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Testimony Doesn’t Come by Demanding a Sign

A BYU student decides he has to know, once and for all, if the Church is true. He hikes up into a mountains, spends three days in fasting a prayer. Nothing. No answer. The Church must not be true. He had given God the ultimatum–“Tell me or else”–and God didn’t play along.

But he was just doing what the Book of Mormon told him to do–Moroni’s promise, right? Wrong. Moroni’s promise (Moroni 19:3-5) isn’t about asking if the Church is true. It’s about asking if the Book of Mormon is true, and only after reading and pondering the Book. And Moroni doesn’t promise an instant answer. The closer analogy to the BYU student’s demanding of a sign is the story of Sherem (Jacob 7:12-15).

Let’s not be too hard, though, on the BYU student hiking into the Mountain, or on the young mother going into a temple with the same expectation. Good people have tried the same thing before.

President David O. McKay told of his attempt to obtain a sign, or manifestation, from God. President McKay is quoted in a General Conference talk by Elder Robert Hales

“Somehow in my youth I got the idea that we could not get a testimony unless we had some manifestation. I read of the first vision of the Prophet Joseph Smith, and I knew that he knew what he had received was of God. I heard my father’s testimony of a voice that had come to him, and somehow I received the impression that that was the source of all testimony. I realized in my youth that the most precious thing that a man could obtain in this life was a testimony of the divinity of this work. I hungered for it; I felt that if I could gain a testimony, all else would indeed seem insignificant.

“I did not neglect my prayers. I always felt that the secret prayer, whether in the room or out in the grove or on the hills, would be the place where that testimony would come. Accordingly, when I was a boy I knelt in prayer more than once by the serviceberry bush as my saddle-horse stood by the side of the road.

“I remember riding over the hills of Huntsville one afternoon, thinking of these things and concluding that there in the silence of the hills was the best place to get that testimony. I stopped my horse, threw the reins over his head, withdrew just a few steps, and knelt by the side of a tree. The air was clear and pure, the sunshine delightful; the growing verdure and flowers scented the air. …

“I knelt down and with all the fervor of my heart poured out my soul to God and asked him for a testimony of this gospel. I had in mind that there would be some manifestation; that I should receive some transformation that would leave me absolutely without doubt.

“I got up, mounted my horse, and as he started over the trail, I remember rather introspectively searching myself and involuntarily shaking my head, saying to myself, ‘No, sir, there is no change; I am just the same boy I was before I knelt down.’ The anticipated manifestation had not come.”

Even though he did not immediately receive the manifestation he expected, President McKay continued to seek a personal witness. He later related that “the spiritual manifestation for which I had prayed as a boy in my teens came as a natural sequence to the performance of duty.” Jesus, likewise, said that testimony comes by doing: “If any man will do his will, he shall know of the doctrine, whether it be of God, or whether I speak of myself.” (John 7:17).

Even if testimony did come by a manifestation or sign, what would that feel like? A warmth in the Chest? Probably not. Dallin Oaks, in his 1997 General Conference talk, quotes a well-known scripture, and then explains his understanding of it.

“But, behold, I say unto you, that you must study it out in your mind; then you must ask me if it be right, and if it is right I will cause that your bosom shall burn within you; therefore, you shall feel that it is right” (D&C 9:7–8; emphasis added).

“This may be one of the most important and misunderstood teachings in all the Doctrine and Covenants…I have met persons who told me they have never had a witness from the Holy Ghost because they have never felt their bosom ‘burn within’ them. What does a ‘burning in the bosom’ mean? Does it need to be a feeling of caloric heat, like the burning produced by combustion? If that is the meaning, I have never had a burning in the bosom. Surely, the word ‘burning’ in this scripture signifies a feeling of comfort and serenity. That is the witness many receive. That is the way revelation works. Truly, the still, small voice is just that, ‘still’ and ‘small.'”

