Ten Tantalizing Tidbits about the Book of Mormon

These aren’t quite as tantalizing as TT’s NT tidbits, but we don’t have similar extra-scriptural data to work with here. I’m trying to be as provocative as I can (which probably just reveals my hard-core McConkie-style orthodoxy <g>)

1) The Book of Mormon doesn’t depict a capitalist democratic society.

2) The Book of Mormon doesn’t depict a church structured like ours today.

3) Joseph Smith never preached a sermon based on a Book of Mormon text.

4) The first two chapters of Mosiah are missing.

5) It’s not much of a prophesy for Lehi to speak of the Babylonian captivity. (1 Nephi 1:13 and 10:3)

6) Jesus appeared to the Nephites almost a year after the three days of darkness, not immediately.

7) Book of Mormon prophets probably drank wine and didn’t know about three degrees of glory and similar doctrines many today consider central to Mormonism.

8 ) Nephi’s “goodly” parents comment probably indicates socio-economic standing, not moral goodness.

9) The small plates were translated last.

10) Nephi wrote the small plates 30 years after the events they depict and had political purposes (as well as others) in mind.


83 Replies to “Ten Tantalizing Tidbits about the Book of Mormon”

  1. 1 – Seems obvious.

    2 – ditto.

    3 – never, ever? Or just that we have recorded. However, I have seen arguments he uses BoM phrases in a few sermons, even if it isn’t explicitly stated.

    4 – Having taken Royal Skousen’s class on Textual Criticism and the BoM, I agree.

    5 – Hmmm.

    6 – let me double check that…..

    7 – obvious enough.

    8 – Don’t quite agree. Nibley argues that, but in the Oxford English Dictionary, there are no meaning for “goodly” that are synonymous with “rich”. It can mean “a lot of” or “really good” though. This would mean Joseph Smith used it in a way that No one else anywhere in the english speaking world used that word.

    Or we can combine them all. Perhaps Lehi was a polygamist, so Nephi had a lot of really good, really rich parents. 😉

    9 – again, fairly obvious.

    10 – Okay.

    Fun little list.

  2. Ivan Wolfe,

    This would mean Joseph Smith used it in a way that No one else anywhere in the english speaking world used that word.

    See this comment and this one. I am not sure the case is quite so open and shut.


    I couldn’t find anything to take issue with, good list.

  3. Point #3 — Ivan, probably the leading theory of the Book of Mormon among faithful scholars these days attributes much of the phraseology of the Book of Mormon to Joseph Smith — so it wouldn’t be surprising that Smith would use similar phrases in his sermons. And there’s no record of Smith ever giving a sermon from the Book of Mormon; not a text, not a diary entry, nothing. Furthermore, there are very few records of early Mormons other than Joseph Smith giving sermons using texts from the Book of Mormon, although many gave sermons about the Book of Mormon using the Bible as a text. It doesn’t follow, obviously, that we should (fail to) use the book in the same way.

    Point #7 — this could be taken a bit further. There’s no meaningful evidence of an eternal-families perspective in the Book of Mormon. There’s little evidence of a priesthood in any sense recognizable to modern Mormons. There’s at least some reason to think that the Book of Mormon reflects one or more views of the Godhead that differ quite a bit from what most current Mormons think. Modern Mormon concepts of exaltation are pretty much absent from the text. In my view, this is the most fertile of the 10 tidbits, and indeed could have been the basis for an entire list in itself.

    Point #8, I agree with Ivan. There’s really no good reason to take this position, in my view. The OED definitions don’t include any meanings, from any time periods, that refer to wealth. Furthermore, Noah Webster’s 1828 American dictionary gives the following meanings: Being of a handsome form; beautiful; graceful; as a goodly person; goodly raiment; goodly houses. Pleasant; agreeable; desirable; as goodly days. Bulky; swelling; affectedly turgid. Using these meanings, we have the option of concluding (somewhat unfortunately) that Nephi’s parents were swollen, or the alternative of concluding that they were physically attractive or socially nice. It’s not impossible to imagine that a more religious implication may have persisted until the 1820s, since the old English word this comes from literally meant godly. And there’s always the possibility that it’s a misspelling of godly in any case; the Book of Mormon is certainly not immune from typos. So there are a range of possible meanings, but I can’t see any real evidence that people in Joseph Smith’s time meant “rich” when they said “goodly.”

  4. Ivan, I haven’t seen Nibley’s argument about goodly. I’m basing this purely on the context- I don’t find dictionary arguments persuasive, since they’re descriptive of usage. You’re correct about recorded sermons. I’ve not seen any of the arguments for him making BoM allusions.

    Tim- It’s explicit about one-ness, but that doesn’t necessarily indicate classical Trinitarianism. It says nothing about personas, substance/ousia, ontological unity, etc. Don’t read it in.

  5. RT- re: point 3, there’s clearly a priesthood of sorts (given their Mosaic law setting) and a church hierarchy, but they don’t line up clearly with the modern structure or conceptions.

    “Modern Mormon concepts of exaltation are pretty much absent from the text.” I mostly agree, the exception being 3 Nephi 28:10, which carries some strong overtones of deification.

    I’m sticking with goodly meaning something like “well-off” because of the context. See my prior comment about dictionaries being descriptive.

  6. Nitsav, fair enough regarding the dictionary. Yet their descriptive function does give them some evidentiary value; they do list usages that were common at the time and place, etc. So there is some evidence for the prevalence of other meanings of goodly. Is there comparable evidence for a wealth-based meaning? I really haven’t seen it yet, from Nibley or anyone else.

    Thinking about context, Nephi sees being taught what his father knows as a logical consequence of “goodliness.” This seems to argue against an interpretation of the word as “godly,” since godly people aren’t axiomatically known for being attentive to teaching their kids everything they know. But this context doesn’t seem to argue definitively for a reading of “wealthy parents” as opposed to “kind, loving, diligent parents.” Either of these varieties of parents might reasonably be presupposed to have an inclination to teach their kids. I’m not yet persuaded that there’s enough here in the context to support a presupposition that the word is being used in a way quite unlike the large majority of recorded usages — which is of course what the OED reflects, etc.

