Future Mormon: Chapter 3

Welcome to the third week of the reading club for Adam Miller’s Future Mormon. For general links related to the book along with links for all the chapter discussions please go to our overview page. We’ll be trying to discuss a chapter each week. Please don’t hesitate to give your thoughts on the chapter. We’re hoping for a good thoroughgoing critical engagement with the text. Such criticisms aren’t treating the text as bad or flawed so much as trying to engage with the ideas Adam brings up. Hopefully people will push back on such criticism as that’s when we tend to all learn the most.

Future Mormon Chapter 3: Reading Signs or Repeating Symptoms – Reading Jacob 7

Every sign that reveals Christ reveals him by touching the wound that we were working to conceal.


Adam starts off talking about units of repetition in both language but more importantly social interaction. It’s complex to explain and Adam does a good job in a short space. Specialized patterns of behavior get used so much that we use them without paying attention to them. We say, “thank you,” to the waiter without really thinking about anything much at all. We say it because that’s the repetitive behavior. To the degree people participate in these repetitive patterns they become invisible — not people just hidden in the repetition. Adam brings up the psychoanalysis theory of transference to explain this and says within religion it is sin.

Upon turning to the narrative of Jacob and Sherem he suggests this problem of transference is behind their interaction. The story is put into a dualism of good and evil with Jacob representing God and Sherem representing the devil. To Adam, Jacob is primarily concerned with defending doctrine rather than acting in a Christ-like fashion. He notes that Sherem has to find Jacob while Jacob apparently was avoiding the meeting (Jac 7:3). To Adam, Sherem seems sincere and worried that Jacob is perverting the Law of Moses. That is, contra Jacob’s presentation, to Sherem it is Sherem who is defending God. Sherem is struck down by God and then Jacob disappears again. Jacob finds Sherem’s sign-seeking disingenuous and see Sherem as hopeless. However Jacob is wrong and after the sign, Sherem repents and confesses Christ leading to a mass conversion (7:21-3) Instead of crediting Sherem though, Jacob to Adam is taking the credit by saying it was because Jacob requested the sign – while still referring to Sherem as wicked.

Adam sees Sherem’s treatment as quite unfair and sees Jacob as acting quite unChristlike. To Adam something about Sherem sets Jacob off. After the Sherem narrative Jacob gives his famous existential soliloquy (7:26) talking about “mourning out our days.” This tribulation is both the loss of Jerusalem Jacob never got to see and the hate of his brothers. Laman and Lemuel come to represent the people of Jerusalem. That is they represent the defenders of the tradition Jacob had to leave. In Adam’s eyes Sherem represents this same defense of tradition and thus is caught up in that repetitive pattern of understanding the leaving of Jerusalem. Rather than see Sherem as a person Jacob can only see the pattern.

To Adam both Sherem and Jacob are skilled with words and able to mirror back what others hope to see. This isn’t just flattery in a straightforward sense but this psychoanalytical sense of transference. Each of them have to repeat pre-established patterns. For Jacob it is the conflict with Laman and Lemuel. For Sherem, Adam postulates some kind of apostasy from the Law as the problem.

Prophecy is the solution as Adam sees it. To Jacob all prophecy and all of the law points to Christ. Interpreting 2 Ne 25:24-7, Adam says that “the law must be kept and its structures preserved, but they must be kept in such a way that they become ‘dead unto us.’ When this happens the spell is broken.” When we don’t do this in Sin, the law takes a life of its own and instead of the law becoming dead we become dead. So this notion of transference or repetition where something that is alive disappears becomes key to understand Jacob’s sin. “Every sign that reveals Christ reveals him by touching the wound that we were working to conceal.”

When God smites Sherem the standard reading is to take it as a sign for Sherem. Adam instead thinks it’s a sign for Jacob. Up to that point Jacob never saw Sherem. He only saw Laman and Lemuel. With the sign of the miracle, the pattern is broken and Jacob can see Sherem and his brothers for the first time as real people.


