We are reading the Book of Mormon as a family, and last night we came to the story of Amulek and Zeezrom. Would it surprise you to learn that Zeezrom is my favorite character in the Book of Mormon? Of course, Zeezrom was a lawyer, who is described as “a man who was expert in the devices of the devil.” (Alma 11:21) At one point in the exchange with Amulek, Zeezrom attempts to purchase Amulek’s testimony against God, and Zeezrom fails. (Alma 11:22) But when Amulek describes spiritual death, “Zeezrom began to tremble.” (Alma 11:46) Then Alma jumps in, calls Zeezrom a liar and reads his mind — “Now Zeezrom, seeing that thou hast been taken in thy lying and craftiness, for thou hast not lied unto men only but thou hast lied unto God; for behold, he knows all thy thoughts, and thou seest that thy thoughts are made known unto us by his Spirit.” (Alma 12:3) At this point, Zeezrom changes from adversary to student as he “began to inquire of them diligently.” (Alma 12:8) Eventually, he is totally converted and confesses his sins to the people, who “spit upon him, and cast him out from among them.” (Alma 14:6-7) Zeezrom takes ill with a “burning fever,” and he is healed by Alma. (Alma 15) Ultimately, Zeezrom becomes a missionary. (Alma 31)

I love this story! Not only because it shows that lawyers are not irretrievably lost, but because it shows how the Lord can use a passionate man for good. Also, I see the power of a sincere testimony over a cunning mind. Perhaps most importantly, however, I see a talented and capable and respected man who is willing to humble himself before truth. Surely, a harder man, such as Korihor, could have withstood Amulek’s testimony. I infer that Zeezrom must have been a sincere man, like Paul, who was simply misguided. He not only lied to the people and to God, but to himself, as most of us are tempted to do in prideful moments. Zeezrom’s repentence and subsequent faithfulness are a great example to me.

So, does anyone else want to share thoughts on a favorite Book of Mormon character?

81 comments for “Zeezrom

  1. One of my favorites is Captain Moroni. As to why, just read Alma 48:10-18. He was a great political/government leader who also had a deep and abiding testimony.

  2. Brent, don’t forget Alma 60:36, either.

    Behold, I am Moroni, your
    chief captain. I seek not
    for power, but to pull it
    down. I seek not for honor
    of the world, but for the
    glory of my God, and the
    freedom and welfare of my

  3. Captain Moroni’s letter to Pahoran is one of my favorite parts of the Book of Mormon — thrones of stupor and all that — but I’d have to say my favorite character is Samuel the Lamanite. The whole story — from the angel turning him back to the prophesying on the wall [when you think about it he sure gets a lot of condemnation in before they start shooting arrows at him] to Christ’s instructions in 3 Nephi to make sure that it was written that all he had said had been fulfilled. The dude seriously disrupted Nephite society. And what’s more he spoke in the best tradition of the Old Testament doom, destruction and triple-wo prophets.

    And of course who could not want the Samuel the Lamanite action figure?: http://deseretbook.com/store/product?product_id=100009966

  4. Amen on Samuel the Lamanite. Very cool.

    But I like the Jesus of the Book of Mormon best–playing with kids, crying for the people–a kinder, gentler Jesus than the one we see briefly and darkly in the New Testament.

    And BTW, Captain Moroni might have been “good”…but he was still caught up in the Nephite cycle of pride and violence. I don’t admire politicians and war leaders. Lots of courage (but criminals have that too), hot rhetoric, etc. And it didn’t really do any good, the next generation was overtaken by Lamanite aggression anyway. For me, he’s a tragic figure, one we shouldn’t want to emulate. The Achilles of the Book of Mormon.

  5. My favorite? There is no question: Jacob. Unlike his inspired, acclaimed, visionary, usually joyful (and occasionally self-justifying) older brother Nephi, the Jacob we read about in the BoM seemed to constantly feel the whole weight of impossibly strange and fundamentally doomed “errand” he had been born into and called to. The wilderness never left him. “We would to God that we could persuade all men not to rebel against God, to provoke him to anger, but that all men would believe in Christ, and view his death, and suffer his cross and bear the shame of the world” (Jacob 1:8). “Behold, great and marvelous are the works of the Lord. How unsearchable are the depths of the mysteries of him; and it is impossible that man should find out all his ways” (4:8). “Our lives passed away like as it were unto us a dream, we being a lonesome and a solemn people, wanderers, cast out from Jerusalem, born in tribulation, in a wilderness, and hated of our brethren, which caused wars and contentions; wherefore, we did mourn out our days” (7:26). “O be awise; what can I say more?” (6:12). Beautiful stuff: probably the best literature in the whole BoM.

  6. Rob,
    That’s your gloss on Captain Moroni, one that pretty clearly doesn’t come from the text. It has a lot more to do with the modern distaste for violence than it does with scripture, I’ll warrant.

    ‘If all men had been, and were, and ever would be, like unto Moroni, behold the very powers of hell would be shaken forever, yea, the devil would never have power over the hearts of the children of men.’

  7. Jacob is my favorite literary writer in the Book of Mormon as well Russell. Jacob 7:26 while rather depressing, is an amazing verse. Makes even the old French existential writers seem chipper. (grin)

  8. It’s always been my favorite verses as well, but I also find 2 Nephi 33 [ http://scriptures.lds.org/2_ne/33 ] to be very poignant. In verse three, Nephi talks about his eyes watering his pillow at night because of his concern for his people. It’s an interesting moment because in this chapter you can see Nephi struggling to be very straightforward [I speak plainly and harshly] and yet at the same time, he seems to be hiding the fact that he knows (to some degree) that his people will fall. I both believe him when he says that he has charity for his people as well as the Jews and gentiles, but at the same time, he seems stuck in his rhetoric.

    The chapter seems part bravado, part blunt honesty, and part anxiety.

  9. Jesus as a brief and dark figure in the New Testament? Not in my version.

    As for Captain Moroni, the scriptures also record that:

    And Moroni was a strong and a mighty man; he was a man of a perfect understanding; yea, a man that did not delight in bloodshed; a man whose soul did joy in the liberty and the freedom of his country, and his brethren from bondage and slavery;

    Yea, a man whose heart did swell with thanksgiving to his God, for the many privileges and blessings which he bestowed upon his people; a man who did labor exceedingly for the welfare and safety of his people.

    That seems a far cry from someone who simply exhibited the same courage as criminals and spewed “hot rhetoric”. No one else has to cite him as a favorite, but to suggest he is not someone we should emulate is beyond absurd.

  10. First a caveat:
    Those verses that you mention are commentary written about Moroni — commentary written by a fellow prophet-warrior who named his son after the hero.

    But to back Brent up:
    However, Moroni is one of my favorites. I take comfort in and believe the idea that military and political geniuses can also be rightous men.

    I’d be leery of a Captain Moroni figure in today’s world and dislike the “title of liberty” rhetoric that gets (mis)used in the service of right wing rhetoric and ideology [see Bo Gritz], but in the context of his time and civilization, I think that Moroni is a hero and a great man. And a tragic figure — but then again almost all of the Book of Mormon leaders — whether they be prophets, generals or kings — are tragic because they all can only stave off wickedness (whether that be internal or external) for so long and with limited success.

    It’s not clear to me how he participates in the pride cycle more fully than other major BofM figures. Perhaps Rob could explain further.

  11. “I’d be leery of a Captain Moroni figure in today’s world and dislike the “title of liberty” rhetoric that gets (mis)used in the service of right wing rhetoric and ideology [see Bo Gritz], but in the context of his time and civilization, I think that Moroni is a hero and a great man.”