    Regarding 3 Nephi 28:10, I agree that a reader armed with the concept of deification can find a sympathetic text there. But a reader without that idea in the theological tool chest would probably offer a different reading. One easy reading would put the focus of the text on describing the extent of joy of the three Nephites in the next life, stressing that their joy would be as full as that of God but not necessarily implying that the three Nephites would become Gods. So one can find exaltation here, but the text may well be read in other ways and may even have been intended in other ways.

    Furthermore, I absolutely agree that there’s a priesthood. Witness Noah’s wicked priests, and the occasional existence of a high priest over the Nephites. Furthermore, aside from that, there’s a set of authorities that Jesus conveyed — to baptize, give the Holy Ghost, etc. These authorities are never called priesthood, they aren’t divided into Aaronic and Melchizedek branches, and it isn’t clear that holders of these authorities governed any aspect of the church other than admission and excommunication. This is the point, I guess; while there is priesthood, it looks enough different from current Mormon ideas to be worth distinguishing.

  7. Let me work backwards on the context then. Nephi begins the book by explaining what he’s doing.

    v. 3 Nephi tells us he makes the record in his own hand. The significance of this statement is lost on most modern readers. His contemporary Jeremiah used a scribe (Jer.36:4), but Nephi doesn’t. He makes the record with his own hand, indicating that he is literate, being able both to read AND write.

    If we read v. 2 as indicating Hebrew language in Egyptian script (as many do) or Egyptian in Egyptian script (as a few do), then Nephi is literate in two scripts and perhaps two languages. Add to this that the Brass plates Nephi can read were written in Egyptian, according to Mosiah 1:4,and you have a strong argument that Nephi was a highly literate individual. Literacy such as this would have been extremely rare, and available only to those who could afford to not be out in the fields or working all day. Learning language skills like that requires lots of time, light, and texts. It’s not something one simply picks up.

    v. 1 explains how Nephi, not being a professional scribe, acquired these skills and was able to make the record. Because his parents were _____, he learned these skills from his father.

    Now, I don’t see how “good” fits that blank. Good parents do want their children to learn, but good will alone can’t provide the largesse that makes such an education possible. Most parents at that time simply didn’t have the means (if they even saw the value of reading and writing beyond a scribal career.)

    The context seems to require something about wealth or economic status in that blank. That is close enough to overlap with part of goodly’s semantic range (that of multiplicity or largeness) that I stick with it as the meaning. It would indeed be a rare usage, not attested elsewhere that I’m aware of.

    A brief word on methodology. I’ve used enough lexicons and read enough texts to know that it’s not uncommon to have a word used idiosyncratically in only one extant text. In those cases, if the lexicon is recent enough to be aware of that textual example, then it lists that text as the sole usage with meaning x. If not, the meaning of the word is determined from context. If the contextually-indicated meaning varies greatly from what it seems to mean elsewhere, one either posits a homophonous root or says that the word has become “lexicalized” (same word, but through unknown socio-linguistic processes, new usages gave new meaning to the word, and this is the only occurrence.)

    This is what I’ve tried to do here for goodly, and I feel it’s a decent argument.

  8. Jacob J.’s comment #2 has been resurrected from the spam-list. Thanks for that link, I’m not sure I’d read it before. Interesting comments from Skousen.

  9. Jacob J.’s links actually show the depth of the problem here. All of the Bible examples in that link, and indeed every example I’ve ever seen where “goodly” is used in a way that seems in the vicinity of “rich”, refer to the quality of objects. They are nice objects, high-quality objects, good things. These references don’t address the financial status of people, as would have to be the case in 1 Nephi 1:1.

    It’s clear from the rest of 1 Nephi that Nephi’s parents were rich. So, with that background information in hand, it becomes clear why a meaning of goodly as “nice” or “attentive” would make contextual sense in 1 Nephi 1:1. Mean rich parents might choose not to teach their children anything, while nice, attentive rich parents would certainly make sure to teach their children the most important skills and information. If the argument is purely from context, as it has to be given the unique nature of this proposed usage, then there’s no argument because the context fits multiple meanings equally well.

  10. Point 4- The first few chapters of Mosiah disappeared as part of the 116 pages JS gave to Martin Harris. We know this because in the printer’s manuscript, our current Mosiah chapter 1 is labeled Mosiah chapter 3. See here, p. 19.

    Point 5- The Babylonians had been in control of Jerusalem since 605. There were several episodes between 605 and 587/88 of hauling Jews off to Babylon. It was probably politically and religiously incorrect to say that Babylon was going to haul off more and destroy the city, but not too hard to figure out. (Edit: I’m not suggesting that Lehi wasn’t a prophet, just that this one was no-brainer.)

    Point 6- The two primary texts are 3 Nephi 8:5 (which states that the destruction took place in year 34, month 1 day 1) and 3 Nephi 10:18 (which states that in the *end* of the 34th year, Jesus showed himself to them.) See Kent Brown and John A. Tvedtnes. “When did Christ appear to the Nephites?” (FARMS paper, don’t know if it’s still available) and Kent Brown, “When did Jesus Visit the Americas?” in From Jerusalem to Zarahemla, 146-156.

    Point 10- 2 Nephi 5:28-30 tells us when Nephi began to make the small plates. For the political viewpoints, see Noel Reynolds “Nephi’s Political Testament” in Rediscovering the Book of Mormon, 220-230 and “The Political Dimensions in Nephi’s Small Plates” BYUStudies 27:4 (1984): 15-37. Another interesting paper that looks at it from the other perspective is Richard L. Bushman. “The Lamanite View of Book of Mormon History” By Study and Also By Faith, Vol 2, 52-73.

  11. “All of the Bible examples in that link, and indeed every example I’ve ever seen where “goodly” is used in a way that seems in the vicinity of “rich”, refer to the quality of objects. They are nice objects, high-quality objects, good things. These references don’t address the financial status of people, as would have to be the case in 1 Nephi 1:1.”