I have to confess this was a very hard chapter to deal with. On the one hand there is something so insightful and so true in Adam’s analysis. Further it plays directly to Adam’s strength of seeing key theological points in close readings of short narratives of scripture. On the other hand, while Adam’s views are so remarkably close to my own, this chapter also points to a key difference. I’m tremendously skeptical of psychoanalysis. It is something I just have little sympathy for. That said, I also love the “hermeneutics of suspicion” that Paul Ricouer developed. It’s undeniable that both Marx and Freud, two figures I have strong feelings about, deeply influenced Ricouer’s hermeneutics along with Nietzsche. (I’m much more positive towards Nietzsche)

This chapter is a classic suspicious reading of a well known narrative. Were I to teach Ricouer at BYU I’d certainly require reading of this chapter. I’d love to hear the discussion of students responding to Adam after reading the relevant essays out of The Conflict of Interpretations.

How to respond here though.

I’d originally hoped to have this chapter of the reading club up Thursday but instead I keep rewriting this section. Do I focus on Adam’s reading of Sherem and look at the marginalized elements? That is, do to Adam’s reading what Adam did to Jacob’s? Or do I instead skip the text and move to the conclusion that drives Adam’s thoughts. That key theological reading Adam takes out of Romans regarding how we become dead to the Law? There’s so much to discuss on either one.

Let me start with the ending and work backwards, since I think it’s Adam’s conclusion that he thinks is hidden (repressed?) in Jacob’s narrative that drives Adam’s reading.

First, does repetition of the law make the law dead to us? In the sense that repetition leads to unconscious behavior certainly it becomes invisible to us. Consider a common suburban phenomena. You drive to work. As you drive you are paying attention to many things. Maybe you’re talking with your spouse. Maybe you’re listening to a podcast. Each of the repetitive patterns for driving a car disappear from your consciousness. You’re still doing them but they are invisible. Maybe you have the experience I’ve had many times. You’re driving, having a great conversation and suddenly you realize you weren’t driving to where you were suppose to go, but to where you usually go. [1] You’ve fallen into the trap of repetition.

The question is though, should we describe what is hidden as dead? That is at a crucial point Adam is reading withdrawal from consciousness as either repression or death. Is that legitimate? I think there’s something going on here that isn’t quite kosher as we discuss the law. The problem is that in that withdrawal while driving I often find myself going to the wrong place. That’s because as the patterns of behavior withdraw they hide what is crucial to their success – that consciousness of context. Some days I want to go to work. Some times I want to go to the mall. Sometimes I want to go to my favorite restaurant. In the withdrawal their ability to function fails.

Let’s turn back to Adam. If in following the law in a repetitive fashion it withdraws, it’s not dead. It’s still practiced. Yet instead of being practiced in a correct way it is being practiced in a blind way. Christ is not revealed in such repetition but rather the very concern with context and particularity is lost. Indeed turning a suspicious eye to Adam’s reading we see this with his take on Jacob. Jacob in repeating the law missing Christ. It is when the application take a particular form that for Adam Christ is revealed. But this revelation isn’t due to Christ being revealed as the law withdraws. Quite the contrary it is when Jacob finally pays attention to the law that the particularities happen in such a way that the law can work.

A way to see this is to turn back to our example of the phenomena of driving. At that moment when you suddenly realize you aren’t paying attention to your driving that you are able to make the driving function properly. It’s at that moment of breakdown that you can suddenly see driving as important. As you are able to once again see the driving you can take hold of it and use it to go where you need to.

Law is the same way.

Let me now turn back to the narrative itself. There are many ways we could approach it. We could first off ask where on earth Sherem comes from. Jacob isn’t that old so the descendants of Lehi could be that numerous. The Lamanites have already left. There are hints that the Nephites may have merged with other groups.[2] The narrative starts with the mysterious “there came a man among the people of Nephi.” This is probably the second most mysterious appearance in the Book of Mormon with only Abinadi beating Sherem out.

