Category Archives: Easter Eggs (Surprise!)

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.

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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)

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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