    Why? Are his views any less salient today? Are our families, our liberty, our property and our religion any less important in this time and civilization? Oh that we had a Captain Moroni among our political leadership, one who would live and stand up for correct principles and cause the very powers of hell to shake. We need more men like him, as Mormon notes. If we had them, then the devil would have no power. I am not willing to cede defeat in today’s world, and thus hope and pray Captain Moronis will step to forefront someday to fight against the evil in the world.

  12. Amulek. His is one of the great conversion stories in the book. And I find his sermons both elegant and rich in insight. (One of my pet peeves is when people erroneously credit Alma for Amulek’s lines.)


  13. I’m leery because we live in a world and society with a much different media climate (to say the least) with a much less homogeneous religious and ethnic make-up and a very different political and economic system.

    Any sort of Captain Moroni figure would find his agenda co-opted, his image either blown out of porportion or unfairly tarnished, and his symbology (the title of liberty) reinscribed and made either impotent or used in the service of evil acts.

    I suppose I’m much more pessimistic about today’s world — at least when it comes to fighting on the same level and in the same way as Moroni did.

    I much prefer having a PR prophet — especially one with so much wit and humility.

  14. Amulek is great. Why? Have y’all ever asked yourself why he asked Alma to prevent the burnings? Careful reading and using the footnotes reveals a good answer; confirmed by Elder Eyring.

    Captain Moroni is beyond great. Of course, I’m just a soldier and so I’m probably prone to the same blood lust and hot patriotic/full of liberty rhetoric. RONG. I don’t know a single soldier who is happy to go to war or delights in killing. As a personal note, most soldiers, I included, find such insinuations rather insulting and offensive. Leave the industrial-military-haliburton complex behind pleaz.

  15. Captain Moroni is a Nephite version of George Washington. I don’t understand why Rob is dissing him. He’s one of my favorites by far. I also like Nephi and Moroni (the last Nephite prophet) as well. They were both physically strong, yet also spiritual. They both saw the destruction of their people, one in the future and the other as it happened. I can’t imagine the sorrow they must have felt.

  16. Lyle, I grew up in a military family with a father who was anything but the stereotype most people have of soldiers. Until I went to college I lived most of my life on military bases outside the U.S., and a very high proportion of the friends with whom I graduated from high school are now general officers in one of the services. Of all the military people I knew, only a few fit the stereotype, and they were almost universally without influence or respect. So I agree with you that it is wrong to insinuate that soldiers are happy to go to war or delight in killing–or run their families like boot camps, etc.

    But that is a different issue than whether there are problematic relations between industry and the military. It was, after all, a soldier (Eisenhower) who warned us of the problems of the military-industrial complex. I highly doubt that his warnings had anything to do with stereotyping those in the military. If Ike could have qualms about those relations without impugning those in the services, so can the rest of us.

    In my case, those qualms have less to do with the motivations of individuals (in any case, leaders, usually civilian, rather than servicepeople) than they do with the structure of things: the relations of industry to the military is such that industries are encouraged by the profit motive (a legitimate motive) to act against the best interests of the country, and if industry and the military are too closely linked, those motivations unconsciously become part of the military’s mission. So, I think it is quite reasonable to be concerned about the military-industrial (i.e., Haliburton) complex, and I see nothing about that concern that suggests that we ought not to admire, support, and be grateful to those who serve in the military.

  17. Lyle,

    You write, “Amulek is great. Why?”

    Because he turned his life around and dedicated it to the Lord. Because he provided a second witness (one of standing and reputation within the community) to the words of Alma. Because he testified with stunning boldness to his peers, resulting in a loss of his friends, family, and property. Because he silenced one of Ammonihah’s most expert lawyers (and had the gift of discernment to know others’ thoughts and intents). Because he described a lawyer-related societal corruption that is relevant to our day. Because he clearly and succinctly described the nature of the resurrection. Because he had compassion for the suffering of the martyrs and the faith that he could stretch forth his hand to stop it through the power of God. Because he described the atonement in greater detail than other BoM prophets. Because God gave him power such that he could not be slain nor confined in prison. You know, things like that.

    You ask, “Have y’all ever asked yourself why he asked Alma to prevent the burnings?”

    First of all, he did not ask Alma to prevent the burnings. He said, “Therefore let *us* stretch forth *our* hands, and exercise the power of God which is in *us,* and save them from the flames” (emphasis added). He believed that he *and* Alma had the power to stop the martyrdom. Second, you ask why he wanted to prevent it? The same verse answers the question directly: “And when Amulek saw the pains of the women and children who were consuming in the fire, he also was pained; and he said unto Alma: How can we witness this awful scene?” He had sympathy and compassion for their suffering. Who wouldn’t? (It is only after his compassion for the others that it occured to him that “Behold, perhaps they will burn us also.”)

    So, yes, Amulek is great.


  18. What? You mean all military families aren’t like the Great Santini? You’re breaking my illusions. (grin)

    Actually though I think Cpt. Moroni is interesting particularly because of his flaws. Sort of like how he’s about to stage a military coup only to find out he has bad intelligence concerning the government on the home front. I tend to admire the fact they kept that in the record. In a way he is the most “fleshed out” of all the Book of Mormon characters.

    Of course Jacobs’ still my favorite writer and my favorite story is still the later Nephi’s encounter in Hel 10, one of the more important yet overlooked chapters in the book.

  19. “Because he described a lawyer-related societal corruption that is relevant to our day.”

    Expound please…

  20. Scott:

    Thanks for the extra details. They help set the stage…Amulek wanted to stretch for ‘their’ hands to use the power in them because his wife and children, family members were all about to be thrown into the fire. Only Amulek’s father survived, and this because he wasn’t a believer.
    My point is that it was a very personal sacrifice, not some general love of humanity as Nate complained of in the other thread. When you read the “perhaps they will burn us also,” feel one of two possibilities:
    1. he said it sarcastically and angry…that Alma was preventing him from saving his family.
    2. he said it full of sorrow…and sincerely hoped that he at least, if not Alma also, would be burned so that he wouldn’t have to live without those he loved best/with the knowledge that he could have, but was ordered not to, save them.

    Basically…Amulek and all the people in the BoM are human. I’m just sensitive on this subject…I detailed out the entire BoM, formatting it like a play (see http://www.kenalford.com) as Book of Mormon Readers Theater.

  21. Jim, thanks for the insightful comments. You describe things in a way that makes more sense and is less offensive. Sorry, I’m just dead sick of hearing about oil/war, Haliburton/cheney, etc. yes, incentives and alliances need to be watched and kept transparent. yes, i want cheney to drop out of the race. but to suggest that we are fighting and spilling blood for oil is simply monstrous and disgusting.

    (although, i did buy the domain names http://www.dropcheney.com and .org)[haven’t used them yet though].

  22. Why so little love for Nephi? I see only one split vote for Nephi (Ady), and one honorable mention (William Morris). Do all of you have issues with younger brothers? Maybe he was just too good? Or you resent the Isaiah chapters? Or perhaps we are just tired of reading about him because we only get so far into the Book of Mormon before we peter out?

    Anyway, he had some amazing experiences. My favorite Nephi tidbit: “I did cry unto the Lord; and behold he did visit me, and did soften my heart that I did believe all the words which had been spoken by my father.” (1 Nephi 2:16) This is subtle, but I think it is important that the Lord needed to soften Nephi’s heart. Obedience didn’t just happen for Nephi; he went to the Lord in humble prayer, and he received a testimony. The fact that he did this with murmuring older brothers, a mother who was lukewarm (at best) about wilderness travel, and a father who is seen as a “visionary man” (i.e., crazy) is nothing short of astonishing.

    By the way, is this the Book of Mormon equivalent to Joseph Smith’s First Vision? Notice that the Lord “visited” Nephi. However that word is interpreted, Nephi was a great man.