    But again, this line of argument assumes that the BoM can’t have a unique usage or that usage can shift.

    “then there’s no argument because the context fits multiple meanings equally well.”

    The immediate context doesn’t. And we’ll just have to agree to disagree on it, unless you think that on this point hang all the law and the prophets 😉

  12. Nitsav, I agree that it’s not a major point. I disagree that there’s any evidence in the immediate context that gives us a compelling reason to pick one meaning or another. Certainly the Book of Mormon may have a unique usage, but it should be clear that the threshold for defending a unique usage is much higher than the threshold for defending more common usages — and so the fact that the text makes equal sense given a variety of readings probably should sink the “wealth” reading, although it can’t confirm any specific alternative. I do think this is an example of a tendency in Book of Mormon studies to seek certainty that isn’t available.

  13. About point #4, I don’t get it. Maybe I just don’t have enough of the argument, and if someone would spell it out for me, it would make sense. But if the only evidence is that our Mosiah 1 was origianlly Mosiah 3, isn’t it just as possible that the original Mosiah 1-2 are now some or all of our current chapter-length books of Enos, Omni, Jarom, and WoM, which immediately precede Mosiah?

    I thought that Joseph Smith entrusted the entire manuscript as it existed at the time to Martin Harris. Is that not the case?

  14. Jonathon, that is indeed the case.

    But note my #9. The apparent order of the translation was the Book of Lehi, then Mosiah. The small plates (1 Nephi-Omni) were translated last, so none of them can be Mosiah 1-2.

    Beyond the textual-critical work with the manuscripts performed by Skousen (linked to in comment 12), each book is generally named after the person it begins with EXCEPT our current book of Mosiah, which begins with King Benjamin. The first two chapters presumably spoke about Mosiah 1, King Benjamin’s father.

  15. There’s something especially interesting about the Words of Mormon/Mosiah interface. Note that Words of Mormon 12-18 bridges perfectly to Mosiah 1:1. If Words of Mormon hadn’t provided a summary of the contentions that Benjamin had to resolve, then Mosiah 1:1 would be mysterious and discontinuous. But with the extra summary, which covers material that comes after the end of the small plates and presumably redundant to the lost material from Mosiah 1 and 2, everything fits together. Providence indeed.

  16. While I agree that BoM prophets likely drank wine, I have a harder time thinking that they did not understand the three degrees of glory and the like. I agree that there is nothing in the text that suggests the structure outlined in D&C 76, there is nothing that argues against it, either. And isn’t Joseph’s experience with the scriptures that led up to The Revelation (i.e. he was pondering Christ’s statement on many mansions) similar to Alma’s explanation of how he learned about the Spirit World (He pondered what happens to man when we die, and learned we are not immediately judged and resurrected). I think we should be careful not to conclude that just because something is not in the text that it was not understood anciently.

    It would be interesting to compare the Doctrine and Covenants with other scriptures to see if the D&C leaves out any doctrines that we believe.

  17. Someone needs to do a JBMS article on the goodly issue. It’s been kicking around for a fair bit now, and even if there is no definitive resolution it would be useful to have the relevant arguments and information all in one place.

  18. Mahana: “there is nothing that argues against it”

    I tend to see the binary heaven/hell dichotomy in the Book of Mormon (lots of places) as indicating that they didn’t know anything about three degrees. If they did, they gave no hints whatsoever and used language that was extremely simplified.

  19. jacob j –

    those comments you referred to – I checked some lexicons, and nearly every case where the KJV translated “goodly” it meant “good” or “a lot of” not “rich.” “goodly stones”, for example, meant “a lot of stones” and a “goodly garment” meant “a good garment”.

    Of course, while I can read NT Greek, I don’t know Hebrew – perhaps a Hebrew scholar can enlighten us. But those comments you linked to are, as far as I can tell, complete misreadings.

  20. Nitsav:
    You make a good point. However, mixed in among the dichotomy is the idea that we will be rewarded not only according to our works, but also according to the desires of our hearts.

    I guess another, partner question, is how did the Book of Mormon prophets conceive of hell? Did they recognize it as the outer darkness described in D&C 76, or as something else?

  21. TT, #24: I visit the Hill Cumorah in NY regularly and on every visit I have overheard someone commenting on the “awesome battle that took place here.” It’s a common misunderstanding (though harmless enough).

  22. “Modern Mormon concepts of exaltation are pretty much absent from the text.”

    I find this very interesting RT. I’d like to know what conclusions you draw from this line of thought….

  23. Nitsav: I hoped you’d have something about the Book of Mormon language and its relation (or lack thereof) to Hebrew. I often hear exegesis on a BofM text that relies on what “the Hebrew root of ______ is and how that helps us understand what Alma (or whoever) really meant when he said….” I would think that being separated from Jerusalem for 1,000 years would make Mormon’s Hebrew very different from Isaiah’s et al (especially if the Nephites weren’t the only people in the area) but I’m no linguist. If I’m on to something, when would you say the “Hebrew-isms” would have stopped? Mosiah? Alma?

  24. Brianj, why do people incessantly talk about “Hebrewisms” in the BofM but never “Egyptianisms” seeing as the text itself claims to be a hybrid of sorts? I find the whole debate so much simpler to resolve if we call them “KJV Biblicisms” and just move on.

  25. I see a hint of plurality of Gods in Alma 12 – when Alma capitalizes the G – to compare with Amulek’s statement that the godhead are one.

  26. No degrees of glory in BofM – just another clue that perhaps the translator of the book hadn’t yet discovered the idea of degrees of glory when he translated it…

  27. David J –

    We’ve read the entire passage many times, and frankly it seems odd Joseph Smith would use a term so idiosyncratically, so that NO ONE ELSE in his time period or a later one would understand it that way until Nibley came along.