I’ve discussed here before the deuteronomist tradition at the time of Lehi in Jerusalem. A common, if hard to prove, interpretation of 1 Nephi is that Lehi was opposed to many of the deuteronomist reforms of Josiah. Many see the conflicts of Nephi and Lehi with Laman and Lemuel a conflict between a more northern tribe interpretation of the Law with the deuteronomist tradition in Jerusalem. They see many things that the Lehites might see as testifying of Christ as being eliminated by the deuteronomist tradition. This is, of course, complex.[3] The ultimate point though is whether Lehi is reacting to reforms in Jerusalem or whether Laman is reacting reforms by Nephi there is a conflict that divides the settlers. While we typically assume Laman and Lemuel simply leave the law behind entirely, it’s not clear they have. They may just have left behind Nephi and Jacob’s reform of the law.

It’s into this setting that Adam places Sherem. To Adam Sherem is something like a deuteronomist reformer seeking to restore true religion to the Nephites. For all we know he comes from that portion of the Lamanites who haven’t fully merged with the local culture but have kept some semblance of the law. (This is after all only a few decades after the Lehites have arrived in America)

The obvious type scene for Adam’s reading is Jonah. Jonah is sent to Nineveh to preach repentance. He doesn’t want to go and, according the narrative in our Old Testament, gets miraculous transported there against his will by God. In Nineveh he prophesies the downfall of the city, fully expecting it to be destroyed. Much to his surprise the people repent and the city is saved. This angers Jonah and the Lord justifiably rebukes him for wanting the destruction and not the repentance.

Now here’s my suspicious reading. Does Jacob know the narrative of Jonah?

If he does, what is he saying about himself? Adam is reading behind the narrative, but of course the narrative comes from Jacob. So if Jacob presents himself in a problematic way, is it Jacob hiding from what he is doing or is it Jacob showcasing what he is doing? If Jacob sees himself as Jonah, how does that affect how we see Jacob? First off, quite the contrary to Adam’s reading of Jacob as caught in a pattern he can’t stop repeating, we see Jacob showing himself as afraid to repeat a pattern he is all too conscious of. The key portion is of course God intervening. If Jacob is Jonah, doesn’t that mean Jacob fears wanting punishment unrighteously? (The way Jonah wanted Ninevah to be punished) Isn’t he recognizing that he can’t judge? There’s a certain moment of undecidability with this suspicion of the place of Jonah.

That’s not the only suspicion we can raise though. Indeed while Jonah purports to transpire during the mid 7th century with the reign of Jeroboam II most scholars date it to the 4th century after the exile. That’s not to say a proto-narrative didn’t exist on the brass plates. Perhaps we should be suspicious of assuming Jacob is writing with Jonah in mind though. Fortunately Jonah isn’t the only type scene that fits. First we should establish what we mean by a type scene. It’s a form of Hebrew narrative rather like the pattern Adam discusses but without the psycho-analytic baggage. The classic discussion of type scenes is Robert Alter in his book The Art of Biblical Narrative. Quoting Alter:

Since biblical narrative characteristically catches its protagonists only at the critical and revealing points in their lives, the biblical type-scene occurs not in the rituals of daily existence but at the crucial junctures in the lives of the heroes. . . . Some of the most commonly repeated biblical type-scenes I have been able to identify are the following: the annunciation . . . of the birth of the hero to his barren mother; the encounter with the future betrothed at a well; the epiphany in the field; the initiatory trial; danger in the desert and the discovery of a well or other source of sustenance; the testament of the dying hero. (Alter, The Art of Biblical Narrative, 51.)

Characteristic of such settings is that they frequently don’t take into consideration the inner space of the protagonist. The key part of such type scenes usually are dialog that push the narrative through questions.

The type scene most relevant to Jacob 7 is the prophetic concealment pattern we find in Exodus 3-4; Exodus 32-34; 1 Samuel 28; 1 Kings 18-19; Deuteronomy 31-32; and Numbers 11-12 in various ways.[4] Without going through all the elements this type scene has an emphasis on the prophet being concealed in various ways, much as Adam notes Sherem can’t find Jacob initially. It takes place during a period of crisis and is often associated with a theophany.[5] The type scene always begins with a crisis of the covenant and its resolution depends upon divine to human communication. Typically the type scene involves either explicit rival prophets such as with Elijah and the priests of Baal or implied rivals. There’s often discussion of a successor or assistant to the prophet. In many of the accounts, the prophet dies at the end or announces his immanent end.[6]

