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The Testament Of Lehi


consiglieri

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In 1947, Sidney Sperry coined the term "Psalm of Nephi" to go with Nephi's song contained in 2 Nephi 4:15-35, noting that the Book of Mormon contains a beautiful example of Hebrew psalmic literature.

In the chapters immediately proceeding, however, is another type of Hebraic literature known to scholars as "testamentary literature."

A number of testaments have come to light and been published, including the Testament of the Twelve Patriarchs; the Testament of Abraham; the Testament of Moses; the Testament of Abraham, of Isaac and of Jacob, etc.

In sum, testamentary literature contains an account of a patriarch gathering his children about him just prior to his death and bestowing blessings upon them, often accompanied with lessons he has learned from his own experience, predictions as to what will befall his posterity in the future, and injunctions to keep the commandments of God.

It could be argued that Lehi's Testament begins with the first verse of 2 Nephi, but no later than 2 Nephi 1:14.

Awake! and arise from the dust, and hear the words of a trembling parent, whose limbs ye must soon lay down in the cold and silent grave, from whence no traveler can return; a few more days and I go the way of all the earth.

This is similar to the beginning of the Testament of Reuben, in which he states:

1. The copy of the Testament of Reuben, what things he charged his sons before he died in the hundred and twenty-fifth year of his life. When he was sick two years after the death of Joseph, his sons and his sons' sons were gathered together to visit him. And he said to them, My children, I am dying, and go the way of my fathers.

True to the format of testamentary literature, Lehi's Testament begins with his injunctions to his children to obey the commandments of God:

16 And I desire that ye should remember to observe the statutes and the judgments of the Lord; behold, this hath been the anxiety of my soul from the beginning.

As is well known, Lehi continues by gathering about him his sons and bestowing blessings upon them, as well as predicting what will befall their posterity.

He then gives a lengthy blessing to Jacob (contained in 2 Nephi 2) and a lengthy blessing to Joseph (contained in 2 Nephi 3).

Lehi then blesses his grandchildren and Sam, and concludes in 2 Nephi 4:12.

12 And it came to pass after my father, Lehi, had spoken unto all his household, according to the feelings of his heart and the Spirit of the Lord which was in him, he waxed old. And it came to pass that he died, and was buried.

This is similar to the ending of most testamentary literature, and the last line of the Testament of Reuben may serve as an example:

7. And Reuben died after that he had given command to his sons; and they placed him in a coffin until they bore him up from Egypt, and buried him in Hebron in the double cave where his fathers were.

Any thoughts?

--Consiglieri

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In Drew Gilpin Faust's book "Republic of Suffering: Death and the American Civil War," she addresses the impact the civil war had on 19th century ideas about death. One of those ideas is what she referred to as "a good death." A good death entails dying with your family members near you, gathered around your deathbed while you impart wisdom, profound final words, blessings, and so forth.

Lehi's last testament wouldn't have been out of place in 1830's America. If it's indicative of Hebraic origins, it's just as indicative of American origins.

There's an NPR interview of DGF about her book here.

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In Drew Gilpin Faust's book "Republic of Suffering: Death and the American Civil War," she addresses the impact the civil war had on 19th century ideas about death. One of those ideas is what she referred to as "a good death." A good death entails dying with your family members near you, gathered around your deathbed while you impart wisdom, profound final words, blessings, and so forth.

Lehi's last testament wouldn't have been out of place in 1830's America. If it's indicative of Hebraic origins, it's just as indicative of American origins.

There's an NPR interview of DGF about her book here.

Thanks for the link, MC!

Does anything impress you? I mean . . . ever?

Are you saying that the American Civil War impacted a book written 32-years before it started?

Or is this just your roundabout way of acknowledging Joseph Smith was a prophet after all?

All the Best!

--Consiglieri

I likes. Any additional sources?

No additional sources, as of yet.

As far as I know, this is brand new research.

*huffs on fingernails and polishes them on lapels*

All the Best!

--Consiglieri

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Are you saying that the American Civil War impacted a book written 32-years before it started?

Not at all. I'm saying before the Civil War, the notion of a good death was part of American culture. It is this idea of "the good death" that made the Civil War even more horrible for participants, as it meant they were denied a proper death. This was especially important because Christians at the time believed the way in which you died determined where you ended up in the afterlife.

But to be clear, these attitudes existed before the civil war, so they would have been prevalent when Joseph was dictating the BoM. Joseph himself probably shared that attitude.

