Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Etherial Insights

In reading for the Sunday School lesson covering Ether 1-6, Brant Gardner's Second Witness series has some really interesting content surrounding the Jaredites, where they came from, when they came from, and more.  This post may seem somewhat disconnected as I'm mainly highlighting some of the ideas that I found most enlightening.

Are the Jaredites the same as the Olmecs?

According to Gardner, they are not the Olmecs, but obviously lived in the culture, though more likely were absorbed into the already extant civilization when they arrived.  The connections are "completely circumstantial.... The Olmec culture flourished and supported hierarchical societies, including kings, during the period when similar social institutions flourished among the Jaredites.  Olmec lands in the Gulf Coast lie in appropriate geographic proximity to the southern Isthmus of Tehuantepec and Chiapas [plausible Nephite lands].  The plausible linguistic and cultural connections of the people of Zarahemla also fit into the known archaeological and linguistic history of the area."

One major catch is that the "phonetics of the Olmec and therefore probably of the Jaredites, do not match the Jaredite names in the Book of Mormon."

Jaredite Chronology

Gardner hypothesizes that given "the fact that Coriantumr was given refuge in Zarahemla, [this establishes] a plausible prior connection with that group.  Mulekite early history suggests that they had participated in the Olmec culture to the point of adopting that language and religion and losing their own (Omni 1:17).  Apparently a smaller group moved up the Grijalva Valley to Zarahemla.  From the fact that both the city and the ruler at Mosiah's arrival were named Zarahemla, [Gardner deduces] that they had only recently relocated and that the city was named for the founding leader.  Thus, Coriantumr may have lived with them perhaps less than fifty years before Mosiah's arrival.

"I also read Zarahemlaite interest in the stone they brought to Mosiah as interest in a relatively recent history, not as antiquarian curiosity in a stone nearly three hundred years old.  Therefore, this commentary uses 200 B.C. as a probable death date for Coriantumr and his contemporary Ether and therefore a plausible anchor for the generational chronology.  This anchor places the beginnings of the Jaredites somewhat earlier than 1070 B.C. [Gardner uses the round number 1100 B.C.]... This places them after Abraham and the patriarchs, and after Joseph in Egypt, after Moses and the plausible timing of the Israelites' return from Egypt."

Issues in Establishing the Chronology

John Sorenson cautions, "Historical texts and archaelogical research on Mesopotamia, their homeland, tell us that big pyramid-shaped temple platforms called ziggurats were being erected well before 3000 B.C.  Nothing but one of them qualifies as 'the great tower' referred to in Ether 1:33.  If the departure of the Jaredite party from their original home had been many centuries later than 3000 B.C. or earlier than about 3300 B.C., their account about "the great tower" would sound odd in terms of Near Eastern history... We have already seen that the earliest evidences of some of the basic indicators of civilization - stable agriculture, village life, and ceramics - date in Mesoamerica to about 3000 B.C.

"There is no sound evidence, by the way, to support the idea from outmoded biblical commentaries that the great tower ('of Babel') dated to near 2200 B.C., as some Latter-day Saints continue to believe.  Indeed, contrary data abound."

Gardner places "the reign of Jared's son (the first on the king list and therefore the first to have a reign to which the average reign of 30 years might apply) at 1120-1190 B.C.  The result is a gap of nearly two thousand years between the [Tower of Babel and their arrival]....

"In the genealogical list, the text identifies Morianton as a 'descendant' (rather than 'son') of Riplakish (Ether 1:23, 10:11).  Ether himself is a 'descendant' of Corihor.  Assuming that every other part of the genealogy were absolutely accurate, at these two locations we might have a plausible collapsing of generations.  Two other locations where 'descendant' is used in the original list (Ether 1:6, 16) suggest that there might be other places where there is the possibility of missing kings.  Hugh Nibley suggests: 'The first chapter of our text [Ether] gives us warning not to be dogmatic about chronology.  Three times in the genealogical list of thirty names running back to "the great tower" the word "descendant" occurs in place of "son" (1:6, 16, 23).'

