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David Bokovoy

Creation And The Use Of Polarity In The Bofm

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Thought I'd try and share something else I've been thinking about as of late.

Much of the creation imagery featured in the Book of Mormon possesses important conceptual ties to the Bible and the ancient Near East. This is particularly true for Lehiâ??s sermon presented in 2 Nephi 2, which relies heavily upon the use of polarity in a discussion concerning creation:

"There is a God, and he hath created all things, both the heavens and the earth, and all things that in them are, both things to act and things to be acted upon" (2 Nephi 2:14).

For Lehi, the opposition represented through polar expressions defined the very purpose for Godâ??s creation. Lehiâ??s use of opposites, in this context, reflects the view witnessed in later Jewish tradition.

The literary use of polarities appears in the Apocryphal book Ecclesiasticus, or the Wisdom of Jesus Son of Sirach (Ben Sira). Writing sometime between 200 and 180 BC, Ben Sira, a teacher in Jerusalem, declared:

"Good is the opposite of evil,

And life the opposite of death;

So the sinner is the opposite of the godly.

Look at all the works of the Most High;

They come in pairs, one the opposite of the other" (33:14-15).

Like Lehi who inhabited Jerusalem ca. 600 BC, Ben Sira (the famous Jerusalem teacher who flourished a few centuries following Lehi) provided a discourse concerning the works of God, i.e. creation, in the context of opposition as expressed through pairs.

However, this convention witnessed in both Lehi and Ben Siraâ??s sermons occurs much earlier in Israelite tradition. As biblical scholar Phyllis Trible explained:

"If the Society of Biblical Literature gave awards for excellence in polarized thinking, the Deuteronomistic theologians would capture first prize. With rhetorical purity and power they subsumed centuries of traditions, diverse genres, and points of view under the severe rubric of opposing concepts: life and death, blessing and curse, good and evil, obedience and disobedience. They locked even divinity into this schemeâ?¦"; Phyllis Trible, â??Exegesis For Storytellers and Other Strangers,â? Journal of Biblical Literature 114/1 (1995): 3.

Tribleâ??s observations prove important for understanding the importance of polarity in the Book of Mormon.

Biblical scholars refer to the initial editor(s) of the biblical history covering Joshua, Judges, 1 & 2 Samuel, and 1 & 2 Kings, as Dtr1. According to our present view, Dtr1 produced his work up until the death of King Josiah ca. 609 BC. This information would suggest that those responsible for producing this version of Israelâ??s history â??under the severe rubric of opposing conceptsâ? were in fact contemporaries with the prophet Lehi.

According to Trible, these Deuteronomistic theologians demonstrate a â??passion for polarityâ?:

"When these ancient theologians focused attention on ninth-century Israel, they found a host of stories to feed their passion for polarity. By arranging them in particular ways and adding glosses here and there, they shaped a narrative in which Elijah and Jezebel (among other characters) emerged as quintessential opposites: he the epitome of good,; she of evilâ? (Ibid).

Significantly, as witnessed in his final sermons, the Book of Mormon prophet Lehi shared this same passion:

"For it must needs be, that there is an opposition in all things. If not soâ?¦ righteousness could not be brought to pass, neither wickedness, neither holiness nor misery, neither good nor bad. Wherefore, all things must needs be a compound in oneâ?¦ having no life neither death, nor corruption nor incorruption, happiness nor misery, neither sense nor insensibility. Wherefore, it must needs have been created for a thing of naught; wherefore there would have been no purpose in the end of its creation" (2 Nephi 2:11-12).

Though perhaps influenced by his religious contemporaries, ultimately, Lehiâ??s use of polarity in the specific context of creation traces its roots into the ancient Semitic realm. In his discussion of the ancient theogonic creation myths which depict the birth and succession of the gods, Frank Moore Cross explained:

"The theogonic divine pairs are often binary opposites: Heaven and Earth in the Phoenician theogony of Sakkunyaton; Ouranos and Ge in Hesiod, etc.; in the theogony introducing the Babylonian creation epic Enuma Elish we find Apsu and Tiamat, perhaps â??the sweet watersâ?? (male) and the â??salty abyssâ?? (female); Ansar and Kisar, the opposing horizons of heaven and earth. Included are the oppositions male/female, heaven/earth, sweet/salt, day/night (light darkness); less transparent is the opposition in the Hittite naturals pairs: mountain and rivers, springs and the Great Sea, heaven and earth, winds and clouds; Frank Moore Cross, â??The Olden Gods in Ancient Near Eastern Creation Myths and in Israel,â? From Epic to Canon: History and Literature in Ancient Israel (Baltimore: The John Hopkins University Press, 2000): 74.

Therefore, Lehiâ??s famous use of polarity in his final discourse concerning Godâ??s creation incorporates a well-established Near Eastern tradition.

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Fascinating, David. And here I thought "opposition in all things" originated with Lehi's teachings.

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Fascinating, David. And here I thought "opposition in all things" originated with Lehi's teachings.

"Under heaven all can see beauty as beauty only because there is ugliness.

All can know good as good only because there is evil.

Therefore having and not having arise together.

Difficult and easy complement each other.

Long and short contrast each other:

High and low rest upon each other;

Voice and sound harmonize each other;

Front and back follow one another."

-
Tao Te Ching
, verse 2

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Another issue worthy of consideration in the context of polarity includes the merism â??heaven and earth.â?