The focus is always the covenant and the revelation of the covenant rather than the personal life or narrative of the prophet. The concealment of the prophet can represent the displeasure of God or the nature of God’s revelation (such as when prophets veil themselves before God). “…nevertheless. When Israel turns away from God, the prophets of God withdraw. Before they return, they must be fortified by a theophany, a dialogue with God, and a renewed sense ofmission. The concealment and silence of the prophet mean two things together: the fear of God warranted by the theophany and a withdrawal from prophetic speech at a moment of crisis. In the type scene sketched here, the silence of the theophany and the silence of the prophet’s withdrawal are inseparable.” (Britt, 58)

Note how many of these are in Jacob 7. We have Jacob’s concealment at the beginning, the rival prophet in Sherem, and even at the end the announcement of a successor (Enos) and the announcement of Jacob’s death. In particular Elijah parallels Jacob very closely as do the accounts of Moses in Exodus 32-34 and Deuteronomy 32-34. Interestingly scholars often claim that both those accounts are dependent upon the narrative that ended up in 1 Kings 18-19 with Elijah. I confess I find Deuteronomy the most interesting both because one can read Sherem as a deuteronomist opposing Nephi’s reforms and because of the irony of Jacob taking the role of Moses for such a person. It’s worth reading Moses in Deut 32:46, since it gets at what the conflict is really about between Sherem and Jacob.

Set your hearts unto all the words which I testify among you this day, which ye shall command your children to observe to do, all the words of this law. For it is not a vain thing for you; because it is your life: and through this thing ye shall prolong your days in the land, whither ye go over Jordan to possess it.[7]

This isn’t all. All of Deut 32 seems to echo through the encounter between Sherem and Jacob. But not in the way I think Adam takes it. The conflict is over who is God. Both Sherem and Jacob can read these passages thinking how it applies. (Emphasis mine)

They provoked him to jealousy with strange gods, with abominations provoked they him to anger.
They sacrificed unto devils, not to God; to gods whom they knew not, to new gods that came newly up, whom your fathers feared not.
Of the Rock that begat thee thou art unmindful, and hast forgotten God that formed thee.

They have moved me to jealousy with that which is not God;
they have provoked me to anger with their vanities:
and I will move them to jealousy with those which are not a people;
I will provoke them to anger with a foolish nation.


For the Lord shall judge his people, and repent himself for his servants,
when he seeth that their power is gone, and there is none shut up, or left.
And he shall say, Where are their gods, their rock in whom they trusted,
Which did eat the fat of their sacrifices, and drank the wine of their drink offerings?
let them rise up and help you, and be your protection.

Verses 36-38 echo for Moses the battle between Elijah and the priests of Baal over who was God. Jacob is not judging Sherem, but allowing God to judge. When Sherem asks for a sign, it is he, not Jacob who is asking for a repetition of Moses or Elijah. Jacob is not asking for sign. “What am I that I should tempt God to show unto thee a sign?” (14) He is echoing Moses in Deuteronomy 29. “Ye have seen all that the Lord did before your eyes in the land of Egypt unto Pharaoh, and unto all his servants, and unto all his land. The great temptations which thine eyes have seen, the signs, and those great miracles. Yet the Lord hath not given you an heart to perceive, and eyes to see , and ears to hear, unto this day.” (Deut 29:2-4) The focus of those who do not see the signs of God is that “they have forsaken the covenant of the Lord God of their fathers, which he made with them when he brought them out of the land of Egypt [or Jerusalem] for they went and served other gods, and worshipped them, gods whom they knew not, and whom he had not given them.” (25-26)

The conflict between Sherem and Jacob really isn’t about them. Rather it enframes a pattern that is there to allow the people to see the hand of the Lord. It is the breakdown that enables God’s grace to manifest. In this case giving Sherem the very sign he wanted following the very types he appealed to. What is revealed is the covenant.