"Although this caution is important, the chronology in the text itself corrects two of the three 'descendant' links to 'son' (Ether 11:23, 10:31).  This doesn't leave much room for missing generations.... While the king-list could be in error, it is internally consistent and there is no obvious reason to call it into question.  I believe that it provides a reasonable structure for reconstructing estimated time."

The Translation of the Jaredite Record and the Tower

"The Jaredite/Mesoamerican record itself seems fairly consistent and accurate, starting at the ending point (Ether and Coriantumr) and working backwards.  But it is difficult to connect the Jaredite/Mesoamerican story with a chronology that would include the Tower of Babel."

Gardner then pulls out other examples from later Mesoamerican history where cultural history was purposely linked to Bible stories due to some similarities (the building of a tower in one linked to the Tower of Babel).  This is "either because of [their] own belief in the Bible or awareness that a Christian-like narrative would be pleasing to the politically dominant Spanish....

"The provenance of the book of Ether is inherently problematic:
  • Ether is the original author.  His relationship to any actual records is completely unknown.
  • Mosiah (2) translates the text using the translators.
  • Moroni retells the text.
  • Joseph Smith translates Moroni's text into English."
Gardner further explains that three of these four transmission steps offer the opportunity of mixing up the histories with the Tower of Babel (as Ether would have not likely made this erroneous link to the tower).  Mosiah (2), Moroni, and Joseph Smith all knew the Bible story and if any of them made the "same kind of translation/historical conflation" as others have done, "then the tower story could have been read into the Jaredite story, rather than being original to it."  Gardner suggests that if this did happen, it was likely during Mosiah's translation, "as Mormon mentions the tower as part of Mosiah's translation (Mosiah 28:17).  Thus the tower appears in the narrative before Moroni's retelling of it."  Additionally, there are elements of Noah, Moses, and Abraham clearly in the Jaredite narrative, that in my mind continue to support this reading in of Biblical history into the Jaredite story.

Gardner understands that this contradicts traditional reading, and the assumption that scripture must be historically accurate, but it does help understand "how a text that is otherwise accurate to a time and place could miss a 'little thing' like a gap of two thousand years between the dates of the Old World tower and the date Gardner reconstructed using the average reign calculation of the king-list in Ether."

Sunday, February 21, 2016

A Case for Laman and Lemuel

As long as I can remember, I've always wondered about the overly simplistic description of Laman and Lemuel by Nephi.  Nephi is writing his record 30 years after they left Jerusalem and the tensions between the Nephites and Lamanites are undoubtedly worse than ever, which doesn't help memories much.  Don't take this as me thinking that Nephi was wrong in his descriptions; he wrote what he felt inspired to write and didn't have the luxury or space to write everything from different perspectives.  What we have is sufficient for us to continue on the path of righteousness.

With that out of the way, a lot of the thoughts that follow come from Brant Gardner's Second Witness series.  Gardner and others he referenced provide some very interesting context surrounding the historical setting of 1 Nephi.  "The fall of Samaria and the northern kingdom [of Israel] ... [caused] the relocation of a large number of refugees from the northern kingdom into Jerusalem.  Among those refugees were likely to have been Lehi's great-grandparents....The destruction of Israel was a caution to Judah, but one that Judah did not heed.  Mistakenly assuming that his allies were more powerful than they really were, Hezekiah also rebelled against the Assyrian domination...."

Political Background

"King Josiah reigned from 639 to 608 B.C.  After his death, Egypt placed Jehoiakim on the throne as a vassal king who, after Babylon drove Egypt out of Canaan, shifted his allegiance to Nebuchadnezzar but later revolted at his first opportunity.  Nebuchadnezzar deported Jehoiakim's son, Jehoiachin, and installed Zedekiah as a vassal regent.  Lehi received his call as a prophet under Zedekiah's reign."

Religious Background

King Josiah changed the religion of Israel in 623 B.C. removing all manner of idolatrous items from the temple, eliminating Canaanite practices; all done with the finding of an old law book (Deuteronomy) in the temple (similar to reforms made earlier by Hezekiah).