The “burning” in the bosom is metaphorical. Bosom literally means “chest,” but when used figuratively it can be more or less synonymous with heart as the seat of intimate feelings or desires. The witness of the Holy Ghost comes to the “mind” and “heart,” (D&C 8:2) which, in scriptural terms, usually mean the same thing. In other words, the witness comes as an understanding in the mind. When we say, “I feel that this is right,” what we really mean is, “This seems right to me.” We are talking about a belief, not a physical sensation. Paul taught that faith is a gift of God given by “the manifestation of the Spirit” (1 Corinthians 12:3-11; also Moroni 10:8-17). A “burning in the bosom” may simply be faith or belief itself–the faith Paul referred to that would be given by the Spirit. In other words, God doesn’t give us a “warm feeling” that we use as a sign to prop up our faith. He gives us the faith directly–faith that “burns” in our mind (“heart” or “bosom”). In his talk, Elder Robert Hales clarifies that testimony is simply God-given faith, instilled in us by the Holy Ghost. “Faith is testimony; testimony is faith…Our testimony is a gift from God…granted by the Holy Ghost.”

The faith that the Holy Ghost gives us may indeed prompt emotions as well. It may cause us to feel gratitude, even to tears. Our comforting belief may even cause us to feel warm, but those feelings are secondary. So what does faith feel like? Elder Oaks described the spiritual witness (faith, or “burning”) as “comfort and serenity.” In other words, faith is peace, assurance, enlightenment, or increased understanding of something. It is seeing something more clearly, or feeling confidence in it. My greatest spiritual witness, which I received as a youth, was not a physical or emotional manifestation. It was a sudden understanding of God’s love. That understanding, given by the spirit, in turn produced an emotion. The understanding, the new-found faith in God’s love, was the “burning in the bosom.” It didn’t come because I demanded it. It didn’t come on my timetable. It came as I was reading and pondering the scriptures after many years of doing so. That witness of the Spirit was important to me, but it is not the totality of my testimony. My testimony–my faith–is that the Book of Mormon “feels” true, it seems true true to me, I believe it. That’s about all I can say. And I think that, for God, that’s enough for now, if I act on it.

Hidden Fire in the Book of Mormon

As Lehi’s family is traveling through the wilderness, Nephi writes:

For the Lord had not hitherto suffered that we should make much fire, as we journeyed in the wilderness; for he said:…I will…be your light in the wilderness; and I will prepare the way before you, if it so be that ye shall keep my commandments; wherefore, inasmuch as ye shall keep my commandments ye shall be led towards the promised land; and ye shall know that it is by me that ye are led. (1 Nephi 17:12-13)

Lehi’s family traveled through the wilderness toward their promised land just as their Israelite forefathers had traveled through their wilderness under Moses toward their land of promise. The Lord told Nephi that his family did not need fire because he would be the “light” that would lead them. He led them by the “director” or brass ball. Alma, looking back on the wilderness journey, observes:

And now I say, is there not a type in this thing? For just as surely as this director did bring our fathers, by following its course, to the promised land, shall the words of Christ, if we follow their course, carry us beyond this vale of sorrow into a far better land of promise. (Alma 37:45)

The hidden surprise here is that the word director in our English Book of Mormon was probably translated from the Hebrew word urim (as in Urim and Thummim) in Alma’s original writing [1]. Besides indicating the sacred Urim and Thummim, urim also means “fire” and suggests “light.” By using the word director (urim), Alma is making a poetic allusion back to Nephi’s mention of the Lord as the fire and light that guided their fathers to the promised land. He is simultaneously making a second allusion to the Pillar of Fire and Moses’s Urim and Thummim that guided the ancient Israelite forefathers in their wilderness (Exodus 13:21). Alma was a poet, and his poetry makes more sense in Hebrew.

________________________________
1. Stan Spencer, “Reflections of Urim: Hebrew Poetry Sheds Light on the Directors-Interpreters Mystery,” Interpreter: A Journal of Mormon Scripture 14 (2015): 187-199.

Surprises in Nephi’s Tree of Life Vision, Part I: The Virgin Mary as the Tree of Life

What does the Virgin Mary have to do with the Tree of Life?

She is the Tree of Life (at least for a moment), according to the Book of Mormon!

If you missed that in your reading of the Book of Mormon, it’s OK. It’s easy to miss (unless, perhaps, if you’re Catholic).

After his famous dream, Lehi tells his children of a tree with fruit that is “white, to exceed all the whiteness” and that is “desirable above all other fruit” (1 Nephi 8). After hearing his father tell about the dream, Nephi sees the same tree in a vision of his own (1 Nephi 11-14). Since a fruit tree is known by and valued for its fruit, Nephi uses the same type of language to describe the tree itself (1 Nephi 11), which he says was “precious above all,” and “the beauty thereof was far beyond, yea, exceeding of all beauty; and the whiteness thereof did exceed the whiteness of the driven snow.“ Nephi calls this beautiful tree the “tree of life.”

