Gathering at the temple

I had occasion to reflect upon 3 Ne. 11 recently in preparation for a Gospel Doctrine lesson. As I tried to imagine what it would have been like to have lived through the calamities that were a part of the sign of Christ’s death in the Americas, I was struck again by the fact that the Nephites gathered at the temple spontaneously.

The only experience from my own life that I can compare to the times preceding 3 Ne. 11 is that of September 11, 2001. I spent the day in my department at school, watching events unfold on a projection screen with other students. My advisor took me and other students out to lunch so we could talk, and not be alone. I spent a lot of time on the phone with my wife, and went home early. Basically, no one wanted to be alone. We wanted to be with people who understood what we were going through.

I find now when something noteworthy happens that I want to talk about, I increasingly turn to online communities first. It is often much easier to gather virtually than physically — here, we are restricted neither by time, nor space, only by our access to the Internet (which can be problematic in times of distress).

So I offer my gratitude for places such as Times and Seasons where I can gather with others and not feel alone in my thoughts. And I make a prediction that there will come a time when all of us who visit regularly will gather here as at the temple. Perhaps it has happened already — I have only been around for a few months. But in any case, let’s keep that in mind as we post.

18 comments for “Gathering at the temple

  1. “I was struck again by the fact that the Nephites gathered at the temple spontaneously.”

    Surely, you mean that 2,500 of the Nephites gathered at the temple spontaneously.

  2. Kim–

    True. My musings were more on the idea of the temple as a gathering place than on the logistics of how people got there — certainly the entire Nephite nation was not present.

  3. I have on occasion wondered what role the internet would play during a terrible civilization-wide calamity. If something like that happened and we could access the internet, I’m wondering how quickly we’d communicate with each other, to check and see who was ok and accounted for.

  4. Except the NEphites didn’t gather there spontaneously right after the destruction. There’s close to a year.
    The calamities start on the 4th day of the 1st month of the 34th year (3 Nephi 8:5) whereas JEsus appears at the end of the 34th year (3 Nephi 10:18-19).

    Joseph Fielding Smith said this was an incorrect reading of the scriptures (Answers to Gospel Questions 4:25-28.) However, I would simply point out that President Smith claims no revelation for his argument. In fact, he explicitly talks about logic and reason.

    Pres. Smith’s points against this reading of 1 year are these.
    1) The Book of Mormon says “soon.” That means less than a year.
    2) It’s unreasonable to think the Lord would make the Nephites wait “that
    3) The Nephites were marveling at the changes. WEre it close to a year, they wouldn’t marvel anymore.

    In response, there are more reasons besides the scriptures mentioned above as to
    why it was probably close to a year.
    S. Kent Brown and John A. Tvedtnes. “When did Christ appear to the
    Nephites?� These are two different papers with different conclusions,
    combined in one with comments by John Welch, who concludes that Jesus
    visited the Nephites at least several months later. (FARMS# BTW-89).
    S. Kent Brown, expanded version of above. “When did Jesus Visit the
    Americas?” From Jerusalem to Zarahemla, 146-156.

    Brown presents 10-12 reasons why the visit could not be immediate, had to
    be at least a few months, and was probably about a year.

    Regarding point #3, the Book of Mormon reads “change” singular. The people were
    “round about the temple… and they were marveling and wondering one with
    another, and were showing one to another the great and marvelous
    ***change*** which had taken place.”

    At least one of these papers proposes that the Nephites were at the temple for one of teh regular temple festivals. What was this change that they were marveling at? Note that the heavenly voice had previously said that “3Ne 9:19-20 ye shall offer up unto me no more the shedding of blood; yea, your sacrifices and your burnt offerings shall be done away, for I will accept none of your sacrifices and your burnt offerings. 20 And ye shall offer for a sacrifice unto me a broken heart and a contrite spirit.” It has been suggested that teh great change was that the main sacrificial altar was no longer in the temple.