According to some historians, Lehi and his family fit into the category of people who left Jerusalem and did not agree with the reforms made.  The Book of Mormon represents Israelite religion in the pre-exilic (before they were exiled by the Babylonians) period.  Many themes of the Book of Mormon emphasize some elements of the pre-reform religion, though not opposed to all the reforms.

Possible Explanations for Specific Incidents

Understanding what was going on at the time allows for some interesting assumptions to be drawn as to why Laman and Lemuel were such murmurers.  During this time, there were not really any agnostic Israelites.  Gardner references that religion was not a separable component of life; religion was just how they lived their lives.  So to assume that Laman and Lemuel were just not that religious probably isn't that realistic.  If Lehi clung to the pre-reform beliefs, then it's likely Laman and Lemuel could have accepted the reforms made and thus saw no reason to leave Jerusalem or be unhappy with the way the Jews were living.

Laman and Lemuel are almost always referenced as a single entity, as if they had no individualistic thoughts or beliefs on their own.  This serves to simplify Nephi's story telling, but also makes it easy to reduce them to one-dimensional beings having no emotional or personal depth.

Laman was the birthright son.  Nephi's constant efforts to take the lead surely bugged them to no ends.  "A prophet is not without honor, but in his own country."  Their persecution of Nephi is not excusable, but how hard must it have been to see this taking place and having it occur to you?

The constant reminder that Jerusalem would be destroyed would also have been difficult to accept.  Jerusalem had been attacked several times in recent history and hadn't fallen yet.  It would have been easy to attribute the reason for it's continued existence as its people's righteousness.  Why would we need to leave if God has been blessing the city for its righteousness?  Surely there were other indications to the city's wickedness, but this would have been a pretty strong argument for the other side.

This list is by no means exhaustive.  I think it's helpful to try to see things through someone else's eyes.  Even if those people are proven wrong, it's helpful to see what it might have been that caused them to be so obstinately blind.  Any other instances with Laman and Lemuel you can think of that could be viewed through a different lens?

Sunday, January 17, 2016

Answers to Prayers

Most of what follows was inspired by thoughts provided in Brant A. Gardner’s Second Witness series.

At the end of 1 Nephi chapter 2, Nephi has had a vision that shows him that he will become a ruler and a leader over his brethren.  Nephi continually makes parallels between his and Joseph in Egypt’s life to help support the unusual calling for a younger brother to rule over his siblings.  His vision came as a result of “being grieved because of the hardness of [his brothers’] hearts” and so he  “[cried] unto the Lord.”  

Chapter 3 then starts with him excited to tell Lehi about the vision and ensuing comfort received, but Lehi speaks first.  Interestingly, Lehi has also had a vision.  We’re not told about what prompted Lehi’s praying or if the vision came on it’s own.  I’d like to think that Lehi, as a parent, was aware of his son’s concerns about them leaving Jerusalem.  He likely was aware of Nephi’s attempt to soften their hearts and provide a second witness to the truthfulness of their father’s words.  Naturally, this seems like something Lehi would be praying to the Lord about.

The directive to retrieve the brass plates seems like a perfect answer to what Nephi and possibly Lehi were praying about.  The plates, we are told, were necessary so that they and their posterity would not “dwindle in unbelief.”

The Lord doesn’t always give us everything we need to start off with.  He didn’t provide the plates, liahona, sword of Laban, etc. at the outset of their journey to the promised land.  He waited for the opportune time to provide each, emphasizing important principles to them and the millions of people who have since read their words.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

All You Need Is Love!

I was listening to a podcast with the author of a book entitled Letters to a Young Mormon.  It is a book written by a father for his daughter and is a series of letters containing some of the most important things he wished for her to know about the Gospel.