From Nephi’s record, we eventually learn that the tree symbolizes the “love of God” (1 Nephi 11:25) and that its precious fruit is the “greatest of all the gifts of God” (1 Nephi 15:36). But when Nephi first sees the tree and asks for the “interpretation thereof,” the Spirit doesn’t answer in words; he provides the interpretation through visual images. So what does the “love of God” look like? What Nephi is immediately shown is “a virgin, and she was exceedingly fair and white” and “most beautiful and fair above all other virgins.” It is interesting that Nephi uses nearly the same language to describe the Virgin Mary as he uses to describe the Tree of Life—they are both exceedingly white and beautiful above all. It’s unlikely that the actual Mary was particularly white or that she was the most beautiful woman who ever existed. The Bible says nothing to that effect, and, indeed, the Savior himself had “no form nor comeliness; and…no beauty that we should desire him” (Isaiah 53:2). Mary’s whiteness and beauty could, of course, be merely symbolic, representing her purity and preciousness, but Nephi could have just as well used different words, or just said that she was “pure” and “precious.” The particular words and phrases he uses suggest that he is describing Mary in this way as a reference to the Tree of Life. Her connection with the tree which “bore the fruit” that was so precious (1 Nephi 11:7; 15:36) is reinforced when she vanishes and then reappears “bearing a child” in her arms (1 Nephi 11:20). She is, for the moment, the Tree of Life, and her fruit is Christ, the most precious of all the gifts of God (John 3:16) and the perfect manifestation of his love.

Perhaps due to our Protestant tendencies, we Mormons don’t tend to notice this connection that Nephi makes between the Tree of Life and the Virgin Mary. Catholics, on the other hand, would be more appreciative of Nephi’s imagery. (Whoever produced the language of Nephi’s vision must not have shared the anti-Catholicism that was prevalent in 19th century America.) Nephi’s imagery would have also probably been familiar to many early Christians and appeared logical to ancient Hebrews (see links and notes at bottom). In any case, when we get past whatever sectarian discomfort we may have, Nephi’s imagery is beautiful and worthy of inclusion in our discussions of Nephi’s Tree of Life vision. It’s also fascinating how Nephi doesn’t just say, “Mary is like the Tree of Life,” but instead uses similar phrases (call them “phrasal allusions”) to say the same thing in a more subtle, playful way.

NOTES

A Coptic version of a record called the Apocalypse of Paul, probably from about the mid-third century, relates a vision that, in some details at least, resembles the vision of Nephi: “And he [the angel] showed me the Tree of Life, and by it was a revolving red-hot sword. And a Virgin appeared by the tree, and three angels who hymned her, and the angel told me that she was Mary, the Mother of Christ.” [see Daniel C. Peterson, “Nephi & His Asherah,” in Journal of Book of Mormon Studies , FARMS, Vol. 9, Num. 2, 2000, pp. 16-18]. In his vision, Nephi also saw a flaming fire (1 Nephi 15:30)  and a “sword of the justice of the eternal God” (1 Nephi 12:18, Royal Skousen, The Book of Mormon: The Earliest Text) that together restricted access to the tree.

The Tree of Life as Mother, Son, and Love of God in 1 Nephi and The Tree of Life as Nurturing Mother, both by David Larsen

Challenging Issues, Keeping the Faith: Michael R. Ash: The tree of life and the Book of Mormon (Deseret News)

Mary and the Tree of Life by John A. Tvedtnes (BYU)

The Centrality of Christ in Mormonism and the Mystery of Salvation by Grace after “All We Can Do”

In contrast to the Old World Hebrews who rejected their prophets and scriptures, the believing Nephites were given additional spiritual knowledge, particularly about the Christ who would come bringing salvation.