Does anything impress you? I mean . . . ever?

Not with respect to the Book of Mormon. I share Mark Twain's sentiments.

I wonder, though...are you impressed by L. Ron Hubbard's "Dianetics"? Or the Book of Oahspe? Or Strang's Book of the Law of the Lord?

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Here is one from Josephus.

3. But when he had ruled one year, and was fallen into a distemper, he called for his sons, and set them round about him, and said, "O my sons, I am going the way of all the earth; and I recommend to you my resolution, and beseech you not to be negligent in keeping it, but to be mindful of the desires of him who begat you, and brought you up...

(Josephus, Flavius, Antiquities of the Jews, book XII, chapter six)

Of course, this would have, theoretically, been available to Joseph Smith, so maybe it was one of his sources for the Book of Mormon. :P

T-Shirt

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In a BYU Studies or FARMS Review in the last little while there was an article on the "good death" and how this was shown in the account of Alvin Smith's death.

And that it was in the American culture. But this was nothing about blessing posterity or giving counsel to obey God.

I just tried to search BYU Studies, but they said to try later. Sorry I couldn't provide a link.

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Here is one from Josephus.

Of course, this would have, theoretically, been available to Joseph Smith, so maybe it was one of his sources for the Book of Mormon. :P

T-Shirt

That's a good one. Who is speaking in the Josephus account?

In a BYU Studies or FARMS Review in the last little while there was an article on the "good death" and how this was shown in the account of Alvin Smith's death.

And that it was in the American culture. But this was nothing about blessing posterity or giving counsel to obey God.

I just tried to search BYU Studies, but they said to try later. Sorry I couldn't provide a link.

Thanks for trying, charity.

You are the Best!

--Consiglieri

I wonder, though...are you impressed by L. Ron Hubbard's "Dianetics"? Or the Book of Oahspe? Or Strang's Book of the Law of the Lord?

I have barely heard of the former and the latter; and the in-betweener I have never heard of!

I am impressed by Martin Luther (King)'s letter from a Birmingham jail, though.

How do you feel about that one?

All the Best!

--Consiglieri

Edited to make it a 20th century civil rights leader instead of a Protestant reformer.

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2 Ne 1:1-4:12 is classic example of Jewish â??Testamentâ? literature

â??Testamentâ? genre in OT and Jewish texts

Greek = diathēkē (GEL 182) = â??last will and testamentâ? or â??covenantâ? (H: berīt)

legal contract that becomes effective only at death of testator

The following characteristics of this literature are given by J. Collins, â??Testamentâ? in Michael E. Stone (editor), Jewish Writings of the Second Temple Period: Apocrypha, Pseudepigrapha, Qumran Sectarian Writings, Philo, Josephus, (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1984), p 325, followed by my annotations of parallels with 2 Nephi.

1- â??delivered in anticipation of imminent deathâ? (2 Ne 1:14,21, 3:25, 4:5)

2- â??father addressing his sonsâ? (2 Ne 1:1,19,21,23,28, 2:14,28,30, 3:22)

3- â??ends with an account of the speakerâ??s deathâ? (2 Ne 4:12)

4- â??the actual discourse is delivered in the first personâ? (2 Ne 1:4-3:25)

5- includes an â??historical retrospectiveâ? (2 Ne 1:1-5)

6- â??ethical exhortationâ? (2 Ne 1:9,13,16)

7- â??prediction of the futureâ? (2 Ne 1:6-7, 10-12)

8- which â??often display the so-called â??Sin-Exile-Returnâ?? patternâ?

9- blessing and first-born blessing (1 Ne 1:28-29)

Biblical Examples

Jacob (Gen 49)

Moses (Dt 33)

Joshua (Josh 23-24)

Samuel (1 Sam 12)

David (1 Kg 2:1-9; 1 Chr 28-29)

Pseudepigraphic examples

Testament of the Twelve Patriarchs (OTP 1:775-828)

Testament of Moses (OTP 1:919-934)

Testament of Solomon (OTP 1:935-988)

Testament of Adam (OTP 1:989-995)

Testament of Job (OTP 1:829-868)

Testament of the Three Patriarchs

Abraham (OTP 1:871-902)

Isaac (OTP 1:903-912)

Jacob (OTP 1:913-918)

Dead Sea Scrolls

Levi, Joseph, Naphtali, Amram (gs of Levi)

EDSS 2:933-6

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It seems like we have an interesting situation here with this little bit of information. On the one hand, we have a portion of a text claiming to be ancient fit right at home with other liturature of it's (claimed) antiquity. On the other, we have some other (seemingly) convicing parallels from the other proposed time from which others claim the book was written (i.e. 19th century America). So, the question is, which parallel is more convincing? In other words, which parallel is more helpful/hurtful in the book's claims of authenticity? The ancient or modern one?