    It seems the simplest is the best: goodly means what pretty much everyone else at the thought it meant AND is consistent with the KJV usage, which never (as far as I can tell) translates “wealthy” as “goodly.” Why, in this one instance, would their be such a unique usage? The evidentiary burden for goodly=wealthy is, frankly, much higher than it is for any other meaning.

  28. Ivan:

    “NO ONE ELSE in his time period or a later one would understand it that way until Nibley came along.” My argument is independant of Nibley’s, as I haven’t seen it. Where is it located? As for the rest of this line of argument, there are plenty of other things about the Book of Mormon in which the traditional reading has, under actual examination, turned out to be wrong. I’m not defending his argument sight unseen, but no one else really read the Book of Mormon closely until Nibley.

    Semantic shift happens all the time. Dictionaries are a subset of *attested* usage. “goodly means what pretty much everyone else at the thought it meant” which, I ask, is what? “Good”? But that’s not in the dictionary or KJV usage. Beautiful, graceful, pleastant, swollen? Which of RT’s dictionary meanings above do you suggest? Or do you prefer to argue for a semantic shift or idiosyncratic usage meaning “good”? I’ve made my contextual argument above, and never claimed it had a parallel usage elsewhere.

    David J: John Gee has argued for Egyptianisms, or at least that many of what people take for Hebraisms are also Egyptianisms.

    The link from #12 should be giving you a pdf file. If not, try going here, then selecting “Uncovering the Original Text of the Book of Mormon, 2002.”

    Brian J: Generally speaking, I think Hebrew became a scribal language of the elite, perhaps a case of diglossia. I assume the spoken version died out or was subsumed fairly quickly. If they were still speaking a mutually-intelligible form of Hebrew by Omni 1:15, I assume the merger with the people of Zarahemla killed it fairly quickly. But again, for the scribes and elites, they had written records of some form of pre-exile Israeli Hebrew, and that may have provided some stabilization.

    Dan Ellsworth, see my comment with references in comment 12.

  29. Oh yeah, I would add one more that I remember from Skousen:

    12. The differences between KJV Isaiah and BoM Isaiah are almost all scribal or printer errors in the BoM manuscripts, not representatives of a more “original” Isaiah text.

    A few more:

    13. The BoM has extensive quotations from Paul.

    14. The Sermon at the Temple contains elements that biblical scholars can only find in later NT manuscripts, which get used in the KJV, but are excluded from modern translations. Specifically, the final verse of the Lord’s Prayer is thought to be a later addition.

  30. [deleted]
    Now that’s comedy.

    Added by Nitsav: Thanks Matt W.
    (Semantic) shift happens. I need to proofread closer…

  31. Hello,

    Some additional contradictions to conventional LDS doctrine/info the Book of Mormon left out is:
    1. God is eternal–was never a mortal man (Moroni 8:18).
    2. It never says men can become gods.
    3. If a person dies in his sins, the devil seals him in this final state, i.e. no need for baptism for the dead. (Alma 34:34,35).
    4. There is only one God (Alma 1 1:26-29 and This was also proclaimed by Joseph Smith, History of the Church, 6:474).
    5. Polygamy is always described as an abominable practice.

    Please correct me if I misunderstand your beliefs, but LDS believe that Jesus is a god, the Father is a god, and the Holy Ghost is a god, and there are an unlimited number of other gods with their own planets, making them polytheists. The Bible is clearly monotheistic (Isaiah 43:10, 44:6, 1 Corinthians 8:4, Galatians 3:20). Whether there is one God or many gods seems like a huge difference to me. Jesus said that if we don’t have a proper understanding of who He is, we would die in our sins (John 8:24). Either LDS are correct or Christians are correct, but one of us is going to spend eternity in hell, and one of us isn’t. Am I correct?


  32. “Am I correct?”

    Bill, in a word, no.

    Edit: As a beginning correction to some of your scriptural proof-texting, let me refer you to Evangelical scholar Mike Heiser’s paper (presented at an Evangelical conference, but published in a LDS press.)

  33. Bill,
    Thanks for your contributions. I think that you will be hard pressed to find a single LDS text that admits to being polytheists. Rather, the LDS position is closer to henotheism. I also think that characterizing the Bible as unconditionally monotheistic is a very difficult case to make. Consider, for instance, the difficulty of understanding Jesus’s “divinity”. I posted some thoughts on this here: http://faithpromotingrumor.wordpress.com/2007/08/02/is-jesus-a-god-in-the-nt/
    Finally, we are Christians and we don’t think that other Christians are going to spend eternity in hell.

  34. Actually, it seems possible to me that “goodly” means wealthy — just not resolvable. For it to mean wealthy, all we need is for Joseph Smith to have read and misunderstood the various Bible usages. Since “goodly” often referred to nice stuff, it seems easy for a self-taught KJV reader to conclude that it meant wealthy. So we don’t need a semantic shift here — which in any case isn’t evident in other people’s writing. We just need one kid’s misinterpretation of a difficult word.

    But nonetheless the context doesn’t resolve the dilemma. I think it’s best to allow uncertainty in interpreting the verse, rather than wedding ourselves to a single option.

  35. Ivan (#35), and yet you believe that Mormons can come along 2000+ years after the Bible was written and understand things (like Ezekiel 37:15ff, Isaiah 29, etc. etc.) so much clearer and better than the masses of people before us? I think I can quite easily make the claim that “goodly” is socio-economic, especially among Mormons.

  36. TT #24, a debatable point, in fact. I agree that it’s probably the most common modern position, but there are important anomalies for the interpretation. No other candidate hill is a better archaeological (as possibly opposed to literary) fit, unfortunately.

    Katie #27, regarding the lack of a concept of exaltation, what I think we can really conclude from that is that understandings of the gospel develop over time. Various faithful scholars suggest that aspects of the theology of the Book of Mormon may be some mix of ancient understandings and Joseph Smith’s interpolation. Under either theory, it seems okay to me to conclude that people at that time and place understood salvation as a dichotomous concept (saved/damned) in which salvation basically resembles other Christians’ concept of heaven. That perspective can be reasonably seen as a (possibly somewhat simplified) truth, even from the point of view of modern Mormonism. We can simply offer, perhaps, a somewhat more elaborated concept of salvation. But just as individuals proverbially develop in theological understanding line upon line, it seems reasonable that so would God’s people as a whole. So this contrast becomes a reinforcement of the idea that, while truth may be eternal, our understanding of it has a history.