  23. Nate,

    The basic argument is laid out in Alma 10 and 11–

    Amulek claims that “the foundation of the destruction of this people is beginning to be laid by the unrighteousness of your lawyers and your judges” (10:27).

    In fleshing that out, Mormon shows that:
    (A) The object of the lawyers was to get gain (10:32).
    (B) Lawyers got gain according to their employ–i.e., the more they worked, the more they got paid (10:32).
    (C) Judges were also paid according to their employ (11:1, 3).

    (Note that the description of Nephite “coinage” in verses 5 through 19 is not an incidental bit of historical detail. It relates directly to the discussion of compensation of judges and lawyers, as well as providing necessary background to Zeezrom’s coming offer to Amulek.)

    (D) Because lawyers and judges were paid according to their employ and because they wanted to get more gain, they stirred up the people to riotings, disturbances, and wickedness, so they would have more money-making opportunities (11:20). Therefore, their unrighteousness (in seeking gain) coupled with the institutional problem (of time-based compensation) was laying the foundation of the destruction of the people, as Amulek said. I suspect that Mormon is abridging Amulek’s argument, on the basis of (a) the outrage that Amulek inspired among Ammonihah’s lawyers and (b) editorial comments about how only a portion of Amulek’s words are included in this record (9:34, 11:46).

    Since (i) lawyers today seek to get gain (with few exceptions) and (ii) lawyers today are generally compensated by time (i.e., billable hours) or by the job (i.e., flat or contingency fees), our society has the same structural flaw that Amulek and Mormon are criticizing–allowing profiteering on contention, disturbances, wickedness, etc.


  24. Lyle,

    While I don’t see anything in the text explicitly indicating that Amulek’s wives and children were among those burned, it’s a possibility. 15:16 says that he was subsequently rejected by those who were once his friends, his father, and his kindred. No specific mention of wives or children, though they could accurately fall under the “kindred” category. As for his father’s rejection, note that in 10:11, Amulek describes his father (as well as his women, children, and kinsfolk) as having been blessed by Alma. If his father rejected him after having been blessed by Alma, there’s no reason to think that his women and children might not have done the same. In-laws can be a powerful influence. So can the sudden loss of gold, silver, and precious things.

    That appears to be an unresolvable ambiguity in the text. I’m inclined to think they weren’t burned, since, if they had been, I’d expect to hear it mentioned specifically. But I can see how you (or Elder Eyring) might disagree.

    As for his greatness, if you’re right–if he witnessed the immolation of his own wives and children–then his forebearance is all the more impressive.


  25. I think those who have expressed great admiration for Captain Moroni here have also admitted their own militaristic leanings. In my mind, better exemplars of how to deal with war are the Anti-Nephi-Lehis who renounce war and are willing to die rather than shed blood. Just like Jesus (Peter, put down that sword!).

    I know this isn’t the typical interpretation of the BOM, but I think a close reading and comparison with other modern revelations will show that there is a continuum of responses to war and bloodshed, including:

    a) War for Power and Gain–lots of examples in the BOM.
    b) Defensive War–We’ll put Moroni here (along with “justified” war doctrine in the D&C 98–but read the rest of the verses, its still better not to fight)
    c) Nonviolence–Anti-Nephi-Lehis and Jesus here, as well as D&C injunctions against war.

    I think it might be useful to see these as Telestial (a), Terrestrial (b), and Celestial (c) responses to war. That also squares with the quote–

    ‘If all men had been, and were, and ever would be, like unto Moroni, behold the very powers of hell would be shaken forever, yea, the devil would never have power over the hearts of the children of men.’

    During the Millenium, when the world will be a Terrestrial Kingdom, Satan will be bound. So to say that Moroni’s righteousness would have power over Satan doesn’t say much more than that Moroni was operating at a Terrestrial level.

    So, of course, Moroni was “good”–but the Anti-Nephi-Lehi’s were better.

    Interestingly, when they almost broke their covenants and then sent their children off to war (another story we love), it may have sown the seeds of apostasy in their children and grandchildren. Follow what happens to them later in the Book of Mormon and you will see that they all went north, where they may have become wicked by the time the missionary Nephi goes north to teach the gospel.

    I wrote a book review for Dialogue that will be coming out later this year on this. You may not like the interpretation, but its a valid textual reading.

    The more and more I ponder the BOM, the more I think that it is a mirror for people to see what they want in it. In my case, I want to “renounce war and proclaim peace”–a bias I share with Jesus and the Anti-Nephi-Lehis.

    For those of you would rather go out and kick some righteous butt, grab Moroni’s title of liberty and have fun! (You can accuse me of sitting on a throne in a thoughtless stupor if that makes you feel better!).

  26. “In my mind, better exemplars of how to deal with war are the Anti-Nephi-Lehis who renounce war and are willing to die rather than shed blood.”

    Doesn’t this ignore their explanation of why they would not fight as well as the discussion of why their children were so willing to? To say that this sowed the seeds of apostasy in the young stripling warriors sounds…creative.

    I certainly think the Book of Mormon warns of miliatrianism. But I think it also demonstrates the dangers of pacifism. As I said, I think some of the most interesting lessons are unintended, such as Cpt. Moroni’s overzealousness. But I think that had they not fought, the Anti-Nephi-Lehi’s would have been exterminated. I think that a better solution only in a very romantic portrayal of death.

  27. When the People of Ammon were flush with testimony after their conversion, they were willing to go to their deaths rather than fight. After becoming acculturated to Nephite traditions, they may have slipped a bit in their resolve.

    And there are other examples from the Book of Mormon of escaping oppression without having to fight. A nice comparison comes from the Book of Mosiah–Limhi and Gideon (embattled warrior types) get the Lamanites all liquored up (rely on the arm of flesh?) to slip out during the night, while the greater faith of Alma’s colony of converts allows them to slip away without having to dupe the guards. I love that story–imagine the faith that it took to pack up their bags and truck out in the night with nothing but faith that the guards would stay asleep!

    I don’t think there is black and white in the BOM as much as their are contrasts and comparisons. You can rely on your own strength (Moroni–who died young, possibly of war wounds, Gideon–who though considered righteous, died by the sword) or trust in God and let him take care of things, even if it means at a greater sacrifice to yourself (Anti-Nephi-Lehis, Alma the Elder giving up his judgeship, Alma the Younger giving up the throne, etc).

    As to your dangers of pacifism…where are they? You might get your head chopped off? Sounds like the same danger you have if you go to war. If you may have to die, you can chose to go peacefully without stain, or with blood on your hands. Rather than the dangers of pacifism, I think the BOM is the greatest anti-war tract of all time. Nothing good ever came from warfare in the BOM.

    Lots to chew on in the old BOM!

  28. Here’s one poster who is sympathetic to your pacifist leanings, Rob.

    Having said that, I certainly admire Moroni for being a great example of a ‘defensive war’ leader. When the Lamanites retreated, he didn’t pursue them out of his own land. When the Lamanites promised not to take up arms, he let them go, realizing that some were lying or would later break their promise. I wonder how many Nephites thought he was soft? Of course, he didn’t tolerate much from dissidents on the homefront…

    One of the most touching things to me about the Book of Mormon is the story of the Anti-Nephi-Lehis. The fact that their children learned so much from their mothers and had confidence in their mothers’ beliefs stems in part because their fathers were all DEAD. I cannot imagine how I would react as a child or spouse watching a loved one first refuse to protect me and then slaughtered on my behalf. Not only did the mothers not resent their husbands and their new beliefs, they were just as valiant in how they continued to raise their children.

  29. I think the limits of pacifism are those who don’t mind genocide. I honestly think that had Hitler not been militarily stupid with Russia, he could well have exterminated all Jews. And I think genocide or near genocide is rather common in the ancient world.

