land south of Egypt, as shown in this maps.

The Israelites to whom Isaiah was speaking were not familiar with Ethiopia; it was just the undefined area south of Egypt.

It's exactly where Lehi sailed when he left the Arabian peninsula, as you can see from the map above.

Brother Ludlow gives an alternative explanation of the Hebrew:

"the identification of the 'land shadowing with wings' with America gives us a basis for studying the rest of the chapter. The remainder of verse 1 and the first part of verse 2 can be translated as follows:

Which land is [far] beyond the rivers of Cush [Africa]. He sends out envoys by sea and in swift vessels of reeds over the face of the waters." (VLL translation)

Obviously, the land of America is beyond the rivers of Africa; indeed, it is beyond the ocean surrounding Africa. In biblical Hebrew, a term for ocean does not exist, but particularly large bodies of water are called rivers or seas, so that the land beyond the 'rivers' of Africa might also mean beyond the oceans of Africa."

Brother Ludlow's explanation clarifies that Isaiah is referring to the land beyond the oceans of Africa--not the oceans of India. It's an important distinction and clarification.

Although Nephi never directly quotes from Isaiah 18, surely he was familiar with these passages. He and Lehi would have realized that the promised land, where the Lord would raise the gospel ensign in the latter days, was "beyond the oceans of Africa" and so he knew which direction to sail.

With the benefit of hindsight, we should be able to figure this out ourselves.

(I think some of Nephi's prophecies that don't quote Isaiah directly are paraphrasing or referring to Isaiah 18, but I don't have time to explain that here. Just look at a "nation scattered" and realize that the phrase "whose land the rivers have spoiled" is usually translated as "whose land the rivers divide" or "whose land is divided by rivers." Then recall that Mormon tells us the land of Zarahemla and the land of Nephi were "nearly surrounded by water" and you'll get the idea.)

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Here is more detail for those interested:

Isaiah 18:1-3 reads:

Woe to the land shadowing with wings, which is beyond the rivers of Ethiopia : that sendeth ambassadors by the sea, even in vessels of bulrushes upon the waters, saying go, ye swift messengers, to a nation scattered and peeled, to a people terrible from their beginning hitherto, a nation meted out and trodden down, whose land the rivers have spoiled ! All ye inhabitants of the world, and dwellers on the earth see ye, when he lifteth up an ensign on the mountains ; and when he bloweth the trumpet hear ye."

The "land shadowing with wings" has long been interpreted by LDS leaders and authors to refer to the Americas. Hyrum Smith famously said "the gathering will be from  the nations to North and South America, which is the land of  Zion. North and South America are the symbols of the wings; the gathering from the old countries will always be to head quarters." 

Brother Ludlow's book discusses the interpretation aspects of this in more detail. The book Understanding Isaiah by Don and Jay Parry also has a good discussion on the topic.

One blogger has noted this: Joseph Fielding Smith said the following in the April 1966 General Conference, "America was discovered because the Lord willed it. The gospel was restored in America, rather than in some other land because the Lord willed it. This is the land "shadowing with wings" spoken of by Isaiah that today is sending ambassadors by the sea to a nation scattered and peeled, which at one time was terrible in the beginning (Isaiah 18:1-2). Now that nation is being gathered, and once again they shall be in favor with the Lord." (Joseph Fielding Smith, Conference Report, April 1966, pp. 12-15).

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Bonus material.

Since I'm working on a Church history book that will be released soon, those interested in detail might enjoy this little tidbit.

Hyrum Smith's statement is widely quoted as if it was the first allusion to Isaiah 18 that connects the passage with North America. However, as near as I can tell, he got the idea from Benjamin Winchester.

Two points to begin with. First, Hyrum Smith was visiting Winchester in Philadelphia in May 1841, shortly after Winchester published his interpretation in the April 1 Gospel Reflector. Second, Hyrum purchased a bound copy of all the editions of the Gospel Reflector. Whether he learned this interpretation direction from Winchester during his visit or whether he read about it later, it does appear he got the idea from Winchester.