  37. RT,
    Except, of course, the that Hill Cumorah is the one place that the BoM says that the plates are NOT buried.

    If it the Palmyra Hill Cumorah is the best archaeological fit, I’d say we have a problem.

  38. TT, as far as the archaeology goes, I wouldn’t say the Palmyra hill is “best” but rather that it’s about equal to the two or three named Mesoamerican alternatives. None of them match well with the various final battle descriptions, etc.

    The Book of Mormon does say that the huge archive of plates was at the Hill Cumorah, and there are various pieces of historical evidence supporting the proposition that the archive of plates was seen in vision inside the Palmyra hill. Plus the Onondagus prophecy, etc. Anomalies — not definitive, argued about, but nonetheless ground for saying that the claim in #24 isn’t axiomatic.

  39. “Actually, it seems possible to me that “goodly” means wealthy — just not resolvable.”

    Well heck, how many textual interpretation arguments do you know that ARE resolvable?

    Katie, many LDS, when things like my #7, tend to forget that whole principle of line upon line, that God will reveal more, continuing revelation, etc. It’s not just a line. I often refer people to this Ensign article by James Allen as a reminder of this principle. It has concrete historical examples, and since it’s the Ensign, few LDS instinctively distrust it.

  40. Thanks for granting my wish!

    There are a few I would add to the list.

    – Almost nothing that makes the LDS unique from other Christians is contained in the BoM, other than the belief in the BoM itself.

    – I’d expand on the Cumorah idea and say that neither Joseph Smith Jr nor Moroni called the hill in New York “Cumorah”.

    – There is reason to believe that the Mulekites were not from the Holy Land, but just made that story up in a bid to maintain their status when merging with the Nephites.

  41. Bill, we appreciate your concern, but would prefer your understanding. Mormons rely upon the Jesus crucified and resurrected in the New Testament for salvation.

    Please try to keep your comments limited to the topic of the post and the preaching to a minimum, lest you be considered a troll and condemned to everlasting deletion from the blog 🙂

  42. #7 I used to believe until I started doing some reading on the history of apocalyptism. The geography of Nephi’s vision is oddly pretty consistent with a lot apocalyptic visions that *do* end up representing the three degrees (or seven degrees) of glory. So it is pretty plausible that Nephi new about it. But I will agree that it is clear he didn’t clearly teach it in the Book of Mormon.

  43. On BoM Egyptianisms, see footnote 7 to John Gee’s review of the Enc. of Mormonism, here:


    I also comment briefly on this at footnote 4 of my Enallage article, here:


    On the goodly thing, I find it a very interesting subject, and frankly I don’t know what to think about it. It seems most likely to me that the word in this particular context means either “good” or “wealthy,” neither of which is the “dictionary” definition of the word (generally either “pleasant” or “sizeable [in number].”) So either way it seems that Joseph had his own take on the word, which is going to make it difficult to resolve unless we can find a comparable usage elsewhere in his writings.

    If Joseph intended it to mean “good,” it would appear to be an attempt at (incorrectly) using an archaizing form; sort of “King Jamesifying” the language.

    If Joseph intended it to mean “wealthy,” he may have taken “goodly” in the sense of “possessed of goods,” which to my eye does have a kind of Jacobean ring to it, even if we don’t have an exact parallel. This may also have been suggested by the sense of “a large number of [worldly goods].”

    My default position is to take goodly here as an attempted archaizing of good, but I remain very open and interested in the wealthy possibility, and enjoy these discussions.

    This has come up a number of times in the Bloggernacle, and it would really be a service if someone could round up all of the arguments and evidence made to date pro et con on this question. (This should probably be done as a stand alone post.)

  44. A few other bits. First off the idea that the Book of Mormon teaches a trinitarian view seems to need unpacked, especially since I think modern Mormonism is entirely compatible with the formal doctrine of the Trinity. The main difference being God’s embodiment and creation ex nihilo. But neither of those are parts of the Trinity formal.

    The other claim in the Book of Mormon is modalism, but at best the BoM is inconsistent since it often teaches things incompatible with modalism. Further it’s not explicitly modalistic and the main modalistic passage (Mos 15) can better be read in the context of Merkabah texts that parallel Nephi’s vision and lead to a much more modern LDS notion. I just don’t buy the modalism claim. At best it is a way to read the text. (Both Blake and I have written on this ad nauseum so I’ll not bore)

    I’d also disagree on the idea that nothing unique to modern Mormons is found in the Book of Mormon. But most of what are the obvious differences aren’t there. (i.e. quasi-masonic ceremonies, baptism for the dead) I’d say that what I see as most underlyingly characteristic of Mormonism is found in the Book of Mormon. That is an anticapatory Christianity in early Judaism and a Christianity much more Jewish than typically thought. (Although arguably the BoM doesn’t touch upon the latter that much since little post advent is that different from the NT and there’s really not much there – but I think the earlier pre-advent passages lead to Judaism and Christianity being pretty intertwined)

    Even the temple stuff while not explicit can easily be read back into many passages. There are some very (to a Mormon) temple oriented stuff in places like Alma 13. Are they explicit enough to make everyone happy or answer argument? Probably not.

    The idea that the Mulekites made the whole thing up is entertaining but doesn’t really have that much evidence in the least.

    Regarding Cumorah there actually is one very, very good site in southern Mexico as I recall that matches all the descriptions. I used to have some pictures of it and I was pretty impressed.

    I’d disagree somewhat about exhaltation. I think most of the key Mormon ideas are in the Book of Mormon. The only real one missing is eternal marriage as part of exhaltation. Is there explicit language that we will be gods? No. But then theologically it isn’t clear even within modern Mormonism what that means so we have to be somewhat careful here. At best we can say a popular modern LDS interpretation of exhaltation isn’t explicitly described the way most Mormons describe it.