Let me return to Adam’s analysis. What is the law in the law? When the law is repeated, what does that mean?  Adam wants the sign to be the touching of the wound we have. In one sense that is true. However is it in the repetition of the law that it becomes dead? Or does it become dead because we have what the law points to in Christ? The conflict between Sherem and Jacob is over the repetition of the same thing. However Sherem’s repetition is a kind of negative. To return to my initial example, Sherem is like driving the car where driving disappears for us but we don’t keep in mind where we want to go. Jacob has the law withdraw too just as my car driving does. However Jacob while driving keeps his focus on where he is going. So driving (or for Jacob the law) withdraws and becomes invisible because he has Christ before him. This is the inverse of what Adam suggests and I think Adam gets it wrong by focusing on psychoanalytic transference rather than the more straightforward phenomenology of how things withdraw from me in my practices with them. Again, the common everydayness of driving a car illustrates well what is going on for Sherem. People who drive without paying attention tend to crash. The shock awakes them to what was going on. Sherem found something quite similar unfortunately.

1. I confess that many times while on a date with my wife I suddenly find myself near work rather than near the restaurant or theatre we were going to. I’m fairly confident that, as absent minded as I sometimes am during a good discussion, I’m not alone in doing this.

2. Without going down a tangent it’s worth asking where all the women the Nephites were treating as concubines came from in Jacob 2. Does that practice in Jacob 2 parallel what the priests of Noah do in Mosiah 20? For a good overview of the idea of there being others in the land the Nephites may have already started mixing with see Brant Gardner’s “A Social History of the Early Nephites.”

3. Again see that post from last year. Kevin Christensen’s “The Deuteronomist De-Christianizing of the Old Testament” is worth reading too. The complexity comes out though in a point Adam raised in last week’s chapter. When Lehi has his vision in 1 Nephi 1 he’s oblivious to the  obvious Christological symbols in the vision. This is true of Lehi’s vision of the tree of life too. It’s Nephi’s receiving that same vision that really opens up a Christ oriented rethinking of the law for the Nephites.

4. I’m here largely following “Prophetic Concealment in a Biblical Type Scene” by Brian Britt. He goes through many of the elements of the type scene. Even if you don’t fully buy his analysis, it’s worth comparing the texts I cited and comparing them to Jacob 7. There are some deep similarities.

5. The theophany element is somewhat missing in Jacob 7 except for Jacob’s insistence that he has had a theophany. “…for I truly had seen angels, and they had ministered unto me. And also, I had heard the voice of the Lord speaking unto me in very word, from time to time;” (5) This is important since Jacob says this is “manifest unto me by the power of the Holy Ghost” (12) Effectively Sherem is asking for the theophany without being ready for it. And as Indiana Jones found out, that doesn’t work too well for the wicked.

6. A really weird component I don’t feel qualified to speak to is the use of the word “pass” that occurs in most of these examples especially during theophanies. So Ex 33:19 has “all my goodness pass before thee…” or 1 Kings 19:11 “behold the Lord passed by…” While that word occurs in Jacob’s existential angst in verse 26, it’s not God or the divine passing him by but their lives and time.

7. The Nephites of course saw themselves in the Exodus pattern. Nephi in particular makes abundant use of it. It’s hardly surprising that Jacob might too see himself as Moses with the new promised land a new covenant.

8 comments for “Future Mormon: Chapter 3

  1. First, I’d agree that Jacob 7 is problematic. You note, “We could first off ask where on earth Sherem comes from. Jacob isn’t that old so the descendants of Lehi could be that numerous.” One might add the chronological incongruity of two 6th-century Israelites-in-exile debating the Christian idea of Christ (it’s certainly not a debate about pre-Christian Jewish views of the messiah) as well as the post-Reformation law versus gospel contrast. Furthermore, an Israelite would not say “I know if there should be no atonement made all mankind must be lost” (Jacob 7:12) because the law provided for sin offerings and the like, offered by Israelite priests at the temple, to put the individual and/or the nation back into God’s favor. I don’t see how Miller can base his analysis on Jacob 7 without some preliminary discussion on the problematic text.

    Second, it seems like Miller needs to distinguish between the philosophical view of signs and what they signify or point to (which he seems to be using when he says we can “read the law itself as a sign”) and the Christian idea of a sign as evidence or proof of the existence of God or of the rightness of one’s particular view of God, which is how Jacob 7 and the Christian tradition use the term. And given how definitively the text in Jacob 7 embraces the idea of giving a sign, that needs to be defended in light of the rejection of just such a use of signs in the New Testament: “An evil and adulterous generation seeketh after a sign; and there shall no sign be given to it, but the sign of the prophet Jonas …” (Matt. 12:39).