    Regarding Matt’s comments. I wonder if perhaps this isn’t an other unstated undertone of the text. Perhaps the children were so valiant because they saw how little pacifism affected the outcome of the battles. i.e. perhaps the children didn’t necessarily *really* see eye to eye with their parents.

  30. The Book of Mormon also stresses the importance of maintaining a people of covenant, of having a civilization intact full of people who try [even though they fail] to live the gospel — that’s why Nephi is constrained by the spirit to kill Laban. Pacifism only works in the face of an enemy who can be shamed. The dangers of pacifism are not to individuals but to peoples, ethnies.

    To me the story of the Anti-Nephi-Lehis is not a lesson on pacifism, but rather on repenting and turning away from sin. They buried their weapons and suffered death at the hands of their brethren because they had already shed innocent blood. They were flush with testimony and with horror at their prior acts.

    I do agree that the Book of Mormon is a great anti-war tract. I just don’t think that it follows that pacifism is the correct solution in *all* situations.

  31. Pacifism is not the solution unless you have enough faith to let the Lord fight your battles. I’m sure America, England, and the U.S.S.R. didn’t have that kind of faith during Hitler’s reign, but why should we expect them to…they’re wicked gentile nations that will be destroyed before Christ returns (D&C 87:6).

    The only ones who won’t be fighting then will be those in Zion, who will let the Lord fight for them.

    D&C 45:66 And it shall be called the New• Jerusalem, a land• of peace•, a city of refuge•, a place of eafety for the saints of the Most High God;

    67 And the glory• of the Lord shall be there, and the terror• of the Lord also shall be there, insomuch that the wicked will not come unto it, and it shall be called Zion.

    68 And it shall come to pass among the wicked, that every man that will not take his sword against his neighbor• must needs flee unto Zion• for safety.

    69 And there shall be gathered• unto it out of every nation• under heaven; and it shall be the only people that shall not be at war one with another.

    70 And it shall be said among the wicked: Let us not go up to battle against Zion, for the inhabitants of Zion are terrible•; wherefore we cannot stand.

    There will always be wicked people to fight against the wicked. Let them have it (Mormon 4:5). Some of the rest of us who would give our all for the building up of Zion should be renouncing war and proclaiming peace–or maybe that’s just another quaint saying from the Lord?

    Zion, bring it on!

  32. This is a very interesting discussion about pacifism. I was going to sit this out on the sidelines, but I am intrigued by William Morris’ comment: “I do agree that the Book of Mormon is a great anti-war tract.” Hmm.

    Shortly after I joined the Church, a faithful religion teacher at BYU explained to me that the Book of Mormon dwelt on war (some think excessively) because we live in a time of war. The implication was that we should learn something about how to behave in war from the Book of Mormon. Even our brief exchange here, however, reveals how opaque those lessons are.

    Several years ago, while I was preparing a Gospel Doctrine lesson, it occurred to me that we Mormons might treat all of the war talk in the Book of Mormon a tad too literally. As I read some of the war chapters, it appeared to me that the author was not describing a literal war, with swords and shields, but a spiritual war. The cities that were conquered, then lost, and then conquered again may have had historical roots, but they were used in this story as symbols of worldly desires, passions, and temptations. The participants were — like the characters in the Lord of the Rings — engaged in massive spiritual battle of good versus evil, expressed in terms of life and death to capture our attention and to reflect the serious nature of the combat.

    Unfortunately, I am horrible at keeping notes from my lessons (if I even had notes), so I cannot replicate the ideas in more detail. And I would not attempt to claim (at least not without more study) that all of the war talk in the Book of Mormon is of this sort. Nevertheless, if there is some validity to this reading, then the Book of Mormon might very well be the opposite of what William Morris conjectures.

  33. Gordon, I like it…I would just add that if this is an allegory, then maybe the real meaning is that–just like the always fighting never really establishing peace Nephites–you can’t win your spiritual battles through struggling to conquer and reconquer them…you have to turn your heart to the Lord and let him “make weak things become strong” for us.

    Thanks for the great lesson.

  34. Rob, you speak as though Jesus protects his people while they hold hands singing hymns. In the Book of Mormon Jesus encouraged them to fight, and promised them he would fight with them if they were righteous.

    Why did Jesus help Ammon kill seven Lamanites, and maim even more, for merely scattering sheep? If Jesus were a pacifist in the way you suggest, he would have found a less violent way to impress the Lamanite king and his court.

  35. Gordon, to answer your question about Nephi, I actually have a very hard time relating to him. Yes, he had incredible faith, testimony, and knowledge of the gospel. Yes, his brothers were murmurous weasels. But couldn’t he have shown even a little compassion?

    When they tell Nephi that they don’t understand Lehi’s Dream, instead of an “I can see how it might be confusing. Let me answer your questions. . .”, Nephi goes into lecture mode, saying “How is it that ye will perish because of the hardness of your hearts?”

    It’s as though it never even occured to him that it could be hard to pick up and leave your house of luxury and wander for years in the wilderness. I don’t mean to justify Laman and Lemuel or anything, but Nephi wasn’t exactly the effective missionary that someone like Alma was (he was able to convert one person, Zoram, who seemed to think he would be put to death otherwise).

    Other things in Nephi’s life are hard for me to liken to myself as well. For example, his faith led him to unusual situations where he had to kill, steal, and lie. My life and mission have never really included those things.

    All in all, Nephi was a man of amazing faith, but not someone with whom I can relate very well.

  36. I have wondered in the past if it might be a mistake to read the scriptures as providing definitive answers. The discussion of war and pacifism illustrates what I mean. I don’t think that it is really possible to read the Book of Mormon as having a clear cut message on how to deal with agressive war. In part this is because it has a tragic — or at least apocalyptic — view. No matter how you twist or turn, in the end things fall apart. At least they fall apart until God himself arrives to clean things up in the final judgment.

    However, I think that you can use the Book of Mormon as a way of framing the discussion of what are, after all, hard not easy issues. On this reading, the point of the scriptures is not to provide us with an answer to the question. Rather it provides us with a place to talk about it, a language uniquely our own within which to hash out what are timeless and perhaps insoluable issues.

    The value added comes not in a clear cut answer. (Sorry Rob, I don’t buy the neat hierachical solution to the conflict.) Rather the value comes from the fact that we now have the discussion in the presence of God. It is a presence that invites us to greater charity in argument and opens us up to the possibility of revelation, an answer that exceeds us.

  37. I have wondered in the past if it might be a mistake to read the scriptures as providing definitive answers. The discussion of war and pacifism illustrates what I mean. I don’t think that it is really possible to read the Book of Mormon as having a clear cut message on how to deal with agressive war. In part this is because it has a tragic — or at least apocalyptic — view. No matter how you twist or turn, in the end things fall apart. At least they fall apart until God himself arrives to clean things up in the final judgment.

    However, I think that you can use the Book of Mormon as a way of framing the discussion of what are, after all, hard not easy issues. On this reading, the point of the scriptures is not to provide us with an answer to the question. Rather it provides us with a place to talk about it, a language uniquely our own within which to hash out what are timeless and perhaps insoluable issues.

    The value added comes not in a clear cut answer. (Sorry Rob, I don’t buy the neat hierachical solution to the conflict.) Rather the value comes from the fact that we now have the discussion in the presence of God. It is a presence that invites us to greater charity in argument and opens us up to the possibility of revelation, an answer that exceeds us.

  38. Nate, I think you are completely correct. And, I might add, I see this as evidence of the complexity of the text. It clearly *isn’t* good guys versus bad guys. There are a lot of complexities.

    Take Rob’s example of Teancum. Is he doing the right thing? It does appear than he places expediency about perhaps fair play. How does the text portray him?