What should we do? Should we accept the ancient parallel and ingore the modern one since the book in question claims to be ancient? Or should we do the opposite and reject the ancient parallel because Joseph Smith (or a fellow conspirator :P ) supposedly wrote it in the modern era?

What are everyone's thoughts?

Personally, I think we should follow the advice of the great textual critic Friedrich Blass and 1) give the document in question the benefit of the doubt 2) therefore assume authenticity of the document for the sake of investigation 3) focus, therfore, mainly on the parallels from the document's claimed time of authorship and 4) therefore focus primarily on the ancient parallels in this unique case (the Book of Mormon).

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Personally, I think we should follow the advice of the great textual critic Friedrich Blass and 1) give the document in question the benefit of the doubt 2) therefore assume authenticity of the document for the sake of investigation 3) focus, therfore, mainly on the parallels from the document's claimed time of authorship and 4) therefore focus primarily on the ancient parallels in this unique case (the Book of Mormon).

I am no scholar, but I think you are correct, especially given the fact that there are many examples of these in the Book of Mormon. The books from the Maxwell Institute illustrate in detail some of those, as listed by some of the books on this page:

http://maxwellinstitute.byu.edu/publications/booksmain.php

I have always been impressed with the evidence of an ancient text in King Benjamin's speech.

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2 Ne 1:1-4:12 is classic example of Jewish â??Testamentâ? literature

Wow, Herr Hamblin!

It looks like you have already done some research into this, and a nice job it is, too.

I think this puts the shoe squarely on the other foot, and now critics need to show how all of these categories that the Testament of Lehi fits with ancient testamentary literature similarly fit with 19th century American ideas of the "good death."

I am unaware of this subject having been published on.

If not, I think it should be brought to a wider audience.

All the Best!

--Consiglieri

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  • 3 weeks later...

I am wondering: would Mosiah's instructions for his sons in Msh. 1 be considered an example of Jewish testamental testamentary literature? Also, Alma's blessings and teaching to his sons in Al. 36-42 and 45? Also, Helaman to sons Nephi and Lehi in Hel. 5? Do any of these fit the bill? Are there any other examples of "testaments" in the BoM that I've left out?

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I am wondering: would Mosiah's instructions for his sons in Msh. 1 be considered an example of Jewish testamental testamentary literature? Also, Alma's blessings and teaching to his sons in Al. 36-42 and 45? Also, Helaman to sons Nephi and Lehi in Hel. 5? Do any of these fit the bill? Are there any other examples of "testaments" in the BoM that I've left out?

Well, look what just bubbled to the top of the pot!

I think that it may be a mistake to try to stretch the idea of testamental literature too far in the Book of Mormon. One of the primary characteristics of testaments is an aged patriarch aware of imminent death, gathering his posterity around him one last time to share blessings, prophecy and encouragement. We have a classic fit with Lehi. The others you suggest do not have any mention of approaching death.

If we start saying that all places where a king instructs his people, or a father admonishes his sons, is another example of testamentary literature in the Book of Mormon, the Testament of Lehi tends to lose some of its luster.

I have sadly witnessed this tendency with the discovery of non-chiastic chiasms in the Book of Mormon.

Bad arguments added to good arguments do not make the bad any better, but only make the good worse.

All the Best!

--Consiglieri

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That's a good one. Who is speaking in the Josephus account?
Mattathias of Maccabee fame.

Lehi

Mattathias, the Macabee. 166 bc

BLAST! I really need to read the whole thread before responding. (Sometimes, not here, alas, there are hundreds of posts. Just an excuse, I guess.) LS

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It seems like we have an interesting situation here with this little bit of information. On the one hand, we have a portion of a text claiming to be ancient fit right at home with other liturature of it's (claimed) antiquity. On the other, we have some other (seemingly) convicing parallels from the other proposed time from which others claim the book was written (i.e. 19th century America). So, the question is, which parallel is more convincing? In other words, which parallel is more helpful/hurtful in the book's claims of authenticity? The ancient or modern one?