A principal purpose of the Book of Mormon is to teach the descendants of the apostate Hebrews about the Christ. There are many passages in the Book of Mormon that attempt to do this, often by using Hebrew literary devices such as Biblical allusions and chiasms. Christ is often placed at the center of these chiasms to show his prime importance. Nephi’s “we rejoice in Christ” message in 2 Nephi 25:23-29 is an interesting example. Here Nephi uses a chiasm to show his fellow Hebrews how their entire system of religious law, the Law of Moses, points to Christ. Read as English prose, Nephi’s message seems repetitive and somewhat foreign:

For we labor diligently to write, to persuade our children, and also our brethren, to believe in Christ, and to be reconciled to God; for we know that it is by grace that we are saved, after all we can do. And, notwithstanding we believe in Christ, we keep the law of Moses, and look forward with steadfastness unto Christ, until the law shall be fulfilled. For, for this end was the law given; wherefore the law hath become dead unto us, and we are made alive in Christ because of our faith; yet we keep the law because of the commandments. And we talk of Christ, we rejoice in Christ, we preach of Christ, we prophesy of Christ, and we write according to our prophecies, that our children may know to what source they may look for a remission of their sins. Wherefore, we speak concerning the law that our children may know the deadness of the law; and they, by knowing the deadness of the law, may look forward unto that life which is in Christ, and know for what end the law was given. And after the law is fulfilled in Christ, that they need not harden their hearts against him when the law ought to be done away. And now behold, my people, ye are a stiffnecked people; wherefore, I have spoken plainly unto you, that ye cannot misunderstand. And the words which I have spoken shall stand as a testimony against you; for they are sufficient to teach any man the right way; for the right way is to believe in Christ and deny him not; for by denying him ye also deny the prophets and the law. And now behold, I say unto you that the right way is to believe in Christ, and deny him not; and Christ is the Holy One of Israel; wherefore ye must bow down before him, and worship him with all your might, mind, and strength, and your whole soul; and if ye do this ye shall in nowise be cast out. 

But the repetitiveness has a purpose — to create a chiasm that is built around and centered on Christ. To the classical Hebrew reader, this chiasm would have served to emphasize Nephi’s message that the Law of Moses is likewise built around and centered on Christ. Here is Nephi’s message in chiastic form, with parallel elements shown in color for each level.

For we labor diligently to write, to persuade our children, and also our brethren, to believe in Christ, and to be reconciled to God; for we know that it is by grace that we are saved, after all we can do. And, notwithstanding we believe in Christ,

we keep the law of Moses,

and look forward with steadfastness unto Christ, until the law shall be fulfilled.

For, for this end was the law given;

wherefore the law hath become dead unto us, and we are made alive in Christ because of our faith; yet we keep the law because of the commandments.

And we talk of Christ, we rejoice in Christ, we preach of Christ, we prophesy of Christ, and we write according to our prophecies,

that our children may know to what source they may look for a remission of their sins.

Wherefore, we speak concerning the law that our children may know the deadness of the law; and they, by knowing the deadness of the law, may look forward unto that life which is in Christ,

and know for what end the law was given.

And after the law is fulfilled in Christ, that they need not harden their hearts against him

 when the law ought to be done away.

And now behold, my people, ye are a stiffnecked people; wherefore, I have spoken plainly unto you, that ye cannot misunderstand. And the words which I have spoken shall stand as a testimony against you; for they are sufficient to teach any man the right way; for the right way is to believe in Christ and deny him not; for by denying him ye also deny the prophets and the law. And now behold, I say unto you that the right way is to believe in Christ, and deny him not; and Christ is the Holy One of Israel; wherefore ye must bow down before him, and worship him with all your might, mind, and strength, and your whole soul; and if ye do this ye shall in nowise be cast out.

Nephi has effectively highlighted the important elements of his message — belief in Christ, keeping the law, the fulfillment of the law, the purpose (end) of the law, the deadness of the law, and the prime importance of Christ — by repeating them all in reverse order! And that forms a chiasm.

An interesting thing about genuine chiasms is that they usually have a logical turning point that coincides with the physical turning point at the center. In this chiasm, the turning point is the change in subject from “we” (Nephi and his fellow preachers) to “they” (Nephi’s children) and “you” (Nephi’s brethren).  Everything before the center point is what Nephi and his fellow preachers do, and everything after the center point is what he hopes his children and unbelieving brethren will do. Speaking for himself and his fellow preachers, Nephi says that “we” believe in Christ” and “we” keep the law ” and “we” are made alive in Christ and “we” preach of Christ SO THAT “our children” may know Christ and so “they” can look forward to life in Christ and so “they” won’t harden their hearts, etc.

The arrangement of text in chiastic form draws the reader’s attention to the center, and that’s  where the focal point of the message is usually placed. In this case, the focus is squarely on Christ as Nephi rejoices in him and hopes that his children will also.  The word Christ appears 14 times throughout the message but is repeated most densely at the center, with “we talk of Christ, we rejoice in Christ, we preach of Christ, we prophecy of Christ.”