    I’d add that my favorite example of this complexity are the secret combinations. When the text presents them as driven out the careful reading notes that this is almost *certainly* not the case. The naivete of the authors often is very interesting because without being aware they tell us much more about what is going on.

    I think all good texts are like this in complexity. While obviously the Book of Mormon isn’t presented as literature, I think it holds up surprisingly well in that regard. Related to your comments I’d note that Shakespeare also offers that complexity, allowing plays like Henry V to be directed as patriotic pro-war rhetoric or anti-war pacifism. I know Dave argues that the text is simple. But I couldn’t agree less.

    See his comments:

  39. “The naivete of the authors” of the Book of Mormon?

    If we can’t take the text at face value, but have to ask if each passage was inspired or is an example of the prophet’s naivete, how do we determine which is which? Was Mormon naive to think that God had blessed the Nephites when they were righteous? Was Ammon naive to think it was the Great Spirit that gave him power to kill those who scattered the sheep?

    There is at least one self-contained standard that doesn’t admit nuance, and displays no naivete on the part of the prophets: prophecies that are made and fulfilled within the Book of Mormon. In no case is a prophet proven wrong, and in no case is the conclusion ambiguous. It takes no special training to see that, in those instances, the prophets were right.

    And if the golden plates isn’t an accurate account of Nephite history, but is injected with “errors of men” like the naive beliefs of the prophets, is there any reason to think Joseph Smith’s translation isn’t similarly innaccurate?

    Needless to say, the message of the Book of Mormon would appear exceedingly complex to someone who is trying to figure out which parts are errors of Joseph Smith, which parts are naive interpretations of the editors, which parts are naive accounts of the original authors, and which parts of the Book of Mormon are true.

    Nate, the scriptures purport to offer definitive answers on many things (Jesus was resurrected; God helped good guys kill bad guys), so I think your statement about definitive answers needs to be qualified, unless you mean to suggest that we can never accept the scriptures on their own terms.

  40. How ’bout King Benjamin? Am I too late to cast my vote? Mosiah 3-5 is my favorite part of the BOM. I think there is more useful, pertinent information as to how I should live my life here than in any other section of the BOM or any other book, for that matter.

    And yes, Gordon, I’m with Logan. Nephi was always hard to relate to. He took full advantage of the fact that he was the one telling the story. Did he have to throw in the part about his father murmuring? That’s funny, according to Nephi, everyone murmured but him. Hard for me to believe. I think he liked to purposely point out how everyone else had issues instead of mentioning his own.

  41. Clark: Thanks for the references to Dave’s post. I also disagree with his over all assessment of the Book of Mormon’s literary value, but he provides a nice collection of sources. I do dispute his emphasis on characterization. First, I do think that the Book of Mormon provides some interesting characters. (I like Alma the Younger.) More to the point, I think that it is a mistake to make characaterization a touchstone. Indeed, one of the more outrageous arguments that Harold Bloom (who Dave appreciatively references) makes is that Shakespeare invented characterization! So what am I to make of Dante, Chaucer, Homer (and let’s face it, Achilles is a FLAT character), Virgil, Gilgimesh, and J. I also like Sperry, who is one of the more under appreciated figures in Mormon intellectual history. I do find it odd that Dave dwells repeatedly on the size of the Book of Mormon’s vocabulary. Shakespeare had an enormous vocabulary, including not only obscure words and dialect, but also neologisms. On the other hand, the KJV has a very limited vocabulary, which is part of the reason (I think) that its language seems so clean and powerful.

  42. Remember Joseph Smith said that “the Book of Mormon was the most correct of any book on earth, and the keystone of our religion, and a man would get nearer to God by abiding by its precepts, than by any other book.” It seems folly to criticize Joseph or any of the writers of the Book of Mormon as being naive, as if we have some greater insight into the meaning and accurracy of what they have written.

    I really don’t get where the “complexity” comes into play. Maybe I am too simplistic, but in my mind the Book of Mormon is pretty straightforward in its teachings. Gospel truths are taught through both direct teaching and through the historical record presented. Direction as to how one may know the “truth of all things” is also given. That is not to say that there are not many deep truths contained in the Book of Mormon, and as one keeps an open mind in reading and rereading one learns many wonderful lessons. But I don’t know that it is complex in the ways that have been suggested. Or perhaps I do not understand what you mean by stating the book has many “complexities.”

  43. Matt: I think that you are misunderstanding what Clark and I are saying. You simply cannot reduce something like the Book of Mormon into an answer book. It isn’t. It is a really complicated jumble of narratives, sermons, prophecies, quotations, commentaries, etc. The point is not to somehow sort out what is “true” from what is “niave.” It is all true. That is what makes it so much fun! If it was a catechism there would be no point to re-reading it!

    That said, I don’t think that the Book of Mormon is somehow without positive content, nor do I think that it is equally consistent with all possible interpretations. There are possiblities that are foreclosed. However, that is not inconsisent with anything that I am saying.

  44. Brent: A simple illustration of what is meant by complexity. The Book of Mormon gives us two examples of how we might respond to aggressive war. The Anti-Lehi-Nephi’s are completely passive and simply let their attackers kill them. (Note: this involved spouses letting attackers kill their husbands and wives; parents letting attackers kill their children.) Captain Moroni provides the opposite example. He is a very energetic military commander, affirmatively seeking to defend his people. The narrator gives us abundent clues that both examples are meritorious and both are righteous. What are we to make of this?

    A couple of points:

    1. You can’t read the book as being simple on this issue. Rob is wrong to read the Book of Mormon as a passifist tract. On the other hand, you can’t read it as a condemnation of passificism. There are no screeds against Chamberlains in the book.

    2. The book itself does not provide you with a neat way of reconciling the tension (conflict?) between these two approaches. Notice that Rob tries to fix this problem (so he can read the book as a passificst tract) by importing in a concept from outside of the book itself. He gives us a hierarchy of three degrees of glory that purports to tell us what answer the book is really giving. It is a fun move, but I would point out that section 76 of the Doctrine and Covenants is not in the Book of Mormon and there is no evidence that it writers are aware of it or the doctrines taught by it.

    3. It is not clear that the narrator of the book is aware of or concerned about this apparent conflict, which may account for the fact that the book doesn’t resolve the issue. I think that this is what Clark means when he talks about niavete. This doesn’t mean that the narrator is stupid or that the niavete somehow vitiates the authority of the book. It simply means that its interpretation is difficult.

    4. This sort of complexity is what makes the book so interesting and powerful. It means that it has the capacity to say lots of different things to lots of different people. It means that it is worth returning to, since you can generally be certain that you have not fully captured what it is saying.

    5. The book is not textually self-sufficient. What I mean by this is that the text itself cannot convey the point of the book. If you look at the book ONLY as a text then it seems to simply recapitulate the complexity and difficulty that one would find reading a book about ethics or history. From a purely textual stand point, recasting the issue in terms of stories about Nephites and Lamanites etc. doesn’t seem to add much to the solution to these problems. Thus one might ask, “What is the point?” And this is where its status as scripture really matters. The value added of working through these issues in the Book of Mormon comes from the fact that the book is — in some sense — a creation of God. It bears the trace of Him, and it invokes the Holy Spirit. We go to the scripture not necessarily because the TEXT provides us with answers, but because it is a place where we can work out such answers with the spirit of God.