    But I like the encouragement to view individuals on their own terms rather than as fitting into this or that stereotype. I think that mistake is common in LDS culture. Ironically, Korihor and Sherem often define a stereotype applied to internal or external critics of the Church.

  2. I think the pre-Christian view of Christ among the Nephites is very interesting. Especially if tied to the Josiah/Deuteronomist reforms. My sense is that the Nephite view is more akin to the Merkabah view of the lesser YHWH than how it appears in the NT – although clearly the NT theology develops out of both those views of Metatron as well as Melchezedek speculation and a few other things including somewhat platonic/stoic conceptions of the demiurge. The Nephite view seems to arise primarily out of Nephi’s vision (contrast Lehi’s discussion with Nephi’s) combined with speculative northern Israelite views that are likely more similar to the Canaanite pantheon.

    That said, the content and origin of Sherem, while a bit mysterious, doesn’t really affect Adam’s point too much. I do agree that how Adam uses signs is a bit conflicted. I’m not sure his argument about signs and their phenomenological withdrawal is at odds with the use of signs in the Torah — particularly Deuteronomy. But you’re right he doesn’t really engage with the difference. His focus isn’t sign in the text but this psycho-analytic sense.

    The other thing I touched upon but didn’t delve into was the notion of what is meant by Law. Adam takes it primarily in the Christian, especially Lutheran, view of Paul. Whereas I think both the pre-Josiah and Deuteronomist view of Law is not really that sense. However I think that a focus on Deuteronomy 12-26 wouldn’t necessarily change his argument that much. But it would be interesting contrasting Deut 12-26 with say Ex 20-23 and seeing how that affects the Sherem/Jacob debate. That said I suspect Sherem’s real concern is Deut 12:29-31 on worshipping other Gods and Jacob’s focus is on denying God as savior and head of the covenant. As I touched upon to my eyes the primary focus is who is guilty which puts the conflict into a form quite similar to Elijah.

  3. Sadly, I don’t know that I have that much to add to your commentary in this chapter, Clark! I agree that the psychoanalytical framing of this chapter threw me a bit. I thought it was unnecessary and perhaps does not quite capture the essence of sin. However, I find it a useful (mis?)reading, which reveals an interesting way to look at the conflict and gives us a chance to repent of the kind of transferrence described — even if it’s an imperfect way of presenting the problem, something like it does happen (especially when we are following righteousness to certain degree), and it’s not a good thing.

    Ultimately, I think your reading of the scenario is more fair to Jacob, and I find the parallels of the prophetic scene you bring up very enlightening. Both readings can exist in my head at the same time, and I get something different and of value out of each.

    I think we’ve been missing some things that Adam is trying to do with “the law”, and obviously I’m missing some of the stuff about what “the law” means in scriptural context outside of the Christian context. I hope to take up Agamben’s influence on Adam’s treatment on the law in a later chapter. I’ve almost done enough reading to do it properly now, so I won’t entirely embarrass myself and might be able to prompt me in ways that I can learn.

    While we’re here, do you have any suggestions to those of us amateurs interested in works like “Future Mormon” but haven’t read enough in Mormon to catch up? Personally speaking, this reading group is really useful for me, but there’s a lot more that I need to read before I can really meet you on your level! :D Your footnotes show me all sorts of interesting things that I feel like I should have already have known, but obviously you’ve been at it for years and obviously there’s more out there than anyone can really master in a short period of time. Any advice on putting together a good autodidact reading list?

  4. Yes, ambiguity over what we mean by the law (let alone what it means to be dead to the law) is a big issue. Adam’s very influenced by certain readings of Paul. Particularly Badiou’s. I think that can lead to acontextual readings of Jacob despite use of KJV paraphrases or quotes of KJV Pauline writings to translate underlying plates. A lot needs to be thought through here. I’m really skeptical Nephite approach is Paul’s approach to dealing with Christ. Although if there are, as most apologists think, a large influx of indigenous Americans in the narrative, the question of adoption and law of Moses parallels Peter/Paul conflict possible.