There is another fascinating thing about Nephi’s chiasm. Much is made in Mormonism of the phrase, “it is by grace that we are saved after all we can do,” at the beginning of Nephi’s message. Nephi is apparently saying that  we are ultimately saved by grace through Christ, but we must also “do” something for that to happen. What is less clear is what exactly we must do. The parallel structure of the chiasm can help us figure out what Nephi is talking about. “All we can do” at the beginning of the chiasm is echoed by “ye do” at the end. “Ye do” in turn refers to “believe in Christ” and “bow down before him and worship him with all your might, mind, and strength” (see also Moroni 10:32). Thus,  what is required of us is to believe in and worship God in Christ. This interpretation of the chiasm is verified by Moroni’s statement that, “if ye shall deny yourselves of all ungodliness and love God with all your might, mind, and strength, then is his grace sufficient for you…in Christ” (Moroni 10:32). So what is required of us in order for God’s grace to be sufficient? We must stop sinning and give our hearts to him.

This belief in and worship of Christ doesn’t actually save us, however, any more than keeping “the law” does. We are saved solely “by grace”; or, in other words “salvation is free” (2 Nephi 2:4-6). That’s what “grace” means. We can’t earn salvation any more than a poor student earns a government grant for college — you can’t earn a gift. But the poor student can qualify for the free money, which at least involves having a need, making some commitments, and filling out some paperwork. Similarly, we can qualify for salvation, which is the “greatest of all the gifts of God” (1 Nephi 15:36). Our belief in and devotion to Christ is the living faith of which James spoke (James 2) that qualifies us for that gift.

Easter is a celebration of Christ’s return to life after breaking the bands of death. An Easter egg is a symbol not only of his return to life but also of our rebirth as we escape the bands of sin and find new life in him. In 2 Nephi 25:23-29, Nephi creates an Easter egg in a classical Hebrew manner by putting Christ at the center of a chiasm that teaches how we may be “made alive in Christ.”

See also “The Gift of Grace” by President Dieter F. Uchtdorf

A King’s Sacred Name Reveals an Easter Egg in the Book of Mormon

An Easter egg is a fun hidden feature or message. You get an Easter egg when you type DO A BARREL ROLL in the Google search box. There are Easter eggs hidden in the Book of Mormon, too. Who knew?

Can you find the Easter eggs in this bit of Nephite history written by Mormon (Helaman 6:7-13)?

And behold, there was peace in all the land, insomuch that the Nephites did go into whatsoever part of the land they would, whether among the Nephites or the Lamanites. And it came to pass that the Lamanites did also go whithersoever they would, whether it were among the Lamanites or among the Nephites; and thus they did have free intercourse one with another, to buy and to sell, and to get gain, according to their desire. And it came to pass that they became exceedingly rich, both the Lamanites and the Nephites; and they did have an exceeding plenty of gold, and of silver, and of all manner of precious metals, both in the land south and in the land north. Now the land south was called Lehi, and the land north was called Mulek, which was after the son of Zedekiah; for the Lord did bring Mulek into the land north, and Lehi into the land south. And behold, there was all manner of gold in both these lands, and of silver, and of precious ore of every kind; and there were also curious workmen, who did work all kinds of ore and did refine it; and thus they did become rich. They did raise grain in abundance, both in the north and in the south; and they did flourish exceedingly, both in the north and in the south. And they did multiply and wax exceedingly strong in the land. And they did raise many flocks and herds, yea, many fatlings. Behold their women did toil and spin, and did make all manner of cloth, of fine-twined linen and cloth of every kind, to clothe their nakedness. And thus the sixty and fourth year did pass away in peace.

Classical Hebrew poets loved chiasms and plays on words (especially with people’s names), and fine examples of both are found in this passage. A chiasm is a poetic structure formed when a sequence of words or ideas is repeated in reverse order. Jesus give both a definition and an example of a chiasm in Matthew 19:30:

But many that are first shall be last; and the last shall be first.

Chiasms are often more complex, encompassing entire paragraphs or even books. Mormon’s bit of Nephite history is one of the finest examples of a chiasm in scripture:

And behold, there was peace in all the land,

insomuch that the Nephites did go into whatsoever part of the land they would, whether among the Nephites or the Lamanites. And it came to pass that the Lamanites did also go whithersoever they would, whether it were among the Lamanites or among the Nephites; and thus they did have free intercourse one with another, to buy and to sell, and to get gain, according to their desire.