  45. I don’t have time to expand upon Apocalypsism.

    If you have handy access to a library I’d check out The Jewish Apocalyptic Heritage in Early Christianity edited by VanderKam and Adler and Cosmology & Eschatology in Jewish & Christian Apocalypticism by Collins. Both are pretty pricey books. (Obviously I was still single when I could lay down $100 for a slim volume) The former one could argue isn’t as applicable since most of the relevant texts are from the Christian era – but the parallels to Nephi’s vision and some other BoM passages are inescapable in my opinion.

    The more interesting volume is the latter one.

    The big issue is whether Jewish heavenly ascents tended to follow Babylonian geography and imagery. Many (including Nephi’s) do tend to have a common geography. (Even if they don’t all share *all* the same points) This geography can be seen to be significant.

    I’m *not* saying this is something I could say was “obvious” but it something to keep in mind when we read the Book of Mormon so as to note that culturally there is a lot more going on below the surface that we don’t always notice.

  46. I think using Moroni 8:18 to imply God never progressed (i.e. in opposition to the KFD) is weak at best. Certainly one could read it that way but one could also read it in other ways. But of course even some Mormons (such as Blake Ostler) don’t accept the main reading of the KFD.

  47. Clark,

    I agree that some of this things are hinted at, or could be read into the BoM assuming that you already know about them. But most of the ideas are much more plain visible in the Bible, which is interesting in that one would expect (and I think many Mormons assume) that the BoM contains a lot of unique ideas.

  48. I should add that within the Book of Mormon there are good reasons for why many higher teachings (i.e. Nauvoo theology) wouldn’t be found. First off there is Alma 12-13, which I think is key for reconciling modern (Nauvoo) Mormonism with the Book of Mormon. But note what Alma says:

    It is given unto many to know the mysteries of God; nevertheless they are laid under a strict command that they shall not impart only according to the portion of his word which he doth grant unto the children of men, according to the heed and diligence which they give unto him.

    Note that this is how Alma prefaces Zeezrom’s question regarding the very theological area where Mormons and the Book of Mormon purportedly are in conflict. i.e. the nature of the resurrection and condition of life after judgment. Further, as I suspect most here know, “mystery”, can have a rather significant connotation. (I’m not saying one must read Alma as using the later sense of mystery that FARMS likes to read into the NT – just that it is a very plausible reading)

    Regarding exhaltation, I think the key aspects of LDS notions, minus marriage, are in Alma 13 and Hel 10. (I’d argue Mos 15 too) At a minimum they lend to a natural reading which leads to the LDS notion even if it doesn’t necessarily demand it.

  49. John, I’m not sure they are more explicit in the Bible, beyond the baptism for the dead bit.

    Consider degrees of glory. One can read that in terms of Paul’s aside about being caught up into the 3rd heaven (which most Mormons read as the three degrees of glory, but which I tend to see as Paul being in an ascent and talking about the 3rd level of seven where typically one returns to something like the garden of eden and partakes of fruit – also the order in Rev 2-3 with it’s third step where one eats of hidden manna) The point being that there is this aside but nothing more. Unless one was already familiar with pseudopigraphal ascent texts and merkabah texts I’m not sure one could read Paul or Rev 2-3 in a Mormon like way.

    The key NT passage on degrees of glory that inspired Joseph’s vision was the idea that we are judged according to our works which suggests it is a matter of degree. But it’s hardly explicit and can be found just as easily in the BoM.

    The Melchezedek Priesthood is explicit in Alma 12-13. It just is. It’s arguably as explicit as anything in the D&C and far more explicit than anything in the NT. It doesn’t give the quasi-masonic stuff. But if one starts looking a typology one can even find a lot of that. Once again though, with the exception of Rev 2-3 which is hardly obvious to the casual reader, you’re not going to find it better in the NT.

    The only real missing stuff in the Book of Mormon that *might* be better in the NT is baptism for the dead and eternal marriage. But Paul’s aside on baptism for the dead doesn’t really given much by way of theology. (Thus the mainstream Christian view of it) So arguably it isn’t there any more than the BoM in a helpful fashion. Eternal marriage is loosely in the NT in passages like 1 Cor 11. But hardly explicit and arguably it at best forms a premise for an argument or is something Mormons read modern notions back into.

    Marriage in the BoM is the biggest issue. Indeed on of the very odd things about the BoM is how little it deals with women period. The best we have is Jacob’s condemnation of polygamy. But very little is said about women beyond that. Which I agree is very odd.

  50. Sure they are. Polygamy is practiced. Rev. 1:6 has all sorts of stuff that is never explicit in the BoM but that Mormons latch onto. Consecration doesn’t occur explicitly in the BoM, does it?

  51. Thank you, Clark. I don’t see Nephi’s vision as an ascension text (not even a little bit). The only element in common is the overview of world history, but even there the similarity is undercut by the handoff to John the Revelator (we never get God’s triumph and the setting of everything right). Further, there is none of the discussion of the cosmos or the revelation of the deeper order in this overview of history that we find in other ascension visions. As it stands, it is a poor fit. Perhaps Nephi had an ascension vision, but it ain’t what we’ve got in 1st Nephi 11-15.

    Further, there is nothing at all to indicate a knowledge of the three degrees of glory in the Book of Mormon. Exaltation is always depicted as (in modern terms) the highest degree of the celestial kingdom. Failure to be exalted is always depicted as being cast into outer darkness. There are no other descriptions available in the Book of Mormon.

    Finally, there does not appear to be any doctrine of the redemption of the dead. The exact meaning of “hell” in the Book of Mormon is ambiguous (see Larry H. Dahl’s article on the subject in the Book of Mormon Reference companion and in some Sperry Symposium volume) as is the meaning of “the night in which no work can be done.”

    That said, I think you mention of that passage at the beginning of Alma 12 is fruitful, especially when we consider that Alma and Amulek’s thoughts on the subject of the Atonement and exaltation are almost always delivered to people in a very rebellious state.