In the April 1, 1841, Gospel Reflector, Winchester quoted Isaiah 18:1-3 and then wrote the following long explanation. Before quoting it, I note two things. First, Winchester was providing his own translation of the Hebrew characters, which he reproduced in the Gospel Reflector but I don't show here. Second, he was thinking of Ethiopia as North Africa, which makes sense because he's thinking of Isaiah looking at it from Palestine, but I don't think Winchester was right about that. Obviously, one can't see over the horizon from Palestine. Instead, I think Isaiah was anticipating Lehi's journey to the promised land, as I explained above.

Still, Winchester's overlooked commentary has been very influential because of the impact it had on Hyrum Smith.

So here is Winchester in his own words:

That the residence of Isaiah was in Palestine no one disputes : therefore in order to comprehend this saying it,is necessary for us to imagine ourselves standing on that land, and then look in the direction of Ethiopia (consequently West,) to find a land beyond the rivers of Ethiopia. The North part of Africa, or the Barbary States were anciently called Ethiopia. The land of America is the only land that will answer his description. However we opine that an improvement in the translation of the above may be made with propriety, which will throw much more light upon the subject.

We read, or translate it thus :

[Hebrew characters]

Ho! to a land in the shadow (or symbol or the appearance) of wings, Which is beyond the rivers of Ethiopia.” Now it is probable that he saw this land in a vision, and indeed, whoever will look at the map of North and South America, will discover that they are very much in the shape of the wings of a bird : hence he breaks out with the interjection, " Ho ! to a land, &c.," and then predicts what shall be done :
" That sendeth ambassadors by the sea, even in vessels of [Hebrew characters]  papyrus upon the waters." Historians say that papyrus was a flagy shrub that anciently growed in the marshes near the river Nile, and that the bark of it was used to make ropes and sails for ships, covering and wearing apparel, &c. : and the roots were used for fuel, and building ships. The word vessel in the bible is ambiguous ; therefore, he used the word papyrus to signify water crafts, sufficient to escort the servants of God over the sea.

Now reader the subject is perfectly plain ; and as the prophetic vision rolled before the prophet's mind, he saw first, a land in the shape of wings, beyond the rivers of Ethiopia, which is the land of America, for the most obvious reason, there is no other land in the shape of wings beyond Ethiopia. And his saying the rivers of Ethiopia, instead of the land, places the direction immediately West from Jerusalem.

Second, he saw that the ambassadors of the Lord should be sent from this land ; third, that they should be transported over the sea in vessels or ships, of what he called papyrus, perhaps for the want of a better term to express his meaning, (for the present model of ships was then unknown.) It is probable that this generation, in the vision with all its works was present before him ; therefore, he saw our majestic ships with all their sails set, which looked to him like the sails that were anciently made of papyrus- Fourth, he said they should be sent from this land to a nation that was terrible from the beginning ; but hitherto meted out and trodden down. The Israelites were a terrible people from the beginning; but they have been trodden down, and scattered to the islands of the sea, and among all the nations of the earth. Thus the servants of God are to go from this land to all nations to proclaim the gospel, and gather Israel. Fifth, he describes this land as being the place where the ensign was to be lifted up, and where the gospel trump should be blown first, in the last days.

He also said, " all the inhabitants of the earth see ye, and when he bloweth the trumpet hear ye." Indeed, the Book of Mormon has come forth on this land, and the Lord has sent his angel to confer the holy priesthood upon his servants once more, or renewed the gospel dispensation, and organized his kingdom, &c., and in a word the Lord's banner is exposed to view upon this land, and all men are invited to both see, and hear. This corresponds with what the prophet
says in another place, which we have before quoted, " And he will lift up an ensign from afar and will hiss unto them from the end of the earth, and they shall come with speed swiftly." Some have enquired, saying, if Israel is to be gathered upon the land of their fathers, why not this ensign be raised upon the land of Canaan where the prophets received their revelations, instead of this land ?