    On this final issue, Elder Packard made a somewhat similar point twenty years ago in a talk on testimony entitled “The Candle of the Lord” (I will see if I can find it). His point was that testimony — answers if you will — are structured such that you can’t really find it by simply looking it up in the books. You have to seek the spirit and get revelation. According to Elder Packard this shielded it from those who were merely curious. You can’t really “get it” unless you are serious about commitment, because it is only at that point that you get the Spirit of the Lord. One of the unstated implications of what Elder Packard was saying is that the TEXT of the scriptures must, necessarily, be insufficient. This is one of the things that differentiates Mormonism from say Protestant fundementalism, which must insist on not only the infallibility of the biblical text but also on its transperancy. That is not text must not only be perfect, it must be simple. To acknowledge to kind of complexity that I acknowledge about the Book of Mormon would suggest that the authority of the text was insufficient.

  45. Nate, thanks for clarifying your point. As soon as I hit Post, I realized I should have acknowledged the difficulties of deriving answers to present situations from past stories.

    But I’m not certain the issue of defensive wars is a good example of ambiguity.

    The rationale the Anti-Nephi-Lehite king gives for refusing to fight focuses on their past murders, and makes it clear that their past murderous use of swords is the salient motive to bury their swords. (The Lamanites who later join the Anti-Nephi-Lehies in ch 25 are also guilty of murder). From that point on, every time they are confronted with fighting, they say they are morally bound by their oath forswearing the use of swords. They never say they don’t fight because wars are universally immoral.

    Because of this obvious distinction between the peoples who didn’t wield swords and those who did, this is a paradox that isn’t. I don’t believe we can say the Book of Mormon editors were naive to overlook it; once they include the section explaining why the Anti-Nephi-Lehis buried their swords, there’s nothing left to say except moral speculation, something the Book of Mormon editors didn’t indulge in.

  46. Nate, thanks for clarifying my point. That was what I meant by naivete – the fact that speakers and authors don’t always know what is going on around them. That’s a fairly subtle aspect of the text. While not a “proof” for the Book of Mormon, it is evidence to me that it is real. I think it is extra significant when one considers how many people portray the text as so simple minded.

    Matt, I largely agree with you about the wars. Although I also think that there are complexities here. The wars were necessary, but they also were corrupting to the people. Violence breeds violence and bloodlust is easy to take hold of a nation. I think that is one of the messages of the Book of Mormon. While I agree with why the converts wouldn’t pick up arms, I think you downplay the significance of that. The bloodlust was so addictive that they’d rather die than risk it…

  47. You all need to stop posting these “what’s your favorite?” posts–the urge to throw in one’s own is absolutely irresistible.

    Abinadi, no doubt. He went among the people in a disguise (how inventive!), that is enough. But his teachings also give Latter-Day Saints almost as many hermeneutic fits as they gave to the priests of Noah. And he converted one of the most important figures in the Book of Mormon.

  48. Jeremiah, Abinadi is a great figure, but don’t you think it’s funny that he blows his disguise with the first sentence out of his mouth?

    “AND it came to pass that after the space of two years that Abinadi came among them in disguise, that they knew him not, and began to prophesy among them, saying: Thus has the Lord commanded me, saying—Abinadi, go and prophesy unto this my people, for they have hardened their hearts against my words; they have repented not of their evil doings; therefore, I will visit them in my anger, yea, in my fierce anger will I visit them in their iniquities and abominations.” (Mosiah 12:1)

  49. Plus Abinadi is clearly the most buff 90 year old ever. I mean look at him. He looks like a balding white Bruce Lee ready to kick King Noah’s a**.

    Come on, admit it. All those paintings in the Book of Mormon totally affected how you read the narrative.

  50. Gordon, I couldn’t agree more with you about Friberg. Although my favorite painting is Washington at Valley Forge. I have it hanging in my office at work. It is awesome!

  51. Regarding how Friberg has influenced our reading of the Book of Mormon, I found this remark in a review of a Minerva Teichert book:

    “If the only available Book of Mormon text for the next 30 years were illustrated by Teichert . . . wouldn’t her paintings change the way we view the Book of Mormon text as well? Wouldn’t we be drawn toward the subtleties of the text, perhaps to its literary beauty, the stories of its handful of women and children, rather than to the familiar war stories, Captain Moroni, the 2,000 stripling warriors, or a “soloflexed” Nephi?”

    Its an interesting thought, though I suppose the sheer volume of war stories (as compared to stories of women and children) tends to make the book more amenable to a Friberg reading than a Teichert one.

  52. I should add that I was being a little ironic. I actually think that the Friberg paintings have led to quite a bit of misreadings of the Book of Mormon. It played up the white as European angel which I think is unsupportable by the text. (As Sorenson puts it, likely Nephi was a relatively dark skinned short middle eastern young man) I also think making everyone look like Swartzeneggers was unhelpful (although Romantic for kids – myself included) Heavens even the woman coming out of the waters of baptism looks like she could easily beat up Linda Hamilton from Terminator 2. (And note the German hair styles) The whole thing to me comes off like a bad 1930’s take on Nietzsche’s Will to Power.

    I’d actually love the church to come out with new paintings that take into consideration some of FARMS speculations. Yeah they are speculations, but probably much, much closer to reality than the type of BoM art we typically get. (And which biases us in strange ways)

  53. Clark, In my last response, I didn’t mean to imply that you were a fan of Friberg. I am a fan because I am not looking to an illustrator for historical accuracy, but rather a sense of drama and characterization. No matter, I was agreeing that the pictures influence how we read the stories.

    On that topic, can you say a little more about why the search for historical accuracy in illustrations is so important to you? This topic has come up several times on T&S, usually in reference to depictions of Jesus. It seems to me that the point is more political than spiritual, but perhaps my perception is driven by the fact that all of the illustrations look (more or less) like me (i.e., European, not buff). Also, political implications are important, though maybe moreso in Jesus-context than in BM-context. (?) Finally, can political and spiritual dimensions really be so easily separated? (Gordon asks introspectively.) As you can see, I have more questions than answers.

  54. re: Nephi.

    Why is it hard to relate to him?
    1. He had doubts about the gospel…just as we all do initially. He didn’t start out as a prophet. In fact, the text indicates that he probably would have murmured…if his heart hadn’t of changed.
    2. He prayed/studied it out…and got a testimony…actually had a divine manifestation, much like JS.
    3. His “Psalm” clearly points out that he had his faults…and knew about them. I don’t see him pulling any punches there.
    4. Or when he killed Laban. The man refused the promptings of the Spirit TWO TIMES. The Spirit bashed him over the head to get him to understand. That doesn’t seem overly impressive.
    5. Just cuz he was a goode man doesn’t mean that we need to pull him down. Or because his brothers continually made bad choices is it somehow his fault. Who was beaten up by his elder brothers? Who was tied and to be left for dead? Who was again bound tortuously tight? Fine…so he (or was it more like GOD!!!) shocked his brothers. Better than the earth swallowing them/being struck down…like other blashphemeres in the OT, eh?
    6. He was a man, raised a family, etc. He followed the Lord…and kept on trucking.

  55. With regards to Jesus he is *so* iconic that I think appearance is less significant there. So if he looks Irish instead of Jewish it isn’t that big a deal. With the Book of Mormon though I think it leads to incorrect readings of the nature of Lamanite / Nephite divisions. This in turn undercuts the prophecies and meanings of the message. I also think it makes it easy to think of things in a overly simple way. Plus I think it leads people to believe silly things about the historicity which then opens people up to anti-Mormons. I know too many people who’ve fallen away because they assumed the position of the church was the sort of superficial white Nephites versus Lamanites as the entire history of the continent. So I think that these erroneous scientific ideas do undermine religious foundations.

  56. Wow, good read.

    My favorite historical figure from the BOM? Well, first thought is Moroni. Forget the sacrifice of Joseph Smith to inquire of the Lord, and bring forth this great book; I am so utterly thankful for Moroni and his dedication to the end. He didn’t quit, it was his duty to go on until the end, no matter what came. He is such a great example.

