Monday, January 17, 2011

The Nephite-Kenite Hypothesis: Nephi as Scribe

“It is to writings that you must set your mind ... I do not see an office comparable with [the scribe's] ... I shall make you love books more than [you love] your mother, and I shall place their excellence before you.”
-- From the Egyptian text The Satire on the Trades: The Instruction of Dua-Khety

Literacy in the ancient world was restricted to a very elite group, and the Near East was no exception.[1] Over ninety percent of the populace lived on farms and were almost completely illiterate, although some could write their name or recognize it on a seal. A small group of urban dwellers comprising around five percent of the population would have had some functional literacy.[2] But even many among this group, including scribes, were merely capable of copying simple documents and signing their names.[3] Those who could create extensive literary texts were extremely rare:

Monday, January 3, 2011

The Nephite-Kenite Hypothesis: Introduction

Moses takes his leave of Jethro, by Jan Victors
 In his book An Approach to the Book of Mormon, Hugh Nibley fleshed out the religious, economic and cultural milieu of 600 B.C. and painted the picture of Lehi as merchant. This created a base camp from which various LDS scholars have launched intriguing explorations into Lehi's background. While all of this is highly speculative, I do think we can advance the discussion by systematically gathering all the indicators about Lehi that would align with specific trades of his time and then template these professions over a background that best fits this training. After doing so, I propose that the closest match will have some connection to the Midianites and their sub-clans the Kenites and Rechabites, metalworking tribes in the Levant.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Adam Versus the Patriarchs: Covenant Renewal in the Book of Mormon

Over the last century, archaeologists have uncovered many treaties from the Ancient Near East (ANE) that served to regulate the affairs between powerful nations and their vassal states. Scholars have subsequently shown that many biblical texts follow the format of these vassal treaties, especially the covenant rituals found in portions of Joshua and Deuteronomy. Frank Moore Cross tells us, “The parade example of the covenant ritual is found in the accounts of Joshua's covenant making in Joshua 24:2-28 happily supplemented by Joshua 8:30-34 and Deuteronomy 27 (11) 15-26.”[1]

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

The Fall Festival in Jacob 2-3

 Some weeks ago I started a series of posts that attempted to identify a number of Book of Mormon texts that appeared to have the autumn or fall festival (Day of Atonement/Feast of Tabernacles) as their setting. In one of the first posts in this series (“The Annual Fall Festival in the Book of Mormon”), I documented a few reasons why the three festivals in the harvest month of Tishri (Num 29; Lev 23) were originally part of a single fall harvest festival that contained elements of what would later be separated into the separate feasts. I noted that some of the themes from this festival appeared in the form of imagery of gates and robes used by Book of Mormon prophets. In “A Tower and a Name: Benjamin as the Anti-Nimrod” I made the case that the theology of this fall festival explains the context behind the tower story in Genesis and that King Benjamin is consciously using these same festival themes as well as the tower rebellion as a reference point in his narrative to address descendants of the those who came from that tower. For the reasons given below, I also believe that this fall festival underlies the sermon in Jacob 2-3 and that this context gives Jacob's words added depth. 

Monday, July 5, 2010

Gates and the Divine Council in the Book of Mormon

Open to me the gates of righteousness: I will go into them, and I will praise the LORD. (Psalm 118:19)

Cosmology in the ancient near east represented both the underworld and the heavens as being barred by a series of portals or gates guarded by angels placed there by divine commission to keep out the unworthy. Mortals desiring entrance to these worlds were required to traverse the doors and bypass the keepers of the portals. The earthly application of this principle resulted in special offices of priests acting as keepers of the sacred gates of the temple asking questions about the purity of those who would enter: “Who shall ascend into the hill of the Lord?” (Ps 24:3; see also Ps 15 and 95). We see this gate-salvation imagery used by the Savior in the New Testament: “Enter ye in at the strait gate . . . Because strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it” (Mat 7:13-14 KJV; see also Luke 13:24). The metaphor is also used frequently in the Book of Mormon: “Yea, thus we see that the gate of heaven is open unto all, even to those who will believe on the name of Jesus Christ” (Hel 3:28; see also 2 Ne 4:32; 31:9, 17, 18; 33:9; Jac 6:11; 3 Ne 11:39-40; 14:13-14; 18:13; 27:33). However, in a departure from the usual idea of priests and angels as keepers of the threshold, Jacob in his great sermon on the atonement (2 Ne 6-10) refers to God himself standing at the gate. This metaphor echoes old ideas about the divine council sitting in judgment on the Day of Atonement and reflects strains of similar thought in the Bible and other ancient near eastern texts.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Shades of Enoch: Steadfast in Keeping the Commandments

There are a number of Book of Mormon passages that appear to converge with themes from Enochian literature. One of these occurs when Lehi pleads with his sons Laman and Lemuel to be as consistent and steadfast as certain elements in nature:

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

A Tower and a Name: Benjamin as the Anti-Nimrod

The name of the LORD is a strong tower.  (Prov. 18:10)

In a veiled story in Genesis associated with a Babylonian kingship rite, Nimrod builds a temple-tower to “make a name” for his people, the result of which is a confusion of tongues and scattering of the people. In the Book of Mormon, King Benjamin builds a tower at the temple in Zarahemla in order to give his people a name and pronounce his son a king. And he does this after the Nephites have discovered a remnant of scattered Israel who has experienced a degeneration of tongues and who has mixed with the seed of those who left Nimrod's temple-tower. In doing so, Benjamin seems to be deliberately constructing an event that is both related and opposed to what happened on the plains of Shinar. And both episodes seem to be connected to the yearly fall festival in ancient Israel.