And it came to pass that they became exceedingly rich, both the Lamanites and the Nephites,

and they did have an exceeding plenty of gold, and of silver, and of all manner of precious metals, both in the land south and in the land north.

Now the land south

was called Lehi,

and the land north

was called Mulek,

which was after the son of Zedekiah;

for the Lord

did bring Mulek

into the land north,

and Lehi

into the land south.

And behold, there was all manner of gold in both these lands, and of silver, and of precious ore of every kind; and there were also curious workmen, who did work all kinds of ore and did refine it;

and thus they did become rich.

They did raise grain in abundance, both in the north and in the south; and they did flourish exceedingly, both in the north and in the south. And they did multiply and wax exceedingly strong in the land. And they did raise many flocks and herds, yea, many fatlings. Behold their women did toil and spin, and did make all manner of cloth, of fine-twined linen and cloth of every kind, to clothe their nakedness

And thus the sixty and fourth year did pass away in peace.

Chiastic poetry was typically used only for writing of unusual importance. This poem may have been written as something of a political statement, emphasizing the prosperity that both groups of people enjoyed because of their peaceful relationship and free trade, and the debt both groups owed to God. This isn’t Mormon’s only political poetry.

The structure of a chiasm naturally draws the reader’s attention to its center, and that’s usually where the main literary focus is. In the case of the chiasm above, we have a slight problem. Zedekiah is placed parallel to the Lord at the center. This doesn’t appear to be a particularly good parallel–not in English anyway. Zedekiah was a failure of a king who “did that which was evil in the sight of the Lord” (2 Kings 24:19). Why pair him up with God? And why even include a reference to Zedekiah? This reference to Mulek’s father doesn’t contribute anything to the message, and there’s no similar mention of Lehi’s father.

The answer is that Zedekiah had a cool name…in Hebrew. The iah at the end of Zedekiah is a shortened form of Jehovah. In Hebrew, Zedekiah would read “my righteousness is Jehovah.” The Lord, on the other hand, is the common English translation of Jehovah in the King James Bible. By following Zedekiah with Jehovah, Mormon is engaging in classic Hebrew wordplay, and with this wordplay, the center of the chiasm becomes complete. So there you have an Easter egg — a chiasm that’s complete only if there’s a play on words, and a play on words that exists only when the text is read in Hebrew. How cool is that!

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Visualize…Mormon’s 6-Point Prescription for World Peace

An Easter egg is a fun hidden feature or message. You get an Easter egg when you type DO A BARREL ROLL in the Google search box. There are Easter eggs hidden in the Book of Mormon, too. Who knew?

If you think the Google barrel roll is a good trick, wait until you see Mormon use a chiasm to transform a few years of Nephite history into the Book of Mormon’s Prescription for escaping the Pride Cycle and securing national peace and prosperity. Read this if you dare (Alma 62:39-52):

 And thus ended the thirty and first year of the reign of the judges over the people of Nephi; and thus they had had wars, and bloodsheds, and famine, and affliction, for the space of many years. And there had been murders, and contentions, and dissensions, and all manner of iniquity among the people of Nephi; nevertheless for the righteous’ sake, yea, because of the prayers of the righteous, they were spared. But behold, because of the exceedingly great length of the war between the Nephites and the Lamanites many had become hardened, because of the exceedingly great length of the war; and many were softened because of their afflictions, insomuch that they did humble themselves before God, even in the depth of humility. And it came to pass that after Moroni had fortified those parts of the land which were most exposed to the Lamanites, until they were sufficiently strong, he returned to the city of Zarahemla; and also Helaman returned to the place of his inheritance; and there was once more peace established among the people of Nephi. And Moroni yielded up the command of his armies into the hands of his son, whose name was Moronihah; and he retired to his own house that he might spend the remainder of his days in peace. And Pahoran did return to his judgment-seat; and Helaman did take upon him again to preach unto the people the word of God; for because of so many wars and contentions it had become expedient that a regulation should be made again in the church. Therefore, Helaman and his brethren went forth, and did declare the word of God with much power unto the convincing of many people of their wickedness, which did cause them to repent of their sins and to be baptized unto the Lord their God. And it came to pass that they did establish again the church of God, throughout all the land. Yea, and regulations were made concerning the law. And their judges, and their chief judges were chosen. And the people of Nephi began to prosper again in the land, and began to multiply and to wax exceedingly strong again in the land. And they began to grow exceedingly rich. But notwithstanding their riches, or their strength, or their prosperity, they were not lifted up in the pride of their eyes; neither were they slow to remember the Lord their God; but they did humble themselves exceedingly before him. Yea, they did remember how great things the Lord had done for them, that he had delivered them from death, and from bonds, and from prisons, and from all manner of afflictions, and he had delivered them out of the hands of their enemies. And they did pray unto the Lord their God continually, insomuch that the Lord did bless them, according to his word, so that they did wax strong and prosper in the land. And it came to pass that all these things were done. And Helaman died, in the thirty and fifth year of the reign of the judges over the people of Nephi.

