Book of Mormon Midterm Answers, part 2

Since these take a long time to write up, and the answers can be fairly dense, I’ve broken up the answers further. (Edit: Here is the original post without any answers, and answers part 1.)

18) On the back of this paper, provide a brief outline of 2 Nephi.

Outlining is a tool useful at several levels of the text (book, chapter, verse), that can help one see logical connections in the text. Faulconer has an explanatory chapter on it here, and here’s what my quick sample outline of 2 Nephi looked like.

19) Who took a transliteration of Book of Mormon characters to see Charles Anthon?

20) Who helped Joseph translate early on, and switched a rock for the seer stone when Joseph wasn’t looking to test him? (See this transcript)

21) Who “borrowed” the 116 first pages and consequently lost them?

22) Who mortgaged and then mostly lost his home and farm for $3,000 to pay for the publication of the Book of Mormon?

The answer to all of these is Martin Harris. I think all four questions were on the same test, likely weirding out students with the equivalent of 4 C’s in a row on a multiple-choice test.

23) Relative to when Lehi and his family left Jerusalem, when did Nephi begin to write the large plates? The small plates? If God wanted a record kept, why didn’t he command Nephi to start writing immediately when they left?

Many people read 1 Nephi as though it’s a daily journal, but we should probably hear an older Nephi doing a voiceover, as 1 Nephi is a retrospective. Nephi began writing the large plates eight years after they left Jerusalem (and the small plates (i.e. 1st Nephi) 30 years after they’d left.  In other words, when puts “pen” to “paper” to write “I Nephi, having been born”, he’s an older man looking back on the past, seeing it through the fraternal separation, conflict, and wars.  These events affect his choice of material in 1st Nephi, which has strong political/religious content. (See here and here) Note that one of the major Lamanite obstacles to peace was the “traditions of their fathers” which included the following ( Mosiah 10:12ff).

  1.  that they were driven out of the land of Jerusalem because of the iniquities of their fathers,
  2.  that they were wronged in the wilderness by their brethren,
  3. and they were also wronged while crossing the sea;
  4. that they were wronged while in the land of their first inheritance, after they had crossed the sea… because that Nephi… took the lead of their journey in the wilderness.
  5. And again, they were wroth with him when they had arrived in the promised land, because they said that he had taken the ruling of the people out of their hands; and they sought to kill him.
  6. And again, they were wroth with him because he departed into the wilderness as the Lord had commanded him, and took the records which were engraven on the plates of brass, for they said that he robbed them.
  7. And thus they have taught their children that they should hate them, and that they should murder them, and that they should rob and plunder them, and do all they could to destroy them; therefore they have an eternal hatred towards the children of Nephi.

The record of the small plates functions as an effective historical tract against these traditions; when Alma, Ammon, etc. evangelize the Lamanites “to bring [them] to the knowledge of the truth…of the traditions of their fathers” (Alma 17:9)  it is those traditions in question, not doctrinal traditions. Once convinced that their founding narratives are incorrect, they convert. Here it is relevant to point out that while we say the Book of Mormon was written for our day, perhaps it’s more accurately said that it was edited for our day by Mormon. By contrast, Nephi explicitly says he was writing the small plates for his people. (1 Nephi 19:3, 18,  2 Nephi 4:15, others)

At this point, the second half of my question should be somewhat obvious; Why does God wait so long to have Nephi write? (And are the small plates essentially a second draft?) I suggest the answer is similar to what Bushman says about Joseph Smith and the first vision. It’s difficult to know of something’s relevance at the time it happens. Looking back, what was relevant to Joseph Smith was not his own personal standing before God, but restoration. For Nephi, looking back, he knew how to write their story in such a way that it could convince his brothers’ descendants of what actually happened.

24) Briefly explain the context (Israelite history, political/religious setting, etc.) of 1st Nephi 1. In other words, give the Near Eastern historical background of the Book of Mormon, using names and dates, as specifically as you can.

We usually skip this completely in Gospel Doctrine class, but it’s important. Glimpses of Lehi’s Jerusalem is quite good, but here’s a short summary.

From 640 onwards, Israel is under de facto Egyptian control. The Assyrian empire is falling while the Babylonian is rising. In 614 and 612, the Assyrian capital (Nineveh) and namesake cities (Ashur) fall, and the Babylonians begin sweeping west to conquer the Assyrian holdings. In 609, Jerusalemite king Josiah (greatest Israelite king ever) is killed under strange circumstances by the Egyptians as they march north in support of Assyria, only to be routed and driven back four years later, during which time Israel is formally an Egyptian vassal. The Babylonians follow, swinging southward to invade Egypt, casually conquering Israel en route.  Over the next 20 years, Israel rebels several times, resulting in deportations of various sizes, and culminating in the destruction of the city and temple c. 586 BC.

25) What three things did Nephi do that resulted in his vision? How do Nephi’s vision and Lehi’s dream differ? Are those differences significant? Why or why not?

1 Nephi 11:1-  Nephi desired to know, believed that God could reveal it to him, and spent time pondering.

It’s hard to know without Lehi’s record to compare, but Nephi tells us in 1 Nephi 15:27 that “so much was [Lehi’s] mind swallowed up in other things that he beheld not the filthiness of the water”, thereby missing out on its significance. This tells us that reception of revelation may be partial, subject to human frailty and understanding, and someone else who experiences the same revelation may take different things from it. It’s reminiscent of a story told by several General Authorities, here as President Lee told it.