    Supporting this is a difference between the sermon on the mount in Israel (pre-atonement) and the sermon at the temple (post-atonement), in which the temple altar is missing in the BoM version.

    Matthew 5:23-24 Therefore if thou bring thy gift to the altar, and there rememberest that thy brother hath ought against thee; 24 Leave there thy gift before the altar, and go thy way; first be reconciled to thy brother, and then come and offer thy gift.

    3Ne 12:23-24 23 Therefore, if ye shall come unto me, or shall desire to come unto me, and rememberest that thy brother hath aught against thee– 24 Go thy way unto thy brother, and first be reconciled to thy brother, and then come unto me with full purpose of heart, and I will receive you.

  5. I am also not entirely convinced that the people gathered at the temple spontaneously. The Book of Mormon has a tendency to compress material (for obvious reasons), so just because they text itself does not explicitly state why they came to the temple, this does not necessarily indicate that there was no coordination behind this gathering.

  6. Nor does it indicate that there were more people at the temple than there were at the marketplace or on the seashore. Why the temple is mentioned is simply because that is where Christ appeared. Because a substantial number of people met there may not have the significance we want without knowing more information.

  7. OK, since we’re mentioning the coming of Christ to the Americas and I served a mission in Guatemala, I need to find out if any of my fellow returned-missionary Guatemaltecos ever heard any stories about a place called Trece Aguas. Supposedly there’s a Guatemalan Indian legend about a white man descending from heaven in this place. I’ve never related this much or tried to verify it.

    I believe Kaimi and Rusty (from Nine Moons) would be the ones who could answer this odd question.

  8. Kaimi, I was in the Guatemala Guatemala City North mission. I’m not making that story up either (that it was told to me and others, I mean) … but I’m not going to leave the church if I find out it’s a dumb rumor.

  9. Perhaps the gathering at the temple was to celebrate the “Day of Atonement” under the Mosaic law.

  10. One thing I like about Royal Skousen’s recent post about his work on the original ms of the Book of Mormon is that it suggests limits on how closely the text can be read. Although I agree that reading the text carefully is important, I confess that I find arguments sucy as that concerning the chronology of 3 Nephi tiresome. Did Christ appear suddenly out of the mists of darkness? Or many months later? Both possibilities are worth considering, but not worth getting hung up on, or promoting as the only possible reading (in general, I mean; no one is doing that here). That’s why I like Skousen’s findings: we can all agree on the basic sense of the text, but we have to recognize that the textual basis for splitting hairs just isn’t there. Royal Skousen’s work shows that there were minor variations from the original text, some introduced by Joseph Smith himself, but that most of the original text is lost. We’re left with a work of scripture whose teachings we can follow, but whose subtler textual differences must remain a matter of speculation rather than learned and authoritative exigesis. Instead of asking, “What exactly does the text say?” we have to be content with “What might this mean? In what ways can I think about this? What can I emulate? What should I avoid? What should I follow?” Having some of the original text available, but not most of it, strikes me in fact as divinely inspired. For me, the Book of Mormon just got a little more perfect.

    A similar discovery has occupied much of medieval studies for the last several decades, but I’ll spare you the details, and spare me the work of looking up those details. Call it the meeting of New Philology and Mormon Studies.

  11. Jonathan Green: I don’t see how Skousen’s findings would change something like the chronology of 3 Nephi. The changes he found were at the one-word level. Does the chronology hang on one word?