It’s a nice story, isn’t it? Did you catch the six points Mormon is trying to make? If not, try reading it as a chiasm. A chiasm is a form of poetry in which a sequence of words or ideas is repeated in reverse order. Jesus gives both a definition and an example of a chiasm in Matthew 19:30:

But many that are first shall be last; and the last shall be first.

This small chiasm is in the form ABCCBA. Chiasms are often more complex, encompassing entire paragraphs or even books. Mormon’s account of the Nephites’ transition to peace appears to have been written as a large chiasm. (Notice that element E’ is itself a chiasm.)

A And thus ended the thirty and first year of the reign of the judges over the people of Nephi;

B and thus they had had wars, and bloodsheds, and famine, and affliction, for the space of many years. And there had been murders, and contentions, and dissensions, and all manner of iniquity among the people of Nephi;

C nevertheless for the righteous’ sake, yea, because of the prayers of the righteous, they were spared.

D But behold, because of the exceedingly great length of the war between the Nephites and the Lamanites many had become hardened, because of the exceedingly great length of the war; and many were softened because of their afflictions, insomuch that they did humble themselves before God, even in the depth of humility.

E And it came to pass that after Moroni had fortified those parts of the land which were most exposed to the Lamanites, until they were sufficiently strong, he returned to the city of Zarahemla; and also Helaman returned to the place of his inheritance; and there was once more peace established among the people of Nephi.

F And Moroni yielded up the command of his armies into the hands of his son, whose name was Moronihah; and he retired to his own house that he might spend the remainder of his days in peace. And Pahoran did return to his judgment-seat; and Helaman did take upon him again to preach unto the people the word of God;

for because of so many wars and contentions it had become expedient that a regulation should be made again in the church.

Therefore, Helaman and his brethren went forth, and did declare the word of God with much power unto the convincing of many people of their wickedness, which did cause them to repent of their sins and to be baptized unto the Lord their God.

H’ And it came to pass that they did establish again the church of God, throughout all the land.

G’ Yea, and regulations were made concerning the law.

F’ And their judges, and their chief judges were chosen.

E’ And the people of Nephi began to prosper again in the land, and began to multiply and to wax exceedingly strong again in the land. And they began to grow exceedingly rich. But notwithstanding their riches, or their strength, or their prosperity,

D’ they were not lifted up in the pride of their eyes; neither were they slow to remember the Lord their God; but they did humble themselves exceedingly before him. Yea, they did remember how great things the Lord had done for them, that he had delivered them from death, and from bonds, and from prisons, and from all manner of afflictions, and he had delivered them out of the hands of their enemies.

C’ And they did pray unto the Lord their God continually,

B’ insomuch that the Lord did bless them, according to his word, so that they did wax strong and prosper in the land.

A’ And it came to pass that all these things were done. And Helaman died, in the thirty and fifth year of the reign of the judges over the people of Nephi.

With this chiasm, Mormon takes a few years of Nephite history and turns them into a 6-step prescription for establishing and preserving national peace and prosperity. The two dates in level A frame the chiasm. Level B contrasts the horrors of war and wickedness with the blessings of peace and prosperity. The remainder of the chiasm tells how to obtain and preserve the aforementioned peace and prosperity:

  1. Prayer. Pray to end war (C) and to preserve peace (C’).
  2. Humility. Be humble during hard times (D) as well as during times of prosperity (D’)
  3. Strength and Security. Base national strength and security on military defensive fortification (E) and economic growth (E’).
  4. Civilian Rule. Restore (F) and staff (F’) civil government.
  5. Rule of Law. Base the government of both church (G) and nation (G’) on uniform law and regulation.
  6. Righteousness. Establish righteousness by religious preaching (H) and institutions (H’).