“One of the General Authorities had a son working on the railroad that went up Emigration Canyon to the mines in the early days. This boy was found crushed to death under the train. He was working as a switchman. His mother had the feeling that someone had pushed him under the train and taken his life. When the services were held, she was not comforted. But after some weeks, the mother said this boy appeared to her. He said, “Mother, I’ve been trying to get to Father to tell him it was just an accident. I had thrown the switch and was running to catch on to the hand bars, but my foot tripped against a root at the side of a rail and I was thrown underneath the train. It was a pure accident. I’ve been trying to get to Father, but he’s too busy at the office. I can’t reach him.” President McKay said, “Brethren, don’t you get so busy at the office that spiritual forces are not able to reach you.” (Relief Society Courses of Study, 1979-80, pp. 32-33)” Emphasis mine. This General Authority was too caught up doing his general authority duties to be receptive to comforting revelation, and Lehi’s mind was too swallowed up in other things.

26) Context is the source we should look for if we want to understand the cause-and- effect of events and discourses in the scriptures. Joseph Smith said “I have a key by which I understand the scriptures. I enquire, what was the question which drew out the answer… To ascertain [a parable’s] meaning, we must dig up the root and ascertain what it was that drew the saying out of Jesus.” TPJS, 253.

a)What triggers Jacob recounting the Allegory of the olive tree? Is it just spontaneous, or is he trying to answer a specific question or need? If so, what is it? (3 points)

Jacob 4 and 5 are one chapter in the 1830 edition, and presumably one on the plates. We tend to break at the end of 4 and then treat 5 separately (see the Gospel Doctrine schedule), as if it were a stand-alone sermon or GC talk. Jacob in 4 talks about Jesus being rejected by the Jews, then logically asks, “And now, my beloved, how is it possible that these, after having rejected the sure foundation, can ever build upon it, that it may become the head of their corner? Behold, my beloved brethren, I will unfold this mystery unto you; if I do not, by any means, get shaken from my firmness in the Spirit, and stumble because of my over anxiety for you.” (Jacob 4:17-18) Jacob 5 answers the question.

b) What two specific things probably influence Mosiah’s decision to change the government from kingship to a judge system? (4)

One of my axioms is that there is always context, though we may not be able to recover it. Mosiah has just been hit with a double punch of the dangers of kingship. First, with the arrival of Limhi’s people, he’s heard the story of King Noah. In case you didn’t pick up on it, the moral of Noah is “how much iniquity doth one wicked king cause to be committed, yea, and what great destruction! Yea, remember king Noah, his wickedness and his abominations, and also the wickedness and abominations of his people. Behold what great destruction did come upon them; and also because of their iniquities they were brought into bondage.” (Mosiah 29:17-18)

Second, note that Mosiah has several sons, and the heir apparent, Aaron, is neither in the land nor willing at the time to be king (Mosiah 29:3). Should another son be appointed instead? What if Aaron should change his mind? At this point, recall that Mosiah has also just translated the plates of Ether, which contain a bloody record of royal fratricide, patricide, regicide, long years of imprisonment of the heir, civil wars, etc. It’s basically Game of Thrones. Mosiah raises this concern by summarizing thusly; “now if there should be another appointed in his stead, behold I fear there would rise contentions among you. And who knoweth but what my son, to whom the kingdom doth belong, should turn to be angry and draw away a part of this people after him, which would cause wars and contentions among you, which would be the cause of shedding much blood and perverting the way of the Lord, yea, and destroy the souls of many people.”

4 comments for “Book of Mormon Midterm Answers, part 2

  1. Maybe Lehi missed the filthiness of the water, and therefore missed out on its significance; or maybe Nephi assigned significance to the water that wasn’t there, and either saw or remembered it as filthy to match the framework that he had constructed to make sense of the vision.

    I’ve always been puzzled by Nephi’s “filthiness” statement, given his statement in 1 Ne. 11:25 that the iron rod leads to the “fountain of living waters, or to the tree of life,” both of which are a representation of the love of God. It sounds like he is describing the vision, based on Lehi’s description of the iron rod leading by “the head of the fountain” (fountain=source) of the river, which was near the tree. Calling the water “living water,” and seeing it as a representation of the love of God seems at odds with Nephi’s statement to his brothers that the water was filthy.

    It’s possible that the “fountain” is not connected to the “river of water,” and that they are two different bodies of water in the vision, but I’m not sure that’s the most natural reading of Lehi’s statements. I find it fascinating that while in the vision itself, Nephi refers to the source of the river as living waters, but when he is out of vision, and expounding to his brothers, he tells them that the river is filthiness, which separates the wicked from the tree of life. Separating the wicked from the tree of life could be a manifestation of God’s love, but that still doesn’t explain the filthiness. Maybe the point is that the world has corrupted God’s gifts of love and made them filthy?

    But it could also be that in the vision, the water was not filthy, and that Nephi, in recounting it, saw a different layer of meaning and explained that to his brothers, and in doing so, remembered (re-member=reconstruct) the vision to match the significance he had realized.

    I also find it fascinating that Lehi, the prophet, visionary, and patriarch only tells the story, and doesn’t explain it, while Nephi, the pragmatic builder, hunter, and leader, feels compelled to search out the explanation and give it to his brothers.

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