In 1959, G. Ernest Wright provided an intriguing suggestion concerning the invocation of inanimate nature in the Bible via polarity. Wright argued that readers should â??interpret such passages in the light of the Divine Assembly, the members of which constitute the host of heaven and of earthâ?; G.E. Wright, The Old Testament Against Itâ??s Environment (London: SCM Press LTD, 1950), 36.

In other words, the summoning of â??heaven and earthâ? as witnesses provides a call to all of the gods of the divine council. Iâ??ve done a bit of research on this issue and have strong feelings that this reading is correct.

â??Hear, O heavens, and give ear, O earth: for the LORD hath spoken, I have nourished and brought up children, and they have rebelled against meâ? (Isaiah 1:2).

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Hi David,

It seems Alma might have picked up this lesson in polarity from Lehi and used it in a couple of his discourses...with a lesser degree of signifigance and eloquence though.

Such as Alma42..notice verse16 in particular.

Alma seems to use the reversal of this principle when dealing with the resurrection

in Alma 41..notice12.

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"Therefore, Lehiâ??s famous use of polarity in his final discourse concerning Godâ??s creation incorporates a well-established Near Eastern tradition."

Or the somewhat broader category of human tradition.

In the process of organizing, labeling, and quantifying the world, the brain has a tendency to reduce everything to as few components as possible. In the hidden recesses of the inferior parietal lobe, there exists a cognitive function that puts abstract concepts into polarized dyads, or dualistic terms...In terms of neurological development, it is easier for the brain to first quantify objects into pairs, and then to differentiate them into opposing groups: light or dark, happy or sad, fact or fiction, good or evil, right or wrong, Republican or Democrat, and so on. Together, such dyads represent a unified concept. (Andrew Newberd, M.D. Why we Believe What We Believe)

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Hello MC,

Or the somewhat broader category of human tradition.

No doubt, human beings tend to categorize things into â??polarized dyads, or dualistic terms.â? However, to do so specifically in the context of a literary sermon devoted to the subject of creation provides a categorization reflective of human tradition in the ancient Near East.

Of course it's one thing to speak of life in terms of â??black and white.â? Itâ??s quite another to refer to the creation in terms of a variety of separate dualistic word pairs:

"For it must needs be, that there is an opposition in all things. If not soâ?¦ righteousness could not be brought to pass, neither wickedness, neither holiness nor misery, neither good nor bad. Wherefore, all things must needs be a compound in oneâ?¦ having no life neither death, nor corruption nor incorruption, happiness nor misery, neither sense nor insensibility. Wherefore, it must needs have been created for a thing of naught; wherefore there would have been no purpose in the end of its creation" (2 Nephi 2:11-12).

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In 1835 there was published a collection of Lectures by Friedrich von Schlegel, including one on Chinese philosophy. The lecture, which betrays no Mormon influence, uses the specific phrase "opposition in all things".

David Persuitte finds parallels also in View of the Hebrews, 185-186 and John Jones' A New Version of the First Three Chapters of Genesis; Accompanied with Dissertations Illustrative of the Creation, The Fall of Man, The Principle of Evil, and the Plagues of Egypt, chapter 4 (see Joseph Smith and the Origins of the BoM, 160-161). While these are helpful in establishing that ideas like cosmological dualism and the "fortunate fall" existed in Joseph's day, the 1835 "opposition in all things" passage is tantalizing; I suspect that von Schlegel and Joseph Smith may both have gotten the phrase from a mutual source, either directly or indirectly.

Of course, I can't prove it.

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Hello MC,

No doubt, human beings tend to categorize things into â??polarized dyads, or dualistic terms.â? However, to do so specifically in the context of a literary sermon devoted to the subject of creation provides a categorization reflective of human tradition in the ancient Near East.

Of course it's one thing to speak of life in terms of â??black and white.â? Itâ??s quite another to refer to the creation in terms of a variety of separate dualistic word pairs:

"For it must needs be, that there is an opposition in all things. If not soâ?¦ righteousness could not be brought to pass, neither wickedness, neither holiness nor misery, neither good nor bad. Wherefore, all things must needs be a compound in oneâ?¦ having no life neither death, nor corruption nor incorruption, happiness nor misery, neither sense nor insensibility. Wherefore, it must needs have been created for a thing of naught; wherefore there would have been no purpose in the end of its creation" (2 Nephi 2:11-12).

I don't mean to rain on any parades, but I fail to see what's so extraordinary about this. If opposition is necessary for existence, as many thinkers across different continents and millennia have believed, it doesn't seem like much of a jump to say that it's necessary for creation as well.

Here's another interesting potential source of "opposition in all things": according to a random guy on Amazon.com, Plato attributes this phrase to Socrates in the Phaedo. I don't have a copy of the work on hand to go ad fontes, but given Plato's predilection for the dialectic, it wouldn't surprise me.

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I don't mean to rain on any parades, but I fail to see what's so extraordinary about this.

Don't worry. You haven't rained on anyone's parade. I never claimed that the link was extraordinary. If anyone assumed that I believed that Lehi's use of polarity in the Book of Mormon proves that the work is true, I offer a sincere apology for leading you astray.

For the record, this link, which suggests an interesting connection between the Book of Mormon and the ancient Near East, does not prove that the Book of Mormon is true.

Sincerely,

David E. Bokovoy

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No need to apologize; after all, it would have been my erroneous assumption.

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