    Second favorite – the brother of Jared. What faith! along with the ability to have the kind of dialogue he had with the Lord. The example of how the Lord teaches is invaluable.

    I am also looking forward to seeing what’s in the lost sections. There are probably some pretty interesting fellows there too.

  57. Wow, good read.

    My favorite historical figure from the BOM? Well, first thought is Moroni. Forget the sacrifice of Joseph Smith to inquire of the Lord, and bring forth this great book; I am so utterly thankful for Moroni and his dedication to the end. He didn’t quit, it was his duty to go on until the end, no matter what came. He is such a great example.

    Second favorite – the brother of Jared. What faith! along with the ability to have the kind of dialogue he had with the Lord. The example of how the Lord teaches is invaluable.

    I am also looking forward to seeing what’s in the lost sections. There are probably some pretty interesting fellows there too.

  58. Wow, good read.

    My favorite historical figure from the BOM? Well, first thought is Moroni. Forget the sacrifice of Joseph Smith to inquire of the Lord, and bring forth this great book; I am so utterly thankful for Moroni and his dedication to the end. He didn’t quit, it was his duty to go on until the end, no matter what came. He is such a great example.

    Second favorite – the brother of Jared. What faith! along with the ability to have the kind of dialogue he had with the Lord. The example of how the Lord teaches is invaluable.

    I am also looking forward to seeing what’s in the lost sections. There are probably some pretty interesting fellows there too.

  59. I don’t care for Frieberg myself. Over Christmas I purchases a large “family” edition of the Book of Mormon to read with my son. I specifically wanted one that had a variety of different illustrations, although (alas) I didn’t have the money to get the edition illustrated with Tiechart prints.

  60. Lyle, Lyle, Lyle,

    When Logan and I started talking about how Nephi can be hard to relate to, I thought to myself that Lyle is totally going to post some sort of opposite viewpoint.

    The thing is, all the items you mentioned could be true… but none of them really help me relate to Nephi any more than I did two minutes ago.

    I really just want to see a book written by Sam parallel to Nephi’s… All I’m saying is that autobiographies are often harder to swallow and less informative than biographies.

    Maybe someday I’ll get to read Nephi’s biography by Sam.

    But you know what, Lyle, let’s be friends; Nephi was a good man. I’m sure there is still plenty to be learned from rereading his words.

  61. Friends are goode. Sorry, I happen to be somewhat contrarian. Hazard of the trade, I suppose. Maybe i’ll try being agreeable. Note…I think that Sam’s bio might possibly be full of hero worship. While Older, Nephi’s chat with Sam, after he had his own conversation in 1N2, is the first recorded instance of a “conversion” in the BoM. My own guess is that Sam is rather grateful that Nephi took the time and heart to talk with him; and volunteered to do the Laban thing, i.e. didn’t ask Sam to go along. Dont’ most converts feel grateful to their missionaries? Granted these are bros…

  62. I’ve found the timing of the large and small plates interesting. Nephi starts the large plates shortly after they get off the boat (1 Nephi 19), but the small plates (e.g. 1st Nephi, his “autobiography”) are written 30 years after they leave jerusalem (roughly 21 years after beginning the large plates) at God’s explicit request (2 Nephi 5:28-30).

    If God’s only concern was that a such record exist, why not tell Nephi to start writing immediately? Or does God prefer that the prophets write with mature perspective? He could have told Joseph smith to get out of the grove, and write everything down but (apparently) didn’t. My guess is that it’s hard to tell, at the time, what events are significant and what that significance is. Hindsight, as the saying goes, is 20/20. (I think this also largely accounts for the differences in the first vision accounts. The fact that there wasn’t a “correct” church for him to attend was initially overshadowed by his personal forgivess and standing before god. After Moroni and the BoM however, he starts to see that the FS had significance beyond him personally and started emphasizing that aspect. Bushman and Givens have both commented on this, and I believe there’s a JMH article as well.) Just some thoughts…

  63. Regarding Nephi, I’m reminded of one of Calvin Grondahl’s cartoons. It pictures Laman writing on some plates: “I, Laman, being born of a lunatic father and having a pretentious, know-it-all little brother, do begin to make a record of my days.”

    (approximate wording from 16+ years ago)

  64. This thread has developed lots of strands, but I would like to follow up on an exchange with Clark above about the (un)importance of historical accuracy in Church art. (Sorry for the delay … busy day.)

    My inclination is to think that historical accuracy is the wrong standard by which to judge Book of Mormon illustrations. Instead, the illustrations should convey something essential and important about the scene. They should teach spiritual truths, not secular history. A great example of this, in my opinion, is Friberg’s Samuel the Lamanite. (http://www.meridianmagazine.com/images/friberg/originals/FribergSamuelLamanite.jpg) Samuel is so far away from the viewer that his features are not discernable. And yet, by his position, we know that this man is a prophet who is preaching an unwelcome message. Moreover, we see the hand of the Lord protecting him. (How can the archers at the top of the tower miss him, unless their arrows are steered off course by a Divine hand?) Is the scene historically accurate? Probably not even close, but it is a powerful illustration of Samuel’s courage.

    Now, I can understand that some people would not like Friberg’s paintings. The pumped-up men can be pretty comical. Nevertheless, to suggest that people have fallen away from the Church because these illustrations are historically inaccurate is a bit hard to swallow.

  65. I’m late to the game, but I have to make my contribution before everyone grows tired of the discussion.

    My favorite person from the BOM has always been Enos. I can remember hunting as a teenager and, reflecting on the experience of Enos, feeling the strong desire to kneel and pray. I’m pretty sure that my prayer did not exceed an hour but I left feeling cleansed and closer to my Father in Heaven at the closing of the prayer. Ever since that experience I have felt a gratitude towards Enos and a particular kind of brotherliness with him.

    Regarding the “complexity” of the BOM – a word I’ve always used to describe the text of the BOM is “layered.” It’s amazing how you can read the same scripture a dozen times and find something new on each reading. I have to admit that I’ve never considered whether the BOM is a treatise on the virtues of pacifism versus militarism, although I’ve certainly been aware of the important place that war occupies in the message. Perhaps we are meant to understand that the gospel needs both pacifists and military-minded people in order to balance out the kingdom of God on earth. In the BOM we have a sort of division of philosophical and political labor (apologies for the verbiage). The pacifists help balance out the military. Of course, I think Rob’s point is well taken that war ultimately led to the society’s destruction, although Mormon makes it clear that war was really an outgrowth of the people’s wickedness. In the hands and minds of a peace-loving people, war can sometimes accomplish its objectives, but if the people fight war because of blood-lust or for material gain, they have become entrapped in wickedness.

    By the way, people who read my blog will know that I am fond of Cormac McCarthy. He wrote a novel that bears similar themes about cyclical violence as the BOM (and it has the same kind of apocalyptic ending) in _Blood Meridian_.

    Regarding Nate’s mention of the new BOM for families, my family also received this edition for Christmas. Praises. This is a great addition to any Mormon family’s library. It is published by Bookcraft and is quite possibly the most useful edition of the BOM for young readers and teens that I’ve seen. Besides the great illustrations, the Bookcraft edition has a wealth of footnotes with very concise literary and historical information about the verses. My four year old loves it. Two big thumbs up!

  66. Brayden–are you talking about the BoM for LDS Families by Valletta–or something else?


  67. “Nevertheless, to suggest that people have fallen away from the Church because these illustrations are historically inaccurate is a bit hard to swallow.”

    I don’t think I said they fell away because of the paintings. Rather the paintings *in* the text reinforced naive views of BoM populations that was contradicted by science. i.e. it supports folk traditions that now have (IMO) negative effects.