On the section titled “Sin,” the author provides us with a very unique understanding of how we establish our relationship with God:

"Your story, like everyone's, is a bit of a Frankenstein.  Without your hardly noticing or choosing, it gets sewn together, on the fly, out of whatever borrowed scraps are at hand.  You may have borrowed a bit from your mother, a bit from a movie you liked, and a bit from a lesson at church.  You may have stitched these pieces together with a comment overheard at lunch, a glossy image from a magazine, and a second-grade test score.  Whatever sticks.  More stuff is always getting added as other stuff is discarded.  Your story's projection of what you should be is always getting adjusted. Your idea of your shadow's optimal shape gets tailored and tailored again.

"Like most people, you'll lavish attention on this story until, almost unwittingly, it becomes your blueprint for how things ought to be.  As you persist in measuring life against it, this Franken-bible of the self will become a substitute for God, an idol.  This is sin.  And this idolatrous story is all the more ironic when, as a true believer, you religiously assign God a starring role in your story as the one who, with some cajoling and obedience, can make things go the way you've plotted.  But faith isn't about getting God to play a more and more central part in your story.  Faith is about sacrificing your story on his altar."

I love this analogy.  When things don’t go the way we want them to we get mad or frustrated or sad because God isn’t fitting into our mold.  We need to get to know God as He is, go to Him, seek Him out, learn about Him, otherwise we will be stuck worshipping and praying to a God who is nothing more than an idol.

“Jesus [asks] us to lose [our] story.  ‘Those who find their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it” (Matt 10:39 nsrv).  Hell is when your story succeeds, not when it fails.  Your suffocating story is the problem, not the solution.  Surrender it and find your life.”

Once we forfeit our “story” at God’s feet, we are then more free to keep his most important commandments.  In the section on Faith, the author tells us where we can find God:

“Don’t look for God in the throne room.  Don’t look for him in outer space.  You won’t find him there.  Jesus claims, instead, that he’s hidden in plain sight.  God constantly gives himself to us in the inconvenient, in the hungry, the outcast, the prisoner, the sinner.  He gives himself in what we would like to ignore.”

How we can love and serve God is taught in greater detail in the Book of Job.  Job does a lot of complaining; in fact the majority of what he says is cursing his life and asking “why me?”  His friends had come to comfort him, but they can’t handle the fact that Job claims he’s innocent and is yet suffering.  To them, God doesn’t punish the innocent, and so they see Job as attacking God by calling Him unjust and incompetent. This throws up red flags for them and they caution him and berate him for coming close to blasphemy.

At the end of the story, God condemns Job’s friends and says that Job (through all of his complainings and cursings) showed greater love to God than they did.  Can you imagine what his friends were thinking?!  They just spent numerous chapters trying to defend God and He says they were less devout!

This situation is very similar and almost easier to understand in the story of the Good Samaritan.  The common understanding is that the priest and the Levite pass by the injured man simply because they didn’t love enough or didn’t have time.  While these may be valid interpretations, it is helpful to remember that it was against their law for men in their position to touch the dead, which this man appeared to be.  Perhaps there is another reason they chose not to help a man in need that also parallels the motives of Job’s comforters in abandoning their friend.

“The priest and the Levite do not want to risk ritual uncleanliness by touching a dead body.  [Job’s comforters] don’t want to risk the moral contagion of listening to Job’s blasphemous complaints against God.  In both cases, the representatives of the orthodox religion choose abstract theological purity above the physical and spiritual needs of another human being.  For both Jesus and the Job poet, it is the wrong choice….  The unconditional love that Christ requires of us cannot coexist with any ideology that requires us to reject those who do not hold it.”

How are we taught to love God?  By serving our fellow man (Mosiah 2:17); by loving those who are hungry, thirsty, imprisoned (physically, emotionally, spiritually), naked (Matt 25:40); after baptism we covenant to bear one anothers burdens, mourn with those that mourn and comfort those needing comfort (Mosiah 18:9-10).  The second greatest commandment is essentially a way for us to comply with the first.  

All of us can find more ways to serve others and to overcome any uncomfortableness when encountering people who might not choose to live the same way we do (within or without the Church).  “God is love” (1 John 4:8).  If we do not have love, God is not with us.  (1 John 4:7-21)   Our mission on this earth is to love God’s children.