  52. Also, I have a friend who has made a convincing argument that the “goodly” designation is based on an Egyptian pun, since Nephi’s name could derive from the Egyptian word nefer, meaning “good, beneficial, beautiful”

    Now, back to the dissy

  53. HP, when (if?) I ever get some time I’ll do a write-up on Nephi/Lehi’s vision as an ascension text. I was, like you, a disbeliever for quite some time until I started doing some examination.

    John, consecration is explicit in the Book of Mormon.

    Rev 1:6 frankly doesn’t appear to say anything not in Alma 12-13.

  54. HP, I fully agree that there is nothing explicit in the Book of Mormon to suggest our three degrees of glory. My point is that there’s nothing really in the NT either. The modern Mormon idea, outside of merkabah, kabbalistic and pseudopigraphal text, is unique to the D&C and modern revelation.

    The bigger question is contexts presumed. For instance pretty much everyone agrees that Paul presupposes an apocalyptic background so as to make passages like 2 Cor 12 understandable. But without such additional texts it’s hard to glean much from it. All I’m suggesting is that we treat Mos 15 and 1 Ne 13 be treated akin to how we treat Paul. The only stumbling block might be what is post-exilic from what would have be available as context for Nephi. Even 1 Enoch is 100 BC.

    Regarding 1 Ne 13 as a heavenly ascent. I think there’s a lot of structural parallels to 1 Enoch. The reason I mention the three degrees of glory is because Enoch sees a river that divides the righteous from the wicked. But then there is a second river which divides the wicked into two groups. As I said I don’t have a lot of time to deal with this but I see a lot of geographical parallels between Nephi’s account and 1 Enoch. Of course the two river reading of 1 Enoch 21:8-13 isn’t absolute. But it is suggestive.

    For what reason is one separated from the other?” And he
    replied and said to me, “These three have been made in order
    that the spirits of the dead might be separated. And in the
    manner in which the souls of the righteous are separated by
    this spring of water with light upon it, in like manner, the
    sinners are set apart when they die and are buried in the
    earth and judgment has not been exectued upon them in their
    lifetime, upon this great pain, until the great day of
    judgment […] Such has been made for the souls of the people
    who are not righteous, but sinners and perfect criminals;
    they shall be together with other criminals who are like them,
    whose souls will not be killed on the day of judgment but will
    not rise from there.

    I’d also note Enoch’s vision of three heavenly gates. Once again not necessarily relevant directly to 1 Ne 13, but perhaps suggestive if one takes 1 Enoch as a kind of context for 1 Ne 13.

    I’d finally note that Nephi explicitly ties his vision to John’s vision. (See 1 Ne 14:20-26). Now one can, in terms of finding context, simply discount this. But if one doesn’t discount this then Rev 1-3 offers even more interesting ways to take Nephi’s vision. (i.e. Nephi’s tree of life and the hidden manna in the third step of John’s ascent)

  55. Structurally there are also three divisions in Nephi’s vision. Those who partake of the manna; those lost in the mists; and those in the great and spacious building. That corresponds phenomenologically to the divisions we associate with the three degrees of glory. i.e. those who are actively wicked (or seeking it); those actively righteous (or seeking it) and then a kind of lost middle ground. That’s not reading into the text: that’s what’s explicit in the text. Now does it correspond to the modern Mormon notion of kingdoms? Not necessarily: but it is wrapped up in symbolism so we shouldn’t be too surprised.

    In terms of theology and not symbolism though (an important distinction) is Lehi’s vision that different from what we find in D&C 76:71-79? The terrestrial are those “not valiant in the testimony of Jesus; wherefore, they obtain not the crown over the kingdom of our God.” But the are separate from those who reject all of God’s work and who are “thrust down to hell.” Now is this theology developed in the Book of Mormon? No – clearly dualism is the emphasis in the book of Alma. But that doesn’t mean the idea isn’t present in the Book of Mormon.

    Now is the typology of sun, moon, stars used? Not that I can see. But of course the fact a different symbolism is used doesn’t necessarily mean much.

    (BTW – typo in the prior comment. I wrote 1 Ne 13 when I should have written 1 Ne 11-14 and then of course 1 Ne 8 when we get Lehi’s account – I assume folks understood I was referring to the whole vision though)

  56. I think that for me the larger question is whether or not there is a similarity between the three degrees of glory and the multi-tiered heavens in ascension texts. While there is a certain amount of similarity, it seems that there are great differences between them, not least that they are speaking to different questions about the nature of the heavens. I am not sure that I can think of any ancient texts (though I admit that I may just misremember those that I have read) that speak of the different heavens as corresponding to different places of judgment.

  57. TT, the problem is that “degrees of glory” tends to cover different phenomena with identical structure. That’s true in modern Mormonism though as well. So we can talk of degrees of glory as representing the modes of being of mortals. (Arguably that’s what’s going on in Nephi/Lehi) However typologically this can simultaneously also be modes of glory (the structures independent of people) and then these same modes after judgement; and finally some eternal place (which is what most Mormons latch onto even though it is probably the most minor sense of the terms)

    I should note that this ambiguity is found in apocalyptic and related texts as well. The main scholarly focus is on places: thus the focus on planets or physical heavens. I think that somewhat distorting to the texts however. (Even if it is a reasonable question and analysis)

    In terms of BoM we could argue that it is logically wrapped up in the notion of restoration. If we are restored then we are restored to the degree of glory we have. Yes, this isn’t how say Alma 40-42 takes it. Alma tends to take a more dualistic sense where we’re constantly being enticed by two spirits and we’re restored to the spirit we like most. (Although one can point to Alma 42:27-28 as perhaps being open to a reading more akin to what led Joseph to D&C 76: but it’s hardly explicit and probably isn’t justifiable in terms of the text)

    But overall if we’re focused in on place after judgment rather than nature before judgement and after, then the Book of Mormon in general is silent. One could always proceed according to the logic of basic premises in it. But one probably couldn’t do this in a way not also open to competing readings.