Answer: because the scriptures say, that it shall be done here — on a land beyond the rivers of Ethiopia. Indeed, this is a land from whence the ambassadors of the Lord shall go forth to all nations ; and instead of missionaries being sent here from Europe by divine direction, the servants of God shall be sent from this land. Some of those ships that
the prophet saw have already escorted some of the servants of God to other nations, and ere long they will go to earth's remotest bounds.

It is the work of Jehovah and he will roll it forth till his covenant people are gathered, and the way prepared for the kingdom of heaven. This is the land of Joseph — the place where Zion will be located and established for the Millennium*. The law of God shall go forth from this to all nations — the work of deliverance has commenced here to deliver Israel from captivity, and turn ungodliness from Jacob.

* We shall hereafter prove from the scriptures that this Zion is to be located in America.

Saturday, January 25, 2020

Jan 20-26 1 Nephi 11-15

The lesson starts off with this observation:

You are among “the saints of the church of the Lamb” seen by Nephi, “who were scattered upon all the face of the earth; and they were armed with righteousness and with the power of God in great glory” (1 Nephi 14:14).

I agree with this observation; the scriptures are powerful when we liken them to ourselves. However, in the context of Nephi's vision, I think this passage is part of a description of the history of Christianity, starting with verse 9. The Restoration doesn't occur until verse 17:

17 And when the day cometh that the wrath of God is poured out upon the mother of harlots, which is the great and abominable church of all the earth, whose founder is the devil, then, at that day, the work of the Father shall commence, in preparing the way for the fulfilling of his covenants, which he hath made to his people who are of the house of Israel.
(1 Nephi 14:17)

The passage is not specific about the "work of the Father" would consist of, but certainly it commenced at least with the translation of the Book of Mormon.

When viewed this way, we can more fully appreciate the faithful followers of Christ through the ages.

Because I still believe Joseph Smith translated the ancient engravings on the plates, I like to look at the language he would have had in his mind. This means looking at sources available in his environment.

This week's lesson includes 1 Nephi 14 which has several references to the "mother of abominations." (It also appears in D&C 88:94.) Some authors used this term in the 1700s to refer to the Catholic Church, or "Church of Rome," while others used it to refer more generally to the antichrist.

Here is one example that I like because it provides some useful context for interpreting Nephi's vision. It gives a flavor for the type of writing that was available in the late 1700s and early 1800s, although this particular book was not apparently on sale in the Palmyra printing shop when Joseph Smith lived there.

SERMONS ON THE MORAL LAW; ELUCIDATING THE NATURE, EXTENT AND OBLIGATIONS OF THE VARIOUS SOCIAL AND DIVINE VIRTUES, COMPRISED IN THAT SUMMARY OF UNIVERSAL DUTY—AND ON THE CONNECTION OF THE MORAL LAW AND THE GOSPEL.
BY DAVID M'’CLURE, Minister of the First Church in East-Windsor
The Law of the Lord is perfect.
Christ is the end of the Law for righteousness, to every one that believeth.
HARTFORD: FROM THE PRESS OF BEACH AND JONES. 1795.


INTRODUCTION.
THE probability that the following letters may fall into the hands of some readers, who may not understand many allusions to the ceremonies and institutions of the Roman Catholic Religion, induces the American Editor to prefix a few sketches to the work, to render it more intelligible.
In the early ages of Christianity, after it had spread its benign influence, and become, in a great degree, prevalent in almost every nation on the eastern continent, it gradually lost ground, and its happy effects were greatly diminished, by reason of the wickedness and lukewarmness of many of its professed votaries; and the churches were rent with heresies, and torn asunder by headstrong, contending parties.

In this state of things, the Roman government, whose conquests and power had been coextensive with the world, undertook to connect the Christian religion with the civil power, and mold it to a system of state policy. The better to effect this purpose, [Page xiv] it became necessary to mingle the Christian, Jewish and Pagan religions together. The temples of the Heathen deities were converted into churches; the images of those deities, such as Jupiter, Mars, Venus, Minerva, &c. were taken away, and replaced with images of saints, male and female. The pure doctrines of the gospel were clouded with a multitude of superstitious ceremonies, by which its original simplicity was almost subverted. 