  12. Jim, I don’t think Skousen’s findings change the chronology, but I think they have the potential to change how we think about and discuss things like chronology. Ben notes above that one point that comes up in the discussion of 3 Nephi is the difference between the Nephites marvelling at “change” as opposed to “changes.” For me, that distinction is too fine to bear much weight. It’s an example of the kind of one-word-vs-another argument that doesn’t appeal to me and strikes me as even less convincing in light of Skousen’s post. If I understood it correctly, the translation of the Book of Mormon involved, among other things,

    Joseph Smith dictating orally to his scribe
    the setting of type from a printer’s manuscript
    Joseph Smith making later corrections to the Book of Mormon text

    All of these things introduce changes to any text, including the words once spoken by Joseph Smith to his scribe. The conclusion of several centuries of text-critical scholarship, biblical and otherwise, is that those original spoken words aren’t coming back, and that is not a bad thing. Those spoken words were not the one “real” Book of Mormon and every change a diminuition of its truth; even though the text is unstable, the truth remains the same, by all accounts. There are still plenty of questions to ask about the text, including about chronology. The difference, I think, is in how we introduce the answers: “What really happened is…” vs. “It’s also possible that….” What else can you do, when you know that there are numerous minor deviations from the original spoken word, but you don’t know what those differences are?

    I freely admit that there are other passages, probably unaffected by anything Skousen has said, that make reference to the chronology of events in 3 Nephi. If I wanted to argue the point one way or another I probably could, but I don’t; I’d like to preserve both possibilities. I mean, it’s not like, “Adultery: Good or Bad?” I think we can, however, profitably think about Christ appearing to the Nephites out of the darkness, and also about the alternative.

    I’ve been thinking about this since reading Royal Skousen’s post, and my thoughts are still half-formed, and this may not be the best thread for them. But, to return to Bryce’s original and long-lost point, it’s all about sharing our thoughts with others, right?

  13. On one word changing meanings: Clearly, my use of the word “spontaneously” has changed how my post was received. I could have left it out without changing the meaning of my post significantly, and we might be talking about where we gather and why, which was my original intent, although I don’t regret the conversation that has resulted.

  14. “Did Christ appear suddenly out of the mists of darkness?”

    According to chapter 10, the mist had dissipated before Christ ever arrived.

  15. No, Bryce, your analogy of 3 Nephi 11 and post-9/11 gatherings already has within it an implication of rapid communal assembling after a catastrophic event. Even without the word “spontaneously,” we would still be having this seemingly unrelated discussion. You have trapped us all in your discourse, and we can’t get out. We are merely helpless objects without self-will, reading our lines off a pre-ordained script.

    Oh. Sorry about that. I’m supposed to say,

    “The discussion of 3 Nephi here can serve as a handy example of diferent (but not mutually exclusive) approaches to the Book of Mormon. In the ‘according to…’ approach, the text of ‘chapter 10’ and the rest of the Book of Mormon is stable and uncontested, so that questions about chronology, culture, or historical context can be answered by sufficiently sophisticated scrutiny of the text. I think that there may be limits to this kind of close reading, narrower than we may suspect, but not necessarily too narrow to answer the question about chronology in 3 Nephi as Kim and Ben have. I don’t disagree with their observations, but I think the confusion surrounding chronology is not, or not just, a matter of getting the facts straight. It raises new questions: Why does Joseph Fielding Smith assume a short period of time? Why does Bryce make an analogy based on that same assumption? Why did most members of the Gospel Doctrine class last Sunday assume the same, and how does pointing out the problems with that assumption serve the interests of those who point it out?

    “Or maybe I should put it this way: text-critical research like Skousen’s does quite a bit more to destabilize the text of the Book of Mormon than it does to establish the single originary text. If you’re relying on the text to answer questions of ancient American historical context, Skousen’s work may not have much to offer. But an unstable text raises a host of questions about what’s happening in 1830, 1840, 1952, and 2004.”

  16. The funny thing is, as soon as I saw Ben S.’s comment I remembered reading the quote by Joseph Fielding Smith and some commentary on it, and recognizing that my mental image of the situation was probably inaccurate.

    Yet somehow, I’ve always had that picture in my mind of the Nephites wandering around dazed, and somehow ending up at the temple. Even in the face of evidence to the contrary, I cling to it. It leads me to observations like the one I make in this post. Given what it does for me, it doesn’t matter that it’s “wrong.”

    Of course, that leads to the question of deciding when a potential misreading of the scriptures does more harm than good. Perhaps in another post…

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