What should we do? Should we accept the ancient parallel and ingore the modern one since the book in question claims to be ancient? Or should we do the opposite and reject the ancient parallel because Joseph Smith (or a fellow conspirator :P ) supposedly wrote it in the modern era?

What are everyone's thoughts?

Personally, I think we should follow the advice of the great textual critic Friedrich Blass and 1) give the document in question the benefit of the doubt 2) therefore assume authenticity of the document for the sake of investigation 3) focus, therfore, mainly on the parallels from the document's claimed time of authorship and 4) therefore focus primarily on the ancient parallels in this unique case (the Book of Mormon).

I am no expert, heck I don't even claim to have opened a book on the subject, but I would think that, since the Bible was heavily read in those times, that speech patterns, as well as other patterns(patriarichal?) from the Bible would be incorporated into peoples lives. If Biblical figures called their family around them before their death, why wouldn't those that read about it, copy or emulate it?

So maybe it was a practice in the first half of the 1800's, but I bet it was still Biblical in origin.

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Here's the characteristics given by William Hamblin as found in Alma 45:

1- “delivered in anticipation of imminent death” (Not explicitly stated.)

2- “father addressing his sons” (Al. 45:15)

3- “ends with an account of the speaker’s death” (Al. 45:18-19)

4- “the actual discourse is delivered in the first person” (Al 45:8-14, 16)

5- includes an “historical retrospective” (Not present, unless 45:1 counts.)

6- “ethical exhortation” (Al. 45:2-8 )

7- “prediction of the future” (2 Ne 1:6-7, 10-12)

8- which “often display the so-called ‘Sin-Exile-Return’ pattern” (no Return, just Sin and Extinction)

9- blessing and first-born blessing (Al. 45:8, 15, 17.)

So it is missing elements 1, 5, and 8, but seems to have the rest. I'm no expert on this. I'm just throwing this out there.

Edited to take away the sunglasses-man. Mods, is there anyway to change the trigger for that emoticon since in giving lists and citing scriptures often an "8" is followed by a ")"? Perhaps to 8^) or :cool:. I have noticed many posters make the same mistake.

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Here's the characteristics given by William Hamblin as found in Alma 45:

1- â??delivered in anticipation of imminent deathâ? (Not explicitly stated.)

2- â??father addressing his sonsâ? (Al. 45:15)

3- â??ends with an account of the speakerâ??s deathâ? (Al. 45:18-19)

4- â??the actual discourse is delivered in the first personâ? (Al 45:8-14, 16)

5- includes an â??historical retrospectiveâ? (Not present, unless 45:1 counts.)

6- â??ethical exhortationâ? (Al. 45:2-8 )

7- â??prediction of the futureâ? (2 Ne 1:6-7, 10-12)

8- which â??often display the so-called â??Sin-Exile-Returnâ?? patternâ? (no Return, just Sin and Extinction)

9- blessing and first-born blessing (Al. 45:8, 15, 17.)

So it is missing elements 1, 5, and 8, but seems to have the rest. I'm no expert on this. I'm just throwing this out there.

And I want you to know that I appreciate your being interested enough to throw it out there.

The Book of Mormon is a text of infinite depth and worthy of all our best thought and efforts.

All the Best!

--Consiglieri

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I am no expert, heck I don't even claim to have opened a book on the subject, but I would think that, since the Bible was heavily read in those times, that speech patterns, as well as other patterns(patriarichal?) from the Bible would be incorporated into peoples lives. If Biblical figures called their family around them before their death, why wouldn't those that read about it, copy or emulate it?

So maybe it was a practice in the first half of the 1800's, but I bet it was still Biblical in origin.

Lehi's gathering around him his posterity before his death and prophecying over them could be based on Jacob's doing the same thing in Genesis 49. Jacob's example is the closest biblical tie to what Lehi does. But it is in the extra-biblical testaments that we find the closest parallels to the "Testament of Lehi," and where other elements are found; such as exhortations to obey the commandments, and several other things listed by Mssr. Hamblin.

When the Book of Mormon accurately reflects Bible usage, critics usually say it was derived from the Bible.

When the Book of Mormon accurately reflects extra-Biblical usage from texts in existence at the time of Joseph Smith, critics usually say that Joseph Smith somehow had access to these texts (usually with no evidence to support the assertion).

When the Book of Mormon accurately reflects extra-Biblical usage from texts not in existence at the time of Joseph Smith, critics usually say it is coincidence.

All the Best!

--Consiglieri

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