Although it is last in the list above, righteousness is at the center of the chiasm, suggesting that Mormon considers it to be especially important. All of these principles could have been teased out of the text even if it were not in chiastic form. What the chiasm does, however, is highlight these 6 points in a classical Hebrew manner. Who would have guessed that just below the surface of Nephite war history you could find a Hebrew-style peace essay?

Right Back at You: Moroni Mocks “Fools” Who Mock the Book of Mormon

An Easter egg is a fun hidden feature or message. You get an Easter egg when you type DO A BARREL ROLL in the Google search box. Would you believe that there are Easter eggs in the Book of Mormon, too?

Moroni’s writing in Ether 12:23-25 predicts that unbelievers will mock the Book of Mormon because of the awkward writing.

And I said unto him: Lord, the Gentiles will mock at these things, because of our weakness in writing; for Lord thou hast made us mighty in word by faith, but thou hast not made us mighty in writing; for thou hast made all this people that they could speak much, because of the Holy Ghost which thou hast given them; And thou hast made us that we could write but little, because of the awkwardness of our hands. Behold, thou hast not made us mighty in writing like unto the brother of Jared, for thou madest him that the things which he wrote were mighty even as thou art, unto the overpowering of man to read them. Thou hast also made our words powerful and great, even that we cannot write them; wherefore, when we write we behold our weakness, and stumble because of the placing of our words; and I fear lest the Gentiles shall mock at our words. 

And maybe they mock with good reason! To the naive reader, the passage above seems to be a jumbled mass of stumbling, redundant sentences. But it is not. The naive reader has been fooled. The above passage is actually a finely structured chiasm. Chiasmus is a form of poetry used by classical Hebrew writers in which a sequence of words or ideas is repeated in reverse order. Jesus gives both a definition and an example of a chiasm in Matthew 19:30:

But many that are first shall be last; and the last shall be first.

Even the biblical chiasms that are easy to see in English would have been even more apparent in the original Hebrew. Here’s a chiasm from Genesis 9:6 [ESV]:

Who sheds the blood of a man, by a man shall his blood be shed.

In Hebrew this sentence has exactly six words, arranged in the form ABCCBA:

Hebrew phrase Genesis 9:6 from http://studybible.info/HOT/Genesis%209:6

Moroni’s large chiasm is in the form ABCDEEDCBA. It may look like a mess in English, but as Hebrew poetry, it’s a work of art.

A And I said unto him: Lord, the Gentiles will mock at these things,

B because of our weakness in writing;

C for Lord thou hast made us mighty in word by faith,

D but thou hast not made us mighty in writing

E thou hast made all this people that they could speak much, because of the Holy Ghost which thou hast given them;

E’ And thou hast made us that we could write but little, because of the awkwardness of our hands.

D’ Behold, thou hast not made us mighty in writing like unto the brother of Jared, for thou madest him that the things which he wrote were mighty even as thou art, unto the overpowering of man to read them.

C’ Thou hast also made our words powerful and great,

B’ even that we cannot write them; wherefore, when we write we behold our weakness, and stumble because of the placing of our words;

A’ and I fear lest the Gentiles shall mock at our words.

The Lord responds with, “Fools mock, but they shall mourn.”

The center of the chiasm summarizes the prophets’ frustration: their inability to effectively express their inspired words in writing. Moroni had previously referred to his awkwardness in writing in Mormon 9:33:

And if our plates had been sufficiently large we should have written in Hebrew; but the Hebrew hath been altered by us also; and if we could have written in Hebrew, behold, ye would have had no imperfection in our record.

This scripture suggests that the awkwardness (or imperfection) of writing in the Book of Mormon is at least partially due to the difficulty of converting the thoughts (and writing style?) of the authors from Hebrew into other languages. In fact, the classic Hebrew poetic structure of Moroni’s writing suggests that it was originally composed in Hebrew. By putting this text in the form of a chiasm, Moroni is demonstrating his skill in Hebrew poetry, although the English version seems awkward because of the repeated words and phrases.

By pointing out Moroni’s skillfully written poetry, we show mockers that what they thought was weakness is in fact strength. And thus, Moroni’s weakness in writing has “become strong,” poetically mocking those “fools” who mock it. This little Easter egg suggests Book of Mormon prophets may have had a sense of humor.

 

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