  58. Nephi/Lehi’s vision, while not explicitly addressing marriage per se, certainly does introduce the idea of family salvation into the discussion–not systematically the way modern Mormon theological speculation tends to, but it’s still there in rough form.

    I personally find the 1-Ne-as-political-track to be one of the most fascinating points here. The goodly debate fits in to some extent as well. In any premodern society literacy is a mark of uber-elite socioeconomic status. From start to finish, with very few exceptions (cf. Jared Hickman’s article on race and ethnicity in the BoM narrative), the text quite openly reflects the biases of an elite, literate, priestly, aristocratic caste within the premodern equivalent of an almost apartheid social structure.

    Finally, as someone who takes the study of the BoM as seriously as possible (which often means reading it as critically as possible while still engaging it on its own terms), I find nothing more faith-promoting than the fact that Joseph Smith was not only not a good BoM exegete but was not a BoM exegete at all. His demonstrably superficial, almost impoverished understanding of the BoM text is indeed something to be pondered.

    We owe Nibley a debt that is almost impossible to overstate.

  59. Clark (#63), the problem is that Joseph had no concept of (modern) Melchizedek priesthood when he translated (read: wrote) the BofM – that’s why it’s called “high priesthood” and never called out by name, “Melchizedek Priesthood.” The “order of Melchizedek” might be mentioned there, and certainly got JS’s creative juices flowing on the subject for a later time, but the idea hadn’t fully developed yet. Cf. Greg Prince Power from on High: The Development of Mormon Priesthood for a very good explanation of this. Grant Palmer’s book Insider’s View of Mormon Origins too.

  60. The problem, David, is the ambiguity over what the concept of a modern Melchizedek priesthood is. That is what is MP proper and what is connotation we have to it? Also we have to distinguish between content and rhetoric. When you say, “never called out by name ‘Melchezedek Priesthood'” you’re talking rhetoric and not content. I find it unfortunate that in these discussions the two issues are so conflated. That’s not to say that the different ways we speak aren’t important. And certainly the evolution of how we speak is interesting and undoubtedly interesting. But if we’re talking about content then I think we have to be very, very careful.

    In terms of modern Mormon theology I just don’t see what’s missing in Alma 12-13. I recognize some aspects to the MP that Greg Prince discusses aren’t discussed formally. (i.e. the Holy Order) However even there I think we have to be careful.

    Brad, I agree that Joseph as a poor exegete of the text of the Book of Mormon can’t be overstated. Unfortunately far too many like to portray him as the opposite: an expert.

  61. I’ve been told that BY once said that if JS had translated the BoM 10 years later, it would have read much differently. Is that true? Does anyone have a reference?

  62. Brad:

    When God speaks to the people, he does it in a manner to suit their circumstances and capacities. He spoke to the children of Jacob through Moses, as a blind, stiff-necked people, and when Jesus and his Apostles came they talked with the Jews as a benighted, wicked, selfish people. They would not receive the Gospel, though presented to them by the Son of God in all its righteousness, beauty and glory. Should the Lord Almighty send an angel to re-write the Bible, it would in many places be very different from what it now is. And I will even venture to say that if the Book of Mormon were now to be re-written, in many instances it would materially differ from the present translation. According as people are willing to receive the things of God, so the heavens send forth their blessings. If the people are stiff-necked, the Lord can tell them but little.
    -Brigham Young, Journal of Discourses 9:311

  63. TT (#71), I think the issue of real heavenly ascents is fairly complex. For one there is a lot of overlap. We have the probably original taxonomy of physical heavens: roughly the underworld, earth, and the heavenly realm. We then have the rise of the number 7. But we sometimes have seven planets and other times seven spheres. Sometimes these are different places after judgment. Sometimes they are levels we ascend through, often needing to bypass guardian angels needing to give signs, tokens, or magic words. In some merkabah texts you even put on symbolic garments. The point is that while there are all these overtones, often there is a lot of unity despite different views of “place.”

    This gets back to the LDS issue of the three kingdoms. But there’s not a lot of unanimity there. How do Mormons take the heavenly ascent in our own context? Is it purely symbolic? Is the endowment a “dry run” for a real event sometime after receiving the more sure word of prophecy? Is it a kind of memory device?

    Even if you look to the way merkabah and then later Kabbalistic accounts they are taken in many ways. When you consider gnostic or partially gnostic texts such as Jeu it’s just not clear what is being asserted. (Even when one turns to texts like the Gospel of Philip where most Mormons see accounts as literal accounts of the interior of a temple; probably the Valentinians took it more mystically and symbolically)

    When one turns to explicit Mormon visions whether Nephi’s or say Joseph’s it’s hard to know how to take it. Was Nephi somewhere literal? Or was it purely a virtual reality intended to purely be symbolic? What about Joseph’s vision in D&C 76? What about the ascent in Revelation?

    I make no claim of how to take it. I’m not even sure how to approach the discussion of “place” in Mormon accounts of heaven. While I tend towards literalism and materialism in many ways – clearly this is a place where that’s difficult. The traditional early Utah theology is that earth will become the place where the Celestial will go at some future time. But I have no idea how to deal with terrestrial or telestial. Is it even a place at all? I don’t know. Then there’s the issue of the places for the spirit world where how to separate paradise from “hell” or prison makes little sense. (Typically in early Utah and even modern theology it is taken to be here on earth in some way we can’t see)

    The point being I just don’t know if focusing in on place ends up being that helpful.

  64. On the original point #6, it is worthwhile to discuss the why. Jesus waited a full year to re-interpret the Passover feast as the Sacrament just as he did in the Old World. This explains why people were gathered at the temple, to observe the Passover, and why the people had questions concerning the observation of the Law, because they were there to observe the Passover. There are a lot of Passover themes in the text of 3 Ne. 11-26.

  65. It’s stuff like this that keeps me blogging, despite the fact that I have no time or energy for it. Knock it off. 🙂

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