  68. Did Enos hunt after his conversion?

    It’s my understanding that, under the rules of kashrut (e.g., relating to shechitah and treifot), Jews could not hunt.

    Nephi hunts in 1 Nephi 16. But it seems–by the fact that his family immediately began to suffer when his bow broke (16:19)–that he did so of necessity, apparently having depleted the provisions they brought out of Jerusalem (2:4). (And, because they were on the move, they could not make use of the “seeds of every kind, both of grain of every kind, and also of the seeds of fruit of every kind” they had gathered, per 8:1.) And, when life is at stake (pikuach nefesh), the rules of kashrut can be broken. So Nephi’s hunting was arguably justified.

    Lib (in the Book of Ether) is also described as having hunted (10:19), yet still doing “that which was good in the sight of the Lord.” I’m not sure what to make of that. Moroni writes of Lib’s people that there “never could be a people more blessed than were they, and more prospered by the hand of the Lord” (10:28). Yet, at the same time, he describes them as being exceedingly industrious, trafficking to get gain, digging up the earth to get gold, silver, iron, and copper, having silks and fine-twined linen, and making all manner of weapons of war (10:22-7)–activities associated with the “ripe for destruction” phase of the BoM cycle. On the other hand, “they did preserve the land southward for a wilderness, to get game,” rather than overrunning it (like the land northward whose “whole face…was covered with inhabitants”) (10:21). And “they did make all manner of tools to till the earth, both to plow and to sow, to reap and to hoe, and also to thrash,” indicating that they were still a farming people (10:25).

    In any event, most of the hunting in the BoM seems to be by peoples clearly identified as being wicked. (Sometimes they’re portrayed as violating other rules of kashrut in their hunting. Immediately after the split of Nephites and Lamanites in 2 Nephi 5:25, the Lamanites are described as hunting for “beasts of prey,” in violation of kashrut restrictions on eating predators.)

    This is all totally off topic, I know. But the mention of Enos’s hunting made me think of it. It would be interesting to read a good study of food and diet (in a kashrut context) in the Book of Mormon. Has anything ever been published along those lines?


  69. SCott, I’m not a Jewih scholar, and I didn’t know that hunting violated kashrut. Could you explain that a littel more, perhaps a source or two?

    As for the Jaredites, they weren’t even Israelites adn left long before the Torah was given to Moses, so hunting wouldn’t violate anything. Are you saying that hunting is inherently wrong and thus expressing surprise that Lib is declared to have been doing good in the sight of the Lord?

  70. Ben,

    You’re absolutely right about the Jaredites. I guess Lib is okay, too.

    I’m no Jewish scholar, either. (I wish we had one around here.) But, as I understand it, the two primary reasons hunting is prohibited are that (1) the animals are not killed by shechitah (i.e., the prescribed process for slaughter) and (2) the killing of the animal is likely to cause treifot (i.e., impermissable physical defects or imperfections), either of which is sufficient to make the animal treif (or non-kosher). I don’t have any books handy. But you should be able to get that much out of almost any source describing kashrut.

    How kashrut was understood and applied at the time Lehi & Co. left Jerusalem, I don’t know. I’d *like* to know, though. The BoM is full of interesting passages involving food–the beasts of prey language (referred to above), the consumption of raw meat (made sweet to the taste), the drinking of blood, et al.–that I’d love to see rigorously analyzed by an expert on historical Jewish dietary laws.


  71. Scott: I am not an expert on these things either, but I do know that much of the Mormon scholarship that has been done on legal aspects of the Book of Mormon has some basic methodological flaws. For example, Jack Welch (whom I like and respect) has made some claims about legal aspects of the Book of Mormon and Jewish law. The problem is that for his interpretation of Jewish law he frequently relies on Talmudic sources, all of which were compiled after the death of Christ. That would make them five or six centuries too late for Lehi & Co. By way of analogy, it would be like trying to use current legal doctrine to reconstruct legal arrangements in England during the reign of Henry VII. Even if you were to use conservative bodies of law like tort, contract, or property you would not be able to infer much about Henry’s time.

  72. Nate,

    I agree, which is why I hoped for “an expert on historical Jewish dietary laws” (as opposed to, say, a modern rabbi who could only tell us about today’s understanding of the rules). Fat chance of that happening, I guess.


  73. Nate, that’s a good point about legal theory and the Book of Mormon. I think the assumption is that there would be some similarity. Like you I tend to be somewhat skeptical of this given the influence of Greece, Roman and then the period of Maccabean independence. Most significantly Lehi left Jerusalem prior to the Babylonian exile which undoubtedly revolutionized a lot of Jewish culture.

    The problem is that pre-Babylonian Judaism is quite frankly a fair mystery. I think Welch and others know this as they’ve written on pre-Talmudic Judaism. So I think such papers are interesting more for parallels that don’t prove much.

  74. Gordon,

    Back to Zeezrom: I agree with you. I have long admired him. It first started while I was on my mission in Berlin. I noticed his conversion story and it strengthened my testimony about the “life blood” of the Church. After his conversion, which you succinctly described, Zeezrom wore out his life preaching the Word. He fulfilled and led numerous missions, and his name keeps surfacing in the hotspots of mission activity.

    Zeezrom is an example to us all as LDS law students, lawyers, etc. Our training and skills will cease to be stumbling blocks to us if we become truly converted–by coming to the same realizations that Zeezrom did about the God’s Plan. That is when the Lord will turn our weaknesses into strengths for us, so that we will consecrate them to the Work and follow Zeezrom’s zeal in preaching the Word.


  75. Gordon and John:

    I surmise that your lives might parallel Zeezrom’s in it’s most obvious ways. However, my reverence for Zeezrom arises from a different perspective.

    Like you, my admiration for Zeezrom includes his decision to discard his societal prosperity and even put his own safety in jeopardy in recognition of his new-found spirituality. However, my deeper admiration for Zeezrom stems from the vessel of Truth Zeezrom elected to heed.

    Unlike many of Zeezrom’s contemporaries (whose wonderful examples are displayed before our children and young adults), who learned the Truth from sources you’d expect (dedicated ministers prophets, angels, or God in person), Zeezrom, even after rejecting the words of the Prophet, found it in his heart to accept the correctional criticism from a much less obvious bearer.

    The transformation of Lamoni and his family and his people was instigated by dedicated veteran pastors.

    Amulek’s activation included tutelege at the feet of the Prophet himself.

    The transformation of Himni and his wayward siblings was brought about by an angel affirming the words of their parents.

    And the transformation of the Prophet of Zeezrom’s day was expidited by direct instruction from the Savior, Himself.

    The reason that Zeezrom is my greatest hero is that when Zeezrom had so many other things going for him (pertaining to his position in society), he still had the courage and ultimate wisdom to allow the testimony of a simpler, unpretentious neighbor, to penetrate his heart, leading to his total reform.

    Is there a better example of a successful neighborhood ministry in all of the standard works?

    If every member would regularly go on splits with the full-time missionaries..

    If every home teacher would meet often with each family..

    How many Latter-day Zeezroms would we have to help lead us?


    Bob Gerke

  76. I am not sure what Book of Mormon some of you are reading. Captain Moroni was called by the Chief Judges, one of whom was a prophet, to defend the liberties of the land. He did not seek for power, but it was his mission to act and do as he was called. Christ’s mission was not to be a warrior or general. Maybe in the second coming He will be a general, though I doubt it. Moroni is/was a righteous man and is to be emulated, just as Samuel, Nephi, Alma, Ammon, Isaiah, Abraham, Ezekiel, Peter, John and Jesus Christ. Only one of these was perfect, but as we learn in the scriptures (this is not a direct quote but rather a compilation of understanding) condemn not the things of the Lord because of the spiritual weaknesses of the men chosen by Him to lead us in our battle against the adversary.

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