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Serenity and Communication

The following is a summary of our 5th Sunday 3rd hour lesson.  I don't think I'll be able to adequately relate everything that was so wonderfully presented and commented on, but I hope I can remember some of the items that really rang true to me.

The lesson started off with a twist on the Serenity prayer:

God grant me the serenity
to be pleasant about the things I
    cannot change;
understanding about the things I can;
and the skill to do it without
    hurting those I care about.

The whole lesson was learning to interact with others in a loving way, especially when you feel less inclined to do so, and especially with members of your family.  I had a restless 11 month old more than splitting my attention, so I'll attempt to elaborate on the 10 skills listed above that were talked about.

Skill #1, Be nice

Short and simple.  5 of the 12 points of the Boy Scout law easily fall into this category (Friendly, Courteous, Kind, Cheerful, Helpful). An old saying is, "You can catch more flies with a spoon of honey than with a bucket of gall." Make a conscious effort to be nice, and it will make a difference.

Skill #2, Choose to not be bothered

We do have a choice when it comes to letting something bother us.  Example of the instructor's 20 year old electric toothbrush.  For years, using the loud toothbrush had bothered his wife when she was trying to sleep.  She chose to stop letting it bother her and it no longer does. If someone else is doing something that annoys you, you can just decide to not be annoyed (so long as it is not mean, sinful, evil, cruel, illegal, etc.)

Skill #3, Focus on the positive

5 minutes of "connect" time when first seeing somebody.  For example, when you come home from work, those first 5 minutes are your connect time and should be as positive as possible. President Gordon B. Hinckley wrote, "If husbands and wives would only give greater emphasis to the virtues that are found in one another and less to the faults, there would be fewer broken hearts, fewer tears, fewer divorces, and more happiness in the homes of our people."

President Hinckley also wrote, "I would like to suggest that we stop seeking out the storms of life and enjoy the sunlight. I am suggesting that we 'accentuate the positive.' I am asking that we look a little deeper for the good, that we still our voices of insult and sarcasm, that we more generously compliment virtue and hard effort. There is good all around us - if we will only look for it."

Skill #4, Say/do nothing about the things you don't like

If someone is doing something you don't like, ignore it for a month and 90% of the issues you thought were worth bringing up will resolve themselves. Directly addressing the things that irritate you are generally ineffective and harm your relationship.

Skill #5, Communicate the way you want it to be (next time), or now

Don't communicate something that bothers you in the moment that it bothers you.  Example of a couple going out to eat.  The husband is irritated that the service is so slow and is vocal about it and makes the experience unpleasant for the wife.  If the wife were to get upset or try to correct him in the moment, this would only cause resentment, anger, and more unpleasantness.  The best thing to do would be to "nicely" bring this matter up before the next night out.  Something like, "I'm really looking forward to go out tonight.  I know sometimes the service can be slow, especially when there are a lot of people there, do you think we could not focus on the service and just enjoy being together?"  (I'm not paraphrasing the example as best as I remember it, so feel free to improvise).

Another example was when a supervisor asks you to do something (irritably), he had better have a clear way to communicate what it is he'd like you to do better.  If I tell someone that I really wish they would do something better, it will come off much better if I have some constructive feedback/criticism for them, otherwise my irritability will just come off offensive (instead of offensive and constructive...).

Skill #6, Where there are unresolved differences, decide what you are going to do.  Then do it pleasantly.

The instructor didn't ever put away his dirty socks. About 10 years into the marriage the wife pleasantly communicated (eye to eye) that she's happy to do laundry for the family, but will only wash what is in the laundry basket. Nagging or built up frustration will not make matters better, and often will just harbor more frustration and resentment.

Skill #7, Listen with empathy and understanding

Learn when you should be in "listen mode" and when you should be in "solve-it mode".

Skill #8, Truly have empathy and understanding

Use verbal interjections to show that you are listening. "Really?", "Wow!"