The ministers of the gospel, who before this time had been in an humble station, and, like Jesus Christ, their great Master, of a meek disposition; like him, never interfering nor meddling with civil government, any farther than practising, enjoining and enforcing obedience to it, were many of them, at this time, advanced to high offices in church and state, and invested with great wealth and civil power; whilst lower orders of the clergy were nearly as indigent as the common people: All of them, however, acting under the authority of the Roman Emperor, called the Pope, who assumed the title of supreme head of the church, and exercised complete and uncontrouled authority over all orders and ranks of men, both in a civil and ecclesiastical capacity. Every possible method was taken to throw all the wealth of the people into the hands of the church and state. [Page xv] 

The priests had the pretended power of forgiving sins, and, by their prayers, releasing the souls of wicked men from purgatory; for which they obtained frequent and sometimes large sums of money from the people. Religious houses of men and women were established, called by the different names of abbies, cloisters, convents, or monasteries. To these houses multitudes have repaired in every age of the Roman Catholic church, bestowed their fortunes on these institutions, or cast them into the bosom of the church for charitable uses, took a vow of living single through life, and spent their days in this retirement. This they have been persuaded to do, sometimes for the purpose of atoning for heinous crimes, or gaining, by their piety, extraordinary merit in the sight of God, to entitle them to a better place in heaven. The better to effect these designs, the people were kept in great ignorance; prayers were made in an unknown tongue; the common people were not permitted to read the scriptures; all the decrees of the church and declarations of the clergy were deemed infallible.
Thus the pure, benign, and heaven-born light of true religion was greatly obscured; and the true church, consisting of a small number of faithful and enlightened followers, like a forlorn, though beautiful and [Page xvi] chaste, female pilgrim, was constrained to wander here and there, without any resting place, to escape the defilement and persecution of ecclesiastical tyranny. It would require many and large volumes to enumerate the many instances of societies and individuals, who, in every age of this dreadful usurpation, nobly defended the cause of true and uncorrupted religion, and who, by the intolerant spirit of this corrupted church, were persecuted and slain because they would not adhere to its anti-christian principles. 
Millions succeeding millions have been mangled and tortured to death by this MOTHER of ABOMINATIONS, because they would not subscribe to principles which they viewed with abhorrence, (the embracing of which they believed would expose them to everlasting misery in a future world) and renounce those on which they founded their hopes of eternal felicity. 

Candour obliges me, as a protestant, to acknowledge that this spirit of intolerance is not peculiar to the Romish church alone; nor would I affirm that it is any article of that religion to butcher the heretics. Every different sect of protestants which have arisen since the reformation, have discovered a degree of the same spirit: every one, in their turn, have accused the other of popery, and persecuted [Page xvii] each other, at least with sentiments of hatred, if not with fire and sword. 

In this particular, every candid protestant will allow that we have all had a little popery. This principle of persecuting another for a difference of opinion, whether in politics or religion, when it actuates a body of men, and is blown up into a flame by some ambitious and unprincipled demagogue, will always lead them to persecute or destroy those who think differently from themselves. 

The enemies of all religion have often urged this as an unanswerable argument against the Christian system. But surely nothing can be more unjust. We might as well argue that riches and health, which in their own nature are the greatest of all temporal blessings, are in themselves a curse, because some men pervert them to the vilest of purposes: or we might join with those mistaken politicians who would assert, that rational liberty is not a blessing to any people, because the modern government of France has disgraced the name of it by embracing a system of tyranny, and, under the mask of republicanism, committed the most enormous crimes. 

The fact is, that such is the wayward disposition of man, that every faculty of body or mind, every peculiar blessing or acquirement, is often, by a misimprovement of it, rendered a curse instead of a blessing.

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The lesson also refers to Columbus. In my view, John Cabot is a better fit, but I'm fine with what anyone wants to believe.

I discussed this before here:

http://www.bookofmormoncentralamerica.com/2015/08/columbus.html


April 13-19 Mosiah 1-3

There are two major points to emphasize this week: the importance of authentic records and what the phrase "natural man" refers t...