    I’ll try and put more links to where I’m coming from. I’ve been putting a few up on Twitter too such as a nice overview of the Deuteronomist History thesis.

    The prophetic type-scene is I think important. My personal feeling is we can do a fruitful hermeneutics of suspicion analysis (perhaps minus a bit of the Freudianism) by considering what Jacob leaves out by mimicking the type scene. i.e. what is left out with fitting actual history into literary tropes?

  5. Exactly. And I do love to think about what’s going on with the construction of these Book of Mormon texts, especially the ones in the pre-Mosiah sections where we have strong authorial voices. As you brought up, how much was Jacob aware of some of the issues we’re highlighting, as with the prophetic type-scene — did he imbibe it accidentally? Did he do it intentionally? Did that shape his understanding of events? Did it shape actual events? That’s part of why I like both your and Adam’s takes on the scene and let them exist simultaneously in my mind, because although some of those questions are unanswerable, they reveal a whole lot.

    Please do post some more of the Dueteronomist History Thesis. I think I have the basics of it already, but couldn’t say so with confidence, and I’m sure I’ll be a more useful interlocutor if I do some more reading. :)

  6. Nice thoughts, Clark (and others). I’m still chewing on this, with a dearth of time to do so, but I thought I’d explicitly link to the discussion of this chapter in Jeff Lindsay’s (positive) review and Duane Boyce’s critical essay focused explicitly on this chapter:



    (Candidly: what I like in Lindsay’s review is how he recounts his initial resistance to Adam’s less-than-rosy view of Jacob but then reconsiders in light of the question Adam poses. This, I think, is scriptural interpretation at it’s best.And what I like in Boyce is how he effectively shows where precisely Adam is making interpretive leaps. Though, I think Boyce is overly redundant in his writing and overly triumphalist in his tone–I had to look beyond these aspects of his writing to cull out what I think are in fact good counter-points to Adam’s essay and Lindsay’s account of why he became mostly convinced by Adam’s reading.)

  7. I hadn’t seen that Boyce essay. Thanks for linking to it. Not sure how I missed it.

    I am sympathetic to Adam’s reading in the sense that I think Sherem’s sincerity does come through. I’m not sure Boyce’s critique of Sherem’s purported duplicity works – especially if we read him as a more traditional deuteronomist opposed to Nephi’s innovations. He claims to know there is no coming Christ due to a very strong monotheism rather than due to prophesy. So I don’t think Boyce is reading charitably enough there. Likewise he treats Sherem’s success as evidence of a sort of sophistry which I don’t think follows. (Think of our own critics today) Finally the “arrogance” of Sherem is more just because Sherem thinks Jacob is a liar. Again conflicts between Mormon apologists and our naturalistic critics can be informative here. Most of Boyce’s critique is more or less just assuming the text gives an objective view of history rather than a biased view towards Nephi and Jacob’s view. So there I think Adam is right with his hermeneutics of suspicion. I’m sure Laman and Lemuel, as bad as they were, would give a very different report of things.

    All that said, it seems undeniable though that Adam neglects the aspect of war that is going on. (This is partially why it matters if he is a lamanite) The effects of this is an odd blind spot in Adam’s analysis. That is if we’re going to read Jacob suspiciously, why not Sherem too? If he is from the forces attacking the Nephites, doesn’t that matter? Even if he is personally sincere how do his actions fit in the larger political situation? (Parallels to our own current situation are perhaps hard to resist) From this larger perspective relative to the safety and most important religiosity of the people, does Sherem’s sincerity matter? Adam suggests Jacob is at fault for uncharitably receiving Sherem, but what about the people Sherem is leading away? Do they not count in that calculus?

    Finally is Sherem’s confession. I’ve always read that as a bit untrustworthy, but I think Boyce is completely right to bring it up. I think the way Adam engages with the confession is problematic for a variety of reasons. For one by making it purely a sign for Jacob, Adam oddly represses Sherem as a person. That is he engages in the very act he accuses Jacob of. Sherem is just a signifier for the real hidden sign of Laman and Lemuel. Sherem is robbed of his own humanity and his own place in the story.

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