Skill #9, Avoid anger

Anger is wrong.  I don't remember much else.

Skill #10, Endure well

Even the best of marriages will have differences that will never be resolved. We are all unique, different children of our Heavenly Father.

Doctrine and Covenants 121:41-46 has some great direction regarding this topic.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Abraham's Faith

In studying for the Sunday school lesson, "God Will Provide Himself a Lamb," I found myself asking why the Lord would promise Abraham an endless posterity through Isaac and then ask him to sacrifice that same and only son?  I knew that the story was a type of Christ's crucifixion and God the Father's love for his Son and all mankind, but why this contradiction?

I came to the conclusion that Abraham most assuredly remembered this promise and had full faith that God would not make him go through with the sacrifice.  It still didn't sit right; why would God ask him to do something that Abraham had faith that He wouldn't do?

The lesson then pointed me in a very important direction.  Up unto this point I was always taught that the reason for this story was about Abraham's obedience, even under seemingly impossible circumstances.  But the story goes beyond that.  The lesson referenced Hebrews chapter 11 where Paul relates many stories of faith, and Abraham sacrifice of Isaac is among them.  In verses 17-19 it says,
17 By faith Abraham, when he was tried, offered up Isaac: and he that had received the promises offered up his only begotten son, 
18 Of whom it was said, That in Isaac shall thy seed be called: 
19 Accounting that God was able to raise him up, even from the dead; from whence also he received him in a figure.
Abraham had faith (and remembered God's covenant with him of endless posterity) that even if God required Isaac's life at Abraham's hand as a sacrifice, God would raise Isaac up from the dead in order to fulfill His covenant.

This realization really opened up my eyes to the importance of covenants.  We need to have faith that, no matter the trials that come our way, God will always uphold His promises.  His ultimate purpose is to provide for our eternal happiness..

Friday, January 31, 2014

God's Initial Discipline Plan

Discipline is a constant topic of discussion in our home.  We've tried everything from happy face charts, tickets, time-outs, to prize boxes.  This last week I was discussing with a friend the concept of the earn-back.  A child misbehaves so they lose a privilege, but if they don't have a chance to earn it back, what motive do they have to change their behavior?  But if they can always earn it back, then what motive is there for compliance in the first place?  It's sort of a vicious cycle.  I was pondering this concept and read about the garden of Eden when I saw a little more clearly the discipline system God set up for His first children.  The parts that most struck me was first, the double consequences, one immediate and one delayed.  This means that no matter what, they lose something.  The second, and most importantly, the idea that the earn-back is incredibly more challenging than the initial expectations.  So the incentive to comply initially is because the earn-back is even harder, but even if they make a mistake, there is still hope.  That was precisely the answer I was looking for.  Here are a few things I discovered in God's discipline plan: 

The Set Up: 
  • Heavenly Father created a place that is fun and beautiful for his children.  
  • He allowed Adam to be a part of the process, (naming the animals), perhaps to help him feel a sense of responsibility.
  • He gave them responsibilities to care for the garden and animals (chores).
  • He laid out the expectations for living there.
  • He clearly explained the rules and the consequences.
  • He left access to something forbidden.  (It's ok to have things out kids can't touch or need to ask for first...learn boundaries?)
  • He let them make their own choices (demonstrated trust in them) then followed through with the consequences (so they could trust Him).  

Discipline System:
  • Double consequences.  One immediate and one delayed.  (immediate time out and then lose out on something in the future)
  • Pretty drastic consequences (not just losing one toy, but losing rights to all the toys)
  • Questioned them, not accused them.  Allowed them to make their own confession so they felt sorrow for their actions instead of anger for the punishment.
  • Enacted the consequence with love and sorrow, no anger. 
  • Prepared them (explained what they would need to do, helped them make clothes)
  • No easy earn-back (blocked the tree of life, had to work hard to return to His presence by proving expected behavior and making and keeping promises)
  • All consequences came to pass, they just weren't permanent, so He was true to His word, yet there was still always hope.